Friday, March 21, 2003

Financial Times reports that the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division has already taken the "vicinity" of Al Nasiriya. No word about Abraham and Sarah.

Nasirija was the site of one of the last battles of GWI, says this old article in Cairo's Al Ahram Weekly, and the Shi'ite uprising that followed it, says this site.

Richard Meyers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, now says forces are more than 100 miles inside Iraq, which would put them just around Nasiriya.
Surprisingly, the march on Baghdad might come from Jordan in the west, not Kuwait in the south, it says here at the Asian Times Online. If this is true, it's getting into major "holy moly" territory, because officially Jordan says there are no more than 2,000 US and UK troops in the Hashemite Kingdom, and these only for defensive purposes. Yet a "top Jordanian official" tells ATO that 7,000 US troops are heading toward Baghdad from Jordan, and thousands more are coming, landing at Aqaba. (Yeah, that's right, Aqaba as in "We've taken Aqaba!" from Lawrence of Arabia.) This news via the excellent and up-to-date Agonist web site.

Meanwhile, Agonist says the advance arm of the U.S. Army, the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division (see below) has stopped 150km/90m into the country near the city of Al Nasiriya, where there is an important bridge. This could be the next (and first) tough battle. According to my Hammond's World Atlas from the 1950s, Al Nasiriya is quite close to the ruins of the Biblical city of Ur. (Yeah, that's right, Ur as in "Ur of the Chaldees," the home of Abraham mentioned repeatedly in Genesis.)

Big explosions right now on CNN in Baghdad. Shock. Awe. Salam has been counting down.... Two more hours, he wrote two hours ago, until the B52 bombers reach Baghdad. Be safe....

CORRECTION (3/24): Ur was the birthplace of Abraham. He left when he was relatively young. His homeland was in what's now eastern Syria. Also, it looks like the US forces coming in from Jordan are more likely to link up with Special Ops units in the north of Iraq, already fighting alongside the Kurds, rather than going straight to Baghdad. No further word on this alleged advance as of Monday.
The Onion is surprisingly unfunny this week, although I liked this line from the lead article on "Gulf War II: The Vengeance.":
"We were disappointed by our numbers in Bosnia," Rumsfeld said. "That particular conflict played primarily to an art-house crowd.”
More movies coming to shoot in Prague. Here are some of my recent reports for Screen Daily.
Location Prague attracts two new US productions
- Dreamworks joins Prague production influx
- Van Helsing locates to Prague for winter shoot

Of these, Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm (see first and most recent link) sounds quite interesting. Producers are talking to Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Robin Williams and Jonathan Pryce to star, according to this post on Dreams: The Terry Gilliam Fanzine. Apparently Damon and Ledger would play the brothers, who run around the German countryside fooling local villagers into believing in enchanted creatures and then pulling off the fake exorcisms themselves. Things go awry when they encounter a genuine magical curse. Action and adventure ensue. This would be Damon’s second Prague shoot; he was here once already for The Bourne Identity. Gilliam = ex-Monty Python genius who directed 12 Monkeys and Brazil.

The other movie, First Daughter, sounds like a sickly sweet teen romantic comedy about a U.S. president’s daughter who comes to Prague and runs amuck, eluding her Secret Service minders and falling into the Vltava. Sounds suspiciously like Jenna Bush, who was here last summer. It stars Mandy Moore, a teen singer/pop sensation of whom I have only the vaguest knowledge. (One-liner: “I like older boys, but they think, 'She's under age.'”) The most interesting thing about this film is that Forest Whitaker is directing another movie with the same exact title and almost the same exact (dumb) plot.

Meanwhile, Kevin Costner was in Prague this week (article in Czech only) -- apparently not to scope out locations for a new movie, but rather to record a soundtrack (for Open Range?). Turns out he was at a fashion event at Stara Celnice shopping center last Friday, which, coincidentally, I almost crashed. (Apparently Costner is friends with the founder of the modeling agency that sponsored the party, Wolfgang Schwartz. This useless information was garnered through original reporting, thinking I could write a news brief on it, but there's really nothing there.)

Costner was spotted at a Prague “discotheque” called the Golden Tree. Folks, the Golden Tree is not a discotheque. It’s a titty bar.
Salam's post today: "we sit infront of the TV with the map of Iraq on our laps trying to figure out what is going on in the south." Funny, that's what I'm doing.

Last night I read nearly all of the Baghdad web logger's archived posts. Some snippets:

- A BBC reporter walking thru the Mutanabi Friday book market (again) ends his report with : “It looks like Iraqis are putting on an air of normality” Look, what are you supposed to do then? Run around in the streets wailing? War is at the door eeeeeeeeeeeee!

- You know the band BUSH ? DJs on the English language radio station in Baghdad (voice of youth) are not allowed to say the name of the band, they have to spell it. “Bee yu ess etch have yet another single out”. I bet all the DJs there thank god there isn’t a band called schwartzkopf, imagine having to spell that everytime you play a song.

- The radio plays war songs from the 80’s non-stop. We know them all by heart. Driving thru Baghdad now singing along to songs saying things like “we will be with you till the day we die Saddam” was suddenly a bit too heavy, no one gave that line too much thought but somehow these days it is sounds sinister.... A couple of hours earlier we were at a shop and a woman said as she was leaving, and this is a very common sentence, “we’ll see you tomorrow if good keeps us alive” – itha allah khalana taibeen – and the whole place just freezes. She laughed nervously and said she didn’t mean that.

Plus, he likes the Jesus and Mary Chain.
Military geek alert: Turns out the 7th Cavalry Regiment is the “lead element” of the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division, the one Fred Kaplan said on Slate (see below) might head straight for Baghdad. It is headed for Baghdad. Kaplan was mistaken, however, when he suggested there would be a media blackout if that division (Ted Koppel’s) were indeed on the move. Instead, the media and the military appear to have cut a deal whereby certain operational info is withheld, but the broadcast goes on. (Presumably the reporter’s exact coordinates would be a no-no.) Hence, I stayed up all night listening to CNN's Walter Rodgers, who’s at the front of the U.S. 7th, and watching his grainy videophone footage of the desert streaking by. (Baghdad says it's just a tape loop.... Right.)

Rodgers kept talking about “vignettes” involving Bedouins. First there were the Bedouins who came out of their tents and just shook their heads in amazement as the column of 2,000 tanks zoomed by. Then there was the Bedoiuin compound briefly mistaken by an advancing tank officer for a Scud emplacement. The officer was duly embarrassed. Nobody was hurt.

Call me naive, but I didn’t realize an armored column traveling across the open desert, meeting little resistance, traveled so damn slow. As of 6 a.m. they’d been traveling for 12 hours, and gotten 150km inside Iraq. That’s not even as far as Brno, which is normally a two-hour drive from Prague.

I also didn’t know we were still using napalm.

Speaking about the lack of media blackout. The military is bringing the media along (not just U.S. and British media) for three reasons: 1. There was so much criticism for keeping the media in the dark during GWI (this is probably the least important reason). 2. In case something really bad happens (i.e. if Saddam uses chemical weapons, they want the world to see; read the New Yorker’s frightening "Unembedded" piece) 3. Obviously, in case something really good happens (i.e. Iraqis celebrating in the streets).

That said, BBC is now blaming the Americans for an "information deficit" at Qatar Central Command. Apparently all the news is coming in bits and pieces from the front. This is the exact opposite of GWI.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Pragueblog's Steve Hercher submits this to add to the expat blog list: Dilacerator. Site is based the Netherlands, I think, and I haven't a foggiest what the word means. Many words, not enough links, in my opinion. Still, these bloggers know more languages -- and more about the ins and outs of European politics -- than I'd care to shake a stick at.
Albright was on CNN today, supporting the war, criticizing Bush. Good for her.

Here’s the biggest indication I’ve had so far that Bush might not win re-election: My dad told me last night that he’s very unimpressed with Bush’s handling of Iraq. This surprised me. Pa always makes a point of “supporting the president” when the US goes into combat situations, regardless of whether he agrees with that president’s politics. And though my dad calls himself an independent, he’s politically quite conservative and almost always votes Republican. (My mom, if you care, is a card-carrying Republican. Thank you for your interest.)
It's unclear to me from this BBC article whether Ry Cooder will actually have to pay the $100,000 fine levied against him under America's Trading With The Enemy Act for the crime of recording music with actual Cubans. Hold on -- according to this piece in The Scotsman, it was reduced to $25,000. *Sigh.*

Happy Birthday to Cooder, by the way, who turned 56 on Saturday. Ditto for Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, who turned 48. Wow, blogging sure is fun. I'm gonna stop now.
I'm gonna start listening to the Dixie Chicks in protest. (Beats a hunger strike. Or does it?) Man, what an insane country.
Here are a few good English-language web logs written from outside North America:
- Beirut Calling. Excellent, informative web log by Michael Young, a columnist for Lebanon's Daily Star and an occasionally penner of Slate's International Papers column. He says to keep your eyes on Barbara Bodine, "the Bush administration's response to Gertrude Bell." The latter was apparently the female Lawrence of Arabia. Bodine might soon be taking Saddam Hussein's place.
- Pragueblog. Steve Hercher, an American expat in Prague like me, follows the news from the perspective of.... an American expat in Prague like me.
- Amiland. From Germany, often picking up on stuff in the German press that gets overlooked outside the Reich. "A look at how Germany looks at the USA. And how Amiland looks back..."
- Iberian Notes. Similar for Spain. "News, politics, culture, history, languages, all live from Barcelona by John and Antonio. Our focuses are Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain." Ami is now a member of the nascent Europundits, which leads us to...
- The Radical, a blog by one of the many expats who choose to live in France yet despise the French. Ditto Merde in France. If you're allergic to blowhard anti-French tirades (which I am, mildly), it's best to avoid these; but unlike many others, these guys actually live there and appear to have done their homework.
- Oxblog. Informed, sensitive, and (what looks to me like) moderately hawkish political blogging from two Oxford Rhodes scholars and a Marshall scholar.
- Still not to be missed: Where is Raed? by Salam Pax in Baghdad. Posted early this morning:
"air raid sirens in baghdad but the only sounds you can here are the anti-aircraft machine guns. will go now.
:: salam 5:46 AM [+] :: "

Required reading: Fred Kaplan on Slate, writing on "How To Tell If We're Winning in Iraq." The title, of course, is silly, since there's a greater chance of Russian tanks rolling back into Prague than the U.S. not winning in Iraq. But this is a very informative article. Apparently we should keep our eyes on Ted Koppel, who's "embedded" with with the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division. If we don't see him (or other reporters embedded with that division if, like me, you don't hear much from Ted Koppel on normal days) then there's a good chance that the mad dash to Baghdad has already begun.

Question, though. Kaplan writes, "Reporters embedded with troops have said they will not be censored, though they will be subjected to blackouts. If you don't see Koppel for a couple days after the bombing begins, the ground war will likely have already begun." But today on CNN we heard a reporter say something along the lines of "There are some things I'm not allowed to tell you." Hm?
Jack Straw just called Dominque de Villepin his "good friend." Let the group hugs begin.

CLARIFICATION: He's been saying that for a while.
In 1991, I would often stay up very late doing who knows what, go to school (I was 16), walk around all day like a sleep-deprived zombie, come home, fall asleep on my parents' sofa with the TV on until they got home, and then repeat the process. One day in Janaury, I distinctly remember waking up from my afternoon to the sound of anti-aircraft fire. On the TV, I mean. That was the night the first Gulf War began. Bernie Shaw hiding under the desk and all that. I don't know why I feel compelled to share that. But I do know that was around the time my chronic insomnia began.
Wow, wow, *wow*, is all I can say when I read Salam Pax's web site. This is a web log written by a quite educated-sounding Iraqi guy actually living in Baghdad. The guy is smart, sensitive, biting, funny, ironic, witty, and I'm just plain out of adjectives. What else can one say? The Iraqi Eminem?

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A friend sent me Robin Cook's speech to the House of Commons yesterday, commenting, "Notice that this speech is understandable, unlike others we've been hearing." I watched that speech on TV and thought the exact same thing. Though I thought I'd become a member of the "I can't believe I'm a hawk" club, I'm now back in the peacenik camp. Now that it's upon us, the war sounds like a really really dumb idea.

This is going to sound incredibly trite, but what is it about those British politicians that make them sound so much smarter American politicians? (No, I'm afraid it's not just the accent.) The debate in the Commons, on all sides (Blair, Cook, Straw) was more intelligent and more articulate than anything I heard in the U.S. It's a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true. Maybe it's because they all read Cicero in school or something.