Monday, January 31, 2005


The trick of watching “House of Flying Daggers” is to remember that it’s porn: You’d better be there for the action, the color, the choreography, the sound design, because there’s sure as hell no point being there for the story.

American audiences go into it with expectations of another “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which provoked rapture arriving here in 2001, becoming the first foreign film to earn more than $100 million in the states and setting a record, with its 10, for most foreign-film Oscar nominations. The fight sequences were astonishing to Americans, who’d never seen anything like them outside of the science fiction ghetto of such films as “The Matrix,” especially legitimized by a complex, emotionally resounding story of love and honor.

And then there’s “House of Flying Daggers.”

After opening with written exposition, a la “Star Wars,” the movie treats the viewer to a few minutes of spoken exposition between two of the main characters, a la “Something Written by a Seventh-Grader.” Moments after announcing he’s never been to the brothel that recently opened in town, Jin shows up there and asks for “the new girl.” That new girl, Mei, is blind, although she’s the worst blind girl ever, since she looks directly at Jin several times while dancing for him.

The movie never quite recovers. We go on to see Mei run full-tilt through a forest, fleeing charging horsemen, without hitting a tree, long before it’s revealed to us that she’s not blind — merely posing as the blind daughter of the old leader of the rebel House of Flying Daggers just in case the emperor ever sends his agents looking for her. And he does, but only because a double-agent who’s really part of the House of Flying Daggers, and wants the House to stay hidden, nonsensically comes up with the idea.

This is the same agent who, during the awful first minutes of the film, boasts of finding and killing the old leader of the House, although at the end of the film we find out he wasn’t involved at all. How could he have found and killed the old leader, since he’s a Flying Dagger adherent? Yet, if he wasn’t involved, why would he have been given the new assignment? It makes about as much sense as the mission being discovered by a general who also wants to kill the new leader of the HFD, but who commands his soldiers to kill Jin and Mei upon sight, even though they’re supposed to lead the soldiers to the rebel leader. Why kill Jin? Because the general doesn’t know he’s undercover to trick Mei. But why would the general know to follow Jin and Mei yet not know Jin is undercover?

Who cares, right? Amid all this contradictory plotting and clumsy dialogue (“I like to flirt with girls!”) are smashing fight scenes, acrobatic and virtually pyrotechnic, intended to thrill us with their skill, vividness and imagination. It almost works, if only because it’s nice to settle into a seat and watch something that isn’t supposed to work as anything but spectacle, but the filmmakers are clearly trying for more, and the gap between intention and execution is pathetic. Watchers cannot be expected to be emotionally invested in a fight’s outcome when their minds are trying to make a synaptic leap justifying a story irreconcilable on almost every other level. Eventually it becomes pointless, and the cinematography, costuming and action become the only aspects of the movie still functioning.

In short, action becomes all, just as in a porn film, and the story is revealed as a flimsy device meant only to lead to more action, just as in a porn film. The ethereal, ponderous music may as well be a classic 1970s bau-chicka-bau-bau.

It isn’t unreasonable to expect more, since there’s a working example for rent, not to mention thriving in U.S. memory: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” itself. But that movie is rumored to have bored Chinese audiences, for whom its action sequences were derivative and dull — an authentic and legitimate reaction. The lie came when “House of Flying Daggers” hit the United States, where critics’ intellectual capacities shut down when confronted with a bad foreign film. This landed the film in art houses, in front of betrayed audiences who could only snicker in disbelief before sitting dazed through the end credits.

If “House” were the product of Hollywood, it would have been instantly rejected and sentenced to the movie-rental shelves where action scenes trump bad writing and leaden acting: the nerd section, kicking it with the collected works of Jean-Claude Van Damme; or the porn section, cozy with the collected works of Jenna Jameson.


Friday, January 28, 2005


Wow! Infinite cats, courtesy of Carl.

Wow! Dick Cheney’s stunningly offensive. Enlarge the photo to get an even better sense.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Hooray! Work finished yesterday on the escalator at the Porter Square T stop! The maintenance work — which is supposed to keep stuff running, but in this case had the opposite effect — lasted 23 days, or 15 more than intended. It was an epic repair job! Songs will be sung of it. Paintings painted.

And of course there will be a sequel.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Okay. Now I’m confused.

A senior American counterterrorism official, as The New York Times identified him yesterday, has this to say:

Stopping [terrorist] recruitment for Iraq where they may do harm to U.S. troops is our highest priority.

What happened to President Bush’s assertion on Sept. 23, 2004, that:

If we stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere — in America and other free nations.

Or, as U.S. Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told CNN’s “Late Edition” in July 2003:

This is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity ... But this is exactly where we want to fight them. ... This will prevent the American people from having to go through their attacks back in the United States.

This was the so-called “flypaper” theory defined, another after-the-fact attempt to justify our invasion, occupation and failure to pacify Iraq.

I have yet to hear an explanation of how preventing terrorists from reaching Iraq squares with keeping it the “central front” in the war on terrorism.

I thought we had those heathen devils right where we wanted them! Hell, I thought we were shipping them in.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Being a supporter of the underdog, I don’t do Blockbuster, so it took a while to look up at the rental chain’s Porter Square Galleria site to gawk in disbelief at the awful signs advertising its changes.

“The end of late fees,” the signs say. “The start of more.”

Um, what?

Blockbuster is claiming it is offering more services even as it ends the odious late fee, but this conclusion can only be reached after rejecting the more obvious conclusion: As one late fee ends, more late fees are beginning. (Or more of other kinds of fees. These would include, really, forcibly “being sold” the videotape or digital videodisc returned more than a week late — the replacement for a late fee! — or, within 30 days, returning it for store credit minus a “restocking fee.”)

The brilliant, trademarked “end/start” slogan was apparently done by the Doner ad agency, of Michigan, which did better with “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” and “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

By all rights, this should be the end of Blockbuster’s relationship with the agency. And the start of another.

Does that need clarifying?

Monday, January 24, 2005


William Safire’s last columns appear in The New York Times today. The Times becomes a slightly better newspaper tomorrow.

To mark the occasion, the Times has turned over its entire Op-Ed page to Safire, who’s rendered the space useless by writing four pieces to fill it. “We were eager to do whatever we could to mark the moment,” said page editor Gail Collins to Editor & Publisher. “It was a neat thing.”


I do not like Safire because he has a habit of pushing opinions based on information he knows is discredited — notably the story about a 9/11 hijacker meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent. This served as a foundation for arguing an Iraq-Al Qaeda link and supporting the invasion and occupation of the country. Safire may be the last person on Earth who believes this meeting took place. But he wrote about it frequently in the hopes of finding, well, creating, another.

I can’t give many further examples; I stopped reading Safire long ago, because every time I did I found his work suspect to the point of worthlessness, like taking directions from someone who keeps telling you the Earth is flat. Many people have made the same argument about Safire’s suspect nature, and I provide some links here, starting with Salon noting that he wants to be remembered for his skills as a reporter. The online magazine asks, “Why?”

Here’s one that describes how deception by Safire, a speechwriter for President Nixon who should have known better, turned someone away from conservatism with a lie about Nixon being harassed by hippies.

And here’s a couple of nice annotations of Safire columns that lay bare his usual techniques of audacious evasion and semantic cherry picking.

How disappointing that the Times let Safire run on for so long this way. It would be nice to think the paper will choose a far better replacement conservative, but, based on the its recent addition of David Brooks, that’s hoping for too much. Brooks himself is merely a more subtle Safire, a “fifth columnist” in that at least four-fifths of any given column will be reasonable, rational and sympathetic, but the lurking remainder betrays the rest, making it meaningless.

It’s unclear if that’s an improvement.

Friday, January 21, 2005


One of the three long escalators at the Porter Square T stop is out of service. An apologetic sign on the work barricade specifies that work begins Jan. 7 and ends Jan. 11, a promise possible because the contractor, Kone, is performing maintenance, not repairs.

But this promise was merely poor prophecy. The escalator is still not working 10 days later, turning a tidy if leisurely five-day pause into a somewhat epic 15-days-and-counting freefall into paralysis.

Such work is done by at least two people, one out of sight in the bowels at the base of the escalator, one kneeling on the platform, peering into the blackness. Is this maintenance, done by choice, or repairs, necessitated by a breakdown? Maintenance, the watcher replies, seeming pretty harried for someone watching another person work. But it’s 10 days past the finish date. It’s taking longer than planned, she replies, a comment so unnecessary it approaches being meaningless.

The second worker pokes his head up, looking slightly more legitimately harried. Is this maintenance or repairs? Maintenance, the worker replies. But it’s 10 days past the finish date. The needed part didn’t arrive on time, he replies, leaving one to ponder an act of maintenance — a voluntary act to keep something in good working order — that is started, and cannot be completed, without a replacement part. It sounds very unlike maintenance at all.

But surely Kone knows what it’s doing. After all, it’s been fixing Porter Square’s escalators for a long time.

A very, very long time.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Check out Dig today! That is, check out the former Weekly Dig.

Adoption by Metrocorp, owner of Boston Magazine, has freed — or prodded — the paper’s design team, Tak Toyoshima and Kat Topaz, into an improved look with expanded features on more pages and better paper. It has several good, clever ideas (including the contents finder running top to bottom on every right-hand page) and manages to just avoid revealing that there’s one too many fonts making the scene. Which, come to think of it, means there probably isn’t.

The name itself is newly minimalist, obviously. There’s white space galore. The design retreats from bleary-eyed retro into chunky, stripped-down elegance, from loopy rounded edges into comfortingly solid squares. But what’s interesting about this redesign is that it simultaneously cleans things up and complicates them to the point of constant squint and shifty eye. It rewards close looks in something of an alt-weekly version of the elaborate cartoon work of Chris Ware (with the qualifier that peering intensely at Ware’s tiny panels is more likely to reveal something worth looking at, while Dig might just show you that “I love chambord, and purple is my favorite color, and I like to get drunk; but I need drinks that are sugarcoated”).

The editor’s comment that the new layout “doesn’t cause blindness” isn’t quite true; but going blind from tiny type, articles buried among listings and sideways copy is better than going blind from glaring ugliness. What ugliness, though?

The comment itself is yet another example of the Dig’s disappointing penchant for saying things whose drama and provocativeness can’t disguise their pointlessness. There was nothing really wrong with Toyoshima’s previous design, and it seems odd to gratuitously bash it. Especially since he’s still on staff.

The redesign is another encouraging sign for Boston media, which improves in fits and starts and — disappointingly — from the bottom up. The Improper Bostonian was an embarrassment when it began and now exudes prestige intriguing for a free publication. Barstool Sports was appalling but has grown dramatically in its short life, even if it discovered that the trick was giant photos of hot babes instead of regular reports on the travails of small businesses (meaning itself), or even anything having to do with sports. Even the Boston Phoenix is experimenting with sensible page flow and improved design, and the Phoenix is truly the weekly whose pages contribute to blindness.

The biggest problem is at the biggest papers, with the real embarrassment being at The Boston Globe, which touted its 2000 redesign as expensive and extensive but failed to notice that it was amateurish and awful — one of the extraordinarily rare occasions that a redesign made a newspaper uglier. Even after retreating from some of its sillier elements, including horizontal rules made of tiny vertical rules, the Globe still can’t manage to make its use of white space consistent. Or line things up. And this is the era of desktop publishing.

Dig spent less time and money and came up with something far better.

Check it out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


One of my birthday gifts was “America (the Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction,” the mock textbook by “The Daily Show” and Jon Stewart, and it’s a good gift — one of those humor books for which you laugh aloud even when other people aren’t in the room. And, just like the show, it is full of instructive irony and, occasionally, enjoyably instructive straightforward truth.

The passage below is the introduction to the chapter on the media, and shows the writers’ usual impressive ability to say what’s needed with stunning pungency through subversive pleasure.

The media: Democracy’s guardian angel

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy. It serves to inform the voting public on matters relevant to its well-being. Why they’ve stopped doing that is a mystery. I mean, 300 camera crews outside a courthouse to see what Kobe Bryant is wearing when the judge sets his hearing date, while false information used to send our country to war goes unchecked? What the fuck happened? These spineless cowards in the press have finally gone too far. They have violated a trust. “Was the president successful in convincingly the country?” Who gives a shit? Why not tell us if what he said was
true? And the excuses. My God, the excuses! “Hey, we just give the people what they want.” “What can we do, this administration is secretive.” “But the last season of Friends really is news.” The unmitigated gall of these weak-willed ... You’re supposed to be helping us, you indecent piles of shit! I ... fuck it. Just fuck it ...

On the next page, the chapter starts over — with an editor’s note apologizing for the meltdown.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Governmental language is a puzzle, and the picture is of a gray, damp fog, so every piece looks alike, whether it be lie, misstatement, truth or slip of the tongue. (A lie may be the truth; a slip of the tongue may be a truth; but a slip of the tongue may be a lie; a misstatement may be a slip of the tongue, or a lie. But it may be true.) The pieces are poorly cut, too, and seem to fit together even when it’s not intended.

Social Security being in crisis is a White House lie. But when Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush, talked Sunday about privatization being needed to solve the crisis, his careful language — at least what’s quoted in yesterday’s New York Times — avoids overt lies.

One quote in particular compels attention, which is Bartlett saying that “personal accounts are a part of the solution to the problem, to help give people a greater sense of return.”

He does not say personal accounts are the sole solution, or even a solution at all — just part of one. Nor does he specify what “the problem” is. Being a Republican, Bartlett may feel that “the problem” is Social Security itself.

Bartlett also does not say privatization provides greater financial return than Social Security benefits, only that they will — read this again carefully, savoring and assessing every word — “help give people a greater sense of return.”

There are many ways to do this, just as there are many ways to make people feel better about themselves, even if there’s no reason they should.

One of those ways is to lie.

Bartlett’s is a lie too carefully phrased to be a misstatement or a slip of the tongue, but so carefully phrased that it is probably the truth, and a truth that should help give people a greater sense of unease. If that’s puzzling, move on to the next puzzle piece. And the next. When the gray, damp fog appears, you know you’re done.

Monday, January 17, 2005


The 5 p.m. news — I’m told it was WHDH-TV Channel 7 — had a story about the attempted abduction of a girl by a man who tried to ply her with alcohol.

The way her friend described it on camera, the two girls, ages unknown because I was busy looking through an office book sale while the news played, were walking down the street when they were stopped by a man sitting in his car. The man had rolled down his window, shaken hands with the girls and said hello, then asked one of the girls, apparently in her mid to late teens, if she would join him for a drink that night.

The girl said no, and the two went on their way. The police are looking for the man, who was described as being very tan and having bulging eyes.

It was scary, the spokesgirl said. “It could happen to anybody.”

Indeed, terrifying. All the more so because it could happen to anybody. Lord only knows what would have resulted if the girl hadn’t had the wits to tell the man “No.”

Of course, there may have been elements of this story I missed, but they were also missed somehow by the newsroom editorial assistant whose job it was to watch the news and take notes. She was doing both things, but she, too, kept waiting to hear the newsworthy part of the story.

Perhaps sensing this was not their finest moment, WHDH employees did not bother to post the story on the station’s Web site.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Here’s a new one for the list of inexplicable behaviors: shining laser pointers into the cockpits of aircraft.

It’s unclear why anyone would do such a thing, except desperation to find any use for the pointers at all, but it’s surprisingly common. U.S. transportation secretary Norman Mineta said yesterday that there have been 31 reports nationwide of this mischief, aimed at planes taking off or landing, since Dec. 23. (Apparently the keeping of records started Dec. 23, as no other reason for the start date presents itself)

While puzzling over what kind of personality finds it interesting to shine a distracting beam of light into the cockpit of a moving 747 carrying hundreds of people, consider the next-most recent behavior on the list: dirty driving, also called drive-by porn.

It’s when people drive around screening porn on their DVD players. The New York Times wrote about it Oct. 27, noting that last year Tennessee became the first state with a “vehicular obscenity” law. It says that “To avoid distracting other drivers and reduce the likelihood of accidents arising from lack of concentration, no obscene and patently offensive material, motion picture, film, movie, videotape, DVD or other pictorial representation shall be exhibited on a television, monitor or other viewing screen visible to other drivers.” Louisiana followed.

The law was needed because dirty driving “is becoming a growing problem,” Tennessee state Sen. Mark Norris said, “as ridiculous as it seems.”

It’s an odd problem, too, considering that of the estimated 400,000 DVD players installed in vehicles last year, very few can be seen from a driver’s seat. (Andre Gainey, 35, the New York man charged in February with screening “Chocolate Foam” while driving, had a screen set into his passenger-side sun visor — a custom job.) So it’s not typically a matter of driving around watching porn and accidentally revealing it to others, but of driving around showing porn to others.

It’s a plus that most drivers aren’t getting distracted by watching porn on the road. If the owners of laser pointers can resist shining them into the windows of dirty drivers, perhaps they’ll get home in one piece.


Gainey, unlisted, couldn’t be contacted for comment last night. But found a police spokesman to pass on Gainey’s explanation for his dirty driving, which is “that he uses porn to attract women. He told the detectives that he pulls up in front of bodegas and uses the movie as a conversation piece.”


Right decision, Jennifer Lopez, wrong reason.

The actress and pop star said Jan. 2 that she no longer wants to be called “J.Lo,” the nickname she foisted on the world in late 2000 alongside then-boyfriend Sean Combs, who similarly wanted to changed his name to “P. Diddy” from “Puff Daddy.”

Now, according to the World Entertainment News Network, Lopez is sick of the nickname and calling it “just a bit of fun that got out of hand,” even stressing to the world that J.Lo “is not a real person.” Her next album is called “Rebirth,” but was once to be “Call Me Jennifer,” both her way “of saying goodbye to the whole J.Lo thing.”

The problem was in taking on the name in the first place. It’s okay for bands to take on a group name, especially for ones such as the Polyphonic Spree, which has more than two dozen members, but a bit cheesy for a single performer who’s already a star. Nicknames evolve. They’re not to be requested. (Mariah Carey wants to be called Mimi, but she claims friends and family really call her that.)

Many nicknames aren’t even wanted. Mel Torme is said to have disliked being referred to as “The Velvet Fog,” and Bruce Springsteen supposedly resists being “The Boss.” But of self-selected names, only Prince is memorable for abandonment. The unpronounceable glyph he took on, causing many to instead call him The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, was intended to be an irritant to the record company he felt was screwing him, and when the contract ended, so did the name.

Combs hasn’t taken back P. Diddy. Christina Aguilera hasn’t taken back Xtina, the little-used name she gave her, um, dark side.

But Lopez should be congratulated for taking the step, even though it was obviously a reaction to a year’s worth of public relations nightmare that damned her as imperious, grasping and awful. Gossip said she was so keen on the trappings of wealth and celebrity that Ben Affleck found their life together distasteful, leading to the end of their romance. She was ratted out as a bitch and a diva, resulting in diminished interest from consumers. Her movies performed badly — remember “Gigli”? — and critics said she did, too, causing her to announce a retreat from Hollywood. (Whether the announcement means anything is a separate issue.)

She should have ditched “J.Lo” because it was stupid. Adults do not run around changing their name every few years and demand that others play along.

This becomes more obvious in looking at, of all things, the 26-house fire set Dec. 6 in Maryland’s Charles County. The investigation goes on, but police have arrested several men in their early 20s who call themselves The Unseen Cavaliers (after the car), hang around at the local fast-food joint — but at a distance, in a kind of we’re-here-but-we’re-not-with-you pose — or listen to heavy metal and play video games.

As part of this gaming and faux gang world, these shiftless, low-income lost boys call themselves such names as CrashCourse, CrashBlade, WebPhantom and demonreaperchild. These are boastful names of violence, sharpness, mystery and danger adopted by guys who, to their credit, are accused of one of the biggest arsons in history, but generally are the sort who hang out in front of minimarts and sort change to pay for giant Mountain Dews.

The dull reality of unmet ambitions makes the fantasy world of nicknames reasonable, just as it’s good for children to exercise rich imaginations. But for a beautiful movie star and singer with annual earning power in the millions and a life of privilege and acclaim ... well, “J.Lo” was a little silly and sad.

Lopez is better off without it, if only as an example to others.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Homeland security chief Tom Ridge tried to tell The New York Times yesterday that there’s not much data on whether terrorists plan to attack President Bush’s inauguration.

What he said, though, was open to interpretation:

“This is the most visible manifestation of our democracy, so there’s very little intelligence, but we’re as vigilant as ever.”

Very little intelligence, right.

And vigilant as ever? Starting when?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


The link to 3Jake is gone, at the blogger’s request. Her site fell victim to unwanted attention — an interesting side effect of a process that makes the private public and sets even the most unlikely of people on the path to attention-getting. While there are private blogs for communication between small groups, blogs that are creative or even intended as diaries tend to be public and available for serendipitous discovery.

In her very first post at Vermillion Fishnets, some girl named Shawnie discusses how unhappy she is that the boy she met last night — at first she cannot remember his name — is spending the night, as this is always uncomfortable for her. Over at Tasty Trixie, which is for all those who “want to know about the life of a webcam girl, amateur internet porn slut, & phone sex chick,” visitors will learn that Callie the cat has been put to sleep (a picture of the cat, when alive, is provided, with Trixie sprawled next to it, half off a couch and more than half naked), but also that Trixie has “severe PMS.” With Waterbones, readers know the bonking schedule of the kids upstairs, that Waterbones isn’t bonking and sometimes that her heart is breaking ... and that it gets tricky when she knows multiple boyfriends, ex-boyfriends and her mother and theirs are all reading.

Increasingly, we are living our lives in public, no doubt partially inspired by the exposure we get into every facet of celebrities’ lives. We know who’s gay, who’s had plastic surgery, who needs it, who’s broken up, who shared a steamy elevator ride, who fought last weekend, and with reality television, we are learning more of these things about pseudo-celebrities as well. With blogs, since no one’s asking, we reveal these things about ourselves. We’re celebrities, too. The more we reveal, the more attention we get. Even less personal blogs are about attention: Whether we’re being read, whether people liked it, whether people are commenting. We love attention.

But not from the wrong people. Each blog has a wrong reader, and knowing the wrong reader is out there, watching, has a chilling effect. Suddenly the most interesting things a blogger could write are the worst possible things to reveal.

The penultimate option becomes to write about things that are less interesting.

There’s a motivator.

The ultimate option, of course, is ending the blog, and ultimately that’s what 3Jake did. Unexpectedly, too, giving no one time to read a favorite post one last time. So I’m inviting 3Jake to send a guest posting here, every once in a while, if she’d like.

My wrong readers will be looking, but they won’t matter to her. And she still gets the attention.

Monday, January 10, 2005


The magnetic “Support our troops” ribbons on so many cars edge toward ridiculous from tedious as U.S. involvement in Iraq continues to bog down.

It’s always been tedious because it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn’t support the troops — hapless kids, many of them, trying to rise above lower-class origins by risking their lives following the orders of rich, safe people arguably responsible for their lower-class origins. Urging people via magnet to “Support our troops” has about as much point as urging them to “Appreciate democracy.” And it’s about as helpful as suggesting via bumper sticker that they “Visualize world peace.” For most, these are passive activities that end with the purchase of a magnet or bumper sticker.

The increasingly ridiculous aspect is that the ribbons are magnetic.

With our military “routinely talking about a major U.S. presence in Iraq that will last, at a minimum, into the next decade,” as Bob Herbert noted in The New York Times today, it would make more sense for anyone with such a ribbon to really commit. Those driving around with “Support our troops” on their cars shouldn’t be dilettantes. Either support the troops and get the message affixed permanently or just don’t bother.

The temporary nature of the ribbon is suspect because it suggests that the buyer’s support wavers: I supported the troops yesterday because things were going well; I don’t today because I’m in a bad mood; I supported the troops last weekend because the weather was good; I don’t now because I’m going to a wedding and need to show off the car.

Even more ridiculous is that after the U.S. military leaves Iraq — which some experts believe could come quite soon — its forces will still be somewhere, on some mission or another, probably at risk of death or maiming, loneliness and depression. Why would support for the troops ever wane? When would the need for the message ever end?

The worst thing is that pretty soon the ubiquitous ribbons will begin disappearing, fading as do all fads, just as American flags bought after 9/11 soon became dirty, unreplaced tatters. Supporting the troops shouldn’t be a fad. It shouldn’t be a magnet.

“Support President Bush,” on the other hand, would be a good idea for something that can be easily removed.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


Oops. Sorry. I took the day off.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Here’s a lawsuit that’s going nowhere:

Californian Thomas Slattery sued Apple Computer on Monday because songs he buys at its iTunes Music Store can be played only on an iPod digital music player. This means Apple, with 2 percent of the personal computer market vs. Microsoft’s 95 percent, is being accused of violating antitrust law because some guy wants to use iTunes, and none of its many competitors, but not the iPod, which has 87 percent of the market but also many competitors.

No one is forced to use iTunes, which does not have the cheapest, and probably not even the most, songs. The idea that Apple is violating the law by creating an astonishingly popular product is, on the face of it, absurd.

One may as well favor the Big Mac over other burgers and sue McDonald’s because its franchises are the only places one can be bought.

And yet this is not the only such lawsuit against Apple. A unit of Virgin made a similar complaint in August because Apple wouldn’t allow it to sell music in Apple’s unique format.

Odd. When Apple wouldn’t share its Macintosh operating system and its accompanying technologies, competitors and computer users weren’t suing over it. Competitors were competing, and users were voting with their wallets.

A closed system is Apple’s choice, and Apple’s risk. Just as Macintosh was.

There’s always a chance, however, that a judge somewhere will agree there’s an antitrust problem in the iTunes/iPod symbiosis.

Perhaps a 2 percent chance.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


I love finding cool graffiti, funny signs and other spoor of intelligent or at least interesting life on Earth. Walking toward Central Square yesterday on Massachusetts Avenue, for instance, I spotted a chalkboard on the side of the People’s Republik bar with the following:

Today’s special

No, it really is

This gave me a good, cheap chuckle all the way to the T, and reminded me of an exchange — if it was an exchange — from one of the lacquered wood benches in the Harvard Square T stop. Early last month I sat to wait for the train and noticed this in dire black Sharpie, as thick with ink as it was with emotion:

Please release me from myself
I am a prisoner of my own mind
Cannot take this anymore
Must escape this endless void
Ridding myself of this existence

Oof. This melancholy hit me hard. Reflecting on these weighty thoughts, I saw another scrawl less than an inch away, just underneath, in a different, lighter hand, with spidery black ink:

For a good time call

If this was written after the poem, of course, it could have been to provide a laugh by way of contrast. Or perhaps the scribbler just decided that whoever read that poem needed a good time, if not a laugh. Or perhaps the two messages were written in total ignorance of each other. Whatever, it was an interesting juxtaposition, which is pretty much the most you can ask of an inanimate object.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


From yesterday’s New York Times profile of J. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Mr. Hastert’s political philosophy is firmly conservative; he favors smaller government, less regulation and lower taxes, opposes abortion and gay marriage.

And wants government to do something about them — such as regulate them.

Coming up next, presumably, are profiles of atheist priests, nymphomaniac celibates and vegetarian butchers.

Monday, January 03, 2005


McDonald’s is gone from Porter Square, to be replaced by a Qdoba Mexican Grill franchise, another nudge from the invisible hand that wants the area to become a mecca for Mexican food as well as Asian cuisine.

Qdoba falls into the “fast casual” food category, which means it’s slightly fancier than its putative competition in Porter, Anna’s Taqueria (right across the street in the Galleria) and Tacos Lupita (a fair stretch down Elm Street in Somerville). Some Qdoba locations can serve alcoholic beverages. It’s also more expensive; while the highest-priced items on Anna’s menu are “Mexican plates” of rice, meat or vegetables, beans, corn tortillas, salsa and hot sauce, Qdoba passes that easily with just the price of a basic quesadilla — meaning just cheese, pica de gallo and possibly unwanted sides of guacamole, sour cream and salsa. The difference: $3.95 for a “plate” at Anna’s, $5.39 for a quesadilla at Qdoba.

For a quesadilla-to-quesadilla comparison, Anna’s charges $2.95 for a steak quesadilla and Qdoba charges $6.79. A side of guacamole at Anna’s is 55 cents, while Qdoba charges $1.19.

Qdoba is competitive on tacos, though. It charges $1.79 for a grilled veggies taco, while Anna’s charges $2.05. A steak taco at Qdoba is $2.19, or $2.05 at Anna’s.

The differences implies there needn’t necessarily be war between the restaurants. The presence of Qdoba may thin out the crowds at Anna’s slightly — not a bad thing from a customer’s perspective — but mainly by removing the element who’ll shrug off the doubling of the cost of a quesadilla.

That Qdoba boasts of having “vegetarian” fare may also finally convince Anna’s to move on from boiling its rice in chicken broth, when vegetable broth would do just as well.

It may also help the McDonald’s crowd. Those who come hoping to find McDonald’s may wind up eating healthier. Or maybe at least having to walk to Davis for their Big Mac and french fries.