Chatter: Bashar al-Assad just wants to be 'civilized'




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Need to know:
Bashar al-Assad is ready to leave, "but in a civilized way."

At least, that's according to Russia's ambassador in Paris, who has sparked a row with Damascus after telling French radio this morning that the Syrian president had begun negotiations for his departure. Syria's information ministry has since refuted the claim.

"Civilized," we might speculate, probably means "not for a while yet," at least in Assad's dictionary. And it's not just the regime who's fine with that. As GlobalPost's correspondent discovered, not everyone in Syria hates the president; some people even like him, though, the way the revolution's going, they're increasingly afraid to admit it. 

Indeed, given the developments of the past days, some would say Assad would be lucky to make it out alive – civilized or otherwise. Another top official has died from Wednesday's bombing in Damascus: national security chief Hisham Ikhtiar, whose death today from his injuries brings the toll to four. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels are in control of key border crossings into Turkey and Iraq.

Want to know:
At least 14 people are dead and 50 injured after a shooting in a movie theater in Denver, Colorado.

Details are still emerging, but witnesses say a gunman opened fire during a late-night premiere of the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. He was reportedly wearing a gas mask, and may have released tear gas into the crowd before he began shooting. Some of the victims are said to be children.

Police say they have a suspect in custody, and are searching his apartment for possible explosives.

Dull but important:
Ai Weiwei has lost his appeal against a multi-million-dollar fine for tax evasion. 

Chinese authorities stuck the artist's firm with a bill for 15 million yuan, or $2.4 million, last year. They say it's what Ai owes in unpaid taxes; he and his supporters maintain that it's political pay-back for his criticism of the government.

It was a surprise that a Beijing court even agreed to hear Ai's case. He was banned from attending today to receive the verdict, and accused the Chinese judiciary of being "shrouded in darkness." 

"We will keep appealing, until the day comes when we have nothing to lose," Ai says.

Just because:
The US could be facing the prospect of a whooping cough epidemic.

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, there have been more than 18,000 American cases of whooping cough so far in 2012 – double the number this time last year, and the highest since 1959. Nine deaths have been reported from the disease, which affects babies the hardest.

The cause of the rise isn't clear. It could be down to better reporting of the disease, its cyclical nature, or a switch to a new vaccine in the late 1990s that perhaps isn't as effective against the current strain. 

Strange but true:
"Reader, I married him. And then we enjoyed some adult fun with my hairbrush and a horsewhip."

So might read the freshly "sexed-up" version of Jane Eyre, to be released shortly by Clandestine Classics. The purveyor of adult fiction plans to cash in on the Fifty Shades of Grey mania by adding explicit sex scenes to 19th-century novels – and it's not just Jane who'll be made to discover the joys of spanking, but also Catherine (Wuthering Heights), Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice), and even Sherlock Holmes (in the parlour with Doctor Watson).

Some say revamping, some say "ruining" (full disclosure: this comes from the keyboard of a Literature major). At least the new editions will all be e-books – which will save you some funny looks on the subway, but probably won't stop some serious turning in Charlotte Bronte's grave.