I blogged on Friday that the U.S. military was beginning construction of a 3-mile long wall to separate the Sunni neighborhood Azamiyah from the Shiite neighborhoods that border it. The story gained traction over the weekend (the New York Times and McClatchy, among others, covered it). A protest scheduled for today also turned up the heat, and Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki put his foot down.
Al-Maliki is touring Sunni countries in hopes of shoring up some regional support for his ailing Shiite government, and, in a joint press conference with the secretary-general of the Arab League, said authoritatively, "I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop." American military officials wouldn't confirm that construction would stop, TIME reports, "saying only that all security measures were constantly under discussion." However, the U.S. military did cede to the PM's wishes in October, when al-Malikisensiblyobjected that barricading off Muqtada al-Sadr's stronghold, Sadr City, would be a recipe for disaster. Al-Maliki's suggestion this time also seems like a winner, since both Shiites and Sunnis oppose construction of the wall.
The Prime Minister, loyal to his American king makers, showed great restraint in alluding only vaguely to the obviously catastrophic history suchbarriers have had.
Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald, a Democrat from Southern California, died over the weekend. The cause was cancer. Millender-McDonald served seven terms in Congress and recently worked on election reform and the genocide in Darfur.
Forty-two former World Bank senior executives have written a letter urging the resignation of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, and if you're wondering if the White House will turn a deaf ear to them the way they have towards the bipartisan calls for Alberto Gonzales' resignation, wonder no longer. According to news reports, the White House has drawn up a list of possible replacements for Wolfowitz. (Maybe it was the fact that Wolfie breached national security for something as silly as getting his lady friend a job.) I found this interesting:
Most prominent on the list is Ashraf Ghani, the man credited with overhauling the economy of Afghanistan after September 11... Such an appointment would mark the first time a non-American has held the position in the 60-year history of the global lender.
If you're wondering why the White House has so much control over naming the head of the World Bank, an international aid organization independent of the United States government, it's because the U.S. and Europe have worked out a sweet deal wherein the U.S. names the World Bank president and the E.U. names the head of the IMF. Asia, who is grossly underrepresented in both organizations, has little say. The situation with Wolfowitz has created calls to revamp this privilege-laden process.
Icelandic singer Björk gave a highly anticipated performance on "Saturday Night Live" last night, her first on the show in almost ten years. It's an interesting time for Björk: with a new album and high-profile tour imminent, she's seemingly emerging from a kind of artistic cocoon that she appeared to enter after the traumatic experience of filming the nearly unwatchable (in my opinion) "Dancer in the Dark." Think back: the immense artistic achievement of 1997's Homogenic was followed by Vespertine and Medulla (in 2001 and 2004 respectively): introverted, experimental albums with none of Homogenic's vertigo-inducing vistas of sound or emotional intensity. After that, as if to thumb her nose at critics who thought she couldn't get more left-field, she hooked up with Matthew Barney, and their combined effort, "Drawing Restraint," seemed both weaker and weirder than the individual artists' work.
A belated heads up to viewers of the PBS America at the Crossroads documentary featuring former assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle, "The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom." Midway through the documentary, Perle takes the film cameras and viewers with him to a Dubai hotel to meet an Iranian dissident who, Perle says, had just escaped from Iran. (In fact, the Iranian, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, had flown out of Tehran airport on a normal commercial flight -- more on that in a moment).
In the documentary, Perle and Fakhravar sit on a couch and Perle uses the young Iranian as a cipher upon which to project his views of why the U.S. should be promoting regime change in Iran. (In a Wired magazine blog review, writer Sharon Weinberger captures the scene: "'Oh my God, is he gonna kiss him?' my husband asked, as Perle gazed affectionately at Fakhravar"). Whatever the merits of the idea, it's worth reading my feature on Perle's chosen Iranian dissident cipher, "Has Washington Found Its Iranian Chalabi: Introducing the Talented Mr. Fakhravar," to get a better feel for just what a Hollywood version of faux reality Perle is basing his beliefs upon -- and potentially dragging the 82nd Airborne with him.
But Fakhravar may be a false messiah. In interviews with more than a dozen Iranian opposition figures, some of them former political prisoners, a different picture emergedone of an opportunist being pushed to the fore by Iran hawks, a reputed jailhouse snitch who was locked up for nonpolitical offenses but reinvented himself as a student activist and political prisoner once behind bars. Fakhravar and his supporters vehemently deny such allegations, saying that the attacks are motivated by petty jealousy and a vendetta by Fakhravar's enemies on the Iranian left.
For those like Perle who want the United States to eschew diplomacy in favor of backing regime change, Fakhravar is an essential link in the argument for confrontation with Iran. ... But by choosing Fakhravar, they may have inadvertently accomplished the opposite, exposing the ruptures in the pro-democracy movement and throwing into question the notion that America's problems with Tehran will be solved by a saffron revolution.
As later parts of the documentary show, Perle grew up in in the shadow of Hollywood, and as he says, many of his school friends' parents were blacklisted Hollywood writers. Perle's wishes for the people of the Middle East to enjoy the benefits of democracy may be deeply well intentioned, but reality has not lived up to almost any of his pronouncements about Iraq. The fact that Perle and the PBS film's producers seemingly failed to do any basic fact checking on Fakhravar's story is striking and fits the pattern. As Perle's pre-war expounding about Iraq and ardent championship of Ahmad Chalabi have shown, these things don't often work out according to the movies.
During this morning's MSNBC Live, New York Sun national and foreign editor Nicholas Wapshott told the country he thought the Rutgers team "must feel pretty terrible about what's happened to Governor Corzine." Corzine, whose driver was doing 91 mph., was--not surprisingly--a victim of a motor vehicle accident that has left him seriously injured. According to Wapshott, Corzine was speeding to get to a "totally unnecessary meeting of reconciliation where these women are paraded as inadequate."
Wapshott was talking with host Chris Jansing about Sen. Hillary Clinton's scheduled participation in a Rutgers forum on women and political leadership when he decided to let the world know how terrible the Rutgers team has to feel about Governor Corzine's accident. He also allowed that Imus's remarks were blown out of proportion and that Coach Stringer then had the team members "paraded as victims."
But he didn't stop there. He also took the opportunity to advise Clinton to tell the women at Rutgers to "grow up" and "be mature."
This week, in honor of it being 4/20, I guess, there's a lot of zoning out on the cool psychedelic trip. Man. Plus some depressing photos, and, um, lip gloss. Did that harsh your mellow? Well, whatever. Where were you when we were getting high:
10. Dan le Sac vs. Scoobius Pip "Thou Shalt Always Kill" (mp3 via Feed Me Good Tunes)
Okay, novelty tune, for sure. But when a novelty tune comes in the form of a hilarious, fast-paced Streets-meets-Audio Bullys screed about stuff you shalt and shalt not do, most of which seems amusingly, uh, specific to this Dan guy, I'll make an exception
9. Maximo park "Russian Literature" (From Our Earthly Pleasures out 5/9 on Warp) (mp3 via Stereogum)
Oh, those Russkies. They write good. This angular, Franz Ferdinand-y British five-piece agrees, and brings a little piano action to the foreground to make the point
8. Explosions in the Sky "The Birth and Death of the Day" (from All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, on Temporary Residence) (mp3 via Aural Fitness)
I like post-rock, yes I do. When it comes to 8-minute instrumental rock epics, there's a fine line between exultant and self-indulgent. But this Texas combo keeps it together by going right for the emotional jugular, like Slint, Tortoise, or Godspeed you Black Emperor before them
Apparently Lil' Mama is really "lil," only 17 years old in fact, but in this video about how a magical pink lip gloss makes everything okay, she actually seems more self-assured than that setup might make you think. Plus, the supremely minimal backing track (just a stomp and a clap) is a showcase for her very real vocal skills
6. Ulrich Schnauss feat. Judith Beck - "Stars" (from Goodbye, out July 10th on Domino) (mp3 via Use Your Faults, Use Your Defects)
This German artist put out one of my favorite albums of 2003, the neo-electronica-meets-My Bloody Valentine-fuzz A Strangely Isolated Place. This preview track from his long-awaited followup shows a more mature, and dare I say accessible, style
A new survey shows that most Americans are worried about global warming. They not only believe in it but are really worried. What's interesting, however, is how skeptical they still are of climate change scientists. It's not as if the public has started listening to scientists. Rather, the growing concern is based on personal experience of crazy weather. The Washington Post reports:
• Fifty-two percent say global warming is "extremely" or "very" important personally, double the percentage that said so a decade ago.
•Seven in 10 Americans want more "much more" federal action on global warming.
•Eighty-four percent think that average global temperatures have been rising over the past century, and more than half say weather has become more unstable where they live.
•Unfortunately, 56 percent still believe there is "a lot" of disagreement among scientists about climate change.
•Only a third of respondents trust what scientists say about the environment "completely" or "a lot."
•Most shockingly, a quarter of those surveyed said they trust what scientists say about the environment only "a little" or "not at all."
Why are so many Americans so doubtful of science? Skepticism is good, but these seems less like the curious, engaged kind of skepticism than the apathetic kind.