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a nation in chaos: intervention gone awry

Frightened police barricaded themselves inside their station Wednesday and said they could not repel a threatened rebel attack on Iraq's second-largest city, the last major government bastion in the north.

Officers in other towns deserted their posts with no guerrillas in sight.

Even as police made clear they were too frightened to patrol the streets of Baghdad, militant defenders of former President Saddam Hussein vowed to take a stand against American aggression, which has killed about 60 persons and has attracted leaders with murderous backgrounds.

sounds about right, doesn't it? look again:

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — Frightened police barricaded themselves inside their station Wednesday and said they could not repel a threatened rebel attack on Haiti's second-largest city, the last major government bastion in the north.

Officers in other towns deserted their posts with no guerrillas in sight.

Even as police made clear they were too frightened to patrol the streets of Cap-Haitien, militant defenders of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vowed to take a stand against the 2-week-old rebellion, which has killed about 60 persons and has attracted leaders with murderous backgrounds.

back in 1997, i spent about a week in haiti while i was with the navy. this was around three years after the u.n.-led intervention that restored haitian "president" jean-bertrand aristide to power following his ouster by general raoul cedras. we were there to help build a school for haitian children, but i wasn't allowed off the ship because i didn't get the proper immunizations due to an administrative error. hell of a country, that, where you need to have immunizations just to safely set foot on it. as a matter of fact, i drew hazard pay just for being in its harbor.

we were anchored in port au prince, as i recall, an interesting place. haiti is a mountainous island, and the city runs right up the side of this big hill. the better off you were, the higher up you lived--and not because the rich wanted superior views of those gorgeous caribbean sunsets. there was no sanitation system in haiti, so people would simply throw their garbage out the window. the poor had to live in filth piled up and plowed to the sides like snow.

i was close enough that i could make out the scrap hovels with the naked eye, but through the powerful binoculars they always have laying around on the bridge, the view was even worse. living conditions were horrific beyond compare. i've seen some poor places: columbia, nicaragua, even the rougher neighborhoods of puerto rico, but never anything like this. part of me was glad i was seeing it through the binoculars. it made it more like a tv show.

every day, people would paddle out to the destroyer on whatever pieces of junk they could find to buoy them. the first time i saw them coming, i'd assumed they were going to beg for amnesty or something like that. turns out we weren't the first warship to visit haiti. the haitians knew that, if they ever got to america, it certainly wasn't going to be compliments of the u.s. navy. what they were really there for was trade. american money was nice if you had it, but they were more interested in tangible goods. you could get the biggest handmade bongo drum you'd ever seen for a tube of toothpaste or a stick of deodorant. i don't know why, but toiletries fetched the handsomest returns. i remember one enterprising sailor had rolls of toilet paper he was using like fifty dollar bills. the haitians also craved all the usual americana: blue jeans, sneakers, etc. i saw one of them throw a perfectly good pair of reeboks back to the ship and demand nikes instead. you can count the ribs in this guy's naked torso and he's saying "no reebok. nike. nike."

at night we would string up these lights from bow to stern. goodwill lights, friendship lights, something like that. they were just plain white light bulbs, but seeing the ship lit up like that made a powerful impression on me. there is no darkness like the darkness of a warship on a cloudy night. there's no external illumination whatsoever, and one of the first things you learn when you're onboard ship is that you have to walk with one hand on the nearest vertical surface and the other held out in front of you like a talisman. unwary sailors blundering into objects at night remains one of the highest causes of shipboard accidents. i remember standing on the focsle after the blazing-hot sun had set, looking across the harbor at twinkling port au prince, and wondering what sort of impression those goodwill lights were making on them. theoretically they meant a new school, but the reality of it looked a lot more like toilet paper and nike sneakers. i didn't get the impression they meant democracy from any of the haitians i interacted with.

i remember pulling out of haiti and feeling pretty good about what the navy had done there. it's not like we were going to fix the place--God Himself would have His hands full with that--but they certainly seemed happy to see us, and it was nice to know we were leaving them with one more school than we found them with.

something tells me they aren't holding classes there any more, though. maybe they will again someday, but at the moment, haiti is preoccupied with its descent into anarchy. what did we do wrong in haiti? or was it more a matter of no one being able to do anything right there? it's a depressing place, no doubt, and anyone who's ever seen it must have felt at least a moment's despair. but i can't help but believe there are a few important lessons we can learn.

1. our dictator is no better than theirs

aristide's 1990 "election" was a joke from the beginning, and the u.n.'s decision to endorse it, which resulted in the subsequent intervention after he was overthrown, was no less so. this was a man who had threatened to "necklace" opponents--tie them up, hang a tire around their necks, then light them. but rather than tear down the existing governmental structure in haiti, a structure which has propped up frauds like aristide for decades, the united nations opted to advance their pet feudal lord in favor of the rest. as a result, true democracy was postponed in haiti indefinitely, and the fruits of continued oppression are being reaped today.

2. "multinational" does not mean better

facing criticism from black core constituency groups, clinton decided to lead a "multinational" force into haiti to return aristide to power. the difference between clinton's "multinational" force and the one currently serving in iraq in pure military terms--the only terms that matter when dealing with dictators--is the amount of u.n. pretense applied to the name. in political terms, it meant that the commander in chief had not sent american lives into harm's way to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," but to uphold the u.n. charter. in practical terms, it meant that the fate of haiti was placed in the hands of the same career bureaucrats, also known as "diplomats," who we are now asking back into iraq. the results of clinton's decision, seen at the time as his foreign policy masterpiece, speak for themselves.

3. democracy is never easy

i know of no true democracy in the history of man that was not dredged up from seas of blood, and preserved through the same. it is at once the most natural and unnatural state a man can live in, since freedom, though universally desired, is rarely enjoyed. the tension between the innate desire of all men to live free and the innate desire to dominate and crush one's fellow man is as real to the human existence as gravity. no lasting peace can be achieved through gentle nudges to the status quo. it comes through a never-ending series of revolutions, first at home, then abroad--the sort of revolution that we should have brought to haiti ten years ago, the sort that might be underway right now. will it produce a lasting peace this time? doubtful. the united nations seems curiously reluctant to clean up its mess and the united states is busy in other places. haiti will likely remain a sad story, one that we've now written our own bleak chapter in.

locdog hopes time will prove him wrong



political roundup

you want the truth? YOU WANT THE TRUTH? ya go.

dean's done

as in stick a fork in 'im. the "political equivalent of a supernova" is at once one of most spectacular successes and failures in modern american politics.

dean's impact on the american political landscape is incalculable. rewriting the rules that governed campaign fundraising, dean was the first candidate to harness the potential of the internet as a political force. are the days of thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers and old money candidates gone? no, but there's more hope for mavericks not beholden to their party establishment and classical streams of funds than ever before. howard dean's candidacy may change washington in ways that howard dean the candidate never even dreamed of.

in the end, dean the candidate will serve as a lesson for future generations on the hard reality of post 9-11 american politics. some day, poli-sci majors will write term papers with titles like "is candidate x the proverbial howard dean?" certainly, dean will never again ascend to such lofty heights. assuming kerry wins the nomination this year, hillary clinton and john edwards are the next serious democratic presidential contenders. that leaves little room for howard dean, who will now retreat to the nader-like limbo of "keeping his issues alive."

line of the campaign

anyone catch edwards' remarks after his stunning, to-the-wire second place finish in wisconsin?

Today the voters of Wisconsin sent a clear message [to John Kerry] and the message was this: Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear.

whatever happened to "electability?" maybe it still means youth, brains, looks, and charm after all.

Senatus PopulusQue Romanus

if judges can't block blatantly illegal activity, then what good are they?

A judge delayed until at least Friday a ruling on whether to close down San Francisco's same-sex wedding spree, which by Tuesday had enabled almost 2,400 gay and lesbian couples to get married in quick civil ceremonies.

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay said Tuesday morning he was not prepared to rule immediately.

i'm not a lawyer and i don't pretend to have a shred of legal training, but something ain't right here. we've got a state where gay marriage is illegal, made so by 60% of california voters. there's no question that what san francisco emperor gavin newsom is doing is against the law. i'm not saying it's immoral, i'm not saying it isn't the right thing to do, i'm not saying he isn't answering to a higher calling, or even that liberace himself didn't rise from the dead just to tell newsom to wed homosexuals. i'm saying--and we can all agree on this--that there is zero uncertainty that, as of this moment, he is an outlaw.

call it "civil disobedience" if you want, i'll call it shameless grandstanding by a man who sees san francisco as little more than a fiefdom stepping stone to bigger and better things, but that's all beside the point. he's breaking the law. how can any honest judge be unwilling to suspend activity when there isn't even a question as to its illegality? i mean, if a judge can't say "hey, you, lawbreaker--quit it!" then what the hell do we have them for?

it may be that california's ban on gay weddings is unconstitutional, but until that's been proven, shouldn't the courts show deference to the law of the land as established by the overwhelming majority of its citizens and postpone the illegal activity?

and i'll tell you something, my gay friends, you need to back me up on this one (no pun intended.) what's to stop this sort of "civil disobedience" from operating in reverse? say gay marriage someday becomes the law of the land. what's to stop the mayor of chattanooga or mobile or savannah from capriciously doing away with them if he knows that the immediate citizenry beneath him, and the immediate judiciary above him, is favorable to his stance? don't tell me that this perpetually preening press-hog newsom is going to change anything. if real change comes, it will come the way of massachusetts, not through the p. t. barnum of left coast.

as always, locdog brings you all the news he sees fit to print



why all this sudden interest in vietnam?

according to evan thomas in newsweek's latest cover story, then guardsman george w. bush inquired about a transfer to 'nam, but was turned down because the aircraft he was qualified to fly was ruled obsolete. furthermore, then lieutenant john f. kerry's men opened fire "on some questionable targets, like old men or boys along the riverside," while operating in so-called "free-fire zones," but, thomas assures us, this was vietnam, where "[e]veryone was a potential combatant."

yeah. tell it to the residents of my lai.

not much else of note. there's a perfunctory summary of the whole AWOL thing, but thomas pretty much dismisses it. he's even less interested in kerry's post-nam antiwar activities, except to say that his association with one hanoi jane fonda has been greatly exaggerated, and to suggest that his strident opposition to the war may have been motivated by the aforementioned "free-fire" incidents, which kerry reportedly complained about while he was still a sailor. nothing about ghengis khan-style rape and pillage or throwing someone else's medals over the wall.

--and why not? why is it not fair to discuss this stuff? kerry is campaigning all over the nation on his vietnam war record--it's pretty much the key to his election--but it's like we're just supposed to stop when we get to 1971. everything else is mysteriously out of bounds.

i mean, honestly, does the average voter really care what these guys did thirty years ago? do you mean to tell me that this election is going to be decided on vietnam? please. if they couldn't use it to make kerry look good at bush's expense, the press wouldn't bother with it at all. and they're only going to bother with it to the extent that it makes their guy shine.

everyone in america knows how george w. bush and john f. kerry spent the sixties, but, for instance, does anyone remember what clinton was doing around the same time? his uncle knew some people and managed to land dear nephew bill a cushy stint in the naval reserve. that's right: the clinton version of the texas air national guard. except clinton didn't want to be bothered with his own personal air national guard, so he signed up for army ROTC instead. not that i'm dissing ROTC--we get more commissioned officers through the ROTC pipeline than any other source. but when clinton drew a prohibitively high number in the draft lottery, he backed out of that as well. spent the next few years protesting the vietnam war from oxford. this, of course, was not an issue. we were told what's past is past, that, as al gore put it, these things "should not affect Clinton's credibility."

not that this will damage clinton in the minds of you liberals. you'll probably love him for it all the more. i've got a hunch that, deep down, most of you resent the fact that you've got to vote for a john f. kerry when you'd rather be voting for a dean or kucinich. but does anyone know this stuff? was it ever made into an issue? of course not. then as now, if it makes the democrat look bad, it's out of bounds, so aside from a mention here or there, the story was ignored. today, you can't watch five minutes of david letterman or the nightly news without hearing something about vietnam.

locdog thinks we ought to be more concerned with iraq, afghanistan, saudi arabia, syria,...



locdog movie review: lost in translation

lost in translation is yet another movie about people coping with things, a surprisingly likeable amalgam of boomer and gen-ex angst. theoretically, it stars bill murray as a washed-up american movie star whoring himself on japanese liquor commercials and scarlette johansson as twenty-something wife of photographer-to-the-stars giovanni ribisi, but in practice, tokyo stole the show.

what's this movie about? jet lag, mostly. murray and johansson spend their days in isolation, murray wondering where his life went and johansson wondering when hers will begin. at night, they frequent bars, arcades, and karaoke parties where people abruptly start shooting each other with assault-weapon class bb guns. they become friends, share their inner yearnings, struggle to communicate with their distant spouses--murray's separated by geography and twenty five years of pointless marriage, johansson's physically near but culturally a million miles away.

the portrait of marriage painted here is pretty bleak, and the film's only source of suspense comes from wondering if and when murray and johansson will jointly violate their wedding vows. unknown nancy steiner--the film's costume designer--plays the voice of murray's wife, which we hear in a series of cell phone conversations in the profound stillness of a bath or the bustle of a tokyo street, but always to the same effect: the manifestation of all the sarcasm and brutality people can acquire in decades of cohabitation. her hostility seemed a bit forced, too much of a contrivance on coppola's part, but divorce statistics being what they are, i'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. johansson's marriage is a total laugher. maybe coppola expects people to accept it as one of those "what the hell where they thinking" things that kids do when they think they're in love. that's about the only way you could account for philosophical johansson's union to the slight ribisi and the vapid barbie dolls he shoots for a living. but then, if either of these people had a healthy home life, we wouldn't have much of a movie.

much has been made of the film's performances, particularly bill murray's "breakthrough" turn, and rightly so. he's wounded, wise, cynical, romantic, a ball of energy, and totally exhausted--all while perpetually stoned and stone cold sober. he mercifully rejects teddy-bear guru or krusty-but-luvable archetypes in favor of an artful skip across the tightrope straddling hero and anti-hero where he's just sagely enough to listen to, but not so much that you'll secretly resent him when you do. this is something they've gone for in pretty much every movie ever made, and to see it done right for once is worth the price of admission alone.

scarlette johansson is asked to gaze at murray with big, soulful eyes and look unbearably cuddly and does a fine job of it. she's a character who's endearing not so much for what she does, but for what she doesn't do, and as such, coppola strives to create a sense of intimacy between her and the viewer from the start. howzabout a protracted shot of johansson's tush through her transparent undies while the opening credits roll? well, you're getting one. and a dozen more over the next two hours as coppola flogs this character's only device from wire to wire. it'll hold male attention and make girls feel like they're at a slumber party, but it struck me as more than a little manipulative and, frankly, a tad exploitative.

a few miscalculations aside, sofia coppola does a fine job helming a too-slick-for-you indie flick into an estimable money-maker. she's at her best bottling the absinthe dream that tokyo, jet lag, and loneliness couldn't help but induce in a westerner--don't watch this movie while operating heavy machinery. and though her writing is a tad heavy-handed, she's got a feather touch when it comes to directing her talent. she knows that 19-year-old johansson won't get blown off the screen by bill murray, and that murray is only a long flight and a sham marriage away from bob harris to begin with. coppola also has a real gift for capturing inner beauty--and no, not the schmaltzy sap that overblown hacks like penny marshall drown viewers in. "capturing inner beauty" is why hollywood bothers with chick directors at all, sad to say, but there's a whiff of truth to coppola's tokyo, a radiance that swallows up her leads and you along with them. go into the light, my child.

and it was tokyo, i must say, that really did it for me. the raw creativity cinematographer lance acord brought to spike jonze's adaptation and being john malkovich has been reigned in a bit to match the bleary-eyed writing, but his visuals are still gorgeous. there's a memorable, scorese-esque shot of johansson through taxi-window reflections as she coasts through the Christmas tree city of tokyo and her existence. come to think of it, there are a lot of shots of lights and signs--one that really stood out occurs early on when acord focuses on a simple neon advertisement, bright red with a few japanese characters in the middle. his camera lingers there for several moments, while the viewer is left to appreciate the startling beauty of what is probably an ad for yamamoto-brand rice cakes. the sheer banality of it never even occurs to you. if you get that shot, then you get the whole film. i came to love the inexplicable sites and sounds of tokyo, jogging along behind murray and johansson as they race through an arcade or cheesy strip joint. these forays were the main course, and the soul-searching conversations that punctuated them began to feel rather obligatory.

among the many contrasts coppola has dished up, one of the most intriguing is japan itself. a culture at once superficial and miles deep, she presents it in all of its glorious absurdity without comment. the effect is overwhelmingly endearing and not at all patronizing. the karaoke scenes do a fine job capturing the paradoxical warmth of a notoriously withdrawn people, where japanese kids groove to off-key renditions of cornball classics offered up by their peers. it's like they're tuned into the same frequency God must be on when someone who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket offers up a sincere hymn. better still--for me at least--was a shot of a hilarious japanese youth who looked like he could quote you chapter and verse from the "how to be a rebel" handbook. black-clad, punk 'do, unpuffed james dean cigarette dangling from his lips, he's playing a toy guitar connected to a video game where you pretend you're a rock star while his girlfriend stands there worshiping him like he was jimmy hendrix. you sort of wish you could give them both a big hug. thank them for being more real in their plastic way than ironical, ultra-cool american kids could ever hope to be.

when bill murray sits down to film a commercial for brand y whiskey, he's instructed to turn to the camera and say "for relaxing times, drink..." after the first take, the director rants and raves in unsubtitled japanese for what must have been a full minute. the translator approaches murray and explains: "he say 'more intensity.'"

"are you sure," asks murray. "it seems like he said a lot more than that."

"he say 'more intensity.'"

and that, in a nutshell, is your movie, a movie about the things you can't say in a land where relaxation is sold through intensity. if you can dig that, then lost in translation is well worth your time.

locdog anticipates the passion will be his next movie review