Weekly Review — April 1, 2003, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

American and British forces in Iraq were slowed in their advance toward Baghdad by severe dust storms and by attacks from Iraqi militias, who were harassing the long, exposed supply lines between Kuwait and the front. American commanders were forced to change their tactics because of the unexpected resistance. Lt. General William Wallace, commander of Army forces in the Persian Gulf, said that “the enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war gamed against.” American and British casualties were heavier than expected, and soldiers said they were having a hard time distinguishing Iraqi forces from civilians. “It’s not pretty,” said one marine. “It’s not surgical. You try to limit collateral damage, but they want to fight. Now it’s just smash-mouth football.” The bombing of Baghdad continued; one reporter described seeing a severed hand, a pile of brains, and the remains of a mother and her three small children who were burned alive in their car after two American missiles landed in a crowded market. A few days later another marketplace was hit by a missile and dozens of civilians died. Pentagon officials suggested that the missiles could have been fired by the Iraqis. An American missile also hit an empty shopping mall in Kuwait City; although U.S. officials said they could not confirm the origin of the missile, Kuwaitis said that fragments were recovered that clearly established the missile’s provenance. Bush Administration sources said they were frustrated with the skeptical tone of some recent reporting on the war, and some American troops were becoming impatient with the failure of most Iraqis to show enthusiasm for the invasion. “I expected a lot more people to surrender,” one soldier told a reporter. “From all the reports we got, I thought they would all capitulate.” Another soldier was unimpressed with the ruins of the ancient city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. “I’ve been all the way through this desert from Basra to here and I ain’t seen one shopping mall or fast food restaurant,” he told a British reporter. “These people got nothing. Even in a little town like ours of 2,500 people you got a McDonald’s at one end and a Hardee’s at the other.”

President George W. Bush declared that he was satisfied with the war and said that “the Iraqi people have got to know that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes.” Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain traveled to Camp David to discuss the war with the president and urged him to make peace with Europe. Belgium’s parliament was taking steps to dismiss a war-crimes claim against President George Bush the elder which was filed last month by seven Iraqi families whose relatives were killed in the 1991 American bombing of a civilian bomb shelter. Four hundred and three people died in that bombing. Thousands of Muslims from all over the world were traveling to Iraq to fight against the American invasion; an Iraqi general claimed to have 4,000 volunteer suicide bombers from 23 Arab countries. “This is a war for oil and Zionism,” said an Egyptian student volunteer. “I want to help Iraqis, not Saddam. I know I might die. I don’t want to kill people but I will if I have to, to protect people like those children with their heads missing.” Palestinian Islamic Jihad said it had sent suicide bombers to Baghdad “to fulfill the holy duty of defending Arab and Muslim land.” One hundred fifty thousand Moroccans demonstrated against the war, chanting “suicide attacks lead to freedom,” and there were reports that the Moroccan government had offered to send 2,000 monkeys to Iraq to help clear land mines. A taxi driver killed four American soldiers when he blew up his car at a checkpoint near the holy city of Najaf, in southern Iraq. A Palestinian exploded in Netanya, Israel, and wounded three dozen people. Islamic Jihad said the attack was a gift to the Iraqi people. Israeli troops killed several Palestinian children. Secretary of State Colin Powell called on Israel to end “settlement activity” in the Occupied Territories. Civilians in Basra, Zubayr, and many other Iraqi cities were without drinking water. Kofi Annan reminded the United States that the occupying power bears the responsibility for the welfare of the people. Large antiwar protests continued to be held around the world; “die-ins” were staged in several American cities. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group in Uganda, executed a government peace envoy. Daniel Patrick Moynihan died.

Federal energy regulators concluded that the California energy crisis of 2000-2001 was created by widespread market manipulation and misconduct by Enron and 30 other energy companies but signaled that they were unlikely to overturn $40 billion worth of long-term contracts that resulted from the scheme. “I don’t think it’s fair to say there’s an absolute correlation between the evidence of manipulation and the long-term contracts,” said one regulator. Another, who disagreed, pointed out that “these two notions are kind of at war with one another.” Drug dealers in Copenhagen went on strike to protest the government’s plan to demolish a 30-year-old hippy colony. Opium farming was on the rise again in Afghanistan. Three Americans died in a plane crash in Colombia; they were looking for three other Americans who were taken hostage by rebels after their plane crashed. Workers at a Russian marriage agency said interest in finding American bridegrooms was declining because American men are “boring cold Martians with dead eyes.” Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru. President Bush signed an executive order to make it easier to keep government documents secret. French vandals attacked a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Bordeaux; the statue was sprayed with red paint and set on fire. Gerhard Schroeder called for a larger German military so that the country can “count on our own forces.” Japan launched a new spy satellite despite threats from North Korea that doing so would trigger “disastrous consequences.” Islamic militants cut the noses off six Hindus in Kashmir. Indian lawmakers in the state of Bihar were upset about “the government’s failure to curb the mosquito menace” and demanded the appointment of a special minister of mosquito control. Texas executed a paranoid schizophrenic murderer. Women in the Mexican state of Colima lost the right to divorce their husbands for impotence, and German scientists reported that human sperm are attracted to pleasant odors.

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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