Sunday, February 29, 2004


This outsourcing stuff is exasperating, and there’s a lot out there to be exasperated by.

Among the latest wrinkles: a class on outsourcing rushed together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to answer student demand; and more wrongheaded justifications from New York Times weirdo Thomas L. Friedman, who says it’s “inevitable in a networked world that our economy is going to shed certain low-wage, low-prestige jobs.”

Friedman ignores the fact that the whole reason the topic is so explosive right now is that higher-wage, higher-prestige jobs are also heading overseas. Forrester Research, of Cambridge, says the United States can wave goodbye to a minimum of 3.3 million white-collar jobs and $136 billion in wages by 2015. They’re off to their new home in lower-wage countries such as India.

The cover story used to be that low-wage jobs would go overseas and free the newly unemployed for higher-wage jobs. The story now is that as our higher-wage jobs go overseas, it will free all of the newly unemployed folks to take on even better jobs. Nonsense. Does anyone really think all those unemployed low-wage workers climbed the ladder, especially in a nation with about 4 million jobs less than needed for full employment, even far enough to lose their jobs again to outsourcing?

Most defenders of “offshoring” say it will eventually benefit the United States, because it creates markets for our goods. This, too, is nonsense: Foreign workers earning less money than U.S. workers may be buying more U.S. products, but also more products from everywhere else in the world, and with less money, because they have less earning power. The money they spend will go back to companies whose work forces have been outsourced around the world, anyway. And U.S. workers -- who had more earning power -- will have less money to spend. How does that math work out?

It probably doesn’t, which means it comes from the same math textbook as the argument behind the Bush tax cuts: Giving money to the richest means more business investment.

But where will the investment money go? (Overseas, apparently.) Why hasn’t it meant a surge in U.S. jobs? (Because they’re going overseas.)

Furthermore, how does the effort differ from the failed trickle-down policies of the Reagan years? And why give money to the wealthy when it’s been consumer spending propping up the economy for three years? Especially since the effect of the Bush tax cuts would be the same, as Cambridge’s Dollars & Sense says, if “instead of cutting taxes, the government spent $1.5 trillion on highways or national defense or schools or, for that matter, if it trimmed $1.5 trillion from the tax liability of low- and middle-income households. All tax cuts become income, are re-spent, and taxed.”

Madness. Nonsense and madness.

Saturday, February 28, 2004


Being comfortable calling the Catholic sexual abuse scandal “history” may be a mixed blessing for a church facing enormous guilt and legal culpability. As wonderful that it is that the church is now free of priests abusing children, well ... it wasn’t so difficult, was it? The speed and ease with which the church seems to have eliminated the problem may come back to haunt it when people seeking damages ask why it wasn’t done before.

Friday, February 27, 2004


I’ve been conned: The flier I described so long ago was an example of guerilla marketing for the Sci Fi Channel reality show “Mad, Mad House,” in which average joes move in with a modern primitive, nudist, Wiccan, vampire and voodoo priestess.

(I was informed of this almost immediately. All the time since has been wasted waiting for the Sci Fi Channel people to return my phone calls, but I’m giving up.)

Guerilla marketing, or viral marketing, is advertising on the cheap that sneaks past people’s defenses. Handing out T-shirts, holding conversations meant to be overheard, posting intriguing fliers -- all are examples, although such hardcore techniques are all but ignored in available media on marketing. Jay Conrad Levinson’s “Guerilla Marketing for Free” has next to nothing to say on bait-and-switch fliers, for instance, and it’s the No. 1 book on the topic listed at

One wonders if the fliers work. Although I was fooled into talking about them in a more or less public forum, the trail they started faltered immediately: The telephone number listed wasn’t in service. A Google search for the person last connected with that number brought up nothing useful.

Then a couple of weeks passed and new fliers appeared, with a different phone number. Call it and you get a recording of a woman saying the room has been taken -- and a suggestion to watch the TV show. So those wily Sci Fi guerillas give it up immediately, or even faster, if such a thing is possible: The new phone number is 617.206.30124, and the extra digit is an immediate tip-off that the flier isn’t what it appears to be.

Travelocity did much better with its 26-city “missing garden gnome” fliers, which brought people to what was ostensibly some poor guy’s Web site but was actually part of an $80 million advertising campaign. And the “Blair Witch” site, the guiding light for guerilla marketing, never gave up that it was fake, which contrasts with “Mad, Mad House” like a Baked Alaska compares with an off-brand candy bar.

This may help explain why the Sci Fi Channel goes to 78 million households in the United States but “Mad, Mad House” is having so little impact. If it’s the idea of guerilla marketing to create street-level buzz around a product, the show’s mysterious fliers hit a little low. They’re being kicked around winter-ugly asphalt, winding up in gutters with discarded fast-food wrappers.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


Bill Gates visited Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today, prognosticating and pontificating. (Electronic paper was one of the key technologies he plugged, which must have been an attempt to ingratiate himself further at MIT, home of the Media Laboratory that gave it birth. Cambridge is also home to the company E-Ink, which seems to be basing its future entirely on the product.)

Oh, and amusing.

Among the funniest things the Microsoft founder said, found in tomorrow’s report by the Boston Herald’s Jon Chesto, was in response to a question about the company’s role as an investor in Comcast, which wants to buy Disney.

“We’ve always been clear that we’re a software company,” Gates said of Microsoft. “You won’t see us buying a movie studio or some big communications asset or those kinds of things.”

Really, Bill. The words -- if they count as words -- Xbox, Slate and iLoo come to mind. As does MSNBC. Oh, and here’s a link to Microsoft’s hardware page.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Is nothing sacred? In the latest fallout from the Janet Jackson breast-baring at the Super Bowl, radio superstar Howard Stern has been suspended from broadcast by Clear Channel Radio.

What with the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” a move toward a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and now this, I can actually feel this country growing closer to God -- well, a Christian God, anyway.

But I’m confused as to why God made Stern and his show -- with its regularly “indecent content” that is just as regularly “vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency” -- so popular, though.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004


Everyone’s talking about President Bush’s backing for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage -- an idea doomed from the start -- and I’m not sure there’s anything to add to the argument.

Perhaps a clarification to an earlier posting, though, since San Francisco’s mayor is being criticized for promoting gay marriage ceremonies despite them being illegal in California. This could almost be compared to the efforts of Alabama Supreme Court ex-chief justice Roy Moore to boost the profile of the Ten Commandments in the courts, and Misanthropicity’s verdict was that an officer of the court shouldn’t remain one while consciously, enthusiastically breaking the law to make a point. It tends to rend the fabric of our society, because it makes it difficult to pass judgment on others breaking the law.

So what to make of a mayor who may be consciously, enthusiastically breaking the law to make a point?

Not much. A more definitive source may be eluding me, but Black’s Law Dictionary says a mayor is merely “an official who is elected or appointed as the chief executive of a city, town, or other municipality,” and San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, is probably leading the city as a majority of its residents wants to be led (San Francisco being known more as a bastion of gayness, not conservatism).

Black’s also defines marriage as being between a man and woman, but, like any dictionary, it represents law as it exists, not law as it will or should be. At some point, “mayor” may be defined as someone who must enforce the law. It isn’t now.

Monday, February 23, 2004


U.S. Rep. Edward Markey is concerned about identity theft taking place when U.S. tax returns are outsourced to India -- which as many as 200,000 this year will be, up from only 1,000 in 2001, according to The Associated Press.

It’s possible that his fears “of gangs, breaches of homeland security by Al Qaeda and criminal misuse and abuse by multinational corporations” are groundless, but I wouldn’t know. I’m not an expert.

The expert the Boston Herald uses in its report tomorrow appears not to be one either. Judge for yourself from Shailendra Palvia’s curriculum vitae and from a press release from last year that shows his interests in outsourcing, or “offshoring,” jobs is mainly in the realm of “how to.” The Center for Global Outsourcing is just what it sounds like, a pro-outsourcing business effort, not a think tank that assesses benefits and risks. Palvia’s co-managing director at the center is Pankaj Palvia, which is either a remarkable coincidence or a confirmation that the Herald has stumbled on a family business.

Regardless, Shailendra Palvia’s response to Markey is that his “concerns are ‘overblown’ and that invasion of privacy or ID theft can occur anywhere, including America,” the Herald says.

True enough, Dr. Palvia, but is identity theft carried out in India easier or more difficult to prosecute or stop in the United States? My guess, although I’m no expert: more difficult. Thanks for the quote. Don’t expect to be a source in many more news articles.

Sunday, February 22, 2004


Ralph Nader has declared his candidacy for president of the United States. His run in 2000 is widely credited with taking votes from Al Gore and handing the presidency to George Bush, and Nader is notoriously credited with claiming that the two were so similar -- “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” -- that it didn’t matter which one got elected.

Jonathan Chait, of The New Republic, noted in 2002 that Nader has believed such things for a long time. He quotes Nader as saying about the 1980 election that “The two-party system, by all criteria, is bankrupt -- they have nothing of any significance to offer the voters, so a lot of voters say why should they go and vote for Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”

Chait dryly reminded his readers that the race that year was between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

There are, of course, tremendous differences between the past and current candidates, and for Nader to say otherwise goes beyond rhetoric into lunacy. That he is running again shows he is unrepentant and even further out of touch with reality. He has no voter base, with even Howard Dean making it clear on Feb. 18 that he “will not run as an independent or third-party candidate [and] urge my supporters not to be tempted to support any effort by any other [such] candidate. The bottom line is that we must beat George W. Bush in November --whatever it takes.”

With that, Dean went a great distance toward redeeming himself with the Democratic party, while Nader, in the aftermath of his 2000 run merely reinforced his pointlessly renegade status.

Radio Free Mike has a bitingly poetic take on the situation. For more literal ammunition against a man who seems to hold the same positions not just since 1980 but -- incredibly -- since 9/11, consider the following Feb. 18, 2001, interview with Nader in the Times’ Week in Review section:

Q. Are you watching this presidency with fear and trepidation?

A. The same decision makers under Clinton-Gore are operating under Bush-Cheney. They’re all over the place and they’ve always been all over the place. We’re talking about the politicians taking their orders from corporate paymasters.

Q. So you really believe that the two parties are the same?

A. Yes, on most issues. On the most basic issues of cordoning power from people as voters, consumers and taxpayers, they’ve very similar. Look at the massive mergers that went on during Clinton-Gore. GATT, Nafta, corporate crime, corporate welfare -- the same.

Q. You kept calling Gore and Bush Tweedledee and Tweedledum during the campaign. So you still think there’s hardly any difference between the two?

A. On most issues. In foreign policy, the Commerce Department, agriculture, criminal justice, defense, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and even most of the regulatory agencies.

Q. Do you think Gore would have appointed John Ashcroft attorney general?

A. No. He wouldn’t have appointed Ashcroft. But the Justice Department under Clinton-Gore has been horrendous. Their litigation enforcement rate is lower than the administration before them on illegal police violence and affirmative action. Environmental crimes prosecution is down more than 25 percent under Clinton-Gore than it was during the Reagan-Bush administration. This surprises a lot of people, but it’s true. Only in housing anti-discrimination enforcement were they better. The similarities regarding the concentration of corporate power over our government tower over the dwindling differences between the two parties. . . .

Q. And abortion?

A. They differ on abortion. But I don’t believe that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned. And both parties condone the criminal injustice system, corporate prisons, the death penalty, the failed war on drugs.

Q. Guns?

A. On guns they’re different, but not that different. We’ll put guns in the column of a real difference. But are they that different on corporate armament? That’s what the frightened liberals don’t think about. They think that the five issues that the two parties differ on are the only ones. They’re different on abortion. And on forest regulation they’re very different. But the way I look at it, I make a list of all the departments and check where they differ. The F.A.A. has been asleep for eight years. OSHA’s been asleep. The F.D.A. There’s no difference. So that’s the way really to rigorously support the conclusion that on most of the issues involving the corporate takeover of elections and the weakening of democracy, the two parties are humming along on parallel tracts, moving to the marching orders of the corporate paymasters.

Saturday, February 21, 2004


The Bush administration sends up a trial balloon on counting service-sector jobs -- such as slapping together a hamburger -- as manufacturing jobs. The New York Times gives it a small hole inside the business section.

This trial balloon should be shot down, and the people who filled it with helium should be found, fired and publicly spanked. It’s pretty clear they want to use low-paying service jobs, of which the United States has many, to obfuscate the country’s dramatic loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs.

Here’s some of the article:

“When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a ‘service’ or is it combining inputs to ‘manufacture’ a product?” the [White House] report asks.

“Sometimes, seemingly subtle differences can determine whether an industry is classified as manufacturing. For example, mixing water and concentrate to produce soft drinks is classified as manufacturing. However, if that activity is performed at a snack bar, it is considered a service.”

Right, morons: Because someone walked up to that snack bar and asked for a soda, or because someone is likely to that day. It’s not producing a soft drink because you’re going to ship it to another state or country in the hope that someone will buy it next month. Because it’s served, not shipped.

This story deserves more attention so the idea goes nowhere. And these clowns -- despite their skills at making things out of balloons -- must be put out of the White House.

Friday, February 20, 2004


I feel like one of those Japanese soldiers found skulking in a jungle 20 years after the end of World War II.

In this case, though, it was only 17 days ago that Newbury Comics decided to stop selling “Bumfights,” a video of exactly what it sounds like. The people at the Homeless Empowerment Project, which produces the Spare Change newspaper, started a boycott of Newbury Comics that eventually attracted the attention of New England Cable News, and when the channel approached Newbury for a broadcast, according to a representative of the project, “they said they were pulling it from their shelves.”

In fact, it was “Due to the media circus surrounding these films [that] Newbury Comics will no longer be carrying them,” said Newbury’s Duncan Brown. No one was at the chain’s corporate headquarters in Brighton today for further comment.

So the system works, kind of: “Bumfights” is gone and Newbury Comics, having made a bit of money from selling it, can once again make money off the boycotters. Me included.

I surrender.

Thursday, February 19, 2004


Banning gay marriages is ultimately a loser. It can’t stand up constitutionally. Even if the Supreme Court acts as irresponsibly as it did during the 2000 presidential election -- or as a predecessor court did on Plessy vs. Ferguson -- gay marriage will be a reality in the United States. In the worst case, at least it’s likely to take the court less time to correct a mistake than the 56 years it took to move from Plessy to Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. This court seems to be moving faster, if its reconsideration of capital punishment for kids is representative.

I have less hope for the removal of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, although it should be as vulnerable on rational grounds as a ban on gay marriage. (The only rational grounds for keeping God in the pledge is that removing it would demand that God also be removed from currency, government buildings and such. A pain. But it’s really not the court’s role to consider such things: “We could abolish slavery, but it would cost a lot of money.”)

My skepticism flowers, and my hope withers, when I see tomorrow’s advice column from Robert S. Kutner, a lawyer at Boston’s Casner & Edwards LLP, in the Boston Herald’s real estate section.

In it, he notes that “To be eligible for a [home inspector] license, an applicant must: be of good moral character,” among other things, and that people who’ve already been home inspectors and are grandfathered from the need to pass a test must “still must be of good moral character.”

There’s a difference between a criminal background check, which ensures an inspector won’t rip off a client, and passing judgment on someone’s “moral character.” What does this mean -- that cheating on your wife makes someone an unsuitable candidate? Or being an atheist? Or being a child molester? How can this sloppy, unspecific language define a legal licensing process?

It’s hard to draw much hope from such lunacy on such a small matter. Perhaps the Supreme Court should take up the matter of Massachusetts inspector licensing before anything else, just so we can get a sense of which way things are going to go.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


Credit to my friend Carl, who called attention to the outrage du jour regarding Halliburton, the Houston-based oil-and-everything-else giant.

Halliburton keeps striding through scandals, almost above noticing the bullets bouncing off its tough Texan hide, serenely incomprehending why it’s provocative to get so many government contracts -- some without competition -- when the company’s ex-CEO is the government’s current second-in-command.

It’s becoming easy to think scandal is just something Halliburton manufactures (on an exclusive, no-bid contract with the U.S. government, but only because it has more experience at it than all the other companies).

Anyway, the latest is that President Bush’s derided mission-to-Mars initiative will probably rely heavily on a certain conglomerate that just happens to have been working toward travel to Mars for several years.

Right: Halliburton.

The Washington Post’s take on it is a little dry, but Salon’s Joe Conason sums up the issue as follows:

NASA would pay Halliburton and other firms billions of dollars to perform research and development on Mars-bound technologies that they would use for profitable exploration on this planet. No doubt those scientific advances would be useful here long before anybody lands on Mars.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Thank goodness. Or thank The New York Times. Let this be the end to the eight-glasses-a-day-of-water foolishness -- which somehow posited that, after thousands of years of human development, suddenly people would collapse and die unless they hydrated themselves to the point of urinary panic.

Monday, February 16, 2004


In its quest to be The New York Post, the Boston Herald is swiftly learning to live without lowercase letters -- which are too fey, too Boston Globish for the Herald’s gutsy, pluggery readers -- and to love the underline.

It’s hard to remember the last time I saw something underlined that wasn’t handwritten or on the Herald’s front page, but the Herald has adopted it with the eager, emphatic nature of a very big, slobbery dog.

Not long now until the Herald front goes all-caps, all-underlines. The question is: What then? Once everything is big, capitalized and underlined, how does a newspaper keep making the hot stuff stand out?

Sunday, February 15, 2004


Those massive Big Dig vents have only one thing in common with cell phones and immigrants: They are discriminated against because they are new.

One is inanimate concrete and iron towering into the sky, blamed for being so even though Boston is rotten with such things lucky enough to be offices or apartments. One is tiny and electronic, blamed for people carrying on loud conversations -- although it's better than two people talking loudly face to face. One is living, blamed for any number of things by people who are (an old argument) undoubtedly the children or grandchildren of immigrants.

The car-exhaust vents, though, are set apart by origin: They are the frantic, reverse-engineered compromise of a project costing billions of dollars more than intended.

They are also set apart by disguise, something unworkable for cell phones or immigrants as a class. In the North End, the vent is a faux high-rise lurking among the real thing; the one toward the waterfront, however, is isolated, the tallest thing for city blocks, and the city has decided on disguise by beautification. Blue and yellow rectangular panels are placed with 1960s-space-age randomness on the face of what otherwise looks like a monument to functioning fascism, a Ministry of Truth. The panels draw the eye, the effect opposite what's desired, and somehow stand out from the structure itself.

This is a nun wearing clown makeup, a spectacle that would make anyone uncomfortable, and it is all the worse that government has engineered it all, piling mistake atop mistake atop mistake.

The vents were bad enough, but they were what they were. Now the city has taken something functional and turned it into a monument to incompetence.

Saturday, February 14, 2004


Opening Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, I have twice stumbled across amazing words that, for some reason, tend to the excretory (which is also in the dictionary).

I have no explanation. I hope it’s coincidental, not psychological, but either way, the words are delightful but difficult to use in day-to-day communication.

Feculent: Foul with impurities or excrement; covered with filth; abounding in sediment or noxious matter; fecal.

Stercoration: (Archaic) The act of dressing with manure; manure, dung.

Friday, February 13, 2004


The post intended for today has been delayed by bureaucracy, so that has become my target.

Perhaps I asked for trouble, calling a business at 3 p.m. on a Friday in the hopes of reaching a representative, but I also had left a message the day before. No call back, and no hope remaining, I shook my head at this dysfunctional system I encountered, then shook it again in recognition that the system was actually functioning -- but as deflection against callers, rather than aid.

It makes me wonder if there’s a bureaucracy handbook, and what the name would be for the form I’d encountered:

An initial switchboard transfers calls to other departments, but there is no main switchboard in those individual departments, which are distant and out of line of sight (possibly even on another floor or in another building). Calls go to workers’ direct telephone numbers, even when those workers are away or talking to someone else, and calls that are not picked up go into workers’ individual voice mail. The voice mail may or may not suggest another number to call “in an emergency” or “if you need to talk to someone immediately,” but those numbers reach someone else’s voice mail.

The initial switchboard is contacted again, told of the troubles getting someone to answer the telephone, and callers are transferred again -- right back to the first phone number that didn’t pick up and, hence, back into voice mail. Pleas to the initial switchboard to be connected to a live person bring the explanation that the request is impossible to fulfill (the department being contacted cannot be seen from the switchboard) and the phone system is not set up to ring at an “overflow line” until someone picks up.

The caller may either keep calling extensions in that department until someone picks up or leave messages on each person’s voice mail in the hopes that one, or all, will call back.

It’s an elegant bureaucracy because the system disguises its own flaws. If a caller reaches someone, there cannot be a problem, so there cannot be anything to complain about; if a caller can’t reach someone, there’s no one to complain to. If a caller reaches someone and complains about the system anyway, they will simply be given that classic response: “But that’s the way the system’s set up.”

Thursday, February 12, 2004


Did I bet anything on Gen. Wesley Clark’s candidacy? If so, I owe, as he left the race today with poor numbers but good grace.

Oh, and unfortunate phrasing, too. His Web site’s ode to supporters reads, in part, that they “have proven what a General can do when he has the greatest troops in the world.”

Ten percent is sort of sad for the greatest troops in the world.

As a post-script, though, someone has bought the Web site

Wednesday, February 11, 2004


Flier found neatly taped to a lamppost on Chauncy Street in Boston:

Looking for roommates
to share large house.

Utilities included.


Tuesday, February 10, 2004


As U.S. job growth languishes and more white-collar jobs are “outsourced” to such places as India, the political repercussions grow and the defenses get stranger.

Yashwant Sinha, external affairs minister of India, was quoted in The New York Times on Monday saying “The U.S. has to realize that by outsourcing, its companies remain competitive and save jobs.”

Whose jobs are saved is left unsaid.

Separately, N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors, justified the president’s support of outsourcing by saying it’s “just a new way of doing international trade. More things are tradable than were tradable in the past. And that’s a good thing.”

Someone better tell India that. Sinha had earlier told the Times that India opening its markets wider to “help create other jobs in the United States” was “not the way to go.”

Saturday, February 07, 2004


Religious leaders, including blacks who should care about civil rights, oppose gay marriage and will act against it in Massachusetts. Here’s some of the language they’re using to justify their opposition, courtesy of tomorrow’s Boston Herald:

“The civil rights movement had to do with rights that belong to everybody. The right
to vote, the right to go where we want. The right of marriage only belongs to those who fit within the context of marriage -- one man and one woman. I don’t deny that the gay and lesbian community has a right to certain benefits. But I don’t think they should change the definition of marriage.”

The speaker is the Rev. Wesley Roberts, of the Black Ministerial Alliance.

Bizarre, isn’t it? He talks about “rights that belong to everybody” that didn’t until the civil rights movement made it so. It doesn’t take too much imagination to replace such things as “the right of marriage” with “the right to vote” and see the weakness of his arguments.

It’s not really that bizarre. It’s just disappointing.

Friday, February 06, 2004


In case anyone missed it, British Prime Minister Tony Blair feels there is little difference between things that “indicates” and things that “show.” The topic, of course, is Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and the place was Wednesday’s presentation in the House of Commons, where Blair showed himself as smug after being cleared by a report on the use of prewar intelligence.

Well, wait. Was he showing he was smug? Or just indicating it?

Here’s part of the report from The New York Times:

[Blair] asserted that the editing of intelligence documents that assert that the evidence “indicates” weapons were present to a harder formulation that the evidence “shows” they were present was “hardly of earth-shattering significance.”

This follows -- at a distance -- President Bush’s infamous “What’s the difference?” comment made Dec. 16 to Diane Sawyer on ABC television.

SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --

BUSH: So what's the difference?

SAWYER: Well --

BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger. That’s, that’s what I’m trying to explain to you.

To think: We were once complaining about President Clinton parsing the meaning of the word “is”!

Thursday, February 05, 2004


At the passionate insistence of a friend, I draw attention to the possibility of North Korean death camps. “Death camps” would be a term that fails to do justice to the allegations, actually. “Atrocity exhibition” would be closer.

The lack of press coverage raises doubts that the camps are real, but The Guardian is not exactly the Weekly World News, and this would not be the first outrage ignored by most of the media and the world. The Financial Times has also looked at the camps, and added another scandalous wrinkle:

South Korean and US intelligence agencies have long been rumoured to possess satellite pictures of the camps but the evidence has never been made public.

This would mean that not only did the United States ignore North Korea’s boasts of illegal nuclear capabilities to go after Iraq, which had no nuclear capabilities, but that it is still ignoring ongoing North Korean crimes against humanity while justifying the Iraq war becaused it deposed the tyrant Saddam Hussein. (Again, the point is not that there was bad intelligence before our invasion, but that a rush to war eliminated our chances at replacing what we knew was intelligence of questionable quality.)

Even if U.S. intelligence had not known of the death camps, well, it does now. But the White House is silent on the matter. It was war for Iraq, which had -- relatively speaking -- been keeping to itself, and diplomacy for North Korea, which has been jumping up and down waving loaded pistols in the air.

It’s possible the death camp story, if it’s not debunked, will get bigger play, putting pressure on the White House to more aggressively take on North Korea. But don’t count on there being another war.

Those are reserved for the Middle East, for countries that really don’t have weapons of mass destruction.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


Astoundingly, the Janet Jackson breast-baring story just got more stupid.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Setting aside the notion that the proposed Bush administration budget has a level of deception beyond the obvious level of deception -- for instance, the absence of spending in Afghanistan and Iraq -- there’s only one possible motivation for this abomination: Bush desperately wants out of office.

If true, and if it works, it would fulfill my prediction that Bush 43 is merely trying to copy his father in every respect: become president; conduct war in Iraq; lose re-election over economy.

Monday, February 02, 2004


The United States is in a kerfuffle over Janet Jackson’s breast, which was exposed during the Super Bowl’s halftime show yesterday. There is widespread debate over whether the exposure was intentional.

This is embarrassing. It’s everywhere -- from a close-up image on the Drudge Report to a full-page report in The New York Times, of all things -- and threatens to overshadow news of President Bush’s decision to appoint an Iraq-intelligence panel, rumors of a North Korean death camp and even the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl win itself.

What happened to this country? How can an entire nation be thrown into a panic over a half-second glimpse of part of a breast? (Key line in the Boston Herald, on page three, no less: “The camera cut away, but not before stunned audiences glimpsed Jackson’s aureole only partly obscured by a large, star-shaped nipple ring.” No report on how many audience members keeled over from shock and had to be carted out before the next quarter.)

I watched “The Bad News Bears” recently and was stunned myself to find kids smoking with adults and, after the championship game, having a celebratory beer with adults. So European, somehow, and so far away. Such a scene would be unimaginable today, although the kids who grew up in the 1970s mid that decadence are now helping run the world, which seems more conservative than could then have been imagined.

Keep your breast to yourself, Janet Jackson! Any more nudity and we could easily lapse into fascism.

Sunday, February 01, 2004