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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Poisoned Apple. Filmmaker John Farrell saw my post on Apple's renewed war with Microsoft and sent along this link. It's from a website/blog called USS Clueless, by Steven Den Beste, and it's a long, difficult, but ultimately rewarding trip to the Heart of Geekness.

Den Beste's depressing conclusion: things will continue to get worse and worse for Apple, because its closed architecture and low volume have locked it into an endless cycle of higher and higher software-development costs relative to its Wintel cousins. And because of bad decisions Apple has made over the years, there's really nothing Steve Jobs and company can do to reverse course.

I still want one of the new 12-inch G4 PowerBooks, though.

Farrell and his father, retired Globe columnist David Farrell, have a website and blog that you should check out.

posted at 10:21 AM | link

Friday, January 10, 2003

Jurkowitz on McDonough. The Phoenix website has posted a classic profile of Will McDonough that Mark Jurkowitz (then of the Phoenix, now of the Globe) wrote in January 1994. The headline: "Jurassic Jock." And I think it's the single best piece anyone has ever written about the two-fisted sportswriting legend.

posted at 2:24 PM | link

Will McDonough's legacy. He was a crank. He was a legend. He was both. Globe sports columnist Will McDonough died last night at the age of 67, depriving Boston of one of its most cantankerous and original voices. The news is just starting to break, so there's not much out there yet other than this Associated Press report. He died with his boots on, watching ESPN's SportsCenter.

I would imagine the place to be for McDonough fans today is Mike Barnicle's 10 a.m.-to-noon show on WTKK-FM (96.9 FM), where McDonough was a regular Friday guest. A couple of years ago McDonough officially retired from the Globe, although he continued writing his column on a freelance basis. Talk about having your cake and eating it too: McDonough was able to work out a sweet deal, continuing to draw a paycheck from the Globe while taking potshots at the Globe's young, liberal newsroom during his stints on the air.

As recently as last week McDonough swung hard at Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who's embroiled in a feud with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner appears to hate Lucchino so much that he's willing to spend even more of his money than usual (not an easy trick) in order to keep the Red Sox well out of contention. McDonough endorsed Steinbrenner's characterization of Lucchino as a "chameleon," adding:

Lucchino has a face for all occasions, but, unfortunately, very little knowledge of baseball. He was slotted into the Red Sox job by his good friend, Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, who wanted to ensure that he would have Boston's vote in his pocket whenever he needed it.

The Globe also ran an excerpt from the McDonough-ghosted Bill Parcells autobiography last week to shed light on Parcells's decision to become head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

One of the raps on McDonough was that he talked only to owners and to the biggest of bigshots, such as Parcells and Red Auerbach. But the flip side was that, more often than not, they talked only to him, giving him a steady stream of exclusives. In an era of bland, faceless journalism, McDonough offered personality and vitriol, making him one of the most consistently readable columnists in the Globe.

Here's an interview McDonough did a couple of years ago with Teen Ink, a website for teenagers.

And here's an archive of his recent Globe columns.

posted at 9:30 AM | link

Thursday, January 09, 2003

J. Bo strikes back on his baby-eating story. The Weekly Standard's J. Bottum today responds to what by his own account were numerous critics -- including Media Log -- who told him he'd fallen for an urban legend or two in his heinous post last Friday on alleged baby-eating in China. Here's what I wrote about it.

Bottum's long response is worth reading in its entirety, but first, a few observations.

  • In essense, Bottum challenges his critics to prove that it didn't happen. Hasn't he ever heard the tired-but-true saw that you can't prove a negative? There really is no documentary evidence that it did happen, and plenty of reason to be skeptical.
  • Bottum asserts that the very fact that these stories are circulating -- and that Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu claims to have eaten a stillborn baby -- says something important about the culture, regardless of whether these stories are actually true. His conclusion: "The picture of a culture of death is being created in front of us. Don't look at the individual pieces as they are held up, one by one. Look at the puzzle that's being filled in." Actually, I suspect he could have written a pretty good column about what it means that such apparently bogus stories are circulating. But that's not what he wrote last Friday. Is it really necessary to say that the truth matters?
  • The headline on the e-mail version of my piece -- though not the Web version -- referred to Bottum's original post as a "blood libel." Bottum notes that the urban-legends site that I referred to uses the phrase "blood libel," and then casually adds that "this is where the Boston Phoenix lifted the 'blood libel' bit." Lifted? Is Bottum always this careless with language? Hey, J. Bo, look at my first post again. I not only linked to the piece, but I also quoted from it, including the "blood libel" bit. Since when did quoting become "lifting"?

posted at 10:47 AM | link

It's a man's world. You might read Joan Vennochi's column in today's Globe -- in which she argues that Massachusetts is a particularly inhospitable environment for women politicians -- and say, "Oh, come on."

But then you turn to the City & Region section and find this lose-your-breakfast piece by Stephanie Ebbert on how male legislators (including House Speaker Tom Finneran) are making Father Knows Best-style quips about having to check with the little woman before deciding whether to take a pay raise.

Next you pick up the Herald, and are told in a front-page report by David Guarino that you're supposed to be outraged that Jane Swift continued to make gubernatorial appointments until she was no longer governor. (Okay, it sounds like she made a couple of bad appointments. Like that's never happened before.)

And you have to conclude that Vennochi is right when she says that "Massachusetts is still very much an Irish-American, Italian-American, patriarchal, Catholic state. Culturally and politically, man is king here -- to himself and to many women."

posted at 9:55 AM | link

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Apple's new war on Microsoft. Since Steve Jobs's return to Apple in the late 1990s, the company he co-founded has survived -- even prospered -- under sort of a Pax Microsoftia. Bill Gates invested some of Microsoft's spare change in Apple, and Apple made Microsoft's Internet Explorer the default browser on its Macintoshes.

Far more important, Apple did everything it could to ensure the success of Microsoft Office, the Mac version of which costs an obscene $499, or a considerably more reasonable $199 for new-Mac buyers. Apple's competing product, AppleWorks, was included free of charge only on Apple's consumer-market Macs; buyers of Macs aimed at professionals would have to shell out an additional $79. Moreover, there is no easy, seamless way of sharing files between the AppleWorks and Office worlds, as my irritated editors would be the first to tell you.

Now Jobs has apparently decided to go to war against Microsoft. Yesterday's new-product announcements, at MacWorld in San Francisco, are just the latest sign that David wants to compete head-to-head with Goliath. Last year, for instance, Apple unveiled its quirky and effective "Switch" ads in an attempt to get Windows users to come over to Apple. Of course, Apple has always depended on people preferring the Mac operating system to Windows, but there is a snarky "Windows sucks" tone to the "Switch" ads that belie the two companies' supposed alliance.

Also, the Mac enthusiast site Think Secret reported in October that the next version of AppleWorks -- which could be unveiled any day now -- was aiming for "[f]ull compatibility with Microsoft Office." Since compatibility is one of the few reasons anyone would shell out for the cumbersome Office, the ability to share files hassle-free would amount to a huge disincentive for buying Office.

Thus, the real interest in yesterday's announcement was not the two new PowerBook laptops, cool though they may be. It was that Apple will soon replace Internet Explorer as the default browser with a new browser of its own, called Safari, which is supposed to run three times faster than IE -- and that Apple will also market a $99 presentation program called Keynote that will compete directly with Microsoft's ubiquitous PowerPoint, one of Office's components.

Will it work? San Jose Mercury News technology columnist Dan Gillmor is skeptical but intrigued, writing that if Apple really intends to go after Microsoft, "it means more competition. That's healthier all around."

Apple obviously has a difficult road. With something like five percent of the market share, it needs to cater to the needs of customers who live in a Microsoft-dominated world. Who cares how great Keynote might be, for example, if its files are incompatible with those of PowerPoint? Yet unless Apple maintains its edge as a technologically superior alternative, it really has no reason to exist.

That's why I use Apple products, but invest in Microsoft. I don't see any reason to rethink either decision.

posted at 10:24 AM | link

Incomparably critical. Bob Somerby's excellent Daily Howler site calls attention to -- and takes issue with -- my recent item on liberal and conservative media bias. Somerby can't believe I said that the liberal media tend to be moderate to conservative on economic issues, and criticizes my "rollover attitude."

Oddly enough, he tries to sic Bill Clinton on me, even though Clinton himself is the very embodiment of modern liberalism, which isn't all that liberal except on cultural issues. Clinton managed the economy like an Eisenhower Republican, and signed a welfare-reform bill that only a conservative could love.

Somerby approvingly quotes Clinton as saying, "They have an increasingly right-wing and bellicose conservative press. And we have an increasingly docile establishment press." Clinton is right. But his successful repositioning of liberalism is one of the prime reasons for that.

Perhaps George W. Bush, by managing the economy like a right-wing extremist rather than an Eisenhower Republican, will help change that. He's starting to make Clinton's cautious centrism look like liberal activism.

posted at 10:23 AM | link

The reading list. The new issue of the Unitarian Univeralist World contains an essay I wrote on my weekend with the American Atheists -- an expansion and update of a piece I did for the Phoenix last year. The World also includes a comprehensive overview by Wendy Kaminer on the fate of civil liberties post-9/11.

posted at 10:23 AM | link

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Farewell to David Shribman. Before David Shribman came to the Globe, the paper had no such thing as a nonpartisan political essayist. In his nearly 10 years here, Shribman has perfected a certain type of column: gracefully written, insightful, and never mean-spirited or ideologically driven. Today's is typical. He takes an obvious story -- the pack of Democrats getting ready to challenge President Bush -- and does the atypical, making smart comparisons between now and 1992, when another pack of Democrats was getting ready to challenge an earlier President Bush, also at a time of war and economic uncertainty.

Unfortunately, we won't have a chance to read Shribman much longer. Soon he'll pack up his Pulitzer and leave Washington to take a new job, as editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He'll be missed.

posted at 9:31 AM | link

Bush at Ground Zero. George W. Bush continues to be a disaster on policy (another tax cut for the rich?), but he remains a master political strategist. Now he's actually given himself a longshot but realistic chance of winning heavily Democratic New York in 2004 by scheduling the Republican National Convention in New York City. He'll be able to drape himself in all the patriotic symbolism of 9/11, while the Democrats will be partying with us here in Boston. Hey, I love the idea of a national convention in our hometown, but as politics it's dumb, dumb, dumb.

posted at 9:30 AM | link

Monday, January 06, 2003

The snooze on online politics. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has a new report out today on the extent to which people go online for political news. And though the report -- with the scintillating title of "Modest Increase in Internet Use for Campaign 2002" -- is entirely non-startling, there is one aspect that jumps out: the most common practice reported was visiting the websites of large, established media such as the New York Times, CNN, and local news organizations. How ... uninteresting.

The Pew survey did report an increase since 2000 from 19 percent to 32 percent in "online election news consumers" who "went most often to government and candidate websites or sites that specialize in politics." But the overall percentage of people who reported getting any political news online has increased only modestly since 1998 (from 15 percent to 22 percent). The preferred source of political news for most people remains television.

A few years ago, it looked as though politics was going to move to the Internet in a big way. The paradigmatic example was, which hired Watergate veteran Carl Bernstein to make the rounds on its behalf during the 2000 campaign. But began downsizing before Election Day, although it still exists in diminished form -- complete with a blurb from a piece that I wrote for the Phoenix three years ago calling it "the one essential site." Sorry, but it doesn't look all that essential these days.

posted at 9:51 AM | link

The GOP's over-the-top attack on Edwards. Phoenix editor Peter Kadzis passes along this link from the Republican National Committee attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. I hold no brief for the faux populist from North Carolina, whose icky habit of commenting on his own regular-guyness was neatly skewered by TNR &c. last week. But isn't this a bit much?

posted at 9:50 AM | link

Foozling with the senior senator. One would think that the last thing we need is another profile of Ted Kennedy. But Charlie Pierce's, in Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine, is a good one. Pierce also offers a new meaning for "foozling" that I like better than the old one. And I plan to use it, after a decent interval has passed.

posted at 9:50 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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