Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s embattled potentate, has turned his scorn on Turkey, describing its ruling politicians as being “carried away by dreams.” Assad said of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government that “there are those among them who think themselves to be very smart. You may be very smart, you may be using a state-of-the-art computer, but your efforts will be in vain if you try to run an obsolete program on it.” One doesn’t have to endorse Assad’s ungainly metaphor to grasp why he is displeased. In the days since the Syrian uprising began, Turkey has closed its embassy in Damascus, advised its citizens to leave Syria, hosted Syrian opposition groups and offered them “non-lethal aid,” imposed sanctions on Damascus, and—et tu, Erdogan!—called on Assad to step down.
Don’t Cry For Me, Brazil
Dilma Rousseff is hardly the lachrymose type, but the Brazilian president shed very public tears last week as she swore in members of a national Truth Commission, tasked with investigating crimes committed during the country’s long dictatorship. “We are not moved by revenge or hate, or the desire to rewrite history, but by the need to show what happened, without camouflage or vetoes,” she said of the commission’s mandate. The Truth team might start by hearing out the president herself. She was, once upon a time, a youthful Marxist known as “Comrade Dilma,” and was tortured in jail in 1970.
Beijing Goes Bananas
A maritime spat between China and the Philippines, which began in April when a Philippine warship attempted to detain Chinese fishing vessels in Philippine waters claimed by China, has taken an unpalatable twist. In an apparent attempt to put the uppity Filipinos in their place, Chinese authorities detained 1,500 containers of Philippine bananas at Chinese ports, refusing customs clearance for reasons of “sanitation.” If the banana war continues for much longer, the effects on small farmers in the province of Mindanao could be devastating. Is the standoff ripe for resolution?
A Fragment of Fuentes
In the deluge of tributes that followed the death last week of Carlos Fuentes, one anecdote—from the Mexican literary sage’s school days in Washington, D.C.—stood out as most poignant. For a time after March 18, 1938, when Mexico expropriated all foreign-owned oil holdings—including those of American companies—his classmates at the H.D. Cooke Elementary School ostracized him completely. “Nobody would talk to me,” Fuentes was quoted in a Washington Post obituary, “because there were screaming headlines every day talking about Mexican communists stealing ‘our’ oil wells.” He was 10 years old at the time.
Where’s the Persian Gulf?
Iran has threatened to sue Google for omitting, on its maps, to identify the body of water that abuts the Islamic Republic as the “Persian Gulf.” A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed his displeasure thus: “Toying with modern technologies in political issues is among the new measures by the enemies against Iran ... [I]n this regard, Google has been treated as a plaything.” Rejecting the charge of cartographical chicanery, a Google spokesperson told CNN that “it’s just simply the case that we don’t have a label for every body of water.” A brief glance at Google’s maps suggests that the company is being disingenuous: Every other body of water in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf bears a name. Why, even the rather obscure Laccadive Sea, about 1,500 miles southeast of the Gulf, is mentioned by name.
The Indian Premier League is the world’s richest cricket tournament and (Indian traditionalists have said) the world’s tawdriest. One reason for criticism of the league, now in its fifth season, has been that the cricket teams have had scantily clad cheerleading squads of Eastern European women performing in front of packed Indian crowds, the male component of which spends a good portion of its time gawking at the pom-poms. This year, however, some teams have gone native, swapping their provocative imports for Indian women in saris. There’s been a name change, too, with a touch of grade inflation: the local cheerleaders are called “cheer queens.”