Elite Eight

Are you excited to see what news stories from March will make the final four? Well, you should be. Here are the matchups. Vote away and pick the the “regional” champs.


Second Round

Thank you to all who voted, after taking a close look at the poll results, we have moved on to the next round. Here are your matchups (if you need a refresher on the stories check out the March Madness of News Stories post).





March Madness of News Stories

In honor of the NCAA National Championship we have decided to create a March Madness bracket of the top news stories from March 2010. The four regional brackets are divided into World new, National news, Science & Business news and Weird news. We have carefully selected the rankings for each news story, but we look to your vote to pick the NEWS STORY OF THE MONTH champion. We’ll provide a brief synopsis of each story and a link to an article relating to it, then you vote. Please vote and get your friends to vote on the top news stories of the month. To keep it shorter we have only 8 stories per region.

World News
#1 vs. #8
#1Iraq holds a nation wide Parliamentary election with little violence, the results have been announced and the secular Iraqiya bloc has won the most seats.
#8 – The drug war in Mexico has become increasingly violent and this month, a drug gang targeted US consulates and their families in the border town of Juarez.

#2 vs. #7
#2 – The Catholic Church has been rocked by an outpouring of sexual abuse scandals in Europe, especially in the Pope’s former country.
#7 – A South Korean navy ships mysteriously sinks amid rising tensions between the bordering Koreas.

#3 vs. #6
#3 – Palestinians were ready to come back to the negotiating table until Israel announced a new expansion plan in East Jerusalem while VP Biden was visiting. This has pretty much derailed peace talks, but PM Netanyahu now says the building will be scaled back.
#6 – Myanmar’s military Junta said fair public elections would be held this year for the first time since they took over power 20 years ago.

#4 vs. #5
#4 – Thai protesters have forced negotiations between opposition leaders and the government to occur after pouring gallons of donated blood on several government properties.
#5 – Two female suicide bombers detonate themselves in the Moscow subways.

#1 vs #8
#1 – Healthcare reform passes the House! Need I say more…
#8 – The Oscars

#2 vs. #7
#2 – US Census. It’s mind-boggling how much money the government saves when people mail the forms back.
#7 – Pepsi Corp. has announced that they will cut salts and fats in their products.

#3 vs. #6
#3 – US stocks have climbed to an 18 month high. Are we on our way out of recession?
#6 – Violence follows the passing of healthcare.

#4 vs. #5
#4 – US to increase housing loans, I know it got us into this recession, but maybe they’ll be smarter loans this time.
#5 – Obama makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan


#1 vs #8
#1 – Greece has been rocked by a huge national debt causing the government to nearly declare bankruptcy, but the EU has agreed on a financial aid program.
#8 – Over parenting and pushing your children to be over achievers may be as damaging as neglectful parenting

#2 vs. #7
#2 – Laser Warfare becoming a reality
#7 – Touching your skin could control your next ipod or phone

#3 vs #6
#3 – VIRGIN test flew their commercial space shuttle
#6 – GM leadership shakeup

#4 vs #5
#4 – Micro financing, often used in developing countries, has sprung up in the US
#5 – US and China are two of the world’s top clean energy markets

#1 vs. #8
#1 – Chili Pepper Grenade
#8 – I wasn’t attacked by razor wielding men after all

#2 vs. #7
#2 – Smelly sneaker competition
#7 – Watermelon roadblock

#3 vs. #6
#3 – Paid to eat
#6 – If you can’t curb the drinking, might as well keep them safe

#4 vs. #5
#4 – Sarah Palin tv is to be extended beyond FOX News
#5 – The famous British downhill cheese roll has been canceled

Saudi Poet nears Immortality

The amazing Saudi woman Hissa Hilal has made a huge step toward winning $1 million, she has made the finals. Her poem won her loud applause from the audience, a spot in the finals and death threats. Her winning verses criticized the Muslim clergy who has “hijacked” the culture and religion and “prey like a wolf.”

In the last post, I mentioned some of the conservative aspects of Saudi live, but that people were protesting. Apparently the protests have become strong enough to threaten the radical clergy’s control, Shaikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, uttered a fatwa, death sentence, against anyone who attempts to mix the sexes and issued one against people who write against the leadership. Many think this second fatwa was intended to serve as a warning to Hissa Hilal.

The finals air April 7th, maybe it can be live streamed, I don’t know, but either way let’s all hope/pray for her success.

Saudi Arabia’s newest export

Poetry has been the classical means of expression and battle (much like rap battles) in the Arabian peninsula. In ancient times, different tribes developed their own style and verse and monthly competitions were held. During a competition, work would stop and hundreds if not thousands of Arabs would gather to hear the latest poems and verses. Both men and women would compose and recite and often times women would win competitions. Poetry was the most revered style of art; so much so that the Qur’an is written in poetic verse. Conflicts and wrong doings were often resolved through poetic battles or through poetic oration of apologies and acceptances rather than by sword or stone. As history progressed, poetry continued to transcend sexual lines, but in more recent times, as the role of women continued down a path of repression and forced submissiveness, their influence in poetry began to fade. Women still competed, but often lacked the ability to present issues of substance in their poems.

Saudi Arabia, a US ally, is one of the most repressive and sexually segregated regimes in the Middle East. Unmarried men and women are not allowed to be alone in the same room and as recently as March 2010, a woman was arrested for driving! But things are beginning to change in the country. Women have begun to protest that only men staff lingerie stores which makes purchasing properly fitting lingerie nearly impossible. While protests over these kinds of issues are important a new world hero has quickly emerged thanks to the Middle East’s version of American Idol. Her name is Hissa Hilal.

In the United Emirates, the show has taken the form of a competition among Arab poets. Both men and women compete, but until this season, no woman has ever reached the semi finals. What is even more amazing than Hissa Hilal reaching the semi finals is that she is the crowd favorite. Did I forget to mention that the live audience is separated into men and women sections. And what’s even more amazing is that Hissa Hilal’s poetry is a non-violent protest against the repressive Saudi regime. Hissa Hilal stands in front of the audience, covered head to toe in a black abaya cloak, beautifully criticizing her country’s government. Her actions are extremely heroic, every time she takes the stage and bashes her home country she runs the risk of being arrested upon returning home and facing unspeakable torture and travesty.

Let’s hope that she has gained enough popularity to become an untouchable social and political leader upon her return to Saudi Arabia. If you know anyone living in the Middle East, please ask them to text their vote for Hissa Hilal, the world’s newest heroine, to the show.

Iran’s regime: Rational Actors or Apocalyptic Zealots?

Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis once wrote of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that “For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement.” This has been a parroted refrain from the neoconservative braintrust on Iran in recent years–that the Iranian regime cannot be deterred because it is run by apocalyptic zealots who will happily embrace death in sacrifice to Islam.

Neocon figurehead Norman Podhoretz tried pushing this talking point in a 2007 PBS debate with Newsweek‘s Fareed Zakaria, where he stated:

The reason deterrence can’t work with Iran is that there’s a different element involved here than was involved with either Mao or even Kim Jong Il or Stalin, and that is the element of religious fanaticism.

The fact of the matter is that, with a religious fanatic like Ahmadinejad and the “mullahcracy” ruling Iran generally, there’s no assurance that self-preservation or the protection, preservation of the nation, will deter them.

And let me tell you why. Here is what the Ayatollah Khomeini, of whom Ahmadinejad is a devoted disciple, once said. He said: We do not worship Iran. We worship Allah, for patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land of Iran burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

Well, you can’t deter a nation that is led by people with that kind of attitude.

But, as Podhoretz’ unsuccesfull debate with Zakaria demonstrates, the facts on Iran speak otherwise, especially recent revelations about the role the regime plays in funding and training the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. I would even argue that Iran’s support for another Sunni insurgent group, Ansar al-Islam, is further proof of the regime’s rational decision-making in its foreign policy.

Now some may argue that this alliance simply demonstrates Islamist fanatics supporting one another. But this is not the case at all. Rather, this Iranian support demonstrates that the regime follows a realist policy of national interest first over ideological considerations.

Let me explain. If Iran were purely ideologically motivated, it would be at odds with these organizations. The Taliban is a Sunni, Deobandi extremist movement with Wahabist influences, all ideologies that are anathema to the Shi’ism of Iran and the Iranian regime. Further, Ansar al-Islam is a Sunni, Wahabist movement that directly threatens Shiites and Shiasm. As of now, the regime is using these groups as proxies to both exert influence in these two neighboring countries as well as shake up the stability of the regions and challenge the influence of Iran’s perceived enemies–the U.S., Britain, etc.–in these states.

When the Taliban was in control of Afghanistan, Iran had a shakey, antagonistic relationsihp with the regime. Iran was upset over the Taliban’s treatment of the minority Hazzara peoples (who are Shia) and funded/supported the Taliban’s enemies, the Northern Alliance. The Iranians almost went to war with the Afghan regime in 1998 (but were later dissuaded by U.S. President Bill Clinton) after the the execution of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. The Iranian regime even assisted the United States and its allies in the removal of the Taliban following the September 11th attacks of 2001. This warming U.S.-Iran relationship ended following U.S. President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, however.

And as goes Ansar al-Islam, while Iran has allegedly always had some form of ties to the organization, the regime has also been historically helpful to the secular Kurdish parties of Iraq, especially the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), often using the group as a proxy against Iran’s enemy: Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

So it makes sense now that Iran has done a 360 on these policies. Circumstances for the Iranian regime have changed now. It now views the U.S. as its most formidable enemy, with presence in both Iraq to its west and Afghanistan to its East, and has adapted its foreign policy respectively–funding and supporting endeavors that would weaken this foe.

The lesson here is that the Iranian regime can be deterred. It is a “rational actor” on the world stage in the classical realist sense. It is not a regime of death cultists ready to bring the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. And therefore, we should not treat them as anything more than another ambitious power in the region, one not to be overreacted to with military occupation or action. To do so would be both disastrous and ignorant.

A Positive Effect of Global Warming

Over this past weekend, Bill Clinton took a playful jab at his former Vice President Al Gore about global warming while hosting the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C. It was a pretty funny joke; he noted he was speaking on the night before the start of spring, “otherwise known to Al Gore as proof of global warming.” All jokes aside, little did Mr. Clinton know that a few days after his speech, that global warming would resolve one of the world’s conflicts.

For years, India and Bangladesh have argued over the possession of a tiny uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal. The island had never been inhabited and has long imposed itself on the skyline of the Bay of Bengal – a whopping 6 feet above sea level. At one point in the dispute, India deployed a Navy fleet to impose her perceived right of possession over the tiny island.

We can now all rest assured that this dispute won’t become hot, not because of India’s new chili pepper grenade, but because of global warming. The island has officially disappeared. Satellite imagery now depicts the island as being underwater. If India wants to defend its rights now, they’ll have to send a fleet of submarines to protect it from a stray pod of dolphins.

For all the harm global warming is causing and the negative impact it is having on conflict by decreasing fresh water supplies and increasing desertification, it has positively affected this conflict. Now India can focus all her military forces on showboating along the border with Pakistan.