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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
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:: Saturday, June 07, 2003 ::

People are strange
We all know that Hollywood is full of wacky knee-jerk liberals, but according to this post-Cannes Film Festival report by Roger Ebert, the actor/director Vincent Gallo might be able to balance all of them out entirely on his own from across the aisle, at least when it comes to craziness. The post-mortem on the apparently cataclysmic Cannes screening of Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" is truly bizarre:
A day after the fiasco of the movie's premiere, Screen International ran a remarkable interview in which Gallo apologized for his film, calling it "a disaster and a waste of time," and adding, "I apologize to the financiers of the film, but I must assure you it was never my intention to make a pretentious film, a self-indulgent film, a useless film, an unengaging film." He added that the official screening "was the worst feeling I ever had in my life," and said he would never watch the film again.

On Monday Gallo told the New York Post's Page Six that Screen International "made up" his quotes. He added, "I'm sorry I'm not gay or Jewish, so I don't have a special interest group of journalists who support me." Such comments might seem politically incorrect, but not to Gallo, who says he is a conservative Republican, although since his film ends with a hard-core oral sex scene, he is not likely to be fielding many group bookings from the Moral Majority.

But was Gallo actually misquoted?

"Absolutely insane stuff from Gallo," editor Colin Brown assured me. "Not only is everything we wrote in Cannes exactly as he spewed out, word for word, it was all recorded on audio tape." He added, "It makes me wonder whether this is not all some great marketing ploy on his part. I have actually come across people who say 'Brown Bunny' is top of their list of films they most want to see out of Cannes this year."

Fionnuala Halligan, who wrote the Screen International piece, says she quoted Gallo accurately and sent me a copy of his transcript. "By the end he is shouting and spitting, and his invective is so unpleasant, I feel quite shaken listening to it again," she told me. "I don't think it was a good day for him to meet the press, as he was obviously extremely upset. He was very late, and all the interviews that had previously been arranged got lumped into one group, which is fortunate for me, as he probably would have thumped me otherwise."

6:05 PM
:: Friday, June 06, 2003 ::
A better way to spend $10 billion
Slate's Fred Kaplan is arguing in favor of spending money on missile defense--that is, a missile defense system that might actually work, designed to stop missiles that might actually be fired at us:
Last Nov. 28, terrorists fired two shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles at an El Al passenger plane taking off from Mombasa, Kenya. The missiles missed (they were old Soviet models, and their heat-seeking sensors had probably malfunctioned), but the next time they might home in on the target properly and blow it to bits. Thousands of these missiles are available around the world—many of them newer Soviet models, as well as American-made Stingers. If such an attack succeeds even once, not only would it kill hundreds of passengers, it would terrorize millions more who are so much as thinking about boarding a plane; the worldwide airline industry would be hurled into a depression, and vast sectors of the world economy that depend on air travel would be seriously mauled.

There is a defense against this threat. Already, U.S. military cargo aircraft are fitted with electronic flares, the hot emissions of which would distract a heat-seeking missile away from the plane. If built in mass quantity, these devices could be adapted to passenger airliners for about $1 million per plane (or roughly 1 percent of the plane's total cost). At this rate, the entire fleet of 5,000 U.S. commercial planes could be protected at a cost of $5 billion—the whole world's 10,000 planes for about $10 billion.

This is a lot of money, but consider: President Bush is requesting $9.1 billion for next year to research, develop, and accelerate the deployment of a system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles launched against the United States by North Korea, Iran, or some other rogue government or state-sponsored terrorist. This threat does not currently exist. The technology for this missile-defense system has not been adequately tested; its design is vague; its fruition lies decades away; and it may never be effective, especially against an attack of more than one missile.

Meanwhile, for a defense that relies on proven technology against the very real and current threat posed by anti-aircraft missiles, Bush is spending nothing.

11:53 PM
:: Thursday, June 05, 2003 ::
More advice from a veteran observer
Ehud Ya'ari says that Israel's approach to the road map should be "Yes Now, Buts Later":
Even fair criticism of the road map (there is, of course, plenty of unfair criticism of it too) should not blur the fact that in the final analysis, this is a rather comfortable plan for Israel in many respects.

Therefore Israel’s goal should not be to get the map shelved along the way, but to correct some of the flaws inherent in it...

After all, is the American administration likely to put up a determined fight for the refugees’ "right of return"? Is this the intention of the British, or the Germans? Or even of the Russians? I doubt it very much. By the same token, is the Quartet committed to the known Arafatist ideal of "runaway statehood" free from any of the restraints of peace? Only a moonstruck paranoid would believe these days that such an evil conspiracy was lurking in the creases of the road map.

That being the case, it would be better for Israel to try to come to an agreement with Washington, London and Moscow -- and if possible, with Paris too -- that only after the completion of the first, security stage of the road map and the pacification of the intifada should the political aspect be discussed with the Palestinians...

The bottom line: It is worth Israel’s while to demand a future payment for its acceptance of the road map, rather than an immediate reward. In stockmarket speak, it’s time to purchase options on the peace index.

7:12 PM
:: Wednesday, June 04, 2003 ::
A sort of fisking
Slate has an article up about the NBA finals, which start tonight, by Hugo Lindgren, identified merely as a "New York City sports fan." He predicts a New Jersey victory over San Antonio. I disagree, and we'll see what happens over the next 10 days or so, but his article is awfully tendentious as these things go. Here's his main reason for picking the Nets:
For a team that dispatched Shaq and Kobe with such apparent ease, San Antonio has an alarmingly one-dimensional attack. Duncan is a marvelous player, of course, but in Game 6 of the last series, the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks showed that the entire Spurs offense can be brought to a standstill by triple-teaming its star. Dallas gave the Spurs all the open looks they wanted on the perimeter, and they could not knock them down—at least not until Steve Kerr emerged from cryogenic storage.
That last sentence is a bit weird--the Spurs couldn't knock down open jump shots, until they did. But it isn't even true the way he wrote it! He mentions the surprising 4-of-4 three point shooting of Kerr in the second half, which no one expected because he had barely played all season long. But what about Stephen Jackson? He hit 5-of-7 on threes in that Game 6--i.e., more than Kerr--including threes on two straight possessions to bring the Spurs within three points of Dallas right before Kerr got superhot. Yet Lindgren doesn't even mention Jackson anywhere in the article. Then there's the next bit:
After Duncan, the Spurs' most formidable offensive threat is slippery, second-year point guard Tony Parker, who is wonderful to watch but whose jump shot needs major therapy. Parker's preferred mode of attack is dashing into the lane for a runner or a layup, but that doesn't work so well when the paint is clogged with big men hanging all over Duncan. The Spurs' best outside shooter is Bruce Bowen, who has buried an astonishing 47 percent of his threes in the postseason. But Bowen is a defensive specialist, not an offensive-minded player, and he has exactly one shot in his arsenal: the three-pointer from the deep corner. And, of course, he can't even hit free throws.

No Spurs supporting player, in fact, can be counted on to produce points. Argentine rookie Manu Ginobili has shown flashes of brilliance but also rookie nerves. If the Nets clamp down on Duncan and dare the Spurs to beat them from outside, like the Mavs did, is there a San Antonio veteran who is going to make them pay? Does Kerr have another miracle left in his wobbly knees? Might Danny Ferry break loose from the deep, loveless dungeon he's played himself into?
Again, not a word about Jackson. True, he's been pretty inconsistent in the playoffs, but why bring Ferry up without even mentioning Jackson, who's in the frickin' starting lineup? As for Parker, it's true that his jumper has been less than totally reliable, but he was sick in Game 6 when Dallas really tried clamping down on Duncan. The Spurs had to take lots of jumpers partly because Parker wasn't healthy enough to get into the lane, which he did to great effect the other two games in Dallas, torching them for 29 points in Game 3 (19 in the third quarter alone) and 25 in Game 4. It's not like they weren't trying to shut down Duncan in the post when that happened. And if the Nets use Jason Kidd to double (or triple) down on Duncan, that could leave more options for Parker than just taking three-pointers.

Then Lindgren really treads on some thin ice with this bit about Kidd:
The New Jersey point guard has had an extraordinary season—in addition to all his usual play-making brilliance and relentless speedball tactics, he led the team in scoring during the regular season and has notched his per-game average above 20 for the playoffs. He's a more powerful force than even [sic] Isaiah was in his day.

Despite his improved shooting, however, Kidd is still not a game-breaking scorer, the kind of player who can nail a half-dozen buckets in a row with defenders draped all over him. And it is those types of performances that loom large in playoff games.
Lindgren goes on to give Kenyon Martin props as the second scorer necessary to put New Jersey over the top. Possibly, but let's get back to the bit about Isiah Thomas. I respect Kidd's game as much as anyone, but he's NOT a more powerful force than Isiah was in the playoffs--not by Lindgren's own standard of being "a game-breaking scorer, the kind of player who can nail a half-dozen buckets in a row with defenders draped all over him." It was Isiah's ability to do precisely that which carried Detroit to success time after time, like against Portland in the 1990 finals and (almost) against the Lakers in the '88 finals. The Pistons might very well have won that series had he not gotten hurt during his superhuman effort in Game 6, one of the great individual performances in NBA playoff history, where he nailed even more than a half-dozen buckets in a row with defenders draped all over him, despite sustaining an incredibly severe ankle sprain in the midst of a 25 point third quarter explosion.

Maybe Lindgren's right about San Antonio being too one-dimensional to beat New Jersey, although I doubt it. But can't Slate find someone to write a more balanced take on the finals than this?

UPDATE: Mac pointed to me his own Lindgren takedown from last fall, when Lindgren ignored Jason Giambi's excellent numbers and labelled him a flop. So the guy knows nothing about baseball OR basketball...hey, Mac, why doesn't Slate hire us to write about sports for them?
6:02 PM
The infidels are not in Baghdad!
Not that anyone should expect much of anything from Palestinian spokespeople that doesn't rival the Iraqi information minister for its sheer denial of reality, but the occasionally truthful Nabil Shaath is in prime obfuscatory form in this story about Bush's summit meeting with Arab leaders:
Palestinian Foreign Minister Shaath charged that U.S. attempts to marginalize Arafat were "unfair [and] unhelpful and are undermining Abu Mazen's authority when he comes here and the president is in jail," a reference to the fact that Arafat is unable to leave his West Bank headquarters.
Never mind that whatever authority Abu Mazen has is a direct consequence of worldwide pressure on Arafat that started with the US's severing of ties with him last summer...
12:20 PM
:: Monday, June 02, 2003 ::
You're never alone, you're never disconnected...
I just picked up the new special edition DVD of a definite personal favorite, West Side Story. The documentary that's included has an interesting tidbit about the main stars, Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, who played the star-crossed lovers--they didn't get along at all on the set, and basically never spoke to each other when they weren't shooting their scenes. It's certainly not an uncommon occurrence with romantic leads in a movie, but as convincing as they were in this one, it came as somewhat of a surprise.

Although they don't talk about it in the documentary, I've seen a few criticisms here and there of the movie for the supposedly lame performance by Beymer as Tony. Not so for Wood as Maria, in spite of her, uh, less than convincing Puerto Rican accent--her particular on-screen persona was perfect for the role. I think Beymer was actually quite good in it, although he did little else of note afterwards (tough act to follow, admittedly), so I figure that something I heard in my college class on Shakespeare is relevant to the hits he took. Namely, the professor pointed to a basic flaw of "Romeo and Juliet"--Romeo is really lame! He's a very unsympathetic character, when you think about--impetuous, careless, self-centered, you name it. Not so with Juliet, a totally attractive and engaging character, which makes her death the real tragedy of the whole play. There's less emphasis on Tony in "West Side Story" than on Romeo in the play, so that effect is not quite as present, but I do think it played a role in the criticism that Beymer got. Tony's just not that great a character. Actually, there's also less chance in the movie to see an intelligent and vivacious side of Maria than there is with Juliet in the play, but it doesn't matter because Natalie Wood's beauty and charisma fills in the gaps, and then some.
12:48 AM
Boxed in--unnecessarily?
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post has a column up about a new WMD-related claim from the administration, that maybe Saddam kept everything going in "dual-use" civilian facilities, but ready to be called up when necessary. Pincus puts things rather charitably here:
This new assumption is the latest in the Bush administration's evolving search of justifications for its prewar claims that Hussein posed an unacceptable threat because of his weapons of mass destruction programs. Like other administration assessments that Iraq had dispersed its stocks of chemical and biological weapons to loyal troops, hidden them, buried them, destroyed them just before the war or transferred them to another country, this one may or may not pan out.
"Evolving" indeed--more like "let's keep throwing new stuff out there and hope that no one remembers the different stuff we said earlier."

I think at least some of the problem here could have been avoided by not resting the whole case for war on this "pre-emption" nonsense, which was based on the premise that there were lots of WMD sitting in Iraq just waiting to be handed to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Thus, we had to invade to stop that from happening. But that helped lead precisely to the particular problem in question now facing the administration--since they said there were X liters of anthrax and Y liters of smallpox in Iraq, where the hell is everything?

Had the administration based everything from the beginning on the sorts of arguments that Tony Blair was making all along, we would have been in better shape--namely, that Saddam's undeniably egregious violations of all UN resolutions passed about him since the Gulf War required action, or else the UN and other such international organizations would abdicate their own credibility in combating WMD proliferation, terrorism, and other security threats. The UN resolutions just said that Saddam had to cooperate with inspectors and verifiably give up his WMD program--they didn't really say anything about how many liters of weapons he had or whether he would give them to terrorists or not. Had we stuck with that line--enforcement, not pre-emption--with a constant drumbeat, all the time for the past year, the debates about this or that amount of WMD might have been a lot less in the forefront. Almost nobody could credibly deny that Saddam was continuing to flout international law, but the more specific we got about 5000 liters of A and 20,000 liters of B, the more pressure it put on us to prove those specific charges if we were going to justify the war.

But, of course, this administration doesn't care about the UN and similar institutions, and in fact wants to ignore them whenever they feel they can, so they only came to that argument after months of threats, and eventually all but abandoned it. By far the strongest case for war, as the entire rest of the world saw it, was Bush's Sept. 2002 speech to the UN where he did exactly what I'm talking about, just going through the list of resolutions that had been violated by Saddam without enforcement and demanding a final reckoning. Before then, it was half a year of "he's gassed his own people!", and as the UN process went on, the claims about specific amounts of weapons and ties to terrorists came back again. By the time the war came around, Bush's public statements were basically back to this crap about pre-emption, as if the inspections had never happened. Hence the exaggerations about the specific amount of WMD in Saddam's possession, since pre-emption has to be premised on the existence of an imminent threat.
12:10 AM

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