Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Has anyone noted the utter absurdity of our officials envying British antiterrorist tactics? For anyone who hasn’t read or heard the nonsense, let me quote at length from Eric Lichtblau’s article in Tuesday’s New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez on Monday ordered a side-by-side review of American and British counterterrorism laws as a first step toward determining whether further changes in American law are warranted.

The plot to blow up airliners bound from Britain to the United States has highlighted differences in legal policies between the two allies, with American officials suggesting that their British counterparts have greater flexibility to prevent attacks.

Newly revised British counterterrorism laws, for instance, allow the authorities to hold a suspect for 28 days without charges, where American law generally requires that a suspect held in the civilian court system be charged or released within 48 hours.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in appearances on the Sunday morning news programs that he thought bringing American laws more closely into line with Britain’s, particularly regarding the detention of terror suspects without charges, could help deter threats at home.

“I think certainly making sure that we have the ability to be as nimble as possible with our surveillance, it’s very important,” Mr. Chertoff said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And frankly,” Mr. Chertoff added, “their ability to hold people for a period of time gives them a tremendous advantage.”

Mr. Gonzales echoed those remarks Monday in an appearance before a veterans group in Chicago. Asked about Britain’s 28-day policy, he said, “That may be something we want to look at,” according to an account by The Associated Press. But he also said: “Is it consistent with our Constitution? We have to look at that.”

Gonzales and Chertoff struggle mightily to overlook their own well-documented, years-long and chargeless imprisonment, rendition and torture of — although many hardly deserve this description — terrorism suspects, foreign and domestic, as well as the illegal tapping of phones and investigation of finances enabled by presidential “signing statements” or merely national ignorance. We’ve held Jose Padilla and dozens, if not hundreds, of others in our prisons at length without charges, and it’s unlikely to the point of impossibility that some terrorist somewhere has overlooked this; so which would dissuade this theoretical terrorist more — being held without charges for 28 days by the Brits, or disappearing for several years into some nameless black hole of waterboarding and beatings run by the Americans?

Talking about what “American law generally requires” in this context is like noting that the Ten Commandments says “Thou shalt not kill.” This being the case, it’s not a little offensive watching Gonzales’ and Chertoff’s attempts at innocence via earnest yearning to adopt British techniques that might stem terrorism. It probably confuses the British, too.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Given the level of directorial interpolation and deletion going on in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Co.’s “Taming of the Shrew,” this year’s free Shakespeare on the Boston Common, it is more than a little odd and offensive that the ending ran as written in the late 16th century — with the explosive Katharina becoming an obedient servant to Petruchio, her new husband, and telling other wives at length that “thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign.” Petruchio makes 100 crowns off this display, winning it from other husbands.

Director Steven Maler set the play in Boston’s North End in the 1950s, which is about the last time Katharina’s sentiments might have been so enthusiastically embraced. It’s an entertaining conceit, but putting “Shrew” into a time capsule, even one back only 50 or so years, doesn’t really forgive the faithfulness to the script. Earlier in the show, when Lucentio urges other characters to “give him head,” meaning listen, another character turns away, muttering he doesn’t want to see any such thing.

Funny, but contemporary, and it’s cha cha-ing along a pretty fine line to make the play relevant in such a way to modern audiences without acknowledging that the resolution of the play, as written, is agonizingly sexist. To say the reaction to “give him head” and Katharina’s speech are both items for a time capsule, and thus acceptable as such to a modern audience, is glib; Lucentio and the others on stage share an idiom, so there’s no getting around that misunderstanding “give him head” is a comment to people in 2006, not the 1950s. There are Shakespeare purists who wouldn’t want to change the message of the play’s ending, but once you start screwing around with the text to make three hours of “Shrew” fly by, setting it in “Bostonia,” making Petruchio’s horse into a Vespa and such, you start to lose moral authority on leaving the sexism intact.

It would have been so easy to get around the excruciating nature of Katharina’s speech, too. As the people with whom I saw the play pointed out, Petruchio and Katharina could have been shown to be in collusion — as equals — to win the 100 crowns by falsely portraying her to be a meek and subservient woman.

This inadequate amount of effort, interestingly, reflected itself in a very different and very physical way on the production, which ended Sunday. The set for the play was beautiful, clever and accomplished, but it was also set low enough that much of the onstage action was impossible to see from only several meters back. It’s a mystery why set designer John Coyne couldn’t raise the action high enough over the lawn that audience members could see the action no matter how far back they sat.

The director and set designer made impressive efforts in their respective arenas, and each seemed to make decisions to hold back that caused discomfort to the audience — or, at least, to audience members with enough distance to appreciate what was lacking.

Friday, August 11, 2006


A new terrorist plot is coloring an ongoing political season, and that means there are some important things to remember in the upcoming weeks and months. All are important primarily because Republicans, and the increasingly indistinguishable Democratic U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, have politicized and will certainly continue to politicize the threat of terrorism, painting Democrats as weak and their election as an invitation to attack. This reached its nadir in the 2004 elections, when Vice President Cheney said:

It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice [in electing a president], because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.

Now, as then, we must remember that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened while a Republican — George W. Bush — was in office. We must also remember that every attempt since to strike the United States or its allies with terrorism has taken place with the same Republicans in office.

It is also worth noting that intelligence agencies and every sane, conscious and knowledgeable person on Earth acknowledges that Iraq, which the United States and its allies attacked for no reason having to do with 9/11, has become a breeding ground and rallying point for terrorists. The primary reason for this is that our presence in Iraq angers a lot of people. We have no good argument for having invaded or occupied the country — and the world knows it. (If we wanted to make a point about U.S. might and mercy, the delights of democracy and the perils of pursuing terrorism, it should rightfully have been done in Afghanistan, where we had moral authority. Instead, that nation is slipping back into the hands of the Taliban, just as we are losing in Iraq, and Osama bin Laden is still free.)

Hard-liners say terrorists would be emboldened by our leaving Iraq and strike us all the harder. As Lieberman said of the man who beat him in the Connecticut Democratic primary:

If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a certain date, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them, and they will strike again.

A proper response is that, in fact, the terrorists would have less reason to be angry if we left Iraq, and we would have more resources to use in keeping ourselves safe from them.

In short, Republicans and their policies are a provocation to terrorists and — considering Iraq and the astonishingly flawed Department of Homeland Security — wasteful of resources that could be used to combat terrorism. Voting them back into office would be a dangerous error.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Since being an outsider breeds resentment, you can imagine the pique simmering in me from a dozen-plus years living in, ahem, Red Sox Nation and its overlapping districts of Patriotstown, Celticsville and Bruinsburg. Oh, and Revolutionboro. (A mighty small place, Revolutionboro.)

I was nervous the first time crossing the border into the nation; nearly everyone else on the T had prepared by dressing in native garb — a dizzying array of jerseys, jackets, T-shirts, caps and so on labeled “B” for “Red Sox.” I knew that when we got to the station we’d have to queue up and pass inspection, and I wasn’t wearing a single article of clothing advertising my allegiance to a local sports team. My jitters were soothed, though, by an official announcement that, upon arrival, “Those who are not wearing Red Sox-branded clothing shall be issued Red Sox-branded clothing.”

Well, no. This is just in the imagination of someone utterly disinterested in the fortunes of Ye Olde Towne Teame, or whatever cutesy, nonsense nickname sportswriters use when they tire of writing “Red Sox.” Neither the hordes of drunken fans that clog the T nor the horrendous traffic that clogs the streets at game time cause me anywhere near as much irritation as the simple ubiquity of Red Sox clothing. It warrants the same bitter, resigned stare from me as the Abercrombie & Fitch folk get, a look I can put into words as: “Could you try just a little harder?” Sox apparel is the equivalent of the pro-family, anticrime politician, or the people who controversially assert themselves as being in favor of fun and liking stuff. But good stuff. Not bad stuff. This is branding of the most obligatory nature, a national ID card, and the sense of oppression suggested by that is no accident.

I wish I got it. It would make my life much easier, I suspect, if I could be one of the Sox crowd. Throw on the jersey, put on the cap, take out a bank loan, head to Fenway. And talk endlessly and knowledgeably about the game, the players, the trades, our chances, that Theo, those darn Yankees. Argh, those Yankees. They suck! They’re kind of like Hitler, aren’t they? Yes, especially when they buy up all our players with their damned Yankee money — they have too much of it, it’s disgusting — and confuse us by making sure the people we loved as one of us last season we vilify this season as turncoats.

I don’t get any of this, unfortunately.

The team’s success, or individual players’ genius on the field, reflects little upon Boston and not at all upon the individual fans who get so worked up contemplating one, the other or their opposite.

There are metaphorical aspects of the team to consider, I acknowledge, romantically casting us and the city as scrappy, lovable losers: the players are underdogs struggling against a curse, a storyline that had to be rewritten when the Sox actually won the World Series, and had to be revised again, in a Pynchonesque petering out of plot and structure, when it again lost; the team is also an embodiment of a city struggling to maintain its pride against a behemoth quietly buying up and shutting down its soul. As much as this should resonate, it’s hard to stay serious about it when the players earn millions a year and inevitably turn free agent, only for the narrative to be repeated the next year with different players.

Now, if we invest emotion in the players as our surrogates on the field and against New York, we also have to admit that pretty soon all these guys will be off to a bigger paycheck elsewhere. And that just leads us to admit that Boston is a city of transients, an endless line of passers-through in a queue that just happens to lead past a souvenir shop full of Red Sox paraphernalia. While we’re waiting to leave, we’ve nothing better to do than shop. Beats talking to the guy in front of us, but it’s not a very romantic image.

When Red Sox players really were Bostonians — born here, living here, with family here — our tribalism made some sense, as we could argue or imagine that the players were us and, if we were good and fate smiled upon us, vice versa. The skills of the players were worth celebrating because they suggested native talent, or at least the pluckiness that kept us competing through several decades of accursedness. There was an emotional connection.

With the revolving door of players, fandom has become a very different game: one of calculation, of dollars and cents, of whether management bought and sold the right players. In terms of dramatic narrative, it should be about as fun as hunting through the stocks tables in the Journal to see how much money other people made that day. Somehow, the Red Sox and other sports teams at its level have figured out how to make people respond emotionally to this, and even pay for the privilege.

Inevitably, I’m led to a final metaphor: of mass slavish, unthinking devotion to a government that does absolutely nothing for its citizens but offer endless war, glimpses of other people’s wealth and bright, ubiquitous flags to wave. But that sounds depressingly like the United States, and we don’t live in the United States. We live in Red Sox Nation.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I’ve referred to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman roughly a half-dozen times in this blog, each time bashing him as uselessly obtuse and confused. I’ve called him “deranged,” an idiot, theorized he’s “absolutely fucking nuts,” “wrong-headed,” a weirdo, “off the rails,” a babbler, a “bright-eyed rube,” someone struggling to “stay on his meds.”

But now I feel like the idiot, because he’s none of the above.

What he is, it turns out, is an extraordinarily wealthy man — living in a $9.3 million home, married into a family with an estimated worth of $2.7 billion — essentially working undercover as a shill, a beard, a stalking horse for his class, nine times out of 10 espousing cynically self-serving ideas in the guise of globalized idealist.

Struggling to see clearly into the reasoned, liberal penumbra of the Times, I imagined him to be smart but misguided, intellectually isolated by the shock of 9/11 but worth listening to for signs of recovery. In fact, his dangerous opinions (Iraq is a grand experiment we should support! It’s a flat flat flat flat world, and we should embrace a globalized economy because it’s so exciting to compete!) are nothing but the standard arguments of an elite who doesn’t have to care what happens to the rest of us — and doesn’t.

His biography on the Times’ Web site somehow fails to give full disclosure of his immense wealth or suggest how it may affect his views or writing; David Sirota, writing late last month on, fills in the missing details.

I’ve rolled my eyes uncountable times after reading Friedman’s columns, but never caught on to why they’re so overwhelmingly misguided. Despite my acknowledgment that I was a willing participant in my own deception, that doesn’t mean I feel any less deceived. Or angry.

With the very rare exception, notably his columns on GM feeding American’s oil addiction, Friedman does not write as one of us. He is, in fact, one of them — a member of one of the 100 richest families in the country, according to Washingtonian Magazine, one of those who are not hurt by war or globalism and thus cannot honestly discuss it from the level of one who is.

Spread the word: Friedman doesn’t write nonsense; he writes propaganda.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Stagnant wages, rising costs. For the longest time this formula that cannot be solved meant little to me, because I was earning good money and spending little of it. Now I’m earning much less money for roughly tripled living expenses, and a great deal of my pay goes to just getting back and forth to work: I bought a car and now must pay maintenance, insurance and gas for it. That gas is flirting with costing $3 a gallon at even the cheapest station — and by flirting I mean shucking its clothes with the zeal of a porn star doused in Spanish fly — is just part my financial depression.

The other part will seem ridiculous, but here goes: The bean and rice quesadilla I get almost daily for lunch at Anna’s Taqueria has risen in price to $3.35 from $2.95, which means at the checkout I’m paying $3.52 instead of $3.20. This happened last week. (The previous rise at the checkout had been a relatively harmless 10-cent step in June of last year.)

Some menu items have risen less in price — the chips and mini quesadillas have gone up 10 cents. And some menu items haven’t risen in price at all — guacamole is still 55 cents.

Unfortunately, I never buy mini quesadillas or guacamole. My lunch has jumped in price by 10 percent, and I drive some 90 miles a day in a car bound inevitably to break down part by part powered by a terrorist-friendly, environmentally unfriendly substance the price of which is rising inexorably, even as my wages stay the same.

How will I vote in 2008? For someone who truly understands diplomacy and who will not casually toss it aside to exacerbate unrest among petrostates in pursuit of “democracy” or armageddon. For someone who has an energy policy that moves us away from hydrocarbon fuels and global warming. For someone who seems to understand that I, not the richest 1 percent, need to see some improvement in my paycheck and bank account.

Stagnant wages, rising costs. To keep up, I could skip the bean and rice part of the quesadilla and just get cheese. That costs $2.90, up from $2.60, which should put me right back to paying $3.20 per day for lunch.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Slowly, oh so haltingly, there’s progress on making the Plan B “morning-after” contraceptive available over the counter, but only to women 18 years or older.

Conservatives, the small-government people, are still opposed. In its Tuesday coverage of the issue, The New York Times quoted the Concerned Women of America’s Wendy Wright — the perfect name for someone in her position, from the WASPish “Wendy” to the metonymy of “Wright” for those she represents — as saying it was wrong to sell the drug over the counter because any man could buy it.

“You could have a statutory rapist buy the drug in order to cover up his abuse,” Wright said.

It’s worth noting Wright’s technique in this flagrantly flawed argument: She has tried to find the worst possible use of the drug to demonstrate the horror of allowing it to be used at all, a strange gambit for people broadly associated with supporting the free flow of automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets as a celebration of American rights. If it’s unfair to lump birth control opponents with gun nuts, then consider that Band-Aids might be stripped from pharmacy shelves because, obviously, domestic abusers could use them to heal the wounds they’ve inflicted.

It’s also worth considering that bans on abortion keep failing because they make no provision for girls or women who have been the victims of incest or — right — rape. A girl who has been raped, statutorily or otherwise, could imaginably want to take the Plan B contraceptive to ensure she doesn’t bear the baby of her abuser.

It would be the rare, obstinate but ignorant girl who would insist on waiting nine months to give birth to a man’s baby just to prove him a criminal. A medical examination and DNA swabbing could do the same with less impact on her lifestyle.

The galling thing about the Plan B debate is that it hinges now on a woman being 18 or older to get the drug when the age of consent comes up to four years earlier in all but 14 states in this country. For example, a girl in Hawaii is legally entitled to have sex at the age of 14, but she wouldn’t be entitled to buy this form of contraception. It has nothing to do with physiology; a 23-4 vote by a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee approved the drug for all ages, only to be overruled by an agency official on moral rather than scientific grounds. The drug is 18-and-over because manufacturer Barr Pharmaceuticals rewrote the application to make agency approval more likely among conservatives, who are also the state’s-rights people.

This would put Plan B in a short but pervasive list of U.S. age inequities, including the classic protest that 18-year-olds can join the Army, kill and be killed, but not drink alcohol for another three years. My favorite is the little-noticed puzzle that kids are charged an adult price for movies once they’re 12 or so, but can’t see R-rated movies alone until they’re 17. There’s a roughly five-year gap in which they pay as an adult but can’t go to such movies without an “adult guardian.”

None of this makes any sense, of course. Especially in the context of the ages of consent already established state by state, the 18-or-older restriction seems on the one hand pointlessly arbitrary, on the other hypocritically moralistic — like keeping a hangover treatment for those 23 or older because you don’t want to encourage binge drinking among those most likely to engage in that behavior.

Once you’re legal, you’re legal, and there shouldn’t be different levels of permission based on an FDA official’s opinion of the rightness of your actions.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The MBTA comes in for a lot of criticism, and rightfully so. Understanding the agency’s fiscal bind and having some vague hope Daniel A. Grabauskas can fix the system as he did the motor vehicle registries doesn’t mean giving a pass on performance; if anything, the MBTA needs all the criticism it can get to help set goals and priorities.

But when it does something right, that should be mentioned, too.

And yesterday, when I noticed my monthly T pass hadn’t arrived and called to inquire, the MBTA really did something right.

A live person picked up the phone immediately. She found my information rapidly and, while noting that the card had been sent and should already be here, didn’t automatically reject my problem. In fact, she made a long-term fix — changing my address from the one I’d been at nearly a year ago — and sent out another card.

This was so far from the conflict and argument I expected that I was essentially stunned into joyous silence. This is to correct that silence, more or less.

UPDATE: A Federal Express package arrived this morning. Inside was an envelope holding my new T pass. I would never have guessed the MBTA would Fedex the pass to me. Incredible! Wonderful! Surprising!