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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


I hope no one missed The New York Times brief today in which “Gov. Jeb Bush will appeal a judge’s denial of his request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging his intervention in the case of a brain-damaged woman.” Very important story.

If anyone can figure out what’s actually going on from that lead, let me know.

(Seriously, why not something like: “Gov. Jeb Bush persists in intervening in a right-to-die case, asking an appeals court yesterday to stop a husband from suing him for intervening in the first place. A lower court had sided with the husband, who seeks to let his brain-damaged wife die.”)

Monday, November 10, 2003


Why do all gossip sources sound the same? This has been nagging at me, but recent readings of the gossip report has shoved the issue to the absolute top of my concerns.

Whether they’re talking to Britain’s Daily Star, Britain’s Now magazine, the Page Six Web site or direct to the World Entertainment News Network (source of’s sleaze), all third-party sources, named or unnamed:

Tend to use names instead of pronouns -- but, oddly, only if the names haven’t been used yet in that item (“the 500 people, including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Steve Cojocaru, scrambled about”);

Show preternatural insight (“He wants to be out there and she’s more reflective”; ”Cuddly nights in with big piles of junk food are just not for him”);

And speak in odd, overly distinct phraseology (“She’s been sharing the happy news with select friends”; “It looks like it’s all over for Renee and Jack -- and this time for good”).

Although it’s most likely that it’s the gossip writers who have a formula, not the sources, I’m enjoying the possibility that after so many years of gossip permeating our society, those who pay attention to such things -- I guess I’d have to include myself now -- have learned what’s required for when they turn snitch. They can rattle off the perfect dirty detail, in perfect form.

Or, although it’s obviously unlikely, maybe there’s only one source for all the gossip, one incredibly well-connected fink, and when Ben and J. Lo and Meg and Ashton and Bruce and Demi and Russell and Sean and the rest catch on as to who it is ...

Sunday, November 09, 2003


Earlier tonight I saw M. Doughty, that razor-edged if occasionally dada lyricist -- except that he’s not even M. Doughty anymore, but just ol’ Mike Doughty, softer around those edges, more apt to sing of love than scat in the typical somehow-cynical random syllables.

He’s been solo long enough now to carry a show without relying on his Soul Coughing work, and he only played two of his songs from that period (and from the first Soul Coughing album, at that). Although the Paradise was packed, most people didn’t seem to mind, maybe because, although he was playing gentler stuff from “Skittish” and “Rockity Roll,” he still rocked a little harder than recent visits (back when the Somerville club 608 was still open). He talked less between songs. This is Doughty in transition, on the way to working with a band again.

The most cutting point Doughty made all night was on the predictability of encores. He acknowledged just before his second-to-last song that it wasn’t his second-to-last song, and when he’d done his putative finale he merely told the audience he was going to go stand in one corner of the stage for awhile. The audience applauded as he stood in plain sight, his back to the audience swigging water, and finally looked around as though just noticing the cheers, walked back and did a couple more songs.

It was funny, and hardly snarky, but it’s about time someone started making fun of the tedious drill encores have become. The band leaves; the audience claps; the band returns. The suspense is mainly in how long the audience can stand clapping without becoming irritated that the band is making it clap for so long.

Once a music critic, then someone who regularly wrote such incisive polemics as “My eye like a noisegate the number 8 frustrate and I roll to the floor fruit,” it would be nice if Doughty kept this up long enough to set an example for other musicians. More, Doughty, more!

Saturday, November 08, 2003


Like the top brass at Radio Free Mike, I’m reading “Secrets,” the Pentagon Papers memoir by Daniel Ellsberg, and finding interesting echoes between that era and this.

In the “Kissinger” chapter, Ellsberg sits down with the soon-to-be secretary of state and others and gets a typical Henry Kissinger compliment, in which he summons an esoteric moment to give a sense of shared history. In this case, Ellsberg was complimented as a fine teacher not about Vietnam, but about “bargaining,” from a lecture series Ellsberg gave 11 years earlier.

“Nice,” Ellsberg writes. “Except that when I thought about it later, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The lectures I had given to his class had had to do with Hitler’s blackmail of Austria and Czechoslovakia in the late thirties that had allowed him to take over those countries just by threatening their destruction. One of the talks was titled ‘The Theory and Practice of Blackmail,’ and the other was ‘The Political Uses of Madness.’ Hitler had deliberately cultivated among his adversaries the impression of his own irrational unpredictability. He couldn’t be counted on not to carry out a threat to do something crazy, mutually destructive. It worked for him, up to a point, because he was crazy, madly aggressive, and reckless. But after a certain point it brought the world down around him. It wasn’t a tactic I was recommending for the United States, or anyone else, for that matter. For someone to imitate Hitler in this respect was to cultivate madness and court disaster.”

Ellsberg goes on to point out that news leaks about the recent invasion of Cambodia said some of the motivation was to convince the nation’s perceived enemies “that our decision making at the highest levels was unpredictable and that since we could do something so evidently erratic and crazy ... they could not count on our reasonableness or prudence in a crisis.”

So the mad bomber president is sort of a hallowed Republican tradition, from Nixon to Reagan (in addition to macho bluster and jokes about “We begin bombing [Russia] in five minutes,” Ronald Reagan was also prone to talking about the imminence of armageddon) to Bush. It’s enough to make me think that those strange vibrations in the earth are tectonic plates shifting, bringing Vietnam and Iraq just a little bit closer together ...

Friday, November 07, 2003


It’s the first birthday of Chicago’s “Red” papers, the tabs put out by the city’s traditional newspapers to capture younger readers, and the city’s alternative weeklies attended with predictably skeptical expressions on their faces.

The Reader and Newcity Chicago noted that the tabs, Red Streak (a product of the Sun-Times) and RedEye (a product of the Tribune), have decreased circulation of the dailies but are not generating much circulation revenue of their own. That is, almost no one is paying to buy the Reds.

“Circulation seems like a nightmare now, with stacks and stacks of the papers throughout the city laying around at the end of the day,” Kate Zambreno writes in
Newcity Chicago.

“Anyone who pays a quarter for either Red is a sap,” Michael Miner says in the Reader.

Both writers cite audit figures that admit that only about 11 percent of RedEye readers pay, 9,000 out of 80,000 copies -- and it’s unknown how many more are the “stacks and stacks” of unread copies. Red Streak figures are likely to be similar, although its owners offer no official count.

What’s going on? Although the Red Streak editor describes the effort in terms of a rescue effort (“And so, thank God, the Tribune did something to sort of force newspapers around the country to take a look”), the Reds, the Metros that preceded them and the junk that is to follow, such as amNewYork, are not the best solution to the generational decline in readership these tabs were meant to end.

That decline is indisputable. “Daily newspaper readership among people under thirty-five dropped from two-thirds in 1965 to one-third in 1990,” writes Harvard scholar Robert D. Putnam in his “Bowling Alone,” and now the industry doesn’t even bother to tout daily readership. Instead it cites readership on “an average weekday.”

The Fall 2003 Competitive Media Index, put out by the Newspaper Association of America, puts that percent of adults -- and adults just in the top 50 media markets -- at 54.1, with association leader John F. Sturm giving some credit to the “many new and innovative marketing strategies newspapers across the country are adopting [and] the launch of niche publications targeting younger readers and underserved markets.”

The association and the American Society of Newspaper Editors are backing a “readership initiative study,” the index press release says, with the study of “younger adult readers of local, English-language daily newspapers” taking place, interestingly, in Illinois. Evanston, home of Northwestern University, but Illinois nonetheless, not too far from Chicago, the home of the Reds.

The study isn’t likely to, and shouldn’t, focus on the Reds too much, if at all, or newspapers will continue to degrade and delude themselves.

To give a sense of how far off the Reditors are, I’ll just straight-out steal extensively from Zambreno’s Newcity piece:

“Both editors of the red papers say that while in their twenties, they were avid newspaper readers. But not everyone is, they assert, and papers like RedEye appeal to a different type of reader. [Mary Nesbitt, of Northwestern University] theorizes that the content and presentation behind daily newspapers don’t appeal to younger readers. ‘Perhaps that group doesn't see itself in the paper, so it doesn't seem to be about them,’ she muses. ‘If it doesn't have visuals, photos, people like them, then it might not appear to be for them.’ Many agree that newspapers have not concentrated enough on staying relevant.

“Both editors talk about how their papers are edited to appeal to the targeted demographic. Although Red Streak gets the majority of its news content from the core paper, and RedEye relies heavily on the Tribune as well as wire services, ‘the trick is to edit them and write headlines in an appropriate manner that appeals to the younger reader, and cuts to the chase and gives them information that we know they're looking for,’ says [Deborah Douglas, the editor of Red Streak] ‘as opposed to just writing these long treatises every day and expecting people to slog through to the very end to find out what the information is about.’ ”

So young readers want headlines and copy that “cuts to the chase and gives them information,” while adults are expected to “slog through to the very end” of “these long treatises.” And like it, apparently. Gosh, we’re so smart and responsible. Meanwhile, newspapers need “visuals, photos,” and -- the other universal message of the youth tabs -- short articles. Short enough that a reader can graze several in the length of a trip on public transportation.

For a clue as to how dramatically newspapers are going astray, stop by your local high school and college campuses and get copies of their student-run, student-produced newspapers. What you’ll see are newspapers that look pretty much like the newspapers put out by adults: generally traditional layouts; relatively sparse photos; typically lengthy, in-depth articles. Can the students simply be imitating adult newspapers because they think that’s what’s expected? Possibly. But what would make other students actually pick up the paper and read it, if its articles were too long and it looked so plain and unappealing? And, if students weren’t picking it up, for how long would a newspaper go on reading and looking the same way before evolving into something that would capture readers?

The fact that the readers are already captive may have more to do with it, in that there are fewer sources for relevant news for those high school and college readers. But that still underlines that the secret of readership is content, not visuals.

Perhaps tellingly, it is difficult to track down anyone who’s studying high school or college newspapers. Even the Poynter Institute, the Florida school and journalism think tank, had difficulty identifying anyone who is an expert in, or even interested in, these publications -- even though they are where the readers of the future, as well as its journalists, are coming from.

“The problem is, we haven’t been changing at the rate we should have been changing to appeal to a new generation of readers,” says Douglas, of the Red Streak. Maybe so. But the change can’t be for them; it has to be for all of us.

Thursday, November 06, 2003


In March, as war loomed, the Bush administration rejected talks with Iraqis seeking peace on behalf of Saddam Hussein, The New York Times said today. The White House apparently decided against the entreaties “after a decade of evasions and deceptions by Iraq,” although nowhere in the article is it made clear that the United States didn’t believe what it was hearing.

It’s obviously appalling that all avenues to prevent war weren’t explored (“The message was, ‘Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad,’ ” according to Richard Perle, the White House adviser and Times source), but equally striking is the consistency of the claims that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

That’s what the Iraqi faction told Perle in March, matching what Hussein’s brother-in-law, Hussein Kamel, told U.S. and British intelligence agents in 1995, but it made no difference whether the information matched up or not, whether it came from an Iraqi official or an Iraqi defector -- or even United Nations weapons inspectors. (As Cambridge University scholar Glen Rangwala noted in June, “There is no UN report after 1994 that claims that Iraq continued to possess weapons of mass destruction.”)

Coupled with the administration’s willful misinterpretation of data and analysis provided by the United Nations and intelligence agencies, and with a new thoughtfulness and urgency provided by the ongoing U.S. deaths in Iraq, I wonder if we’re not all at the point of acknowledging that the president simply wanted this war? And that it may be time to rethink our approach to the, um, peace?

At the very least, let’s please end the search for the WMDs, that staggering waste of money and military effort.

I’m dreaming, of course. There’s no way the search will end. It will go on, and on, it will never stop -- not until we locate those weapons and, guarding them, the heavily armed, half-crazed real killer of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


My vote does not automatically betoken disaster. The Cambridge election yesterday bears that out -- somewhat. Why, Henrietta Davis, my No. 3 vote for city council, was re-elected, and Marjorie Decker, my No. 6 vote, and so on ...

In fact, five of my nine votes for city council came through, and four of my six for school committee.

But rent control failed, a �lopsided defeat that probably marks the permanent end of rent control as an issue in Cambridge,� according to Robert Winter�s Cambridge Civic Journal.

Out of 20,299 votes cast, 12,467 were opposed to rent control and 7,832 were in favor. The home-rule petition needed slightly more than 18,800 to move on to the Legislature, and that�s pretty much all the people who voted.

I�m no so sure rent control is dead, but I�m also sure I have no idea what its backers were thinking, forcing the vote in an off-year when motivations to come to the polls is low -- that is, unless you�re a property owner petrified by the thought of rent restrictions being placed again. For renters, who are in a relatively gentle market, rent control probably doesn�t seem that urgent. (It may again soon.) More of Cambridge�s 55,000-plus voters would have made it to the polls next year, to vote against President Bush�s re-election.

Which reminds me: The sole Cambridge candidate with the guts to identify himself as a Republican, city council hopeful Robert L. Hall Sr., was cut in the fourth round of the election, earning, on his own, 96 first-place votes. To paraphrase �Repo Man,� �I don�t want no rent control in my city. No Republicans either!�

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Don’t I feel like an idiot. Trying to rate and rank Cambridge candidates by reading the Cambridge Chronicle (unsatisfying, disjointed factoids), gathering brochures (self-serving, uncritical mush) or consulting the city elections commission (essentially a list of candidates) is exhausting and nearly pointless.

Had I only known about the Cambridge Civic Journal Web site. Cool, especially for its accompanying candidates’ information, all courtesy of Journal editor Robert Winters. The fact that I’ve already voted is sort of a discouragement to looking through the site in depth, but it looks to be complete -- save for council candidates Marjorie Decker and Vincent Dixon, who didn’t respond to Winters’ queries -- and extraordinarily on-point.

The only thing in which the site is not complete, actually, is that it lacks (through no fault of its own, I’m sure) the real-time election results I crave. Did Fred Fantini cling to his school committee position? Did the doomed home-rule petition for rent control make it through? I’m on tenterhooks.

Monday, November 03, 2003


Cambridge elections are tomorrow, with responsible decision making complicated as usual in a place where the political spectrum usually ranges between Left and A Little Further to the Left.

It makes the process more difficult to always be working when meetings or debates are held, but it must be confusing for other citizens as well; our ballots and election commission don’t even identify party affiliations, so we rely on candidates to identify themselves as, say, fascists (none this year, that I know of) or republicans (council candidate Robert L. Hall).

Responsible voting also requires a little more attention in Cambridge because its voting is different than most, a process called “proportional representation” or “instant runoff.” We prioritize our votes, marking the candidate we want most as No. 1, our second-best choice as No. 2 and so on down the line -- somewhat exhausting in a place as political as Cambridge, where 20 people are vying for nine seats on the council and another eight are seeking six school committee seats. City computers figure out how many votes a candidate needs to win; the votes of the least-voted-for candidates are turned over to the candidates above, according to rank, until there are the right number of winners.

It may be complicated, but not so much that the complication outweighs its value; not to badmouth the electoral college, but if federal elections used it in a popular vote, we’d have a President Gore right now, without hesitation, confusion or doubt. Cambridge has used this method since 1941, long before computers made it easy, so San Francisco’s election officials -- who refused to implement it this year, in violation of the city charter -- really have no excuse. But it leaves Cambridge as the only U.S. city using the system.

Actually, it’s not that proportional representation may be complicated. It really is complicated. It forces voters to rank candidates, even if they don’t really prefer one over another. And the local media, the weekly Cambridge Chronicle, is little help in making those distinctions.

The Chronicle is top-tier for the Community Newspaper Co., which is owned by Boston Herald owner Herald Media Inc., so the problem isn’t necessarily a lack of staff or money. (Copies of this week’s paper, with “voters’ guide” inside, were delivered free throughout the city, including two to my house -- wretched excess.) It’s just that the political coverage relies mainly on factoids, those isolated bits of data that, detached from context or subtext, tend to confuse more than inform.

An Oct. 22 graphic, for instance, looks like it compares the number of policy orders and resolutions filed by city councilors from January to the date of publication with the number of policy orders and resolutions they filed in all of last year.

It is clear that there are three councilors who file far more policy orders and resolutions than the others. If only I knew what a policy order was, or how it differed from a resolution, that could be interesting or meaningful. And what if they’re filing policy orders or resolutions demanding such things as “All underwear is to be worn on the outside?” What’s with the horse-racing image serving as background to the chart, and why is the graphic labeled “Race to November”? Does filing motions have anything to do with their value as candidates, especially since there are 11 people running for council seats who, because they’re not on the council, didn’t file any policy orders or resolutions in this year or the last?

Things get even more confusing when the next week’s chart shows that Mayor Anthony Sullivan filed 109 resolutions in 2002, even though the first chart shows he filed 54. That indicates the chart shows activity within a certain period, not activity to date, but it doesn’t say what the period is. A week? Could the mayor really file 163 resolutions in a two-week period, which is two meetings?

Similarly, this week’s voting guide consists of excerpts from answers the candidates gave to three questions posed during recent debates. The topics are on Cambridge public schools, “On public safety” and “On balancing affordable housing, development and open space.”

The answers are less than illuminating.

On “CPS,” for instance, Anthony Galluccio thinks “the school system has become a centerpiece issue, and I think that’s new and I think that’s good for the city. I think all of our constituents demand our full attention to the school system and they ask us to weigh in.”

Apart from the last sentence making no sense, a risk when transcribing oral responses, how is this helpful compared with the response of Vance Dixon, who proposes “separate high school(s) for classics, for science, for performing arts and for the occupational and independent programs”?

Or how about Robert La Tremouille, who says that “The real function of the City Council with regard to the schools is the budget, and if we had a normal situation with regard to our government, that is where it would end ... The budget is such that we’re closing schools and we’re firing teachers ...” And? It’s impossible to tell from this what La Tremouille thinks should be done, or why. And so on.

Don’t turn to the editor for guidance. Although the Chronicle has regularly “criticized the City Council as a do-nothing celebratory body with little more to do than name corners after constituents,” the lead editorial this week says, “Monday’s landmark decision in the Riverside rezoning process proved us wrong.”

“We can think of no better nine to lead the city forward,” the editor writes.

So the nine councilors can sit around doing nothing all year -- and redeem themselves entirely with a single vote. Gee. Thanks for the help, Chronicle.

(The editorial also says that although “Several of the challengers brought interesting ideas to the table ... none convinced us they were ready to take on the toughest challenge of the campaign: being a Cambridge City Councilor.” This perplexing bit of rhetoric makes one wonder if the toughest challenge of dieting is not having to.)

Thank goodness the candidates reveal themselves, although the Chronicle does deserve credit for helping. In an Oct. 15 article about city schools failing to lead students in the pledge of allegiance every day, school committee incumbent Fred Fantini said he thinks “we should comply with state law ... especially considering the situation our country is in, I think it’s important that we encourage patriotism whenever we can.”

Thank you, Fred Fantini. In a flood of shades of mauve, you have made yourself stand out in screaming, brilliant blood red in my rankings. That’s one down, 27 candidates to go.

Sunday, November 02, 2003


Radio Free Mike Moore is curious what my Iraq plan is, since I’m so critical of New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.

Domestically and internationally, the Iraq war has been a disaster for us, for all the reasons I stated before we actually hit the ground. But I didn’t say I had a better postwar idea to advocate, and nor should I. The effort would be wasted; we aren’t leaving Iraq any time soon.

I support -- with as much grumbling and condemnation as possible for the idiots who got us into this mess -- spending and doing what we need to in Iraq to not have our efforts there be a complete loss and utter disaster. As I said Sept. 15, “Thanks to Bush administration hubris, now we have to spend what it takes to get out of Iraq and leave it better than we found it -- and it looks like the expense will go some distance toward wrecking life for many Americans.”

But what the hell: Fantasizing about what passes for an ideal world these days, I would get the United States out of the business of running Iraq and let the United Nations do it instead. U.S. soldiers would stay not to build a nation, but to supplement protection of U.N. forces and hunt down anyone continuing to attack them. Then, job done more quickly because their efforts and motivations were not split, the U.S. soldiers would leave. I would remove all the no-bid corporations rebuilding Iraq, and possibly even those who did bid for the work, and instead use that money to pay Iraqis to rebuild their own country. First-worlders can be consultants; they -- we -- shouldn’t be taking jobs and money away from Iraqis.

Again, I do not think any of this will happen. Not as long as President Bush is in office.

Before the war began, I was intrigued and, despite myself, impressed with Bush’s mad bomber act, in which he portrayed himself as so eager to fight that nations did his bidding just to calm him down. I winced as Bush went too far, tarring nations as being in an “Axis of Evil” even as they followed China, at a distance, toward moderation. But I was amused to see him force U.N. inspectors back into Iraq and Iraq back into compliance with the U.N. He was saying “Jump,” and the world was saying, “All right, all right, all right! Just calm down!”

Unfortunately, it really wasn’t an act. Bush really was the mad bomber I thought he was playing in TV, and in an effort to make us safer, he has given Islamists a recruiting tool; claiming Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were in cahoots, he has succeeded in convincing them to work toward the same ends in attacking U.S. soldiers and U.N. and Red Cross workers; seeking to sound the warnings against weapons of mass destruction, he has accelerated nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea; because he’s made such a mess of the war on terrorism, he’ll probably have to watch helplessly as his great Democratic experiment in the Middle East collapses further into increased religious fervor and anti-Americanism.

This is what we have accomplished or will accomplish on our present tack, but neither Bush nor Friedman can afford to agree. Their attitudes, that one need not admit mistakes, just revise history to suit new needs, is no way to correct the situation.

So I’m not seriously looking for the United States to pull out of Iraq. I’m merely hoping without real hope for an acknowledgment that our occupation is doomed, in one way or another, because we were misguided going in.

Saturday, November 01, 2003


It’s not schadenfreude behind the noting of occasional myopia at The New York Times. For some it’s outrage over the Times’ presumed liberalism and slanting of the news; when I draw attention to a lapse it’s because the skill and experience one assumes of the Times staff make the flubs mysterious and funny.

I was particularly mystified by the “Postwar G.I. Death Toll Exceeds Wartime Total” in the Iraq coverage of the Oct. 30 edition. The following two paragraphs, which you can, of course, skip, are the first paragraphs of the article.

“BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 29 -- American military casualties spiked Tuesday night into Wednesday with a new round of mortar attacks, roadside bombs and shootings that left four soldiers dead and more wounded.

“The American death toll since President Bush proclaimed the end of major combat operations now exceeds the 116 American combat deaths in the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The tempo of the attacks has increased as well, to an average of 33 a day over the last week from around 12 a day in July, a military spokesman said.”

Now, call me small-minded, but I read through the remaining 18 paragraphs of the story thinking it would tell me what the death toll was. You know, a number. Something to compare with 116. Maybe it would show up in the last paragraph, as a “by the way” kind of a thing? But the article -- the point of which, I think, was to point out that “Postwar G.I. Death Toll Exceeds Wartime Total” -- does not reveal the figure.

Was it in paragraph 19, which didn’t make the cut? Paragraph 300? Was it considered unimportant? Was there too much other valuable information to fit in?

Or did the reporter, Susan Sachs, and however many editors and copy editors reading the article before publication miss the fact that information was missing? The mind boggles.

As a postscript, the article included another forehead-wrinkler, if not head-scratcher: When discussing who may be organizing the attacks on U.S. and U.N. personnel, the Times notes that one suspect, once a general in Hussein’s forces, “is the highest-ranking former member of Mr. Hussein’s inner circle who is still at large.”

Except Hussein himself, of course.