Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Today was Wayne Woodlief’s last day at the Herald. His goodbye ceremony -- held in the center of the newsroom, with the usual cake and (I hear) unusually good champagne -- drew real emotion, stirred in part by an effusive speech by editor Andy Costello. More telling is that the sadness bled through even when the speeches were upbeat.

For some, this means reading the Herald commentary page will be filled with even more reasons to mutter “What the hell?” But Woodlief will still be writing, just less frequently, and from home.

Listening to the speeches, full of accolades for Woodlief the man and the pundit, and seeing the hug between Woodlief and Costello afterward, left a dark tang when the champagne-in-Styrofoam drained away. At one point, Woodlief looked at his cluttered, cartoon-plastered workspace and said to a well-wisher, with bitterness barely masked by his gentle nature, “They won’t let me work at it. They probably don’t want me to sue if it falls on me or something.”

By the end of the sentence, he’d managed to smile.

One couldn’t help wondering, given the affection and respect of the send-off, why this had to happen. The fear is that, ultimately, the courtly and reasoned voice of Woodlief is not how the Herald wants to speak.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003


Hints of adulation are bouncing around the Internet for the marvelous job done restoring the “Indiana Jones” movies for DVD release. This is surprising, since on Oct. 23 I jeered the work as inadequate and embarrassing (then found a link at my.bicycle about how “South Park” saved the movies from extensive revision by the filmmakers).

Either way, notable in their absence were deleted scenes from the three movies. Although there was a disc of extras, its content was the stuff that used to inspire people to dig for remote controls and switch from Showtime to C-Span. “Making of” documentaries with bright jazz and images of directors saying “Cut!” from canvas chairs. Actors proclaiming the director and their peers to be geniuses -- and fun. Producers desperately trying to claim credit without appearing desperate.

Go figure: This is now the stuff consumers want.

I just want deleted scenes. I crave behind-the-scenes information (Donnie Darko’s pills were placebos!) and the sense of privilege they bestow (To people without DVD players, there is still a lost episode of “Family Guy”!). I’ve read movie scripts for the same reasons, and you know what? An uncut “Duck Soup” would actually have made sense.

Bitterness over the lack of deleted scenes for the “Indiana Jones” movies is partly because they’ll surely be released, eventually -- to those willing to pay again.

But despite the cottage industry that’s grown around director’s cuts -- “The Lord of the Rings” extended offerings are the standard-bearers, but they’re certainly nothing new -- I’m not advocating any extended-edition “Indiana Jones” movies, especially as it’s only the first one that rouses any passion. The reaction to seeing deleted scenes is almost always one of relief, from the unbelievably long and talky scenes cut from “Dogma” to the surprising irrelevance of those cut from the Gary Sinise-John Malkovich “Of Mice and Men.”

An exception would be the scenes cut from “Erin Brockovich,” which dramatize and clarify the reasons behind her illness during the movie. The suspicion is that the implications of those scenes didn’t meet the standard of truth set for the rest of the script.

Regardless, as an editor I applaud the instinct to cut.

As an entrepreneur, however, I am offering for sale my entire collection of blog postings, but with all the redundant points and needless verbiage deleted from them before publishing. It’s expensive, and insanely dull, but vital for the completist.

Monday, December 29, 2003


I may as well enter the new year purged. It’s time to share one of my most embarrassing moments:

The time is probably high school; the location is a mystery. Ebullient, I see two people facing each other in a crowd, goofing around. No idea what they’re doing. I come up and join in the fun, making puppets with my hands, as they are. One looks irritated and may try to push me away, but with no real violence. Idiotically, I resist, persisting with my naked-hand puppets.

As I give up and walk away, perhaps because their rebuke was entirely silent, perhaps because even I can’t be that stupid for more than a few days at a time, I realize they are hearing impaired and speaking in sign language. I had just run up and gratuitously mocked them.

I have never told anyone this before. It still ranks as among the worst, cruelest things I’ve ever done. Since there’s no one to apologize to directly, a more or less public statement will have to do.

Sunday, December 28, 2003


Having just seen “Big Fish,” I was going to say that Danny Elfman’s music was somewhat intrusive and that he should back off a little. I was going to make a crack about him graduating from the John Williams School of Film Scores, where they teach composers never to shut up. (I’ve felt this way about Williams at least since 1984, the year of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”) I was going to.

But I got sidetracked. Check out Williams’ resume -- all 200-plus credits of it, including “Daddy-O” from 1959, which I can only assume lives up to everything I’ve heard about it -- and prepare to be similarly distracted. Not only is the sheer number of credits impressive, but the fact that Williams, 71, has two films due out next year and four in 2005.

A prolific composer that ruins movies with constant, useless music brings to mind Pascal’s aphorism: “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short.”

But it is impossible not to spin even further out of conversational orbit when you notice the massiveness of what he has coming: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” next year and “Star Wars: Episode III,” “Indiana Jones 4” and ‘Jurassic Park IV” in 2005, another year of the sequel, and, finally, tragically, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in the same year.

Think about it for a second and you’ll guess whose vehicle it is. Right: Jim Carrey.

Jim Carrey and John Williams.

With this, the original topic is barely registering. “Big Fish” is a dim memory. We are lost, lost ...

Saturday, December 27, 2003


My copy of Robert L. Heilbroner’s “The Worldly Philosophers” is from 1961 -- no doubt I plucked it from the curbside discards of someone moving out of the neighborhood, or the deep bins outside the Davis Square Goodwill. Most of the text is fine, of course, because it deals with long-ago times and the roots of economic thought.

Toward the end, though, Heilbroner starts looking at the modern world (of 1961) and into the future, and suddenly the whole world is in Eastmancolor.

Assessing the strengths of the world’s economies, and where they’re headed, he writes that the United States is “closer than any community in history to attaining that bright goal seen by Keynes -- an economy without poverty. Indeed, we are almost there! For if the trend of the past continues into the future for another twenty years, we may within our own lifetimes usher into being the first economy of universal sufficiency the world has ever seen.”

Or maybe not.

“In that potential world of plenty,” he continues, “the gulf between rich and poor will likely have narrowed still further ... Partly this has been due to a great leap in the productivity of the working class; partly it has been due to a deliberate attempt to limit wealth at the top by policies of progressive taxation ... there can be no doubt that capitalism is handing out its rewards on a more egalitarian basis than ever before.”

Productivity is greater than ever, but the rewards somehow slipped away. And progressive taxation is seen as akin to eating your grandmother. Heilbroner, however, wouldn’t be the first person to appear foolish for putting too much faith in the idealism of his country.

Friday, December 26, 2003


I’m considering trying an experiment in which I e-mail strangers with the intention of awarding them $100 if they just write back. But the subject line will say “Girls XXX Girls” or “Enlarge your penis” or some such come-on almost certain to be deleted or prevented from getting through a spam blocker.

Sort of a modern golden-ticket scheme like Willie Wonka’s.

I got the idea from the difficulties I’ve had lately with the online dating thing. I’m into fat, middle-aged cops, but it seems like every time I connect with a nice guy, we arrange to meet and the person I thought I was talking to turns out to be some 14-year-old boy. Frustrating.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


Porter Square’s Passage to India restaurant made a point of advertising it would be open for today’s Christmas Day holiday, which is important with so much else in Porter Square dark. It worked: The Indian restaurant was doing a fine business.

But its daily buffet, typically advertised with just as much passion, was missing. I’m guessing that with so many people forced to turn to it for sustenance, the restaurant saw no reason not to reap the $12.95 or so per meal possible without the $7.99 all-you-can-eat buffet clouding the issue.

In times of crisis, it is illegal to price gouge. I doubt Passage to India is technically in violation of this, but it seems slightly rude -- and makes me wonder if it’s an isolated incident.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003


With Christmas in full swing -- if you can say that of a time when almost everything shuts down -- it is obvious there has been a shift toward subtlety, believe it or not, in holiday decoration.

This is counterintuitive, since the season now begins immediately after Halloween with industry blandishments to buy, buy, buy; The New York Times can fill a full page with Christmas music releases (all new, save for a few reissues); and holiday television specials have become so important that TNT is willing to run the same movie over and over again for an entire 24 hours. It truly has become a season more than a holiday, very nearly supplanting those quaint old notions of “fall” or “autumn.”

So why is it that the arms race of lights and decorations has wound down so dramatically, no matter what is seen on sitcoms such as “Married to the Kellys” (in which the most extravagant display ever seen only ties for tenth place in the local community newspaper’s list). Around the parts of Boston and Cambridge I’ve traveled in the heat of this season, which is meant both ways, such displays are rare to the point of freakishness, sort of like the sad little king in “Start the Revolution Without Me” who “thought it was a costume ball.”

Around Porter Square, the homes are radiant in their holiday calm, most displaying no decorations at all and many others choosing just one to mark the occasion: here a wreath or a white light in each window; there lights dangling like icicles from the top of a porch; in the most garish display, green and red Christmas tree balls hover between porch top and railing with what appears to be fishing line.

It is almost pleasant to think that this is the inevitable result of what Ivan Pavlov seemed to variously call “the law of transition” or “reciprocal induction.” Pavlov famously taught dogs to salivate just by hearing a bell, but only because the dogs had grown conditioned to consistently being given food immediately after hearing it. But Pavlov found that sometimes stimuli, such as the bell, produced the opposite effect after a period of reliable results -- that the result “passes into a state of inhibition.”

See, now they’ve done it, our mad holiday sentimentalists and salespeople: By pushing Christmas so aggressively, they’ve caused an increase in our passivity. One could almost say they’re turning the holiday into one of peace.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


Along the lines of the predictable “If the Iraq war made us safer, why are we in an orange alert?” comes my question: If the Bush administration intends to pursue a policy of pre-emptive attacks, wasn’t Iraq among the worst possible targets it could have chosen?

I asked this question of a couple of friends who backed the war, and their response was incredulity bordering on outrage.

But with the idea that a pre-emptive strike is supposed to pre-empt a strike, when the United States finds another target, how will it go about selling the idea? By selecting Iraq and justifying it internationally with unfounded claims of an imminent chemical, biological and nuclear threat, not to mention terrorist innuendo, hasn’t the United States made its next target much harder to hit?

Assuming the nation keep trying to build coalitions, I predict a great deal of skepticism greeting our envoys and evidence. Hell, building consensus over Iraq was hard enough here, even with the widespread belief Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The next target better be caught finger on trigger of smoking gun, hand in the cookie jar, lipstick on its collar, since skeptics around the world will be pointing to Iraq as an example of prosecutorial excess, if not abuse, in assessing whether to go along.

Monday, December 22, 2003


I give up on trying to ignore post-9/11 topics on this blog for the sake of diversity. It’s fun, easy and seems to be the most important issue of our time -- following certainly the defining moment of the 2000s, although the decade is young yet.

The U.S. terror level is at Ernie.

According to a news conference yesterday, “the danger of an attack in the ‘near term,’ possibly in the United States, was ‘perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11, 2001.’” The speaker was Tom Ridge, secretary of Homeland Security, quoted in The New York Times. Note that there’s “danger” in the “near term” “possibly in the United States” that’s “perhaps greater” than it has been for quite some time.

Or it’s not greater. And the attack might come in Kuala Lumpur. And it might not happen at all, just as previous alerts have been raised without terrorist strikes following, although it’s impossible to say whether our level of alert has deterred terrorists from acting.

But if our alerts have deterred attacks, they probably won’t in the future. The system cries wolf, especially as it hasn’t been below yellow (the midrange) since its creation, and creates no sustained interest among average U.S. citizens. Mainly it seems to provide newspapers, fewer all the time, with front-page warnings that also fail to stir people on the street. Ho-hum. Business as usual. Even U.S. stock markets rose, amid all this terror, almost across the board.

The system has taught the public that vigilance is unnecessary, although demands for security in places such as airlines or stadiums also show that vigilance is irritating.

How can it be otherwise? The system is as meaningless as Ridge’s oral warning and as confusing as Starbuck’s “tall,” “grande” and “venti” system (in which tall is small, grande is medium and venti is Italian. It means “twenty,” as in ounces, but a cold and hot venti are different sizes, with a cold venti holding 24 ounces).

For those unclear on our system, it breaks down as follows:

Green is a low risk of terrorist attacks; blue is a general risk; yellow is a significant risk; orange is a high risk; and red is a severe risk.

So there’s never not a risk of an attack, but sometimes there’s a general sense one’s coming. Up the scale, in the widely used sense of the words, there’s no difference between “significant” and “high,” and in the dictionary sense of the words, “significant” just means the risk is meaningful, important or fairly large -- indistinguishable, variously, from a general or high risk -- and “high” means serious or grave.

So does “severe.”

Homeland Security would do well to trim its alert levels to three: low, medium and high, and announce only high alerts to the public.

Saturday, December 20, 2003


I think I’m addicted to writing about this post-9/11/Iraq junk. Just yesterday, I know, I implied I’d move on, yet here I am again.

But if there’s a cottage industry in forgery going on in Iraq, as Newsweek says, that’s bad news for anyone expecting to see facts dictate U.S. policy. While the Bush administration would sooner endorse gay marriages than admit a mistake, it’s possible there’s something else motivating its increasingly ludicrous insistence that there are weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere in Iraq, and that they’ll be found. Eventually.

It makes sense because chemical and biological weapons have a very short shelf life, according to experts that include even the hawkish Kenneth M. Pollack, author of “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.”

So all the Bush administration has to do is keep poking around Iraq long enough for someone -- perhaps someone more accomplished than the concoctor of Niger uranium documents or Mohammad Atta memos -- to create fake weapons lists. The fact that the weapons degrade rapidly would make it very easy to back up the documents, in the Bush sense that a lack of evidence can be taken as proof of something that can’t be proven anyway. On the administration shopping list: a bunker with empty canisters with a fake document saying what the canisters once held. (Empty, in this case, would probably mean “filled with nonweaponized powder.”)

I would feel much more foolish about this whacked-out conspiracy theory if it weren’t that forged documents do, in fact, keep showing up, and they tend to, for some reason, support the Bush administration’s whacked-out conspiracy theories.

Friday, December 19, 2003


I feel strangely lame focusing so much on the whole post-9/11 realm of topics, but a piece in The New York Times today on the treatment of imprisoned terrorist suspects must be passed on.

“Almost all were found to have no tangible connection to terrorism,” writes Paul von Zielbauer, but were slammed into walls and otherwise hurt even if not resisting. One videotape used in the investigation showed “guards smashing a detainee’s face into” a wall covered by an American flag T-shirt (bearing the inevitable “These colors don’t run”).

The article, not much longer than this posting, includes a teaser that prosecutions against the abusers are being considered. Even if there are none, it’s good to see the report come out -- especially on the same day two federal courts officially frown on Bush administration detention policies elsewhere.

Bush may wind up getting re-elected, but at least there are signs of life in the judiciary.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


Apple Computer users should not gloat over any perceived superiority to Microsoft’s Windows operating system. For one thing, it’s low-class. For another, bragging about the lack of hacks and viruses hitting Mac OS computers is silly, because the free pass is mainly courtesy of the fact that Apple represents a minuscule portion of the overall computer market. Throwing a tantrum is no fun if no one notices.

But the aggressively anti-Macintosh attitudes of many Windows users is more distasteful, mainly because it’s simply ugly to see 95 percent of some group making fun of the remainder for no reason other than that they’re different.

Especially when you read such things as PC Magazine columnist Lance Ulanoff writing, notoriously, that “Overall, maybe OS X is better than Windows, but that's not the point.” (Windows partisans like to say Macintosh is no better, but Ulanoff’s piece neatly, if accidentally, sums up the circular reasoning that so complicates hating Mac users. Portraying them as a snobbish elite obliges some thought about how they can be snobs and elitists if Macintosh computers aren’t actually better. The list of things that rich snobs buy because they suck is short, to say the least.)

The distaste grows when it’s noted that the piece -- gracelessly titled “Eureka! Macs are not invulnerable” -- hinges on pointing out a security flaw that even Ulanoff agrees will probably never be exploited. So the message is that Windows users can be happy because there’s a Macintosh security flaw, even though it’s as though there isn’t.

Schadenfreude without actual misfortune to be gleeful about: weird.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


A tribe huddled in a vast, magnificent, troubled cave. Some were starving, fires were poorly maintained and some -- those forced to live near where the waste piled up -- noticed that problems increasingly went unacknowledged or, if acknowledged, unsolved. On top of all that, the world seemed to grow increasingly hostile. Animals sometimes carried off tribe members. The weather grew wild and threatening.

The leader, although he had a comfortable life among the tribe’s elite, felt he had an obligation as leader to do something about these troubles. With the help of his magicians and advisers, he decided on a bold course: He would destroy all the gods complicating life in the cave.

“Good,” the tribe murmured upon hearing the news.

“How, exactly,” a wiseacre asked.

“Shut up, idiot,” the tribe said, “he’s going to destroy all the gods.”

“And,” the leader announced, grandly ignoring the tussle, “I will bring back candy.”

“Cool,” the tribe murmured. “We love candy.”

“About this destroying-the-gods thing,” the wiseacre ventured.

“Shut up, idiot,” the tribe murmured, a little menacingly, “he’s going to bring us candy.”

In a wink, the leader and his party, made up of the able-bodied tribe members who were otherwise to be put to work maintaining fires, taking out the trash, fortifying defenses and building protections against the animals and weather, were gone. (Actually, the leader didn’t go anywhere. But he bravely gave instructions to the tribe members who were leaving the cave for him, who just as bravely decided to not to think very much about what they were doing.)

Time passed. As things in the cave deteriorated, the leader assured the worriers with a twinkling eye and solemn voice that they needn’t worry, for he was out there right now, somewhere else, far away, destroying all the troublesome gods for them.

After long, the party returned, much fewer in number. The secretary of the party unrolled a scroll, cleared his throat and read the official report of the adventures. “Members of war party destroyed: many,” he read. “Gods destroyed: none.”

He rolled the scroll back up and put it away.

“Oh,” he said, remembering, handing the leader a bag. “Here’s your candy.”

The leader called a meeting of the tribe. When all had gathered, he used his most solemn voice to tell the people exactly what had transpired outside the cave.

“We have made significant progress in destroying the gods,” he told them, careful not to waste time with meaningless detail.

The people of the tribe were not as pleased as he expected, because living in the cave was still full of problems, for many worse than before, and the animals still growled and paced outside, and the weather still was wild and threatening. They murmured at the news the leader gave, but the murmuring was mixed, with hostility among the support.

The leader held up the bag, twinkling solemnly. The leader, not the bag.

“And,” he said, “as promised, I have brought candy.”

“Candy,” breathed the crowd. “We love candy.”

And so life returned to normal in the cave, difficult for some and filled with fears about conditions, animals and weather, sweet for others. It was unclear who actually got to eat the candy -- in fact, no one seemed to know anyone who’d even heard of anyone who got to have some -- but it was nice to know that the bloody, difficult trip outside the cave got results.

Moral: Everyone likes candy.


First person: I asked you to clean up this place. Weren’t you supposed to take out the trash? Did you do the shopping? Did you pay the bills? Did you fix the lock on the door? You do remember this place was broken into, right? What the heck have you been doing all day while I’ve been working?

Second person: Um ... I got you some candy.

First person: I love candy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


The new Democratic attack on Howard Dean is a mistake, and a nasty one, at that -- all the more so because, although the attack ads themselves are funded by Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values, funding for the group is a mystery and will stay one for as long as the group can legally hold out.

Among the pointlessly divisive things the ads say is that “Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience. And Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy. It’s time for Democrats to think about that -- and think about it now.”

First, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or any other flavor of political being, pause to savor this hack work: “It’s time for Democrats to think about that -- and think about it now.”

Yes, it’s time to savor it -- and savor it now. It’s not time to do it later. Now.


Beyond the junior high quality of the writing, the logic behind the ad also suffers from a certain idiocy. Saying Dean “can’t compete with George Bush on foreign policy” is not exactly a criticism.

Bush ran as a governor with minimal foreign policy experience (does occasionally rousing himself to fly a plane in Texas during wartime count as military experience?) who vowed to stay out of such pesky world affairs as Israeli-Palestinian relations. Since then he’s alienated our allies, enraged our enemies and even betrayed his friends, notably Mexican president Vicente Fox, backed down to the World Trade Organization and even helped spur opium production and Al Qaeda membership. He’s bumbled away world sympathy since 9/11 and turned it into outright fear and loathing.

So one must ask: Is Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values secretly funded by a very smart Howard Dean? Or by truly stupid Democratic opponents?

Monday, December 15, 2003


Jessica Lynch went down shooting in an Iraqi ambush ... well, not really. The original version of that story released by the U.S. military was highly dramatized. Among other flaws in the pulse-pounding military version, her gun jammed. Her rescue team, thoughtfully carrying video cameras, encountered no resistance, but the footage the military gave television sure looked exciting.

Now, with the capture of Saddam Hussein, we already have two versions of a key fact: How we found his final hiding place.

In one, “A piece of fiber protruding from the dirt caught the eye of an American special forces soldier,” revealing the hole’s trap door. In the other, an Iraqi “on the property, apparently realizing the game was up, pointed out a bricked-in wall ... Saddam is in there, he told the special forces operators.”

Based on recent experience, I’m going to guess the less dramatic story, the one that fails to deify our armed forces, is closer to the truth.

Sunday, December 14, 2003


The pattern is well set. The president’s fortunes will rise with celebration over the capture of Saddam Hussein; for a period, Bush will be able to do no wrong; he will use that to advance some portion of his agenda that would otherwise be difficult, whether it’s domestic or further adventures in the Middle East.

For months I was convinced Bush’s buildup to an Iraq war was cover for his domestic agenda, because I’d never heard of the Project for the New American Century. Now I know the international agenda is just as real as the domestic for Bush’s administration, but that doesn’t change the political realities of creating a wartime presidency even when the real war -- the one in Afghanistan, in this case -- wears out.

If I was at risk of forgetting this, a reminder was fast in reaching me. I hadn’t been in the Boston Herald newsroom five minutes today before overhearing Jules Crittendon, who traveled with U.S. troops to cover the Iraq war, referring to “Howard -- no, excuse me, Coward Dean.”

There’s not much you can do to counter an attitude that makes cowardice out of opposing an unjustified war of choice against a former ally, especially since the people declaring war aren’t the ones facing death. But the magic of U.S. politics can make the capture of an enemy, even a former ally, seem like justification for war instead of simply a probable outcome, and opposition seem like cowardice instead of simply opposition.

Magic isn’t real, of course. What we call magic is actually illusion enabled by misdirection, and it is through those techniques that the Bush administration will pursue its goals, here or abroad. Opponents will have a hard time responding because some of the audience will be taken in by the trick and others simply enjoy the magic even though they know there’s a trick involved.

For Bush, who has consistently been portrayed as deeply religious, it is not magic but providence that’s at work for him. And he will proceed with the power of politics, the U.S. military and God behind him, very possibly marching right over the wishes and rights of those wary of all three.

This political pattern is so well set that I’m not sure there’s any way to break it. Especially when revealing the mechanics of illusion would only bother the audience members who were so enjoying the show.

Saturday, December 13, 2003


As many shake their heads in horrified awe at the Bush White House comedy routine -- diss France, Germany and Russia, then ask them for favors -- there are others instead nodding mysteriously. The nodders are those who believe there are no accidents here, and that the Pentagon hard-liners issued the diss fully aware of how it would screw up the favor-asking.

In line with that theory, it’s worthwhile to note an an anonymous quote in the Friday New York Times: “Other countries know that [Colin] Powell doesn’t win all the battles. If you deal with [James] Baker, you know you’re going to get what you need.”

Since Powell is secretary of state and Baker is just a special envoy to the president, signed up solely to get France, Germany and Russia to release Iraq from some of the money it owes them, there seems to be a strong signal being sent to Powell. And to the rest of us, of course, meaning everyone who thinks Powell -- still somehow considered a voice of restraint -- is one of the better things about the Bush administration.

Friday, December 12, 2003


I just want my little pocket knife back -- a Swiss Army dealie, with wee knife, wee file, wee scissors and oddly large toothpick, that I got one holiday gift-giving season. It was taken from me by Transportation Security Administration workers when I went to California for Thanksgiving. (Silly, but impossible to argue with.)

But in pursuing how to get it back, I find that the administration is disturbingly prepared, at least in terms of paperwork, for any eventuality.

Check out the “TSA Claim Form for Missing or Damaged Items (SF95),” that, when opened as an Adobe Acrobat file, turns out to be an all-purpose “Claim for damage, injury or death.”


Come to think of it, the administration is not prepared for any eventuality, and the form is not all-purpose. I just noticed that the form itself doesn’t say it’s for something that’s missing. Just, you know, hurt or killed.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


I woke up early and paid about $30 for a Zipcar today for the pleasure of a steroid injection to take pressure off a nerve. The pain has been particularly intense lately -- in fact it’s frequently been agonizing -- and I’ve been looking forward to this appointment since early November.

But after one round of filling out forms at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, in Brighton, and as I was being told to fill out another, a nurse warned me that it was extremely unlikely that I would get my injection today. I didn’t.

Today was just the day the doctors at St. Elizabeth’s looked at me to find out all the stuff that the doctors at Tufts-New England Medical Center found out last month. They would probably have insisted on doing it anyway, but I still got criticism for not getting my medical records from one doctor to another. That’s correct: In the five weeks I had to wait for my pain management appointment, those records had not been exchanged. My fault, right? Especially because, since being told I wouldn’t actually be treated that day, and being in supreme, shrieking, exquisite pain, I had gone in with a bad attitude.

I told the doctor that, when I called to make the appointment, that might have been a good time to tell me that I wouldn’t actually be getting treatment. I also told him that would have been a good time -- another would have been any time between when I made my appointment and kept it -- to tell me that it was somehow my responsibility to get my medical records from one institution to the next.

The doctor agreed I was hardly the only person who has fallen afoul of this medical-records problem. Indeed, it happens all the time, he said, this flagrant showing-up-without-records. I repeated my suggestion that his office could solve that by telling new patients what they needed to do to facilitate the doctors’ jobs. He repeated that it wasn’t his office’s responsibility.

So much for preventive medicine. I thought doctors would want to save time, since they’re so short on it that even people in pain must wait five weeks for an appointment, but there is clearly another principle at work here.

Capping the appointment was the doctor, embodying Hippocrates, advising me to apologize to his secretary for my “belligerence” because if I was going to be coming back, it was only through her good graces that I would get prompt appointments.

And this is a pain management clinic.

(This is also the place that had me leave a message for a doctor who was out of town. I blew about a week waiting for a call back. Again, an interesting approach to take for people suffering.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


What newspapers say can be frustrating, but I’m more frequently frustrated by what they don’t say. And the realization that I’m frustrated has grown recently, if not the problem itself.

This was thrown into sharp relief today while reading New York Times coverage of the trial of U.S. Army Capt. James J. Yee, which was put on hold as prosecutors “asked for extra time to determine whether documents that were found in Captain Yee’s luggage ... were, in fact, classified.”

This is incredible. First, it’s incredible because Yee was held in solitary confinement for three months on charges of espionage, and is now on trial on far lesser charges, since the espionage charges have essentially been dropped. Considering these facts, how is it possible prosecutors still need to find out whether those documents are classified? What have they been doing? On what information did they base their initial charges? On what information did they drop those charges?

The story does not let this angle go unaddressed. Indeed, much of the article discusses it.

Obvious, right? But that’s the second reason it’s incredible: the degree of relief I felt that a question arising as I read actually gets addressed.

But compare that with yesterday’s Times coverage of criticism of the United States by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, which hews to our journalism’s “objectivity” by uncritically running quotes or paraphrases from U.S. officials to get “the other side.” Here’s our officials’ response:

“American officials said Mr. Wirajuda’s criticism of the United States for acting unilaterally neglected history and the fact that several administrations had worked in the United Nations for resolutions to get Iraq to allow weapons inspections and give up any illegal weapons.

“If the United States had waited for the multilateral approach that Indonesia, and many other countries, wanted, Ralph L. Boyce, the American ambassador here, told the conference, Saddam Hussein would still be in power and they would not be discussing how to achieve a stable, democratic Iraq.”

Effective -- but utterly ridiculous. Our rules of objectivity, or other unknown factors, allow the officials to respond to an ally’s harsh criticism and obvious fears with bland and misleading half-truths, as though they’ve actually given answers. So the piece goes through with no one pointing out not only that Iraq was allowing inspections and was willing to give up illegal weapons, but the apples-and-oranges nature of the response itself.

Wirajuda’s point was that U.S. actions, its “arbitrary pre-emptive war,” has made the world a more dangerous place. Letting an official answer that by saying “Saddam Hussein would still be in power” is intellectually dishonest.

Just as alarming, although in a different way, is a piece appearing in tomorrow’s Boston Herald, in which a Harvard University student sneaks a Tibetan flag into a speech by China’s premier and uses it for a one-person “Free Tibet” protest.

The student “said she does not expect to face criminal charges,” writes Hub Blogger and Herald writer Jay Fitzgerald.

Good God! Why should she? What country is this?

I’m left shocked by the suggestion of criminal charges and wishing I knew how it came up: Was it brought up by the student? By Fitzgerald?

The fact that the article leaves it hanging bothers me in any number of ways, including the thought that the student actually fears criminal charges for exercising her First Amendment rights, or that Herald readers think she may, or that they might if they ever wanted to protest in the future ... or that something horrible has happened here and that criminal charges may actually loom.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


The trial of U.S. Army Capt. James J. Yee began today -- as shameful an event as anyone could have imagined, with plenty of shame to go around.

In fact, scratch that “Operation Whitewater” stuff, even though this has gone from an espionage case to one focusing on the nonissues of pornography and adultery, just as Bill Clinton saw his prosecution start on a failed real estate deal and end on illicit oral sex.

But the attack on Yee, once a Muslim chaplain for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should have a more military name. For instance: “Operation Infinite Shame.”

Shame on Yee, I guess, for having an affair and hurting his wife. But affairs happen. Humans do such things, and neither the rules of God nor the military can prevent it, and it is wrong for this shame to be used as a weapon.

Shame on U.S. Navy Lt. Karyn Wallace, who had an affair with Yee -- rather, she participated in about 20 sexual encounters; there seems to have been little affection there, based on her behavior now -- and turned him in for immunity from prosecution for the same crime. (Like being homosexual, having an affair is officially unacceptable to the military.) Can she really be the kind of officer the Navy seeks? She commits a crime, finks on her conspirator unrepentantly and gets away with it.

Mostly, shame on the military for poking its nose into private business, for the almost certain hypocrisy of its prosecutors, for giving Wallace a deal that makes betrayal look like a good idea, for possibly ruining a marriage because it was embarrassed by its inability to consummate efforts proving Yee was a traitor.

Its motivations are obvious. Its justice is arbitrary. Its actions vile.

Monday, December 08, 2003


It really seems as though Howard Dean has all the Democratic momentum for the White House next year, especially with Al Gore’s endorsement.

Joe Lieberman, who ran as Gore’s vice presidential candidate in 2000, seems hurt by Gore’s action -- understandably. But surely he must understand that Gore had to do what he could to ensure a win for the Democrats, and Lieberman is stuck in the middle of the pack, almost certainly unable to make the primary cut.

This is a relief to me, because I find Lieberman to be sanctimonious and tiresome. He’s a great man whom, every time he talks, I wish would shut up. I didn’t like watching Clinton speak because I found him smarmy; watching Bush literally makes me queasy; I’d like to eventually find a president I can watch without irritation or disquiet, and Lieberman sure isn’t it.

Despite Dean’s lead and momentum, I stubbornly stick to my belief that Wesley Clark -- whom I can’t even support, thanks to his stance on “flag desecration” -- will be at least dogging Dean’s heels up to the primary, mainly because he appeals to Republicans as well as Democrats: a Clinton-style centrist, that’s Clark.

It seems odd, I know, to be looking to a centrist when Dean’s numbers keeps proving it unnecessary ... but then I note an Associated Press poll that’s either the flukiest of flukes, a practical joke or evidence that the Clinton centrist track is valid. Democrats want Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And she’s not running. But Clark is.

Sunday, December 07, 2003


The opinions of the Boston Herald and its columnists leave me gaping again. I lurched from Howard Manley’s column today to the editorials page, from one editorial to another, in search of a reasonable voice. In what I read, I found none -- but let’s graciously assume that in all the Herald commentary I didn’t read was wisdom and common sense.

Manley’s column bore the headline “Registry for all criminals would put public at ease,” and I read the text expecting to find that the headline writer had missed the irony. The expectation crested as I read “But what about other criminals? Shouldn’t there be a registry for drunken drivers? Don’t they pose a threat to society? What about drug dealers? Wouldn’t you want to know if one of your neighbors was convicted of selling drugs? Or armed robbery? What if the guy down the street was convicted of a particularly heinous hate crime?”

Indeed. What if? I’m particularly surprised to see anyone suggesting such a thing, in light of an apparent rampage undertaken in April by a vigilante against registered sex offenders (just as I wasn’t surprised that the violence nearly took out an innocent). But there are many ways for registries to be abused, never mind the fact that our justice system -- barring the unfortunate perversion brought about by the “Megan’s laws” identifying sex offenders -- has traditionally punished to rehabilitate. Manley supposes that no one ever learns a lesson. We must watch offenders. Forever.

But even in branding the perverts with a scarlet letter -- Manley’s own metaphor -- he errs. The Herald itself has published law enforcement assertions that the rate of recidivism among sex offenders is low. Judith Levine’s “Harmful to Minors” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003) notes that “Analyses of thousands of subjects in hundreds of studies have found that about 13 percent of sex offenders are rearrested, compared with 74 percent of all prisoners. With treatment, the numbers are even better. The state of Vermont, for example, reported that in 1995 its reoffense rates after treatment were only 7 percent for pedophiles, 3 percent for incest perpetrators, and 3 percent for those who had committed ‘hands-off’ crimes such as exhibitionism.” (The data, you’ll note, is from before Megan’s law took effect.)

Some questions about Manley’s registry suggestions:

If drunken drivers were listed in a registry, how, exactly, would that serve to deter their behavior? Especially if, feeling watched by those who know them, they take their cars to faraway areas to do their drinking, possibly increasing the amount of time they spend on the road?

Would a registry of local drug dealers serve as a deterrent to crime, or as a guide for those hoping to buy? Especially in areas where drug dealing isn’t necessarily frowned upon? And does it matter that “drug dealers” can be Tony Montana or kindly old people growing marijuana for cancer sufferers?

And if it became known the guy down the street committed armed robbery and served prison time for it -- well, uh ... what then, exactly? This one truly stumps me.

It all reminds me of William S. Burroughs “Thanksgiving Prayer,” in which he gives thanks “for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind their own business ... thanks for a nation of finks.”

The editorials remind me of something else, but it’s not polite to say what.

In one, the writers (unidentified, as is the tradition with newspaper editorials) jeer again at Joseph Wilson, whose mission to Africa many months ago confirmed that information about Iraq was incorrect, only to find that information used by the Bush administration anyway to drum up support for the Iraq war. Last time, in late October, the Herald was angered, for some reason, that Wilson, a supporter of Sen. John Kerry’s run for president, would endorse Kerry and work for his candidacy.

This time, the Herald criticizes him and his wife for her appearance in Vanity Fair. The wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency until someone leaked her name to conservative Robert Novak, who published it in his syndicated column in newspapers across the nation. Conservatives are supposed to know better.

Now, the Herald writes, “There’s Plame, in a two-page photo spread ... That tells us all we need to know about the severity of damage done to Plame’s undercover career by the ‘leak’ of her identity.”

Can the Herald editorial writers really be this stupid? No one denies her name and work with CIA was leaked; but once her name is out there, the undercover nature of her work is over. She’s free to become the most photographed celebrity in the world exactly because of the “severity of damage done to Plame’s undercover career.”

(Favorite moment: The editorial writers attempting snarkiness, saying “Wilson and Plame were in high dungeon about Plame’s identity being revealed.” Unfortunately for them, snarkiness is most effective when big words are used correctly.)

Finally, the editorial writers make fun of people put off by the White House spin on President Bush’s trip to Iraq for Thanksgiving. It’s only “a grumpy Washington press corps left out of the loop and Democrats eager to rain on the Bush parade,” they say, upset about Bush’s photo op with a turkey platter that wasn’t served to troops and a fake story told to enhance the drama of Bush’s trip.

“No one but them cares that the story ... turns out not to be exactly right,” they say, although it was in fact completely fabricated. “And no one cares that the president didn’t carve the photo-op turkey. In fact, for some of us (it) makes us feel all the better, because our at-home platters never look that good.”

Again, is it possible for the editorial writers -- who, as all journalists should, rely on facts -- to be this obtuse? They seem not to notice that the White House makes up stuff for the sake of drama and has a tendency to fake information for effect. The writers seem, in fact, pleased by it and irritated at people who tell the truth.

The pesky, bothersome truth.

Saturday, December 06, 2003


It occurs to me that the short list of proposed constitutional amendments has just doubled -- add a “marriage is between a man and a woman” amendment to the perennial “don’t desecrate the flag” -- and that the attempt to institute them could create an interesting political dynamic over the next few years.

Passing two constitutional amendments will be tough. The most recent -- the 27th, which blocks pay raises for congress until after an election -- took place in 1992, and hardly counts: It’s about as controversial as passing a constitutional amendment stipulating that congress should be composed of living people. The one before that, the right of 18-year-olds to vote, was the most recent serious change to American culture made through an amendment to the Constitution, and it took place in 1971.

Both proposed amendments seem popular. People will support the one on marriage passionately and without reserve; people will support the flag amendment, many of them, out of cowardice. But neither will lack supporters. And the spirit of the two is close enough that backers may want to combine them, some sort of cohesive last stand against the flag-burning, gay-loving hippies that threaten to turn our country over to the U.S.S.R. ... or whatever. Like an anti-Bill of Rights, one that takes away rights instead of grants them.

I don’t think it will work, for just that reason: It’s too obvious what it is. Like a bill in congress with too many riders, it becomes weighed down, difficult to navigate. It draws too much attention. And this particular grouped amendment would be too divisive.

Yet if the backers try each amendment separately, my gut tells me they will get only one through before the opposition closes ranks. The obvious one to attempt, because it represents the more urgent threat to the backers, is the one blocking gay marriage, and that’s the one that’ll be more difficult to get through.

The oddest thing of all is that it seems as though the sillier things get, the more serious they get.

Friday, December 05, 2003


It is time for someone to answer, seriously, why no matter where you go, if there are double doors, one of those doors is almost certain to be locked. This is too prevalent to be a coincidence, and it’s hardly contained to Boston, or to the East Coast; even Houston residents are troubled by this -- although their media are too stupid to take it on as a serious issue.

I promise that if I’m ever in charge of a newspaper again, I’m bloody well going to ensure that this issue is looked into. Or, in a revolutionary thought, I may just ask around myself. Or perhaps one of my heavy-hitting media friends will dare to investigate. But the time has come to resolve this, and perhaps to write a strongly worded letter to the Times.

Thursday, December 04, 2003


Is Thomas L. Friedman working for the Bush administration? I know his work continues to appear in The New York Times, as it did today, but I cannot come up with a better explanation -- barring the possibility that he’s “absolutely fucking nuts” -- for the spinning he does on Iraq.

The latest is that we should be ecstatic if “the U.S. gives birth to in Iraq ... the Islamic Republic of Iraq.” This is another revision and retreat from our stated reasons for invading and occupying, which was, first, “regime change,” but became the creation of a democratic nation when the White House realized that trading one oppressive regime for another isn’t good PR.

It’s not easy, either, which is where the administration finds itself now: having to justify an Islamic republic as being a democracy; and expecting it to be a model for the rest of the Middle East.

What’s really wrong about this republic of lowered expectations, as sold by Friedman with all the greasy finesse of top salesman at Crazy George’s Used Cars, is that a careful read shows the entire plan relying on one man: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is described as being “not a Khomeini.” (Although we will surely try to win hearts and minds toward true democracy, this administration has repeatedly proven itself spectacularly incompetent at it.)

So we will get an Islamic Republic of Iraq that grows into a full-fledged democracy, Friedman assures us. Never mind that the secular of the United States are worried enough about President “Faith-Based Initiatives” Bush being in office; what’s happening in Iraq is like if Pat Robertson won in his attempt for the presidency in 1988. He cared enough to run for president in a democratic election, but did anyone really expect what followed to reliably follow democratic ideals?

“If things go reasonably well, the result will be an initial Iraqi government that is more religious than Turkey but more democratic than Iran,” Friedman raves. “Not bad.”

And when Sistani grows old and others take over? Or when he is assassinated by Islamists or fedayeen in deep cover? Will we invade again? Or watch the Islamic Republic of Iraq crumble into, well, exactly what its name says it is?


In something of a “Eureka!” moment, General Motors Corp. held a press conference at noon today that introduced the “crossover sport van.” What is a crossover sport van, undoubtedly soon to be known (at least by the company, if not by consumers) as a CSV?

Well, it’s a minivan that looks like a sport utility vehicle.

This is genius, since minivans are on the whole so much more safe and environmentally friendly and since SUVs are increasingly not intended for off-road use, or at least not taken off-road.

The question is whether the company’s clever effort will work. Will consumers fall for driving something safe and environmentally friendly when what they really want is something with a brand and presence that makes them feel big and dangerous? Perhaps the CSV will work spectacularly as knockoffs work in the fashion world ... or they might fail in the same way Americans eschew diet and exercise in favor of diet pills and liposuction.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Links and readings from far and wide are depressing me today -- fluke juxtapositions that come from enough different directions that I begin to feel cornered.

Brian at My.Bicycle contributes a story of senseless injustice in response to a far-away account from the Miami New Times: Law enforcement amok, cops so primed for arrests that no one is innocent, so ready for conflict and violence that they’ll provide it.

Meanwhile, New York state journalists check their access to public records and get flak, illegal questioning, outsized financial demands and even an ominous incident in which they are trailed for several blocks by a police cruiser.

There are ordinary people out there becoming police officers and public officials and turning into suspicious, power-abusing creatures, zombies who forget for whom they work, for what ideals and rights it is they’re supposed to be protecting. This is fresh in my mind from finishing Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir, “Secrets”: As watchmen, they place themselves above us, apparently destroying our rights in order to preserve them, walking a path that leads them straight to Richard Nixon’s infamous assertion that “when the president does it, it is not illegal.”

All of my fear and paranoia is best summed up, I think, in writing completed some 42 years ago, in the darkest section of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”:

There was “an altercation on the next block between a single civilian Italian with books and a slew of civilian policemen with armlocks and clubs. The screaming, struggling civilian was a dark man with a face white as flour from fear. His eyes were pulsating in hectic desperation, flapping like bat’s wings, as the many tall policemen seized him by the arms and legs and lifted him up. His books were spilled on the ground. ‘Help!’ he shrieked shrilly in a voice strangled in its own emotion, as the policemen carried him to the open doors in the rear of the ambulance and threw him inside. ‘Police! Help! Police!’ The doors were shut and bolted, and the ambulance races away. There was a humorless irony in the ludicrous panic of the man screaming for help to the police while policemen were all around him. Yossarian smiled wryly at the futile and ridiculous cry for aid, then saw with a start that the words were ambiguous, realized with alarm that they were not, perhaps, intended as a call for police but as a heroic warning from the grave by a doomed friend to everyone who was not a policeman with a club and a gun and a mob of other policemen with clubs and guns to back him up. ‘Help! Police!’ the man had cried, and he could have been shouting of danger.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Beware jargon.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors -- members of which have been too busy to update their Web site since December 2000 -- voted 81-6 yesterday in favor of “designated agencies.” They want legislators to let the same firm represent the seller of a home and the person bidding for it.

Ideally, the agents representing the seller and buyer compete, and all is well because their firms get a commission no matter which client makes out. But any idiot can see the possibilities for collusion, even if it takes someone knowledgeable in real estate to see the mechanics of how the buyer, seller or both get screwed.

The lopsided vote is a little suspicious, but it’s the phrase “designated agencies” that is the real tip-off that this is a bad idea for everyone but real estate agents. That’s because, of course, “designated agencies” doesn’t mean anything.

I’m told by a real estate expert that it’s supposed to mean that at a firm handling a buyer and seller, a boss “designates” one broker to represent the buyer and another to represent the seller. Never mind that they aren’t called “designated agents,” but “designated agencies”; under this reasoning, they could as well be called “choice agencies” or “selection agencies” or any number of other things -- and it would still be impossible to tell from the term what is actually going on.

Suspicion also grows when a Google search fails to present a clear sense of what the term means. The results are all over the place, even though the practice of “designated agencies” is apparently allowed in 26 other states.

A similar effort was presented to legislators here in 1997, and it failed. It should fail again until the real estate agents design safeguards against broker collusion -- and come up with a term that treats the public and the English language with more respect.

Monday, December 01, 2003


Is anyone noticing the message to mutual fund investors on industry reform?

“You’re going to probably pay a few pennies more or a few basis points more in expenses,” said Geoff Bobroff, a Rhode Island consultant for the industry, in today’s Boston Herald.

Compare that with what the various market-timing and late-trading abuses, all $4 billion to $7 billion worth, have cost the average investor:

“Pennies on the dollar,” according to comments in early November by Louis Harvey, president of Boston’s Dalbar Inc.

Ideally those fighting for the small investor -- our secretary of the commonwealth, William F. Galvin, and New York’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer -- will get the guilty to give back the pennies so they can instead be spent preventing the guilty from taking them away.

Sunday, November 30, 2003


I admit my turkey blog was a little over the top -- probably not to vegetarians -- but Radio Free Mike’s charge that I went “utterly fucking nuts” over the ceremonial pardoning of a fowl is, well, hurtful to a sensitive person such as myself.

Forget the topic, if it’s offensive or silly, and consider the subtext of the post, which is about the photo op itself. It is simply embarrassing for the White House press corps, which is supposed to comprise the best of the best of American journalism, to run with junk such as the pardoning of a turkey for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow’s Boston Herald has a giant picture of Bush dropping his glasses while wrangling his puling little dogs. News value? None.

Others have noted that, in fact, the White House press corps is so paranoid about missing The Story -- something awful happening to the president -- that it does not tend to stray very far from the president. It shows little initiative; it waits for handouts. A picture of a turkey-pardoning is surely the worst example of that, worse than a doggie photo because it’s hackneyed and posed.

So even if you don’t buy the image (here’s a similar one) being a sick joke on the American people, as well as on turkeykind, at least you must acknowledge that it’s pathetic for the media to pander as it does.

Friday, November 28, 2003


Jules Verne gets a lot of credit for predicting stuff invented decades or centuries after his heyday, while Robert Heinlein gets a lot of credit for being readable and prolific. My holiday trip to California, which returned me briefly to an extensive library with plenty of Heinlein, shows he had his moments, too.

The 1982 science fiction novel “Friday” was given the backhanded compliment of being “Heinlein back in control” after a few novels in which his predilection for writing about authority, nudism, social graces and incest (he seemed in favor of all of them) seemed to many to be Heinlein out of control. It is readable, even when longtime Heinlein readers must roll their eyes through page after page of the writer indulging his authorial fetishes.

The first significant prescience “Friday” shows has to do with California, home of the recent gubernatorial recall. Heinlein says of the state’s residents:

“They elect everybody ... but they unelect them almost as fast. For example, the chief is supposed to serve one six-year term. But, of the last nine chiefs, only two served a full six years; the others were recalled except that one who was lynched. In many cases an official has not yet been sworn in when the first recall petition is being circulated.”

Even more striking is Heinlein’s sideways prediction of the World Wide Web and the serendipitous linking that leads so many astray. In some ways Heinlein’s computer network was ahead of where we are now, even though it was imagined before the first Macs arrived, bringing an emphasis on user-friendliness and graphics that would turn a DARPA project used by college professors into a way 18-year-olds in Dubuque can share their sexual fetishes with great-great-grandparents in Tibet.

“There was no reason for any of us to be bored as we had full individual terminal service. People are so used to the computer net today that it is easy to forget what a window to the world it can be -- and I include myself. One can grow so canalized in using a terminal only in certain ways -- paying bills, making telephone calls, listening to news bulletins -- that one can neglect its richer uses,” he writes. “Live music? I could punch in a concert going on live in Berkeley this evening but a concert given ten years ago in London, its conductor long dead, is just as ‘live,’ just as immediate.”

I don’t know what “canalized” means. But Heinlein goes on at length on how his imagined network functions. There is no need for anyone to actually read the following paragraphs, but for whoever’s interested, here’s the goods -- along with a hint of how Heinlein books can get so long. Despite the fact that not too much happens in “Friday,” at least compared with an average episode of “The Simpsons,” the softcover edition is a healthy 428 pages. (This isn’t an insult. Everyone says Heinlein’s readable, right?)

“That morning I was speed-searching the index of the Tulane University library (one of the best in the Lone Star Republic), looking for history of Old Vicksburg, when I stumbled across a cross-reference to spectral types of stars and found myself hooked. I don’t recall why there was such a cross-referral but these do occur for the most unlikely reasons,” Heinlein writes.

“That afternoon I got back to Old Vicksburg and was footnoted to ‘Show Boat,’ a musical play concerning that era -- and then spent the rest of the day looking at and listening to Broadway musical plays from the happy days before the North American Federation fell to pieces ...

“Next day I resolved to stick to serious study of of professional subjects in which I was weak because I felt sure that once my tutors (whoever they were) assigned my curriculum, I would have no time at all for my own choices ... Frustrated and irritated I punched up Louis XI. Two hours later I came up for air. I had not learned anything about poetry -- so far as I could tell the Spider King had never even rhymed ‘ton con’ with ‘c’est bon’ or ever been a patron of the art. But I learned a lot about politics in the XVth century ...

“I spent the rest of the day punching up French lyric verse since 1450 ... I never did find out what effect, if any, Louis XI had on verse.”

Friday moves to the terminal in “my room and went on with French history since Louis Onze and that led me to the new colonies across the Atlantic and that led me into economics and that took me to Adam Smith and from there to political science. I concluded that Aristotle had had his good days but that Plato was a pretentious fraud and that led to my being called three times by the dining room with the last call including a recorded message that any later arrival would mean nothing but cold night rations ...

“This fiddling went on for over a month before it filtered through my skull that someone (boss, of course) was in fact trying to force me to become ‘the World’s Greatest Authority.’ ”

Thursday, November 27, 2003


The newspapers are predictably packed with Thanksgiving-themed thinkpieces -- by which I mean there’s one each in the Times’ of New York and Los Angeles, but how much more can you take, even on a day when excess is expected?

Their points can be tortured to fit my thesis that all our holidays are (or should) blur together, as can my family’s kitchen conversation about pie, which made me realize that pumpkin pie straddles the fall holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving. For which did my sister make hers last year? Heck, I couldn’t even remember, and still can’t, for which holiday the pie is considered necessary. Neither, now, am I right?

Anyway, The New York Times piece notes that Native Americans actually had nine Thanksgivings for various events. The nonnative Americans wound up with one. But I predict, in line with the more common thesis that Hallmark is creating or exaggerating holidays for profit, that we soon will be embracing more and more of them.

It’s excessive, sure. But it suits.

And now I must eat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Hey, where have we seen this before?

Capt. James J. Yee, imprisoned for almost three months, has been released, cleared of espionage charges and allowed to return to work with the Muslims being held at Camp X-Ray in Cuba.

But the government, although it no longer considers Yee a terrorist sympathizer, is still investigating him. The charges now are that he kept porn on a government computer and cheated on his wife, The New York Times said today.

Uh-hunh. What’s this anti-crime effort called? Operation Whitewater?

Tuesday, November 25, 2003


I’m not a real vegetarian -- my diet isn’t based on moral grounds and isn’t even consistent -- but I grow increasingly put off by the annual White House tradition of sparing the life of a turkey as Thanksgiving nears. The latest such event was held yesterday, starring a bird named, for some reason, Stars.

Stars was sent to lifelong refuge in a Virginia park after the photo op, in which President Bush patted the bird and its owner beamed down paternally as the cameras clicked away, controlled by journalists complicit in a farce of mercy. A worse farce than usual because the president’s usual farces at least have news value: “mission accomplished” in Iraq and whatnot.

Don’t get me wrong. The United States eats turkey on Thanksgiving, and nothing is going to change that. But that’s why the presidential pardoning is so offensive. The deal Stars is given, without even being asked, is the same offered Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” to go free while others die, so long as he’s willing to put a happy face on the occasion.

Yossarian condemns the deal as “odious,” and the offerers agree. The inarticulate and unknowing turkey is unable to give an opinion or make a choice; it’s trotted out as a token of benevolence by the White House unasked by the public (or would there be an outcry if this event was skipped?). The bird’s a walking, squawking metaphor for the luck or privilege enjoyed by some of us in a society that chooses to eat living things domestically and kill them for ideology or politics abroad.

Odious? It’s fowl.

The New York Times says Stars was “vocal” and “tried to steal the limelight,” but -- since I ascribe no great intelligence to turkeys, no matter what Ben Franklin felt about them -- I don’t believe it was protesting the fate of its fellows, like a movie star accepting an Oscar to make a statement of protest. It’s just a natural instinct, perhaps, to scream as you’re placed on a platform, strangers gather around, voices boom and lightning flashes at you from ominous black boxes.

Better terrorized than dead, Stars. But if there’s a Stripes out there that you knew, that you grew up with on the farm or in the factory, it’s probably dead.

Monday, November 24, 2003


I’ve been brief in my postings lately, largely as a result of distraction and news fatigue. This afflicts me semipermanently on certain topics -- the endless madness of Northern Ireland and Israel and Palestine -- but cyclically for current events in general; periods in which I read the news intensely, clipping articles and writing with passion, lead to periods in which I’m overwhelmed by surrender and lassitude.

The two are related. Ireland and Israel have alienated my interest through disappointment: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me since the dawn of time, shame on me. But it’s pointless to care about people who willfully resist resolution, who embrace bloodshed not just by fighting but by regularly embracing the leaders preventing them from ending that bloodshed.

That’s sort of where I am with larger events, too, as the United States consistently embraces not just madness and bloodshed, but the leaders that bring it to the point of more. President Bush is a huge fan of President Reagan, whose administration gave us the outrage of Iran-Contra, so it’s not really a surprise that the country finds itself in another ideological war of choice. The war in Iraq ultimately represents the worst and most illegal policework -- knocking down a door to look for evidence that justifies knocking down the door -- but the majority of Americans don’t care (even though Bush’s attorney general has a parallel lack of regard for domestic procedure). And Bush has a goal of raising $170 million for the upcoming election, even though he has no Republican opposition, but no one has even asked him why, much less expressed much concern over it. The guy who lost the popular vote last time will spend stratospheric amounts of money to win this time, and he stands an excellent chance of succeeding.

There’s the crux of it, that it’s hard to keep caring in the face of tremendous indifference.

I will care again. But it’ll be a “long, hard slog” until November 2004. I have to conserve a little strength.

Sunday, November 23, 2003


Shouldn’t someone -- perhaps Rhino Records -- comes out with a masturbation compilation album? The time seems ripe; in the latest Rolling Stone, Sting describes hearing the Police on the radio as being like “Maybe the first time you masturbated successfully,” and Britney Spears explains that her song “Touch of My Hand” is about masturbation.

“Guys can talk about it. Why can’t girls? It’s a positive thing,” she said.

Delightful. But “Touch of My Hand” would be only the start of “Masturbation Compilation.” It would also include Cyndi Lauper’s “She-Bop,” of course, and the Divinyls’ “Touch Myself,” the Vapor’s “Turning Japanese,” New Order’s “Perfect Kiss” and so on. The list is long and tedious and -- I have found out -- not original. Google returns 105,000 results for “songs about masturbation.”

Saturday, November 22, 2003


I asked my niece about Thanksgiving plans. She plans to be a fairy. Or did she say she was a fairy? Either way, it was obvious she was confusing Halloween and Thanksgiving, which is a confusion unlikely to follow her much past the age of 4.

As she grows, she’ll find it’s better to confuse Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day -- which would be merged if the politicians of this country had any gumption. (There’s also an increasing convergence between Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Costume parties are common for New Year’s Eve, and I’m starting to get sick already of those tedious Halloween resolutions.)

Anyway, before the real Halloween rolls around again, I must know: Is there a regulatory distinction between candy that’s “fun-sized” and “snack-sized”?

Friday, November 21, 2003


I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it: You love him more than he loves you. In fact, he doesn’t love you at all. He’s just using you, that caddish frat boy. You give and give and give, and what do you get back? Nothing. Just pain. And people are talking, let me tell you. They’re saying “Tony Blair, where’s your self respect?”

Thursday, November 20, 2003


Even the Herald newsroom was riveted by coverage of Michael Jackson’s arrest today on suspicion of confirming what everyone already suspects.

(We truly seem to have entered a new phase in American celebrity, in which there’s almost no one that doesn’t believe Jackson likes little boys and R. Kelly likes slightly less little girls, yet both artists continue to sell albums by the millions ... which is odd, considering that everyone’s so freaked out by gay marriage. If our society was so moral, wouldn’t we be boycotting the horrid musicians and endorsing the legitimizing of marriage of loving adults?)

Where was I? Oh, yes ... the television sets in the Herald were tuned throughout the day to ceaselessly dull video of Jackson’s plane landing, taxiing in, Jackson’s car moving slowly along the highway ... to break up the dullness, people exchanged Jackson jokes (“What happens at midnight at the Neverland Ranch? The big hand touches the little hand.”), discussed the case and printed out pertinent documents from This was couch vegetation without even the excitement of clicking from channel to channel; no one wanted to look away, but it wasn’t really entertaining, either. So the dullness actually brought an element of interaction to the event.

Tomorrow’s paper will be a big one -- the Herald business section starts on page 54 -- and I have to suspect some of that is thanks to the Jackson scandal. At least the paper represents an entire 24 hours worth of action, with new information justifying the space. But it’s astonishing that a newsroom would be so rapt and patient with an unfolding story holding so little excitement. No one admitted to feeling uncertain what was going to happen, as they did when O.J. Simpson took another slow trip down a highway, but with a weapon in hand and craziness in the air.

No, in fact the day unfolded with bland smoothness. There was a lawyer on hand and acceptance in the air.

It’s not even worth pointing out the simultaneous death and terror in Turkey from a suicide bombing, which seems somehow less visceral than did the knowledge that somewhere a plane was landing, and that its passenger would be in handcuffs by the end of the day. And in several months, a trial.

The best, most surreal aspect of the day was looking up every few minutes to find that Fox News was live, still live, and that not only were its cameras showing the dullest of scenes, or that it had to tell us what we were seeing (“Michael Jackson’s plane lands,” that sort of thing), but that above those descriptions were the legend: “FOX NEWS ALERT.”

Fox news alert: Michael Jackson’s plane will land here.

Fox news alert: The plane is landing.

Fox news alert: The plane has landed.

It’s the repetition and setup we treasure in sitcoms applied to news, in which everything becomes so predictable that we find it comforting to watch it unfold. It’s just that usually it has to do with semi-popular, quirky public figures in awkward situations, and in this case it’s ... well, exactly that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Massachusetts’ Supreme Court decided Tuesday that gay people should be allowed to marry. Fortunately, conservatives are taking it in stride.

“We must amend the Constitution if we are to stop a tyrannical judiciary from redefining marriage to the point of extinction,” thundered Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, from the pulpit of The New York Times.

One may reasonably wonder why the council, which promotes the Judeo-Christian notion of family and marriage because “God exists,” fears a human law’s effect on an institution created by God. Usually when God feels threatened, he does things such as wipe out evildoers and spare the good. Conservatives tend to feel God needs protection.

It’ll be interesting to see this go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will probably ultimately be put in the uncomfortable position of deciding a case in which one side says it’s correct because “the Bible says so.” If a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage is passed first, it’s that the Supreme Court will have to decide on. Either way, the conservatives are going to have to come up with an argument that has nothing to do with God ... because that’s a sure ticket to a bunch of Supreme Court justices giving the okay to gay marriage, pained as they may be by having to do so.

For a brain-bending look at how the conservatives justify their position, check out the council’s question-and-answer page. Although it doesn’t explain how judges that have granted a freedom are “tyrannical,” it does provide such gems of circular reasoning as:

“Marriage is not a creation of the law. Marriage is a fundamental human institution that predates the law and the Constitution. At its heart, it is an anthropological and sociological reality, not a legal one. Laws relating to marriage merely recognize and regulate an institution that already exists.”

Cool, eh? The council can’t even make sure its own attack on the decision (it’s saying the law can’t redefine marriage to include gays because “marriage is not a creation of the law”) actually precludes the law redefining marriage to include gays (because heterosexual “marriage” existed before the law codified it -- like long-term gay relationships now).

It’ll be a hoot hearing such arguments before U.S. Supreme Court justices. The more the council draws counsel from the Bible, the more it’ll be lessening its chances to win its case.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


The hints at a connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Al Qaeda go on, but I continue to have the same problems with the hints: The language used in almost all these leaks and intelligence assessments never really says anything.

I don’t think the Central Intelligence Agency purposefully skews much intelligence at the request of the executive branch, but I do think it has been forced to walk a fine line between providing what it knows the White House wants -- a rationale for war and related activities -- and what it knows to be true. This results in the language-that-says-nothing of that Oct. 7, 2002, letter from CIA director George Tenet to the Senate intelligence committee (“Iraq and al-Qa’ida have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression ... we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq if al-Qa’ida members ... We have credible reporting that al-Qa’ida leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities”) that continues today.

“Members of al Qaeda would sometimes visit Baghdad where they would meet the Iraqi intelligence chief in a safe house ... The Iraqi intelligence chief and two other [Iraqi Intelligence Service] officers met at bin Laden’s farm and discussed bin Laden’s request for IIS technical assistance,” Andrew Sullivan’s Web site quotes from a leaked Oct. 27 intelligence memo from undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas J. Feith to the same Senate committee.

“[A senior al Qaeda operative] said he was told by an al Qaeda associate that he was tasked to travel to Iraq (1998) to establish a relationship with Iraqi intelligence to obtain poisons and gases training. After the USS Cole bombing in 2000, two al Qaeda operatives were sent to Iraq for [chemical and biological weapons] training beginning in Dec 2000. Iraqi intelligence was ‘encouraged’ after the embassy and USS Cole bombings to provide this training,” Sullivan continues.

Most of the memo information is like this: Such and such sought a meeting for some purpose; such and such met with the intention of some other purpose. Although the massive amounts of data being revealed begins to sway me to thinking, again, that there was some link, it still seems odd that the same sources and writers, over the course of more than a year of dramatic change, find themselves unable to state things more positively: Such and such Iraqi taught such and such Al Qaeda member how to do this in return for X amount of money or prohibited materials.

I’m not criticizing; on the contrary, I respect the sources and writers for not overstepping the bounds of intelligence analysis (if restraint is, indeed, what I’m seeing here). But that doesn’t make it any less odd that this memo and the data it quotes is full of weasel words and passive-voice writing that barely counts as assertions. As I’ve said before, I’ve met with lots of people, with lots of intentions, but it doesn’t mean I got anything from them, or them from me. And, since there have been attempts before to frame Iraq, albeit clumsy ones, is there concern that some of this data is of questionable value (but better quality)?

Surely no one should go as far as the Weekly Standard, which writes that “there can no longer be any serious argument about whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq worked with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to plot against Americans.”

There can be, if only because even if Iraq provided support to Al Qaeda, that doesn’t necessarily constitute plotting against America or its people.

More disturbing is the question that, if we point the finger at proved Iraq and Al Qaeda collusion, do we really have any moral high ground? This country has also had some pretty nasty allies -- including Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden -- to whom we’ve provided deadly materials and the training to use them.

Monday, November 17, 2003


The extended edition of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” comes out tomorrow.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

That’s pretty much all I can think about.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


All credit to Emerson College for its tremendous campus improvements. As sad as it is that the college had to give up those charming but hardly cost-efficient Beacon Street brownstones, a look at the Boston Common-area buildings are encouraging.

The Cutler Majestic Theatre is stunning inside. The acoustics during a performance of “The Fabulous Invalid” last night at the Majestic were strangely bad, but a gaze around the refurbished 1903 theater afterward made up for it.

The new Tufte Performance and Production Center, cleverly tucked away behind the Majestic, is a sharp and valuable addition. (One oddity: The third-floor black box theater’s reception space gets uncomfortably packed with only a couple of dozen people in it, and its sloping glass wall offers only an earthy but less-than-glamorous close-up of the back of another building, complete with fire escape and smoking stagehands.) The Tufte building’s coolest aspect is the ethereal, ever-changing lights aligned on every floor visible from the Tremont Street alley next to the Majestic.

That Emerson is doing so well is strong testimony to my policy of not giving it any money. Cheers!

Saturday, November 15, 2003


I don’t use the Boston Phoenix very much, largely because I dislike rewarding willful ugliness. I also remain confused by its insistence on splitting its “arts” and “8 days a week and beyond” sections since, a look through them will show, “8 days” doesn’t cover a whole lot that isn’t “arts.” This means that the film calendar runs in the “arts” section, but not in the calendar section, although that’s where the Phoenix indicates to its readers what movies are premiering and when ...

And what’s with the name of that section? Since there are only seven days in a week, one would think “8 days a week” would serve to indicate that there’s more in the section than just a week’s worth of schedules. But I guess “8 days a week and beyond” isn’t too moronic.

No, it really is. Sorry.

My main problem with the Phoenix remains its fugliness, though, and it drives me crazy because no one seems to notice (unless everyone else is just ignoring it, as one would a spoiled brat throwing a tantrum). Check out the issue on the stands now, with Russell Crowe representing the film “Master and Commander,” and see if you come away unscarred by this jagged junk heap of cutouts, colors and circus type. Even more notable is that the cover art of Crowe, and the tagline that refers you to read about “THE BLOCKBUSTER AS ART FILM,” refers to all of six paragraphs on page 4 of the “arts” section -- a bleedin’ movie review.

Thank God for the Phoenix, our local alternative newspaper.

It did, however, steer me toward two events this weekend I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, I think, and deserves credit for that. Even in thanking the Phoenix for having valuable content, though, I must slam it again for its presentation. Why? The same “arts”/“8 days” schism.

The “8 days” front touts “The Fabulous Invalid” at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, the play’s provenance, cost and run dates, the theater’s address and phone number. What time does the play show? See the “arts” section! And page 9 of “8 days” reveals the Bread and Puppet Theater’s Oratorio of the Possibilitarians” and “Victory Over Everything Circus,” taking up an entire third of a page and revealing all information except ... right: performance times. Wait! There is a time given. But it’s for a one-time symposium put on by the theater troupe, not the troupe’s actual shows.

For show times, readers must look in the “arts” section. But don’t look under the names of the shows, unlike every other listing there. Look instead under the name of the theater troupe.

Possibly it’s a locals-only thing, like Boston’s confusing geographical place names and the twisted streets of Somerville. But it’s frustrating ... and beyond.

Friday, November 14, 2003


I’m well aware it’s not over, but, to my immense relief, Roy S. Moore has been removed as Alabama’s chief justice. The coverage only a day ago seemed to suggest Moore would survive an ethics committee considering his insistence on keeping a huge granite statue of the Ten Commandments in his courthouse -- even though several higher courts told him not to.

It seems insane there’s even a question. How can a judge do his job if he defies court orders, which proves he has no respect for the law?

Yet, Moore is apparently not only respected by the majority of Alabama residents, but exalted.

The patterns discernible just by reading a couple days’ worth of New York Times coverage are disturbing, to say the least, if only a little inconsistent. Earlier this week, Nicholas D. Kristof again cited a Pew study that found Americans now “are three times as likely to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus as in evolution” and far more likely than in 1987 to expect an actual, biblical, Judgment Day.

Certainly this reinforces my discomfort over religions that force beliefs on others. But it also reinforces my discomfort with religion in general, because its strictures are at once so rigid and so difficult to pin down, with our historical religious writings so open to interpretation, but so many of our modern worshippers so opposed to admitting it. How can one follow the word of God when it keeps getting reinterpreted? It forces the admission, ultimately, that people choose the interpretation they like best -- and, suddenly, the serenity and certainty inherent in religion evaporates.

At the courthouse Wednesday were women in black veils, “to mourn the death of America,” and when the decision went against Moore, atheists were cursed as “destroying our country.”

“Many of Mr. Moore’s supporters were outraged that an unelected panel had removed an elected justice,” the Times says, quoting Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition as saying, “They’re undoing a democratic process here. It smacks of third-world countries. It smacks of dictatorship.”

Does this make any sense? Especially since, in the words of the Times, Moore’s reasoning for creating and keeping the giant, 5,000-pound statue was “to honor the biblical underpinnings of America’s laws”?

And especially since it’s in keeping with a constitutional amendment to prevent the burning of the American flag, and the outrage over the notion of cutting “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, even though it’s only been in since 1954. This is like the constant bleating over the “liberal media”: If the media’s so liberal, how can there be so much complaining about it? If everyone’s waiting for Judgment Day, how dead and destroyed can their America be?

I take it back. I’m not just discomforted. I’m terrified by the intense, almost desperate need Americans have for image and symbol over substance and reason.

If there’s a bright side, it oddly enough comes from another Times story on religion, one that should be, by all rights, as disturbing as the others. Thursday’s paper carried a story on Roman Catholic bishops’ decisions on how to tackle the staggering indifference shown by Catholics to the church’s stand on contraception (their decision: liken it to abortion) and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality (although they considered calling it “gravely sinful,” they went with “immoral”).

Despite the scary aspects of that, and the much scarier stuff I’m not bothering to quote, what stood out from the story was the church’s admission that “Catholics used contraceptives as much as anyone else and that only 4 percent of married Catholic couples of childbearing age practiced natural family planning.”

So there’s hope.

Thursday, November 13, 2003


So much for President Gen. Wesley K. Clark.

At an appointment Tuesday to pander to veterans in New Hampshire, the general said he supported a constitutional amendment against “flag desecration.” Veterans, of all people, should know that it’s ridiculous and offensive to trample our freedoms to protect a scrap of cloth, but for those that didn’t, Clark was right there sucking up.


Wednesday, November 12, 2003


The threat of imported prescription drugs has the pharmaceuticals industry and its free-market friends warning of the end of health care innovation -- a wildly overblown theory.

Friend Ted Bunker, the business editor at the Boston Herald, cites drug imports as “plainly a back-door method of imposing price controls on drug makers” and, as evidence that price controls would be deadly, challenged his readers Monday to name “a life-saving drug or medical device invented in Canada, where care is rationed and prices are controlled.”

Gosh, I can’t. But saying Canada can’t invent drugs because it has price controls is ignoring the fact that drug companies have no reason to be in Canada, not when there’s a place they can go that offers much and takes, especially in the form of price controls, little.

That would be the United States.

Industry goes to where conditions are most salutary. Our states and communities sacrifice and bribe to attract industry, competing all the way to the bottom whether it be a biotech company, prison or sports team, and the sacrifices and bribes are not always worth winning the prize. On the national scale, manufacturing has fled across borders and oceans to where people toil in sweatshops to earn pennies on the U.S. dollar, but the Mexicans who worked themselves and their environment to illness are finding themselves expendable as Asian nations commit to being the next lowest on the chain. Let’s not raise a loophole to the level of a virtue.

Instead, consider a world in which the playing field was level, and price controls existed in the United States. The country would have to find other reasons to be a favored location for the pharmaceuticals industry, with the drug infrastructure already in place here being a help. But the industry would have less money to spend and be able to buy less equipment or pay less for it.

That sounds like disaster, but I’m willing to let the supply-siders do the work for me here. The free-market beloved Say’s Law dictates that “if inventory doesn’t sell, then prices will be cut until it does,” according to the folks at fiscal-conservative Web site So the makers of technology that feeds the pharmaceuticals industry would have to cut prices to stay in business. And so, therefore, would their suppliers, and so on down the line, until there were suppliers who could stand firm against the cuts.

Inevitably, I think, expenses elsewhere would take a hit, including some wages and salaries. Being a member of a fairly low-paying profession, I sympathize for those who would be hurt, which would most likely be in the middle class. Certainly people would have to be taking jobs in the industry for love of science, rather than to make a lot of money, if that’s the case now.

But this could also affect executive pay, and perhaps the best possible outcome of all this conjecture -- aside from cheaper prescription drugs -- could be if this helped close the gap between the richest and poorest in the United States. I’m reminded, actually, of another Herald article that brilliantly points out the difference in pay scales for U.S. executives and their counterparts in Canada.

The article, an Oct. 4 piece by Jon Chesto, is about the financial services industry, not pharmaceuticals, so it works only by example. In the purchase of Boston’s John Hancock Financial Services Inc. by the Canadian Manulife Financial Corp., it turns out that Hancock CEO David “D’Alessandro's $2.1 million in cash pay last year was supplemented with a long-term incentive payout of $7.9 million, restricted stock worth an estimated $11.7 million and stock options valued at up to $19.1 million. By comparison, Manulife’s chief got $2.7 million [total] last year.”

I think there’s room to even that out a bit -- and that it’s unlikely such excess isn’t a factor in a Tufts University figure Bunker cites showing “the average cost of bringing a drug from initial idea to pharmacy shelves has nearly tripled, to $897 million.” (Tripled since when? Is the figure adjusted for inflation? Lacking this information, the number’s meaningless.)

I even ponder, not unpleasantly, a world in which the free-market fears come true and scientific creativity and ability dries up without the money being wrung from the American people. In that world, the U.S. government places a priority on diseases that need curing and diverts money to do so from weapons research.

Price controls the end of health care innovation? Doubtful. Could America lose its place at the top of the pharmaceuticals hierarchy? Possibly, and all the pharmaceuticals companies would move elsewhere.

But then we’d have no reason not to create federal price controls, since we’d have no drug industry to protect, and the cost of our drugs would be ... well, probably about the same as Canadians pay for theirs.