Turkmenistan: Change at glacial pace

Political life in the former Soviet state of Turkmenistan is such that one sometimes wonders if the country’s leaders are aware that the USSR no longer exists.

Freedom of the press is unheard of; freedom of worship is possible only for adherents of the two state-recognized faiths, Russian Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam; and state-sponsored discrimination against non-Turkmen peoples appears rampant.

The nation was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, a former Communist party official who looked a bit like Leonid Brezhnev but ruled more like Stalin, from its inception as an independent nation in 1991 until his death in 2006.

Niyazov’s policies included the banning of opera and the circus.

Needless to say, political dissent has never been tolerated very well in Turkmenistan.

However, in a sign that things may be ever-so-slowly changing, the first-ever opposition party was formed in the Central Asian nation earlier this month, Agence France-Presse reported.

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Ben Tillman: Bad governor, awful economist

As anyone who has spent any time in South Carolina knows, folks in the Palmetto State tend to do things just a little differently.

See the Nullification Crisis, the Secession Convention of 1860 and S.C. gubernatorial election of 1876 for examples.

Another historical item unique to the South Carolina is the state Dispensary system.

The Dispensary system was a state-run monopoly on liquor sales in South Carolina. It operated from 1893 until 1907.

The Dispensary represented a ham-handed effort by then-Gov. Pitchfork Ben Tillman to effect a compromise between prohibition advocates and anti-prohibition forces. (The Dispensary was sometimes referred to as “Ben Tillman’s Baby.”)

It marked the only time in US history that a state required all liquor sold within its borders to be bottled and dispensed through state-run facilities.

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Blake the tortoise, WWI survivor, seeks home

The search is on for a home for a tortoise rescued nearly a century ago by a British solider amid the bloody Battle of Gallipoli.

Blake the tortoise is approaching his 100th birthday. He was plucked from the Turkish sands during one of World War I’s costliest battles – nearly 500,000 casualties in all – and smuggled back to Great Britain in a backpack.

Blake outlived the soldier, now only remembered by the name Mr. Marris, by some three decades, and was eventually passed on to a Norfolk, England, tortoise breeder, Marion Skinner, in the 1980s, according to The Telegraph.

Blake is Skinner’s last tortoise, and she’s put him up for adoption because she has back problems and is struggling to care for him.

Blake, 67, said she would love to see Blake returned to Turkey and the beaches where he was scooped to safety amid a rain of artillery shells 98 years ago.

“If he could go back to Turkey I am sure he would love it. If there’s anybody in Gallipoli who could take him that would be perfect,” she told The Telegraph. “He always loved the sunshine and the warmth of the green house so I am certain he would enjoy being back in his natural environment. It would be an incredible ending to his incredible story.”

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Cotton facing unpromising prospects for 2013

Two years after cotton prices hit lofty levels, growers are facing considerably bleaker prospects, according to market analysts.

Spiking grain and soybean prices has resulted in projections for plunging cotton acreage in 2013, according to analysts speaking at the Ag Market Network’s recent conference call.

“I can’t think of anybody right now who would plant cotton unless they owned a gin,” said Mike Stevens a market analyst based in Louisiana. “As far as the price structure is concerned, cotton is not even competitive.”

In the Southeast and Mid-South, “anything less than a dollar a pound for cotton is not going to draw much interest,” Mississippi State professor emeritus O.A. Cleveland told Southeast Farm Press. “With soybeans at $17 and corn at $8, you’re going to see wholesale switching to soybeans and corn.”

Cotton futures are currently in the low- to mid-70-cent-per-pound range, according to information found on the National Cotton Council of America’s website. A year ago it was selling for 90 cents a pound and the price topped $2 in 2010.

Jarral Neeper, president of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Calcot said, “70-cent cotton just won’t work. Land rents are rising now due to alternative crops. Fertilizer prices have not come down much at all. There are just too many alternatives in California for producers to not look at other things.”

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Woman called ‘Rosa Parks of Wales’ dies

The woman called the “Rosa Parks of Wales” died earlier this week, decades after losing nearly everything in an effort to put the Welsh language on equal footing with English in her native land.

Eileen’s Beasley’s fight to have her tax bill printed in Welsh left her with an empty house – literally – as bailiffs took everything of value from the home of her and her husband, including wedding gifts and the carpets.

Adam Phillips, chairman of Balchder Cymru (Pride of Wales), said Beasley’s contribution to the Welsh language bears comparison with Rosa Parks’ efforts for the civil rights movement in America when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.

“To have bailiffs come into your house and take everything you own because you refuse to pay on a point of principle – imagine the shame of that in those days with people looking down their noses at you,” he told WalesOnline.

“It’s people like these activists that make things happen,” Phillips added. “She and her husband did it peacefully, but suffered for it.”

Beasley and her husband Trefor became leading campaigners for the right to use Welsh, beginning in the 1950s.

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Monster python caught in Florida Everglades

In a discovery certain to send shivers down the spine of anyone working in the Everglades tourism bureau, Florida officials Monday announced the capture of the largest Burmese python ever found in the Sunshine State – a leviathan more than 17 feet in length.

Not only was the python of record-setting length – at 17-feet-seven-inches it broke the old state record by nearly a foot – extremely long, it also contained 87 eggs, also thought to be a record.

“This thing is monstrous, it’s about a foot wide,” Kenneth Krysko, the herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Scientists at the University of Florida-based museum examined the 164.5-pound snake on Friday as part of a government research project into managing the pervasive effect of Burmese pythons in Florida, according to Agence France-Presse.

The giant snakes are native to Southeast Asia and were first found in the Everglades in 1979. They prey on native birds, deer, bobcats, alligators and other large animals.

Pythons kill their prey by coiling around it and suffocating it. They have been known to swallow animals as large as deer and alligators.

“A 17½-foot snake could eat anything it wants,” Krysko said.

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One-of-a-kind dime fetches $1.84 million

The two existing United States mints produce coins at a staggering rate. Since 1999, more than 180 billion pennies, dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollar pieces have been turned out by the Philadelphia and Denver mints.

In the year 2000 alone, the Philadelphia mint alone coined more than 1.8 billion 10-cent pieces. That’s five dimes for every man, woman and child in the US just in that year alone.

Alas, mints didn’t always produce coins in such prodigious amounts.

Take, for example, the Carson City, Nev., mint, which in 1873 struck just 12,400 Seated Liberty dimes of a variety collectors designate as “without arrows,” for its lack of arrows on the obverse, on either side of the date.

All were produced in a single day.

Just one example of that brief run is known to exist, and it was auctioned for $1.84 million in Philadelphia late last week.

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