Saturday, December 29, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Castro again hints at retirement

In a letter read out before the day’s business got underway, Fidel Castro said that in the past he had been a “utopian socialist”.

It was a phase, he said, when he believed he knew what we had to do and wanted the power to do it.

“What the foreign press in Cuba have most reported in recent days has been the phrase where I expressed… that I am not a person who clings to power. I could add that I was once, for the excesses of youth and lack of conscience,” he said.

The reference is to another letter that was read before the assembly last week.

More interesting is the following, which both makes some references to liberalization, as well as to Fidel’s support for Raul:

Mr Castro also urged people to support his brother, saying he had read in advance a speech Raul made earlier this week in which he said Cuba needed to become more democratic, at least by allowing more open debate about economic and social issues.

“It is necessary to continue marching without stopping for even a minute. I will raise my hand next to yours to support him,” he added in
the letter dated 27 December.

Of course, in regards to reforms:

The BBC’s Michael Voss in Havana says that although the remarks were the first time that Mr Castro has publicly backed his brother’s attempts at reforms, there is no talk of any political changes in the one-party state.

Still, having Fidel seem to endorse such moves, vague as they are, is a positive first step towards change.

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Friday, December 28, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the Miami Herald: Giuliani, Huckabee battle in Florida

The race is a statistical dead heat in Florida, with Giuliani edging Huckabee by two percentage points in a compilation of polling by Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with 19 percent of the support among GOP voters, is four points behind Huckabee.

The campaign swings included the usual activities, including Huckabee trying to ingratiate himself to the Cuba community.

Meanwhile, Rudy is clearing banking on a Florida win:

”I wouldn’t have been down here two dozen times if Florida wasn’t important to us,” Giuliani said at a news conference in Fort Lauderdale. ”Whoever wins in Florida will have an advantage on Feb. 5.” Two dozen states, including delegate-rich California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, will vote on that date.

I understand the notion that if he loses in Iowa and New Hampshire (pretty much foregone conclusions both) that he will need a win to show his viability going into Super Terrific Happy February the Fifth, but I am not convinced that voters in California or Illinois will necessarily be affected by a Florida win more than they would be by wins elsewhere. And as far as NY is concerned, one would think that Giuliani would be in very good shape there.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Bhutto buried amid mass mourning

Tens of thousands of people have attended the funeral of assassinated Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto.

Mourners converged on the family mausoleum where she was buried next to her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto near their home village in Sindh province.


Outside the triple-domed mausoleum, crowds chanted slogans blaming President Pervez Musharraf for Ms Bhutto’s death.

The BBC’s obiruary of Ms. Bhutto can be found here. Photos of the funeral can be found here. The NYT also has photos of the funeral and some of the rioting here.

Her murder has set off widespread unrest, including (according to the BBC), the torching of a passenger train, rioting in various places across the country, and the ransacking of the offices of a pro-government party.

All of which leads M. Ulyas Khan of the BBC to ask What next for Pakistan?

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Forbes: Bhutto Supporters Blame Musharraf

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Thursday, December 27, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Bob Novak wonders if John McCain might not be the GOP’s Last Man Standing

This scenario does not connote a late-blooming affection for McCain among the party faithful. Indeed, he remains suspect to them on global warming, stem cell research, tax policy and immigration controls, not to mention his original sin of campaign finance reform (with authorship of the McCain-Feingold Act). Rather, his nomination would result from him being the last man standing, with all other candidates falling. Rudy Giuliani’s baggage is getting too heavy to carry. Fred Thompson never got started. Huckabee’s Republicanism is even less orthodox than McCain’s and seems unviable beyond Iowa. Romney is burdened with anti-Mormon prejudice and the accusation he is “plastic.”

This is pretty much what I was getting at a few weeks ago when I wondered if McCain was the “leftover alternative.”

At a minimum, we are going to know an awful lot in just under two weeks: this race is not going to be nearly as wide open by the morning of January 9th as it is today.

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By Steven L. Taylor

If you are looking for round-ups of Spheric reactions to the Bhutto assassination, has quite a list in three posts:

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT: Iraqi Kurds delay Kirkuk vote

Kurdish lawmakers agreed Wednesday to a six-month delay of a referendum on whether the oil-rich city of Kirkuk should join the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan or remain under Iraqi central government control.

The delay had been expected because of problems in arranging the vote, which was supposed to have been held by the end of the year. A census to determine who would be eligible to vote, for instance, has not yet been done. But by putting off the issue, the lawmakers highlighted what has become a constant in Iraq: the inability of leaders to settle disputes whose resolution is considered key to ending ethnic and sectarian strife.

This is no small issue, as it is quite likely that a substantial, and likely bloody, conflict is going to emerge over control of Kirkuk and its oil.

Meanwhile, other major issues remain unresolved:

Another major issue, the rewriting of the Iraqi Constitution, is also unlikely to be completed by a Dec. 31 deadline. The head of the Iraqi parliament’s constitutional review committee, Humam Hamoodi, said Wednesday that he would request a three-month delay. That would be the fourth time the target date for revision of the document, approved in a referendum in 2024, had been put off as lawmakers haggled over issues such as provincial powers and religious and cultural freedoms.

The delay in the constitutional revision could hinder progress on other issues that the United States has cited as keys to Iraqi national reconciliation. Those include legislation to manage Iraq’s oil industry, and the scheduling of provincial elections to ensure better distribution of power among Shiite Muslims and Sunnis across the country.

It will be interesting to see how these, and similar, issues evolve into 2024. Not only is the real evaluation of the Surge yet to come, but events in Iraq could yet significantly affect the 2024 presidential campaign.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CNN: Benazir Bhutto assassinated

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday outside a large gathering of her supporters where a suicide bomber also killed at least 14, doctors and a spokesman for her party said.

While Bhutto appeared to have died from bullet wounds, it was not immediately clear if she was shot or if her wounds were
caused by bomb shrapnel.


The attack came just hours after four supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif died when members of another political party opened fire on them at a rally near the Islamabad airport Thursday, Pakistan police said.

This will send Pakistani politics into a great deal of chaos. There will be accusations from Bhutto’s party that the government was lax in protecting Bhutto, as well as charges that the government was behind the attacks in the first place.

Meanwhile, whenever political parties are shooting at one another, it makes democracy a tad difficult, to say the least.1

  1. Not that Pakistan’s anemic democratic institutions are functioning at the moment. []
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Wednesday, December 26, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Castro ‘well enough for election’

The health of Cuban President Fidel Castro is good enough for him to be a candidate in next month’s parliamentary elections, his brother Raul has said.

Which raises the question: apart from breathing, how healthy is “enough” to run, given that he won’t have to campaign or do much of anything else?

We often say that candidates “run” for office or “stand” for election. In Fidel’s case it may not necessarily be that either is the appropriate term (although Raul reports that Fidel is doing two hours of exercise a day, whatever that may mean).

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Tuesday, December 25, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

I was thinking just the other day that, despite popular perception, Christmas has not always been the holiday in the US that it currently is, neither in its basically universal observance, nor in its basic form. The latest sparking of this not-so-new thought was a reference to the “Merry Christmas”/”Happy Holidays” conflict as made by the pastor of our church this past Sunday. One can guess the basic gist of the comment.

What is striking about the notion that there is a war on Christmas is that at its core is the thesis that attacks on Christmas are attacks on centuries old traditions and rituals. However, that really isn’t the case. In many ways Christmas, and our attitude towards it, are relatively new. Because despite the feeling that Christmas must have always been a key American holiday, as well as a key Christian one, that, in fact, this is not the case.

Christmas as a national holiday of grand significance started to emerge in the middle 19th Century, and at that point was very much in the process of evolving to the celebration that it is today. Indeed, much of the way we celebrate Christmas is very much about commercial activity and secular/pagan rituals and symbols, making the holiday much more of a mélange than we normally like to admit, especially within Christianity.

In terms of Christianity writ large, Christmas has not always been a key celebration, and in some segments of the faith, was not celebrated at all (including a significant percentage that influenced early American Christians, and hence the lack of its original significance in early colonial and post-independence life). This is not to say that there aren’t sound reasons within the Christian faith to celebrate Christmas as a religious observance, but from a political/cultural point-of-view, it dampens the whole “War on Christmas” line of reasoning when one stops and realizes that Christmas as we know and understand it is not, as it might appear at first blush, a celebration two millennia in age. Really, from an American perspective it is only a century-and-a-half (roughly) in age—again, as we know, understand, and celebrate the season.

Along these lines, I would commend a piece into today’s WSJ: A Brief History of Christmas, which notes the attitudes by elements of the Christian church over the years to the celebration, as well as to some of the well-known secular (indeed, pagan) elements of the current holiday.1 It seems to me, at least, that it is more difficult to argue that there is a “war” aimed at destroying time-honored truths, when we recognize that much of what we do is both relatively new, and not all that religious.

Beyond any of the history/origins of the holiday, another thing that has struck me for time over the “War on Christmas” notion is that so much of what we do now regarding Christmas (even the most devote of Christians) is wholly secular in origins and application (much of the music, movies (even the classics), and decorations have nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel of Luke, for example).

As such, I am not certain why hardcore secularists get all that upset about observations of the holiday2, nor do I understand fully why those who think that there is a war against Christmas think that the whole of the holiday is encapsulated in things like whether the clerk at Wal*Mart says “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”(or vice versa)3. Why do we worry so much about whether retail outlets use the word “Christmas” or not? When Santa bellows, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night” or when Rudolph became significant “one foggy Christmas Eve” there was precious little about it that was theological in nature.

As I have argued before (see the links below), while I do understand that there are those who say “Happy Holidays” as a way of avoiding the “Christ” part of the word “Christmas,” more likely than not the “holidays” that they are wishing happiness upon are Christmas and New Years Day (the holiday season, as we have called it for decades), and almost all of us know that immediately. It seems that only when people like Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson started making a point of making a big deal of the issue, that most of us didn’t mind one bit if people said “Happy Holidays” or if store displays were “Holiday” displays instead of “Christmas” ones.

Ah well. Of course, I never thought of retail outlets as founts of theology…

I will confess that I finds it absurd that some find the utterance of the words “Merry Christmas” to be offensive in and of themselves. Of course, much of this debate is about hypersensitivity and offense-taking. Given, as a recent poll shows, that the vast majority of people in US at least marginally identify as Christian, one wonders sometimes were the outrage/war comes from anyway.

Just some thoughts on the subject on this Christmas evening, a bit rambling I will allow (but hey, it’s a holiday).

I have written about this before, by the way. I wrote a piece for the Mobile Register two years ago: What day is it? It’s Christmas Day and then there is this post: I Have a Confession to Make on the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays business.

I hope that you all had a blessed day and I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

  1. For example, it should be a well known fact that the date we celebrate Christmas is based not on the likely birth date of Christ, but of pagan summer (oops) winter solstice celebrations. []
  2. and yes, I wholly allow that there are those who do overreact to the holiday and its observance, such as those who find great offense at nativity scenes on public land []
  3. my anecdotal experience this year, btw, has been a lot of “Merry Christmas” and not much “Happy Holidays,” but then again, I do live in Alabama []
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