Redford Disses Norton; Hitchens Defends Himself; Cockburn Plays Dr. Ruth for Rudy

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Robert Redford has given Interior Secretary Gale Norton the cold shoulder. Last week Norton sent an invitation to the movie star in his aerie at Sundance in the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City, asking if he would care to present at the release of a condor raised in captivity. Norton added that "You and I have never met, but we do have a common interest" in condors, and that she

had fond memories of Redford's movie Three Days of the Condor. She said that in such a meeting they could discuss "the best way to conserve America's unspoilt landscapes and the wild creatures who inhabit them."

Redford sent back a snotty note to Norton saying that he was "mystified" by the invite, and that "Sadly, since assuming the Interior Secretary post, you have compiled an abysmal record of capitulating to big businesses at the expense of the nation's public health, public lands and wildlife."

Now, when it comes to preserving nature's domain Norton's nothing much to write home about, but neither is Redford. Indeed, you can forgive the Interior Secretary for thinking there might have been a soft spot in Redford's heart for her, considering what he has been ready to sanction and condone in recent years. After all, it was Redford who attacked Ralph Nader late last year for the latter's denunciations of the Clinton-Gore environmental record. Redford was a big presence in Oregon in the last week of the presidential campaign, targeting Nader voters in recorded phone messages. The gist of Redford's appeal was that Naderites were too purist, and that Gore was the man to vote for. In other words, Redford was ready to condone eight years of trashing the national forests, of giving the go-ahead to mining companies, and even of sabotaging the Endangered Species Act, which, among other functions, has helped save the condor from extinction.

It should also be noted that while Redford and others have slammed the Bush administration for rescinding the Clinton team's last-minute booby-trap regs on arsenic in Western water, Redford was silent on this matter for the eight years when the Clinton administration did nothing about the supposed arsenic peril. Redford, it should also be recalled, was party to a bid to destroy the Blackfoot River, immortalized in Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It and turned into a movie by Redford.

In the mid-1990s he campaigned for Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. The Baucus family, which owns one of the largest ranches in the state, at that time stood to rake in millions from their interest in the mining rights to a property bordering the Blackfoot and scheduled for gold mining by the so-called "heap leach" cyanide method, lethal to all living things. The plans of this mining company also included the leveling of an adjacent mountain revered by Ted Kaczynski. Noting the threat, Kaczynski took an increasing interest in environmental matters, in whose cause he devised his own drastic strategies.

Hitchens on Kerrey

On Monday last, just as New York Press was on its way out the door to the printer, I got a call from Christopher Hitchens, duly noted in a STOP PRESS note in my column. He was eager to stress that at the time he made his comments on Fox he was not up to speed on Kerrey's account of his actions at Thanh Phong. (Hitchens appeared on Fox on Monday, April 30, by which time the Kerrey affair had been headline material across the weekend.)

In his call Hitchens was at particular pains to underline his disgust at the New School's board members who have issued a statement asserting that it is improper to attribute specific blame for war crimes, which, as we have noted, has been a standard liberal line. He said he was forwarding the text of an open letter to his colleagues at the New School.

Too late for inclusion in my STOP PRESS note, I received portions of this, though a middle section is lacking, and in its place there is what appears to be the e-mail addresses of the New School faculty. However, I do have the creditable final section, which runs as follows:

"It [the statement] also?but this is only a detail?takes at face value the sleazy and evasive and self-pitying utterances made by our new President and my former friend. That passive acceptance might just have passed muster if Kerrey had said ONE WORD about the Vietnamese civilians he admits to having killed. (Let's pass over the ones he isn't so sure he killed.) But examine the remarks issued under his name and under the names of Tishman and Scaturro [New School trustees]. There isn't even a polite nod in the direction of the victims. This is a scandal pure and simple. Should I dilate on the supposed principles of the School? Why embarrass myself, or you? Last month you didn't know that Kerrey had left a ditchful of civilians behind him and accepted a medal for an action that read?officially phrased?21 VC KIA (BC). That means twenty-one Vietcong, killed in action (body count). So?a liar as well as a killer, since he knew the figures were falsified. This month you do know. So perhaps by the watercooler or in the corridor we hear: 'Oh hi Bob! Shit happens, right?'

"One or the other thing, but not both. He may have been a victim himself but he must be honest about what he did and he must say a word or two about the people he slaughtered. The board and the trustees, meanwhile, have no right to defend him in the terms they outline, which are terms that would exculpate any Nazi or any stressed-out ethnic cleanser."

A friend of mine who served in Vietnam in the U.S. Marine Corps writes, noting that "Kerrey said no one ever taught him about the Law of War. That is baloney. We went over the Geneva Convention like a catechism or like Miranda, partly to protect us if we were captured but also because we were fighting in the midst of civilians."

Rudy, There Are Other Ways!

Andrea Peyser tells us in Sunday's New York Post that "the treatment has rendered him incapable of having sexual relations for the past year." Of course she's talking about Mayor Rudy Giuliani, afflicted with prostate cancer and taking radiation treatment plus chemo plus two drugs, lupron and casadex, all of which have taken a toll upon his priapic puissance. In other words the guy can't get it up and furthermore has to endure the horrible experience (amid side effects of chemo like throwing up eight times a night) of hearing Donna Hanover, his lawful wedded wife, thrashing about on her exercise machine. After the rupture in their relations prompted by his liaison with Judi Nathan, the Mayor has been exiled to a spare room where he tosses on his bed of pain.

"Incapable of having sexual relations"? Maybe in Rudy's repressed Catholic erotic lexicon he feels that it's missionary position or nothing. But Rudy, there are other things to do, you know. Maybe you and Judi should ask around. Who knows, a gay cop on the mayoral security detail might be available for consultation on moderate s&m, bondage and so forth. There are lips, armpits, feet and kindred pathways to sensual gratification.

It's hard to feel much compassion for the former prosecutor who had those unfortunate stock operators hauled from their beds in the wee hours and carted off in handcuffs to the federal clink; for the mayor who put sharpshooters on top of City Hall to guard him against the wails of people suffering from AIDS, demonstrating against his administration's policies; for the neofascist authoritarian who has put his boot on the necks of the poor and the vulnerable, year after year.

Right now the Mayor is pushing through another piece of legislation aimed at further eroding the possibility of sexual pleasure in his dominion. He's already turned building inspectors into morality police, enforcing zoning changes that restrict erotica. Now, chafing at the thought of anyone blessed with sexual enjoyment, he's pushing through pell-mell further zoning changes aimed at stores selling erotic tapes, at topless clubs, peepshows and other spots that draw people from near and far and render the metropolis an agreeable spot instead of some sterile settlement in the Bible Belt.

A Really Nasty Way to Go

So T. McVeigh gets a short-term renewal of his lease on life, maybe a long one. The Bureau never lets us down.

Lethal injection has been sold as just about the most soothing way to go. Not so: like many a Benthamite vision of Progress, it has serious flaws. Edward Brunner, MD, PhD, is the Eckenhoff professor and chairman emeritus of anesthesia at Northwestern University Medical School and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He gave a chilling interview to Charles Madigan of the Chicago Tribune, published April 22, in which he described how lethal injection, as administered in death chambers across the country by nonmedical personnel, actually works.

"The thiopental will cause the patient to look like he is falling asleep. The second drug will paralyze him. If the drugs are not given properly, the sleep drug can wear off, allowing the patient to be aware but unable to move, even to breathe. He undergoes suffocation and asphyxiation in a horribly painful way, even though he looks completely calm as he is lying on the table. Then he experiences that deep burning sensation as the potassium courses through his veins on the way to his heart."

Brunner says that in about 40 percent of cases where lethal injection has been used, there has been misuse in one way or another, and it has taken as long as 45 minutes for the person to die. "The chemistry of the drugs is such that thiopental and succinylcholine, when they react to each other, cause a precipitation of a white, flaky substance that will block up the needle from the IV. What has happened in a number of cases is that they give the thiopental and follow with the succinylcholine, then they get this precipitate which blocks the needle. The thiopental wears off. The patient is partly paralyzed and partly not, and begins to move around. In a number of circumstances, they have to close the curtains so that people can't see the struggling. Sometimes they have to start all over again."

Since no doctor will perform these injections, the job goes to people who are untrained and who have no business using these drugs. "Thiopental is a controlled substance. To use it you need a special license, which the executioner doesn't have and the warden doesn't have. So they are in violation of federal and state regulations when they use these things. More than that, the drugs have been tested for safety in therapeutic uses. They have never been tested for use in killing people. What they are really doing is experimenting on humans, much like the German doctors did in concentration camps. What they are doing is inhumane. The subjects end up with a strong possibility of being subjected to excruciating suffering."

Probably many Americans, including those "survivors" and relatives in Oklahoma City looking for "closure," will say that "excruciating suffering," i.e., cruel and unusual punishment, is exactly what McVeigh deserves. But that, at the moment, is not the name of the game.

Crude Guy Joke

Here's one a friend of a friend got from Paul McCartney. A songwriter turns in a ballad with an exquisite, haunting melody. "What do you want to call it?" the recording company exec asks. "Yer Tits Are Too Big," the oaf replies, and successfully imposes his will. Another melody, another haunting tune, this time titled "Yer Ass Is Too Big." Third time, the exec calls in at the songwriter's pad, gross and filthy beyond description. The songwriter goes to the john, and as he returns the exec looks at him and says, "Do you know your cock is hanging out?" "Do I know it? I fucking wrote it."

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