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Month: September 2003

Polite stoppage

As per expectations, initial reaction to the first attempt to get more international aid in Iraq was not good. Germany is being negative, and Russia is making it clear that they need UN involvement. From one angle, it looks like Russia is making concessions, but note that Russia is implacable about UN approval. They’re letting us know that we can get what we want… if we do it their way. Chirac, unsurprisingly, is on board with Germany and Russia.

On the other hand, Thailand just sent 21 soldiers. So that’s something. And it’s just the initial deployment — they’ll be up to a full 443 soldiers at some point.

OK, so that’s not really so great. The UK may add 5,000 troops to their deployment, which is far more significant. On the other hand, the Congressional Budget Office says we can’t maintain the current 180,000 troops in Iraq past March of next year. We’ll have to drop the numbers to 64,000 men maximum at that point.

Gonna be a bit of a shortfall.

A hand here?

The US is working on a new UN resolution intended to encourage foreign assistance in Iraq. Five bucks says the first version circulated turns out to be unacceptable to the Security Council.

Unfortunately for Bush, he’s negotiating from a position of weakness. After having said he doesn’t need the UN and calling the Security Council irrelevant, he’s now finding that he has to go back and ask them for help. There aren’t many weaker negotiating stances than that.

Trying out a role

Without my TiVo, I’d never have gotten around to seeing Audition, which would have been a pity. I think. As is, I spent half the weekend severely creeped out. For a movie without any supernatural trappings, it was about the most horrific thing I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project. (Pre-hype.)

Confessional: I normally find Japanese movies a bit slow. I know it’s part of the cinematic culture in Japan and all; I just don’t have the mental pathways I’d need to appreciate the style properly. I’d been hearing about this Takashi Miike guy for a while, though; he cranks out five or six movies a year, he’s supposed to be totally transgressive and daring, and people either love him or hate him. So I snagged Audition from the Sundance Channel, cause what could it hurt?

I expected it to be a pretty sloppy gore-fest. I figured Miike was infamous for the boundaries he crossed, rather than the skill with which he crossed them. I also expected yet another Japanese movie with moments of action mixed with long slow interludes of mood development. An hour into Audition, as I was appreciating the patient build and the elegant cinematography and the sharp interjections of tension — ah, that canvas bag — I’d learned different.

The movie starts out as a romantic tragedy. Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife dies, and seven years later, he’s still dealing with his grief. There’s not a hint of anything beyond a quiet little drama which could easily open up into a story about a man who finds love again; it’s incredibly restrained. Sure, it’s kind of creepy to stage a movie audition in order to find a new wife… but you feel for Aoyama, and maybe it’ll work out. And that’s the first hour of the movie. Could be any TV drama of the week, except skillfully filmed.

Then, without a bump in the transition, the movie takes a left turn into a deranged mix of David Lynch and Tobe Hooper. There’s no gore for gore’s sake, but the camera doesn’t turn away from the horror for a single second. The layered flashbacks and dream sequences are a much-needed counterpoint to the terrible things which happen in the present, but even in that escape you can see the seeds of the tragedy to come.

I can’t emphasize enough how nasty things get. Think Meet The Feebles, except much better technically, real actors, and more blood. I also can’t say enough good things about Miike’s evocation of Japanese relationships. It’s a hard contrast to wrap my mind around, because despite the occasional flashes of brilliance from Wes Craven, you don’t normally get real social commentary from a movie as bloody as Audition.

Fascinating movie, but watch it at your own risk.

Chalabi day

Riverbend notes that it’s Chalabi’s turn to be president of the Iraqi Governing Council. Should be an interesting month. Chalabi’s been claiming he doesn’t want power for ages now, but he keeps winding up with influence anyhow — albeit influence mostly generated by his supporters among the neocons.

So, does he use this month to show off how useful he can be? He claims that he needs more control over Iraqi security in order to prevent bombings and terrorism — in fact, he said he warned the US before the UN bombing. One doubts it’s a coincidence that the first Cabinet was named as Chalabi’s presidency began.

The always indispensable Joshua Marshall tosses in this tale of woe, which (if true) goes a long way towards explaining why Chalabi isn’t trusted.

Monday Mashup #7: Shogun

It’s Labor Day, and I thought about postponing till tomorrow — but nah. Let’s do some mashing up of the old pop culture; let’s dance with the memes in the pale moonlight. (Whoops, there’s one now.) Our chosen subject this week: Shogun, by James Clavell.

If I was going to boil Shogun down to a sentence of summation, I’d say it was about a man plunged into a culture he considers barbaric, and how he learns to understand it. It’s perhaps the case that the book is worthwhile not so much for the plot, but for the sincere attempt to write about Japanese culture on its own ground, which is difficult to subsume into gaming. Still, the raw plot material is probably fairly fertile ground. Have at it.


Since 1978, he’s released 34 albums. That’s sort of the standard entry point for discussing Jandek, because there’s not much else to say. There’s no conclusive evidence about the person who makes the records, and the music is inaccessible and dark. He lives in Houston, he releases about a record every year, and he charges $8 apiece for them (or $4 apiece if you order 20 or more). It’s sort of bluesy, sort of folky, sort of out of tune. Alas, since his record label reissued all the old vinyl on CD, you can’t easily find his songs on the Internet anymore.

A Guide to Jandek is the definitive web site. Jandek on Corwood will be the definitive documentary.