Italian seismologists convicted for not predicting earthquake

I'm all for calling people out for bad predictions, but this is ridiculous:

An Italian court convicted six scientists and a government official of manslaughter on Monday and sentenced them to six years in prison for failing to give adequate warning of a deadly earthquake which destroyed the central city of L'Aquila and killed more than 300 people in 2009.

The seven, all members of an official body called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were accused of negligence and malpractice in their evaluation of the danger of an earthquake and their duty to keep the city informed of the risks.

Earthquake prediction may have improvied in recent years, but it's certainly not an exact science. And what exactly would authorities have done if they had received a warning? Evacuated the region? Earthquake-proofed a 14th-century city in a matter of months?

If the ruling stands, it's not likely to encourage a new generation of Italians to take up seismology. And don't be surprised if the National Commission's next report warns of 9.4-magnitude earthquakes, tsunamis in Venice, an eruption of Vesuvius, and a plague of locusts just to be on the safe side. 


Fidel Castro is still not dead

Last we we noted reports by a Venezuelan doctor who claimed that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had suffered a major cerebral hemmorage and was near death.

There had been no images released of Castro since March and no public statements since a series of odd koan-like musings on Yoga, trees, and the nature of the universe published in state newspaper Granma in June. 

But Castro has reemerged, somewhat,  with an article blasting rumors of his ill health as "imperialist propaganda". He goes on to say that he can't even remember having a headache.  Regarding his long and unusual silence in the state media, Castro says only, "it is certainly not my role to occupy the pages of our newspapers." The website CubaDebate also released a series of photos of Castro puttering in a garden, including one above showing him with a current issue of Granma.

So, it appears the doctor's report was another false alarm. Although, when a government is reduced to employing the same method kidnappers use to show that hostages are still alive in order to demonstrate the health of their former leader and political figurehead, it's not a good sign. 

It's worth giving a read, if you haven't already, to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith's recent article on why leaders conceal evidence of ill health: 

For heads of state, there's also an inherent tension between maintaining good health and revealing to cronies or the public that all is not well. The difficulty, especially in autocratic systems, is that medical care can only be sought at the risk to one's hold on power -- a risk worth taking only in extremis. After all, "loyal" backers -- even family members -- remain loyal only as long as their leader can be expected to continue to deliver power and money to them. Once the grim facts come to light, the inner circle begins to shop around, looking to curry favor with a likely successor. ... Any leader worth his salt must keep terminal illnesses hidden from public view as best as possible. Terminal illness or even extreme old age, which is after all, the most terminal of illnesses, are excellent indicators that the beloved leader won't be reliable for long. Then the view is: Out with the old, in with the new.

Supporters know that their leader, no matter how generous and beloved, simply cannot deliver from beyond the grave. Once their privileges and perks are in jeopardy, the inner circle looks for its next meal ticket.

Of course, in Cuba's case, the inner circle who might be scheming to take power aren't much more spry than Fidel and Raul.