Smart takes
March 3, 2014

According to Tikhon Dzyadko, a deputy editor with the independent Russian TV station DozhdTV, even Vladimir Putin doesn't know the answer to that question. In an insightful analysis of the Russian incursion into Ukraine over at The New Republic, Dzyadko writes:

It's enough to make your head spin, especially if you're trying to think of it as of a coherent policy. But it isn't. And there's been no logic in it, either. When it comes to Ukraine, there hasn't been any for years. [...]

There is a Russian proverb: "To spite mom, I will freeze my ears off." It refers to a child who won't wear a hat in the cold simply for the sake of disobeying his mother. Russian foreign policy functions exactly in this way: Again and again, Moscow makes decisions that are most detrimental to Moscow itself. Elegantly juggling various principles of international law, the Russian government has been steadily spoiling its relations with its international partners. [The New Republic]

Psychoanalyzing Putin's decision to send troops to Crimea has become the topic du jour in the last few days. But Dzyadko makes an interesting case that Putin more or less aimlessly blundered his way into this mess — and that his actions could backfire spectacularly. Jon Terbush

Shaken, not stirred
12:07 p.m. ET
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Having saved the world countless times, James Bond is setting his sights on a more modest goal: conquering Broadway. Playbill reports that producer Merry Saltzman has acquired the rights to stage James Bond: The Musical. The play is already in development, and producers hope to have it ready for Broadway or Las Vegas by 2017 or 2018.

While the story of James Bond: The Musical will be original — and introduce a brand-new female character for 007 to tangle with — the play will include several existing Bond villains. Here's hoping Jaws finally opens his steel-toothed jaw and reveals the beautiful baritone he's been hiding all along. Scott Meslow

Our Modern World
11:52 a.m. ET

A new campaign by the Russian Interior Ministry seeks to help curb dangerous 'selfie' behavior, the BBC reports. A poster released by the ministry urges Russia's youth to stop trying to impress their friends by snapping selfies near trains, with guns or wild animals, or on electrical pylons, among other potentially dangerous situations.

( Interior Ministry)

"Even a million 'likes' on social media are not worth your life and well-being," the "Safe Selfie" motto goes. The campaign is in response to a growing number of selfie-related injuries, including one in May in which a 21-year-old woman survived shooting herself in the head while attempting to take a selfie with a gun. Marshall Bright

don't quit your day job
11:40 a.m. ET
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Powerball winners of yesteryear, rejoice: The odds were ever in your favor.

Starting October 7, that will no longer be the case for people playing the popular lottery game, thanks to a Monday change by New York's Gaming Commission, The Buffalo News reports.

Powerball players select numbers from two lines of possibilities. Up until now, the first line's field size has been 59 numbers, and the second has been 35 numbers. Officials changed the top field to a larger 69 numbers, and the bottom to a lower 26. So, people will have a better chance of guessing one number in the bottom field correctly, but picking all five correct numbers in the top field will be harder. The net effect, officials say, will be more partial winners — but fewer jackpot payouts. The odds of winning $1 million for correctly guessing the top five numbers and one bottom number will be 1 in 11.7 million, down from 1 in 5.1 million, for example. And the chances of winning a jackpot will fall from 1 in 175,223,510 to 1 in 292,201,338.

On the upside, these changes don't go into effect for another three months, so get thee to a gas station or bodega — and good luck! Sarah Eberspacher

Cuba Libre
11:25 a.m. ET
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For the first time since the 1960 trade embargo, it just might be possible to take a cruise to Cuba. The world's largest cruise company, Carnival Corp., announced Tuesday that it plans to offer trips to Cuba, departing from Miami. The cruises will be weeklong stints aboard the Adonia, a smaller ship that carries 710 passengers.

But don't light up that cigar and pour a glass of rum just yet: These cruises won't be vacations. Rather, the Cuban cruises will be a part of Carnival's newest brand, fathom, which sails passengers to a destination to do volunteer work. The cruise ship would only be allowed to stop at a specified county in Cuba, so passengers wouldn't necessarily be getting a full tour of the Caribbean island nation, either.

At this point, the cruise itinerary is not yet approved by the Cuban government. If Cuba approves Carnival's proposal, prices for the trip will start at $2,990. Becca Stanek

election 2016
11:20 a.m. ET
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Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who announced his long-shot campaign for president last week, prides himself on being a fighter — for the working class, for fallen soldiers on all sides, for America. But what voters may not know is that his penchant for pugilism extends to actual fights, the kind where people get beaten to a bloody pulp.

That's the accusation made by a former aide named Chase Untermeyer, who authored a little-known book about his time at the Pentagon called Inside Reagan's Navy. (Webb served as Reagan's secretary of the Navy.) Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast unearthed this tidbit from the book:

Untermeyer recounts a session in Webb’s private office, during which the Navy secretary reminisced about a long-ago violent dustup with a ponytailed biker.

"I had him by the hair and was beating his head on the sidewalk when he suddenly went limp on me," Webb recounted. "Then it came to me: I had killed the f--king son of a bitch, and I would be put on report back at the Academy! So I revived him — whereupon he came to and kicked me in the head about 10 times till I was able to grab his leg... Moral: Show no mercy in a fight." [The Daily Beast]

In the book, Webb is portrayed as a humorless, self-serious striver who is so convinced of his epic role in American history that he views insults to himself as "treason."

Webb's campaign reportedly did not respond to a request for comment. Ryu Spaeth

Survey says...
11:04 a.m. ET
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The World Health Organization's response to West Africa's Ebola outbreak was lagging and dangerously inconsistent, according to a new independent report on the international body's practices.

The report, led by former head of Oxfam Barbara Stocking, critiqued WHO's initial response to the epidemic that began in 2013 and has since claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people.

"The panel considers that WHO does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response," the report reads, as covered by The Guardian.

While the report also blasted individual countries' slow responses — especially citing the implementation of travel bans to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — the bulk of the blame fell on "significant and unjustifiable delays" by WHO's workers. Such gridlock could be detrimental in the event of future public health emergencies, and the report advises the creation of a WHO emergency preparedness center, which could operate independently and with authority in affected countries. Sarah Eberspacher

Space is cool
11:01 a.m. ET
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Actually, it's red!

Pluto has long been popularly depicted as grayish or blue, though scientists have suspected for decades that the distant dwarf planet has a reddish hue. But because Pluto is millions of miles away, we really didn't know for sure. Now, thanks to photos taken by the unmanned spacecraft New Horizons, we know that Pluto is red.

New Horizons, which has been in transit for nearly a decade, has come closer to Pluto than any manmade material ever has before. In a week, New Horizons will be a mere 7,750 miles from the surface of Pluto. By that time, we'll surely learn a whole lot more about Pluto than just its color. But for now, the color thing is exciting.

Unlike Mars, which had claim to the "red planet" label first, Pluto's red coloring is likely due to "hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto's atmosphere and on its surface," NASA says. Mars is just red from boring old iron oxide. Jeva Lange

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