Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:
President for Life?
President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan has died of heart failure at age 66. During his 21 years as leader of what was once a Soviet republic and later an independent state — Niyazov issued the following edicts — he declared himself president for life.
And he renamed the following things after himself: the month of January, a major sea port, central Asia's largest mosque, an amusement park, the country's highest mountain, and a meteorite that landed in his territory.
Niyazov demanded to be called "Turkmenbashi" — which means "the father of all Turkmen." He banned opera and ballet, and outlawed lip-synching, car radios and the playing of recorded music at weddings. His face appears on the country's currency, on vodka labels, chocolate wrappers and tea canisters.
And in 2001 — he complained that Turkmens were praising him too much.
Raul Castro has told young Cubans they should "fearlessly" engage in public debate and analysis. Castro has run the country since his older brother Fidel underwent emergency intestinal surgery five months ago. Raul Castro told students in Havana Wednesday: "Sometimes people fear the word 'disagree.' But I say the more debate and the more disagreement you have, the better the decisions will be."
He said Cuba needs to groom younger people to replace its current aging leaders. And he said he will be delegating more responsibilities, making fewer speeches, and running the country in a more collegial way than his brother.
Gay Dolls in Nativity
Two Italian politicians caused a major stir when they placed dolls representing homosexual couples near the baby Jesus in parliament's official nativity scene. The two leftists said they were trying to promote legislation granting legal rights to same-sex couples.
But some of their colleagues are calling for their censure. A group of women legislators called their move "a vulgar and unacceptable double attack against both a national institution as well as a religious symbol." And one member of the leftists' own coalition said the display could backfire and actually hurt the gay rights movement.
Display of Ferocity
Wednesday we told you about the handover of the Iranian province of Najaf from U.S. control to Iraqi control. And it seems that a few of Iraq's elite soldiers celebrated — by tearing a live rabbit to pieces. The leader of the group bit out its heart, then passed the rabbit around to his comrades, who each took a bite.
The men also bit the heads off frogs. It seems chewing on live animals is a traditional display of ferocity for Iraqi elite troops. U.S. Major General Kurt Cichowski — who witnessed the display — said — "our soldiers do a lot of things, but I've never seen them do anything like that."
—FOX News Channel's Martin Hill contributed to this report.