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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 www.dankennedy.net. 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 25, 2003

Resistance is futile. A little over a week ago I posted an item on a software dilemma. After years of a pretty much Microsoft-free existence, my book editor was asking me to switch to Microsoft Word so that we could use the "Track Changes" editing feature.

I did some experimenting to see whether I could avoid such a calamity, but to no avail. His "Track Changes" comments did not survive the arduous journey from Word to AppleWorks when I translated his documents with MacLinkPlus. Another option -- an inexpensive alternative called ThinkFree Office, which is supposed to be Microsoft-compatible -- was even worse. Even allowing for the distinct possibility that I was doing something wrong, I could find no sign that ThinkFree supported "Track Changes."

I received some e-mails from readers, and they broke down into two camps. One side argued that, though they sympathized with my anti-Microsoft stance (admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since I do, after all, own a few shares of Microsoft), MS Word was nevertheless a pretty cool program. The other, more militant side suggested I check out open-source alternatives.

Tempting as the militants' vision may have been, I decided that the time had come, at long last, to get with the program, so to speak. I managed to pick up a legal version of MS Office 2001 for Macintosh on eBay for a little more than $200, a huge savings over the $499 list price. I installed it yesterday, and, well, here I am. I write Media Log with a long-since-discontinued program called Claris Home Page, which is now close to being the only non-Microsoft software I use. Word, Excel, Entourage, Internet Explorer (which was already my browser of choice) ... I mean, what the hell. The only thing left to do is ditch my PowerBook G3 and pick up a Wintel laptop. (Not going to happen.)

I'm rattling on about this because, to me, it demonstrates perhaps the key ingredient of Microsoft's success, which is, well, its success. Illegal monopolistic behavior aside, the most important reason for me to use Word is not that I've fallen in love with it (it is, in fact, a notably unlovable program), but that everyone else uses it. No longer will editors have to waste time reformatting stuff I send them. My book editor and I can exchange "Track Changes" comments to our hearts' content.

It may be true that Microsoft's monopoly has stifled innovation. But when you need to get things done, innovation is less important than compatibility. And Bill Gates has done more than anyone to ensure compatibility by crushing the competition, by any means necessary. It ain't pretty, but it works.

posted at 9:41 AM | link

We don't need no education. Hey, Mitt: Go ahead and cancel every last penny of state aid that goes to the Medford Public Schools. If they won't take it seriously, why should the taxpayers? And how would you like to be the parent of a Medford student, having to scramble for child care at the last minute because superintendent of schools Roy Belson decided it would be a neat idea to take the day off? One last question: Why is Belson still employed?

posted at 9:41 AM | link

Friday, January 24, 2003

Who smeared Scott Ritter? Good interview with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter on the website of WRGB-TV (Channel 6) in Albany, New York. (I found the link through OpinionJournal.com's "Best of the Web," which is enjoying Ritter's torment.)

In the past few days we've learned that, in June 2001, Ritter was arrested at a Burger King and apparently charged with attempting to arrange a sexual encounter with an underage girl he'd met on the Internet. According to Ritter, the charges were dropped and the record of the case was sealed. But that didn't stop someone from leaking the information at a particularly inopportune time.

Here are a couple of key exchanges with WRGB's Darcy Wells:

Q: Do you think this was an attempt to silence you?

A: Again, I don't want to get into that. I think that's a question that maybe you journalists should delve into more.


Q: Who do you think leaked this information?

A: I don't know, but whoever did should be held accountable. I mean, I'm held accountable to the rule of law. I was called forward. I stood before a judge.

There has still barely been a word about this in the national media. But the fact remains that someone leaked sealed court documents about a leading (if misleading) critic of the White House's Iraq policy on the eve of a likely military invasion. Is anyone in the media going to get to the bottom of this?

posted at 10:38 AM | link

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. Wow. In today's New York Times, William F. Buckley Jr. defends affirmative action for the children of rich alumni, but not for African-Americans. On the same page, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof defends the affirmative-action policy that got a mediocre student named George W. Bush into Phillips Andover Academy, and wonders why Bush can't understand that others deserve the same opportunity. Hey, Bill: Read Kristof.

posted at 10:37 AM | link

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Silencing an antiwar voice. For the past year or so, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has claimed loudly and ceaselessly that Iraq had largely gotten rid of its weapons of mass destruction before kicking out the inspectors in 1998. He hasn't been particularly effective. As the Phoenix's Seth Gitell has pointed out, much of what Ritter now says contradicts his earlier statements, and he has failed to articulate a convincing explanation for his switch.

Richard Butler, who headed the inspection team on which Ritter served and who emphatically does not believe Iraq has disarmed, has been far more persuasive in his joint television appearances with Ritter -- even as he asserts, as he did on MSNBC's Donahue last week, that he agrees with Ritter that the United States has no right to invade Iraq unilaterally.

Still, Ritter has been a visible and articulate spokesman, as well as something of a rallying point for those who oppose George W. Bush's apparent plan to launch a war against Iraq. So it is curious, to say the least, to watch the latest attempt to discredit him unfold.

Last night Ritter appeared on CNN's NewsNight not to talk about Iraq, but to answer questions about a very different matter. It seems that, in June 2001, Ritter was arrested at a Burger King near Albany, New York. I'm not sure why Ritter agreed to go on CNN, since he resolutely refused to answer any questions other than to say the charges had been dropped and the case has been sealed. But, reportedly, Ritter was accused of seeking a rendezvous with an underage girl whom he'd met on the Internet. If news reports are to be believed, he was met not by a teenage girl, but by undercover officers.

Ritter claimed he was barred from discussing the matter, but the host, Aaron Brown, dismissed that. Brown told Ritter that CNN had consulted legal authorities who concluded that though the government was prohibited from talking about a sealed case, Ritter, as the person who was arrested, was not. But Ritter wouldn't budge. At one point Brown told Ritter:

I'm trying to give you an opportunity, if you want to take it, to explain what happened. And here's the point of that. And you know this is true. You are radioactive until this is cleared up. Until people understand what this is about, no one is going to talk to you about the things that you feel passionately about.

Ritter disagree, replying that "the bottom line is, the rule of law must apply here and we must never lose sight of that. I think you hit on something. I was a credible voice. I am a credible voice. And I will be a credible voice in regards to issues pertaining to Iraq." Unfortuntely for Ritter, that's probably wishful thinking.

For days, now, Ritter's year-and-a-half-old arrest has been a cause célèbre among the prowar right. The right-wing website FreeRepublic.com has been all over this, passing along lurid details from local news reports. Ritter's troubles have been the subject of much clucking and chuckling on Rush Limbaugh's radio show as well.

I hold no brief for Ritter. But the fact that sealed police records regarding one of the country's most prominent critics of Bush's policy in Iraq would be leaked -- days or weeks before war may begin -- is absolutely chilling. Rather than snickering at the hapless Ritter, the media could perform a far greater public service by finding out who was behind this sickening attempt to smear a White House foe.

posted at 9:21 AM | link

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

A brilliant takedown of SUVs. The New Republic published it a couple of weeks ago, but only last night did I have a chance to sit down and read Gregg Easterbrook's brilliant, entertaining, and only occasionally overwrought essay on SUVs. Titled "Axle of Evil," the piece is notionally a review of Keith Bradsher's book High and Mighty: SUVs -- The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way.

But Easterbrook's essay takes on a life of its own, from original sin (Richard Nixon's decision to exempt Jeeps from environmental regulations; it always comes back to Nixon, doesn't it?); to Arnold Schwarzenegger's role in making the Humvee a commercial success ("The Hummer screams to the world the words that stand as one of Schwarzenegger's signature achievements as an actor: 'Fuck you, asshole!' Maybe this class of vehicles should be called FUVs."); to Senate majority leader Bill Frist's heroic, unsuccessful attempt to save the lives of two children in an SUV-rollover accident ("Will Frist become an advocate of SUV reform, or will he return to Washington and join his colleagues in the next round of cover-ups and exemptions?").

Weirdly, the person who may be damaged the most by Easterbrook's piece is Bradsher, even though his book is described as "dazzling," in the tradition of Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed and Ida Tarbell's The History of Standard Oil. That's because the review clocks in at just shy of 10,000 words. Having read Easterbrook's remarkably comprehensive overview of the sordid history of the SUV, I can't imagine needing to know more.

On the other hand, High and Mighty has been on bookshelves since last fall. Maybe Easterbrook will draw renewed attention to it.

posted at 10:11 AM | link

Fenway's final years. Herald columnist Cosmo Macero is right: it's time to start thinking about moving the Red Sox to the South Boston Waterfront. At least that way there will be 81 days a year when people can admire the empty convention center.

posted at 10:11 AM | link

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Even Lily Tomlin would gag. The danger in trying to say anything nice about the Bush White House was once nicely summarized by the political philosopher Lily Tomlin: "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up." Yesterday I posted an item about the happy irony of George W. Bush's top two foreign-policy aides, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who are both African-American, disagreeing over affirmative action.

Within hours I heard from reader MG, who pointed me to a truly disheartening item that had appeared last week in TNR &c., the New Republic's political weblog. Remember that Washington Post story reporting that Rice had taken a lead role in shaping Bush's anti-affirmative-action decision? &c. recounts a Post follow-up reporting that the White House had dragged Rice's name into it, apparently without her permission or even her knowledge, in order to give themselves political cover (scroll down; don't read this on a full stomach).

Rice and Powell's disagreement seems legitimate, but this kind of sleazy maneuvering isn't.

posted at 9:48 AM | link

Monday, January 20, 2003

MLK Day musings. It's a holiday, a lot of people aren't working, so no heavy commentary today. Not to be a Pollyanna, but there's something to be said about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday at a moment when the top two foreign-policy aides to a Republican president are both African-Americans, and they disagree with each other over the president's policy on affirmative action. Of course, I happen to think Colin Powell is right and Condoleezza Rice is wrong.

posted at 11:18 AM | link

Speaking truth to Mitt. Economist Ed Moscovitch has a terrific op-ed piece in today's Herald on Governor Mitt Romney's campaign to slash $200 million in local aid. Unfortunately, it's not yet on the Herald's website, but Moscovitch makes two main points: (1) Romney, in refusing to consider a tax hike, is not telling the truth about how much money even a modest increase would bring in. Simply raising the income tax to 5.9 percent as of March 1 would bring in $200 million this fiscal year, thus canceling the need for local-aid cuts, Moscovitch writes, contradicting Romney's assertion that a tax cut this year would come too late to make a difference. (2) Romney's plan to cut local aid equally and across the board -- supported by the House but opposed by the Senate -- will have a disproportionate effect on poor urban areas. "A 15 percent cut across the board would cost Worcester $192 per person, but Weston only $57," Moscovitch writes. "This is fair?"

posted at 11:17 AM | link

More on Mary Jo. Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund reports that many readers failed to appreciate the "brutally ironic" tone behind Charlie Pierce's reference to Mary Jo Kopechne in his recent magazine profile of Ted Kennedy. Even so, I still can't understand how anyone could not get it.

posted at 11:17 AM | link

Safire on media consolidation. Excellent commentary today by the New York Times' William Safire on the dangers of corporate media consolidation. Safire says nothing particularly original or startling, but it's important that the powers-that-be understand this isn't just a liberal issue, and that conservatives can get riled up about it as well. Thanks to Jay Fitzgerald for giving me a nudge on this.

posted at 11:17 AM | link


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

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