Friday, October 29, 2004


1. Michael Ovitz. The Hollywood power broker, explaining how he was ignored and mistreated when he became a Disney executive, says he was “cut out like a cancer.”

Here’s the complete quote:

I guess you could say I got pushed out the sixth-floor window. I was being left out of meetings. Nobody was talking to me. I was cut out like cancer. All of a sudden I found myself with no information. I didn't know what was going on.

The simile is wrong on so many levels that it’s difficult to address them all. It’s so wrong that I can only conclude that, when Ovitz arrived at Disney, company leader Michael Eisner suddenly realized the extent of Ovitz’ failure at language and immediately ordered everyone to be rude to him.

Anyway, there’s no one else on the list.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


The headlines on the Boston Herald today are astoundingly ominous, and it’s not apparent the tone is intended by either the police or newspaper.

Now, keep in mind that a 21-year-old college student was killed last week when police fired a pepper spray cartridge into a (literally) riotously happy crowd of Red Sox fans.

“Hooligans on notice,” the Herald front says. “COPS: DON’T MESS WITH US.”

Right. Because we’ll kill you.

The immense headline refers to a story inside, which itself bears the headline:

“Cops: Don’t even think about rioting.”


Because we’ll kill you.

Lest readers think I’m being insensitive to Boston’s finest, who must be all torn up inside over the death of a pretty young thing with her whole life ahead of her, check out what “one source” said for quoting in the Herald:

“We’re not going to stand back this time. Once they start acting up, we’re going to go in and take them out ... our response is going to be swift and sudden. Any bad behavior will simply not be tolerated.”

What kind of police force does Boston have that policy such as this is given at all — and then given anonymously instead of addressed directly by a named official? Yet other anonymous sources claim the officers responsible for Victoria Snelgrove’s death truly are distraught, even “devastated.” To any other police department, this could be the time to speak responsibly on the dangers of letting good cheer over a winning team get out of hand, or about the wisdom of dispersing when warned by police, because the consequences can be fatal.

But not in Boston. Here anonymous threats stand in for responsible policy-making. A woman is dead. And the youth have been warned.

Monday, October 25, 2004


The world is moving on from the Tora Bora miniscandal, if it even qualifies as one. I’m going to post these links to and from Talking Points Memo anyway, just to be a completist — and to reinforce the notion that I’m right sometimes, which is always a relief.

I said retired Gen. Tommy Franks’ defense of our failed attempts to grab Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora — echoed by others, such as Vice President Cheney — was nonsense. Talking Points memo, with its superior although unpaid staff of reader/researchers, revives for the record:

A December 2001 article from The Christian Science Monitor in which an Afghan alliance commander says they had evidence bin Laden was in Tora Bora but now “don’t know where he is.” What Kerry said in mid-2004 has been the accepted narrative for far more than two years.

A March 2002 Monitor article noting that bin Laden broadcast his plans to stick to Tora Bora and “teach [the Americans] a lesson, the same one we taught the Russians.”

A Washington Post story from April 2002 saying that the Bush administration itself ...

... has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

Here, here, here and here is some TPM analysis.

So there! Take that!

Friday, October 22, 2004


The effort by hard-line Catholics to get John Kerry excommunicated are very likely counterproductive; I know anecdotally many Catholics fall short of strict Vatican rulings on, for example, birth control. And the rationally religious must recognize it’s a short distance from excommunication for merely supporting the civil right of abortion to excommunication for, say, using a condom.

A no-excuses policy of excommunication of sinners for birth control alone would probably result in a catastrophic drop-off in adherents in Italy, let alone New Jersey. Even the churches in Vatican City might empty out. You needn’t look too far to notice that Italy’s birth rate is among the lowest in the European Union and the world — a little odd for a nation of Catholics, no?

On the other hand, self-righteousness is a powerful and tempting emotion, and it’s not unusual for people to make themselves feel superior or safe by damning others for their own sins. For all the self-righteous excommunicators among Catholic voters, it might be good to consider what you get by rejecting a sinner: George Bush the heretic!

Thursday, October 21, 2004


The company that owns Boston magazine is buying the Weekly Dig, a story about which the dailies will have more tomorrow.

The Herald, for instance, is told by Metrocorp Holdings Inc. — a name you can trust! — that buying the Dig can help the company reach readers age 21 to 35, called by its president, David H. Lipson, “a totally new space for us.”

That says a lot about Boston magazine. There’s nothing about a city magazine inherently scary to people age 21 to 35, especially in one of the smartest cities in the United States, so no real reason Boston shouldn’t be read by them. Buying a slightly obnoxious weekly paper to answer a need that shouldn’t exist sounds the wrong note, or at least suggests a degree of cluelessness.

That may make the two publications a good match, in a completely incompatible way. When Dig publisher and founder Jeff Lawrence complains about the “Lexus left” because “They live in Melrose and Concord now, and are liberal and drive a Lexus,” he sure as hell isn’t looking for the same audience as Boston magazine. But portraying the Dig as an “alternative to alternative weeklies,” bipartisan and fresh, goes a little far.

In truth, it’s more nasty than fresh, mistaking puerility for independence, and its content is a little thin to go bragging about its superiority to alternative weeklies — let’s just say the Phoenix, okay? — that have been around since 1966 and retain a circulation of about 100,000. (The Dig has 30,000.) The problem with this is that simply rhetorically downgrading the classic limousine liberals to driving their own Japanese import doesn’t really qualify as fresh thinking. There’s never been anything wrong with liberals being rich, and anyone who thinks there is should contemplate life today without the Kennedy family’s work. Or tell us what percentage of young liberals intend never to drive a nice car.

It’s just lazy thinking.

Lazy thinking seemingly endorsed by a purchase made by equally lazy thinkers who pander to the demographic loathed by the purchase.

This should be interesting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


I have been made redundant by those whippersnappers at the Harvard Crimson! Viewing with alarm the coming incursion of Sovereign Bank into Harvard Square, already thick with the stench of bank branches, I intended to alert the world, be hailed as a hero and get my blog responsibilities over with for the day.

But all I can do is link to the Crimson’s story. With gratitude, actually, for its efforts, comprehensiveness and overall competence.

I can also note some amusing minutiae about the Citizens branch, though, that the Crimson doesn’t.

Not only will the branch have “a staff of 11 bankers who are able to speak seven different languages,” a community room with a 40-person capacity and a wall advertising city facts and events, but — and I hope you’re sitting down for this — “plasma screens broadcasting Citizens’ special offers for customers”!

Let’s all bank there!

Or not. Banks, especially big ones such as Bank of America, are crazy for the business of businesses and tend to do their best for them on fees, while smaller accounts such as ours take the hit for increased expenditures. Leasing expensive space (with plasma screens) in Harvard Square hardly bodes well for small-customer bargains. Cambridge Savings Bank, which owns, is more or less exempt from this. (In fact, it’s a landlord in the square. To repeat one thing from the Crimson: The Citizens branch squats in some of the 100,000 square feet owned by Cambridge Savings Bank, because Abercrombie & Fitch passed the lease on without warning.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


China, according to United Press International, is denying it let Osama bin Laden in but plans to betray him and give him to the United States.

And a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry wouldn’t lie, would she?

For the conspiracy theorists out there, though, Dan Mahoney — whoever that is — has a Web site looking at the China-bin Laden connection in depth.

Here’s the original Misanthropicity link on the topic.


Retired Gen. Tommy Franks can’t think his way through an op-ed piece any better than he can bring Osama bin Laden to justice, although in this case those are the same things.

He writes today in The New York Times in an attempt to give a devastating reply to what U.S. Sen. John Kerry keeps saying: President Bush made “a colossal error of judgment” in focusing on Iraq instead of bin Laden. The accusation tars Franks also, since he was in charge of the military operation considered to have been our best shot at getting bin Laden since 9/11.

“He escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora. We had him surrounded. But we didn’t use American forces, the best-trained in the world, to go kill him. The president relied on Afghan warlords,” Kerry said in the first debate, and that reliance led to bin Laden’s escape. “He outsourced that job, too.”

Franks makes three main points to dispute Kerry’s “distortions of history” and prove Bush hasn’t taken his eye off the ball — the ball being terrorism. He distinguishes these three main points by labeling them “first,” “second” and, yes, “third.”

Look at points two and three and see if there’s anything odd:

Second, we did not “outsource” military action. We did rely heavily on Afghans because they knew Tora Bora, a mountainous, geographically difficult region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is where Afghan mujahedeen holed up for years, keeping alive their resistance to the Soviet Union. Killing and capturing Taliban and Qaeda fighters was best done by the Afghan fighters who already knew the caves and tunnels.

Third, the Afghans weren’t left to do the job alone. Special forces from the United States and several other countries were there, providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes. Pakistani troops also provided significant help — as many as 100,000 sealed the border and rounded up hundreds of Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Did everyone spot the clunker? Right: These are the same points. Franks says “We did rely heavily on Afghans” but that “Afghans weren’t left to do the job alone.”

This is like telling someone, “First, I don’t want you to go alone. Second, I want someone to go with you.”

Nice trick. But it pales in comparison with Franks’ first point in defense of Bush and the reliance on Afghans in trying to capture bin Laden. Read carefully.

We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.

Oh, retired Gen. Franks, if “we don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora,” how do we know he “was never within our grasp”?

Franks also fails to reply to Kerry’s assertion that the Afghans we “were there” with in Tora Bora had only weeks earlier been supporters of bin Laden and the Taliban, making them poor choices as allies — in fact, as guides on which we relied — in this crucial effort. Presumably this is because Franks can’t refute it, since he certainly shouldn’t be ignoring it: Kerry has made this charge as frequently as he’s made the one about our military outsourcing. Franks wraps up his defense on the Afghan front by insisting we had enough troops there to call it “a center of focus.” (This is wonderful language, something along the lines of Bush noting in his January State of the Union speech that “the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities” in Iraq.)

But enough troops, one wonders, for what? To let bin Laden go? To hand great portions of the country back to the warlords? To let Afghanistan again become the world’s top producer of opium?

Well done, Franks. It’s clear why we have the terrorists on the run ... and terrorist attacks on the rise.

Monday, October 18, 2004


Between the small art galleries attached to CVS, a couple of far-flung bookstores and a smattering of restaurants and interesting shops, Porter Square had some minimal tourist attraction. The opening of Porter Square Books, by virtue of its presence in the square itself, is a significant improvement.

It’s exciting to have it there, although it isn’t quite all there: The coffee, pastries and periodicals are to come, and many shelves are bare or barely inhabited. There are curiosities and counterintuitions in the stocking, as well, which could have various explanations. There are two of the four Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, but not the introductory “Eyre Affair.” Five of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels are here, but not “The Great Gatsby.” Michael Chabon’s “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is here, accompanied by his McSweeney’s anthology but not “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay.”

But the store falls into cliches, as well. Among all of Joseph Heller’s works, the only one warranting shelf space is “Catch-22.” The only work by Richard Adams is “Watership Down,” but there are two copies — different editions, both softcover.

On the positive side, I found the books I wanted, Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and the latest Elizabeth George softcover. The just-released National Geographic World Atlas is in stock already. This store’s buying philosophy may be the equivalent of Newbury Comics’, with a carefully thought-out (but more spare) assortment of works relying on rapid replacement instead of redundancy.

Or it may be more or less random.

If only the Nuggets used-music shop (once found across the bookstore’s parking lot) had lasted, the square would really have something. As it is, with the rug shop that replaced it shutting down, that space is open again and has the potential of becoming something fun, like a small billiards parlor — or something appallingly dull, like a real estate office.

No matter. It’s nice enough to have Porter Square Books in the neighborhood. And so cleverly named, too.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


Osama bin Laden is in China and about to be captured and handed over to the Bush administration, according to last Sunday’s El Mundo, the daily tabloid based in Spain’s capital.

Reader beware, as a bombshell such as this, if true, would likely be getting more attention worldwide. Still, El Mundo isn’t some rabid rag, but a respected newspaper with 287,000 readers that BBC News calls “arguably the most independent-minded of the big Madrid dailies.” It’s only been around since 1989 and is already second in circulation in the country.

But finding El Mundo’s scoop took some good detective work; what a friend has passed on to me here has not become big news outside its pages, as is obvious from this Google news search.

El Mundo’s article is in Spanish, of course. Here’s the translation provided me:

Bin Laden Is In China

So confirms Gordon Thomas, a journalist with contacts in major intelligence services. The terrorist might have reached an agreement with China, which is now negotiating his return with President Bush. It’s his great electoral trick.


During the final stretch of the U.S. elections, Osama bin Laden could become the ace up President Bush’s sleeve. At this very moment, Washington is negotiating, in utmost secrecy, a deal with Beijing, the Chinese capital, to extract bin Laden from his sanctuary in the turbulent Muslim provinces of China, to the northwest of the country of the Great wall.

More than 5 million people, many of them fanatical followers of Osama, live in what is considered one of the most volatile regions on Earth. Thousands of them work for the crime syndicates that traffic in human beings or drugs to the west. Last summer, bin Laden finalized a treaty with the government in Beijing, in which the latter would guarantee safety for bin Laden, while he would guarantee the cessation of the guerilla war by Chinese Muslims against the Chinese government.

Over the years, tens of thousands of troops of the People’s Liberation Army have been sent to the region to crush the insurgents.

Ever since the arrival of the Saudi Arabian bin Laden, the region has been relatively tranquil, and the Muslims living there have been permitted to traffic in human beings and drugs.

But now bin Laden could find himself trapped in his hole if an extraordinary agreement between Beijing and Washington bears fruit. It would mean China would extradite to the U.S. the most sought-after terrorist in the world.

The capture of Osama bin Laden would virtually guarantee the re-election of George Bush Jr., and would confirm to the millions of undecided voters in the U.S. that the war on terrorism was justified after bin Laden authorized the attacks of Sept. 11 against New York and Washington.

“A new Bush administration would laud Beijing as its great new ally in the war on terrorism. China would benefit from status of most favored nation in all possible regards. Contracts worth billions of dollars would be approved on the fast track. The history of human rights violations in
China would be ignored,” confirmed a high-level Pentagon official. He added that only a handful of “very high-ranking members” of the Bush administration know of the plan to “catch bin Laden in exchange for special relations with China.” With almost total certainty, these would include the vice president, Dick Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Agreeing to speak of condition of anonymity, the official gave details of the plan to capture bin Laden as a means to keep Bush in the White House. He explained that this is not the first time an American administration has resorted to similar maneuvers during an election year.

Toward the end of the Jimmy Carter administration, an agreement was finalized between the then-future president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, and Iran whereby the American diplomats held in Tehran, the Iranian capital, would be freed the same day that Reagan took office.

According to Ari Ben-Menashe, former national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, “they paid enormous sums of money to the Iranian ayatollahs.” Ben-Menashe confirms that he himself was a key player in the negotiations that would later be known as Reagan’s October Surprise.


Theresa, the wife of senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, has dedicated herself to finding out if another October Surprise is forthcoming. Two weeks ago, she surprised her husband’s political advisors by declaring in public, “I wouldn't be surprised if, before the elections, Bush captures bin Laden.” Since then, Mrs. Kerry has refused to comment on her explosive statement. But within the intelligence community rumors circulate that she and her husband were advised that any statements about an agreement that includes the capture of bin Laden would compromise the national security of the U.S.

And Washington analyst Al Santoli, national security adviser to California Republican [Congressman] Dana Rohrabacher, and editor of the respected bulletin The China Monitor, confirmed that an October Surprise, “would not surprise me in the least.”

In what has been his first confirmed sighting in many months, the refuge of bin Laden has been found by an NSA satellite, one of many the super-secret U.S. agency uses to search for him. His hiding place is found near a lake close to the border between China and Pakistan.

On the other side of the Zaskar Mountains, where the snowy peaks dominate the surroundings of bin Laden’s sanctuary, one finds a detachment of Pakistani and American special forces awaiting the order to capture bin Laden in his hideout and take him out on a flight to Pakistan.


During the last six months there have been repeated sightings of bin Laden in the mountains and wastelands of the northwest border. American intelligence agencies in the region believe that the Saudi millionaire, accompanied by an escort of 50 mujahedeen, traveled east towards
Kashmir and thence crossed into China.

The agents think that, previously, bin Laden met various times with high-level officials from Beijing. He convinced them that he was capable of obtaining peace in China’s Muslim provinces. “We are aware of these meetings,” I was assured by Mansur Ahmed, chief of police in Bandipor, in the northern part of Kashmir, “but they took place in Chinese territory.”

Accompanying bin Laden was Ayan al-Zawahiri, his principle adviser and personal doctor (bin Laden suffers from a serious kidney problem). Al-Zawahiri is a surgeon trained in Cairo, accused of terrorism in Egypt and sentenced to death. After bin Laden, he is the next most sought-after
man on Earth.

White House sources have refused to comment. “If the negotiations fail, that’s not the best time for the president to be publicly implicated in taking part in the negotiations,” said one source.

It’s thought that the possibility of an agreement came up at the beginning of this year after Donald Rumsfeld met with high-level members of the Chinese government during a visit to the Far East. Later, George Tenet, then director of the CIA, ordered a study on the viability of an operation to capture bin Laden. Tenet was informed that the only way it could work was with Chinese assistance.

“How far this collaboration will go in the weeks remaining until the election will depend in large part on how much Bush can win China’s trust that he will maintain his promises to them,” said the Pentagon official.

Writer Gordon Thomas is an expert in intelligence and the author of books about the CIA and the Mossad.

Friday, October 15, 2004


Not a customer of Citizens Bank? Just have a question you want to ask a public relations officer? Then don’t call them.

No, really. Although there must be some kind of science to the modern voice mail system, Citizens Bank seems to be employing evil scientists in the pursuit of evil science. To confirm this hypothesis, try this experiment:

Call the bank at (800) 922-9999.

“Thank you for calling Citizens Bank. Not your typical bank. For existing account information, press one. To transfer funds, press two. For added services, press three. To speak with a customer service specialist at any time, press zero.”

A customer service specialist, that sounds keen!

“To speak with the most appropriate specialist, press one for checking or money market accounts, press two for savings, press three for check orders.”

Well, no, that’s not right. Because we’re not customers yet. Call back.

“Thank you for calling Citizens Bank. Not your typical bank. For existing account information, press one. To transfer funds, press two. For added services, press three. To speak with a customer service specialist at any time, press zero.”

Uh ... added services, I guess.

“To activate or replace a Citizens ATM or debit card, press one. To apply for a new account or loan, press two. For current rates, press three. To end this call, press eight. To speak with a customer service specialist at any time, press zero.”

A customer service specialist? No. Don’t fall for that again.

The closest you can get to a correct answer is “two.” It wins you a conversation with a clueless long-distance teller who doesn’t even know what a public relations officer is.


Thursday, October 14, 2004


I must brag: On The Boston Globe’s arts section front yesterday, albeit at the bottom of the page, was excellent play for the artwork of my cousin, Nina Levy, now at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln.

Here’s the text of the article, which ran with two photos, one of each piece Nina has showing. The Globe didn’t post the photos that ran with the story, though, so I will. One is called “Big Baby,” the other “Headlong.”


I’ve limped to another conclusion on what was to be my explosive, boffo wrap-up to my previous post. Yes, scads of high school students chose to write in that they want an “iPod” in place of the generic “digital music player,” quite possibly indicating not just any digital music player will do, and that people really want specifically and only iPods.

But it may also have been used in the same way people reach for a Kleenex that is really a CVS facial tissue, Xerox something on a Canon copy machine and throw a dead body in a Dumpster that was really made by ... um, some competitor of Dumpster.

If this is true, the confusion could still work to Apple’s advantage. For all we know, it may already be, prompting comments such as, “But I wanted the kind of iPod made by Sony!”

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Anyone starting a business inevitably has to define the niche of a new product, or at least explain why it will succeed where others failed, or where others are already succeeding. Don’t tell this to makers of digital music players, who keep finding the money to roll out generic products in feeble competition with Apple’s market-leading iPod and iPod Mini.

This week sees the rollout of the Virgin Player. Its main distinction is that it has the Virgin name on it. So do music stores, an airline and a cola, though, and none of these are anything more than interesting also-rans.

Nike and Philips announced a player this week, too, but it at least has a “performance monitor” for athletes that sets it apart. And a strobe light!

Last week it was the Rocbox, which is being marketed as sleek and shiny in black chrome, getting attention mainly because of the street cred of the man behind it: Damon Dash, the Roc-A-Fella empire builder, who plans to make it a vital hip-hop fashion accessory.

There are already a couple dozen of these music players available to what calls “an increasingly confused public,” and every one released since the iPods took over has been touted as the device that’ll send Apple's players the way of the Mac G4 Cube. There’s nothing wrong with taking a gamble and defying the conventional wisdom, but it defies logic, too, to think that adding three players to a crowded market is going to thin it out somehow. While the names Nike, Virgin and Roc command some attention, and corporate synergies work in their favor, here are some reality checks:

Virgin already has four players for sale, including a stylish round “wearable” unveiled in July. When’s the last time you saw one? Has this Virgin Pulse become synonymous with mp3 players? Sure — just as Virgin’s cola has replaced Coke and Pepsi.

Sony thought its brand would rule the market, too, and it tried to stay in control by specifying which music formats its players would accept. In September, the company went crawling to the mp3 well, expanding its acceptable formats and, essentially, admitting defeat. Apple limits the formats it takes but is bending the world to its will, adding Windows users to its iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store world.

The iPod has 82 percent of the U.S. market for digital music players, despite all the competition. The news today is that Apple’s fourth-quarter profit nearly doubled from last year, with iPods accounting for nearly a quarter of the company’s revenue. Apple’s sales rose 37 percent, with iPod sales jumping by a factor of five.

The iPod name has also, unlike the Virgin Pulse, become synonymous with its product. In a survey of high school students, the financial adviser Piper Jaffray found that 16 percent already had an iPod, 24 percent planned to get one in the next year and that the players were the fourth-most-desired holiday gift. What’s important here is that “iPod” wasn’t an answer that could be chosen; the students all took the initiative to write in “iPod.”

It’s a fragmented, confusing music-player market out there, requiring a lot of research, unless consumers jump immediately to the “iPod” category. Consumers don’t want to be confused, and they don’t want to do research. They want an iPod.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


This is an odd country, so it’s very possible, if not likely, President Bush will keep the White House for another four years. This is largely because this is a faith-based presidency, and people of faith have a keen interest in proving their mettle by keeping faith despite any and all evidence to the contrary.

So do your worst! Torture Bush voters, show them hard data, show them irrefutable evidence, remind them of the record, ask them pertinent questions! They won’t back down!

Perhaps current events as filtered through the cartoons of Pat Oliphant and Tom Toles can help, but don’t count on it.

Monday, October 11, 2004


I’ve a friend who’s convinced that President Bush brought up the Dred Scott decision in the most recent presidential debate with U.S. Sen. John Kerry as a wink to antiabortion conservatives. I’m not so sure.

Dred Scott vs. Sanford was the 1857 U.S. Supreme Court case in which Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for a 7-2 majority, said blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic.” While it was true all were created equal, Taney found it “too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.”

I don’t see a wink. I can’t draw a devious connection to abortion. Bush brought up Dred Scott to explain what kind of Supreme Court justice he wouldn’t appoint:

I wouldn’t pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn’t be said in a school because it had the words “under God” in it. I think that’s an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That’s a personal opinion. That’s not what the Constitution says.

I also think he meant it as straight-on pandering to black voters. If there’s a wink, it’s to opponents of gay marriage, who feel court decisions in favor have been made by “activist judges.”

Another friend rewards Bush’s Dred Scott comment with a slow, sarcastic clap of scorn. The president boasting that he wouldn’t appoint a Taney to the high court is akin to bragging that he wouldn’t make Earl Butz head of Housing and Urban Development.

The reference may have been clumsy, but, judging from the deer-in-the-headlights look he’s adopted for his face-offs with Kerry, we should credit President Bush for even remembering to hit his talking points. What’s more likely to be mistaken for panicked presidential babbling is Bush’s gratuitous references to the International Criminal Court.

He’s made one in each debate, and it was strangest the first time around. It came in response to Kerry saying:

You don’t help yourself with other nations when you turn away from the global warming treaty, for instance, or when you refuse to deal at length with the United Nations. You have to earn that respect. And I think we have a lot of earning back to do.

To which Bush replied:

My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one thing I didn’t sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion — the difference of opinions. And that is, I wouldn’t join the International Criminal Court. It’s a body based in the Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial. And I wouldn’t join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn’t a popular move. But it’s the right move not to join a foreign court that could — where our people could be prosecuted. My opponent is for joining the International Criminal Court. I just think trying to be popular, kind of, in the global sense, if it’s not in our best interest makes no sense. I’m interested in working with our nations and do a lot of it. But I’m not going to make decisions that I think are wrong for America.

In the second debate, the reference made a bit more sense, since it came in response to a question about easing tension with our longtime allies. He used it in the context that “sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they’re right.” He’s sorry for nothing. He’s not budging.

The references are less weird if taken as an easy way for Bush to dodge questions about global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, take a poke at Kerry over his supposed willingness to bow to international pressure and show that a Republican-led United States will continue to stand up to one-world government.

It’s for all the isolated weirdos who actually fear that the United Nations — despite all evidence it’s an incompetent, all-talk body standing by despite death and misery in (a short list) Sudan, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — controls the entire world, overseeing innocent Americans with high-tech surveillance and black helicopters.

It’s easy to quip that black-helicopter fanatics aren’t the ones watching debates on television, but that’s hard to argue when they’ve such a healthy presence on the Internet. Bush brings up the ICC as a wink to them and their soft-core undecided equivalents, just as politicians slip in biblical phrases to slyly reassure the religious.

But Dred Scott and abortion? I don’t see it.

Friday, October 08, 2004


Amazingly, The Cambridge Chronicle has picked up Paul McMorrow’s piece from the Weekly Dig bashing Ben Affleck. There is no connection between the two papers that I know of, which means the editor of the Chronicle was either desperate for material, sympathetic to the content or coming to the end of the fiscal year and must spend, spend, spend.

The article, “This man must be stopped,” appears on the front page of the Chronicle, labeled as commentary. This is odd. Commentary rarely appears on the front page of newspapers, including the Chronicle. But that’s just the start.

It is also odd, for instance, to see the Dig’s hipper-than-thouness, which blasts Affleck for talking as though he’s from Cambridge even though he’s been gone a while (and, oh yes, wasn’t born here), transplanted into the Chronicle, which ... well, let me put it this way: Taking up the entire top half of its “Cantabrigia” section this week is a picture of friendly, smiling nerds, three-sevenths of them in purple shirts, smiling and holding musical instruments such as French horns and violins. This is the Radius Ensemble. They play chamber music. They provided this picture. Go see them.

So snarky Affleck-sucks-because-he-used-the-word-“enervate”-wrong-and-he’s-popular pieces seems a little odd here, especially for publication in an issue being distributed around town free. Presumably the Chronicle expects this bold, antiestablishment statement against a city booster to endear it to the cool kids who read stuff such as the Dig instead of stuff such as the Chronicle. And this would work, presumably, because they like Cambridge and don’t want someone as uncool as Affleck to like it, too.

I wish the Chronicle luck on its mission to win hearts by rabidly attacking someone who loves its city. Unfortunately, about those cool people who don’t read the Chronicle? They’re almost certain to not be from Cambridge. So it’s a little alienating to see the Chronicle crucifying Affleck for his love of the place by banishing him with: “Affleck is not a Cantabrigian. He is an ex-Cantabrigian ... Bankruptcy only stays with an individual for eight years; why, 13 years after he mercifully left Cambridge, must this stain remain on our record?” I love Cambridge, and I’m not from here. Is something wrong with me? Must I stop loving Cambridge if I leave to move back to California?

I know a lot of people think it’s cool to bash celebrities, even or especially if they seem like normal, pleasant down-to-earth people. But I don’t. As someone who loves Cambridge as Affleck does, thanks for the free issue, Cambridge Chronicle. I guess I’ll be seeing you the next time you send a free issue.

Although if I want to see what you’re publishing next month, I guess I can always pick up the current copy of the Weekly Dig.

NOTE: When I called the Radius Ensemble “nerds,” it was an observation, not criticism. They generally look like people I would enjoy knowing. I would sleep with at least three of them. But smiling, talented people in bright shirts toting musical instruments should be used to being assessed as nerds.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


President Bush is back at it, reselling the Iraq war to eager, uninformed Americans, and with this latest iteration of his arguments, again ridiculing the “flip-flops” of Democratic presidential John Kerry on the matter, it’s really getting obnoxious.

Here’s Bush’s latest, post-debate, line of thinking on Kerry, courtesy of today’s The New York Times:

Last week in our debate, he once again came down firmly on every side of the Iraq war. He stated that Saddam Hussein was a threat and that America had no business removing that threat. Senator Kerry said our soldiers and marines are not fighting for a mistake — but also called the liberation of Iraq a “colossal error.” He said we need to do more to train Iraqis, but he also said we shouldn’t be sending so much money over there. He said he wants to hold a summit meeting, so he can invite other countries to join what he calls “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

To answer, Kerry should be explaining his reasoning and votes, and the consistency behind them, in a way Bush’s red states understand. He should be saying:

I voted to authorize force in Iraq if necessary, not for war. This is similar to, when you think there’s a deadly threat, handing your son a gun so he can defend himself. Anyone who responsibly handles a gun knows that doesn’t mean you go out shooting unless there’s a real threat. Using force responsibly means you use it only if you have to. As we have learned yet again, from a report today from our own arms inspector in Iraq, our sanctions there were working and Saddam Hussein was not a deadly threat — just what Iraqi defectors were telling us, and just what the United Nations weapons inspectors were telling us.

Now that we’re there, we cannot leave, though. We must succeed there for the sake of world peace. And the rest of the world knows that, which is why we can reasonably invite them to join us there, helping us with people and funding. In addition to the profit motive that can draw nations to help in Iraq, this is something peace-loving and freedom-loving nations of the world do
all the time, all over the world, because they consider it their responsibility and something they must do for the greater good. With more nations of the world contributing, the training of Iraqis to keep peace should be much faster and less expensive for us, leaving more money for us to spend here at home. Many nations would already be in Iraq, had we not rejected their bids because they did not support us before, when we shot first and asked questions later.


Husam “Sam” Azzam must surely be Cambridge’s most loathed developer.

For a one-time building inspector, he has a remarkable amount of trouble on zoning issues. Having just settled a dispute in East Cambridge, he’s facing new regulatory hassles in Porter Square, both involving an insistence on putting a lot in a little space that could be commendable, but just winds up being questionable: If it’s not legal, this is one guy who should know better.

He was spared tear-down of his six units in East Cambridge by the city, which decreed that for creating too much square footage of housing, he must fill in some basement space.

Neighbors are reasonably upset, since the sanction doesn’t really speak to the problem. The punishment for foisting illegal construction on a neighborhood forever seems to be less closet space.

The 15 units of office space and condominiums Azzam is building in Porter — including a minitower with bold two-story strips of window facing Massachusetts Avenue, carefully overlaid on the remains of the Long Funeral Service — could be destroyed, but somehow, considering his last experience with City Hall, that seems unlikely. The project is at a virtual standstill, frozen not just in anticipation of a zoning board hearing a week from today, but by angry carpenters, who picketed yesterday to protest what they call inadequate wages and benefits by the construction company.

And here comes the cold, rain and snow that makes progress impossible.

Unfortunately, an abandoned construction site decaying under attack by the elements is not the ideal accompaniment for the St. James Episcopal Church across the street, a Richardson Romanesque built in 1888 that is one of the square’s rare attractive sights.

It should be nice that housing is going up in Cambridge. Azzam has a magic touch for making the nice seem awful.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


The Twinemen’s second album, “Sideshow,” is out. Don’t hesitate to pick it up, or to see them live, although Massachusetts has a while to wait until the band comes around again; the Cantab Lounge’s CD release party last Saturday was it until at least November, according to the schedule on the band’s revamped Web site.

Part of the pleasure of Twinemen is its lingering Morphine undertone. The band members may reasonably resent that, but Morphine was such an exciting part of living here — the knowledge that something so good, so original, so cool was born in Cambridge and having such impact — that the persistence can hardly be faulted. And Twinemen members hardly play it down, even continuing to play a song or two from its predecessor band at each show and describing their “Twilight” as a track that “recalls the softer side of Morphine.”

“Sideshow,” befitting its name as a collection of oddballs and flukes, also breaks down a bit toward the end, just as Morphine albums could.

Where Morphine’s beat sensibility led to experiments such as “Slow Numbers,” “The Jury” or “Free Love,” creating an intense, wandering feel that usually came home, settled down and snuggled in by the final track, the Twinemen album leaves tunefulness behind at the blaring “Saturday” and never quite makes it back. Four tracks later it ends with the slight, and slightly dissonant, “The Circle,” which at least serves the purpose of sending listeners back to the earlier, sublimely tuneful, portion of the album. See for yourself online, if you have Real Player with the proper audio components.

This is not to say that the album isn’t wonderful, but its wonders are more straightforward through the first seven tracks. And such things go over even better live, where even the oddest of Mark Sandman’s Morphine explorations seemed intriguing and avant-garde instead of irritating, as they could on CD. When Twinemen perform live, people get up and dance, as they did Saturday, or at least groove appreciatively and energetically. The band gets love and gives it back.

Saturday it also gave back Ses Carny, a “Human Freakshow” who hammered a nail, screwdriver and ice pick into his nose, pushed needles through his resistant flesh, picked up weights and swung them with his nipple rings and, surprisingly unimpressively, slipped hooks under his eyeballs and pulled on the connected chains. Hard.

This was obviously in keeping with the “Sideshow” nature of the album, but it also contributed to the night’s sense of surprise and experimentation — cool for a band that can be as sweet as the Twinemen, whose weirdness used to lurk in lyrics camouflaged by compelling but more innocent-sounding music.

Ses Carny won’t necessarily be back, but Twinemen will. See them. Until you can, the “Sideshow” CD is the next-best, weird but wonderful, thing.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


In time for the vice presidential debate tonight, some thoughts about last week’s lopsided confrontation between President Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry.


Bush’s campaign is doing some weak and unconvincing spinning, including continued attempts to paint Kerry as inconsistent that mainly address, as The New York Times puts it,

his promise that he would never “give a veto” to other countries when it comes to national security but also saying that major actions should not be conducted unless they pass “a global test.” [Nicole] Devenish, the campaign communications director, said: “John Kerry last night said he would subject national security decisions to a world standard, a world test. Nobody in America wants their president to subject America’s national security decisions to a world test.”

This is yet another Republican insult to the intelligence and fairness of the American people, and of course they’re more or less getting away with it. Unfortunately, sometimes insults are deserved.

Ignore that the word “veto” implies letting one vote kill action even if many other votes are in favor. What Kerry said in the Sept. 30 debate, which Republicans and Democrats are welcome to confirm from this Commission on Presidential Debates transcript, was:

I’ll never give a veto to any country over our security ... No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it ... you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you’re doing what you’re doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

If that qualified past-tense justification sounds anything like what the Republicans are trying to spin, well, go ahead and vote for George Bush on Nov. 2.


It’s not just campaign workers that engage in this. The Times’ less blatantly deceptive of its conservative columnists, David Brooks, wrote Saturday that Kerry “is unable to blend his specific proposals into guiding principles,” and “That’s why he’s been fuzzy about the big things over the entire course of his career. That’s why he has changed his mind on big issues with such astonishing rapidity. That’s why he gets twisted into pretzels, like vowing to continue fighting the Iraq war, which he says was a mistake to begin.”

Brooks passes himself off as a great thinker, but on the matter of Kerry being “fuzzy,” he is intellectually lazy or complicit in intellectual bullying. His key example of Kerry being twisted into pretzels is merely a key example of Kerry being a realist — disagreeing with a war but agreeing to see it through to the best possible conclusion because, in the words of Bush himself, “The best way to defeat [terrorism] is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive and, at the same time, spread liberty.”

Or, in Kerry’s own mature words from the debate, “I believe that when you know something’s going wrong, you make it right.”

Or, once again, from the debate, “Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule: If you break it, you fix it. Now, if you break it, you made a mistake. It’s the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you’ve got to fix it and do something with it.”

If that sounds like a pretzel, well go ahead and ... wait a minute. Didn’t Bush almost die choking on a pretzel?


Ah, President Bush. He is a shining example of style over substance (which makes his weak performance last week so odd), and one of the worst possible role models this nation could imagine for young people who pay attention. His demeanor at the debate, veering repeatedly into the tone of a man justifying his pay to a downsizing consultant or a little boy desperately needing a toilet, did surprisingly little damage to his poll numbers. This is why insulting the American public is sometimes deserved.

But did no one find it odd that in his several earnest and slightly cheap admonitions to Kerry not to insult the “brave,” Bush glossed over attacks made by his own friends and family on Kerry, who volunteered to command swift boats for four months in Vietnam knowing the service had a suicidally high rate of casualties? Bush doesn’t “appreciate it when a candidate for president denigrates the contributions of these brave soldiers,” although Kerry didn’t. And the Iraqi prime minister, “a brave, brave man,” shouldn’t have his credibility questioned, because “You can’t change the dynamics on the ground if you’ve criticized the brave leader of Iraq ... That’s no way to treat somebody who’s courageous and brave, that is trying to lead his country forward.”

Unlike Kerry, a decorated veteran who’s trying to lead his country where, exactly?

There has also been no criticism, let alone a cocked eyebrow, over Bush’s unseemly squirming over North Korea, where Kerry’s suggestion to talk directly about nuclear proliferation would, according to the president, “cause the six-party talks to evaporate.”

What happened to tough-guy Bush? The man who’s not going to give any nation a veto over American interests, the preemptive cowboy, the leader of the free world, the rejector of the International Criminal Court, the unsigner of the Kyoto Treaty, the steel tariff magnate, the flight suit mission-accomplisher, the guy who’s not going to sit around and let the United Nations slap another sanction on Saddam Hussein? He quails and runs for cover when real nuclear weapons are involved.

Here’s what Bush has to say on the matter, and if it sounds like the same man who talked so tough on Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, well, go find that man and vote for him:

We began a new dialogue with North Korea, one that included not only the United States, but now China. And China’s got a lot of influence over North Korea, some ways more than we do. As well, we included South Korea, Japan and Russia. So now there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just one.

And so if Kim Jong Il decides again to not honor an agreement, he’s not only doing injustice to America, he'd be doing injustice to China, as well. And I think this will work. It’s not going to work if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong Il. He wants to unravel the six-party talks, or the five-nation coalition that’s sending him a clear message.  The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind ... It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big mistake to do that.

We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves. And if you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think that'll work.

Monday, October 04, 2004


Another bizarre irritation at Au Bon Pain: Although the soups are acceptable, there is no way to carry them. They are blistering hot, demanding cover as well as bowl if you take them any farther than a few feet, and this bowl would have to make it from Tufts-New England Medical Center to the Boston Herald. But this peculiarly poorly managed franchise had only small bowls ... and only large covers.

Soup is a significant part of Au Bon Pain’s business, so it is odd, to say the least, that there would be such a problem. It seems basic to order necessary things when they are about to go lacking, but in this case two necessary things have gone lacking in an entirely complementary way, creating not twice the mystery, but a mystery squared.

I recall how in Middletown, Conn., once in the mid-1990s, locals were incredulous to find the Main Street ice cream shop lacking ice cream and the means to make it. The reason was revealed quickly when the place quickly shut down, bankrupt.

The lack of something vital, not to sound too obvious, was a sign of trouble.

What’s Au Bon Pain’s excuse? As a wholly owned subsidiary of Compass Group Plc., which has 412,574 employees in 90 countries and owns such chains as Burger King and TGI Friday, can it possibly be so troubled? In fact, it can be; its stock price fell 25 percent in a single day in early September and has struggled since. Bloomberg News said the company expects “costs and pressure on prices” to hold back its stock over the next two years.

So the bowl problem is merely a clever way to enhance revenue. I usually get a large soup and a bagel, for $4.91, but I happened to go for lunch during the site’s 4 to 6 p.m. half-price sale on baked good such as bagels, and I expected to pay about $4.50. Instead, faced with the impossibility of transporting soup, I bought a Fields & Feta Wrap for $5.24.

Spend it wisely, Compass Group Plc. Large bowls, I’d say. If there’s money left over, small covers.

Friday, October 01, 2004


I’m slow in getting to this, I guess, when I thought I was ahead of the curve. But bless the jobless, for they are prolific bloggers, and it looks as though Eric LeMay, at least for a while, will be among the most prolific. Visit his site and you’ll see what I mean.

My fear for Eric’s blog is that, as a record of a transitional period in his life — a phrase I got from a human resources manual, I think — it will devolve from cogent thoughts on a presidential debate to critiques of “Drew Carey” reruns and then, ultimately, to such insights as “Socks ... wearing out. Polyester content? What/why? Toe.”

While he’s still on the debates, though, it’s worth checking him out:

... Kerry didn’t have to say much because Bush was imploding on his own. Heavy shoulders leaning on the podium. Tapping the podium every time for emphasis. Teeth grinding like they worked for Mr. Flint in Bedrock. Thirsty. Thirsty again. Need another drink of water, he’s thirsty again. He was stressed out and frustrated.

There’s other good stuff as well, including a bit on the lives we live on our laptops while straddling work and home life. Check it out, and meet me back here Monday.