Tuesday, May 31, 2005


On the topic of Postsecret:

I beat The New York Times by a day.

And if this seems defensive, well ... perhaps that’s one of my secrets. And perhaps that’s not such a secret. But, damnit, I beat the Times by a day either way.

Monday, May 30, 2005


I’m certainly not the first person to find Postsecret — it’s already been on National Public Radio and in USA Today and runs weekly in D.C.’s alternative City Paper, for instance — but perhaps it’s still new enough that passing it on performs some sort of nonredundant service.

Postsecret, a blog heroically masquerading as a Web site, is just what it sounds like: a secret, a new one each Sunday, put online in the form of a scanned-in postcard sent to an empathetic entity named Frank. The postings are artistically diverse and just as fascinating as can be expected, ranging from “I take extreme measures to poop in solitude” to a somewhat chilling World Trade Center image from 9/11, taken between the impact of the first and second planes, with a small red X just below the billowing smoke.

“He should have been at work that day,” it says in small, red writing. “I wish he had been.”

Friday, May 27, 2005


Boston magazine’s parent company, Metrocorp — also known, in a fit of conglomerate confusion, as Metro Corp. — is lavishing money and resources on the alternative newspaper Dig, also known as the Weekly Dig. The resultant advertising, including on the T’s red line, indicates there might be a little too much money being scooped up, with too little oversight.

For instance, the T ad playing up the “news” the Dig runs is a handsome piece, with the paper’s distinctive bright orange box perched at a sharp angle in front of Boston’s State House. The implication, of course, is that Dig is doing serious political coverage. You can take it seriously.

No news box is allowed there, though, so the image is actually a photo illustration: a Dig news box pasted atop another picture.

Look closely. The back of the box is planted firmly on the sidewalk. The shadow casts strongly to the right. But the front of the news box, which faces away from us, toward the State House, is floating bizarrely off the ground.

A faked ad photo is not news. But there’s something unavoidably untrustworthy when a faked photo is used to tout news — and it’s not even faked well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


The way to the dirty-plate bin at Anna’s Taqueria was blocked by four beefy alternatypes in earrings, spiky hair, denim and their thirties. Even if the physical barrier wasn’t there, I still would have been stopped dead by their conversation.

“I hear Limp Bizkit has a new album out,” one said, fiddling with the drink machine.

I winced.

“Sting’s coming out with one,” another said, depositing his plate.

I cringed.

“I hear they’re touring with Three Doors Down,” a third said, standing behind the rest, waiting.

I gaped.

“It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be huge,” one of them said mildly as they filed past me.

I stood helplessly for a moment trying to process what I’d heard, but nothing seemed to fit. There was no irony in these people, no satire. They were in appreciative earnest during their limp through the pantheon of music’s runner-ups and smug underachievers. I was certain the Vanilla Ice revival would be mentioned next, and that if I followed them I might overhear references to Styx, Poison and Ratt.

But I deposited my plate and went running for the other exit.


I meant to make note of this long ago, and perhaps it’s so late and obvious as to be a waste of a posting.

But I was struck that it’s the U.S. Air Force Academy being investigated for proselytizing and harassing its non-Christian students, charges just recently brought to public attention but detailed in a July 2004 report covering at least the previous two and a half years. That means the academy’s intense focus on religion would overlap at least some of the 150 allegations of sexual assault detailed in an investigation the year before.

Some may also remember the academy for its 1993 Tailhook convention, the first in its sex scandals. The drunken groping and assault resulted in 140 investigations of misconduct, disciplinary action against about 70 officers and a $5.2 million settlement for the woman who sparked the investigation with a lawsuit.

I’d love to sum up this hypocrisy with a quip or self-righteous flourish of rhetoric, but, frankly, words fail me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


It took a while, but I have finally finished Susan Jacoby’s “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” (Owl Books, 2004). It’s a little more of a survey than I’d hoped, secularism’s struggle through the ages rather than a full examination of its underpinnings from when the country was forming.

This is, I suppose, not so much a fault with the book as it is a disappointment of my own, but dealing with an era per chapter leads inevitably to glibness. In discussing Ethan Allen’s 1784 tract “Reason the Only Oracle of Man,” Jacoby sums up that

The link between political and religious freethought was not always so explicitly drawn, but it was always in the air. It should not therefore be surprising that, even before the end of the Revolutionary War, a radical new vision of absolute separatism of church and state was set forward by freethinkers as the logical outgrowth of political independence.

A “radical new vision” is given as simple evolution from a concept said to be “always in the air,” but without sourced support that the concept is so prevalent, the evolution could be taken as a quantum leap rather than evolution — and so it is with the entire book, in which everything rests on Revolutionary War underpinnings that get little more attention than any other period. I sought solid detail on the reasoning giving us our wall between church and state, but Jacoby is compelled to speed through so much, and leave so much out, that the wall seems to appear out of nowhere, already built, and although we know the foundations are there, we don’t get to examine them fully for solidity or skill.

Perhaps a better metaphor would be a cooking show where, to cram a lot into a short time, the chef’s demonstration whips through a recipe, barely giving viewers time to note the ingredients, then takes from the oven the final dish, cooked earlier to show what the final product should look like. Voila: Separation Souffle. Oh, darn, it fell.

Again, this is not really Jacoby’s fault — except perhaps the degree of glibness — in that “Freethinkers” really is a survey of the movement, if it can be called that, through the ages. The speed at which the book moves, if unhelpful in fighting those tearing down the wall, at least makes it readable and affirming that the tools for defense and reconstruction are out there somewhere.

She notes keenly, for instance, that President Bush’s post-9/11 speech in Washington’s National Cathedral, ecumenical as it was, was also an unnecessary ramping up of religiosity in what had been a time for all people to come together.

Bush’s very presence in the pulpit attested powerfully to the erosion of America’s secularist tradition; most of his predecessors would have regarded the choice of religious sanctuary for a major speech as a gross violation of the respect for separation of church and state constitutionally required of the nation’s chief executive. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not try to assuage the shock of Pearl Harbor by using an altar as the backdrop for his declaration of war, and Abraham Lincoln, who never belonged to a church, delivered the Gettysburg Address not from a sanctuary but on the field where so many soldiers had given “the last full measure of devotion.”

Monday, May 23, 2005


The Senate compromise over judicial filibusters is, frankly, sickening. It lets some of President Bush’s stalled nominees through to a full vote while preserving the filibuster for “extraordinary circumstances.”

Since Democratic senators have approved about 95 percent of Bush’s nominees for judgeships, it’s pretty clear that the few that were stalled were, by definition, extraordinary. Tonight’s compromise subsequently comes off as somewhat surreal — at best. At worst, it makes democrats look cynical and hypocritical, as this compromise has them tacitly agreeing there was nothing really all that bad about some of the nominees to which they’ve been so passionately opposed.

The only good that might come from this procedural farce is letting Republicans back away with some grace from the “nuclear option” ending filibusters. Having already backed off from ethics committee changes over Tom DeLay, they were probably reluctant to give Democrats another win.

If this is true, we’re likely to almost immediately be back to business as usual, with Bush sending panting ideologues toward the bench, Democrats blocking them via filibuster and the Republicans gnashing their teeth, speaking in tongues and vowing revenge.

Since the “extraordinary circumstances” language is so loose, though, it really serves as a test of intent. If Bush behaves true to form, the Democrats are sure to be filibustering very soon, and we’ll see if Republicans have learned a lesson. Or we’ll see Democrats holding back for a filibuster for the inevitable U. S. Supreme Court fights, which will give Republicans a win even by letting though Bush nominees for appeals courts that are already hard-line conservative.

Either way, this nuclear war — like any, which makes the GOP’s selection of the term odd — never should have gotten so far. Let’s hope history describes this incident as Republicans fingers quivering over the button and Democrats in the cross hairs ... bargaining for their lives, promising anything ... fingers crossed behind their backs.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Ah, Harvard.

We see your young tuxedoed and begowned, strolling the square in the evenings, attempting savoire faire but filled with exuberance, excitement, energy, off to exhibit class and breeding, off to become masters of the universe, off to make connections, eat well, dance stiffly, make out using the promise of power as the penultimate aphrodisiac.

The girls often are earnest and awkward, dressed up on their way to social justice; it’s particularly the boys exuding an endearing arrogance, an anticipatory air of position: some day a high-priced lawyer; powerful governor; world-changing entrepreneur.

The strippers of Lynn show us the teen under the trappings — or perhaps preoccupation with the inevitable Congressional confirmation hearings — through the work of Harvard Crimson writer April H.N. Lee.

Bambi stripped at Harvard once. The guys, not far from her age, were quiet, dressed in tuxedoes, their hands clasped on their knees. The whole thing seemed like an initiation, but this was a long time ago; she doesn’t remember where it happened. During the show, they were polite, she says, but apparently unremarkable. Beyond the tuxedoes, she doesn’t remember much about them.

It’s not the standard collegiate approach. At
[Boston University], the guys participate, playing along with dollar bills, whipped cream, and the rest. At Harvard, they sat in chairs. It was a little weird, but Bambi didn’t think much of it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


George Galloway, a member of Britain’s Parliament, spanked his Senate examiners pretty well a couple of days ago in an Iraq oil-scandal hearing. I’m not sure if he’s as innocent as he claims, but it was good theater and made an even better point: The United States should police itself better before going after possible scandals in Britain, France, Russia or anywhere else.

In terms of credibility the nation has become quite weak, and the oil-for-food hearings come off as a rather desperate attempt to keep justifying a war that can’t be justified, or possibly just to distract from its ongoing, revealing awfulness. Iraq may have been buying influence by giving oil rights to certain people, and Saddam Hussein and his Baathists may have been larding away kickbacks from those oil rights, but that doesn’t legitimize our invasion or occupation. It legitimizes hearings.

The weakness of our position, unfortunately, mostly because of the perception that we’re hypocrites, bullies and con men, delegitimizes them.

The oil-scandal hearings would be better off held internationally — at the United Nations, in other words, just as political bodies here investigate their own corruption through independent counsel and internal affairs offices.

If we’re going to be the world’s police officer, we shouldn’t be caught planting evidence.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


I’ve been asked my thoughts on the Newsweek Quran scandal.

I think it’s sad.

Sad that 17 people are dead, surely, but that may not have much to do with Newsweek reporting without justification that U.S. interrogators had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the deadly protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan were, in the assessment of the senior commander in Afghanistan, “not at all tied to the article in the magazine.”

No, the real sadness is that the White House and Pentagon, culpable in the death and torture of dozens if not hundreds at such places as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, get to blame Newsweek for the grisly culmination of years of abuse and bad public relations — as though a single sentence in the May 1 newsweekly would send Afghans and Pakistanis rampaging without priming by a long history of reports of similar outrages.

Just as sad is that it’s entirely plausible a Quran was flushed down a toilet to stress out a detainee, since, as The New York Times noted yesterday, former prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have long said guards did such things as “kick the Quran, throw it in the toilet and generally disrespect it.” And even an ex-interrogator has described how “mishandling of the [Quran] once led to a major hunger strike.”

The flushing of a Quran down a toilet is only implausible in that Islam’s sacred text is not without heft; it would take a very large toilet, or a lot of tearing, to get a copy into small enough pieces that it could be flushed away. The true abomination of the Newsweek incident is not this one incident, but the pattern of torture and abuse that made this incident believable. It was perceived to be the last straw, when actually it was the many, many straws before it that did the damage.

No matter. The White House is getting away with it — even calling the magazine’s retraction of its story “a good first step.”

The magazine’s next step should come right after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld takes his next step after accepting “full responsibility” for Abu Ghraib. In that case, “full responsibility” seemed limited to making the statement.

Newsweek was incorrect, but not wrong, in the sense that its reporting process wasn’t flawed. The magazine had a reliable source, if not confirmation, and the inflammatory story was vetted and approved by the Pentagon some 11 days before publication.

This is reminiscent of the memo scandal that brought down Dan Rather and his producers at CBS, which relied on faked memos holding information so accurate that the behavior described in them, and even their existence, wasn’t denied by those who would know best. Including President Bush.

Seventeen people are dead in riots over U.S. abuse of Muslim prisoners. That Newsweek’s story was incorrect, though, is merely convenient cover for an administration that actually abuses Muslim prisoners — abuse that is likely to have killed far more than 17 people.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The “Downing Street Memo” really is gaining traction. Paul Krugman, of The New York Times, acknowledged yesterday that “there has been notably little coverage” of it and provides a link to a Web site all about it; and Michael Getler, ombudsman for The Washington Post, said he was “amazed” his paper “took almost two weeks” to get on the story.

He even criticizes the Post for not putting the story on the front page when it finally addressed the story.

Right on.

Monday, May 16, 2005


The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority isn’t coming off too well these days, struggling and dazed to keep up with its legacy and expectations — think Charlie Gordon toward the end of “Flowers for Algernon.”

Its Web site today, for example, features an “online poll” that asks “Which stations will be the first to offer the new automated fare collection and customer service enhancement systems?” One of four possibilities can be selected, including “Park Street & Downtown Crossing,” “North Station & Haymarket,” “Airport & Aquarium” and “Government Center & Kenmore.”

Is this really a poll? If so, it should ask “Which stations should be the first,” not “will be,” phrasing that turns this into a mere guessing game. Whatever it was, 792 people answered as of shortly after noon, with a majority of 44.44 percent guessing Park Street and Downtown Crossing would be “enhanced” first.

Nope! Airport and Aquarium will be first. Thanks for playing ... or guessing ... or telling us what the majority wants and won’t get.

To top off the absurdity and mystery, the question was numbered, making it No. 1 in a one-question poll.

It’s no surprise to find that the proposed expansion of the green line through Somerville and into Medford is just as muddled. The prospect of a spur to Union Square has been raised — a one-stop detour while Lechmere branches off to Washington Street, Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball and Magoun squares, College Avenue, Winthrop Street and so on.

Somerville’s mayor, Joseph A. Curtatone, says “Any expansion of the Green Line must include a stop in Union Square,” so the authority — legally obliged to build some extension — might as well listen. But does a one-stop spur make any sense? At the other end, the four green lines go for miles, as do the red line splits to Ashmont and Braintree. If Curtatone insists on a Union Square stop, state officials are likely to offer their usual panacea: bus service.

If the green line connects to Porter Square, though, you finally get a Cambridge T system that makes sense. No more going to Park Street to come back to Lechmere — something that’s going to matter even more when Lechmere becomes the gateway to the 45 acres of housing, office and residential space soon to be known as North Point.

At least the authority could fall back on its old plan to link the green line to Harvard Square via Union. But a Union spur on its own is as limited in sense and appeal as it is in distance.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


It really was an extraordinary winter — thank goodness.

John Nardone, a Cambridge Public Works official, said last week that we had snow from mid-November to late March, for about 19 storms, roughly a storm a week. This totaled 88 inches of snow, which cost $1.2 million to remove, melt or at least push out of the way.

By way of comparison, dealing with snow the previous winter cost only $650,000.

But, by way of warning, the weather nuts over at The Old Farmer’s Almanac see La Nina weather for the next winter. That means it’ll be colder over all, but opinions vary over snowfall. Some see “the same amount of snow as this year for the East” and others “average to slightly above-average snows.” No one’s predicting an easy ride.

Extraordinary is the new ordinary.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Okay. So some smart alecks may already know this:

As of June 1, people will be able to take the red line to South Station and hop on a silver line bus to Logan International Airport. This is no scam. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s Alan Castaline said yesterday at a Cambridge business association meeting that the cost of the bus ride will be covered by the money paid to get on the red line.

This is an improvement for those who get to Logan by taking the red line to Downtown Crossing to get on the orange line to State to get on the blue line to Airport.

It’s an improvement if, of course, one can stand to ride the much-loathed silver line and if the silver line makes it to the airport without being stopped in traffic, something known to happen even to buses as fancy as these. This looks like a better and better gamble, though, as MBTA debt decreases train maintenance and increases breakdowns and delays.

Slowly but surely, the agency is making the silver line look pretty good, if only by making its trains entirely unreliable. Clever.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Major media in the United States are catching on to the “facts were being fixed” memo on Iraq. It’s too early to tell if it’ll lead to anything — but 89 Democrats in Congress asking the White House to explain is a good sign.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


For months — possibly by now it’s for years — I’ve been eating lunch for $3.10 a day by sticking to a bean and rice quesadilla at Anna’s Taqueria. For this you can add salsa, hot sauce, lettuce and jalapenos, but not such things as sour cream or guacamole.

Forced to eat sometimes in Boston rather than Cambridge, I’ve discovered a $3-a-day meal at Ding Ho Fast Food, where Harrison meets Kneeland in Chinatown. This gets you three kinds of food, generously ladled into a styrofoam container. There’s almost always a vegetable or vegetarian option as well as the usual carnivore’s fare, in addition to the basic fried rice, lo mein and rice noodle sides.

Ding Ho is the ultimate in fast food. The food’s waiting behind a sneeze guard, not prepared for each order. You walk in one side and leave on the other. And keep it moving. It’s almost Soup Nazi-ish, although I’ve never seen anyone banished for asking impertinent questions or failing to queue up properly. Ding Ho is also surprisingly under the radar for such a cheap and obvious lunch choice; a variety of Google searches fails to elicit much coverage of this not-so-hidden gem.

My point, I guess, is that if anyone has a lunch option that costs $2.90, I’m keen to hear of it. If I can keep whittling away, a dime per step, I could soon be eating for free.

(I could go down to two dishes at Ding Ho for $2, but it seems like cheating.)

Monday, May 09, 2005


A little more than a week ago, British newspapers revealed a secret government memo showing that on July 23, 2002, U.S. and U.K. leaders had already decided the Iraq war was “inevitable” — not just eight months before the war started, but three months before U.N. weapons inspectors even landed in the country.

The memo, which is actually minutes from a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and several other top officials, quotes “C,” then-leader of the MI6 intelligence agency Sir Richard Dearlove, telling the prime minister and others that

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route.

It is clear from the memo that officials believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but as another official said, that its “WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.” This implies further that the evidence Colin Powell presented to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, more than two months after weapons inspectors began work in Iraq, was even more cynical — meaning knowingly fake — than many had suggested.

In other words, if that was the understanding of us or our allies before the inspectors arrived, and the inspectors were working for two months and found no weapons of mass destruction, Powell’s evidence didn’t just extrapolate from what was known, as has been suggested; it fabricated by ignoring what was known.

The weakness of our position is made even more obvious from the full quote —

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force ... The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.

— which shows that we desperately wanted Iraq to have weapons of mass destruction and forbid our investigation. When neither of those things came true, we went ahead as though they were.

So where’s the U.S. coverage of the memo, let alone the outrage? Both are next to nonexistent, for reasons that are possibly best illustrated by the last two paragraphs of The Sunday Times article on the memo:

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the leaked minute showed Blair had “agreed to an illegal regime change with the Bush administration. It set out to create the justification for going to war. It was to be war by any means.”

Downing Street claimed the document contained “nothing new.”

Friday, May 06, 2005


I tried Diet Coke Sweetened with Splenda today. It was vile.

I tried Coca-Cola C2 at its unveiling. I couldn’t stand it.

The new sweetening schemes — C2 is a sop to the low-carbohydrate trend and a midway drink, with calories between Classic Coke and Diet Coke — are meant to bring the flavors of the diet colas closer to the original. Cola makers think that’s necessary because America’s getting fatter, meaning diet drinks are sure to claim even more market share than they are already. Last year, sales of Diet Pepsi rose 6.7 percent and Diet Coke by 5 percent (although Coke products have more market share to start with).

At one time, I would have applauded the effort.

But having trod down the path of Diet Coke, arrived at the font of Caffeine Free Diet Coke and drunk deep, the flavor of the original is as offensive to me as that of, well, Pepsi, that sickeningly sweet syrup. Diet Coke has been around since 1982, and Caffeine Free Diet Coke was introduced a year later. Having introduced America to the delights of “diet” flavor and aftertastes, it seems a trifle unfair to ask people to start appreciating the rich, disgusting flavor of Classic Coke again.

I guess once you go lack, you can’t go back.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


There were six of us watching — three men, three women — when Max walked in and asked what we were so amused by. It was a DVD of the first season of “Coupling,” the racy British sitcom, and that brought on Max’s next question:

“Is there any nudity?”

It was a classic male concern, and what followed was a something of a case study in further gender differences. “There were some nipples,” I offered, and the other two men agreed.

The women objected. They had seen no such nipples. They had no idea what we were talking about.

So we went back to the episode involving the nipples in question and watched the key scene again. Steve, played by Jack Davenport, is lying on Susan’s bed, waiting for her to emerge from the bathroom for the end of their date. Susan, played by Sarah Alexander, comes out in white panties and a tight white top. Her nipples are plainly visible through the material.

Interestingly, this settled nothing.

The men felt vindicated. The women remained unconvinced.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Well, that didn’t take long. Only six columns into his career as New York Times Op-Ed conservative and John Tierney is already bidding to take over David Brooks’ position as reasonable crackpot. Or crackpot moderate.

Meaning that the conservative Brooks tends to come across as reasonable in 95 percent of what he writes, and it’s only until you discover that remaining, unsettling 5 percent that you realize your comfort level was built over a catapult. Tierney has even followed the typical Brooks model of leaving the crackpot idea for the end of a column — predictable enough that it’s almost become like Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown — so your head winds up spinning as you reassess everything you just read. This part is less like “Peanuts” and more like “The Sixth Sense.”

On Tuesday this was in a column about how liberals were astonished to find out that Laura Bush has a sense of humor, or at least timing good enough to make the jokes of professional writers sound funny, and that the president and his wife are, gosh, just folks like the rest of us.

All well and good until Tierney tries to explain why all us liberals are so shocked by this:

The favorite Democratic explanation is that the red staters are hicks who have been blinded by righteousness, as Thomas Frank argues in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” He laments that middle-class Kansans are so bamboozled by moral issues like abortion and school prayer that they vote for Republicans even though the Republican tax-cutting policies are against their self-interest.

But middle-class Americans don’t simply cast ballots for Republicans. They also vote with their feet, which is why blue states and old Democratic cities are losing population to red states and Republican exurbs. People are moving there precisely because of economic reasons — more jobs, affordable houses and the lower taxes offered by Republican politicians.

And then the head starts spinning.

It would be nice if Tierney had sourced this assertion, since I was under the impression — because it’s true — that with the notable exception of Connecticut, the states that are most panicked about losing population are in America’s heartland, where things are dull and jobs are scarce.

Since Tierney didn’t source the information, though, all I can do is seek my own sources. For instance, a list of the 25 fastest-declining major U.S. cities from 1990 to 2000 from The New York Times Almanac for 2005 shows that among the top 25 are seven blue states ... and eight red. This hardly seems the decisive political win Tierney describes, although I’d have to give him half credit if he’d broadened his column to explain why “red states and old Republican cities are losing population.” And, of course, where all those people are going and why.

The U.S. Census Bureau agrees that red states will draw a lot of population growth, but this is not because lots of people will move there in disgust over high taxes. The United States is going to experience population growth through emigration. The red states will grow faster because there’s lots of space there. You’re not going to cram many more people into the Northeast.

Massachusetts, for instance, has 809.8 people per square mile, the bureau says. North Dakota has 9.3. And North Dakota, with its 70,700 square miles, could fit almost seven Massachusettses, with their 10,555 square miles each.

Another factor, easily identified by those living deep in Deep Blue Boston or New York, is that people get pushed out of desirable areas by high rents and the subsequent high cost of living and are forced to move farther out to find reasonable rents or home sale prices. Tierney somehow transmutes the inability to buy a home in a desirable area into a political movement, but it’s just movement, and reluctant movement at that.

If you go to an ice cream store with two flavors, chocolate and rum raisin, and the chocolate costs twice as much as the rum raisin and there’s less of it, the chocolate is still going to sell better. The poor will be forced to choose rum raisin; when the chocolate’s gone, everyone will.

That doesn’t mean everyone loves rum raisin ice cream.

Except, possibly, to Tierney.

By the way, that top 25 list from The New York Times Almanac is as follows:

1. Hartford, Conn., lost 13 percent of its population. Blue.
2. St. Louis, Mo., lost 12.2 percent. Red.
3. Gary, Ind., lost 11.9 percent. Red.
4. Baltimore, Md., lost 11.5 percent. Blue.
5. Flint, Mich., lost 11.2 percent. Blue.
6. Buffalo, N.Y., lost 10.8 percent. Blue.
7. Norfolk, Va., lost 10.3 percent. Red.
8. Syracuse, N.Y., lost 10.1 percent. Blue.
9. Pittsburgh, Pa., lost 9.5 percent. Blue.
10. Cincinnati, Ohio, lost 9 percent. Red.
11. Dayton, Ohio, lost 8.7 percent. Red.
12. Birmingham, Ala., lost 8.7 percent. Red.
13. Detroit, Mich., lost 7.5 percent. Blue.
14. Lansing, Mich., lost 6.4 percent. Blue.
15. Jackson, Miss., lost 6.3 percent. Red.
16. Toledo, Ohio, lost 5.8 percent. Red.
17. Washington, D.C., lost 5.7 percent. Blue.
18. Cleveland, Ohio, lost 5.4 percent. Red.
19. New Haven, Conn., lost 5.2 percent. Blue.
20. Rochester, N.Y., lost 5.1 percent. Blue.
21. Milwaukee, Wis., lost 5 percent. Blue.
22. Louisville, Ky., lost 4.8 percent. Red.
23. Erie, Pa., lost 4.6 percent. Blue.
24. Warren, Mich., lost 4.6 percent. Blue.
25. Savannah, Ga., lost 4.4 percent. Red.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Last week Scientologists were at the Porter Square T stop, doing a disturbingly good business. Every time I passed by, there were new people sitting at the tables, taking the “stress test” or talking earnestly with the recruiters. I’d like to believe most were practical jokers with too much time on their hands, willing to waste Scientologists’ time for the sake of satisfying their curiosity and funny bones, but the amount of paperwork being filled out indicates that’s not true. In fact, these were suckers.

Oh, sorry. Seekers.

My anger at the Scientologists, shown in a couple of brief exchanges between errands, surprised me. It first came up when I saw some guy signing a receipt, probably for his starter copy of “Dianetics,” and urged him, “Please don’t do this.” Immediately three of the recruiters started coming at me from around the table, making soothing sounds and asking me if I was feeling any stress.

They asked me if I’d considered Scientology and I scoffed at joining a made-up, superexpensive religion that kept people in line with lawyers and secret police. (I have this crazy belief that the best religions don’t cost a lot of money or terrorize people who want to quit.)

This didn’t seem to matter to the recruiters. When I passed by the next time, I again was asked if I had any stress. They wanted to give me their infamous stress test, in which you hold two metal rods, one in each hand, while they ask questions that invariably show you have stress and need to join Scientology. I asked a recruiter how many of the past 100 tests she’d administered revealed no need for people to join Scientology to become “clear.”

She said there’d been “two or three.”

I doubt it. Or I wouldn’t have used the word “invariably.”

At bottom, though, the test is ridiculous. Even were it to be real, not a rigged-up device designed to get people to join the religion — I guess that word should be in quotes — the fact is that people shouldn’t be free of stress. If you have no stress, you’re probably either a child, inanimate object or moron.

If you have money, though, Scientology will take you anyway.

Monday, May 02, 2005


Enjoy the Hynes Convention Center/ICA stop while you can, T riders. It may soon be gone.

Well, the name, anyway.

Uniquely, the stop’s inspirations are on borrowed time: There’s a $62 million Institute of Contemporary Art replacement being built on the waterfront, set to open next year; and the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center has long been headed for sale with the opening of the larger, $800 million Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Boston is reputed to be the only U.S. city with two convention centers — not necessarily something to brag about when convention business is down.

It’s true that momentum for shutting down the Hynes has died. Gov. Mitt Romney, who proposed selling it, was a no-show at a hearing last month on its future, and the commonwealth’s other top politicians are citing evidence and anecdote that keeping the Hynes around will ensure tourism dollars for the area. There’s no date for a decision, although a government commission is supposed to make a suggestion by the fall. Even if the suggestion is to sell or lease, the state may be slow to move, and so may buyers or leasees.

If the Hynes and ICA disappear, bet that Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority officials will revive their hopes of selling T stop naming rights. They tried this in 2000, aiming for $22 million over five years for South Station ($2 million), Back Bay and Downtown Crossing ($1 million each) and Sullivan Square ($500,000). Even after the costs and commitments were lowered, no one bid.

So what would the Hynes/ICA stop be called? Without a Dunkin' Donuts or Hooters claiming it, the city would be forced to think of something descriptive of the area — and a good guess would be “Newbury.” Surely the city would be pleased to make it easier for visitors to find Newbury Street, which is all about commerce.

And better that than the only nearby business that would be likely to go for the naming rights this time, since it’s unclear if Boston is ready, or will ever be, for the green line’s “Virgin stop.”