A Dispatch from Tehran

Babak Rahimi is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego, who has been in Iran studying the elections. He's on his way home. But he sent this email:

I've difficulty having access to my yahoo account here.

This is the latest [information] I've (though much that I have here is based on what I have heard from pro-Mousavi people. I can't confirm any of them, except the first one, which I've seen that myself).

1. The Basij has literally taken over the major parts of the city--at nights that is.
The Sepah seems to be still standing in the background, but they have issued another statement calling for more crackdowns.

2. Mousavi has apparently issued a strike for today, Tuesday. Kurdistan is also going on strike.

3. Rafsanjani appears to be in Qom, mustering support for an eventual confrontation with the pro-Khamenei faction in Tehran.

4. The pro-Mousavi rallies will continue until 18 Tir, the anniversary of the crushed 1999 student uprising. Also, there are plans for a massive rallies for the 40th day of those who have been killed (especially for Neda) by the state police.

I predict more days of violence and bloodshed.
 

The Blue Marble's not the only place where we cover science, health, and environment news. Here's a Tuesday morning roundup from the rest of Motherjones.com:

On settling: Some enviros want to hold out for a new and improved Waxman-Markey climate bill, while others say the current version is our best shot at saving the climate before it's too late. Who's right? Well, you decide.

And you thought you didn't care about land use: Kevin Drum shows how smart transportation and land policy can dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions, in both the city and the country.

Healthcare cronyism alert: We know why Republicans oppose the public option, but what about the Dems who keep resisting it?

 

The latest numbers have at least seven people dead and dozens more injured in the terrible rush-hour crash on the Washington Metro's Red Line (see David Corn's photos from the scene here).

There’s been no official word yet about what caused the crash. But here’s a roundup of some possibilities.

By last night, the Washington Post had quickly confirmed what veteran Metro riders might  have suspected: The automatic “fail-safes” had failed. The Post reports: 

Metro was designed with a fail-safe computerized signal system that is supposed to prevent trains from colliding. The agency’s trains are run by onboard computers that control speed and braking. Another electronic system detects the position of trains to maintain a safe distance between them. If they get too close, the computers automatically apply the brakes, stopping the trains. These systems were supposed to make yesterday’s crash impossible.

This isn’t the first time the Metro’s signal systems have failed–the Post documents several others. The computerized system was also shut down for a year and a half in 1999 to 2000, and the system run manually by train operators, because repairs were needed on the communications relays that are also supposed to prevent trains from coming close enough to collide:

David Corn is at the site of today's fatal Metro accident, and forwards this photo:Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Well, Death Row Records has done it again. After declaring bankruptcy earlier this year the label is back in action, and another Tupac album is anticipated for 2010. How does this still work? That 13 years after his death people are still clamoring for his albums? For starters, Tupac, for better and worse, shaped today's hip-hop. And because Tupac—while he had lots of issues—was honest and prescient in his lyrics, so much so that his songs continue to tell the story of the day 13 years after his death. In fact, my one-year-old niece is a Tupac fan. She listens to Tupac ("Ooo ooo child, things are gonna get easier...") right alongside Free to Be You and Me, and I'm glad that when she understands the line in Changes, "We ain't ready to see a black President," she'll wonder what he meant. But unfortunately the rest of his classic ballad still holds true today, right down to the war on poverty and the war in the Middle East.

Maybe if Tupac were still alive he'd have gotten sucked into The Surreal Life or I'm a Celebrity... or some other awful reality show, which would mean he likely wouldn't be the Tupac people still admire, the rapper who made his life (and through creative Dr. Dre marketing, his death) about injustice and candor.

Got any favorite Tupac lines? "They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor"; "Do what you gotta do, but know you got to change/ Try to find a way to make it out of the game"; "Time to heal our women, be real to our women / And if we don't we'll have a race of babies / That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can't make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one."

Lyricize in the comments.

In a major setback for the people and wildlife of southern Alaska, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 today that the Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation can legally under the Clean Water Act dump more than 4.5 million tons of “slurry”—a mining waste byproduct that’s a mixture of crushed rock and water—in the Lower Slate Lake in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The ruling overturned a May 2007 decision by a lower appeals court denying Coeur d’Alene’s permit, which applies to its Kensington Gold Mine north of Juneau, Alaska's capital city.

But isn’t the Clean Water Act supposed to protect our lakes and rivers and other water sources? Well, yes. For nearly 30 years, the CWA expressly prohibited pumping harmful waste materials into waters, allowing only "fill material" for building structures like seawalls and levees to be dumped, and only then with permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. But in 2002, the Bush Administration tweaked the definition of "fill" to include dangerous waste products with an EPA memo that the public never saw. The memo's expansion of the "fill" definition permitted harmful slurry dumping into lakes and other water sources. In making its decision today, the Supreme Court relied on this memo.
 

Last week's cute endangered animal, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, was an ocean creature, so this week's pick is from the land: the ocelot. The ocelot is a nocturnal wildcat known for its strikingly beautiful coat. The 4'-long, 24 to 35lb animals used to roam from Texas through Louisiana and Arkansas but due to habitat destruction by roads and agriculture, today there are fewer than 100 of the cats in the wild left in the US.

One obstacle to conservation is that like many wild cats, ocelots are solitary and need a large range, 500 acres for a single adult. Ocelots are also picky about what kind of land they will call home: they prefer dense brush with trees (so they can hide and sleep during the day) and need a steady supply of small mammals, rodents, lizards, or other prey to live on. Fun fact: ocelots will pluck all the feathers and fur off their prey before eating it.

Although ocelots are endangered, some people apparently keep them as pets, and they are popular as zoo exhibits. Ocelots seem to do fine in captivity, living up to 20 years: their lifespan in the wild is only seven to 10 years. Though ocelots are endangered in the US, they can be found wild in various parts of Central and South America. The US population, however, has a peculiar enemy: cars. The animals seem to have little concern for traffic running through the nature preserves on which they generally live, and being hit by a car kills 2% of the ocelot population in a given year.

Though the ocelot seems to have little chance for recovery in the US, there is news of a feral population in Florida. Spanish painter Salvador Dali had a pet ocelot named Ozzie, but in general the cats are known to make poor pets. However, those desiring the ocelot's distinctive coat can settle for the "ocicat": an entirely domestic cat that looks like an ocelot, but doesn't have the loudly yowling, aggressively affectionate, spray-happy attributes of its wild cousin. (To hear the growls of an ocelot in heat, click here.)

 

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The weirdest political story in a long time--sorry, Senator Craig. From The State newspaper in South Carolina:

The whereabouts of Gov. Mark Sanford was unknown for nearly four days, and some state leaders question who was in charge of the executive office.

But Sanford’s office told the lieutenant governor’s office Monday afternoon that Sanford has been reached and he is fine, said Frank Adams, head of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s office on aging.

Neither the governor’s office nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for governors, had been able to reach Sanford after he left the mansion Thursday in a black SLED Suburban SUV, said Sen. Jake Knotts and three others familiar with the situation but declined to be identified.

Sanford’s last known whereabouts had been near Atlanta because a mobile telephone tower picked up a signal from his phone, authorities said. His office now knows where he is, Adams said.

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press earlier Monday her husband has been gone for several days and she did not know where.

She said she was not concerned.

Oh, the keffiyeh hipster trend. How long have I waited, in vain, for you to die? Once upon a time, the keffiyeh (spelled many ways but worn only one) was headdress for PLO leader Yasser Arafat and symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Now, thanks to a late aughts explosion of popularity, the symbol of intifada is second only to the Che t-shirt for its global ubiquity and collegiate rebel chic. Today, you can buy this fashion juggernaut from half the street vendors on Earth for a cool five bucks. So with all this popularity, why is the the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine about to go out of business?
That's because the one you're wearing (and, increasingly, the ones Palestinians are wearing) are now made in China.
Here's how it happened: Back in '87, during the first intifada, intifadniks couldn't get enough of Palestinian-made $25 scarves. Looser export restrictions meant that Israelis could rep them too, and slowly but surely the scarf and its emblematic pattern began appearing in the West. By the time the second intifada happened in 2000, hardcore activists and the super cool already had them. Then the keffiyeh trend reached its tipping point, and hipsters' insatiable lust for the scarf lured Chinese manufactures into the gig. Fast forward a decade, and Chinese keffiyehs are the norm.
Ironically, global support for Palestinian-statehood-as-fashion-accessory has put yet another nail in the coffin of the Occupied Territories' beleaguered economy. What's next?

The stakes are high in the Pakistani military's fight against Islamist militants in the Swat Valley. If you need reminding, just take Monday's threat by Mustafa Abul-Yazeed, Al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, said to be the group's number three leader behind Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Speaking to al-Jazeera, he warned that, were Al Qaeda able to gain access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, it would not hesitate to use it against the United States. Of course, according Bruce Riedel, the former CIA officer who led the Obama administration's retooling of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, Islamabad's nukes are "well protected, concealed, and dispersed." But Abul-Yazeed's claim (empty or not) is a reminder that Al Qaeda continues to think big in terms of the damage it hopes to inflict. From UPI:

"By God's will, the Americans will not seize the Muslims' nuclear weapons and we pray that the Muslims will have these weapons and they will be used against the Americans," [Abul-Yazeed] said in an exclusive interview.

Abul-Yazeed told al-Jazeera that al-Qaida had been assisting Taliban militants in their fight against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and against Pakistani government forces in that country's Swat Valley and tribal areas.

He predicted insurgents would defeat the government in the Swat battles. He also said al-Qaida's two main leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, "are safe from the reach of the enemies, but I don't know where they are and I can't say where they are, but they are aware of everything and all the fighting in the field."