Monday, June 30, 2003

Media Log on vacation. I will be out of the office until Monday, July 7. Look for occasional updates at, but this will be my last e-mail version until then.

I will be spending most of my time at the Little People of America national conference in Danvers, hanging out with my family and shamelessly promoting my book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes, which will be published in October by Rodale.

Conservatives for same-sex marriage. New York Times columnist William Safire isn't exactly in love with the idea. But this morning he sounds like he's ready to put the culture wars to rest and accept the inevitability of same-sex marriage.

The clincher: "I used to fret about same-sex marriage. Maybe competition from responsible gays would revive opposite-sex marriage."

If you haven't read it yet -- and you must -- here is the Phoenix's Susan Ryan-Vollmar this week on "The Case for Same-Sex Marriage." It's a no-brainer -- but, tragically, many people have no brain.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Lydon on Raines. Burrowing more deeply into Christopher Lydon's weblog, I just read his June 6 post on the resignation of New York Times executive editor Howell Raines.

Obligatory triple back-scratch: I'd seen it yesterday but didn't have time to read it. Al Giordano credits me with leading him to Lydon's blog -- and now he's leading me back to Lydon's Times post.

Anyway, if you can only force yourself to read one more thing on the downfall of Raines, read Lydon. He writes:

If Howell Raines is to be held responsible for serious lapses, let it be for the Times' pusillanamity around the unnecessary war that the Bush team slipped past the Congress and the sleeping watchmen in the serious press.

And that's not all. Not even close.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Sodomites 6, theo-fascists 3. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gets it exactly right. Commenting on the Court's six-to-three decision throwing out the Texas sodomy law and, in effect, virtually legalizing same-sex relations, a bitter and angry Scalia accuses his colleagues of having "taken sides in the culture war" and having "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda."

Damn straight! This week has really been a wondrous one for progressives, who've gone from looking at the Court as a virtual extension of the Bush presidency -- whose very existence it had hurried into being -- to, surprisingly, a last bastion of justice.

Earlier this week, of course, the Court upheld affirmative action in college admissions, although rigid quota systems will not be allowed. Unfortunately, the court made a bad call in upholding a law ordering public libraries that receive federal funding to filter out Internet porn. But the republic will survive that a whole lot better than it would have survived bad decisions in the sodomy and affirmative-action cases.

These stunningly good decisions are accompanied by recent buzz that, contrary to longstanding rumor, none of the justices is seriously contemplating retirement.

Media Log's theory: buyer's remorse. When five justices rushed to hand the presidency to George W. Bush two and a half years ago, they may have seen him as a garden-variety conservative cut from the same mold as his father.

Now that they -- or at least Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, the most moderate of the five conservatives -- have gotten a look at how radical Bush really is, they've decided to stay put for as long as they can.

Long live the Supreme Court!

Christopher Lydon, natural-born blogger. While the Supreme Court is kicking up its heels, we continue to be hampered by a quiescent and complacent press.

I've been negligent in not giving a plug to a newish blog by veteran journalist Christopher Lydon, although I have no doubt that his many fans have discovered it anyway.

But here it is -- and the most recent entry is a link to a terrific column by Newsday's Jimmy Breslin, who is appalled at the way his younger colleagues accept the secrecy with which the government is fighting the war against terror. Says Breslin: "You believe the FBI, you belong back in public school."

Lydon also offers some intriguing thoughts on Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A God for Bloggers" ("He is a man for bloggers to embrace most especially, not for Emerson's glory but for our own understanding of a transformative moment we are living through"), and on the internecine warfare at the New York Times.

Reading and drinking. I'll be reading tonight between 7 and 9 p.m. as part of the Writers with Drinks series at the Lizard Lounge, at 1667 Mass Ave, in Cambridge. I'll definitely be doing something from the political-media axis, but I may have a surprise as well. So drop in if you get a chance.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Scatology and the law. Denver Post editor Greg Moore -- the former managing editor of the Boston Globe -- is reportedly being sued over a barnyard metaphor he offered in the Post newsroom to explain why he'd fired a veteran editor.

According to Westword's Michael Roberts (scroll down to "Back to the barnyard"), Moore helpfully explained to his staff that he'd gotten rid of assistant city editor Arnie Rosenberg because "the way to clean up a place is not to move manure around the barnyard." Holy shit! (Via Romenesko.)

New in this week's Phoenix. Making sense of the media frenzy over UMass president Bill Bulger's memory-impaired congressional testimony.

Also, "News Dissector" Danny Schechter writes an insta-book on the war in Iraq -- complete with a soundtrack starring a rapping George W. Bush.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

We live in a political world. And whether we are about to be done in by human-caused global warming depends very much on your political perspective.

David Appell has a good piece in Scientific American over a new study by two scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics that purports to show that there's nothing to worry about. It seems that the consensus view among their colleagues, though, is that global warming is real and the study is deeply flawed.

The best quote: "You'd be challenged, I'd bet, to find someone who supports the Kyoto Protocol and also thinks that this paper is good science, or someone who thinks that the paper is bad science and is opposed to Kyoto."

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

More on the WMD deception. Can the Bush administration's deceptions about Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities blossom into a real issue? (I don't mean just for the Democrats, but for anyone who cares about our ability to obtain enough honest information to be able to govern ourselves.) Two newish pieces suggest that the Great WMD Deceit isn't going away.

First, this week's New Republic -- perhaps the most significant liberal organ to support the war in Iraq -- has a long cover essay this week by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman documenting in convincing detail how the White House continually cooked intelligence reports to make it look like Iraq had both extensive WMD capabilities (including nukes) and ties to Al Qaeda.

Judis and Ackerman revisit the matters of the aluminum tubes and the forged uranium documents from Niger. More important, though, they show an overarching strategy to pressure intelligence officials -- right up to and including CIA director George Tenet -- to make assertions that weren't true in order to stoke war fever.

Unlike most TNR content, this article is freely available online. Read it. And ask yourself why Tenet, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld -- at a minimum -- haven't been subpoenaed to testify before Congress about their public prevarications. Can you say "Gulf of Tonkin"?

The second piece is Sunday's column by the Washington Post's George Will, reprinted in Monday's Boston Globe. Will doesn't say anything startling except for the fact that it is he -- the staunch old Republican warhorse and adviser to Ronald Reagan -- who's saying it. Writes Will:

Some say the war was justified even if WMD are not found nor their destruction explained, because the world is "better off" without Saddam Hussein. Of course it is better off. But unless one is prepared to postulate a U.S. right, perhaps even a duty, to militarily dismantle any tyranny -- on to Burma? -- it is unacceptable to argue that Hussein's mass graves and torture chambers suffice as retrospective justifications for preemptive war. Americans seem sanguine about the failure -- so far -- to validate the war's premise about the threat posed by Hussein's WMD, but a long-term failure would unravel much of this president's policy and rhetoric.

Good Reaganite that he is, Will holds out the possibility that Saddam's WMDs were removed before the US invasion, and/or that they will eventually be found. But there's no mistaking Will's general thrust: his bowtie is spinning in consternation.

In light of the daily updates from Iraq -- continued fighting, and the possible emergence of a radical Shiite theocracy -- you'd have to be Ari Fleischer to pretend to be pleased with the way this is playing out.

The Penguin and the Apple. Even as Apple Computer rolls out a new line of sexy products, Slate's Paul Boutin writes that the Macintosh operating system will soon slip into third place, behind Linux, in the number of personal computers on which it is installed.

Boutin references a Business Week article, but offers additional analysis suggesting that third place is, essentially, where they put intensive-care patients who aren't likely to recover.

More bad news for us Mac users.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Some thoughts about the "M" word. In a piece for yesterday's "Week in Review" section in the New York Times, Natalie Angier considers the possibility that some short adolescent males will be given human growth hormone (hGH) in order to add a few inches.

She is talking about boys whose height is not the result of any medical or genetic condition, and is merely on the low side of normal. By contrast, she notes, hGH has long been given to children -- boys and girls -- who have a type of dwarfism known as growth-hormone deficiency. She writes that "without the treatment, they would be true midgets, perhaps under four feet tall as adults; with the shots, they are brought up to low-normal heights."

Her use of the word midget is interesting. Angier probably doesn't know this, but the M-word has long been considered offensive within the dwarf community, in much the same way as the N-word is considered unacceptable to African-Americans. That is, a few dwarfs might toss the M-word at each other as kind of an inside joke, but virtually no one wants to hear outsiders use it.

Yet Angier's use of the phrase true midget suggests something else -- that there is an actual, clinical definition of the word. And in fact, the M-word has long been restricted to those whose profound short stature is the result of growth-hormone deficiency or some other endocrinological cause. These people's proportions -- their arms, legs, head, and torso -- are the same as those of "average-size people," the politically correct term for the vast majority of us who are unaffected by any kind of dwarfism.

By contrast, dwarf has traditionally been reserved for people who have one or another type of skeletal dysplasia -- that is, genetic and/or medical conditions affecting bone development. These people, who constitute the vast majority of the profoundly short statured, tend to have average-size torsos, slightly larger-than-average heads, and exceedingly short arms and legs.

So is there a good reason to distinguish between midgets and dwarfs? Not really. The origins of dwarf are ancient. By contrast, midget is a made-up word whose lineage can only be traced to 1865 or so.

The American Heritage Dictionary gives this as the first definition of the word: "Offensive An extremely small person who is otherwise normally proportioned." So even though the AHD embraces Angier's meaning, it also notes that its use is discouraged.

The Oxford English Dictionary (not freely available online) gets closer to the heart of the matter: "An extremely small person; spec. such a person publicly exhibited as a curiosity." No mention of proportionality, by the way. Thus, according to the OED, the M-word is closely tied to the idea of public performance -- of the side show, the freak show, with such latter-day offshoots as midget wrestling and midget porn. No wonder it came to be considered offensive.

Midget is sometimes thought to have been coined by P.T. Barnum, but such is not the case. Barnum, of course, was the employer of Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren -- two proportionate dwarfs who were better known as General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. If the M-word could accurately describe anyone, it was surely they. Yet in Barnum's 1855 autobiography, he describes both Strattons as dwarfs. The reason is simple enough: the M-word had not yet been invented.

These things tend to come full circle. Next week, hundreds of dwarfs will arrived in Greater Boston for the annual conference of Little People of America. Among the more politically aware members, there continues to be a simmering debate over terminology. Some would like to reclaim midget as their own; others do not want to hear the word at all, thank you very much.

Obviously the most important thing to keep in mind is that LPA's members are all individuals. Dwarf is a lot better than midget, but the person's name is best of all. This is the first national LPA conference to be held in the Boston area since 1983. Boston is not renowned for making visitors feel welcome, but maybe this time we can make an exception.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Commissioner Connolly? Media Log feels obligated to say something about yesterday's congressional testimony by UMass president Bill Bulger, in which the witness appeared to have studied method acting with an Alzheimer's patient. But what?

Globe columnist Brian McGrory's assessment this morning is overly sympathetic to Bulger, but he gets this much right: "It promised high drama. It delivered the excitement of a raisin scone, but with none of the nutritional value."

Of necessity, that was pretty much true of the voluminous media coverage as well.

The Herald got things off to a rocking good start yesterday with an investigative report that Bulger's homicidal brother, mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, has apparently been using a Caribbean hideout while attracting little interest from the FBI. Several congressmen brought it up during yesterday's questioning. But even Bill Bulger's most vociferous detractors wouldn't accuse him of having anything to do with that.

The Herald may have stumbled onto another opportunity yesterday as well: Howie Carr Bobble-Head Action Figures. I especially enjoyed watching him roll his eyes in the instant replay on WFXT-TV (Channel 25) last night.

But absent anything truly arresting (bad pun intended), the prize will go to the first reporter who can get former Boston mayor Ray Flynn to talk about Bulger's hazily admitted effort to get his buddy John Connolly, the corrupt ex-FBI agent, named as Boston's police commissioner.

Bulger was diffident about the matter, acting as though he didn't even know who the mayor was at the time. But Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis (subscription required) says this morning:

Though Flynn did not respond to phone calls yesterday, in a conversation several years ago he spoke of the "intense pressure from the State House" to appoint John Connolly police commissioner. Consider the horror of that for a moment. Life in Boston would have resembled a scene out of "Blade Runner," or worse, Baghdad under Saddam. Boston's cops would've been Whitey's cops.

Flynn, of course, did the right thing and appointed Mickey Roache as his commissioner. Roache's tenure was troubled, to put it mildly. But he was honest. Certainly he wouldn't have looked the other way as prized informants tortured and killed their enemies.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Updating the scorecard. Check out this letter to the Globe from state Democratic Party chairman Phil Johnston. Johnston takes issue with a June 16 op-ed piece by Kennedy School lecturer Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and former Herald columnist. (Edwards's column is no longer freely available online.)

Edwards, making fun of the recent Democratic state convention for adopting an ideological "scorecard" for elected officials, wrote:

That's where Phil Johnston and the Democrats come in. Johnston, the state's Democratic Party chairman, presided a week ago over a state convention at which approximately 1,000 party activists voted to produce a "scorecard" rating members of the Legislature on their fealty to the state party platform.


On several occasions I have stated my opposition to the "legislative scorecard" adopted by delegates at the June 7 convention.

And here's what Johnston told Globe columnist Scot Lehigh on June 11: "It is a rather bizarre idea, one that will be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement. And I don't think it is helpful to Democratic candidates."

Advantage: Phil. Edwards uses implication rather than direct assertion, but the tenor of his column suggests that Johnston was all but demanding that the delegates support the scorecard idea.

Ah, but then Johnston gets carried away, writing:

A secondary point also requires correction: There were 3,000 delegates at the convention, not 1,000, as Edwards reported.

But that's not even remotely what Edwards said. Here's what Raphael Lewis reported in the Globe on June 10:

At Saturday's convention, Johnston allowed the report card vote to take place, even though fewer than half of the 2,265 delegates who attended the convention at Lowell's Paul E. Tsongas Arena remained. The reason, Johnston said, was that it did not mention any one lawmaker by name.

Now, I can't explain the discrepancy between Johnston's figure of 3000 delegates and Lewis's 2,265. Johnston may have been including alternates. But if, as Lewis reported, "fewer than half of the 2,265 delegates" were on hand for the scorecard vote, then Edwards had it almost exactly right when he asserted that "approximately 1,000 party activists voted to produce a 'scorecard' rating."

Almost, I say, because nearly every single delegate still present would have had to vote "aye" for Edwards's statement to be wholly accurate.

Can't anyone get this straight?

New in this week's Phoenix. The Herald, beset by sliding circulation, goes back to its tabloid roots, even as publisher Pat Purcell ponders whether to buy more media properties -- or, ultimately, to sell.

Also, an innovative idea for breaking the file-sharing copyright impasse.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Redefining the e-newspaper. David Gelernter is identified as a "professor of computer science at Yale," so maybe I'm just too dense to understand what he's talking about.

But in his cover essay for the current Weekly Standard, he argues that the "Next Great American Newspaper" will be conservative (we'll see about that), published on the Web (he's probably right), and implemented in a far more appealing and useful way than today's electronic papers. He writes:

[T]oday's web-papers are wedge-ins, stop-gaps, crack fillers, with all the character of putty in a plastic spritz-tube; people read them not for pleasure and illumination but to extract a necessary fact or kill time when they are stuck at their desks. Their builders don't seem to have grasped what makes the newsprint newspaper one of design history's greatest achievements.

I'm not going to disagree. Otherwise, why would we have four daily papers delivered to our house every day? But, as far as I can tell, e-papers are implemented about as well as today's hardware (limited portability, good-but-not-great displays, faster-but-not-fast-enough access) will allow for.

So what does Gelernter have in mind as an alternative?

Imagine a parade of jumbo index cards standing like set-up dominoes. On your computer display, the parade of index cards stretches into the simulated depths of your screen, from the middle-bottom (where the front-most card stands, looking big) to the farthest-away card in the upper left corner (looking small). Now, something happens: Tony Blair makes a speech. A new card materializes in front (a report on the speech) and everyone else takes a step back--and the farthest-away card falls off the screen and (temporarily) disappears. So the parade is in constant motion. New stories keep popping up in front, and the parade streams backwards to the rear.

There's more to it, of course, but that's where it begins: with cascading virtual index cards. This is a big improvement? I'm unimpressed.

So who's "bizarre," anyway? Perhaps a new record of sorts this morning. The Herald's "Inside Track" and the Globe's "Names" column both poke fun at Teresa Heinz Kerry for making "bizarre" statements on the occasion of a speech she gave at the Fairmont Copy Plaza.

Examples: none!

The Globe resorts to a previous Heinz statement, which it paraphrases as "her needing another Botox treatment" to back up its "bizarre" assertion. But the only direct quote it can come up with from Monday's talk is "her admonition to 'work to make this world a whole place.'" So now it appears that if she can get through a speech without saying anything "bizarre," that in itself is news. How bizarre.

The Track goes it several times better, offering no direct quotes, but asserting that she gave "a bizarre, rambling speech ... about hormones and the big, bad pharmaceutical companies' conspiracy against women!" Here's the money graf:

"It was endless, pointless and confusing," said one politically connected chick. "And it was far, far too technical as a dinner speech. I mean, the Latin names of drugs? There was an exodus out the door before dessert."

At a reported length of 35 minutes, Heinz might justifiably be accused of trying her listeners' patience. But "bizarre"? Media Log is still waiting for even one bit of evidence.

Death, coal, and Romney. The Herald editorial page today offers grudging praise of Governor Mitt Romney's successful efforts to jawbone the coal-burning Salem electric power plant into cleaning up its act.

How grudging? Well, at one point it simply ignores reality. Referring to an appearance Romney made in front of the plant last February, the editorial states:

Romney ... got a little carried away at the event, declaring "that plant kills people," a charge he has never substantiated.

Well, here's a press release put out by the Harvard School of Public Health back when it issued the results of a study it had conducted on the health effects of the Salem plant and the Brayton Point plant, in Somerset.

The subhead: "Attributes 159 Premature Deaths Per Year in Region."

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Kerry or not, here they come. It's John Kerry Week in the media. The most significant example is the Boston Globe's seven-part biographical series, written (so far) by Michael Kranish.

Now in its third day, the series accomplishes its institutional mission: being comprehensive enough that no enterprising news org is likely to come in from the outside and dig up any startling revelations about Kerry's past, thus embarrassing the gumshoes at 135 Morrissey Boulevard.

At about 5000 words per installment, it adds up to a small book, which it probably will become once the series has run its course.

Slate's William Saletan is stunned to discover that Kerry can be loose and funny. "If he keeps this up," Saletan writes, "he might actually become president."

In the New Republic's online "TNR Primary" (open to non-subscribers), my former Phoenix colleague Michael Crowley -- who wrote an entertainingly (and perhaps excessively) tough profile of Kerry last year -- gives him a "General Likeability" grade of "A" on the campaign stump. Crowley also notes that the Globe series reinforces Kerry's "special moral authority" in going up against the Hero of the Texas Air National Guard, George W. Bush.

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein follows up the favorable piece he did on Kerry in the New Yorker last year by praising his health-care proposal. Calling it "the first significant new idea of this political season," Klein says that only Kerry's plan is responsible enough to restrict benefits to those who need it the most.

Finally, another former Phoenician, Al Giordano, on his new weblog Big, Left, Outside, believes that Kerry -- for whom he once worked, and whom he covered as the Phoenix's political reporter in the mid-'90s -- can win ... but only if he gets in fighting trim. Giordano writes:

Here's the key: To wake Kerry up, you have to piss him off. You have to put his back up against the wall and slam into him with everything you've got to awaken his mutant powers. And then the real John Kerry stands up: he's golden in those moments: American politics' version of the Incredible Hulk. The American political highway is littered with the higher political aspirations of former giants (Jim Shannon, Ed Markey, Ray Shamie, Bill Weld, and a dozen or so others you probably haven't heard of) slain by Kerry when he was awake.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Microsoft breaks alliance with Apple. Last January, I wrote about Apple's announcement that it would take on Microsoft in the software arena. Now the first casualty: Microsoft will no longer develop Internet Explorer for the Macintosh.

Microsoft seems to be playing this very low-key, saying simply that Apple's Safari is all that Mac users need, and that, in any case, Web browsers have become an integrated part of the operating system. That was Bill Gates's argument during all those years of the antitrust case, and he must find it satisfying now to be able to say it about someone else -- even though the truth of that proposition was always dubious at best.

But this is actually huge news, Microsoft's first step away from Apple since Gates and Steve Jobs embraced in the late 1990s. Microsoft claims that it's not going to walk away from the really important products, such as the Mac version of Microsoft Office, but who knows? If the next version of AppleWorks is as compatible with Office as has been rumored, then all bets may be off.

I've switched to Safari for nearly all of my Web browsing, mainly because it's incredibly fast -- much faster than Explorer or Mozilla. But it's still in beta, you don't get page numbering or headers when you print (note: if I'm wrong, send directions!), and there are a few sites that it doesn't work with at all -- such as, the engine that drives Media Log. For that, I use Mozilla.

I love my new iBook, and I would hate to think that it will be my last Mac. But Microsoft's latest could be the beginning of the end for Apple.

The hunt for common sense over Iraq's WMDs. The hunt for weapons of mass destruction continues in precisely the same manner that Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. Meanwhile, three must-reads:

1. Writing in the Ideas section of yesterday's Boston Globe, Thomas Powers observes that the Bush administration's cynical use of dubious intelligence will harm the US for many years into the future. By refusing to back the US and Britain, the world community took a calculated risk: think of what George W. Bush and Tony Blair would be saying today if we had found chemical plants and nascent nuclear facilities inside Iraq. Instead, France, Russia, et al. have all the more reason not to believe us the next time. Maybe even the American people will wake up, although that's probably asking way too much.

2. Nevertheless, Saddam Hussein really did have enormous amounts of WMDs, including nerve gas, and he really did refuse to account for them after UN weapons inspections resumed last fall. New York Times columnist Bill Keller can't bring himself to admit he was wrong in backing the war. But he is absolutely right when he observes: "It was not a Bush administration fabrication that Iraq had, and failed to account for, massive quantities of anthrax and VX nerve gas and other biological and chemical weapons. Saddam was under an international obligation to say where the poisons went, but did not."

3. So why aren't more of the Democratic presidential candidates speaking out? Because, as Ryan Lizza (subscription required) notes in the New Republic, most of them are complicit, having expended a good deal of energy in the run-up to the war denouncing Saddam's WMD capabilities. The silent candidates include John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, and Dick Gephardt. Even Howard Dean, who was vociferously antiwar, is being cautious for the moment -- perhaps, Lizza writes, out of concern that WMDs may still be found. (Bob Graham is blasting the White House, but I think we can agree that he doesn't matter -- at least not yet.)

Friday, June 13, 2003

Don't ask, don't tell, don't live your life, just go away. Last month I wrote about a heartening decision by Philadelphia scout executives to adopt a nondiscrimination policy to protect gay Boy Scouts and scout leaders.

Well, so much for that. Today's Boston Globe carries a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting that the Cradle of Liberty Council had ousted an 18-year-old scout for publicly coming out in the course of protesting against the national Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory stance. Reporter Linda Harris writes:

"He [scout -- uh, former scout -- Gregory Lattera] decided to hold a press conference to come out as a member of the gay community and also a potential employee and past employee of the Boy Scouts," said [council leader William] Dwyer, who signed the letter to Lattera. "Our staff knew he was gay and never made a big deal about it. He decided to make a big deal about it. The don't ask, don't tell policy is pretty clear."

The local antidiscrimination policy approved in May, however, has no mention of don't ask, don't tell.

Harris's suspicions concerning "don't ask, don't tell" turn out to be well-founded. Because the news in today's Inquirer is quite a bit worse: the Cradle of Liberty Council has reversed its antidiscrimination policy after the national office, in Irving, Texas, threatened to revoke its charter.

This is disturbing, of course, but it's also puzzling. Surely council executives knew they were going to have a fight on their hands when they decided to break with national. If they were prepared to stop discriminating, then presumably they were prepared to go it alone and set up some sort of alternative to the national BSA.

As a Boy Scout volunteer and the father of a scout, I was watching with great interest. I suspect that plenty of councils -- perhaps even Boston's Minuteman Council, which announced its own "don't ask, don't tell" policy last year -- would have been prepared to join them.

According to the Inquirer, the new policy reads: "Applications for leadership and membership do not inquire into sexual orientation. However, an individual who declares himself to be a homosexual would not be permitted to join Scouting."

Here is the BSA's press release on the Philadelphia story. And here is the Cradle of Liberty Council's position statement.

What's also disheartening is that the Philadelphia executives are apparently gutless as well. Note that point two of the council's statement says:

This non-discrimination disclosure was directed to the use of United Way funds in the Learning for Life program and was not, and was not intended to be, an indication of any desire by the board to depart from the National Council policies nor should it be construed as any indication that Cradle of Liberty Council will fail to uphold any policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

Yet here's what council president David Lipson told the Inquirer several weeks ago: "We disagree with the national stance, and we're not comfortable with the stated national policy. That's why we're working on a solution that works for everyone." He added: "We'd like to move the discussion to standards for sexual conduct rather than sexual orientation." (By the way, the Inquirer calls Lipson the council's "board chairman," but the BSA says he is the "president." I will assume that the BSA can at least get that much right.)

Do Lipson's remarks sound like it was all a misunderstanding, as the council's statement suggests? Of course not. It's clear that the council was prepared to stop discriminating -- period. Now it's backed off, and it's hung Lipson out to dry -- as seen in this statement from Irving: "Cradle of Liberty Council President David Lipson has expressed disagreement with the BSA's membership policies, as is his right."

Yeah, that's right. It was just one crazy liberal. Now we can all get back to normal.

Al Giordano update. Narco News Bulletin publisher Al Giordano has started a weblog. I have not had a chance to read it, except for this -- "I think we can cause even MORE trouble now with a blog." But it looks promising.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Forbidden reading on the North Shore. It can't happen here? Oh, yes it can -- and does. Leonard Broughton, principal of the Masconomet Regional Middle School, which serves the well-to-do towns of Topsfield, Boxford, and Middleton, has decided to remove two gay-theme books aimed at young people from the school's summer reading list.

"We don't [believe in] teaching values," Broughton told Ben Casselman of the Salem News. "When it comes to these kinds of value decisions, they are up to the individuals and their families."

Did it ever occur to Broughton that by engaging in such puerile censorship, he's condoning a particularly harmful sort of values education?

The books in question -- Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind and Marilyn Reynolds's Love Rules -- are said to be aimed specifically at teenagers, which makes Broughton's decision all the more inexplicable.

The Salem News website is an enigma, but if you click here, you should be able to read the story until sometime this afternoon. After that, try this.

New in this week's Phoenix. With Boston Globe editor Marty Baron's name prominently in the mix as the next executive editor or managing editor of the New York Times, staffers at 135 Morrissey Boulevard ponder what's next.

Also, readers respond to -- and vent over -- my May 9, piece, "The GOP Attack Machine."

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Beacon Hill freezeout. Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Michael Widmer is the best kind of conservative, a numbers guy who knows what he's talking about. His take on the state budget is invariably more credible than those of the legislature and the governor. So what does the Romney administration do? Why, freeze him out, of course.

According to Boston Herald columnist Cosmo Macero (subscription required), Widmer can't get his calls returned because he's had the temerity to point out that, though some of Governor Mitt Romney's reform ideas may be worthy, they don't add up to nearly enough money to close the budget gap. Widmer has also reportedly let it be known that he holds Eric Kriss, the secretary of administration and finance, in low regard.

Widmer tells Macero: "What I found in working with other A&F secretaries is that if you build [a cooperative] relationship, it can be helpful all around. We're trying to help solve problems. It may be [Kriss] is not comfortable having that kind of relationship. That's his call. I certainly understand that. But I've been puzzled."

Widmer could be Romney's staunchest outside ally. That he is not says more about Romney than it does about Widmer.

Back to mum. For the past couple of weeks, the formerly talkative pitcher known as Pedro Martinez has been talking again as he rehabs from a muscle pull. He was especially loquacious in the Globe this morning, expressing concern to columnist Jackie MacMullan about pitching coach Tony Cloninger, who's being treated for cancer.

But no more, apparently. Because Martinez tells the Herald's Tony Massarotti that, now that he's pitching again, he's zipping his lips. "After [tonight], no more talking again," Martinez says. "Back to normal."

Despite an utter lack of pitching, the Red Sox continue to hover around first place. Yet this is somehow a distinctly unlovable team. Martinez's silence isn't the whole reason by any means, but it's part of it.

A memorable pan. I have not yet read Hillary Clinton's Living History, so I can't judge the fairness of Michiko Kakutani's review in yesterday's New York Times. But I can say this: it's really mean, and it's really entertaining.

A highlight: "Overall the book has the overprocessed taste of a stump speech, the calculated polish of a string of anecdotes to be delivered on a television chat show."

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Life after Finneran. The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi has a good column today on state representative Harriett Stanley, who was stripped of her leadership position earlier this year after crossing House Speaker Tom Finneran. Stanley went from being a Somebody to a shunned backbencher who can't even get a trash can delivered to her office.

What's ironic about all this is that Stanley really has something to contribute. The evidence: a recent award she won from the Pioneer Institute for what is described as an innovative health-care-reform idea. I'll take Vennochi's and the institute's word for it, since the idea isn't actually described, although it has something to do with "re-engineer[ing] Medicaid."

As Vennochi observes, Finneran's love of power has grown so intense that he now routinely puts politics over policy -- something that would have been a surprise to anyone who was following his career 10 years ago.

And Finneran is still pushing for even more power, as the Globe's Rick Klein explains.

Meanwhile, Boston Herald columnist Wayne Woodlief (registration required) takes on the sorry state of the Democrats, noting that by booing state attorney general Tom Reilly at last Saturday's issues convention, they were booing one of their strongest potential candidates for governor in 2006. All because Reilly wants (gasp!) UMass president Bill Bulger to resign.

Woodlief compares the rude reception Reilly received to Finneran's characterization of 1998 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Harshbarger as part of the "loony left," an outburst that contributed to Harshbarger's defeat.

At least state Democratic chairman Phil Johnston has a grasp on reality, telling Woodlief: "If Reilly decides to run he'd be very strong. He's viewed as a straight-shooter and a suburban reformer, not a captive of Beacon Hill politics. That's the type we need to beat Romney."

Reilly is also pretty conservative -- maybe too much so for a party that needs to distinguish itself from the Republicans. But at least he's got a backbone.

Names and faces. The Globe today withholds the name and photo of that nine-year-old kidnap victim from California now that police are reporting she was sexually assaulted, inserting this into an Associated Press story: "The Globe's policy is not to identify victims of sexual assault without their permission."

The print edition of the Herald runs both her name and photo, although -- as I write this -- neither has been posted on the paper's website.

As with the Herald, the Washington Post's website runs the AP story with the girl's name. The photo, though, is of a police cruiser in front of the suspect's house.

The New York Times ran the AP story with the girl's name, but with the sexual-assault charge edited out. The print edition -- but not the Web version -- includes a photo of her.

The girl's hometown paper, the San Jose Mercury News, withholds both her name and the sexual-assault allegation, although it does get her last name out there by identifying her mother. (I am relying on stories that the Mercury posted on its website yesterday, and which are still up this morning. Perhaps today's print edition is different.)

So what's the right answer? This is a difficult call, given that everyone knew her name as recently as yesterday. I'm withholding the name here -- even though you can find it out just by following some of the links I've posted -- because if I had to choose, it would be on the side of nondisclosure.

The victim and her family are not public people, and, even though her name and face had briefly been everywhere, they will quickly be forgotten -- as they should be, and as I'm sure they want to be.

A terrible thing happened to a nine-year-old girl. Now that she's home, the best thing to do is to restore her privacy as quickly as possible.

Monday, June 09, 2003

The Anywhere Times. As New York Times scandals go, this is pretty minor. But surely some readers -- especially NYC expats -- are going to think it's scandalous that the paper has decided occasionally to publish different editorials in its national and metro editions.

In "A Note to Our Readers," the Times says:

Today, for instance, readers in the New York metropolitan area will see an editorial about the need for reform of the lobbying laws in Albany in the place where national readers have an editorial on policies toward the homeless. Both pieces can be read on the Times Web site, and both will be included in the paper's permanent databank under today's date.

In Boston, we get neither the national nor the metro edition but, rather, the New England edition, which is beefier than the national but thinner than the metro. The note doesn't address which editorials we New Englanders would get, but I checked and, sure enough, there's one on homelessness and none on the shenanigans in Albany.

Although some ex-New Yorkers will never get over no longer being able to get the full hometown paper here, the saving grace had always been that all editions had the same front pages and -- until now -- the same editorial pages.

I understand the impulse not to bore a national audience with matters of strictly local concern. But one of the charms of the Times is that it's a New York paper. Take out the NY, and it's less interesting. One of the things that David Remnick has done to improve the New Yorker, for instance, is give it more of a New York feel. Even a staunch Bostonian such as Media Log appreciates a sense of place.

Besides, the Times has taken one large step toward rezoning hell, where you never know what good stuff you might be missing. Yes, I know I can go to the Web, but in that case, why do we get the Times delivered at home?

Editorial-page editor Gail Collins needs to rethink this one.

Trouble for DeLay? Maybe it will come to nothing. But the overweening arrogance of House majority leader Tom "The Exterminator" DeLay may finally be getting him in trouble, according to the Washington Post.

On Friday, the Post's Thomas Edsall reported that DeLay was one of four members of Congress who split $56,500 from a troubled Kansas-based company called Westar Energy. Building on reporting done by the Kansas City Star, Edsall wrote about company e-mails stating that the donations to the four Republican lawmakers were aimed at getting them to vote in favor of repealing a federal regulation that was not to Westar executives' liking.

In a follow-up on Saturday, Edsall and Juliet Eilperin noted that, last September, the Wichita Eagle reported that repeal of the regulation could have brought $27 million to two Westar executives.

DeLay's office has strongly denied that there was any quid pro quo. But this story bears watching.

Also on Saturday, Post reporter R. Jeffrey Smith had a long recap of the efforts of Texas Republicans to chase down fleeing Democrats so they could get a quorum in the legislature and ram through a redistricting bill.

The story centers on the way three federal agencies -- including the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to track terrorists -- were used to find the Democrats, many of whom had crossed the border into Oklahoma so they couldn't be dragooned back to Austin. DeLay's involvement is recounted in quite a bit more detail than I've seen previously.

Records, you will not be surprised to learn, have been destroyed.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Rumors of her retirement were greatly exaggerated. Why did I think that Susan Trausch had retired from the Boston Globe, as I wrote in my account of the Elizabeth Neuffer memorial service?

Somewhere it had stuck in my head that Trausch had taken one of the buyouts a couple of years ago. But I've received two e-mails -- including one from her husband! -- telling me that she is still working as an editorial writer for the paper.

I used to love Trausch's column. And I'm glad that her writing still graces the paper, even if I now have to try to guess which editorials are hers.

Friday, June 06, 2003

"I have done more of the work that has appeared under other people's by-lines than they have." It would be wise to reserve judgment about this e-mail from New York Times stringer Thomas Long that Al Giordano obtained (and which I found via InstaPundit).

But someone ought to interview Long and other stringers and get to the bottom of this. It's really shocking stuff, although I think Long's anger at Seth Mnookin (him again!) is misdirected.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

A worthy sendoff for a great journalist. Hundreds of people turned out this morning at the JFK Library for a memorial service for the Boston Globe's Elizabeth Neuffer, who -- along with her translator, Waleed Khalifa Hassan Al Dulaimi -- were killed in a car accident in Iraq on May 9.

I did not take notes -- somehow it would have seemed disrespectful -- but I can report that it was dignified, emotional, and fitting for someone whose foreign correspondence represented the best that the news media can offer.

Editorial-page editor Renée Loth presided over a program that included remembrances by editor Marty Baron, former Ambassador Swanee Hunt, staff reporters Farah Stockman and Anne Barnard, retired Globe staff member Susan Trausch [Correction: Trausch is still employed as an editorial writer for the paper], foreign editor Jim Smith, and Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, who -- like Stockman -- credited Neuffer with starting her on her journalism career.

Especially moving was a tribute by her longtime companion, Washington-bureau chief Peter Canellos.

The Reverends Ray and Gloria White-Hammond opened and closed the service, which was held in a huge anteroom, a wall of windows behind the speakers, with Boston Harbor and the city skyline barely visible amid the fog and mist.

Neuffer's friends put together a memorial book called Remembering Elizabeth. It closes with this handwritten note:

To Whomever Finds This:

This is being written at the end of 1999 -- and at the beginning of a new millennium. It is also the end of a century, what has been one of the bloodiest centuries ever seen -- despite the incredible advancements mankind has made in science, the arts, and medicine. As a foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe -- which hopefully still is a newspaper that publishes in New England! -- I had some part in seeing some of this bloodshed while reporting on wars in the Gulf, Bosnia, and Rwanda. I would hope by the time you find this note, wars are extinct. But if they are not, please think again -- and stop them. I'd like to think the next millennium will be one in which people are not killed -- or prejudiced against -- because of their race, ethnicity or religion. In fact, all of us in 1999 are counting on you to ensure the future is one of peace. Please make it so.

Elizabeth Neuffer

What did Mnookin know and when did he know it? One offers even mild criticism of Newsweek's Seth Mnookin at one's peril (see item below). I'm beginning to think there are at least three Mnookins out there, each one of them reporting 18 hours a day.

Okay, we're still probably some period of time from knowing who the next executive editor of the New York Times will be, especially since -- with Joe Lelyveld temporarily back at the helm -- there's no need to act precipitously.

But with Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd gone, that suddenly opens up all kinds of possibilities.

And by the way, did I mention that I know Mnookin slightly, and that he's a hell of a nice guy?

Baron to NY? Uh, not so fast. Newsweek's Seth Mnookin has identified Boston Globe editor Marty Baron as a possible replacement for New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, should Raines be ousted or leave.

But wait! Baron and two other people Mnookin identifies as "obvious candidates" -- Times columnist Bill Keller, who was managing editor in the previous regime, and Los Angeles Times managing editor Dean Baquet, who, like Baron, once served in the editing ranks of the NY Times -- all say they haven't been contacted about the job.

Mnookin has been a force of nature on the whole Times/Raines/Jayson Blair saga. But is this really a story?

Meanwhile, Slate's Mickey Kaus has put Raines's chances of departing at 70 percent. I would say that 90 percent or 10 percent would be just as good a guess, wouldn't you?

The people behind Good article in today's Washington Post about, which has grown in less than five years from a Web site opposed to Bill Clinton's impeachment to a major center of online activism for causes such as opposition to the war in Iraq and media reform.

Here's a Q&A with's campaigns director, Eli Pariser, by the Portland Phoenix's Sam Pfeifle. And here's a closer look at by AlterNet's Don Hazen.

Still more on why Saddam didn't save himself. Alexander Knapp has a smart, long post on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. He thinks the evidence supports their existence, and worries that they fell into the hands of terrorists and/or mercenaries when US troops rolled in.

Read the whole thing, but here's his conclusion:

If it turns out that Iraqi materials or weapons have fallen into the hands of terrorists, and those weapons are used against Western targets, then Bush, Rumsfeld, and Franks will all have a lot to answer for. And as I've said before, for their simple negligence in failing to secure suspected WMD sites, I think that Rumsfeld and Franks should be sacked. At the very, very least.

New in this week's Phoenix. Media reformers say that the FCC's outrageous deregulatory ruling this past Monday has mobilized the public for the first time in decades -- and that the agency's vote could kick off a new wave of activism. Also, the media try to figure out what really happened at the National Museum of Iraq.

Washington-bound. I'll be flying to DC early tomorrow morning to speak at a panel on "Investigating the Media," part of the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

More on why Saddam didn't save himself. Got several e-mails in response to my item yesterday asking why Saddam Hussein -- if he really didn't have weapons of mass destruction -- failed to save himself by being genuinely cooperative with UN weapons inspectors.

M.O. pointed me to this Washington Post piece by MIT's Michael Schrage, arguing that Saddam played a game of chicken and lost. In this scenario, Saddam claimed not to have WMDs but refused to prove it, thus making it appear he might be lying, and thus keeping his neighbors discombobulated. Schrage writes:

In fact, WMD ambiguity was at the core of Iraq's strategy. Why? Because if it ever became unambiguously clear that Iraq had major initiatives underway in nuclear or bio-weapons, America, Israel and even Europe might intervene militarily. If, however, it ever became obvious that Iraq lacked the unconventional weaponry essential to inspiring fear and inflicting horrific damage, then the Kurds, Iranians and Saudis might lack appropriate respect for Hussein's imperial ambitions. Ambiguity thus kept the West at bay while keeping Hussein's neighbors and his people in line. A little rumor of anthrax or VX goes a long way.

R.D. sent a long, thoughtful e-mail, the heart of which is this:

Suppose for a minute that Iraq really did dismantle its chemical and biological weapons programs in 1995, as has been reported by a senior Iraqi defector. From the Iraqi standpoint, the entire WMD allegation takes on the character of a massive snipe hunt. No amount of access will ever be enough to satisfy the Bush administration. And, as Iraqi leaders pointed out, never in history had any power assembled an army as large as the one at the border of Iraq without eventually using it....

My problem is that I don't see any evidence that is inconsistent with the thesis that Iraq had not had any chemical weapons since 1995. I saw very detailed allegations, which later turned out to be overblown, faked, or the outdated work of graduate students. So now we're supposed to believe that, even though the evidence was bad, the accusation was good. As a scientist, I find this attitude bizarre.

R.D. also took me to task for indirectly quoting UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix as calling Iraq's December report worthless. A bit glib, I'll concede, though I still think it accurately characterizes Blix's overall assessment.

As for R.D.'s larger argument, I'll stick to my original point: if Saddam really didn't have WMDs, and if he had made a genuine attempt to explain what had happened to those weapons that the UN knew he had once had, then President Bush would have been faced with two options: (1) go to war alone, with no one, not even Tony Blair, to back him up; or (2) back down.

Either of those options would have been -- should have been -- far more palatable to Saddam than what actually happened. But, then, who knows what goes on in the mind of Saddam Hussein?

W.W.S. pointed me to this post on his blog, Pepper Gray, which is a variation of the Schrage argument. And E.R. called my attention to this, which says that Iraq's WMDs may have been moved to Syria -- although she cautions, "I have no idea how reliable these people are." Certainly that seemed to be a working theory in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's fall, though we haven't heard much about it lately.

My favorite explanation, though, comes from R.G.H., who suggests that Iraq had long since lost its WMD capability -- but no one dared tell Saddam! He writes:

I like the theory that he didn't know he didn't have WMD because his underlings were afraid to tell him they no longer had the resources to rebuild the capability.

In college, I had a history prof who was a retired Air Force colonel. He told a story about taking control of the German Air Force headquarters in Bavaria at the end of WWII. The Allies were concerned that their small numbers would be unable to keep the Wehrmacht officers under control if they were arrested and imprisoned. So, instead, the Allies essentially locked the gate to the command compound and, as the command continued to issue orders to a non-existent air force, the Allies scooped them up and destroyed them. The command officers, having their time occupied, never posed a threat to escape or cause other problems.

This was told to describe the German personality, but I think it's a fair description of the military mindset, as well. Orders are issued and it is assumed that they are followed. Certainly Saddam would assume that it would be the case.

Then, put yourself in the place of one of Saddam's lieutenants: "I'm not telling him. YOU tell him."

It all makes perfect sense to me.

Me too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

"Ideas" man. has a Q&A with Alex Star, editor of the Globe's "Ideas" section. (Via Romenesko.)

In the nine or so months that "Ideas" has been coming out, I haven't quite known what to make of it. I know people who love it; and I know people who really, really hate it. If pressed against the wall and forced to give an answer, I guess I'd say I like it, but not all the time, and that in some respects it still doesn't feel like it's quite gelled.

"Ideas" runs some terrific stuff. At the same time, I'd like to see more policy pieces, especially on local issues. In other words, maybe move it just a bit toward what was offered by the old "Focus" section, which it replaced.

Anyway, Star comes across in the interview as smart and interesting.

And here is my favorite chunk from "Ideas" since its debut, a hilarious meditation on old age headlined "Would You Let Your Grandmother Marry a Rolling Stone?", published last October and written by Joe Sacco and Gerry Mohr:

Perhaps you prefer the implacable dignity of Bob Dylan, who, in recent years, has recast himself as a romantically world-weary and crusty old man. This might be how you like to imagine yourself aging -- wisely, your face to the wind, with, as Shakespeare's Prospero mused, "every third thought [about the] grave." The Stones, on the other hand, are aging pretty much how you are likely to -- gracelessly, scared witless, clutching and clawing at the years that run through your fingers, dancing like a maniac when you think someone half your age is watching, and generally making yourself a laughingstock.

If Saddam didn't have WMDs, why didn't he prove it? We should all be outraged by the Bush administration's untruths as to whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's alleged chemical, biological, and nascent nuclear capabilities were, after all, the principal argument offered by the White House for going to war in the first place.

Still, this is a bit more complicated than some elements of the antiwar left would have it. Last night, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff appeared on The David Brudnoy Show, on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), to talk about his latest article, regarding the way US officials bent intelligence to suit their needs. That's how the phony stories about the aluminum tubes and the uranium from Niger made their way into the public consciousness.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today goes hyperbolic, writing, "The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history -- worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra."

I usually am delighted with Krugman's heated Bush-whacking. But, in this case, he and other critics are forgetting about one key fact. Last December, Iraq submitted a 12,200-page, UN-mandated report on its weapons program that chief weapons inspector Hans Blix denounced as worthless.

Weapons inspectors knew for a fact that Saddam had an active program for producing WMDs at one time. Yet, when faced with invasion and overthrow, Saddam refused to say whether he still had those weapons -- or, if he didn't, what he had done with them. Nor was he particularly cooperative with Blix and nuclear-weapons inspector Mohammed ElBareidi.

Thus, if Iraq didn't have WMDs, Saddam refused to take the opportunity to prove it and thus stave off the end of his brutal, bloody regime.

President Bush now has a chaotic mess on his hands -- a mess that was predicted by those of us who opposed going to war without an explicit UN mandate.

Nevertheless, given that it now seems clear that Iraq's WMD capability was, at the very least, nowhere near as great as the White House had claimed, it is a mystery as to why Saddam didn't do more to save his worthless, evil ass.

Anti-Semitism in the Chicago Tribune. Andrew Sullivan pointed to this before me. It needs to be seen. Why is anti-Semitic garbage like this running in a great newspaper like the Chicago Tribune?

My attempt to register at the Tribune website failed, but if you go here, it looks like readers were outraged.

Unfortunately, in this interview with Editor & Publisher, cartoonist Dick Locher shows that he doesn't get it.

Salam Pax is real! Peter Maass has the details in Slate. And Pax has already responded.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Designer babies or not? MIT scientist Steven Pinker has a fascinating essay on so-called designer babies in the Ideas section of yesterday's Globe. Pinker's bottom line: the prediction that embryos will be genetically engineered so that children will be smarter, taller, better-natured, or whatever is little more than futuristic hype. Genetics, he writes, is a whole lot more complicated than is popularly believed.

Yet Pinker places an oddly artificial limit on his own predictive abilities when he writes: "Not only is genetic enhancement not inevitable, it is not particularly likely in our lifetimes." In our lifetimes? Is that what we're really talking about? What about 100 years from now, or 500, or 1000?

Last year, University of California scientist Gregory Stock offered a very different view in his book Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future. Stock concedes the difficulty and, ultimately, the futility of direct manipulation of genes -- although he doesn't rule it out entirely.

Instead, he focuses much of his attention on a truly mind-bending concept: artificial chromosomes that could hold genes that fight disease, enhance intelligence, and the like. Such an approach, he argues, would be both easier and safer than "germline" engineering, the term for manipulating genes so that the changes will be passed on from generation to generation.

By contrast, the Stockian approach would limit any changes to the individual on which they are made.

In one particularly fanciful section, Stock writes:

Human conception is shifting from chance to conscious design.... Imagine that a future father gives his baby daughter chromosome 47, version 2.0, a top-of-the-line model with a dozen therapeutic gene modules. By the time she grows up and has a child of her own, she finds 2.0 downright primitive. Her three-gene anticancer module pales beside the eight-gene cluster of the new version 5.9, which better regulates gene expression, targets additional cancers, and has fewer side effects. The anti-obesity module is pretty much the same in both versions, but 5.9 features a whopping nineteen antivirus modules instead of the four she has and an anti-aging module that can maintain juvenile hormone levels for an extra decade and retain immune function longer too. The daughter may be too sensible to opt for some of the more experimental modules for her son, but she cannot imagine giving him her antique chromosome and forcing him to take the drugs she uses to compensate for its shortcomings. As far as reverting to the pre-therapy, natural state of 23 chromosomes pairs, well, only Luddites would do that to their kids.

Is this where we're going? Is it a good idea? Who knows? But I do know this: although I would certainly not presume to argue with Professor Pinker, the changes that may lie ahead in generations to come are bound to be far more formidable than anything we can imagine happening "in our lifetimes."