Saturday, January 31, 2004


My candidate for most annoying word in everyday use: “pre-existing,” as in a “pre-existing order” to sell shares of a stock or the notorious “pre-existing conditions” for which insurance companies reject customers.

The problem is not really that a condition existed before something else, it’s that the condition exists at all, which means timing is just an excuse. So complaining that the “patient has a pre-existing condition” is, stripped down, complaining that the “patient has an existing condition,” and that, stripped down again, is complaining that the “patient has a condition.” Martha Stewart’s “pre-existing order” to sell ImClone Systems Inc. shares at a certain time is just an “order.” (Although it can be modified to “standing order.”)

Use of “pre-existing” makes sense only in the religious context for which it was created, if that, which probably explains why every time I see the phrase used, my eyes roll toward heaven and I exclaim, “Jesus Christ.”

Friday, January 30, 2004


The conversation, if that’s the right word for it, continues on the plywood around Porter Square’s defunct Long Funeral Service.

Blue spray paint has joined the brown in efforts to cover the “Stop rape” vs. “Stop & Rape” graffiti, and only “top e” remains of those conflicting messages. Perhaps the redactor ran out of blue paint after the “S.”

Maybe not. On the plywood to the right, in the same blue, someone is telling passers-by that “Sexism leaves me hungry / but I won’t swallow my self-worth.” As aphorisms go, this is terrible. The metaphor doesn’t work; it suggests someone hungering for equality could achieve it by swallowing self-worth.

Awful. But at least it doesn’t rhyme.

This is the kind of stuff for which conservatives chide liberals, although conservatives fail to recognize that their own movement makes even less sense on an ideological basis than on a linguistic one. (Letting developers and other businesses destroy our national resources is “conservative” somehow, but our federal policy belittles conservation of energy, and it’s conservative to keep gay people from marrying, even though conservatives insist they want to keep government from interfering in people’s private lives. Mystifying.)

It’s sad and funny, then, to read the opening monologue of the first episode of a CNBC television show starring Dennis Miller -- once a liberal, now a conservative, once sharp-minded, now sycophantic and puzzling. Here’s how The New York Times transcribes part of his talk:

“In an increasingly polarized world, I believe you want someone to get incensed for you. As fringe groups on both sides tack further and further away from the mainstream, right versus left begins to look trivial. It’s a far more dangerous world than ever before, and the focus is fast becoming right versus wrong. Simply put, we will do the news as catharsis.”

Hunh? How does anything Miller said here apply to his culminating sentence? And if he believes what he says, why all the focus on him being a conservative?

There is definitely a wall between liberals and conservatives, and perhaps the world is becoming increasingly polarized. I see no help here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


My mother seems to get more shrewd every birthday -- one of which is today.

As a cynical white male in his 30s, I should be convinced that I know everything, and I notice that I am resentful when almost anyone clues me in to a compelling observation or bit of information that, if I were more acute, I would have long ago made or found myself.

But not my mother.

I can think of two times in the recent past that conversations with her have resulted in a shock to the frontal lobes: “Good God! She’s right! Why hadn’t I thought of that?” that has me seeing the world differently and gives me a sudden need to investigate, to know, to act. (This subsides.)

When the capture of Saddam Hussein was confirmed by DNA testing, my mother wondered how, if the tests take so long, his identity was confirmed so quickly. She wondered if he hadn’t been held for longer than officials were admitting, possibly to make the announcement of his capture more dramatic and to keep conspiracy theories from forming. “Good God!” I said. It’s a minor point, and easily answered -- results are slowed by backlogs and bureaucracy, most likely, not by the slowness of the tests themselves -- but it unnerved me, and I confess I still don’t know that the easiest answer is true.

She later observed to me, out of the blue, that with pregnancies so often premature or induced, many people are being born out of the astrological sign for which they were intended. I have brought this up to friends, and it always sparks intense thought and discussion. “Good God!” people say.

I’m uncomfortable thinking that my growing appreciation falls into the category of compliments defined by that apocryphal Mark Twain quote, in which the parent seems to get more educated as the child gains wisdom. Sadly -- for myself -- I have no other explanation, aside from the weak possibility of a symptom of empty-nester syndrome of which no one speaks.

Even if it’s true that this says more about me than about my mother, at least I benefit. I can look forward to a rich vein of illuminating talks. (That is, so long as this doesn’t afflict my mother with performance anxiety.) So I can wish my mother a happy birthday with eagerness, instead of just adoration.

And if the opposite is true, I am excited again. I have the same genes.

I look forward to my genius.

Happy birthday, mom.


It is sad to see the death of Porter Square’s famed Long Funeral Service. It never failed to raise a smile, funeral home though it was, and for the attentive served as a great appetizer or dessert (depending on which direction you were walking) to “Gas With a Smile.”

What will replace it is a mystery (one likely to be answered “condominium”), because the site is surrounded by plywood while construction workers toil inside. Fortunately, passers-by are using the plywood as a place for concern, debate and, um, wit, which is interesting to read on the way down Massachusetts Avenue. And, unlike “Long Funeral Service,” it changes.

Step one: After days or even weeks of blankness, the plywood is finally defaced. In two lines of blue spray paint, someone insists we “Stop rape.”

Step two: More days or even weeks pass, then a wag with a large, black felt-tip pen alters the spray paint by placing an ampersand before the word “rape,” and drawing a stylized traffic light to the right. It looks like a Stop & Shop grocery store sign, but invites us to “Stop & Rape.”

Step three: Fliers appear along the plywood, one per plank, which puts one over the grafitti. The fliers, about Isaac the handyman and Isaac the teacher of languages, disappear quickly, only a few of their stubs torn away by interested consumers. “Stop & Rape” can stay, but post no bills, please.

Step four: A short period of days or weeks pass -- certainly no more than two weeks -- and someone with a second large, black felt-tip pen rebukes the previous artist: “The person who vandalized this vandalism: You are a horrible person who has no respect for women!”

Step five: The level of discourse plunges. In amateurish balloon letters, someone replies, “Fuck U!” and, after a bit of incomprehensible wild-style writing, “Suck my cock [more unreadable text] bitch bitch!”

Step six: Someone, perhaps a worker from inside the site or someone from one of the nearby churches, takes it upon him or herself to cover almost all of this with thick brown spray paint. Aside from some of the unintelligible writing, all that’s left unbrowned is “Stop” and, below it, all but the letter “e” at the end of “rape.”

Whatever “Stop e” means, it is so far the end of the conversation. No commerce allowed on this wall. No cursing. No dialogue. Just stilolalia.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Afghanistan officially got a constitution yesterday. I note it because one of a seemingly endless number of hawkish friends scoffed at me for my Jan. 6 posting, in which I hinted that the document’s deference to Islam would bring trouble.

The rebuke was because I couldn’t seem to give the Afghans just one day of joy and satisfaction for their tremendous achievement. In fact I was pleased, but also concerned. And for good reason. I read without great attention recently that religious-minded judges in some country had come down hard on a television broadcast that violated the laws of Islam by daring to show a woman singing and dancing -- the usual hard-line Islamic fun.

But the story was about Afghanistan.

As a New York Times op-ed piece puts it:

Without any case before the court, and based on no existing law, the court declared on Jan. 14 that a performance by the Afghan pop singer Salma on Kabul television was un-Islamic and therefore illegal. “We are opposed to women singing and dancing as a whole and it has to be stopped,” said the deputy chief justice.

The piece, by J. Alexander Thier, who advised the Afghan judicial and constitutional reform commissions, calls the constitution’s bow to Islam “a dangerous loophole.” (Article three reads, in part, “In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam.” That pretty much puts the rest of the constitution at the mercy of the religious majority, as it is in Iran.)

One day into the life of a constitution is early to call for reform, even if there was a dream of it happening. But the United States had better keep a keen eye on Afghanistan (Slogan: “Taliban-free for zero days!”) if its democracy is to last in a recognizable form.

Monday, January 26, 2004


David A. Kay, who just quit as leader of the hunt for Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, comes off in The New York Times today as candid and trustworthy. Some of his comments, though, produce a nagging doubt.

U.S. intelligence analysts felt no White House pressure before the war to prove Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he says, and that’s swell. But “the analysts included caveats on their reports [that] ‘tended to drop off as the reports would go up the food chain,’ ” the Times quotes him as saying. And even when information was shown to be false -- specifically the Nigerian uranium claim -- it was used to buttress the case for invasion.

Kay’s comments, then, are less than reassuring, but they are fascinating.

Particularly notable is that Kay says President Clinton’s 1998 bombing of Iraq “destroyed much of the remaining infrastructure in chemical weapons programs.”

Since it came on the eve of his impeachment, great cynicism accompanied the bombing. The campaign seemed like a desperate attempt to distract from Clinton’s humiliation, and it was appalling that people had to die for his vanity. To hear there was actually sound reasoning behind the attack, and that it had meaningful results, puts the strike in new light -- and turns up the heat on the spotlight focused on the Iraq war. Clinton’s act, which had significant international support, has apparently been borne out as relying on good data; Bush, in contrast, has had to deny that his essentially unilateral war was about weapons of mass destruction.

The White House is moving toward saying it had bad data. In fact, that’s a con.

In explaining his attack, Clinton cited Iraqi actions against U.N. inspections and said he acted because the inspectors said “that even if they could stay in Iraq, their work would be a sham”; Bush’s false deadline, again in contrast, forced U.N. inspectors out of Iraq, despite progress being made.

Bush ended the flow of new data proving there were no weapons of mass destruction, even though U.S. intelligence had relied hugely on the inspectors’ data in the 1990s.

It’s difficult to accept all of Kay’s comments at face value. But it’s even more difficult to accept them at all without making the actions of President Bush and his administration look all the more irresponsible.

Sunday, January 25, 2004


As the Parmalat scandal hints, and the World Economic Forum going on in Davos, Switzerland, has just confirmed, European businesses are just as feckless and prone to illegality as U.S. businesses -- and just as prone to try to avoid, and end, regulation.

Reuters is reporting that business executives at the conference “shunned calls for tougher regulation ... saying more rules would prove ineffective and cumbersome.” The article goes on for several paragraphs quoting executives from around the world proclaiming that a new era of corporate responsibility is needed and nigh, without ever specifying from where the new moral toughness will come.

Plucked from among the torrent of nonsense raining from the ski resort:

“Checking boxes and signing things won’t solve integrity problems,” said Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Novartis, the drug maker taking over the Necco site in Cambridge for its U.S. headquarters. (What will?)

“Bad people make bad decisions. Ethical behavior cannot be regulated, it cannot be imposed by legislation,” said James Schiro, chief executive of insurer Zurich Financial Services, who feels, the article says, that “holding executives accountable to higher moral principles would do more good than new rules.” (Who will do the accounting? How?)

Keep an eye out for financial scandals at these companies. This is self-serving, circular-reasoning twaddle; it is astonishing these executives would have the gall to make such comments even as their compatriots’ hands are still being forcibly removed from cookie jars around the world.

More astonishing still is that this is very likely exactly what will happen. Especially in the United States, people have become used to the brazen juxtaposition of corporate crime and calls for the end of enforcement. The U.S. government has even moved to decrease the power of activist state regulators, who keep catching the wrongdoing that the U.S. enforcers miss.

The image suggested by the executives is of those smug children, caught with their hands in cookie jars, blandly munching away on a cookies held by their other hands. If you do not make us stay away from the jar, they say, we will promise to stay away from it.

Thank you, we say. Have a cookie for being so good.

Saturday, January 24, 2004


President Bush is beginning to look squeezed, hemmed in by his own policy decisions. Thursday’s New York Times included reports of GOP discontent over White House spending and the deficit, as well as signs that even homosexuals who are Republican were dismayed by signs that Bush is headed toward a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

The Senate also approved changes to overtime regulations Thursday. They may not hurt 8 million people, as some say they will, but anyone hurt is going to be bitter at the president who signed them into law. And the rules will take effect in March, not after the 2004 elections, as will other controversial bills Bush has signed into law.

Democrats will play up that the Labor Department was caught advising companies how to avoid paying the new overtime. In other words, businesses are being told they can stop paying overtime to a bunch of people who earn it now -- up to 8 million -- and advised on how to never pay overtime to a bunch of people -- about 1.3 million -- who were supposed to start getting it.

These aren’t sure signs Bush is going down. They’re just cracks in the foundation.

And the Republicans are likely to fall into line behind their president at election time. These fissures are being revealed now to force the president to modify his behavior, and by November these complaints may be long forgotten.

On fiscal matters, anyway.

There are two gay Republican groups: the Log Cabin Republicans said firmly that “We will not stand with anyone who is willing to write discrimination into the Constitution”; the Republican Unity Coalition is holding back on criticism because, as the Times said, “Bush had not yet explicitly called for an amendment.” It’s clear that if Bush is forced into a corner on the gay marriage issue, he’ll lose gay Republicans, not to mention many democratic swing voters (even those who don’t swing that way).

So the more Bush participates in the usual election-year spending, the more fiscal conservatives will mutter their discontent. If Bush acts to comfort the antigay elements in his party, he’ll lose voters who see a constitutional amendment as abhorrent. Application of the overtime law will very likely not benefit low-wage workers and actually offend the middle class.

How will our hero escape this diabolical trap?

Friday, January 23, 2004


The boycott of Newbury Comics over “Bumfights” has had results about as mixed as they come.

Employees at the Harvard Square location today agreed that the DVDs were “inarguably exploitative” but admitted they had become less sympathetic to the boycotters’ cause because they were tired of abuse from critics -- there had been many -- who thought the clerks had anything to do with stocking the store.

“I don’t think anyone can defend what’s on the DVDs,” a worker said. But the stuff sells.

In fact, the workers said, the titles would certainly have disappeared from the shelves of Newbury Comics if the boycott hadn’t drawn attention to them. As some patrons stay away from the stores, angry over “Bumfights,” others come to the store specifically to buy it. The same principle is at work when the religious right attempts to ban an item, so this makes good Hegelian sense.

But Newbury Comics clerks who say they lack decision-making power are either lying, naive or too honest for their own good. They have all the power, and could have decided this from the beginning with no fuss.

Newbury Comics stores are very light on inventory; all that would have been required is for one sympathetic clerk at each store to keep “Bumfights” off the shelves. When time for restocking comes, no new copies would have been ordered, since none would have been needed. Eventually, headquarters would stop asking, and, seeing no demand and therefore no profit, stop buying new copies.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Silliness begets silliness. So forgive me for this posting.

Cambridge Savings Bank sent me an “important tax document” in that format where the letter is the envelope. You tear off the top and sides, unfold it and ... there’s your important document.

So what’s funny is that to open it, you must look at the top for the first instruction. The first instruction, it says at the top, is to “remove side stubs first.” I love that: Step two is the first thing you do; step one is the second.

A lesser delight is that these very careful instructions then say to fold, crease and tear off the “stub at the perfs.”

Tear off the stub at the perfs!

It’s the little things in life, isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


The Boston Herald has enough anonymous sources to fill the FleetCenter -- unless, of course, it’s all one person. (Or unless they don’t exist at all, of course.)

And, like all newspapers, it has plenty of sources who refuse to comment.

It is even not unheard of to have anonymous sources who refuse to comment, and the Herald has had those.

But tomorrow’s story on hedge fund scams is the first in memory featuring a refusal to comment ... by an anonymous source ... who is also a spokesman for whatever the story is about. It sure gives new meaning to the term “spokesman,” if not to either the terms “coward” and “idiot” or the phrase “company voted most likely to be confused with Nazi Germany.”

For the record, the paragraph reads:

“A Cantella [& Co. Inc.] worker who identified himself as a spokesman but declined to give his name refused comment yesterday, saying lawyers advised the Boston company not to make public statements.”

Not to overstate the situation, but what the hell happened to this country?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


It seems like just yesterday -- it was actually Saturday -- I was wondering what effect DVDs would have on free television, where half the channels occupy upward of five hours a day with fare such as “Friends” and “The Simpsons.”

I’m told National Public Radio has touched on the issue. But, flattering me with its responsiveness, The New York Times addressed it just yesterday:

“Counting on DVD sales to replace summer reruns or syndication sales contains significant risk, several executives said. ‘I think DVD sales works on a Stephen King [miniseries] model,” Mr. Levin of WB said. ‘But it won’t work for every show.’

“In addition, both actors and writers do not have contracts in place that allow them to share significantly in the revenue from DVDs, which goes to the show’s owners. (Though the owner is generally a production studio, because networks now tend to own or have a stake in most of the shows in their schedules, they get a hefty share of DVD sales.) Negotiations to work out those terms with production studios could prove contentious, and eventually costly.

“ ‘The battle over DVD sales is going to get nasty in a hurry,’ one senior Hollywood production studio executive said.”


So the short-term answer is that contracts will be renegotiated: Actors and writers will get less for syndicated reruns on the presumption DVD releases will make money for them instead. The long-term question, which is how the television industry will operate, and what our television stations will play when syndicated reruns are in less demand, has yet to be answered.

Monday, January 19, 2004


We’re speaking two languages, Cosmo Macero and me.

The Boston Herald columnist says in his column today that “Many of those contributions pouring into [Howard] Dean’s campaign over the Internet represent the voices of powerful interest groups -- invested with the former Vermont governor at the bargain-basement price of $100.” He also quotes Noam Scheiber from The New Republic saying those $100 donators to Dean’s presidential campaign “start to feel they own the campaign,” apparently just like the $2,000 donators over in President Bush territory.

“Howard Dean isn’t getting special interest money out of presidential politics. He’s just slashing the price of entry,” Macero writes.

This confuses me, unless it’s satire. It may be, since no national politician relies on a single $100 donation and couldn’t be swayed by losing one.

But I suspect my first guess is more accurate -- that we are speaking different languages -- and that Macero is somehow misreading the intentions of Dean’s backers (and possibly Scheiber).

If I give money to a presidential campaign, it’s because I support what the campaigner says and want him to win against opponents who feel differently. It’s not because I think $100 buys me access. The “ownership” of Dean backers is the ownership of a sports fan, not an investor in a sports team. It’s when people pay outrageous amounts of money for a ticket that they start to feel they’re owed something by whatever they’re supporting, and it’s the same in politics.

That feeling may be adjusted by income, meaning that for some people, giving $2,000 may feel exactly how giving $100 feels for others, but I wouldn’t know: I’ve never been in the position to comfortably give $2,000. But at the Bush campaign, the bar has been raised: It’s no longer about giving money, but about rounding up a bunch of other people to give money, with the organizer getting credit for the results.

That sounds very little like the Dean campaign, which, despite what Macero implies, isn’t the same as the Bush campaign.

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Attempts to get Newbury Comics to stop selling “Bumfights” videos are going nowhere, Spare Change News reports. Serious opponents of the videos -- which film the homeless performing degrading acts -- may want to switch tactics.

For instance, they could eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich before entering a Newbury Comics, or a jelly doughnut, then handle the “Bumfights” DVDs and videos, smearing jelly over them.

They could drop a case to the ground and step on it. Oops.

They could bring a razor blade and slash the cases.

If this is done enough, and it would have to be done in all Newbury Comics selling “Bumfights” repeatedly, eventually the videos will either be put behind sales counters for protection or not sold at all, because the stores will be taking a loss on them. If the videos are kept behind the counter, shoppers will have to know they’re there; they’ll no longer stumble across them in the stacks between “Bulworth” and “Bundle of Joy.” It may also add a sense of stigma to buying the product -- but don’t count on it.

These actions are over the line, possibly immoral and one is inarguably illegal, but the politeness of the Homeless Empowerment Project against Newbury Comics is bound for failure. There’s been only one mention of their anti-“Bumfights” efforts in the mainstream media, in The Boston Globe in December, in which Newbury Comics co-owner Mike Dreese blithely notes that his stores include something to offend everyone and draw frequent requests to drop products that “we tend to ignore ... because pretty soon you don't have a store left.”

This is glib, of course, as someone in the chain of command made a conscious decision to buy “Bumfights” and keep stocking it, obviously because it makes money. The project’s mistake comes in thinking that Newbury Comics will make a moral choice because the chain is hip and because it’s the right thing to do, or that kids will resist the lure of Newbury Comics in such numbers that the chain will react as the project wants it to.

The stores show good taste in what they stock (otherwise than “Bumfights,” anyway) and are relatively inexpensive, and the media has been kind in portraying its owners, two guys from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who started with $2,000 and a comic book collection at the height of the punk era. Dreese’s “computer sits atop a $30 metal desk,” the Globe noted in 1997, and in 2001 he described his Hootenanny clothing stores as being “for people that hate the Gap.”

But these men (John Brusger is the silent partner) are not hippies, and whatever punk ethic they retain is mixed in with whatever drives owners of businesses that do $75 million in business a year (a figure from 2002, the most recent year for which information is available). Newbury Comics is run by capitalists who happen to sell cool stuff. But, as everyone learns at some point, just because someone has cool stuff doesn’t mean that person is cool.

If the project intends to accomplish its goals, it may as well take off the gloves and fight down and dirty -- like a bum in a video. It shouldn’t. But Newbury Comics isn’t going to get the point otherwise.

Saturday, January 17, 2004


There’s something peculiar about the digital piracy fears of the entertainment industry.

The top fear is that music piracy through peer-to-peer networks is destroying the business of music, since one of the main ways money has been generated over the decades is through the reissuing of music in new formats: from vinyl to cassette to CD, with even evolutionary dead-ends such as eight-tracks doing their bit to force owners to buy again.

But the industry has no map to continued financial success; it’s not sure how to control peer-to-peer music swapping, which cuts recording studios out of the money loop. It’s why the Recording Industry Association of America has been making people reevaluate the standard of Hitler’s SS in the pantheon of winning hearts and minds.

The next fear is of electronic movie piracy, resulting in an industry effort that has already created ads shown before movies (after the trivia questions, before the Coke commercials and previews). Preemptive ads, considering that peer-to-peer swapping of full-length films can be done only on incredibly fast computer systems attached to gigantic hard disks. While neither is uncommon, hitting a movie audience with a “Don’t pirate movies” message, even in Boston and Cambridge, makes about as much sense as advising the same audience it’s wrong to clone people.

“The movie studios continue to conjecture that it’s right around the corner, but experts say it’s years, if not a decade, away,” said Jason Schultz, a staff attorney at the Electronic Freedom Foundation. “It’s currently not easy to really get movies of any quality through file sharing.”

In fact, even the DVDs selling in T stations and on street corners almost as soon as movies launch are less likely to be sophisticated technological dupes and more likely to be the work of some guy sneaking a video camera in to a matinee -- complete with the sound of popcorn being munched and a picture that gets blocked by people getting up to use the restroom.

And it’s these that have led to the simultaneous global launches of such films as “The Matrix Reloaded,” with the intention of denying bootlegs the opportunity to hit a market ahead of the big-screen film.

The studios, meanwhile, make fantastic amounts of money on DVD sales, as they once did on sales of VHS tapes. They’re following the old music model and trying to figure out what to do when technology catches up with them. Rather, they’re trying to figure out how to keep technology from catching up with them.

The final fear, and the element that provides the mystery, is in the television industry, which is racing to sell complete-run DVDs of everything from “Rocky and Bullwinkle” to “Friends.” But music has always sold individual records and coexisted with radio; movies have long experience now with selling old product for the small screen (including showing movies on free television and cable channels) while releasing new stuff to the big screen.

But television? Television’s primary model is of shows that investors hope will run for at least five years, when they can become syndicated. It means people keep tuning in to watch old shows with new advertisements; that television stations pay for old shows that pay for newer ones; that actors keep getting paid even for work they finished years or decades earlier.

With a complete set of “Friends” DVDs on the market soon, for example, replete with extras such as commentary tracks and deleted scenes, fans will have less need to watch the show as they rerun on television. That means less drawing power for the station showing them, which means less money for the companies that own the rights to the shows, which means less money for the people who will make new shows.

The entire structure of television is about to change, and the industry isn’t making a sound about it.

The other missing element: If Hollywood is so afraid of full-length movies being pirated and swapped, and if DVDs of movies and television shows are selling equally well, why are there no stories about the scourge of TV-show swapping? At 22 minutes in length, they would be far easier to swap than movies, which are traditionally an hour and a half or longer, meaning this is a problem that would arise first, or even be a problem now.

But there is silence, instead, and no movement, not even a television ad asking us not to swap “Everyone Loves Raymond,” love him though everyone does. Instead, there’s just an imaginary keening of the emergency broadcast system, and an imaginary sign -- “We are experiencing technical difficulties” -- behind which, it’s reasonable to guess, all is chaos.

Friday, January 16, 2004


At one point in my employment history, a job compelled me and a colleague to create language to surreptitiously note to each other the degree of horror and despair we felt. (It was pretty much the same, day in, day out.)

I thought I’d share the code -- as far as it got -- for anyone in the same situation. Jot it down in meetings; slip it to conspirators on scraps of paper; doodle it while stuck on the phone. It’s therapeutic.

YAAFI. This variously means “You are all fucking idiots” or “You are a fucking idiot,” depending on the situation. Handy, as if you’re caught writing it by someone who knows what it means (unlikely), you can always claim the latter meaning and leave it unclear to whom you were referring. It could also be YAABI, or YAADI or what have you, if you care to spare the curse word ... but, well, come on. This is work we’re talking about.

TAVSI. That’s a very stupid idea.

YOBIAM. Yes, our boss is a moron.

MIHAJ. May I have another job?

Carry on.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Every once in a while, the comic strip “Doonesbury” goes into “reruns” when weak-hearted newspapers decide a storyline will be too controversial for their readers (or the newsroom’s telephone lines) to endure. The comic strip “The Boondocks” is quickly catching up, as its spicy racial and political topics induce heart attacks in editorial offices across this brave land of ours.

When fans complain of censorship, “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau corrects them with unfailing good grace: It’s called editing, not censorship, he says.

Little did he know.

In explaining why it’s dropping “The Boondocks,” the Cincinnati Enquirer says, straight out, that it did so “because we did not want to keep publishing a comic that we regularly needed to censor.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


For anyone wondering: Yes, it’s still in the Republican platform.

The Bush administration’s plan to spend at least $1.5 billion on a “healthy marriage initiative” -- meaning, as described by The New York Times, “training to help couples develop interpersonal skills” -- will confuse anyone thinking Republicans favor limited government.

But the “limited government” concept remains, even though the marriage plan sounds oddly like the stuff Republicans have bashed for so long as wastes of money when proposed by Democrats.

The contradiction also remains.

But at least “federal money for marriage promotion would be available only to heterosexual couples,” the Times notes. So there is some consistency.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Confirmation is arriving for Paul O’Neill’s claims of the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 attack plans for Iraq.

Is it even necessary? Apparently, no one is saying O’Neill is wrong -- they’re just going after him personally.


William Safire should be read occasionally to show why doing so regularly is a bad idea.

On Monday in The New York Times, the insufferable trickster said our “pre-emptive policy” in Iraq was working to decrease “the spread of dangerous weaponry in antidemocratic hands” and cited seven examples, of which three are automatically invalidated.

Why? Well, Iraq isn’t an example of how well the policy is working for the same reason that “Seinfeld” can’t be on a list of “shows influenced by ‘Seinfeld’”; North Korea doesn’t work because what Safire’s actually talking about is how China is helping broker an agreement -- as though China somehow fears we’re going to invade it pre-emptively?; and the choice of Iran is an outright farce in that its Islamist leaders just drove out out more than 8,000 reformists seeking election. Not that the action has anything to do with weapons in the first place.

Furthermore, Iran was headed toward an easing of its fundamentalism before Bush’s counterproductive “Axis of Evil” speech, and so was another country on the list, Libya, despite Safire’s assertion that “The notion that this terror-supporting dictator’s epiphany was not the direct result of our military action ... is laughable.” In fact, Libya and Moammar Gadhafi were seeking redemption long before the United States attacked Iraq.

So now the list is down to Syria, the West Bank and Afghanistan -- yes, Afghanistan, which we invaded, gave an interim leader and began rebuilding long before taking on Iraq militarily.

Safire’s reasoning is just slightly less specious on Syria and the West Bank, but someone who’d mislead so egregiously on five of seven examples hardly deserves the benefit of a doubt on the remaining two. Notable is Safire’s belief that Saddam was able to exert pressure on Syria by threatening to “choke off illicit oil shipments” to it.

That’s absurd. Syria has been producing more oil than Iraq since 1991, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, everyone else and common sense. Iraq’s oil production capabilities are a wreck, remember? And they have been since before the Iraq war. That’s why it’s going to take so much work and money to get the country to the point where it can “pay for its own reconstruction,” despite our protection of Iraqi oil fields.

And, tellingly, Saudi Arabia gets only the most glancing of mentions.

On the domestic front, federal judges are buying the U.S. argument that giving the names of detainees suspected of terrorism “would give terrorist organizations a composite picture of the government investigation” -- despite the fact that only 129 of 1,000 are facing criminal charges.

The terrorists are operating one of two ways. Either they have control over each agent, in which case they’ve long known who was arrested and have already extrapolated how, or they operate as decentralized cells, in which case the names of people who’ve been arrested would be largely meaningless to other terrorists, even those in the same organization.

Apparently, two out of three federal judges are ... well, why get personal?

Monday, January 12, 2004


Washington state correspondent Eric LeMay summons from the dusty wastes of the Internet a September 2002 article noting Congress authorized President Clinton -- in September 1998 -- to help “remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein.”

Fascinating to look back. But what’s notable is that, although a litany of Hussein’s offenses is given, including the use of chemical weapons against Kurds and “a pattern of deception and concealment regarding the history of its weapons of mass destruction programs,” Congress doesn’t accuse Hussein of actually having those weapons.

This is interesting because the Bush administration and many others have defended the flawed weapons intelligence that led us to last year’s war by saying the same information was cited by previous administrations. Perhaps; but Congress certainly showed restraint, if not intriguingly canny foresight, by not mentioning it even in urging the president to take out Hussein.

In fact, their call was for Clinton “to call upon the United Nations to establish an international criminal tribunal for the purpose of indicting, prosecuting, and imprisoning Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials who are responsible for crimes against humanity, genocide, and other criminal violations of international law.”

And, sorry to be glib about it, but I can’t imagine what Clinton was doing with his time when he could have been transforming Iraq into a democratic paradise.

Sunday, January 11, 2004


The Bush administration’s poor judgment has come back to haunt it, but in the intriguingly unexpected form of Paul O’Neill, the former Treasury secretary, talking about Iraq.

He was on hand early in the administration, before its disastrous economic policy and response demanded a complete turnover in its money managers. So he’s able to illuminate how the administration’s Iraq policy came together, as he will tonight on “60 Minutes” and in the inevitable soon-to-be-released book and newsweekly articles.

The short version: The story that 9/11 “changed everything” is nonsense; Iraq was on the agenda from the very beginning of Bush’s time in office. The Boston Globe’s piece today, to which my friend Carl has drawn my attention, notes some early tip-offs that got largely lost, and puts the lie to the theory that Bush was honest about his “humble” foreign policy and only shifted tactics after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There’s little to add to the Globe piece, beyond perverse Orwellian delight in observing the language of the White House in responding to O’Neill’s charge.

Hussein “was a threat to peace and stability before Sept. 11, and even more of a threat after Sept. 11,” press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday. “It appears that the world according to Mr. O’Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinions than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people.”

The second part is a classic nondenial denial, if more blatant than usual. The first part is interesting because the part about Hussein being “more of a threat after Sept. 11” is completely off the wall. I curse the media for not asking: “Really? Why?”

Saturday, January 10, 2004


Is the world going crazy that we’re debating Pete Rose should ever again be allowed near the game of baseball?

Note to Pete: Those giant red letters in your clubhouse that proclaim “No betting on organized baseball” (or to that effect; they’ve changed the words a little over the years) should be a huge clue. And those little black letters that say “permanently ineligible” might be clue No. 2. (Rule 21(d) -- fully posted at least twice in every Major League Baseball clubhouse.)

On television yesterday, I saw one high school kid, two minor leaguers and two former Major League Baseball players compare this to doing “14 years of time for a crime” and now he should “get out of jail.”

As far as I’m concerned, Rose is no worse than a serial murderer committing crimes against the national pastime. He bet on baseball, and the same as Gary Ridgway is locked out of society, Rose should be locked out of the game of baseball for every one of those crimes that deserves a life sentence.

(Now, I’m not actually comparing him to Ridgway ... but sheesh ... Rose just admitted to the worst thing you can do in organized sports, and we’re still debating whether life is too much punishment?)

Sorry, Peter Edward Rose, the former president of Yale had it right 14 years ago: You screwed up in your baseball world as much as the worst criminals do in the real world.

Shoeless Joe Jackson at least couldn’t even sign his own name, let alone make millions of dollars after being banished just by showing up at every autograph show this side of the UMT. And Joe’s not in the hall because of finger-pointing by a bunch
of people who knew he was a dupe ... you, Peter Edward Rose, went on “60 Minutes” and looked so bad for the game that oddsmakers wouldn’t even lay down against you and Shoeless Joe, or any of the seven other guys, on who screwed up more in hurting the game. You win. But you knew that was an easy bet 14 years ago. If you’d just have shut up and gone fishing or managed St. Pete’s team, or something other than grab the “Me Factor” by the groin all these year, maybe you wouldn't look like you’re the Green River Murderer of baseball right now.)

The sheer beauty of this is that there is no way Pete Rose will be voted in during his two years of eligibility. And then he’ll get hung out to dry, hard, by the veterans committee.

“I admitted I killed the integrity of the game last year to ‘Bud’ ... but it was only a few times a week ... why is it taking me so long to get a plea bargain taken care of that lets me out early?”

The arrogant, competitive, dumb, whiny, brilliant baseball player SOB.

(By Eric LeMay)

Friday, January 09, 2004


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell now makes me sick.

The reason is the following quote, handed me via Radio Free Mike, from Powell’s discussion yesterday of the nation’s justification for attacking Iraq.

“My presentation [to the United Nations] made it clear that we had seen some links and connections to terrorist organizations over time,” Powell said. “I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.”

The italics are mine.

I just keep thinking: “Consider them? Is that what we did?”

Thursday, January 08, 2004


A mysterious event, that high-tech roundtable held yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Eight chief executives of companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel gathered to look at the future of U.S. technology, but neither The New York Times nor The Wall Street Journal bothered to show up. The media that did attend had different ideas on what they were seeing:

The executives “urged Congress and the Bush administration not to impose trade restrictions aimed at keeping U.S. jobs from moving overseas, where labor costs are lower,” The Associated Press said.

Or they “warned Wednesday that the U.S. is losing ground to foreign nations in areas of innovation and education. If not fixed, they said, it will hurt America’s competitiveness,” Investors Business Daily said.

Or the executives, “facing criticism for moving jobs to low-cost centers such as India and China, said on Wednesday that the United States needs to boost education and offer more tax breaks,” Reuters reported.

The Associated Press seems to be hitting closest to the truth, since neither of the business press reports deal extensively with jobs being sent overseas, where wages are lower, even though the Reuters report explicitly brings it up in its first sentence. Instead, the business press builds cases for how much money other countries are pouring into tech education and research and development, ignoring the fact that the jobs being sent overseas worrying us here in the United States are generally not in the realm of dramatic technological advances.

That is, it’s unclear how much more education or research and development dollars are needed to keep customer service call centers in the United States, let alone people screwing together motherboards.

Instead, the business press parrots CEO gibberish about how “tax credits ... will spur a new wave of U.S. productivity growth” or quotes meaningless tropes from Bruce Mehlman, the leader of this Computer Systems Policy Project, about how “We can either choose to compete with the rising powers of China and India and other would-be economic leaders and take advantage of worldwide business opportunities or we could retreat.”

This would mean more if GandiTech were threatening Hewlett-Packard’s dominance in the printer market or if Mao-Crosoft had a disruptive semiconductor breakthrough on the horizon, but in fact U.S. companies are still enormously competitive in such fields. And among the nations mentioned by Intel CEO Craig Barrett as having a “rich, educational heritage and a large number of well-educated people that can do just about any job,” somehow only one -- Ireland -- is from the Western world. The other nations: India, China, Russia, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia.

Fortunately, this will all work its way around to the United States again, although it’s hard to say when. First our multinational companies must rove the entire world, moving plants and employment from nation to nation in search of the cheapest workers and richest incentives. Eventually, because there’s so little work in the United States, we will again be among the most desperate for work, and therefore among the cheapest workers.

Then we can have jobs again.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004


I’ve been leery of linking ever since Cosmo Macero Jr. pointed out a Washington Post article blasting bloggers as clannish logrollers, but I’ve decided to shrug off the appearance of a conflict of interest and do the right thing. Yes, I’m adding another link -- one to a blog that, well, just happens to link to me.

The blog is waterbones, by a San Francisco woman, a colleague of Radio Free Mike whose name I’m not at liberty to reveal, since she doesn’t do so herself in her blog. Reading it will reveal a complex life of many moving parts. Her posts, though sometimes lengthy, are always absorbing, and work as self-contained essays of a life well-examined, well-analyzed and well-written. New readers can step in anywhere; I recommend skipping back to find the recent post about Far Side creator Gary Larson.

Notice that I’m not suggesting anyone go slightly further back to find the recent one linking to me. Even though it has some terrific inside dish on Hollywood names.

(Also notice that I now link to the Web site of my cousin, artist Nina Levy, whose work is always worth a look (and a commission). Just don’t expect the kind of daily textual postings done at actual blogs such as my.bicycle or the Hub blog.)

(And of course the Center for Cooperative Research is always worth a look, to see if new information has been added to the whole 9/11 issue.)

Anyway, so much for conflict over linking.


“Unfortunately, our politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Sometimes both on the same day.”
-- Woody Allen, “My Speech to the Graduates”

Better the lively debate of the Democrats than the Republicans’ tendency to make the trains run on time, but the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates are pushing it.

Leading candidate Howard Dean is no prize. Even giving him the benefit of a doubt that his many seemingly thoughtless comments are actually the result of canny political calculation; even giving him a pass on the long-term ideological flip-flops that so many candidates go through; alarm bells still go off over his inexplicable tendency toward secrecy, and his lame justifications of it.

Mainly this is about his records as governor of Vermont, which can be unsealed by him but are being left up to a court decision. One reason he gives for the secrecy is “to protect [other] people’s privacy.” Everything about this is too reminiscent of the Bush administration -- in fact, identical to its most shamefully shameless (or is that shamelessly shameful?) tendencies. Bad policy breeds in secrecy, and ideals get betrayed.

But the attacks being made on Dean over comments about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden must stop. The candidates making those attacks are being irresponsible and unthinking.

They attacked Dean for saying the United States was no safer after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Dean was correct, for reasons that are well-known: Iraq had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons capability in place, and certainly none that could threaten a nation many thousands of miles away, as this one is; it had no connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; it had no record of exporting terrorism that is meaningful to the United States. Hussein was weak in war and clearly had no key role in carrying out postwar attacks in Iraq. Since his capture, we’ve gone into and stayed in orange alert and have begun more dramatic and suddenly standard anti-terrorism efforts than at any time since 9/11.

Democratic candidates -- including Massachusetts’ John Kerry, on Sunday during the Iowa debates -- have also attacked Dean for saying he “couldn’t prejudge Osama bin Laden’s guilt for September 11th. What were you thinking?” Dean’s answer was correct: He was thinking of the rule of law. The country pursues war on the basis of intelligence, not a court finding, but our goal is to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, not to kill him. A U.S. senator who wants to be president would do well to remember that.

These attacks on Dean amount to little more than hysteria, which this country falls into all too easily. It loves to have passion and rally around a cause. It hates to think through what those emotions mean, or in what they result.

It’s a lousy way to do many things. Among them are conducting political campaigns and voting for president.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


All credit to Afghanistan, which has approved a constitution (meaninglessly called “one of the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world” by the U.S. ambassador there) despite many challenges.

Two observations stem from the fact that the nation will be known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and that the constitution confirms Islam as its “sacred religion”:

First, there is a working contradiction between key elements of the document. Article Two says “Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.” Article Three says “In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of this Constitution.” In a nation bedeviled by Taliban and warlords, that’s a lot of reliance on those last five words.

Second, the name and nature of the country and constitution makes it very unlikely -- if there was doubt -- that Iraq will be anything but an “Islamic republic” as well. With so many compromises being made there, an officially Islamic Afghanistan means the officially Islamic Iraq discussed Dec. 4 will probably not have to try very hard to also be “one of the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world.”


Surely everyone has heard the rumor that it was the Kurds who captured Saddam Hussein and handed him over to the United States.

When a co-worker mentioned it to me, I made the obvious comment that we would have some proof if the Iraqi Kurds seemed to be favored in some way during the rebuilding of Iraq.

Hmm. The New York Times has reported that “Kurdish Region in Northern Iraq Will Get to Keep Special Status.” Typical for the Times, there’s no mention of the rumor about Hussein, but there’s enough weasel words and back pedaling in this article to suggest that there’s been a payoff here.

Or not. While it’s fun to speculate, our overtures to Kurdish separatism can be explained in other ways. It will also be difficult to know for sure what the story really is; it doesn’t exactly fit our national narrative to have heroic Kurds handing the Butcher of Baghdad over to clueless U.S. soldiers, and nor would the Kurds -- who finally have a chance to get some of the sovereignty they seek -- want that story known. By keeping silent, everyone wins: Our soldiers are heroes, the Kurds get U.S. protection and the Iraqis can move on without feeling belittled by a minority in their midst.

Monday, January 05, 2004


Those very important but somehow astonishingly dull trading scandals are back in the business pages of the Boston Herald tomorrow, but I’m more interested in looking at the story to illustrate, if only as an example for myself, the strange way news can be decided, even at major metropolitan dailies.

A dull part A local investment firm that’s looked extremely bad since the scandals broke has taken another step in its rehabilitation, “slapping a 2 percent redemption fee on early sales of mutual fund shares,” writes Hub blog’s Jay Fitzgerald. The story leads a page, but not the whole seven-page section that will go tomorrow to a quarter-million people. It’s on a right-hand page, which is where newspapers put stories they don’t want people to miss. It’s also about 10.25 inches long in pure text, or about 10 paragraphs, pretty respectable for a Herald story.

A more interesting part: The story consists of fairly positive analysis or fairly objective background until the last inch or so of copy, when an analyst is paraphrased as saying the fee “is more symbolic than substantive.”

In fact, the analyst says, “As I see it, it’s pretty pointless.”

This is, in my opinion, the most compelling line in the piece, and the one that the little guy -- the Herald’s readers -- should know more about. But because it’s also the last line in the article, there’s no analysis of whether this view is correct. The lack of contrary voices could mean the analysis is correct, but the placement indicates little attention should be paid. (Imagine how different the article would have been if the quote went in the fourth paragraph instead of at the end.)

Another dull part Layout of the Herald business section is done by order of editors on the basis of stories they’ve discussed with reporters but usually have yet to read. We copy editors lay out the section based on editors’ instructions and have almost never read the stories as we do so. The process is fairly mechanical, on ancient, inflexible computers. The average page includes three to six stories, starting with a big headline for the lead story and graduating to smaller, prescribed headline sizes as the stories recede in importance and placement. There’s always a need to make room or fill space to make the stories fit. If they take up a lot of space, copy editors can make photos smaller. If they don’t quite fill the page, copy editors can take up space by making giant quotes (‘pull quotes” or “popouts”) from stories, or by enlarging headlines.

This doesn’t always work well. Copy editors may find they’ve made space for a pull quote for an article that has no quotes. And since there’s often little time to go back and change a layout, it frequently comes down to desperation measures to make a story fit. Copy editors can take away or add space between the letters forming sentences and paragraphs. They can use parts of sentences instead of whole ones in the spaces made for pull quotes. And so on.

The dull part continues The headlines, too, are difficult to change after a story arrives, even though it can be tough to fit the best headline into the space given the most important story, because the headlines can be huge. (This means the least important stories sometimes have the best, most accurate headlines, because there’s so much more room.)

The scandal story tomorrow has the headline “Controversial trades face Putnam fee,” with Putnam Investments being the name of the company. There is no additional space or “subhead” to fit in the second element, even if it was desired, for something like “Analyst calls move ‘pointless.’ ”

Another more interesting part Although there was no subhead, the story does have space to pull out a quote from the story. This could be a place to fit in that compelling quote and give readers a sense that there is more at work here than the headline suggests.

But Herald quotes automatically come in at a six-line space. The quote “As I see it, it’s pretty pointless,” is far too short for the space. And there’s only one other quote in the story, from a second analyst quoted higher up that comes across as far more positive: “It’s a message from [Putnam] saying ‘We don’t want the market-timers.’ It’s a good thing they’re doing this.”

The big wrap-up And that’s what readers would have been seeing tomorrow: A story, prominently displayed, with a headline suggesting Putnam was taking a positive step and a large pull quote reinforcing that suggestion. At the very end of the story is someone saying Putnam’s step isn’t that positive.

But there wasn’t enough room for the standard six-line quote. It was a three-line quote -- still far too long for the three-line space, but possible to be stretched into it.

So instead of the positive package readers would have seen, after a positive headline comes a note of doubt: “As I see it, it’s pretty pointless.”

All thanks to a technical fluke.

Epilogue That’s the rather dull story of how a quarter-million people may come to see the Putnam story: by unstated, possibly conflicting agendas controlled in large part by a lack of time and computer flexibility.

It’s not even certain that the thought processes of the reporter or editor were thwarted from the promotion of a bottom-of-the-story quote to major display element. Copy editors almost always want to use the most interesting quote in a story for this purpose, because it compels consumers to read a story they might otherwise skip.

It would be nice to say that most newspapers are more thoughtful in presenting their content, but it’s not true. This is more or less standard operating procedure at a lot of U.S. media, primarily those short on time and staff.

Sunday, January 04, 2004


Based on the misguided notion that consumers fly low-cost airlines because they’re fun -- which makes one wonder why they’re not referred to as “high-fun airlines” -- giant, scared competitor American Airlines steps up in tomorrow’s Boston Herald to proclaim itself a hoot.

Control the horrified recoil and simply step back slowly as an American executive babbles nervously in a badly backfiring defense of his employer:

“American recently offered a promotion in Chicago where residents could win use of a jet for 100 friends. [The executive] says there’ll be more ‘fun’ to come,” writes the Herald’s Greg Gatlin, who’s a pretty fun guy.

“’In the past, people who looked at American didn’t think as much of fun,’ [the executive] said. ‘Our bread and butter may not be in the fun department, but we have a lot of fun people. You’ll see more of that.’”

Do we get frequent fun miles? Sign me up!

Saturday, January 03, 2004


There’s a problem with the term “pain management” obvious from the moment the phrase is heard: It’s a step back from “pain cessation,” which is itself a step back from “curing a problem.”

There are only two pain management centers in the Boston area, and my bad experience with Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton sent me reeling off to the second one, which is in Woburn. The problem in Brighton was the hospital’s “multidisciplinary” approach, which made its form of “management” seem more like “screwing around with.” The approach is reasonable if the source of pain is mysterious or if obvious treatments have failed, but the source of my pain was easily diagnosed, and the most commonly recommended treatment hadn’t yet been tried. Also, my pain had blossomed in autumn, or at least very late summer, so I was hardly a chronic case.

The multidisciplinary approach may be helpful for some; for me, it would have been like cutting my finger and, instead of running upstairs for a Band-Aid, running outside to gather certain herbs that, when boiled in fresh rainwater, could be combined with Xanthan gum and packed around the wound; replace every hour.

St. Elizabeth’s prescribed me two medications in addition to the Vicodin I’m already taking. It also put off the steroid injection it agreed would help me until after I showed up to take a two-hour MMPI and got through a physical therapy session.

(“Gee, doc, as soon as you’re done fucking around with me, would you mind actually helping me with my pain?”)

The Woburn facility (actually part of Winchester Hospital), meanwhile, gave me an evaluation and scheduled the steroid-injection treatment all before even the physical therapy appointment at St. Elizabeth’s. I couldn’t get the injection because I was getting a cold, an infection risk; they scheduled me again for Monday, which is still before the St. Elizabeth’s appointment.

It is a “pain management” center, but not a “multidisciplinary” one.

Still: pain management? When a doctor in Woburn asked me why I had such little interest in medication, I told him it was because I wasn’t really interested in managing my pain. I actually wanted it to go away. While pain management philosophy is understandable for pain that lingers despite treatment, I’m cool to the idea of being thrust immediately into it for the treatment that everybody recommends. You don’t see hospitals breaking off “disease management” or “injury management” divisions.

Friday, January 02, 2004


It’s interesting to see my brother, David, interact with his daughter, Sophia, because Sophia is frequently throwing out complications to an orderly running of the home: she will not do this; she doesn't want to do that; et cetera. At four years old, she’s smart. But David is smarter, and that’s where the fun comes in.

It’s detective-story fun, the kind where you watch two combatants outwit each other, like in “Sleuth.” or an Encyclopedia Brown kind of a thing in which you have three minutes to solve a mystery. All the clues you need are in front of you. Go!

So Sophia refuses to do something and my eyes instantly flick to David to watch him think through the riddle and see how he outsmarts his daughter. If you do this, you get that; eat your peas and you can wear your cape; use the toilet yourself and you can have a Gummi; nap now and I'll read you a story.

It’s fascinating. Maybe, although I’m not certain, less so for David.

Thursday, January 01, 2004


Happy new year! Click here for a great comic, courtesy of my friend Carl and Boston’s Weekly Dig alternative newspaper. The cartoon is a little depressing, but there are signs that 2004 will be a good year: nothing happened, in terms of terrorism, on Dec. 31; and a visit to Starbuck’s -- mentioned only as an update to a past reference -- reveals a simplified menu.

When it comes to good omens, I’ll take what I can get.