638 Ways to Kill Castro

From The Guardian:

For nearly half a century, the CIA and Cuban exiles have been trying to devise ways to assassinate Fidel Castro, who is currently laid low in Cuba following an operation for intestinal bleeding. None of the plots, of course, succeeded, but, then, many of them would probably be rejected as too fanciful for a James Bond novel.

Fabian Escalante, who, for a time, had the job of keeping El Commandante alive, has calculated that there have been a total of 638 attempts on Castro’s life. That may sound like a staggeringly high figure, but then the CIA were pretty keen on killing him. As Wayne Smith, former head of the US interests section in Havana, pointed out recently, Cuba had the effect on the US that a full moon has on a werewolf. It seems highly likely that if the CIA had had access to a werewolf, it would have tried smuggling it into the Sierra Maestra at some point over the past 40-odd years.

What did some of these assassination plots involve?

Knowing his fascination for scuba-diving off the coast of Cuba, the CIA at one time invested in a large volume of Caribbean molluscs. The idea was to find a shell big enough to contain a lethal quantity of explosives, which would then be painted in colours lurid and bright enough to attract Castro’s attention when he was underwater. Documents released under the Clinton administration confirm that this plan was considered but, like many others, did not make it far from the drawing-board. Another aborted plot related to Castro’s underwater activities was for a diving-suit to be prepared for him that would be infected with a fungus that would cause a chronic and debilitating skin disease.

(Thanks Mark!)

Richard Dawkins: Is Science a Religion?

Published in the Humanist, January/February 1997.

Well, science is not religion and it doesn’t just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion’s virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas? The other apostles are held up to us as exemplars of virtue because faith was enough for them. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, required evidence. Perhaps he should be the patron saint of scientists.

One reason I receive the comment about science being a religion is because I believe in the fact of evolution. I even believe in it with passionate conviction. To some, this may superficially look like faith. But the evidence that makes me believe in evolution is not only overwhelmingly strong; it is freely available to anyone who takes the trouble to read up on it. Anyone can study the same evidence that I have and presumably come to the same conclusion. But if you have a belief that is based solely on faith, I can’t examine your reasons. You can retreat behind the private wall of faith where I can’t reach you.

Throwing While Black

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Cosmic Variance on Warren Moon:

Warren Moon always wanted to be a quarterback. He had all the physical tools, as well as tremendous leadership abilities and a fierce determination to win. Only one problem: he was black. As stupid as it may sound, not too long ago conventional wisdom held that black people couldn’t be quarterbacks — they were athletes, not thinkers.

Moon was a successful high school football player in LA, despite playing in the kind of atmosphere where you received death threats from gang members playing for the opposing team. But he couldn’t get a scholarship offer from a major college. Well, that’s not exactly right — he did get offers, but only under the condition that he switch positions to running back or defensive back. One school, Arizona State, recruited him as a quarterback, but rescinded their scholarship offer after they signed two other (white) quarterbacks.

Warren Moon Determined to play the position he wanted to play, Moon went to junior college for a year, where he personally sent game films to major programs throughout the country. He was finally offered a scholarship by the University of Washington, where the team had been plagued by racial tensions. At UW he was the target of relentless taunting from fans, and his own teammates expressed skepticism of his ability. Nevertheless, in his senior year Moon led the Huskies to their first Rose Bowl in fifteen years, where they beat Michigan in a stunning upset.

Moon was named MVP of the Rose Bowl, but when the NFL draft came around, nobody was interested. He wasn’t invited to any combines or private workouts for teams. Word was out that he refused to convert to defensive back or tight end, which were the only positions at which NFL teams would consider him. As Moon put it, “The quarterback is the face of the organization, and white owners still weren’t ready for that face to be a black man. The owners wanted somebody to take to the country club, and they weren’t ready for that to be a black man.”

Émilie du Châtelet

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The Guardian’s profile on Émilie du Châtelet:

The scientist whom history forgot

A few years ago I was researching a book about Einstein when I stumbled on a footnote about an obscure Frenchwoman of the early 18th century. Her name was Emilie du Châtelet; according to the note, she had played a role in developing the modern concept of energy, and had acquired a certain notoriety in her day.

It left me intrigued. And what I discovered, as I tracked down her letters and books over the next few months, astounded me. That footnote had understated her significance entirely. Emilie du Châtelet had played a crucial role in the development of science. What’s more, she had had a wild life.

She had been raised in Paris in the 1710s, growing up in a townhouse of more than 30 rooms overlooking the Tuileries gardens. Her mother had been appalled at having a child who refused to stay politely at children’s parties, or to gossip about clothes, but who instead loved listening in when educated guests – especially astronomers – came to visit.

Du Châtelet’s father, luckily, doted on his sole daughter. He kept the mother from sending her off to a convent, as was regularly threatened; he hired tutors to teach her Latin, Greek and mathematics. At Versailles, where her black curly hair and rapid-fire speech won her admirers, he merely sighed when she used her skill at mathematics to win at cards, and then used the money to buy more books, rather than more clothes. But he helped her, with family money, to arrange a marriage with a wealthy army officer who – luckily – would be away with his regiment most of the time.

Related:

Wikipedia entry on Émilie du Châtelet