Friday, July 29, 2005


Sorry about the failure to blog. The folks are in town; there are things to see, errands to run. Rest assured, I have plenty of things to say that will be irrevocably forgotten as soon as I have time to write and post them. So you’ll get the usual half-assed nonsense. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Oh, I’m sorry. President Bush can evolve. Why, according to The New York Times today, the “war on terrorism” has become “a global struggle against violent extremism.”

The Times’ Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker say what’s behind this semantic shift:

Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown out of meetings of President Bush’s senior national security advisers that began in January, and it reflects the evolution in Mr. Bush’s own thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Fine. At least it’s fine until a few paragraphs later, when Schmitt and Shanker, after discussion of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, say:

Lawrence Di Rita, Mr. Rumsfeld’s spokesman, said the shift in language “is not a shift in thinking, but a continuation of the immediate post-9/11 approach.”


My views on Iraq changed without me knowing it. Radio Free Mike’s post on Saturday (that current events don’t “mean we should pull out just because the terrorists are fighting back. Good God, people”) startled me when I recognized that it could be answering my post the previous day.

Pull out? I thought. Did I say that?

I’m forced to conclude that, yes, I pretty much did. I’d always felt the United States, having made the initial, fatal error of invading Iraq, had to stay to make things right. That, as Mike says, little good would come of leaving before it was stable.

In reconciling my thoughts then and now, though, I’m realizing a few things.

For instance, unconsciously or not, my grudging insistence on staying in Iraq was made before the reelection of President Bush, when I assumed the White House would be held by someone with a better grasp on reality, someone who didn’t have a mental dysfunction preventing him from evolving to reflect changing circumstances. Someone whose campaign tactics didn’t make rational reconsideration impossible, lest someone accuse him of “flip-flops.” And this could have been anyone, not just John Kerry. No administration could be engaged in Iraq with quite the incompetence of Bush, Vice President “Final Throes” Cheney or Defense Secretary Donald “I Don’t Do Quagmires” Rumsfeld.

It’s possible we’re stumbling toward an acceptable situation in Iraq, but it would have to be a stumble of extraordinary magnitude; with three weeks to go until the deadline for a permanent Iraqi constitution, Zalmay Khalilzad, our new U.S. ambassador there, is instead speaking publicly and repeatedly of the threat of civil war. Diplomats are being slaughtered and the government is tilting toward religious law and the exclusion of women as equals and away from the secular, westernized Kurds and inclusion of religious minorities.

Two years and three months after Bush declared the major fighting over in Iraq, our involvement there is increasingly a liability. The war was a loss as a show of preemptive power, since the world knows Iraq never intended to attack the United States and couldn’t if it wanted to. As a blow in the war on terrorism, it’s mostly blowback: the world knows Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction; that the United States cooked the evidence; and that terrorists are using Iraq as a recruiting tool and training ground. The war was supposed to make us safer, but police and mass transit systems around the world are bracing for attack.

“Now it’s really time. It almost seems to be a question of when in this country, not a question of if,” said Seattle’s police chief, Gil Kerlikowske, in yesterday’s New York Times.

Meanwhile, experts looks at bombings in Britain and Egypt and ponder “Were the attacks linked, and was Al Qaeda involved?” as though those questions still meant anything. Hint: They don’t.

Leaving Iraq prematurely would almost certainly be disastrous, if only because the terrorists would claim a win. But staying in Iraq would sound a lot better if it didn’t also mean staying the course in Iraq, with the same people in charge being the same people who’ve been in charge ever since they had the brilliant idea to go there in the first place.

Do I have an alternative? Not really. Not anymore. It’s unfair to demand creative and proper solutions to a problem of others’ making, and it’s absurd to craft them, when the solutions will be ignored anyway.

The only reasonable response at this moment is to hang on and wait out the situation — and hope, in the meantime, that the heads of more innocent people don’t get blown off by terrorists, soldiers or the police meant to be protecting us.

Monday, July 25, 2005


The Lucky Market storefront, at 54 Elm St. in Somerville, speaks eloquently on the military experience — these days in particular.

It’s not clear if the juxtaposition is a coincidence or, perhaps more likely, somewhat subtle commentary. I’m reluctant to ask. I worry that drawing attention to it will cause the display to be ended. It already looks like someone’s tried to remove the Army sticker.

Friday, July 22, 2005


Some schmuck named Olivier Roy is asking rhetorically — from the significant platform of The New York Times — whether U.S. and British actions in Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq are really the source of Islamic terrorism. He concludes that it’s globalization, not coalition policy in the Middle East, that is to blame.

This is all too reminiscent of the babble from late 2003 about the Iraqi insurgency, best captured by another voice from the Times, that bright-eyed rube Thomas L. Friedman. It now seems quaintly naive, but at the time, Friedman was one of those saying Iraq was “no Vietnam”:

The people who mounted the attacks on the Red Cross are not the Iraqi Vietcong. They are the Iraqi Khmer Rouge — a murderous band of Saddam loyalists and Al Qaeda nihilists, who are not killing us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so they can rule Iraqis.

I was considered beyond the pale for asking “so what,” but the relevance of Friedman’s distinction must now seem elusive to even the most ardent Iraq hawk. This understanding of the insurgent psyche, even if true, hasn’t helped us in Iraq or, we see, in Britain. And if Britain can get hit again, so can the United States, and so much for the flypaper theory.

Roy, described as “a professor at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences” and “the author of ‘Globalized Islam,’” calls the terrorist cells in London and elsewhere “a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures.” He notes, less than brilliantly, that their attacks began long before allied efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, that they continue to operate in Madrid even after Spain’s withdrawal from the war, that they don’t engage in traditional support functions such as raising money for hospitals and schools and, most oddly, asks:

If the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists? Rather, the bombers are mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and Pakistan — or they are Western-born converts to Islam. Why would a Pakistani or a Spaniard be more angry than an Afghan about American troops in Afghanistan?

He seems to be overthinking the problem, in a way that’s just as unhelpful as was the thinking two years ago. Afghans, Iraqis and Palestinians may be very upset about what’s happening in Afghanistan, Iraq or the land that could or should be Palestine; but that’s why they’re there, rather than in London. This trio of trouble spots may draw aid from disaffected foreigners, but there’s no shortage of locals playing a role in maintaining the trouble. It would be a little odd for, say, an angry Iraqi to leave Iraq’s insurgency to go to London to blow up a subway. Even Roy couldn’t justify that.

His other doubts about the legitimacy of Islamist aims or inspiration are less easily answered without falling back to my response from 2003: So what?

That the terrorist’s “vision of a [worldwide community of Muslims] is both a mirror of and a form of revenge against the globalization that has made them what they are,” as Roy says, is counterproductive because he’s clearly using it as an excuse not to reconsider allied policies in any of the three Islamist war zones. It’s all very well to refuse to give into a tantrum, which is essentially what the current spate of terrorism is, but unhelpful to ignore the fact that Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian problem are all very effective recruiting tools — more effective than any we have.

In the end, Roy’s blather comes down to a call to stay the course in Iraq, just as Friedman’s blather did two years ago, and neither changes the fact that the Iraq war was wrong from the start and that we’ve, incredibly, given these thuggish, brutal, scummy insurgents some semblance of the moral high ground.

High-minded, impractical prattle about “globalization” isn’t going to change that. Eliminating madmen’s recruiting tools and training grounds, on the other hand, is a good start.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Peter Gabriel’s next album will be called “I/O” and, Rolling Stone says, feature a reworking of “Curtains,” a song that appeared as a B-side on his 1987 “Big Time” single. “Curtains” is strangely touching, considering it is also classic Gabriel paranoia by a classic Gabriel flawed narrator in the midst of surrender, if not complete psychic shutdown. The lyrics:

Oh, draw the blinds
We can shut out the night
Oh, pull up the blankets
Pull the blankets up tight
And there are angels on our curtains
They keep the outside out
And there are lions on our curtains
They lick their wounds
They lick their doubt

The song is beautiful, but the best thing that can be read into the lyrics is a hint of healing. The listener hears the fragility of people who have been through great pain — the description of the curtains suggests the presence, or perhaps the sudden absence, of children — and are receding from the world, replacing their strength with an immature faith. Curtains don’t keep much out, and the designs on them contribute very little to even that; but the collapse is affecting, if not quite sweet.

Gabriel was doing a lot of these at the time, the minimal lyrics and mini-epic structure, at least when not concocting the more straightforward singles of his 1986 “So” album. The denseness and clarity of such songs as “Big Time” were most notably left behind in, aside from “Curtains,” “No More Apartheid” with Shankar and Little Steven Van Zandt and “Across the River,” which has popped up occasionally since the early 1980s. These had scant lyrics and a form that most closely resembled, well, a river: a promising beginning, solid enough musically to hold and launch a listener, a long stretch of song river that may drift melodically, or become violent enough to threaten drowning, and finally an arrival at the other bank, where the song concludes firmly. “No More Apartheid,” honestly, stretches the description of this form, being far more insistent and building far more powerfully than the other songs. It’s a torrent of sound, wailing and electric, that begins almost immediately and doesn’t let up until some seven minutes later, leaving behind the image of some exhausted but exhilarated musicians.

It’s difficult to find lyrics for “No More Apartheid,” odd when compared with the dozens of Web sites offering “Across the River” lyrics that are, in total:
Across the river
Across the river
Across the river I go

“No More Apartheid” features, along with chants of the title phrase and invocations against the South African resort “Sun City,” some hooting, hollering and impossible-to-catch suggestions of sloganeering. (“Another day, no more [unintelligible word],” possibly. “Blog it, blog it,” in an anachronistically unlikely plea to set Internet nerds on the trail of quashing a racist regime.) Of the three, it’s “Curtains” that comes off as nearly Proustian.

While Gabriel always had a healthy respect for pop, back to the widely beloved “Solsbury Hill” on his first solo album, he bid blatantly and brilliantly in the late 1980s to achieve hit singledom with “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time.” The B-sides and side projects of the time, though, hint that the bulk of his work remained out of the mainstream.

He’s reputed to sort through a stunningly large number of tracks to put out an album, including an alleged 150 for his 2003 effort, “Up,” so it will be interesting to see what Gabriel makes (or remakes) of “Curtains” and what about it retained his interest and attention nearly two decades after its creation. He’s resurrected “Across the River” live recently and left it largely unchanged in structure or tone, so a new “Curtains” may merely hint that Gabriel thinks the world is catching up, finally, to where he was in the late 1980s.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Pizzeria Uno is a full-service bar as well as a popular restaurant. Its patio, too, is the best — and only — in Porter Square.

Uno has become addicted to its features, though. It’s one thing to advertise the obvious, that people can come watch television and play its Golden Tee game; it’s permissible, too, to have a trivia competition, like other area bars (Newtowne Grille right in Porter, or Courtside Food & Spirits near Lechmere). But magic shows? Wireless Internet?

Bring on the dancing girls. The trampoline. The quilting bees.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Since the July 7 London bombings, which killed 56 people, Tony Blair and other British leaders have insisted, in the words of The New York Times, “there is no evidence that the policy on Iraq motivated the London bombers. They have argued instead that [the bombings] are part of a coordinated worldwide campaign of anti-Western violence by Al Qaeda and Qaeda-influenced groups that predates the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.”

No evidence? Actually, both groups claiming responsibility for the bombings have cited Britain’s participation in the Iraq war as justification.

“In response to the massacre that Britain has carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan: The heroic mujahedeen has undertaken a blessed attack in London. Now Britain is burning with fear, dread and dismay from north, south, east and west,” said the Secret Organization of Al Qaeda in Europe.

Further, Blair’s remarks were in response to a British threat assessment made three weeks before the bombings that warned that “Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the U.K.”

Blair clearly isn’t thinking straight. It would be charitable to suggest he’s a bit shellshocked, but that hardly explains his decision making before the Iraq war. Either way, it’s astonishing that the British continue to put up with such errant nonsense — which makes it beyond mind-blowing that we are.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Hess gas won its spot in Porter Square at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Thursday, with four members voting in favor and chairman Tom Sieniewicz abstaining. The owner of Gas With a Smile, Christous Poutahidis, won also, because now he can sell his station and retire. The neighbors won, too, in that Hess answered their demands for design changes — and made space for a Zipcar or two.

But in all of this, especially Sieniewicz’ abstention, lie hints of a slightly broken system.

He fought valiantly for delaying the Hess vote to await an opinion from the city’s Planning Board, arguing that it had to weigh in on how its Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District, which limits car-focused business, applied to the Hess gas station and minimart plan. But his fellow board members were having none of it. And the company’s legal representative, James Rafferty, jumped in with an impatient rebuke.

“This was filed nearly two months ago. The Planning Board staff was aware of it,” Rafferty said.

Quite right. Yet the board’s sole action had been to inform the BZA via note that it hadn’t addressed the issue, leaving unclear why that was so, whether the failure was on purpose or whether it intended to address Hess’ plans in the future. The way the system works, the BZA had to vote without answers. (Similarly, there seems to have been no traffic study, which opponents wanted keenly and the city shrugged off, relying instead on Hess’ word on how drivers would respond to the station’s presence. The opponents were worrying, and the city acting, without solid data.)

Also in that time were meetings of two neighborhood groups. One saw a Hess presentation and suggested changes, but would not meet again until after the BZA, making it difficult to see if the changes were made or made well. The other met just before the BZA, but without Hess and Rafferty, who couldn’t attend. This second group relied on spotty and in some cases incorrect information passed on from the first group. Members of both sent e-mail and letters to let the BZA know how they felt, and much of it also contained spotty or incorrect information — making it easier to come across as ignorant Nimbies to a board composed of architects and lawyers.

“It’s a little frustrating,” said Michael Brandon, acknowledging his North Cambridge Stabilization Committee demands lagged concessions Hess had already made. “because we’re addressing a moving target.”

The BZA paid attention anyway, at least Sieniewicz did, but its members also obviously gave weight to Poutahidis, who stood to plead for a sale with a classic tale of the American Dream, including 18-hour days that started with the business in 1971 when he “didn’t speak 10 words of English.”

“I’m 64 years old. I have a father that lives with me, he’s 100 years old. I know neighbors like my smile, but until when?” he said. “You want me to die there?”

“So you’re in favor of the special permit,” Sieniewicz said dryly.

After the laughs, Poutahidis summed up: “I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired.”

In the end, Hess will have: only one curb cut onto Massachusetts Avenue, not two; a brick building with dark green shingles, not its typical “garish” structure; hours running from 5 a.m. to midnight, not all day; bike racks; and, legally, one dedicated space for a Zipcar. But Rafferty hinted that the company values its public relations with the neighborhood more than it needs an even dozen parking spaces at its convenience store. After neighbors spoke in favor of keeping two Zipcars, including Susan Hunzicker claiming the option “keeps my marriage together,” a Hess executive quietly decided to ensure a second spot.

The system works. It may be working slightly better for Hess than for the neighbors. But it works.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Hess won its spot in Porter Square at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting last night, with four members voting in favor and chairman Tom Sieniewicz abstaining.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I’d hoped to avoid the depression, bewilderment and rage that usually accompanies reading Wall Street Journal editorials, but yesterday’s “Karl Rove, whistleblower: He told the truth about Joe Wilson” is too big to ignore. The Journal also tends to be a leader in legitimizing crackpot conservative themes, so it’s worth the suffering just to know how the other side thinks.

The gist is that Rove, top political adviser and deputy chief of staff to President Bush, inadvertently leaked the identity of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency worker in warning a Time reporter that a source — Joe Wilson — couldn’t be trusted. The undercover agent was Wilson’s wife, and the intimation is that she got Wilson sent to Niger to check out information about Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. This is somehow supposed to invalidate his findings and the universally supportive findings since.

The editorial is packed with nonsense, including Wilson saying Vice President Cheney chose him for Niger (Wilson never said it) and that a year-old report by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has found Wilson’s rejection of the Iraq-Niger claim to be undermined by the information he gathered. In other words, that Wilson is lying through creative interpretation (his findings represent a slight degree of ambiguity). (Here’s another good summary of the problems with the Journal editorial and those using the same talking points.)

Showing just how cracked the editorial is, though, requires only a single sentence:

The same bipartisan report also pointed out that the forged documents Mr. Wilson claimed to have discredited hadn’t even entered intelligence channels until eight months after his trip.

Note the stress on the word “after.” Readers may wonder why Wilson went to Niger, what he reported back on and what the controversy is about if there were no documents to investigate, especially since the sentence comes nine paragraphs into a 13-paragraph editorial and well after this bit of Journal exposition:

Media chants aside, there’s no evidence that Mr. Rove broke any laws in telling reporters that [Wilson’s wife] may have played a role in her husband’s selection for a 2002 mission to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking uranium ore in Niger.

How can the Journal say that Wilson went to Niger to “investigate reports” that “hadn’t even entered intelligence channels” until months later?

The Journal is apparently drawing an absurd, distracting and meaningless distinction between actual documents and intelligence-agency summaries of those documents.

The Niger documents, which were forged, were bought and held by Italy’s Military Intelligence and Security Service, which supplied British and U.S. intelligence with summaries, not the documents themselves or copies of the documents. It is “standard practice to seldom pass on either details of how the information was obtained or actual copies of the raw documents,” writes James Bamford in “A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies” (Anchor Books, 2005). “The documents themselves, and how they were obtained, may reveal the source, something that most intelligence professionals are extremely careful about.”

The Journal’s thinking is that Wilson’s research is invalid because the actual documents weren’t seen until eight months after his travels, even though the substance of the documents differed not at all from the summaries from which Wilson (and the entire U.S. and British intelligence community) worked.

Looking at the actual documents, though, hints that Wilson’s trip was unnecessary, not that his research was shoddy or conclusions faked. This is because the forgeries are unbelievably bad. Here’s Bamford’s description:

A letter dated July 30, 1999, actually refers in the past tense to supposed deals agreed to in Niamey a year later, on June 29, 2000. And the October 10 letter had the heading “Conseil Militaire Supreme,” an organization that went out of existence in May 1989. The signature was that of Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Habibou, who held the post from 1988 to 1989 and and had been out of office for more than a decade. And finally, while the letter was dated October 10, it was supposedly stamped as received in Rome on September 28 — thus, it was received about two weeks before it was ever sent, another form of magic.

Also, the agreement signed by President Mamadou says the transaction was approved under the May 12, 1965, constitution, but a new constitution was promulgated on August 9, 1999, and the presidential signature bore little resemblance to that of the real Tandja Mamadou. At the same time, the forger used an inaccurate representation of the national emblem.

And a September 3, 2001, document attempting to show a connection to the attacks appears identical to the document outlining the ambassador’s previous 1999 trip — same flight and time. The only thing that was changed was the date at the top of the page. Also, by September 4, 2001, al-Zahawiah was no longer ambassador, a slight problem.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Cambridge is a city of 101,587 people, but it can feel like the smallest town in the world. Tonight, for instance, the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee will meet for two hours mainly on the “discussion of requested variance to replace Gas With a Smile with a Hess station and convenience store,” which follows the hour or so of discussion on the topic June 16 by the Porter Square Neighbors Association and precedes the Board of Zoning Appeals tackling the subject tomorrow.

With the gas station owner’s retirement and sale to Hess, auto repairs will be replaced by the minimart, which the 1,660-site chain wanted to be (as with gas sales) a 24-hour, seven-day operation. None of this excited the neighbors, and the “garish” design of the station put more teeth on edge. But what really blew it for the Hess crowd was their rejection, and ignorance, of Zipcar.

The Hess station will have 13 parking spaces; none were intended to be rented for Zipcars.

This local car-sharing business says it has about 40,000 members, people who can’t justify buying a car when there are Zipcars scattered around for use by the hour or day. The company also says it’s profitable, even announcing Monday that it secured $10 million in venture capital to expand to the West Coast. Its cars at Gas With a Smile, a utilitarian gray Jetta and boxy white Scion B, seem as popular as the company. On June 16 they prompted a barrage of questions that had the Hess team staggering like a boxer blinded by blood streaming from a cut on his forehead. Not only did the executives, architects, lawyers and engineers not see the blow coming; they were forced to suddenly realize they’d risked their entire attack. When a Hess exec admitted he didn’t know what Zipcar was or how it worked, the entire assembled association stiffened into a baleful silence. The statement just hung there.

Finally, Simon Shapiro, of Tag’s Hardware, suggested gently that “I think you need to learn more about blending in with Cambridge.”

We’ll see what’s been learned tonight at 7 at the North Cambridge Senior Center, 2050 Massachusetts Ave. A Gas With a Smile worker said today that the Zipcar spaces will stay when Hess takes over; a representative at Zipcar’s Cambridge headquarters, however, knew nothing about it.

“They haven’t mentioned anything to us yet. It wasn’t even our understanding Hess was buying the station,” she said. “As of now, those pods are pretty secure.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Frankly, the more I read and learn about the Plame leak, the more confused I get. The White House’s telling, sudden silence on the matter, compared with bold assertions of administration innocence in 2003 and last year, may have some chortling; since I’m already looking a little foolish on the topic by repeating accusations that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was the leaker, rather than current prime suspect Karl Rove, I’m reluctant to say anything, let alone chortle.

If Rove is to blame, he may yet wriggle free. The New York Times hints at that today by quoting experts saying it’s “not easy to break” the 1982 law that criminalizes the outing of covert agents. And I’m not entirely willing to admit defeat on Libby, who is Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, since the White House has also said he had nothing to do with the leak, and “nothing,” in this case, may be a little strong.

What’s lacking in the reporting on this topic is narrative. The more complicated the news is, the simpler its reporting must be, and frequently that means storytelling — breaking out of the traditional “objective” style of news writing and using what are still regarded as the techniques of fiction. I have yet to read coverage of the Victoria Plame affair that merely tells what happened, to the best of current knowledge, rather than lapsing into the scattered and sometimes bewildering manner of the inverted pyramid. Big newspapers often turn to graphics to do this (in what are usually called “timelines”) rather than require it of their reporting.

It’s this that probably resulted in the perception that Libby was the leaker, along with reporters’ tendency to write for themselves, their sources and a knowledgeable elite rather than the average, uninformed (if intelligent) reader.

By the way: Anyone curious as to why the Times’ Judith Miller is in jail when she didn’t even write about Plame may be interested to ponder the theory that it’s Miller herself who’s the leaker.

Monday, July 11, 2005

DATING DISSERVICE boasts the most users of any online dating service, but in much the same way McDonald’s advertises how many burgers it’s sold or Warner Bros. swaggers about its success creating “Full House.” Love seekers who don’t want first dates with a seemingly endless series of depressingly bland people — Hootie fans and Applebee’s aficionados, just to engage in further brutal generalizations — tend to move on to hipper services, such as those pitched by The Onion or

The Waterbones item Sunday about inanity reminded me of my own years-old troubles with the site. For the San Francisco-based Waterbones, the killer was the many people advertising they’re “enjoying everything the Bay Area has to offer”; for me it was the all-too-common assertion that, although many women are happy to stay in some nights with a good bottle of wine and a movie, “when I go out, I like to have a good time.”

As Waterbones says:

Would anyone dare to write, “hating everything the Bay Area has to offer”? I mean, it's like there’s a formula, and if you stray, well, no cookie for you. The larger idea being that you have to represent yourself as cheerful, fun-loving, active, fit, adventurous (but not too adventurous, if you follow me), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed alla damn time.

My trigger phrase is similarly provocative in a similarly moronic way. First of all, everyone likes to have a good time when they go out (to the extent that I’d probably be intrigued by anyone who admitted otherwise). Everyone also likes to have a good time even when staying in. And these things are true even for people whose idea of a good time is a little quieter and less eventful than those people who would say such a thing as “I like to have a good time,” making that code for, no doubt, excessive drinking, rushing onto the dance floor for a “really fun song” and, pray God, perhaps a sing-along to a tune just old enough to qualify as camp.

The other thing that had me fleeing was seeing how Boston’s sports madness had infected the population of potential mates. Women, to whom I’d always turned for support for my total disinterest in sports, seemed to be almost universally writing about how they were looking for someone to watch Sox games with. No sooner had a woman friend of mine assured me they were just feigning interest to meet guys than a new phase emerged: women insisting they were “real” sports fans, not dilettantes like those others. (Soon every woman was saying this.) While this partially confirmed my friend’s assessment, it still made it pointless to spend time contacting women to ask whether they really, truly liked sports or would consider dating someone who didn’t. An answer in my favor would mean they were either lying then ... or now. Either way it smacked of desperation.’s search feature could find “fun” and “Sox” by keywords, but wasn’t sophisticated enough to create lists of women whose profiles pointedly lacked “fun” and “Sox.” It also seemed odd to seek out women who didn’t want to have fun, or at least who considered it classy not to specify; it would be like admitting I wasn’t fun.

Which I’m not — but it’s weird to state it so flatly.

Taking all this into account, I’d have to post an ad for a single white male seeking someone not at all interested in sports who likes to have a moderate amount of fun and enjoy only some of the things the Boston area has to offer.

Imagine the responses flooding in.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Emack & Bolio’s Ice Cream & Yogurt opened in Porter Square today, unfortunately a day of unseasonable cold and aggressive rain that had even the hardy ice cream eaters of New England staying away in droves.

You couldn’t tell that immediately from the crowd inside the tiny shop, though, which was packed with people, more than a dozen between workers and visitors — but these weren’t buyers, as they left with no ice cream after several minutes of being warm and dry. Nor was there a constant stream of buyers from the Healthworks gym for women, which is, amusingly enough, just next door. You can be out one business and in the next within three seconds.

When the crowd left, a sole buyer replaced it. A friendly worker at Emack & Bolio’s agreed it was slow that day, certainly because of the cold and the newness of the store, and that the company expected Porter Square to be a high-volume site. Not high-volume enough for seven workers behind the counter, though, many of whom were there for training. The store’s actually supposed to need up to four workers, which is still a lot.

But it’s open weekdays from 11 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Which is pretty grand.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


At least 33 people are dead and some 1,000 injured because of terrorist bombings in London, bombings claimed by a group calling itself the Secret Al Qaeda Jihad Organization in Europe.

The reason for the attacks, according to the group’s statement, is “the massacre that Britain has carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and it is tragic to think jihadists are using Iraq as an excuse for this mayhem. They could claim any number of provocations dating back decades, so it is significant they chose these — and one wonders what lame rationalization would have been trotted out without Iraq.

It’s hard to imagine Afghanistan alone would have roused such fatal fervor; the U.S. military presence there reasonably followed an attack by terrorists supported by Afghan rulers. Citing only Afghanistan would mainly have been a reminder that Al Qaeda and the “World Islamic Front” declared war on the United States in February 1998, even if they did so as a response to “crimes and sins committed by the Americans [as] a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims.”

The United States and its allies chose to launch a “preemptive” war in Iraq based on hubris and faked evidence, though, and pretty much the entire world is aware of the fraud. Making matters worse, some of our forces in Iraq have been exposed behaving in the most bestial way.

The London attacks only add urgency to making the Bush administration answer to charges of intelligence cooking and perjury. With the obvious invitation of the Downing Street memos, it is becoming increasingly clear how easy it should be to make the case for impeachment.

Consider just one nugget of supposed intelligence uttered by Vice President Cheney on Aug. 26, 2002, at a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville:

We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from first-hand testimony from defectors, including Saddam’s own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam’s direction.

He’s talking about Hussein Kamel, who, it is universally acknowledged, said almost exactly the opposite: that Iraq’s weaponry had been destroyed and remained nonexistent. Furthermore, his intelligence was from 1995.

Cheney’s lie was one among dozens, one among hundreds, and innocent people continue to die for it in Iraq and now London.

It’s time for the United States and its allies to reclaim the moral high ground, put their leaders and their intelligence fraud on trial and do whatever it takes to remove Iraq as a rationalization for continued violent jihad.

Reading James Bamford’s “A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies,” by the way, would provide a fine roadmap for such hearings.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


The new Blogger ability to post pictures for free allows me to finally delete some spam. I’ve been saving it since Feb. 21 — it seems like longer — because it was too strange to lose.

Junk e-mailers have been forced to find ways to get around increasingly sophisticated filters meant to keep in boxes from become clogged with Nigerian get-rich-quick schemes and Cialis come-ons. They start with randomized, fake names for the identity of the sender, and it was this on the Feb. 21 e-mail that caught my attention: Audiophiles H. Tragics.

I didn’t know any such person. Not yet realizing this was spam, I found myself wanting to.

The subject line is also seemingly random on much modern spam, with some sort of algorithm factoring in text intended to make the recipient curious. This e-mail scored high here, too:

“Storm is coming! ... (and his angels.’ Here him, ye old and gray-headed, hear him).”

The biblical allusions aside, few have ever been so rude as to call me “old and gray-headed,” appropriate though it may be, so Mr. Tragics was acting in a fashion that was beyond mysterious. And what’s this coming storm? There was no way I wasn’t going to open this e-mail.

Imagine my disappointment to find an ad for a vacuum cleaner.

At least it continued the streak of bizarreness. It was for, as you can see from the accompanying image, a Singer vacuum cleaner called the “Lazer Storm.” No existing vacuum has any reason to refer to lasers (“lazer” must be to light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation as “cheez” is to cheese), let alone one that plays up wind, rather than light, with its “patented wind drive technology.”

Calling it a “Lazer Storm,” then, is over the top, even if it is “lightweight and powerful” — a laser being a powerful, weightless light.

Finally, don’t miss the blurb midway down the ad where, as part of a special Web offer, “You can really see [the vacuum cleaner] working!” This is an unfortunate bit of salesmanship that makes it sound as though seeing the device work is a rare, extraordinary event. Even were I the type to reward spam with commerce, breathless excitement over a working vacuum cleaner would have killed the deal. I have a vacuum cleaner that works reliably, and even that doesn’t thrill me.

As it is, I never clicked on the required link “For More Info Now!” And I never replied.

And I never heard back from Mr. Tragics.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


How, I wonder, has “in box” escaped codification? It’s not in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the giant Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the AP Stylebook or The New York Times’ Manual of Style and Usage.

And it certainly deserves an entry in at least one: A Google search shows 19 million uses of “inbox”; 21 million for “in-box”; and only 2.5 million for “in box,” the default for a two-part word that’s not listed.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Among the signs you’re living in a college town: Your local bookseller, in this case the Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square, posts the above sign, to “Please Ask at the Desk for Works by Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.” The cause is just as one would expect, shoplifting, an employee confirmed. For some reason, books by these authors just seem to disappear when left out ... like porn near a junior high.