The Week/the Spin

The Pasty Dance

Al Gore wants to grant Elián González and his family permanent residency status. Gore’s position, which would transfer deportation authority from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to a Florida family court, breaks with White House policy. His announcement comes on the heels of Fidel Castro’s proposal to temporarily move Elián’s Cuban village to Miami. Castro offered to send Elián’s father, stepmother, stepsiblings, cousin, 12 of his first-grade classmates, his teacher, a psychiatrist, and a legal adviser to Miami to hasten the boy’s “readoption” into Cuban society while the INS prepares to deport him. Cuban exiles’ spin: Elián returns to Cuba over our dead bodies. We’ll blockade the airport and the boy’s house if we have to. Miami police department’s spin: If the INS comes to take Elián, we won’t help. Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas’ spin: If Miami riots over an INS deportation, it’s President Clinton and Janet Reno’s fault, not mine. Reno’s spin: Everybody calm down. Please. Al Gore’s spin: Hey Bill, let’s not be too hasty here. Miami’s Cuban exiles have a vot—er, I mean, a point.

Ugandan police have uncovered more than 700 bodies of slain cult members. Since a March 17 fire incinerated more than 300 worshippers locked in a church, authorities have uncovered bodies in several mass graves near buildings used by the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. Joseph Kibwetere and the other leaders of the apocalyptic sect, spun off from the Roman Catholic Church, may still be at large. Cult members were not allowed to speak or have sex and gave all their possessions to church leaders, who promised that the world would end on Jan. 1. Skeptics’ spin: That’s what you get for trusting a man who claims to speak directly to Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Humanists’ spin: If you were as poor as an East African, you would be prone to false messiahs too.

The Supreme Court upheld a ban on nude dancing. The court ruled 6-3 that an Erie, Pa., law banning public nudity, including that of nightclub dancers, does not violate the First Amendment. Requiring pasties and G-strings “leaves ample capacity to convey the dancer’s erotic message.” Justice O’Connor’s majority spin: “Being ‘in a state of nudity’ is not an inherently expressive condition.” Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas’ concurrent spin: What’s more, a community should be able to declare public nudity immoral. Justice Ginsburg and Justice Stevens’ dissent: Communities can move a strip club across town, but they can’t ban it outright. Analysts’ spin: No-tolerance policing is being written into the Constitution.

OPEC agreed to increase oil production. Under pressure from the United States, the group overruled objections from Iran and raised output by more than 7 percent—enough to lower prices in the West but not enough to replenish inventories. President Clinton’s spin: OPEC agreed with my argument that the current quota would eventually shrink global demand. Globalists’ spin: Money talks, isolationists walk. Economists’ spin: This increase is too late to help summer gas prices.

Cisco Systems supplanted Microsoft as the world’s most valuable company. Cisco, which makes hardware to carry Internet information between computer systems, closed Monday with more stock-market worth than Microsoft, whose shares fell on fears that an antitrust settlement might fall through. E-revolutionaries’ spin: The Internet is triumphing over ” old world” companies focused on software. E-skeptics’ spin: Cisco’s surge is temporary, and the whole tech sector is overvalued. Besides, by Fortune 500 criteria—i.e., annual revenue—General Motors is the most valuable company. Microsoft’s spin: We don’t care about market capitalization and never have. Really. Only profits matter. Status watchers’ spin: Cisco may be worth as much as Microsoft, but Cisco CEO John Chambers is worth only 1 percent of Bill Gates.

Tony Blair’s wife wants him to take paternity leave. Cherie Blair, who at age 45 is pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, wants the British prime minister to take time off to care for their newborn. Tony Blair’s spin: But honey, I’m the PM! Isn’t there a Third Way? Cynics’ spin: Blair will take a week or two off to satisfy feminists, but he’ll never take the 13 weeks the law allows. (See “International Papers” for the foreign press’s reaction.)

American Beauty won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It also claimed Best Actor (Kevin Spacey), Best Director (Sam Mendes), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematographer. Biggest upset: 25-year-old newcomer Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry), who beat Meryl Streep, Annette Bening, Janet McTeer, and Julianne Moore for Best Actress. Classiest speech: Michael Caine’s salute to his fellow Best Supporting Actor nominees. Fashion standouts: Swank’s iridescent olive ball gown with 17th-century diamond necklace, and Salma Hayek’s arresting pale lavender dress with tulle wrap. Cynical spins: 1) DreamWorks bought the Best Picture trophy just like Miramax did last year. 2) Hollywood rewarded politically correct protests against homophobia and suburban anomie (Beauty), capital punishment (The Green Mile), pro-lifers (The Cider House Rules), and the political mainstream (Warren Beatty, who won a lifetime achievement award). (For David Edelstein’s Oscar commentary in Slate, click here.)

Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential election. The former KGB agent won a slim majority. Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov did better than expected, topping 30 percent. Putin’s spin: My KGB pals will crack down on corruption, and I will reach out to the Communists. The West’s spin: Now that you’ve won, how about stopping that Chechen War? Pessimists’ spin: Putin is ruthless and xenophobic. Watch out, world. Analysts’ spin: No, he’s still a sphinx. (For more on the election, see Slate’s “International Papers.”) 

The House “resolved” its chaplain controversy. After months of fending off insinuations of anti-Catholicism from Democratic and Republican colleagues, Speaker Dennis Hastert appointed a Catholic chaplain by fiat. The House leadership had originally picked a Protestant candidate over a more popular Catholic candidate. Democrats’ spin: At last, the House’s first Catholic chaplain. (And given Bob Jones, it’s about time.) Hastert’s retort: We are not anti-Catholic! Democrats’ reply: We never said you were. Hastert’s retort: This is “ugly” and “destructive” politics. Media wags’ spin: We kid you not, the new chaplain is named Father Coughlin. (To read a Slate article on the “myth” of anti-Catholicism, click here.)

The pope said he is “deeply saddened” by the Holocaust. Visiting Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, John Paul II expanded on his recent apology for crimes committed by the Catholic Church but stopped short of apologizing for the church’s perceived inaction during World War II. On Wednesday the pontiff visited the West Bank and defended the Palestinians’ “natural right to a homeland.” Jews’ spin: The pope’s apology was heartfelt and praiseworthy—not that it would have killed him to say more. Palestinians’ spin: John Paul supports a Palestinian state! Vatican’s spin: The pope said nothing about Palestinian statehood, and he has reached out to Jews more than to any other religious group. Why does everybody want him to be a politician?

Taiwan’s president-elect declared support for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. Chen Shui-bian’s comments to the Los Angeles Times may mollify some GOP opponents of Clinton’s WTO bill. In other conciliatory gestures, Taiwan’s parliament ended a 51-year ban on trade with the mainland, and Chen’s party said it would remove a pro-independence clause from its platform. Despite threats from China, on Saturday a plurality of Taiwanese voters elected Chen, who at one time supported Taiwanese independence. Members of the outgoing Nationalist party blamed party leader Lee Teng-hui, the island’s first democratically elected president. Nationalists’ spin: Lee is a traitor! Off with his head! China’s spin: All eyes are on you, Mr. Chen. Especially ours. Chen’s spin: Let’s not do anything irrational. United States’ spin: Let’s not do anything irrational. (Slate’s “International Papers” rounds up worldwide press reaction to the elections.)