Wednesday, March 31, 2004


The Associated Press article I ran yesterday in lieu of putting any actual work into my blog may or may not have been garbled, depending on what operating system, Internet browser or form of political or economic theory readers are using. What was garbled to some readers, then, was my comment that the text was garbled.

Interesting word, “garbled.”

My latest way to avoid serious effort on the blog front, while still doing a good deed and paying lip service to posting daily, will be to add a link: 3jake gets the honor this time, a production of my friend, one Jake, a Northern Californian like the folks behind Radio Free Mike and Waterbones. Although she cannot be induced to use a spell-check program consistently, she is funny and insightful and worth reading ... every time she can rouse herself to post.

In fact, although it’s worth it to scroll down to find an item about the male equivalent of Valentine’s Day, I’ll start you off with a discussion of how much is enough when it comes to blogging. I’d delayed linking because I wasn’t sure what to call Jake’s blog or even if she intended to do it regularly. She trumped my concerns by asserting her right to call it whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and to post when she bloody well pleased. Anyone who makes unreliability such a virtue, well, attention must be paid.

(By the way, speaking of Northern California and specifically the San Francisco area, everyone going “Eh!” at the greeting card assortment at your local chain pharmacy or grocer should check out the assortment at The proprietor is in San Francisco, if that matters, and the cards are a lot of fun and quite cool, which certainly does matter.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Finally, some numbers on offshoring. This garbled text (sorry) comes from The Associated Press:

Outsourcing technology jobs strengthens U.S. economy, study says

AP Business Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Outsourcing white-collar jobs to low-wage countries
such as India and China has thrown some Americans out of work, but a new report
predicts that the trend will ultimately lower inflation, create jobs and boost
productivity in the United States.

The Information Technology Association of America, in a survey set for release
Tuesday, acknowledges that the migration of tech jobs to low-paid foreigners
has eliminated 104,000 American jobs so far, nearly 3 percent of the positions
in the U.S. tech industry.

Software engineers have been particularly hard hit. Researchers at Global
Insight Inc., which prepared the report for the ITAA, predicted that demand for
U.S. software engineers would shrink through 2008.

But ITAA leaders emphasized that outsourcing has damaged the job market far
less than the dot-com meltdown of early 2000, when Internet startups, telecom
companies and other companies eliminated as many as 268,000 positions.

“The myth is that we’ve started this long decline into the midnight of the
technology work force,” ITAA president Harris Miller said. “This report shows
that, assuming the recovery continues, the number of IT jobs will actually

Indian programmers earn roughly one-sixth the $60,000 U.S. average, and Chinese
engineers earn even less.

Outsourcing dramatically reduces labor costs, allowing companies to sell goods
ranging from software to tax-preparation services at lower costs or higher
profit margins. Greater profits theoretically allow companies to buy new
equipment, build laboratories and conduct scientific experiments — even in
expensive Silicon Valley and other U.S. tech hubs.

Savings from outsourcing allowed companies to create 90,000 new jobs in 2003,
with more than one in 10 of them in Silicon Valley or elsewhere in California,
researchers said. The report predicts that in 2008, outsourcing will create
317,000 jobs — 34,000 in California.

Companies spent $10 billion last year to outsource jobs ranging from medical
transcription to nanotechnology research. The ITAA predicted the companies
would spend $31 billion in 2008.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry introduced economic proposals
Friday that he said would reduce the sting for outsourced workers. More than
two dozen states are considering bans on outsourcing government contracts.
Such legislation would be “protectionist” and “unwise,” according to the ITAA,
whose 500 members include Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Corp. and

But Cynthia Kroll, senior regional economist at the University of California,
Berkeley, said policy makers can’t afford to ignore outsourcing.

“If R&D is coming out of India, will the next wave of growth bypass us
entirely?” Kroll asked. “We need to pay attention to what India and China and
these other countries are doing to get these new rounds of investment.”

Monday, March 29, 2004


It is bad enough that the U.S. military has closed its second newspaper in Iraq -- a dubious step in the quest to bring democracy to the Middle East.

But what was mentioned only briefly in The New York Times today, and is even worse, is that “under a law passed by the occupying authorities in June, a news media organization must be licensed, and that license can be revoked if the organization publishes or broadcasts material that incites violence or civil disorder or ‘advocates alterations to Iraq's borders by violent means.’ ”

Violence is, to be sure, bad, and all right-thinking people everywhere should smile upon this paternalistic, fascistic censoring of media if it keeps the Iraqis in line -- uh, safe. If only the British had done a better job in the 1700s, fewer of our boys would have died during that awful Revolutionary War.

“Civil disorder,” though, is a concept that invites less enthusiasm in suppression (as is the licensing of media, something that would not fly here). It encompasses everything from public protests to labor strikes and hardly seems the kind of thing the United States would clamp down on -- had its public relations efforts abroad not been so abysmal.

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, censorship is frequently, and in this case, the last refuge of the incompetent.

Sunday, March 28, 2004


Au Bon Pain has long been weak on ergonomics, leaving customers bumbling around their shops like rats in a maze -- but like rats in a maze who sometimes turn to each other and ask “Where are the trays?” -- and now have proven themselves weak on advertising skills.

These days, as everyone but the faux French know, subtlety in advertising is saved for bad news. Anything construed as good (“New look!” “Crunchier!” and, inexplicably, “All the sugar and twice the caffeine!”) is presented in all-caps in a jagged explosion of red. It’s the bad news that gets arrayed in modest type, shrunken and shunted away like an unloved child. They can stay in the room, but they can’t talk, and they have to clean up afterward. This is how it is with grudging admissions such as those found on Diet Coke: “Contains phenylalanines.”

This is why it’s funny when Au Bon Pains brag that their Peach Iced Tea and Home Style Lemonade “Contains Vitamin C.” The boast is in simple type beneath the names of the drinks, so it comes off as a warning -- something to watch out for. You can drink the Peach Iced Tea, you know, but you must face the consequences.

Saturday, March 27, 2004


Some man in Arizona intends to sue Richard Simmons for bitch-slapping him -- he made fun of Simmons’ exercise videos -- although the violence of such an encounter is obviously like the bite of a kitten after it’s been antagonized with playful wrestling.

My friend Mike was once told to “fuck off” by a drunken, disoriented Elliott Gould and didn’t go off crying about it, because it’s a badge of honor to share a moment with a celebrity that rises above, or sinks below, the usual “Love your work, can you sign this for my daughter?” moment. I rode on a plane with Jeff Goldblum once and would give just about anything to be able to boast that he’d maliciously tripped me as I lurched my way toward the restroom. In reality, because he was in first and I was in coach, I didn’t even know he was on the plane until after we’d landed.

It’s all part of our grotesque fascination with celebrities, which manifests itself in our increasing consumption of gossip and patience with celebrity profiles -- the ones in which no-names write themselves into the stories pretending they know what a star is like after hanging out with them for a few hours. They say or ask daring things to elicit an unplanned response, portraying themselves as heroes that dare to mock the gods. (“Naomi, clad in blue sweatpants and a Nascar T-shirt with a 2-inch blue stain near the neck, held her orange juice with her left hand. I made a comment about menstruation. She switched the glass to her other hand, smiled like a goddess and began stroking my thigh. The clock ticked.”)

We now have this model to follow when meeting a celebrity ourselves. So insulting Richard Simmons is a cheap thrill, and getting face-spanked by him is a gratifying response.

Suing is taking it too far. Go back to your ordinary, humble life, sir; your cameo is over.

Friday, March 26, 2004


There’s a bizarre disconnect between Donald Rumsfeld’s long-established goals for the U.S. military and what he told the commission investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rumsfeld, the Bush administration’s secretary of defense, boasted even before he was sworn into office that he intended to transform the military, in the words of The Washington Post, “from a heavy, industrial-age force designed in the Cold War to an agile, information-age force capable of defeating more elusive adversaries anywhere on the globe.” One reason that the United States went lighter on forces in Iraq than our generals wanted is that Rumsfeld wants more done with less and insists it be done faster and more efficiently. He told the military so early on, and has been consistent on the matter.

But earlier this week he testified to the commission that before 9/11 he resisted sending military forces into Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden because “it didn’t have a lot of targets ... Afghanistan was something like 8,000 miles from the United States ... You can pound the rubble in an Al Qaeda training camp 15 times and not do much damage; they can put tents right back up.”

This is exactly as Richard A. Clarke, the former antiterrorism expert for presidents Clinton and Bush, described Rumsfeld’s objections, and one would think it would be yet another topic on which a White House adviser would be evasive. But Rumsfeld walks right into the contradiction -- all credit to him for being honest.

Thursday, March 25, 2004


Microsoft Corp. has worked hard at earning all its troubles -- about all it’s worked hard at, it seems, but how nice that it’s paid off. The European Union is demanding the equivalent of $613 million for Microsoft’s monopolistic approach to business, and a class-action lawsuit in Minnesota is further bedeviling the software goliath.

The Minnesota case is bringing forward some interesting documents, including some showing that Microsoft essentially blackmailed Intel Corp. into dropping support for a company called Go Corp., which was focused on creating an operating system for personal digital assistants.

Hedging its bets, Microsoft began work on a similar system, called PenWindows, work that may have been eased by the fact that it had Go technical documents it shouldn’t have. In addition to what looks a lot like extortion and theft, the company committed a final insult, according to yesterday’s New York Times:

In late 1993, Go was sold to AT&T where it was ultimately merged into the company’s portable computer subsidiary. In 1994 the phone company shut down the effort in portable computing. Three months later Microsoft canceled its PenWindows project.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Among the stock phrases littering the conversation of Massachusetts -- including various uses of “all set” and the injunction to “Have a good one” -- the most troublesome is that question that is not a question: “How ya doin’?” or “How’s it goin’?” or “How are ya?”

In Massachusetts, these are used in passing, literally, to show the speaker truly cares about the other person, but not enough to stop and talk. Oddly, a simple greeting such as “Hello” creates more awkwardness than dismissive inquiries into another’s well-being because it’s generally too short to fill the time in which two people see each other, enter each other’s personal space and pass. “Hello” creates awkward silence, whereas by the time both parties have tossed out a “How ya doin’?” their back are to each other and they’re on to fresh challenges.

The implication is that if there’d just been more time, they could have shared much information and many pleasantries. Alas, there wasn’t enough time.

There are few people who’d be pleased if their question was taken seriously, and, indeed, anyone who does so is running the risk of being considered tedious or intrusive: “I asked how he was doing and the guy started telling me about his surgery and divorce, fer Chrissake.” Fortunately, few are that gauche.

The question-as-shield is so effective that I’ve consciously used it to escape conversations when I’m in a hurry, dazzling some unwitting victim blocking me from, say, getting to work. By the time they’ve formulated a response -- usually they’re “fine” -- I’m down the hallway, halfway to the stairs. But at least they know I cared enough to ask.

The downside is that when I’m asked how I am, it’s begun to make me bristle. If they really cared, I tell myself, they wouldn’t have asked. This became more acute when my Czech girlfriend acknowledged the phenomenon of the unquestion to the point that, in fact, when I ask her how she is, I usually have to stress that I’m actually interested in knowing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Denying the obvious shouldn’t be a successful political technique, but it works for the Bush administration.

The most recent example of the “What is this air you talk about? I see no air” tactic is in effect now with Richard A. Clarke, a terrorism expert who worked for presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. Clarke is under attack for claiming the Bush administration focused on Iraq instead of Al Qaeda -- a provocation that would seem to give the White House its choice of targets.

Other recent examples were the assaults on candidate for president John Kerry for daring to say Secretary of State Colin Powell had been been on the sidelines of some recent policy debates and -- although the wording and context are in some dispute -- that many foreign leaders would be pleased to get Bush out of office.

The media have been referring for years to Powell’s alienation from the Bush mainstream. He’s been portrayed as a moderate among fanatics, with a recurring result being his need to correct quotes. In other words, he speaks freely on day one, but by day two he’s rephrasing in a fashion closer to the White House staff party line.

As to the foreign-leader issue, well, it’s no secret that tensions with U.S. allies began early, with Bush rejecting involvement on issues such as global warming and an international criminal court, and rose during the leadup to the Iraq war. Starting with France and Germany, how many foreign leaders equal a lot?

It certainly undercuts the administration’s arguments when Spain elects a leader on the record as hoping that “First we win here, we change this government, and then the Americans will do it.”

The Bush administration, though, can always claim Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero never said that. Just because he said it on radio and it was widely reported doesn’t mean it happened.

Monday, March 22, 2004


Read closely as news coverage of the “offshoring” of U.S. jobs to lower-wage countries goes through the second stage, denial, after reaching a political climax in the first stage, alarm. Notice the denials are rich in generic economic wisdom and scant on details.

Alarm was easy. College-educated people losing jobs could cite Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research on the scope of the problem (one out of 10 tech jobs by the end of this year, Gartner says; at least 3.3 million white-collar jobs and $136 billion in wages by 2015, Forrester says), motivating politicians to speak out.

It’s not that the millions of lost blue-collar jobs weren’t alarming on their own. It’s just we’d been told laborers would be retrained to take tech jobs.

Denial began with tech-industry leaders gathering in early January to say retraining was still, somehow, the case, and the line stuck. By March 16, The New York Times said, Secretary of State Colin Powell was still reassuring Indian business leaders that the heat would come off them as “the Bush administration would work to train people for new jobs.”

Now all the world’s second-stage. The media are falling over themselves to be fair and balanced, meaning giving space to experts who want to say there’s no problem -- or at least that everything will, ultimately, be okay. The latest examples of this were in the Times yesterday and in the Boston Herald today, arguing offshoring will help the U.S. economy by creating jobs.

What you will never see in these second-stage articles: how many jobs will be created here; and for what kind of jobs Americans will be retrained.

This is because there are no such figures, or such retraining plans.

For instance, Herald reporter Jon Chesto quotes Amit Maheshwari, of Cambridge’s i-Vantage offshoring shop, as saying he “expects his firm, which is largely backed by an Indian steel and
construction company, to add jobs here to help manage the overseas work his firm does for future clients.” Chesto also points out that Maheshwari employs 10 people in the United States and 290 in India. Is this the kind of job creation we can expect from offshoring? It is unlikely many higher-paid managerial jobs will be created in the United States when the work being managed is in lower-paid India.

In the Times, outsourcer extraordinaire Azim Premji -- the lead in a piece called “Outsourcing giant fights back” -- gives the standard line about benefits to the United States: “Offshore outsourcing is another example of U.S. innovativeness to stay competitive by reducing costs and cycle times.” His example of how this is so is that “the United States financial services sector alone has saved $8 billion in the last four years by outsourcing to India.”

This is a disingenuous reply, because the answer is the question. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the sector also sent 10,787 jobs overseas in 2000 and, according to Forrester Research, will be sending 61,252 jobs overseas through next year. In 2015, the number of banking jobs lost is estimated to be 348,028. The satisfaction we can take in the billions of dollars being saved is tempered by the hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.

A good example of how job creation is supposed to work was published by the Times Feb. 15:

If an Indian software programmer is paid a tenth of an American’s salary, a company that develops software in India will save money and -- provided competitors do the same -- the price of its software will fall, productivity will rise, the technology will spread, and new jobs will be
created to adapt and improve it.

Take cellphones, which 20 years ago were luxury items with the size and weight of a brick. Today -- thanks to competition and inexpensive, globalized production -- they are cheap, ubiquitous, tiny and packed with a mind-boggling complement of ancillary functions. The industry and the number of jobs have only increased. Global outsourcing also played a big role in the information technology boom of the late 1990’s. Personal computers were imported from abroad. Chip companies shipped production overseas. But this outsourcing prompted the creation of new jobs here, on the higher end of the technological spectrum.

The problem? Moving jobs overseas creates middle classes where there were none, which provides further educations and produces business and technological infrastructures that decreases reliance on the United States. What worked in the 1990s won’t necessarily work now. In fact, note that the above examples are of production, meaning blue-collar jobs, while the complaints now are increasingly of lost white-collar jobs. Australia’s Sunday Age noted Feb. 29 that “The speed of the development of third-world telecommunication skills and the wounds it has caused to [information technology] industries elsewhere, have turned what was, only two or three years ago, a quaint oddity, into a major issue throughout the world.”

American workers would feel more secure if there were a color of collar to move up to, but there isn’t.

Instead, the media will probably move to the third stages of coverage for the topic, boredom and resignation, and the topic will disappear for a while. Then comes the fourth stage: death, and the media will have an opportunity to write searching obituaries on what went wrong.

Sunday, March 21, 2004


I have a problem with the “March Madness” basketball tourney, which is, of course, the name itself. Why is it such madness? It’s the furthest thing from anarchy. They have those brackets displaying the orderly weeding out of college basketball teams until one is named champion, and it’s not as though players are suddenly encouraged to foul each other (or themselves, in quite a different way).

It’s like those objectionable “Wacky Wednesdays” that big chain gas stations used to have, on which the price of a gallon of premium would be discounted five cents. What’s wacky about that?

Google finds 8,690 references to various wacky Wednesdays, including a project that “runs every Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and involves activities such as swimming, arts and crafts, outdoor games and bowling.” Elsewhere is a wacky Wednesday with “drawings for exciting prizes of merchandise and cash ... the prizes grew progressively more valuable. Early winners received televisions while the final three each Wednesday received a cash award of $5,000.”

Cash awards of $5,000? Color televisions? Bowling? Wacky!

There are fewer thrilling Thursdays, but not by many, and they include such events as “bowling morning,” “The Art of Fen Shui: Beyond the Basics” and “Parenting & Power Struggles.” Unaccountably thrilling!

Terrific Tuesdays, for some reason, top the Googling charts, with 23,300 references -- all too dull to mention. But terrificness is subjective.

Freakiness is subjective, as well, but the 12,500 freaky Fridays found in Google tend to strain the definition of “subjective,” much less “freaky.” They include bowling events that apparently edge over the line from wacky and thrilling to freaky by running every Friday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. (freaky!) and costing $5 per person (freaky!) and allowing for the free use of rental shoes (freaky!) but requiring three bowlers per lane (freakiest of all!) although management reserves the right to put six bowlers on a lane (beyond freaky!).

Alliteration. Can’t we move on?

Saturday, March 20, 2004


All charges against Capt. James J. Yee are bring dropped, The New York Times says today, in a case that “had become a lingering embarrassment for the Pentagon.”

Yee, who was the Muslim chaplain for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was arrested Sept. 10. The military’s case of espionage has fallen apart, and there seems little interest in pursuing Yee for pornography found on his laptop and the extramarital affair discovered by investigators. So the military will have done its best to wreck a man for no particular reason.

In the meantime, the Times notes, the prisoners in Cuba have been without a chaplain for more than six months. Again, for no particular reason.

Friday, March 19, 2004


Being terribly busy, I’m forced again to do something terribly lame -- but a good deed, nonetheless: link to Christina Lamb’s “The Return of the Taliban” from the New Statesmen, just as Brian at my.bicycle did today, on the off chance that someone may see the link here but not there.

Watch out for the pay requirements, which can take you from article to subscription form, which is less well written and far less informative.

Thursday, March 18, 2004


Joshua Micah Marshall’s blog, Talking Points Memo, is so incredibly and consistently good that I must expend today’s posting just to link to it, although the site is already one of the more linked to on the Web -- and I feel a little late to the party talking about it.

Read down a bit. Marshall has a keen eye, and he’s definitely on a roll. The blog’s so good that reading it almost makes me giddy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


I must take my break here at work to ask a question that’s been bothering me for weeks:

What’s so impressive about President Bush’s leadership in the war on terrorism?

Touting it is a key Bush campaign strategy, with today’s New York Times quoting Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, boasting:

The American people have etched in their minds the president’s leadership in a time of crisis. That’s something voters find comfort in going into an election. Whether it has to be emphasized or not, we’ve made clear that one of the most important issues is how the two candidates would conduct the war on terror and protect America. There’s a clear choice.

It’s not clear what steps Bush took or did not take before Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the United States and fight terrorism. But crediting Bush for fighting a war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, after intelligence sources fingered them as responsible, begs the question of how any other president would have acted. Does anyone seriously believe Al Qaeda and the Taliban would have gotten a pass from President Gore or, more to the point, President Kerry -- who talks about his Vietnam war heroics at the drop of a medal?

Al Qaeda is still around, even in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is said to control about a third of the country.

Bush has since created the Department of Homeland Security, but only after great resistance to what was, after all, a Democratic proposal.

He also took us into a war in Iraq, which has had a minimal role in exported terrorism and, based on a complete lack of evidence admitted even by Bush, no role in 9/11. There is evidence, however, that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has riled terrorists further, or at least that they are using it is a recruitment and rallying tool.

So much for the notion that U.S. efforts there will eventually create a democratic paradise and paradigm in the Middle East; it has become clear we could have achieved the same result through ongoing sanctions and political isolation.

It adds up to a record against terrorism that ranges from the obvious to the reluctant to the pointless.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


Czech correspondent Martina Roidlova noticed this message lurking in plain sight on our T cars:

“Your tax dollars pay to clean this vehicle. Please do your part by removing your belongings upon departure. Thank you!”

What’s funny here is that we’re being told our money cleans the T, yet the T also wants us to clean up after ourselves. So we’re really “doing our part” twice -- or three times, if you include the cost of riding and fare increases.

Perhaps the T could have advised us: “To avoid higher costs, please do your part by removing your belongings upon departure. Thank you!”

Monday, March 15, 2004


Our little weekly is growing up, and we’re all just so proud ...

The Weekly Dig is like a smaller, surlier Boston Phoenix. The main difference has been that the Phoenix continues to look like several pages worth of printer errors, whereas the Dig looks as though someone actually designed it -- sober.

But the current Dig issue breaks exciting ground by featuring Hollywood’s next hot-new-thing-until-the-next-one, Elisha Cuthbert, on the cover and in an interview inside.

This is nothing new for many publications. Cover space is traded for content all the time. It is notable, however, at an alternative weekly that only recently started having cover photos at all, or even covers that related at all to what was going on inside. In other words, what was once more like the New Yorker is now more like the kind of crap magazines and casually cynical backroom deals that alternative weeklies make fun of.

It’s possible, of course, that the Dig is actually not an alternative weekly -- although its own marketing positions it as a challenger to the Phoenix. Instead, the Dig may evolve into a kind of weekly styles publication, an Improper Bostonian, Stuff or Stuff@Night for the kind of people who read the Boston Phoenix but whose lifestyles are more about PBR then crantinis. Alterna-pluggers.

The Dig shouldn’t automatically be faulted for doing what it can to stay in business. But soon its readers will be able to shake their tattooed hands at it and say, “You changed, man. You changed.”

Sunday, March 14, 2004


More good news on the war against baldness, as a kind of stem cells indicate they “have the ability to generate hair when taken from one animal and put into another,” according to a scientist quoted today in an Associated Press article.

Perhaps if we stopped screwing around with curing diseases and such we might finally make some real progress on this problem.

Saturday, March 13, 2004


Capt. James J. Yee was front-page news in September when thought part of an espionage operation involving Qaeda members at Guantanamo Bay. Typically, he was a paragraph on page A19 of yesterday’s News York Times as the military weighs dropping all charges and “allowing him to leave the Army with an honorable discharge.”

This is all tentative, revealed because a copy of the proposed settlement was “inadvertently” sent to the media by one of Yee’s lawyers, The Associated Press says. But it’s still striking that after 76 days in military custody and months of effort to make something stick, military prosecutors are left trying to make something of “mishandling classified material, failing to obey an order, making a false official statement, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly downloading pornography on his government laptop,” as the news agency notes.

If the settlement is rejected, Yee could still be prosecuted for the adultery and pornography, facing such punishments as “duty restriction or a temporary pay cut.” The government, obviously, should drop all charges.

Media such as The New York Times, just as obviously, should return this story to page A1 if the settlement is accepted -- and perhaps run a sidebar describing what this hysterical lashing out has done to an innocent man’s life and marriage.

Friday, March 12, 2004


Cambridge, while not heaven on earth, can be intoxicating in its own little way. Part of feeling that way about where you live is feeling that where you live matters, somehow, and plays a role in shaping the world. In Cambridge, especially with Necco having moved to Revere, much of that comes from having Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology down the street. If it’s not enough that Alan Dershowitz lives here, well, this year the Hasty Pudding awards brought Sandra Bullock and Robert Downey Jr. here.

What also helps, and it’s the reason this comes up, is flipping through The New York Times’ Weekend section and noticing that “Spartan,” the new film by David Mamet -- who lives and works in Cambridge -- concerns spy Robert Scott, played by Val Kilmer and that “Late one night, Scott is summoned to Cambridge, Mass.” (There’s more to the plot, of course, but that’s a high point.)

This is, admittedly, no big deal, but only a few pages away, there’s a review of Craig Lucas’ new play, “Small Tragedy,” which is about “two exotic figures of monumental gravity in the midst of a fretful theater company in a rehearsal hall in Cambridge, Mass.”

Following the Radio Free Mike discussion of places worthy for fiction, it’s nice to see some ongoing votes for Cambridge. Even when failing to be the perfect place to live in reality, it can still be worth visiting in fantasy.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Why, it’s a South Bay kind of a week. In an odd bit of coincidence, there’s a story in today’s New York Times about those monstrous McMansions springing up in Manhattan Beach.

But it’s the namesake of my hometown the Times is writing about, meaning Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, not my hometown of Manhattan Beach, Calif., although it would be easy to mistake the two in this context.

“Two years ago, [Alex Puzaitzer] bought a run-down stucco house in Manhattan Beach, tore it down, and built himself a stately beige Mediterranean -- with a veranda, tall metal gates and terra cotta-colored roof tiles -- a house that reminded him of houses he had seen on visits to the Riviera,” the Times article says. “The new houses that Mr. Puzaitzer and other prospering immigrants have put up are at odds with their neighborhood's unassuming character -- bulkier, ritzier and sometimes considerably more flamboyant than surrounding houses.”

It goes on. And it’s be downright eerie, if it weren’t that exactly the same thing is going on throughout the United States.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


I must engage in the practice most loathed by blog critics: logrolling, in the sense of a mutual appreciation society, back to the Radio Free Mike and My.Bicycle sites.

The first has a terrific collection of excerpts of great writers on the topic of my hometowns and the setting for Radio Free Mike Moore’s novel, “Too Much of Nothing.” That’s California’s lower South Bay, meaning the beach communities (and those immediately inland) in Los Angeles County, not those in the San Francisco area. Vapid and unworthy of great literature? Judge for yourself; you may have to scroll down a bit.

Brian over at My.Bicycle is tremendously skilled at mining the Web for stories and pictures from the technology and fetish underworld, which can merge in Brian’s home, Japan, to often creepy and compelling effect. In this case, the link is to something a little more lighthearted -- a new Microsoft keyboard. Again, scroll down.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


I keep thinking about Spalding Gray, heartfelt banalities that actually lapse into the embarrassing: I want to see “Swimming to Cambodia” again, and maybe buy it, and I keep thinking of the horror and tragedy of his body drifting cold and alone in the East River for two months, and I think endlessly to myself, “What a waste, what a waste,” and I imagine him making that last phone call home, already on the way to his death, already dead in his own mind, and I fantasize that it is me talking him down from the bridge in Long Island during a prior suicide attempt, and that somehow I keep him safe.

But the ludicrously personal nature of my feelings about Gray are natural in that he spent much of his life telling me -- and undoubtedly millions of others -- things about himself he surely would only tell someone he trusted implicitly. Someone who wouldn’t tell anyone else. Very personal things.

This is why we pick up People magazine, and why we stalk celebrities, because it’s difficult to remember that the intimate connection celebrities create with us only go one way. I remember at Emerson College, also Gray’s college, seeing a fellow student in a play on Saturday and seeing them in the dining hall on Monday and having to remind myself that I couldn’t just go over and sit down with them to eat. I didn’t know them. I’d just sat in a room while they performed a scripted role, and that created the illusion of a connection.

I knew Gray, though, to the extent that I met him and shared a meal with him. Him and me. My one, true celebrity experience.

As a freshman working for the school newspaper, I went to the theater shortly before Gray was to perform “Monster in a Box,” I believe, and arrogantly asked for and miraculously got an interview with him. We went to get Chinese food around the corner at a restaurant where management crammed us in the back next to the kitchen and the clangs and clanks of pots and swinging doors. We smiled over it. At first I think it made him anxious, but I also remember his sly, aggrieved smile, a relief because I was underprepared and he seemed a bit serious.

I interviewed him as he ate -- I ate very little -- and at the end, tried to pay. He refused, pointing out that he surely made far more money than I did. I relented.

I don’t remember a single thing we spoke about. I don’t even remember where the tape of that interview is. I probably recorded over it immediately because I needed it for other interviews and this one was, after all, unintelligible over kitchen noise, in that frustrating way microcassette recorders have of capturing incidental noise better than the noise you want.

Gray got me in to his show that night, in the front row, where I could look up at him and watch the spit fly as he spoke with his classic reserved passion: that trick of holding everyone’s attention while sitting behind a desk talking for an hour and a half.

I would go on reading and watching and exalting Gray over the years, picking up a copy of his novel, “Endless Vacation” and rewatching “Swimming to Cambodia” and “The Paper” occasionally and contemplating going to New York to see him in “Our Town” and relishing, especially, when my parents would send me books of his latest monologues.

The last one was “Morning, Noon and Night,” a glorious ode to domesticity, a life in a day, like the early work of Nicholson Baker, but with all the action implied by being a husband, father, stepfather, nanny and chauffeur. Still acerbic and clever, but so warm and charming. Gray was, of all things, happy.

It promised a long life into gentle patriarchy, Gray the grandfather, Gray the great-grandfather, Gray the eminence grise. For everyone who’d been told by their friend of his mother’s suicide at 52 and his own terrors, “Morning, Noon and Night” meant knowing that everything would be okay.

But we didn’t really know that. We didn’t know Spalding Gray. We knew a lot about him, and not enough.

Monday, March 08, 2004


Spalding Gray’s body has been pulled from the East River in New York. He was 62.

Sunday, March 07, 2004


If the hiring of Mike Barnicle turns out to be true, perhaps it’s time for the Boston Herald to move on from the “If you want something sugarcoated, buy a doughnut” campaign (if it hasn’t already).

Among the reasons are hiring Virginia Buckingham as an editorial writer and columnist, despite her roles in state politics, the Massport disaster around 9/11 and her penchant for making leaps of logic previously only attempted by Don Feder; the increase in sleaze and celebrity news and decrease in story length; and the return of Wingo, of which publisher Pat Purcell, with candor and good humor, said he’d “be the first to admit this is a bad drug. Stick the Wingo needle in your arm and you’re hooked.”

If Barnicle comes aboard, with his reputation for repetitious melodrama and plagiarism, perhaps we should switch our advertising slogan to something new, but just as in-your-face. Something like “We don’t care what people think” or maybe “Go ahead: Laugh.”

Saturday, March 06, 2004


Before the topic -- and the link -- fades too far into the past, it’s worth making an addendum to an earlier post about the economic trap of “offshoring” jobs to countries where people will work more cheaply than in the United States.

As some may recall from a Jan. 8 post, U.S. industrial leaders say the nation has to keep up in “innovation and education” to battle the outsourcing trend. In other words, we need more math and science education.

But the Bill Gates tour of our Meccas of math and science reported March 1 showed that students are increasingly rejecting these fields because they doubt when they graduate they’ll have jobs. Back to you, industry.

Friday, March 05, 2004


There’s no competition. The most important story in The New York Times today is not the Iraqi constitution, U.S. job growth, a retrial for a 9/11 suspect or the president’s political ads. It’s not even in the news section. It’s waaaaaaaaaaaaay in the back of the generally worthless Escapes section.

It’s about Leigh Hyan, 16, of Yorba Linda, Calif., whose daddy gave her a 2004 Cadillac Escalade EXT for her birthday. The base price is $53,240, and it weighs 5,572 pounds (Leigh looks like she weighs about 90), but it’s really the thought that counts.

“Some people may think my dad spoils me,” Leigh says, “but he knows how happy it makes me to drive.”

Touching. What does Leigh get for graduation?

Thursday, March 04, 2004


Two reactions to the news that Ralph Nader is polling 6 percent:

No, no, no.

Then a more reasonable response, that it’s ridiculous to get too worried by a poll this early. Why, pay too much attention to the polls now and you’d believe President Bush will be voted out of office in November.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine seems excited to the point of irrational exuberance about a John Kerry presidency.

Bloomberg News is quoting Corzine -- a former bond trader and co-chairman of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- as saying that Kerry “is going to put our fiscal house in order. I think that will underlie improvement in the investment climate for the long run that I think will create wealth, not unlike what we had seen in the growth in the 1990s.”

It seems like a bad way to stump for a favored candidate. The decade, it’s generally agreed, was full of poor business models hurting vulnerable people because investment firms lied to make money. It was a decade of vulgar excess that, long term, led to a damaging lack of confidence in our economy.

Not to slam Kerry or Corzine; it’s just not an image to throw about recklessly, and it seems the only reason Corzine did so was to counter the enormous amount of good will, and money, flowing between Wall Street and President Bush.

“The president, who has raised more than $130.8 million for this year’s campaign, has broad financial support from the financial sector. Among his corps of 350 elite six-figure fund-raisers, one of every five comes from the financial sector, including several top Wall Street executives,” The New York Times said on Jan. 9, quoting a Center for Public Integrity report:

Mr. Bush has championed several initiatives that were applauded by the financial community, including cuts in dividend and capital gains taxes.

One subject the study focused on was Mr. Bush’s interest in introducing private investment accounts into the Social Security system. Many financial companies support the idea because the boom in investment accounts from any such change “could generate untold billions of dollars in annual fees and commissions for Wall Street firms,” the study said.

Kerry may consider Wall Street a lost cause, but he and his supporters may need to engage the voters on the topic. Just not by waxing nostalgic on the 1990s, eh?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


The media does silly things, including reporting things people say even when they’re not saying anything, so long as they’re, you know, special people. For instance, if Heidi Perlman, of Brighton, told an Associated Press reporter that she believed interest rates would eventually rise, chances are it wouldn’t be considered news in major metropolitan daily newspapers such as the Boston Herald.

But because Fed head Alan Greenspan says it, and The Associated Press reports it, well, there it is ... in tomorrow’s Herald, San Diego Union-Tribune and God knows how many other papers across the United States and world:

WASHINGTON -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Tuesday that extra-low short-term interest rates eventually will have to go up. He gave no clue when.

“The federal funds rate is accommodative ... but at some point, it will have to rise to a more neutral state,” Greenspan said as he fielded questions at an economic gathering in New York. He didn’t discuss the timing of any such move to raise rates.

Stop the presses! Interest rates will rise some day!

Monday, March 01, 2004


I rented “Stark Raving Mad” last weekend, largely because it’s chock full o’ Emersonians, and it’s fun to see their names offscreen and faces onscreen.

But it’s also a fun movie, worth the rental and certainly worth the release into theaters denied it by Newmarket and its other distributors. Several nations got to see it on the big screen; the United States got it straight to video and DVD. An insider -- meaning Marichelle Daywalt, wife of a co-writer/director -- gave me the whole story long ago, but the details were too esoteric and arbitrary to sink in. It may as well boil down to “Well, ‘Gigli’ got U.S. showings and ‘Stark Raving Mad’ didn’t.”

The movie is standard heist fare with a few twists, one being that Seann William Scott plays his role straight. As much as the movie plays with the genre conventions, though, including some great moments with Emersonian Paul Hungerford as a helpful Chinese-food delivery boy, enough comes standard that surprises are few and gentle. Probably the most sadly predictable moment accompanies the teenage sex kitten and the FBI agent played by Dave Foley. But why ruin the lack of surprise? has no information on what the writer-directors are doing next, which is unfortunate considering “Stark Raving Mad” was made more than a year ago. They’ve certainly proved they can handle a big movie with big stars and deliver a fast-paced, stylish and skillful 103 minutes of entertainment.

Go Lions!