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If war is inevitable, you might as well be in Austin, enjoying South by Southwest.

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South by Southwest 2003 swirls around us. Deep in the heart of the storm, it is one detail after another, followed by another detail after one. The days fly by. As I write this, the Film and Interactive Conferences are almost over, the Film Festival is well under way, and the Music Conference and Festival are about to begin. I know next time I wake up, it'll all be over.

There is so much to do. Showcases for 1,100 bands are coming up at as many as 52 venues, 150 films at six theatres, special screenings, three free outdoor shows at Auditorium Shores. Films, music, the Web, new media -- Austin just like it always is, but times 10. SXSW wristbands are still available at all Star Ticket outlets for a limited time; after that, there'll be a limited number available at SXSW Music Festival club doors. SXSW Film passes are available at Waterloo Video and at all Film Festival venue doors except the Paramount.

This issue of the Chronicle will have a limited distribution Wednesday evening, March 12, at the Austin Music Awards Show at the Austin Music Hall, as well as at a number of other locations. The bulk of the distribution will be on Thursday morning. The first of three Austin Chronicle daily editions will be distributed downtown on Thursday, and Chronicle dailies will be distributed on Friday and Saturday mornings at selected downtown locations as well. Next week, it is all back to normal.

By the time you read this, either you're walking away from the Austin Music Awards or the show was last night. Fifty categories, all write-ins, twice as many votes as we've ever gotten, and a great lineup of performing talent should add up to this being a great issue and the Awards Show being memorable.

The SXSW Film Festival is doing unbelievably well. I get to brag because I'm not a judge and I don't program. The Festival lineup has been attracting rave reviews and the largest crowds in our 10-year history. It is very gratifying to see full house after full house enthusiastically greet the filmmakers and their films.

The SXSW Film trailers this year are by Cinemaker Co-op's members. They held a contest, we picked a few as our favorites, and you're seeing them before the films. We forgot to really publicize this, an oversight that was brought home to me when Richard Linklater asked who had made the trailers. He hadn't even seen the two Bollywood Western trailers, even though he is an off-screen character in one of them.

Some SXSW clarifications:

SXSW is run by Roland Swenson, managing director, the hands-on, day-in, day-out boss. The other two senior directors are Nick Barbaro, Chronicle publisher, and myself. I find that a lot of articles leave one or the other of us out or fail to convey our working relationship. The event succeeds because of an extraordinary staff, some full time, some seasonal, and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers -- all professional and all committed to making the event the very best it can be each year.

There are more unsigned bands at the Festival than there have ever been. I keep hearing about how this used to be an event for unsigned bands, but now we've been seduced by the labels and bigger acts. This is wrong. I was at the meetings at the very start; we very consciously stayed away from being an unsigned-band event and have always included bands signed to major and independent labels. Beyond that, in the earliest days we had a total of 200 or 300 bands. This year, there will be more than 300 unsigned bands alone, and hundreds more that are signed to small or single-band labels. Still, I'm planning on getting a lot of the writers who complain about the lack of attention paid to unsigned bands together to discuss this in more detail. There'll be no problem rounding them up: I'll just go to the show featuring those unsigned, unknown acts that really need more attention -- the Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams, and Willie Nelson at the Music Hall -- where most of the music writers will be standing together watching, and invite them over to my place for a discussion.

Finally, it is weird to find myself the villain in so many creative melodramas. Having to say "no," often a lot, gets you cast in strange roles with awkwardly fitting costumes. Web sites blast me; folks badmouth me. In the SXSW universe, this is by no means a unique situation. I hear slurs against SXSW all the time ("they don't listen to the tapes, it's all politics" -- yes we do, and listening to 6,000 bands is a pain). Sometime I'll discuss my life as a villain.

Films, music, folks, food, drink, and adventure: SXSW 2003 -- what more could you want?

War Notes

Two observations:

First: Among the many criticisms being aimed at the anti-war movement is that it is empowering and encouraging Saddam Hussein. The thinking goes that he was giving in to U.S. pressure and was going to turn over and destroy weapons, when the anti-war movement encouraged him to slow down and stall. Thus, intentionally or not, anti-war activities are anti-American and against the best interests of the Iraqi people.

It is probably hopeless to even try to tackle this theory, but it is flawed in any number of ways. The major one is that the goal of U.S. policy is to remove Hussein from power because it is thought he poses an imminent threat to not just U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East but to our civilians on our soil. Much pro-war rhetoric makes a direct connection between 9/11 and Hussein: He drew first blood; we have to respond. This is lunacy, but also commonly stated and accepted.

Our concern is Hussein as a direct threat to us; everything else is an excuse. We do not care about UN mandates, psychotic dictatorships, or imposing democracy on Iraq. We do not care about stores of chemical weapons or atomic weapons. Just look at our recent and long-term history.

What we care about is that Hussein might have weapons that he will use against us. The U.S. does not believe that Hussein is rational and that he will destroy and turn over his weapons. That is why we have over 200,000 troops there. We don't want him to cooperate with the UN; we want to take him out.

Say he did turn over weapons, information, and locations of storage facilities and laboratories. The U.S. would not believe this was complete information. Say we did believe it was complete and eradicated every last microbe. If Hussein was still in power, with access to oil money, would he not begin anew as soon as he could, with a terrific vengeance against the U.S. government and people?

The truth is, we want Hussein out. If you agree with any of the reasons for our being there, the conclusion is singular: Hussein must go. If anti-war activists are empowering Hussein, then they are serving the goals of the Bush administration -- not, sadly, working against it. Hussein is harder to attack when he is being cooperative than when he is being evasive. In the long run, it doesn't much matter; we're going to war.

Arguments against the protests are just part of the profoundly anti-democratic, anti-American hysteria that is sweeping the Republican right, who are determined that, by destroying this country, they can preserve it.

Second: We are told that swift, decisive military action will destroy the will of the terrorists. Invading Iraq is actually a defensive measure in the war on terrorism. We're told that if we don't study history, we're doomed to repeat it, and present-day Iraq is Nazi Germany all over again. That comparison is insidious and moronic. But forget studying history; let's look at current events. Almost every time Israel is struck by terrorists, it swiftly offers an overwhelming military response. That's worked really well, hasn't it? In the face of contradictory evidence, we're rushing into a war that is against this country's best interests.

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