Fidel Castro Attacks GOP; Putin's Favorite Books

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‘I DID IT MY WAY’: Fidel Castro sat bolt upright on his embalming table to pour scorn on the Republican primary race in the U.S., describing it as “the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance there has ever been.” The merits of his observation aside, the best way to ensure that a problem of this sort never rears its head in Cuba is to do as Fidel has done: disallow competition altogether.

JUST DESERTS: There can scarcely be a person on earth who does not believe that there is a special place in Xibalba—the Mayan version of hell—for Efrain Rios Montt. The dictator, whose rule from 1982 to ’83 saw the most brutal period of the Guatemalan civil war, will go on trial for crimes against humanity and the genocide of Mayan Indians. (The general has always maintained he was restoring “order.”)

MUSTAPHA BAUDELAIRE? Francois Hollande, the socialist frontrunner in France’s presidential elections, got all fancy at a recent rally, invoking “Shakespeare” to slap down the ruling right: “They failed because they did not start with a dream.” As befuddled hacks rushed to check this unfamiliar quotation, they found that Hollande’s Shakespeare wasn’t the Bard but a living descendant, Nicholas, who reviews books for London’s Daily Telegraph. Will a careless speechwriter be out of a job? Or is Nicholas Shakespeare, in fact, more read among French leftists than we realize?

THE PUTIN CANON: Russia’s prime minister, exasperated by the philistinism of his fellow citizens, has mandated a list of 100 books that would be compulsory reading for Russia’s students. His aim: to “preserve the dominance of Russian culture.” Zamyatin’s We, the first Russian novel to portray life in a dictatorship, would be a good place to start, though one suspects Mr. Putin will be partial to the diary of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the secret police.

ECONOMIST DEATH MATCH: With a punishing austerity plan in place, Britain-in-recession is the venue for a Hayek vs. Keynes title fight for the World Heavyweight Economist crown. With the latest figures showing that the British economy shrank in the last quarter of 2011, the Hayek corner looks dour and data-whipped. The Keynesians aren’t exulting ... yet. But they’re clearing their throats for a raucous “We told you so.”

TURKISH DELIGHT: Orhan Pamuk may look like a Turkic Harry Potter, but behind those outsize glasses lurks a man who is “a volcano,” according to Karolin Fisekci, a painter who boasts that she and the Nobel laureate for literature were paramours. What makes the story doubly piquant for nationalist Turks is that Fisekci is Armenian, giving fresh oomph to their insult that Pamuk is an “Armenian lover.” He has been prosecuted in the past for writing critically about “the Armenian genocide.” (Pamuk has dismissed Fisekci as a fantasist.)

world-nb20-orhan-pamuk Kaushik Roy / India Today Group-Getty Images

WIRED BE THY NAME: In an admonition against the excesses of the internet, Pope Benedict XVI urged his flock to cultivate “silence and contemplation,” both of which, he believes, are imperiled by the web. “People today,” he lamented, “are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware.” (Newsweek read the text of his speech on ... the vatican’s own website.)

world-nb20-pope-benedict Max Rossi / Reuters-Landov

A NEWSWEEK READER IN BRASILIA? In the last issue, this page highlighted the plight of a Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sánchez, who had written to the Brazilian president pleading for a visa but had, apparently, been snubbed. Sánchez, we can report, has just received a visa. ¡Buen viaje!