Friday, May 30, 2003

Salam Pax gets a regular writing gig in the Guardian. Isabella V. goes stone silent.


Update: And now, Salam has a post up on the blog which describes his secretive family's deep ties to the country's power structure. Slowly, slowly, the truth comes out...

(The announcement of Salam's column via Greg Greene).

In the wake of Paul Wolfowitz's statement, in a Vanity Fair interview, that Dubya's crew pushed WMD as a casus belli against Iraq less because they actually believed he had any, than "because it was the one reason everyone could agree on" to mount an invasion, Billmon has a near-definitive collection of quotes from administration officials from Dubya himself on down about their eroding certainty on the matter, starting with Dick Cheney, who had "no doubt" last August.

But he seems to have missed one truly precious piece of back-pedaling, reported so far only by Global Security Newswire, which quotes administration hawk John Bolton as saying that Iraq's "intellectual capacity" to make dangerous weapons was the real casus belli:

Bolton said U.N. and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors "could have inspected for years and years and years and probably never would have found weapons-grade plutonium or weapons-grade uranium."

"But right in front of them was the continued existence of what Saddam Hussein called the 'nuclear mujahadeen,' the thousand or so scientists, technicians, people who have in their own heads and in their files the intellectual property necessary at an appropriate time" to recreate a nuclear weapons program.

So if he killed them all, would Bolton be happy?

Probably not -- as I keep mentioning, enough of the physics required to design a bomb is in the open literature, that a Princeton undergraduate produced a reportedly workable design in 1978. So long as there was a half-bright college student anywhere in Iraq, the regime could not be allowed to stand. And not just for our safety, but for the safety and security of all the other governments in the world, of course.

In the meantime, get ready for more stark certainties about the next imminent threat that needs to be taken out now: Iran, where Stratfor is reporting that a final date for invasion will be set May 29th. But not North Korea, which the CIA now believes to be "on their way to be able to make hundreds [of nukes] within the next couple of years;" without anything else around that the United States considers a strategic resource, how much of a problem can they really be?

The point of a stimulus package is to put money in the hands of people who will spend it. Which is why Congress acted at the last minute to remove a child-care tax credit for poor people who could have used it to spend on their kids. Which makes perfect sense -- they weren't going to vote Republican anyway.
These days, you take your amusement where you can get it. An odd but effective source is L'affaire Brown Bunny at the Cannes film festival, named for, well, The Brown Bunny, an entrant starring the actor Vincent Gallo, who also produced, directed, wrote the screenplay, and seems to have done just about everything else except set carpentry. This is one film that truly has an auteur. But, pace Roger Ebert, it has little else to recommend it:

The film consists of an unendurable 90 minutes of uneventful banality, as Gallo's character travels cross-country toward a motorcycle race in California, followed by a hard-core sex scene in which he imagines he receives fellatio from his lost love, played by Chloe Sevigny. Let it be said that Sevigny, who reportedly cried during the screening, is heroic in the way she finds conviction and truth in her character, in the midst of the general catastrophe. Many minutes of the earlier scenes consist of such shots as a windshield gradually accumulating dead bugs.

Cannes was reportedly abuzz with strange notions about how this film, the lowest-rated entrant in the history of the festival, ever got made in the first place -- ranging from the idea that the film was produced and submitted to the festival as a practical joke on the organizers, to the leering hints dropped by the Telegraph that the movie may have been an excuse to film that ten-minute-long sex scene. (Gallo is quoted as saying that he has been obsessed with Sevigny since she was a preteen, and that he cried when filming ended because he was "kind of in love with her").

In any case, surveying the wreckage, Gallo, whose first film was much better received, has reportedly decided to quit directing altogether. But there's no pleasing everybody:

... the tedium is weirdly transcendental. Even before the graphic and very affecting sex scene near the end of this film, I had become rapt. I felt I had entered another zone of being, one in which the film's minimal dialogue seemed sincere, eloquent and profoundly moving.

Gallo has produced a cussed and true near-masterpiece, arthouse in the way it looks and is paced, but deeply accessible in its emotional power. Along with Uzak, whose vulnerability and brooding intensity at times it recalls, The Brown Bunny would make a deserving competition winner.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A lot of bloggers are talking about a story in an Australian newspaper headlined "US plans Death Camp". Which turns out to contain surprisingly little news; we already knew the inmates at Guantanamo would get, at best, military trials under arbitrary rules under which at least some would be in line for the death penalty; the only new news is that all of this may happen at Guantanamo.

This certainly makes the beginning of an American Gulag. Which is scary enough (and rather apropos, considering who's ruling the rest of Cuba these days). And I don't shy away from comparisons to the Nazis when I feel they're warranted, Godwin's law or no. But "death camp" is still out of line -- the total prison population of Guantanamo wouldn't have been a day's worth of the ovens at Auschwitz.

After a several-week hiatus, Yuval Rubenstein is once again posting at Groupthink Central.
Are you a traveler frustrated by the stepped-up security procedures now associated with international travel? Help is on the way! Two congressmen are working on streamlined procedures which will greatly ease the burden for, well, some of you:

With pleasure boaters returning from the Bahamas frustrated by having to spend hours clearing U.S. Customs in person, two South Florida lawmakers are seeking to make the process simpler.

Christopher Paulitz, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, said Friday that his office and that of U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, are working on a plan that may result in substituting a telephone call for the time-consuming check-ins.

Can't imagine a boat used for smuggling? Can't imagine a well-to-do pleasure boater sympathetic to anti-abortion bombers, or, well, other terrorists? Hey, neither can I.

But now we're living in Dubya's America, where taxes aren't the only thing that are just for little people. In further evidence of which, I offer this:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an antismoking zealot, has jacked up cigarette taxes so high that a pack can now cost $7 or more. And he has pushed through a law that bans smoking in nearly all the city's bars and restaurants.

It is now common to see nicotine-addicted men and women gathered on the sidewalk outside their favorite bar, puffing away. "We're constantly getting noise complaints for having people standing outside smoking at 2 in the morning," said Jim O'Brien, the bartender at the Roxy Bar in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. ...

It's a little different at the Oak Bar, which draws a well-heeled crowd that emits a joyful din in an atmosphere so clouded with cigar and cigarette smoke it can be difficult to see from one side of the room to the other. When you sit down at the bar, a small glass ashtray is placed in front of you immediately.

You see, the Oak Bar, long a meeting spot for power brokers, has an exemption. Or actually, they think they may have an exemption. Or actually, they're considering the manner in which they might try to formulate a request to receive an exemption. Or something like that:

Mr. Schweikert said the Oak Bar may qualify for an exemption based on its physical layout.

I said, "Can you explain what it is about the layout that makes it okay to smoke there?"

"Well, no," he said. "I can't, really."

I asked if a request for an exemption had been filed.

"No," he said. "Nothing formal has been filed."

Then how, I wanted to know, can the Oak Bar customers continue to smoke when patrons at other bars across the city cannot?

Mr. Schweikert tried to explain. He said bar owners, if they believe "in good faith" that they qualify for an exemption, can ignore the ban during the first six months, which he described as a grace period. "The grace period is a self-effectuating exemption," he said.

Leaving aside Mr. Schweikert's generous notion of what constitutes "good faith", the bar has now been placed on notice that there are, in fact, no "self-effectuating exemptions" in the law -- despite which, as Bob Herbert was writing his column, the barkeeps were still happy to let you smoke. After all, it's the Oak Bar, not some cheap neighborhood joint with mismatched chairs like the Roxy, which is required to obey the law.

Getting back to boaters from Bermuda, that constituent service is being rendered by Mark Foley, a remarkable Congressman -- remarkable for, among other things, introducing his gay partner of nineteen years at parties, and then spewing outraged indignation when asked about his sexual orientation by reporters. If Clinton had tried that, the heads of the Republican leadership in the House would have exploded. Which, come to think of it, would have improved the tone in Washington considerably. Why, oh why, was only attracted to female interns? That comes via Atrios; the boating story itself is from Sisyphus shrugged.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Democrats have been blocking the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the DC Circuit court of appeals because he refuses to articulate his views on pretty much anything, and Dubya's crew refuses to release memos he wrote which might shed light on them. But as to his general outlook, an ex-classmate recalls:

Though Estrada has been described by promoters as an immigrant who at 17 arrived in the United States without speaking a word of English, he was hardly the abject refugee that description suggests. In fact, he was the son of a high Honduran diplomat and therefore was a member of Honduras' very small and privileged elite. And his political views reflect the comfortable narrowness of that elite. ...

I recall challenging the legitimacy of the Honduran government, which was and still is known for its corruption, its exclusion and repression of the lower classes, and at the time had been implicated in numerous human rights abuses (including assassinations), some tied to the U.S.-supported Contra war against Nicaragua. His counterfactual answer stuck with me: "Honduras is a pure democracy, just like the United States."

And just like the one we're making in Iraq. (See below).

The court to which Estrada has been nominated is considered widely to be a steppingstone to the U.S. Supreme Court, so the fact that he could be "possibly the first Hispanic American to sit on the highest bench in the land" actually increases concern. There are many top-flight Latino lawyers in the United States, even from our class of '86. If a seat should be set up for an American of Latin American descent, Hispanics and moderate Republicans would do well to support someone more likely to bring a broader, and more inclusive, definition of society and politics to important decisions.

Estrada also supported General Pinochet's bloody coup against Allende, arguing that Allende's government was not legitimate in the first place, since he had won only a plurality of the vote, and not an outright majority. Gee, I wonder what he thinks of George Dubya Bush?

Ooops: Forgot to mention this comes via Tbogg.

Tom Friedman thought Iraq's weapons programs were no threat, and said so repeatedly, but he touted the Iraq invasion anyway as a chance to bring democracy to the Arab world. It seems his views on that subject have moderated slightly:

The problem with Saudi Arabia is not that it has too little democracy. It's that it has too much. The ruling family is so insecure, it feels it has to consult every faction, tribe and senior cleric before making any decision. This makes Saudi Arabia a very strange autocracy: it's a country where one man makes no decisions.

But perhaps, by quoting him out of context like this, I'm missing the subtle nuance of his argument, which may have simply fallen victim to his ongoing struggle with the English language. It could be that Friedman does favor democracy after all -- just the kind of democracy that does whatever happens to be convenient for the United States military and its favorite contractors, as opposed to that other kind of democracy that follows the wacky policy of doing what its citizens want.

And if so, he's in harmony with the policy we seem to be following in bringing democracy to Iraq -- witness, for example, the elections in Kirkkuk, where forces under our local satrap, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, stacked the deck by holding a city council election among only carefully selected dignitaries, and then arresting Arab and Turkmen delegates when they decided, on reflection, that they hadn't been selective enough, to the general dissatisfaction of all except the Kurds (who wound up with their own six seats on the council, divided in advance by ethnic group, and with five out of six of the "independant" seats which were supposed to represent city functionaries).

So that's local democracy. On a national scale,

In a "leadership council" meeting on Saturday night, the main Iraqi political groups agreed to submit a formal protest to the occupation authorities over the delay in putting an Iraqi government in place.

[US administrator] Mr. Bremer has spoken about organizing a national conference in July to create an interim Iraqi administration that would be subservient to his authority. Still, no concrete arrangements have been made, the Iraqi political groups said.

They also decided to send delegations to Washington and London to press the case for organizing elections here as soon as possible.

They don't understand that the American occupation forces simply have other priorities -- there are just so many contracts to be awarded to closely held, politically connected American corporations. As to elections -- well, once there's nothing left to decide, we'll get around to it.

And in the meantime, well, some uppity local constituencies are just going to have to take their lumps. Like women, the faction that comprises more than half the population, who are seeing their rights sharply curtailed by the Shiite clerics who have filled the power vacuum that our non-governance has created in the south. Those guys know how to make a decision. Tom Friedman, who admits to a "soft spot" for Saudi crown prince Abdullah (de facto head of that theocratic regime), should be pleased.

(Links via The Whiskey Bar and the Agonist BBoard)

Do you feel your cat has the soul of a chicken, and is just dying to express it? The Japanese have just the thing, via PetOffice, "The Tailor of a Cat":

It is spring new work! They are chicken transformation goods!

This is a dear chicken transformation set. It is made from the two-tone felt cloth of yellow and orange, and even if it takes, it is finished to the pop impression. Please observe the feather of the chicken currently attached to the both sides of a hat. please imagine a profile when a cat covers it is as dear as it blows off involuntarily -- since it can equip with the head volume to which the reed of a chicken also attached to hat on a piece of Velcro, attachment and detachment are easy

Also available: frog, sheep, and Anne of Green Gables. Via the boingboing guestbar.