Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I haven’t been able to find any studies directly addressing what percentage of constitutional originalists are also believers in Biblical inerrancy, but there’s good anecdotal evidence that there’s a lot of overlap. It makes sense that the same people boasting of thinking like the founding fathers are keen on doing the same with the disciples.

The main problem with originalism in terms of the U.S. Constitution is that many espousing it are only interested in discerning original intent, or describing it accurately, when it matches their own agenda. Claims of Biblical inerrancy have a far greater problem — that every single word is said to be accurate because it comes from God — and should serve as a warning sign in someone who is also a constitutional originalist. Just as you shouldn’t turn your finances over to someone who can’t do simple math, there’s cause for concern in letting someone interpret the Constitution after saying every single word in the Bible is the literal truth.

All one must do to question a literal reading of the Bible is step into a religious bookstore and compare texts from one edition to the next. One of the more recent versions of the Bible is the scandalous, profane and out of print Queen Jane’s Version, which employs icons to highlight themes such as torture, sex and misogyny verse by verse, blunt language in place of flowery and, by the writer’s admission, some very loose translations, all intended to “inspire people to live for life rather than for death.”

It’s not hard, then, to find a contemporary Bible purposely mistranslated to conform to an individual’s agenda; what’s remarkable is that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible demands belief that no one has ever before purposely mistranslated the Bible for the same reason. What are the chances?

Not very good. For an example of why, take a peek at an essay at that quotes nine Bibles’ versions of 1 Samuels 20:41 and finds, not surprisingly, nine different interpretations of whatever the orginal text says. Here’s how the New International Version has it:

David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together — but David wept the most.

Interestingly, only about half the Bibles end the passages with this image. The other half, give or take, say things such as “David got control of himself” (from the Amplified Bible).

Eight of these Bibles say David and Jonathan kissed. The Living Bible says “they sadly shook hands.”

It’s not plausible for one of nine Bibles to innocently have such a radically different interpretation, but there’s a far greater possibility that all of these Bibles are cheating, not just the Living in Denial Bible. The essay’s author, B.A. Robinson, notes that in the original language David and Jonathan wept together until David “became great.” Robinson may be wrong. Otherwise, why none of these Bibles attempted to interpret this more closely is left to the reader’s imagination.

Problems of mistranslation are endemic to ancient texts, and not limited to Christianity. In 2001 a German scholar noted that some images in the Koran are borrowed from the works of Ephrem the Syrian, who naturally wrote in the Semitic language known as Syriac. Going back over the translation from Ephrem’s Syriac, in a work called “Hymns of Paradise,” to the Arabic in the Koran, the most serious reconsideration is that Ephrem doesn’t talk about the dead being greeted by houris, or virgins, but by hur, meaning white raisins. There are many youths martyring themselves expecting endless sex when they reach paradise — the sex their culture and religion deny them on Earth — who will instead be greeted by relatively abundant fruit.

And the “72 wives” aren’t even reserved for martyrs. In an example of bad math skills and an ignorance of the needs of the female faithful that belies Islam’s claims of exalting their women, unlike us soulless Westerners, tradition actually says:

The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: “The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyyah to Sana‘a.”

Even when passages are translated accurately, it’s not easy to know what the Bible is trying to say.

“People will dismiss plain Bible teaching about moral issues (such as homosexuality, divorce, or abortion) or about salvation from sin or the church because they say the teaching is too confusing or difficult to understand,” says. “As Christians we believe God speaks to us through the holy Scripture of the Bible. It is our duty, then, to do our best to understand what the Bible says to us,” says — as though the history of religion isn’t just a series of disagreements over intent.

This includes everything from Martin Luther’s great break to Nikon’s somewhat incremental but controversial attempts in 1652 to make the Russian church more like the Eastern Greek (including saying a third “hallelujah” during ceremonies and giving up two of seven consecrated loaves) all the way to the creation of the International Church of Christ only decades ago and its insistence (based on Acts 11:26) that one must be a committed “disciple” before baptism, not be baptized and then study religion.

Jessica Stern, in her “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill” (HarperCollins, 2003), offers another example:

“Pretribulation” fundamentalist Protestants believe that Jesus will save them from experiencing the Apocalypse through a “divine rapture,” the simultaneous ascension to heaven of all good Christians. Followers of Christian Identity expect to be present during the Apocalypse. Christian militants who subscribe to “posttribulation” beliefs consider it their duty to attack the forces of the Antichrist, who will become leader of the world during the Endtimes.

These are all pretty important issues, especially considering that people are dying and killing based on their belief in them, and yet debate goes on about what the truth is. Irreconcilable debate, in fact, made all the more difficult by contradictions in religious texts themselves no matter what the source of translation.

There are notoriously many contradictions in the Bible, not just from book to book, but even within books. It starts right in Genesis, which describes creation twice, once with animals coming first and once with humans — well, Man — coming first. It doesn’t stop with Judas’ death, which may be by hanging (in Matthew) or by “falling headlong [so] his bowels gushed out” (Acts). The Koran is riddled with contradictions as well, from how many days it took Allah to create the heavens and the Earth to whether there is “compulsion in religion” (there isn’t, but the faithful are commanded to “slay the idolaters wherever ye find them”).

It’s common sense that the Bible is not the literal truth. Anyone who says it is should not be put in a position of authority to interpret the constitution also. They are certainly free to be; but any culture that appoints such a person is asking for trouble.

None of this is to imply John G. Roberts, the nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, is such a person. There’s question he’s an originalist, let alone a Christian fundamentalist. But with a government overrun by people claiming to be Biblical textualists, one never knows when one might be slipped before Congress for confirmation.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Wow. I must put off the intended posting for a terrifying Tale of Customer Service, once again featuring the monstrous Apple zombie army.

This time the army was marching in support of a rampaging Frankenstein’s monster:

My laptop’s automatic Software Update program alerted me a little while ago that there was a security fix and Web browser update available. I began the process immediately, quitting the other programs I was running while the update made its way to my laptop. When it arrived and a message box told me to restart my computer, I restarted my computer.

When it was back up, taking all of a minute, I went to the Mail program, which is made by Apple. It didn’t work. I tried my Web browser, Safari, which is made by Apple. It also didn’t work. Going through the program Apple provides to help get users back on the Internet, I discovered that all of the stuff needed to connect a specific machine with its Internet service provider — the DNS numbers, IP addresses, PPPoE information and all those other incomprehensible acronyms and mysterious data — had disappeared.

I called Apple technical support, plunging deep into their policy horror.

If your product is within its AppleCare protection period, dealing with technical support is like being royalty, but when that time runs out — and the plan cannot be renewed — you’re a vulnerable villager, cast out and invited back inside to safety only briefly and only for $49.99 a pop. That is, each time you call with a question or problem, tech support must get that money before helping.

Even after I explained the situation, my tech support reps insisted on charging me the $49.99. I argued with the first guy, who transferred me to the second guy, and there it ended, with him insisting on the money and me insisting there was no way in hell I was going to pay Apple for creating a software update that wipes out Internet connection information. There is no appeal. I was hung up on.

Basically, I wanted to know from Apple whether my Internet connection information was buried somewhere on my computer where I could get at it and correct the problem. I also wanted the company to know I was upset by it unleashing an update that would do such a thing.

Little luck. The tech support rep just kept repeating that he would need my $49.99 before he could troubleshoot my problem, which could have been hardware, or software, or anything, really ... he wouldn’t know until he got my money. Having told them my story and reminded them that there was another computer in the house still connected to the same Internet router with no problem, I couldn’t believe they were still trying to suggest my problem could be mechanical or the result of an “existing software problem.” That it was their software anyway moved them not at all.

It was the software updates, you freaks. The software updates. It’s what changed from one minute to the next. The only thing. On my Apple laptop with the latest Apple operating system using Apple’s Web browser and Apple’s Mail program getting the latest Apple software updates at Apple’s suggestion. Before the update, the information was there; since the update, the information is gone. This is worth $49.99?

I was forced to bother the Internet service provider to get the information. For the record, the provider is Very nice people who didn’t ask whether I was on some kind of protection plan or charge me any money. Very nice people who just gave me the information I needed, essentially saving me from an unprovoked attack of the Apple software updates while the Dr. Frankensteins at Apple, who let loose the monster, looked on in feigned helplessness:

“How can we correct what we did to you if you don’t give us your money?”

Monday, August 29, 2005


Spoiled and ill-spirited the Sunnis may be, but no one can deny that the suggested Iraqi constitution did not — for whatever reasons — include enough of their input and does not — again, for whatever reasons — engage them adequately. As a result the constitution’s failure, political chaos and civil war threaten.

This looks like the result of strangely conflicting trends: The Sunni minority is disliked by the Shiite and Kurdish majority because it was their Baath political party that ran the country from 1968 to 2003, including the reign of Saddam Hussein begun in 1979; but Iraq, cobbled together by the British after World War I, is intended to remain one country despite the fact that the three main ethnicities are largely in separate regions. The Kurds want out. The Shiites want out. The Sunnis, although they’re not participating in the country’s political process, are the ones who hope the nation stays together, as it’s their part of the country that lacks oil. A major part of the constitution is about oil and revenue-sharing concessions for the Sunni.

This makes it somewhat astonishing that the country has held together as well as it has, and clear there should be more holding it together long term, since the oil won’t last forever.

In the meantime, my impossible suggestion for smoothing the political process in Iraq is to move the seat of government to a Sunni city, such as Baquba, from Baghdad, which Sunnis feel is no longer a home. Grand buildings would rise, people and money would flood in and infrastructures of all sorts would grow as the Iraqi constitution specifies that the business of running the nation (and foreign diplomacy, including the hosting of foreign embassies) will move to Sunni land from Baghdad. Baquba isn’t even that far from Baghdad, but the action, if done right, accomplishes many things:

It ties the Sunnis into the country in a new, vital and concrete way, giving them a role equal to the creation of oil revenue;

It gives the Sunnis something concrete to hold onto in an uncertain time, increasing their comfort with changes in the country and decreasing the need for an insurgency;

It brings Shiites and Kurds into a Sunni city where — again, if done right — a host/guest relationship can create a balance of power until the everyday details of governing makes such distinctions less important;

It’s also a way to start over again on rebuilding the country, this time letting Iraqis do more of the actual work than U.S. contractors such as Halliburton.

Iraqis dislike the Baathists, but there are worse things than letting them feel they get to keep running the country’s government, even if the reality is one of power sharing. Two-thirds of the people get to feel like they’re being big and giving the Sunnis something to hang onto; the remainder get to feel as though they have an important task. And a significant concession.

Friday, August 26, 2005


It’s not every day the world watches a constitution come together or the Supreme Court get a new member. We’re seeing both, but with little appreciation of how one informs the other.

The nomination of John G. Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court frankly matters little to Iraq, but the writing of an Iraqi constitution matters for Roberts because it’s unclear where he stands on original intent.

This notion, that judges should hew to the intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution, is what drives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who have been cited by President Bush as his model for Supreme Court justices. It follows that Bush nominated Roberts because he’s confident Roberts is an originalist.

The evidence is circumstantial, including that Roberts has the blessing of Edwin Meese, who’s credited with putting original intent atop the national agenda as far back as 1985 and has somehow gone from national embarrassment to eminence grise. (Come to think of it, that’s an even bigger national embarrassment.)

Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, has slightly better evidence that Roberts believes in precedent over originalism, having discussed it with the nominee recently. Roberts’ record supports this, with Texas law professor Sanford V. Levinson telling The New York Times that he “would be shocked if he turned out to be a strict constitutionalist like Scalia or Thomas.”

The problem with being an originalist, not to be too obvious, is that you really have to know what writers of our Constitution were thinking. This is complicated by the fact that time doesn’t stand still, meaning it’s hard to discern Thomas Jefferson’s intent on issues of the Internet, and by originalists’ tendency to ignore the founders’ intent whenever it becomes uncomfortable for them. For instance, Scalia and Thomas insist the Constitution does not give U.S. citizens the “right to privacy” that is the foundation of, among other things, legal abortion. But it doesn’t even pass the laugh test to say there was no intent for privacy among people fleeing religious persecution for the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Being present at the birth of an Iraqi constitution, especially one for which the United States is serving as midwife, is a fortuitous way to consider conditions when our own Constitution was created. Hundreds of years have passed, so constitution-writing technology, so to speak, must be vastly improved over our then primitive capabilities. There can be no questions about intent, of course, when the writers of the constitution are even now in the process of laying down their intent in crystal clear prose.


Not quite. As the Times said Wednesday,

Some secular Iraqi leaders complained Tuesday that the country’s nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women.

The secular leaders said the draft, which was presented to the National Assembly on Monday, contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country’s official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. To interpret such legislation, the constitution calls for the appointment of experts in Shariah, or Islamic law, to preside on the Supreme Federal Court.

The draft constitution, these secular Iraqis say, clears the way for religious authorities to adjudicate personal disputes like divorce and inheritance matters by allowing the establishment of religious courts, raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy.

The courts would rely on Shariah, which under most interpretations grants women substantially fewer rights than men.

Language reserving a quarter of the Assembly’s seats for women has been relegated to a section of the constitution labeled transitional, which is of uncertain legal force and duration.
[emphasis mine]

And these are just some of the issues unresolved or resolved unclearly in the document.

This constitution, which has already missed two deadlines and is almost certain to be submitted unfinished, isn’t just vague on intent. It specifically leaves massive, nation-shaping issues to be settled later by judges, many of whom will probably be religious figures keen on instituting religious law: The draft declines to say how secular Iraq will be, but will let clerical judges decide. This is somehow acceptable to our most powerful politicians, who demand our own judges not wander from the beliefs of a group whose last member died in 1836.

Perhaps these same politicians should explain how Bush became president. As American University law professor Jamin B. Raskin writes in “Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The American People” (Routledge, 2004), “Nowhere [in the Constitution] is the Supreme Court given any formal role at all in choosing the president or resolving competing interpretations of the electoral college provisions.”

Thomas and Scalia didn’t reject Bush vs. Gore. They voted with the 5-4 majority to appoint Bush to our highest office. They did, however, agree that the case should not be considered a precedent. Why should it? It was technically unconstitutional.

Bush is correct in saying “We had a little trouble with our own conventions writing a constitution,” but can’t acknowledge how this admission either weakens his stance on originalism or shows what a dangerously deformed baby it is he’s cooing over in Iraq.

More on this topic later.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I’ve discovered a binder from my college days. The clear cover has a flier I designed for our senior-year magazine. The inside pocket has my letter of resignation from the school’s film review (several copies in sealed envelopes, never delivered and I can’t remember why), a bluebook from my propaganda class (my grade on that test: 93) and a treasured but long-lost letter-size copy of the U.S. Constitution, signed by Oliver North.

That last is a great story. A shining moment. And interesting because North and his cronies, or thugs, or whoever was watching over him at his bookstore event, knew they were being mocked and weren’t happy about it — but I sense the irony would be lost on the Oliver Norths of today. In the 1980s, when the president and his minions subverted the Constitution, there was at least a sense of shame that could be inferred from their excessive protests and smug indulgence in barely plausible deniability; these days our subverters are barely made to pause over their crime. The country’s so burned out on scandals that nothing fazes it, in much the same way Douglas Ginsberg couldn’t get on the Supreme Court in 1987 because he smoked pot, but six years later Bill Clinton could admit smoking pot and still become president.

What’s most striking about this binder, though, is the somewhat breathtaking shifts in purpose and narrative taking place not just from page to page, but from part of one page to the spot one inch to the left: class notes, personal notes, notes from interviews, commentary on how I felt about a class or what someone said during it, sketches and doodles, snippets of conversation real or imagined, reminders, puns, plots, phone numbers of forgotten people, extended bits of fiction, remembered lines from movies or songs, lists of things to do, mathematical computations ...

Even I’m dazed by it, and I’m me — essentially the same person as I was just over a decade ago, as proven by my deep if inevitable empathy with the rants I’m rediscovering. I ranted about technology then, too, and about being crammed into coach class in airplanes. I also took time off from ranting:

I must not look over there again. To look over is instant, crawling, squiggling, squirming death. Oops, I did it. But it’s okay.

And with almost no context I instantly know what was going on: I kept looking over at some female classmate. I can do the same sort of thing now with exactly the same mild panic and shooting thrill.

If anything has changed it’s that I’ve calmed torrents of thought into a linear trickle. The impatience on these blue-lined pages jumps off like sparks every time a page turns. It’s overwhelming. A little bit mystifying, too, I confess. Above sketches of magazine cover designs, which are themselves over an obscure note that on “Dec. 3 I go w/ ‘Care’ in wp481,” some class I took, which is itself next to the giant, scrawled name, “William,” is:

Ilha Mohja — you think you’ve got it tough? The headless horseman glasnost chuckles. But there’s no excuse for sloppiness. If that’s the way the cookie crumbles, we’ve got to find cookies that WILL NOT crumble. When he comes down, he comes down hard. When he thrashes around like a shark on a wounded man, a man leaking blood and a shark breathing it and the man deep inside a dangerous gullet — well, he does that hard, too. Gorgon. Gorgonzola. Soul. Solely. Solely soul. Roly-poly. Gorgonzoli. There are no bad designs. There are only bad designers. Guns don’t kill people ... guns don’t kill people ... guns don’t kill people ... I DO! The irony is — it’s unbelievable. What does wifferent about it? About wit? About ... shit.

And people wonder why I never did drugs.

I have no idea what I’m on about there, but I distinctly remember being in classrooms with lecturers speaking at length about information already known or too obvious to write down (another page reminds me that one teacher took pains to tell us “reps” was short for “representatives” in media lingo, and a different teacher taught us “grafs” was short for “paragraphs”) and feeling my mind search desperately for ideas on which to feed. It turned to free association to see if it held any surprises, an act that had the benefit of looking as though I was taking notes. I’m sure this was my inspiration and relatively sure I didn’t consciously know it at the time.

I free associate less now, since I’m less frequently in such situations, but I sense that’s the only reason.

In my free association, in other words, I sense continuity. I have no idea what I was talking about, but I know what I was saying.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Odwalla’s Summertime Lime is sublime and Harvard Square’s Darwin’s Ltd. is Exclnt. The combination leaves something to be desired, though, as a small Summertime Lime at Darwin’s Ltd. will run you $3.29.

The experience of holding one for a moment and returning it to the refrigerator is free, though, which is what I did a couple of days ago. I was suddenly far less thirsty and far more curious about the actual cost of one of these little plastic bottles — especially since C’est Bon, only a couple of blocks away, was selling the roughly eight-ounce drink for only $2.99.

That’s still expensive. The Odwalla Web site’s frequently asked questions page includes a section on “Why are your juices more expensive than others?” and the wholesale cost of the beverages is information not shared with members of the public. So it’s not as though the company isn’t sensitive to the issue. But the same size Lime drink was $2.50 at Formaggio, on Huron Avenue, and, through today (with other Odwalla flavors), $2 at the Porter Square Star Market. Although $2.99 is a standard retail cost for the small bottle, it’s hard to believe Star isn’t making money on its Odwallas even by selling it at almost a dollar less.

Rent is higher in Harvard Square, of course, than in Porter, but it’s probably not 10 percent more on Mount Auburn Street, where Darwin’s Ltd. is, than on Massachusetts Avenue, where C’est Bon is.

Don’t get me wrong. Darwin’s Ltd. is a great place. It may be 10 percent better than C’est Bon. It’s probably 64.5 percent better than Star Market.

I’m not sure if it’s 31.6 percent better than Formaggio, though.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


It’s old news that intelligence agencies didn’t cooperate before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That a military program called “Able Danger” spotted Mohamed Atta as a member of Al Qaeda and danger to the United States long before 9/11, and that no action resulted, no longer surprises. And that the Sept. 11 commission ignored the news or didn’t realize its significance is disappointing, but hardly revelatory; there are many inconsistencies and mysteries that the commission chose to ignore in its hearings and final report.

All of the 9/11 terrorists took steps to muddy their movements. Some of the muddying may have been through identity theft or, more likely, by having two people use one name at times.

Consider this information from Paul Thompson’s “The Terror Timeline” (ReganBooks, 2004) and his Center for Cooperative Research Web site:

A landlord confirms that terrorist Ziad Jarrah lived in a rented apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., for about a year starting March 1995, but there’s evidence he was still at home in Lebanon during the same period. The Jarrahs converge in Germany in April 1996. Later, Jarrah moves to Florida. He’s questioned in Dubai in 2001 on his way back to Florida and says he’s been in Pakistan and Afghanistan for two months, something that is later confirmed by U.S. investigators. At the same time, he’s been in flight training school in Florida and back in Lebanon, past the date of the questioning in Dubai.

By all accounts, other hijackers traded names while living in San Antonio, Texas. Several got one or more duplicates of their Florida drivers licenses, met with a notorious ID forger and bought illegal Virginia identity cards. Some were said to be living on the east and west coasts in the weeks before 9/11 — a difficult daily commute.

Atta had the same skill, except he seemed to simultaneously be daily fixtures for extended periods in two countries, Spain and Germany, not just on two coasts. Documents and testimony show he visited an Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., got a BJ’s Wholesale Club card and bank account in Florida, used a library in Portland, Ore., and talked more than once with a stateside U.S. Department of Agriculture worker — all before arriving in the United States for the first time, according to the official U.S. intelligence version, on June 3, 2000.

Able Danger could finally change that date. Three people connected with the program are attesting that Atta’s name and photograph were affixed to a chart of U.S.-based Al Qaeda operators “by January-February of 2000,” several months before his “arrival.”

Interestingly, as The New York Times reported Aug. 9, “the information was not shared ... apparently at least in part because Mr. Atta and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas.”

Atta’s tourist visa was issued May 18 in Berlin ... according to the official U.S. intelligence version.

Monday, August 22, 2005


This probably doesn’t need much editorializing. It was found in the comments section of while researching a previous Misanthropicity post — the connection being that the guy running Ejectejecteject, Bill Whittle, is another person transformed by 9/11 into a Bush fan and conservative. He seems relatively reasonable otherwise, especially in comparison with some of his readers.

Which brings us to the below memory of Boston’s Democratic National Convention, preserved verbatim, by a local guy who calls himself “Nobody important.” Enjoy, and perhaps we can meet up afterward:

My Michael Moore Moment. Like you I loathe the “man”.

I work in downtown Boston and during the DNC I was out trolling for arguments during my lunch hour each day that week. At that point, nothing much, a few “f**k you’s” to some young Kerry campaign workers and Code Pinkos. Not quite satisfying as I was looking for some International ANSWER types or Black Tea Society anarchists.

On the final day of the convention, after another fruitless mission, as I was walking back to my office I noticed a crowd gathered outside a local restaurant. Whispers in the crowd indicated that Hillary was inside. Turns out it was a party thrown by Tina Brown for some Dem big shots. So I decided to hang out and wait for Hillary to emerge.

Suddenly someone screamed adoringly, “It’s Michael Moore!” This is the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts, so the crowd was giddy with delight and erupted with applause. As I turned around, there he was and he walked right past me crossed the street and went into the restaurant. God, was he huge! And smelly! In the same clothes.

So as he approached me and after I briefly contemplated punching his ugly face in (30 years martial arts training having restrained me), I laid into him as loud as I could.

“You f**king fat f*gg*t!”

“You f**king liar!”

“F**king traitor!”

Man, that felt great! I was elated. The people around me, mostly female office workers were aghast and drew back from me as though I had leprosy. You could tell by the look on their faces they were thinking, “My God! A Republican! In Boston, on this most holy of weeks?”

Flush with my first big heckle, I decided to wait for a while longer. Then out of the restaurant came Gray Davis. Not a big fish, but I gave him a few “Ah-nold, Ah-nold” shouts and a “Girly-man” thown in for good measure.

Then some guy says to me, “Ok, that’s enough.”

So I say, “Isn’t this America? Don’t I have free speech?”

“Yeah, but you’ve made your point. Be nice”

“What? Is there a limit?”

“You’ve made your point”

“That’s your opinion. Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one”

“Did you call me an asshole? Come over here”

He grabs my arm (turns out he’s a cop) and another uniformed cop joins him to force me away from the crowd. They ask for my ID, which I present.

“Nobody calls me an asshole”

So I apologize and they let me go after running my name through their computer looking for some excuse to arrest me. As they walk away I yelled, “More crushing of dissent in the Cradle of Liberty! Is this a police state? Did you see those Gestapo tactics?” Then the uniformed cop comes back and warns me, politely, that if I persist in my behavior they were going to arrest me for disturbing the peace. So realizing that I might just be pushing their limit, I relented and left. I didn’t want to be the guy arrested for heckling Gray Davis.

Ah, life in America. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Sorry for the long post.

Most striking is that no one else in the comments section, let alone Bill Whittle, seems to see anything wrong with Nobody important’s actions, especially the fact that he seems to have no real points to make or thoughts worthy of discussion. Instead of engaging in dialogue, he’s hurling invective. He’s educated enough to use the word “elated,” but stupid enough to be elated over yelling that Michael Moore is a “fucking fat faggot.” Aware enough to assert his rights to free speech even when confronted by the police, stupid enough to assert them over being a meanspirited potty-mouth.

There’s so much in Nobody important’s posting, and it’s so breathtakingly, astonishingly ironic, but saying more about it would be just a little silly, as it’s also pretty obvious.

So let this stand alone as a monument to the perfect Bush conservative: a follower with the soul of an imp and the mentality of a juvenile delinquent, just stupid enough that he can’t recognize his own stupidity, submerged so deeply in delusion that he mistakes horror at his actions for surprise at his identity. To him, a dashing figure who stands for America, to others, a bully, coward and moron.

Friday, August 19, 2005


The grieving mother haunting President Bush haunts us as well, raising ghosts other than that of her soldier son slain in Iraq. The scariest ghost is the cause of the Iraq war itself, raised in part by comments attributed to the mother, Cindy Sheehan, saying her son “was killed for lies and for a PNAC neocon agenda to benefit Israel.”

Whether she actually said these things or not, professional ranter Christopher Hitchens has responded, dismissing her take on “the Michael Moore/Ramsay Clark school of Iraq analysis” as not “one atom more elegant or persuasive” than it’s ever been.

Hitchens lost his mind during 9/11. He’s not alone — Dennis Miller and Ron Silver are two other much-noted casualties for whom “9/11 changed everything” — but is the most prolific (save for Thomas L. Friedman, who at least struggles to stay on his meds in his New York Times column). Hitchens became so starry-eyed that he came to believe that “what is happening in today’s Iraq is something more like a social and political revolution than a military occupation” and tried to take down Michael Moore for criticizing the Iraq effort in the film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

In this way Hitchens has something in common (shudder) with my friend Michael Scott Moore, who resents sharing a name with the filmmaker and has recently written in response to Hitchens:

I don’t like the Michael Moore school of analysis; I think the Iraq War was just the easiest response in front of Bush after 9/11, since the brave and honest response — facing down the Saudi family and liberalizing Arabia — was such an intractable bitch. (And still isn’t resolved.) We had a military lock on Iraq, after all, and Saddam was a bad guy, and wouldn’t it be good to have a democratic regime and a few bases and some friends there in charge of the oil? Yes, of course. I thought so, too, in theory.

I side with Sheehan in the “the Michael Moore/Ramsay Clark school of Iraq analysis,” if in fact that’s even the side she’s on. The attacks of 9/11 didn’t change everything. In the context of Iraq, it hardly changed anything, although the Project for the New American Century referred to by Sheehan (which actually wants to benefit the United States of America first, with Israel as a distant second) isn’t technically to blame.

It’s responsible in the same way U2 is responsible for “Original Soundtracks 1” by the Passengers, which is U2 recording slightly different music under another name with the help of producer Brian Eno. In this case, replace U2 with “Project for the New American Century” and the Passengers with the “Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.” This institute, which is based in Jerusalem, is where Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and David Wurmser wrote a 1996 paper called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” that suggested to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu that:

Israel can shape its strategic environment ... by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.

Among the reasons Feith, Perle and Wurmser could come up with for going after Syria were that:

Syria repeatedly breaks its word. It violated numerous agreements with the Turks, and has betrayed the United States by continuing to occupy Lebanon in violation of the Taef agreement in 1989 ... Syria has begun colonizing Lebanon ... while killing tens of thousands of its own citizens at a time ... Syria’s regime supports the terrorist groups [and has a] weapons of mass destruction program.

Some of this obviously sounds very familiar. Netanyahu didn’t go for it, but two years later this thinking was recycled into PNAC’s notorious letter to President Clinton saying “removing Saddam Hussein ... needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.” Among the signers of the letter was Perle, a project member who became chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee in July 2001. Feith, who is not a member of the project, became Bush’s undersecretary of defense for policy the same month. Wurmser joined the State Department’s top ranks and now advises Vice President Cheney on the Middle East.

On Jan. 30, 2001, nine months before 9/11, Bush gathered his top cabinet members and advisers for his first big meeting on national security. The only items on the agenda, according to former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, were Israel and Iraq. Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet showed overhead shots of what could have been a plant “that produced either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.”

We know the rest. America was attacked. And despite evidence that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were behind 9/11, and despite the fact there was no evidence against Saddam Hussein, the U.S. war machine immediately began looking at attacking Iraq.

Describing a meeting on Sept. 12, 2001, former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wrote in “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror” (Simon & Schuster, 2004) that:

I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq. At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting Al Qaeda. Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [we] were going to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote [attacking] Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq.

Iraq was not a “response” to 9/11. If anything, 9/11 was an excuse for Iraq, and it’s entirely plausible when Clarke says he heard long before the attacks that there were hopes of invading Iraq in 2002.

Interestingly enough, that 1998 letter to Clinton urged him to take on Iraq quickly because the end of United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq meant that “in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess such weapons.”

Years later, long after the end of inspections, that uncertainty would be unjustifiably gone.

Sheehan has much more cause to believe that a decade-old neocon agenda killed her son. In fact, we all do.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Our celebrity culture may distort what’s important in society, but the worst of it is not the drugs-and-sex distortion social conservatives decry. Far worse is that our obsessive interest in celebrities has become something like new parents’ obsessive interest in their children, giving outsize weight to the slightest and silliest bit of activity.

Parents can quiz junior for hours on the adventure of playing in the sandbox next door, hanging on every word — probably recording every word on digital video.

And we pay attention when Sean John Combs changes his name. Again.

Perhaps his several careers entitle him, even if this latest change does follow somewhat pathetically upon the heels of ex-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez taking back her nickname “J.Lo” entirely. Either way, the evolution from Sean Combs to “Puffy” to “Puff Daddy” to “P. Diddy” to “Diddy” (“Sean John” is reserved for the clothing he designs and sells; also lists the variations “P Diddy” and “P .Diddy” for awards show appearances) can’t possibly justify the length of his explanation to MTV News.

It’s five letters, one word. The name is changed. We made it simpler. We removed the P. The P was getting in between us. We’re entering the age of Diddy. A lot of my peeps in music been calling me Diddy, so it’s not a drastic change for them. But people around the world didn’t know what to call me. We was at [Madison Square Garden] rocking with Jay-Z. The last time I was there, half the crowd was chanting ‘P Diddy,’ half the crowd chanting ‘Diddy.’ We gonna stop the confusion. ‘Diddy. Diddy, Diddy!’ Simple. To the point and it sounds strong. It sounds like something is about to happen. It sounds like something is about to go down in history.

Sure it does. The level of delusion in this extended monologue would be staggering if it weren’t for the fact that MTV News, the World Entertainment News Network, and, well, me weren’t paying attention. Google shows some 230 hits for “The P was getting in between us” since the announcement was made two days ago.

This is why it’s so astonishing to think of the invective against celebrities expressing unpopular political views — because, as celebrities, they’re not allowed to have serious thoughts or opinions.

Combs thinks he’s cool. It’s hard not to when MTV lets his idolatrous ramblings run on to millions of viewers and plans an “unveiling of Diddy” ceremony for this month’s Video Music Awards.

He’s a jester, though, who prances and flounces for our pleasure. William Shatner gets to pimp, too, but Tim Robbins must shut up about Iraq. Combs will find out when he gets serious, as he did with his “Vote or die” campaign, that there’s a limit to his time in the spotlight. It’s limited to the time in which he entertains us. The name changes, while increasingly absurd, are getting less and less entertaining.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


The “Simpsons” box scandal threatens to overshadow our troubles in Iraq. For the three people who aren’t aware yet, the packaging for the sixth season’s digital videodisc collection is a giant, molded Homer head with the discs and assorted junk crammed inside. It’s very nice and awfully irritating — it doesn’t stand up on its own, for one thing, unlike the boxes for seasons one through five — and is causing a nationwide ruckus.

Not in the mainstream media, of course. No, for this kind of esoteric inanity you have to read through the embittered reviews clogging Internet message boards.

I’m not making fun; I agree with the complaints. Packaging such as this should be voluntary, saved for those who truly enjoy exploring the boundaries of creative packaging and think it enhances their DVD-watching experience. I just want the bloody things to line up on a shelf some day and have some semblance of organization.

I’m obviously not alone. Aside from the message boards, there’s evidence of this inside Homer’s head: an offer from 20th Century Fox to replace the head with a traditional box for $2.95 in shipping and handling. The slip of paper leads you to a phone number (800-223-2369) that leads you to a Web site ( that allows you to print out a piece of paper that you can mail in to get alternate packaging. And it’ll only take four to six weeks for delivery.

“For all those who fear change,” the slip of paper says. “For all those anal-retentive nerds who like their DVD boxes to line up ... just call ... for a very derivative, old-style, just-like-before box with almost nothing new or creative to annoy or terrify you! Enjoy!” The phone number gives a similar recorded Homeresque rant before an operator comes on.

This is all funny, but one suspects there’s a little edge to the comedy. It’s odd (and hardly cheap) when a slip of paper, toll-free phone number and Web site are set up even before a box set ships just to offer redundant packaging. This may easily be costing the company twice what the usual packaging would, although the retail cost is no more than those of previous seasons.

There’s probably a very interesting story behind all this. It may involve a firing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


The constitutional crisis in Iraq has the distinct reek of Bush — which smells slightly different on everybody but cannot be mistaken for anything but the product of its own unique mix of ingredients.

It’s not something that effectively masks the stench of desperation pervading recent news of the Iraqi constitution writing. Insisting a constitution might be turned in a day before deadline, although the minor issue of federalism hadn’t quite been settled, well, that’s about as obvious a stench as exists, something like swamp gas and old eggs, and nothing hides it.

Some of the recipe:

The United States has faith-based initiatives, bans on flag burning and fervent presidential support for people who find virgin birth more plausible than evolution. Iraq is writing a constitution codifying a mishmash of Islamic beliefs into the rule of law. What we’ll accomplish for women by reversing Roe vs. Wade, Iraq will surpass by instituting Shariah.

The Sunnis, all of 20 percent of the nation, may boycott this political process. Shiites don’t need them any more than the conservatives here need liberals, even though liberals still make up about half the country.

And while the White House had the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers help select a nominee for the Supreme Court, among the most recent of its many blurrings of business and governing, Iraq’s constitution writers had early success pinning down distribution of oil profits. The agreement’s fallen through, but for a while it was something.

A suggestion for constitution writers who find themselves stuck on issues of federalism, power sharing, women’s rights and the role of religion in your society: You may want to not waste time divvying up oil money instead. You’re not going to buy off insurgents, secessionists or even the odd whiner by promising a good return from oil sales through the nation’s charter — especially when the recipients think it all belongs to them anyway. When you lack such stuff as freedom of speech and religion and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, though, one must find something to throw in the text; oil money’s as good as anything, and at least ensures the document gets read.

That’s all over now, of course. The constitution writers missed deadline, not beat it by a day, and seek another week to iron it all out. Civil war beckons from the unrest of Sunnis and Kurds and the insurgents are doing their best to bring it about with threats of violence in the mosques. In Baghdad the politicians are slamming doors and hunkering down, and everyone’s sniffing the air and grimly certain what they’re sensing.

It’s the smell of blood. The remaining ingredient in Bush’s recipe. The trick is to bottle it up again.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Oh my god. Why me? I didn’t even answer the last “Spanish prisoner/Nigerian” scam letter I got and already I have another to ignore. This one, presented verbatim, came Saturday at 8:08 p.m.

Courtyard Chambers
Sorrena 76, 5-3
Madrid 28006
I wish to notify you that I am privileged to peruse over your profile today and I am greatly impressed on your person. With all due respect, I guess my letter will not embarrass you, since I have no previous correspondence with you. I strongly believed, I would not regret approaching you in this matter.
I am Mr. Karl Hermanns, a Canadian attorney based in Spain and the personal attorney to late Mr.Hani Saiid El-Ali, a Lebanese national. Late Mr.Hani Saiid El-Ali is a private oil consultant/contractor with the Shell Petroleum Development in Saudi Arabia, hereinafter shall be referred to as my client.
Unfortunately, my client and his wife with their three children lost their lives in the Plane crash of Union Transport Africaines Flight Boeing 727 in Cotonou, Benin Republic on the December 25,2003. You will read more stories about the crash on visiting these websites: or
Since then, I have made several enquiries with his country's embassies to locate his extended relatives, but this has also proved unsuccessful. After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to personally contact you with this business partnership proposal.
I am contacting you to assist me in repatriating a huge amount of money left behind by my late client before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the Finance and Security Company where this huge deposit was lodged.
The deceased had a deposit valued presently at $12,000,000.00 (twelve million united states dollars) and The Finance and Security Company has issued me a notice to provide his next of kin or beneficiary by will, otherwise the account confiscated within the next ninety working days.
Having been unsuccessful in locating any of my late client relatives for six (6) months now, I am now seeking your consent to present you as the next of kin/beneficiary to the deceased so that the proceeds of this account valued at $ 12 million united states dollars can be paid to you.
It is not necessary you must be a blood relation to late Mr.Hani Saiid El-Ali, neither is it necessary to bear the same surname with him. It is even not important for you as the stand-in next of kin to be a Lebanese national.
Already, I have worked out modalities for achieving my aim of appointing you as the next of kin as well as transfer the money abroad for us to share in the ratio of 50% for me and 35% to you, while we would collectively donate the remaining 10% to Tsunami Relief Course. Although, 5% has been mapped out for reimbursement of any incurable expenses both local and international.
It is my intention to achieve this transfer in a legitimate way, all I required is your honesty, co-operation, confidentiality and trust to enable us see this transaction through. The money transfer paper work itself will include a certificate of origin so that the receiving bank does not ask question.
Also the paper work will include proper certificate that the fund being transferred is from non-criminal sources. In short this will be a proper and legal money transfer with apparently no risk involved. The transaction is guaranteed to succeed without any problem. If this proposal is acceptable to you, kindly email the following information:
A. Private telephone number and fax number.
B. Your complete location address.
As soon as I hear from you, I shall provide you with further clarifications that you may need. Your urgent response is highly anticipated and will be appreciated.
Best wishes,
Mr. Karl Hermanns
Note: In the event you are not willing to assist, kindly notify me to prevent me from making further contact.

Anyone who wants is invited to get in on this — just indicate your interest and I’ll pass on Mr. Hermanns’ e-mail address. I feel this opportunity is unnecessary for me, as I’m rich enough in other ways.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Odd that there are threats that sound so helpful: “I’m going to fix your wagon” and “I’m going to clean your clock” are fighting words, but it’s difficult to see why. The Internet is unhelpful, so far, and even books devoted to phrase origins are coming up empty.

The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Words and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson (Checkmark Books, 2004) lacks origins for either phrase, for instance, and Jeffrey Kacirk’s “Informal English: Puncture Ladies, Egg Harbors, Mississippi Marbles, and Other Curious Words and Phrases of North America” (Touchstone, 2005) has only the possibly related “fix one’s flint,” meaning to settle one’s business.

Can anyone help?

Friday, August 12, 2005


Naral Pro-Choice America has withdrawn its ad criticizing Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. It’s hard to imagine what impact the ad had, as controversy somewhat overwhelmed the message, but at least new focus on the court decision referred to in the ad, Bray vs. Alexandria Women’s Health, makes for a good addition to the list of dubious Supreme Court accomplishments (Plessy vs. Ferguson, Newdow, Bush vs. Gore, et cetera).

The 6-3 ruling was that people seeking abortions (or other services at clinics providing abortions) could not seek protection from antiabortion protesters under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. That act was to keep conspirators with “class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus” from depriving “any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws.”

Lower courts thought the act worked against the antiabortion protesters because the protesters discriminated against women. Roberts, in a friend of the court brief for the Reagan administration, wrote that, as The New York Times said yesterday,

The demonstrators were not singling out women for discriminatory treatment but rather were trying to “prohibit the practice of abortion altogether.” He told the court that even though only women could become pregnant or seek abortions, it was “wrong as a matter of law and logic” to regard opposition to abortion as the equivalent of discrimination against women.

This view is partially correct, but not in the way Roberts (or the majority of justices at the time) thought. Blocking access to abortions is not discriminatory to all women, many of whom would never seek an abortion. Blocking access to abortions is discriminatory, however, to anyone who is seeking one, which could be a man as well as a woman. The protesters would be just as much of a conspiratorial threat against a man seeking an abortion (or, in a biologically accurate way, accompanying a woman seeking an abortion) as they would be to a woman, just as the protesters would be no threat at all to a women — or a man — who would never seek an abortion.

Consider the Ku Klux Klan Act itself. The Klan was no threat to a black person who behaved as the Klan wanted it to, only to those who crossed the line in some way (or were perceived to have crossed a line). And that applies to white people as well as black, as was shown famously during the Civil Rights movement when white people were killed because they were helping black people gain more rights.

The real standard is action, not gender. Blacks were intimidated from participating in their legal right to vote, for instance, by white people who didn’t approve of them having political power — a deeply held, somewhat irrational and totally extralegal point of view. During the time of Bray, people seeking abortions were intimidated from pursuing a legal medical option by opponents with another deeply held, somewhat irrational (being usually based on a religion not shared by all) and totally extralegal point of view. Bray may even have had a chance (a far slimmer one) if pursued on religious grounds, as the protesters were largely discriminating against people who didn’t share their dogmatic beliefs about the sanctity of a fetus’ life and soul.

Either way, that the assailed persons or class of persons were women is somewhat beside the point, and if the case had acknowledged that, Roberts would have had little to write about.

Too late now, of course.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Not that anything is likely to derail the Supreme Court nomination of John G. Roberts Jr., but an endorsement of him by the National Association of Manufacturers comes across as a “you can help by not helping” situation. It’s the first time in its 110 years that the association has made such an endorsement, which makes the action overwhelmingly suggestive: For anyone unclear on what Roberts stands for, well, here’s a great big clue.

Certainly this isn’t the only factor to consider on this nomination, but alarms go off when the association declares it “will reach out to its nationwide membership and call on other business organizations to exercise their First Amendment right to participate in this decision that is vital to business interests.” The association’s endorsement didn’t just come after the fact; CNN, in describing Roberts’ pro-business stance over the years, notes that:

In fact, the Bush administration reportedly did go over its potential nominees with business groups in an effort to build support for what is likely to be a bruising confirmation battle over social issues such as abortion and right to die. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, headed by former Michigan governor and Bush friend John Engler, were both involved in the selection process.

Well, the business of America is business, so it must somehow make sense that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NAM weigh in on Supreme Court nominees sure to be facing “social issues such as abortion and [the] right to die.” Engler sees something “vital to business interests,” though, so one can’t help but wonder what key topics of concern to business are being steered to land in front of the bench in the next couple of years.

Not that the endorsement is likely to change many minds or votes, laying an oppressively dull and thick veneer of uselessness atop an otherwise intriguing kernel of suspiciousness. Naral Pro-Choice America has an ad linking legal arguments made by Roberts with antiabortion violence that is just as useless in changing minds but at least lacks a hidden agenda. (The ad is arguably unfair, but Democrats and liberals condemning it fall into a trap laid by Republicans and conservatives: The last election proved that concern about the fairness of political ads and techniques is all on the left.)

At least on the surface, the more pressing concern is that the Bush administration will delay the release of Roberts’ papers until it’s too late to give them thorough study. Standards should be set on what kind of documents must be released during a court nomination process and a proportional formula written to determine how much time is needed to give them a proper read. Votes should be held a proper, codified and consistent number of weeks or months after delivery of those papers for Congressional review.

That would put an end to any question of White House delay; if they want their candidate confirmed, they’ll deliver the documents. There would also be no question of delay on the part of Congress, and no whining about not having enough time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I hold some small measure of pride that in 1994 I was ahead of the curve on converging technologies; I predicted the scanner/printer/copier/fax machine. I was part of a group that was so on top of things technologically, in fact, that we were unable to create an online magazine because we needed technologies that didn’t yet exist — at least, not in user-friendly form.

The only thing we accomplished was buying an America Online e-mail address, which I wound up keeping for more years than I care to admit. What we could not do was figure out a way to post multiple pages of a magazine called Cruel World Online (on the brand-newish Internet) so people could print out whatever pages and articles they wanted (via the yet-to-be-released Adobe Acrobat). We cleverly spotted the reality that the Internet meant no printing or distribution costs, and we just as sadly couldn’t take advantage of it.

This early prescience has settled into a reflective crankiness as I have come to expect things to converge better and faster than they are. Two decades after Betamax and VHS competed for the tops of the giant cubes we called televisions, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are competing to be built into the video screens we will soon hang on our walls. A couch can turn into a bed, but Apple’s Address Book can’t even dial the phone for me by emitting tones to play into a mouthpiece (a feature its progenitor had in OS 9).

Okay, that’s not really an example of convergence. It’s just a complaint.

But worst of all is my landline telephone, which has absorbed the worst features of cell phones (downloadable ringtones) and added ridiculous new ones (the antenna can light up in any of three colors to reflect who’s calling) without paying attention to what’s most simple and valuable — namely such things as recent-call logs with redial. My fancy new Panasonic KX-TG5571 is fancy without being very impressive, and for all its buttons and gimcrackery, still offers only a feature that’s as old as the first touch tone phones: redial of the most recently called number.

Meanwhile, cell phones offer downloadable ringtones and all the data you’d care to know about a call (what time it was made, how long it lasted) without guaranteeing you can even hear the person on the other end or speak for longer than a few seconds. They record video that’s not worth looking at and want desperately to take you online, but still rely on a keypad that demands you hit 2 three times to get the letter C.

This decade will probably see the end of the landline, which is one way to solve a problem: Converge it out of existence. The question is whether cell phone reception will improve significantly as landlines die off, especially as they absorb more and more of the functionality of PDAs and computers.

Let’s hope so. Our scanner/printer/copier/fax machines are chintzy, half-assed heaps of plastic. Our brave new world of convergence offers a lot of things done badly rather than one thing done well — and paying for one thing done well (a standalone fax machine, for instance) costs as much or more as the combo.

It’s become all too predictable. I know, because making predictions is one of the things I do in a half-assed way.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I know I’m not supposed to be discussing this with anyone, but I’m so excited I just can’t keep my mouth shut: I’m about to get 30 percent of $25 million that belonged to Saddam Hussein. I just have to help get the money out of Iraq, which, I’m told, “is a warzone.”

Anyone who doesn’t know Iraq is a war zone, a secret closely held by almost 6.4 billion people, is fair game for this scam, an obvious reworking of the classic “Nigerian letter.” The interesting part is that the person sending the e-mail — using the term con artist would be insulting to actual con artists — is innovatively representing himself or herself as Sgt. David Estrada, an American soldier, instead of as the traditional top official in an African government.

Nice that we’re moving on after so many years, but the evolution was necessary. The “Nigerian letter” scam is also known by about 6.4 billion people, and itself is the offspring of a scam begun in the 1920s, when it was known as “The Spanish Prisoner.” That version died when it no longer became plausible to need money to extract a Spanish nobleman from prison (to great reward, as, when he was freed, he would be quite generous with his riches).

Here’s Estrada’s letter, as sent the evening of Aug. 3:

From: Sgt. David Estrada
Important Message

Good day to you

My name is David Estrada, I am an American soldier, i am serving in the military of the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, we have just been posted to leave Iraq and go back to US. I am now in Kuwait at the mean time, I and my superior moved funds seized from Saddam Hussein, the total is $25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five million US dollars) this money is being kept safe in a security company.

Basically since we are working for the government we cannot keep these funds, but we want to transfer and move the funds to you, so that you can keep it for us in your safe account or an offshore account. We will divide the total funds in three ways, since we are three that is involved. This means that you will take 30%, I will take 30%, and my superior will take 30%. 10% will be kept aside for expenses.No strings attached. it should not be discussed with anyone.Just help us move it out of iraq, iraq is a warzone. When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including contact details and your most confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication. This business is risk free. The funds can be shipped out in 48hrs to you if you are ready.

Respectfully submitted.

Sgt. David Estrada

Saturday, August 06, 2005


I want to direct “Hamlet” and portray the Danish prince as a drunkard.

Hamlet is a paragon of indecisiveness, but few productions — none I’ve seen or heard of, in fact — explain why. It’s deeper to leave it unexamined, which makes it more universal, if not metaphorical, but while watching a performance this can cause a bit of head scratching.

Dad’s dead, murdered by his own brother, who marries the widow, and dad’s ghost asks Hamlet to take revenge. Hamlet’s follow-through lacks, though, as even in Act III, Scene 2, he is still confirming the crime his father (in fact, his father’s ghost) revealed to him. This would seem one of those rare times confirmation is unnecessary, and it comes long after he’s urged the ghost to talk so “I, with wings as swift as meditation of the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.”

It’s so long after swift revenge has been sworn that Shakespeare, as though realizing there’s been no revenge in his revenge play, has Hamlet concoct an elaborate plot to prove the guilt of his uncle because “the spirit that I have seen may be a devil.”

More like the spirits he drank may have bedeviled him. Hamlet’s a college guy and a Dane, no stranger to alcohol, and it would make sense for him to hit the bottle pretty hard when his father dies and, less than two months later, his mother remarries. He’s wandering around Elsinore depressed amid the new king’s “heavy-headed revels.” The Rhenish is flowing. Of course he’s soused. “They call us drunkards,” Hamlet says, and when his buddy Horatio shows up, he tells him “We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.”

Hamlet’s sometime girlfriend, Ophelia, describes the prince’s interactions with her to her father, who interprets them as “the very ecstasy of love.” But he’s deluded when it comes to his daughter’s effect on Hamlet, and what she describes sounds very much like someone who’s both very depressed and so drunk as to be unable to focus:

He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And, with his other hand thus o’er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay’d he so.
At last, a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He rais’d a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being. That done, he lets me go,
And with his head over his shoulder turn’d
He seem’d to find his way without his eyes,
For out o’ doors he went without their help
And to the last bended their light on me.

This is Gertrude’s “too much changed son,” who notoriously acts insane for much of the play. I suspect or suggest that, in fact, he’s acting drunk, although he stops drinking — at the very earliest — back in Act III, Scene 2, as signaled by a revelation said to be common to remorseful drunks: “Why, what an ass am I!”

That brings us back to “the spirit that I have seen may be a devil.” It seems within the realm of directorial license that this is said by Hamlet, gazing into his last bottle of Gray Goose before going cold turkey, as “the spirits that I have seen may be a devil” — the demon rum, so to speak, not the demon dad. The problem is not just booze, but the predilection of drunks to see such things as their dead father’s ghost, and while others have seen it, Hamlet alone talks to it and gets the story that should prompt his revenge.

His inaction afterward makes sense if immediately after his occult experience he engages in another activity enjoyed by the drunk: blacking out. This would need a second bit of directorial license, meaning some minor rewriting of stage directions. Hamlet, as Shakespeare wrote it, speaks with his friends while they are offstage and coming on; in this version they should come onstage and revive their prince during the following dialogue:

Horatio: My lord, my lord!
Marcellus: Lord Hamlet!
Horatio: Heaven secure him!
Marcellus: So be it!
Horatio: Hillo, ho, ho, my lord!
[awakening] Hillo, ho, ho, boy! Come, bird, come.
Marcellus: How is’t, my noble lord?

From there, the play can run as written, with the continuing interpolation of glasses and bottles of this and that littering the stage and clogging Hamlet’s hands. When Hamlet finds his purpose, these would be mocktails — he continues to act drunk to disguise his deadly intent. As he mutters at the end of Act III, Scene 3, with some added meaning:

Now could I drink hot blood and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on.

Since all of Elsinore thinks Hamlet’s constantly soused, imagine the surprise of Hamlet’s uncle when he tries to kill Hamlet with a poisoned drink (“Hamlet, this pearl is thine. Here’s to thy health”) — and his nephew turns down the drink to keep fighting a duel (“I’ll play this bout first; set it by awhile”).

It is odd that a play holds metaphorical power by dint of an essentially unjustifiable lack of action on the part of the hero. Anyone who delays a decision is vulnerable to be compared to Hamlet, but such comparisons are never positive because Hamlet’s reluctance to act isn’t even tragic, just bewildering, being really based on nothing. As much as I enjoy “Hamlet,” it’s difficult to shake the feeling that Shakespeare really didn’t have a rationale for the apathy — just a need to delay action long enough to get in a lot of other really cool stuff. The “devil spirit” theory seems tacked on, for instance, especially considering that Hamlet’s plot “to catch the conscience of the king” springs up from a coincidental visit to Elsinore by an acting troupe. No troupe, no play within a play, no plot, no revenge, right?

Shakespeare’s arguably the greatest writer in history, and he can get away with such sloppiness. It would even be nice to take the play as being about indecision, rather than about someone who happens to be indecisive, but it would be giving too much credit. I’ve never seen a production of “Hamlet” in which a director has made the inaction make sense.

The one transformation directorial tricks can’t accomplish is turning Hamlet into a bad guy, but he does seem a forerunner of the movie villains who engineer attacks or assassinations elaborate to the point of absurdity. He would be better served by being friends with Scott Evil than Horatio, who is ultimately an enabler, because Scott, as a son, clone and postmodern observer of movie villains, would have better advice. When Hamlet leaves his father’s ghost to go skulking about the castle, Scott would be there to insist on action: “I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM, I’ll blow the king’s brains out!”

The play might last 20 minutes.

As it is, Shakespeare needs an excuse. And Hamlet needs a drink.

Friday, August 05, 2005


Much is suggested by the video library at our New Hampshire vacation chalet — no kidding, it’s really called a chalet, and it’s in Eidelweiss Village above a Bavarian-style “Eidelweiss” sign. I thought I’d share the list of videos as a peek into another’s life, similar to eyeing the purchases of the person ahead of you at the grocery store checkout.

The DVDs are for the kids, mainly, with “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “The Bear,” “Elmo in Grouchland” and “Kermit’s Swamp Years,” but take a turn into the bizarre with “The Best of Benny Hill,” “Into Thin Air” and a Three Stooges collection.

The movies on videocassette mature: “A Christmas Story,” “Chicken Run,” “The Princess Bride” and, in a quantum leap, “Risky Business,” right into the mainstream: “Forrest Gump,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Green Mile,” “Seabiscuit,” “Austin Powers in Goldmember” and “Casablanca.”

It’s unclear where to put the “Moulin Rouge” director’s cut, Whoopi Goldberg in “Burglar” and the tape of Eurythmics music videos, but somewhere between the mainstream and the remainder lie “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Gladiator.”

The meat of the collection, then, is action movies. Ken Follett’s “Lie Down with Lions,” Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood,” “Silverado,” “X-Men,” “Aliens,” the Bond movies “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” and “The Living Daylights,” “The Crow,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Die Hard,” “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” “Batman Forever,” “Ladyhawke,” “Masque of the Red Death” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

And, finally, “Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2.” And “Lethal Weapon 3.”

And, oh yes, the “Lethal Weapon” director’s cut.

There are all of two books in the house. One is about local hiking. The other is “The Doctors [sic] Book of Home Remedies.”

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Things do not happen for the best. If they do, it’s luck, and the odds are just as good things happen for the worst. The truth is, things just happen.

What really matters is that humans react, and other factors intervene anyway. If you get fired and find a better job, that doesn’t mean the firing was for the best, for instance; you could have stayed at the first job and gotten a huge promotion.

(Had you not been fired. But you see my point.)

This is a corollary to the axioms that happy endings depend on when the curtain comes down and that whether a situation is good or bad can shift depending on what resources and energy are brought to bear on the matter. Our occupation of Iraq is a disaster, but by pouring billions of dollars and thousands of lives into it, eventually it could wind up being a factor in transforming Earth into a paradise. It may take a billion years, as well, but no one could say our invasion of Iraq wasn’t, ultimately, for the best — even if the same results could have been accomplished a different way. It’s impossible to tell.

Regardless, when someone tells you everything happens for the best, well, it’s bullshit.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Free summer Shakespeare brings all sorts of people together, including me and the oaf who sat in front of me Friday. I was delighted not to meet him. It was enough just to watch him in action.

He was, at the least, entertaining in a mildly horrifying kind of way, good counterpart to the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “Hamlet,” which was mildly horrifying in an entertaining way. The production was also funny where appropriate and staged in a watchable and accessible way, with some judicious updates. (It ends its run this weekend on Boston Common.)

But more about the oaf, whose conduct wasn’t so terrible but whose general behavior was increasingly objectionable. It was adding action to action that made him, heavy and bearded, gentle and simple, good competition for the play. As the tension mounted on stage, so did my incredulity offstage, and at times I wasn’t sure where to look and what to watch.

Just seconds after the play began he minced churlishly — or clumped delicately? — toward his friends, who were sitting just in front of us. Then came the settling-in process, in which he negotiated his bulk into a purple cloth seat. Not a traditional seat with legs, but the kind that forms an L of backpack material with a back clamped to its own base, which goes flat on the ground. Squeezing into one is like putting up wallpaper while facing away from the wall, and takes some faith and grace. This guy’s faith was on the awkward side, and he was roughly the size of a small bear, but he made it in.

Almost immediately his cell phone rang. It tootled away in his right pants pocket while he discovered that, straitjacketed by the seat, his right pants pocket was no longer accessible. He fumbled at it until the tinny song stopped leaking past his keys and, possibly, his slide rule.

When that crisis passed, he broke out a bookseller’s plastic bag, turned it over and poured out a Sparknotes “No Fear” edition of “Hamlet,” which translates Shakespearean English into clunky American (“The question is: is it better to be alive or dead? Is it nobler to put up with all the nasty things that luck throws your way, or to fight against all those troubles by simply putting an end to them once and for all?”). He was going to read along with the play, this earnest goof with a Van Dyke beard, comparing language, a work-intensive and distracting scheme that ended by intermission.

He stood then at the sausage stand, noshing away, and when the play started again, he was missing. His companions looked around for him occasionally. They waved desperately a couple of times, apparently because he was walking the paved path, scanning the audience, unable to find his way back to his seat. Eventually he wandered in with an Italian ice — possibly bought for sustenance during his sojourn. After intermission his “No Fear” edition disappeared. Eventually he was seen looking at the couple on his left, who had suspiciously broken out a copy of the same book.

When the play was over, he and his friends discussed the play.

“I wish I had read the whole play beforehand,” the bearded oaf said.

Right, I thought.

“I thought ‘To be or not to be’ was from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” he said a moment later.

Enough, I thought, and exited, chased by thoughts of a bear.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Somehow the world got it set in its collective head that things are done in the 11th hour. This would seem to refer to the 60 minutes from 10 to 11 a.m. and imply one out of every 24 actions occur then.

Of course, this isn’t what anyone means by “11th hour.” It is used to describe something happening as time is running out, and a Google search suggests many things do: There are about 883,000 listed pages including the phrase in some way. A pretty high volume.

What’s exasperating is that a significant majority use it as it is above, as an ordinal number following the rule that zero through nine get spelled out and those above are expressed with digits, starting with 10, 11 and 12. So things are first through ninth, but 10th, 11th 12th, et cetera.

There are 525,000 hits for “11th hour” or the adjective form, “11th-hour,” and only 358,000 for the spelled-out versions, “eleventh hour” or “eleventh-hour.”

These numbers are so out of whack it’s painful to contemplate them. There are few things happening in the 11th hour of any 12-hour span that are worth noting for that reason, let alone between 10 and 11 a.m. There’s an inversely gigantic number of people hyperbolically insisting things happened as time was running out. At the last minute, basically. In the eleventh hour.

The Associated Press rule is that “casual uses” or “casual expressions” of numbers are spelled out, and the stylebook gives three examples: “A thousand times no! Thanks a million. He walked a quarter of a mile.”

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage performs its usual linguistic and logical judo on the matter, refusing to address the general topic (“spelling out is sometimes appropriate,” says the Times’ style committee’s entry on numbers, with maddening vagueness) but dictating elsewhere, with no rationale:

11th hour. But 11th-hour (modifier preceding a noun)

Of course the Times provides no rationale. There is none. Specifying “11th hour” instead of “eleventh hour” for cliches in news writing makes no more sense than writing, to follow Associated Press examples, “A 1,000 times no!” or “Thanks 1 million!” or “He walked 1/4 of a mile,” and only passes as permissible because it sounds the same when read aloud. So does “making it to 3rd base,” but no one makes the argument it’s a stylistic improvement. (Maybe we could draw different meaningless distinctions if we operated on a base three system instead of base 10.) The problem with the Times’ rule, and the general use of “11th,” is that it makes it seem as though reference is being made to a specific 11th hour — exactly why numerals are avoided in all the other casual expressions using numbers.

By the way, some of this posting was written between 10 and 11 a.m., technically at the 11th hour. Did the drama come through?