Sunday, April 30, 2006


I nailed a 169 on my fourth LSAT practice test, yesterday. In the interest of full disclosure, I had given myself the previous night off, since a friend was playing a show and I hadn't been out in several weeks. I probably should have gone to bed earlier and without popping a Benadryl — but hey, I scored 169, one point below my ultimate goal, and I've still got six weeks to shed.

I felt like I fell apart on the Logic Games; but I only missed 5 questions out of 22, so apparently I did better than I'd thought. Overall, I missed 13 questions out of 100, leaving plenty of room for improvement. On the other hand, at least I've made significant progress and the countless hours spent with my hand cramped around a pencil don't quite feel wasted.

You may have noticed the StatCounter icon inside the right column. Occasionally, I glance through the referrer logs to see how people end up reading this page, and I've noticed more than a few brought here by Googling for the same phrase: "How to beat the LSAT." I'll probably write at least one column after finishing the Kaplan course, reviewing the experience for others who are considering whether to invest the exorbitant amount of money required; but in the meantime, for you Google stragglers, let me say this: There are tips, and tricks, and techniques. But it's damn hard work.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Free Lunch

Yesterday was my birthday. My dad drove down from New Hampshire, and we had lunch at a local pizzeria. The owner is a friend of mine, and he overheard my dad mention my birthday. We had already paid for our sandwiches, but he insisted, "Come back tomorrow. Lunch will be on me!"

I'm not crazy about accepting favors. But sometimes, friendship is about letting someone do something nice. So today, I got a free lunch.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ordnance Tactics

Kerrie has been reading a book by Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. She got an advance copy of the uncorrected proof, which the accompanying ad copy describes as "a lively and irresistible first novel about an overachieving teenage girl who discovers that in order to get into the college of her dreams she has to learn some wildly unexpected lessons." Kerrie loves it.

Today, its author was accused of plagiarism.

Viswanathan is accused of lifting at least a half-dozen passages from Megan McCafferty's novel Sloppy Firsts, published by Random House in 2001. McCafferty's agent says a fan notified McCafferty of the similarities in an e-mail sent April 11. Yesterday, lawyers for Random House hand-delivered a letter to Viswanathan's publisher, Little Brown.

Less than 12 hours later, the Harvard Crimson broke the story on its website with a researched article and comparative selections from both books. The article also included a telephone comment from Viswanathan, whom the Crimson had contacted on Saturday, several hours before Random House's letter was delivered. The story also appeared on the front page of Monday's Boston Globe in a thoroughly researched article that included background on both authors and commentary from a local publisher, all of which was prepared prior to the Globe's deadline on Sunday night.

Obviously, someone leaked this story. But both newspapers deliberately held their articles until after Random House delivered its letter on Sunday. If the Globe had been notified by the same fan who e-mailed McCafferty, they wouldn't have let the Crimson scoop the story. This was a courtesy exchanged for a tip, and any reasonable observer concludes that Random House planted these stories.

I point this out because it's serious hardball. I don't condone plagiarism — but planting the story in a 19-year-old sophomore's college newspaper? That's not a tactic you often see employed by a book publisher. I'm not saying it was wrong, and I'm not saying I wouldn't have done the same if I worked for Random House public relations. But this is a rare display of brutality from a book publisher — the same publisher that got burned by James Frey just four months ago — and it's worth taking note.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Of Time and Place

Last week, the CIA fired a 61-year-old senior intelligence officer who stands accused of leaking classified information to reporters. The ethics is a delicate scale to balance: On one hand, CIA cannot function if its senior officers divulge classified information to reporters; but on the other hand, it seems that CIA was, in fact, breaking international law, and it's difficult to condemn anyone for speaking out.

The officer has been described as a bureaucrat, someone lacking field experience who feels most comfortable working "downtown" in Washington. She has been attending law school in anticipation of retirement from the agency. The real question is, How did someone fitting this profile come to be trusted with operational intelligence?

Spying is cold business. You can't supervise spies or restrict them with policy. You can either send them into the field, trusting in their judgment, or you can have a broken spy program. It's a business that doesn't permit oversight. It only works if the left hand doesn't ask what the right hand is doing.

I'm not saying that senior analysts should suppress knowledge of illegal activities. I'm saying that information should never cross their desks. CIA needs to stop pretending it's the Department of State. You can't have a polite Rottweiler, and you shouldn't try. Either let him off the chain, or buy a terrier.

Friday, April 21, 2006


It's been a difficult week. I'm hoping for good news next week regarding a project I've been working on for about a month, but in the meantime I'm trying to catch up after missing last week's LSAT class to attend the wedding. Plus I'm trying to land a gig for the summer, something that would prove good experience and that might translate into a letter of recommendation.

You learn to recognize certain feelings. Like sensing when a storm is coming, there are signs and there's a certain tension when your life is about to shift gears. Either you're about to have a breakaway lap or you'll crash into the rail.

But I'm optimistic. I've been around the track enough times to know there'll be another lap, regardless; and frankly, luck's been on my side. They say that chance favors the prepared and that fortune favors the bold, so I've made a habit of being both and it's worked. I'm hoping to continue the streak — but like I say, it's been a difficult week.

I was lost in the woods, once. I was walking with a friend and we were immersed in conversation, and somehow we lost the path. It never occurred to me to panic, though, because I knew we weren't far from civilization and that if we picked a direction and just walked, we would eventually stumble across a road. We ended up on a highway several miles away from my car, but I was right and we got home safely.

That's how I feel right now. I'm not sure exactly where I stand, and I don't know quite which way to walk; but I know where I need to be, and I know that I can figure out how to get myself there. And although I'll confess moments of frustration, despair is nowhere in sight — and that's reassuring.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Missed Opportunity

Dave Liebman just released a new album with Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum on Challenge Records. It's been listed on the label's website since January; but you can't buy it from Challenge, because they discontinued online sales when they relaunched their website last year. Until last week, you couldn't buy it anywhere except Europe.

In February, I e-mailed Liebman. He sells CDs directly through his website, so I asked whether he had this one available. He didn't; but he forwarded my note to Challenge's producer, Hein Van de Geyn, whose response read, "USA release always runs several months after the European release." Liebman added, "Give it some time."

I was prepared to buy a copy. I would have paid postage from Europe. I knew it would eventually show up on Amazon, but I was eager and impatient. If Challenge had offered a way for me to buy the CD in January, I would have paid.

But when the CD debuted on Amazon last week for $16.98, I didn't buy a copy — because last month, a friend gave me an advance copy he had received. Challenge lost my sale because they made it difficult for me to buy their product. This happens all the time in jazz, and I'm sick of it. With all due respect, Mr. Van de Geyn: Get your act together.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hallmark Flashback

My sister sent me this birthday card.
So, anyway, I'm standing in line to buy you a freakin' birthday card and the line is like seventeen billion people long 'cause the only thing the dumb teenage boy at the register is thinking about is the dumb teenage girl at the other register, and some dumb lady is turning her purse inside out to come up with "exact change," like she's gonna win some kind of "exact change trophy" or something, and some idiot starts up with his "This item was marked with the sale price" crap, and I just really hope you like this card...

[inside cover]

'Cause I stole it.
Having spent considerable time in retail, this gave me a chuckle because I've stood at the other end of that line; and although I've never stolen anything in my life, I did something that came close, once — and thus my sister's birthday card brings me to True Confessions of a Retail Clerk.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and I had been working in the café at Barnes & Noble for about two weeks. After you learn some of the drinks, they start you on the register. This is tricky for two reasons. First, if you haven't memorized each drink by key code, you have to select them from a scrolling menu. And like drinks aren't grouped together. Small, medium, and large sizes don't appear one below the other like you'd expect. The large macchiato might be on the second or third page, after a bunch of unrelated drinks, sandwiched between the medium and large espressos, and you have to scroll down to find it. It ain't intuitive.

The second reason are the books. When I sold CDs, a bar code was a bar code was a bar code, and it was called a Universal Product Code (UPC) for a reason: There's only one. Some books have as many as three. The trick is that your scanner will only read one of them — and although you learn to find the one that says "ISBN," that doesn't always work.

So I was a new hire working the register in the middle of a busy, understaffed Saturday afternoon and I had a line that sprawled out the café entrance into the store. I'd been working the register for about three hours when along comes a woman who, in addition to her large food order, wants to buy a stack of books. Most of them were no problem: romance novels and mass market paperbacks that were easy to scan. But she also had a bunch of oversized children's books, each of which had at least three different bar codes, and I just couldn't get any of them to scan. The store was packed and the customers were restless, so I took my two weeks' experience and made an executive decision: I grabbed her books and stuck them into her bag. "Here you go. Free books."

Barnes & Noble corporate would have said I took the easy way out. But I spent three years as a retail manager, and I know the job better than any middle-manager corporate suit. Their first mistake is what I've just described: They set up a complicated cashwrap system that prioritizes tracking inventory rather than expediting customers' checkout. Jeffrey Gitomer says, "High-level people want to make a profit. Low-level people insist on saving money." Bingo. Store policies are determined by low-level people.

So what's a register jockey to do? You've got two choices: Expedite the problem customer ("flush the drain"), or risk losing the sales that are lined up behind her. She's buying a bunch of children's books with incredibly low profit margins, and everyone else in line wants to pay $3 for a cup of coffee. No contest. Plus, you earn the added benefit of goodwill: Instead of driving away a horde of angry customers, you've made a woman happy by showing her that you value customer service. Everyone wins.

Barnes & Noble gave me a nametag and assigned me the responsibility for checking out sales, and in that capacity I made a judgment call. I was right, and I'd do it again. But it's the closest I've ever come to theft. And I doubt Barnes & Noble would approve.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Quality of Character

My favorite Internet author, Melissa Lafsky, has been dealing with the aftermath of revealing her identity to thousands of readers in January after achieving fame as an anonymous blogger. One facet has been a new torrent of hate mail. Of course, it's all anonymous.

Last year, Lafsky had a lucrative job at a top Manhattan law firm. She resigned before revealing her blogging identity in a New York Observer article. She's hoping to succeed as a writer — and she'd better, because no firm is likely to hire her now. It was a gutsy move. They say, if you're going to do something, then commit yourself; if you're going to walk into walls, do it running. She did.

Her courage was met with hate mail from cowards. "You're a failure," they write. "You're going to fail." None of them sign their names.

I have to admit, I probably won't read her book. It's unlikely to match my reading habits; and anyway, someone who's been offering her product free faces a unique hurdle when she wants to begin charging for it. But I admire what she's doing, what it takes — and it puts her character into stark relief when she begins receiving profanity from anonymous cowards.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Heartbreak Hill

I find it difficult to discuss marriage without considering divorce. With the wedding approaching last week, I felt it was inappropriate to discuss that aspect; but now that the wedding is past, I'll say what I've been thinking for the past few weeks: Marriage requires defiance.

Cynics insist that monogamy is an unnatural state, that man tends toward promiscuity and that his tendency is reinforced by our society's emphasis and attitude toward sex. I agree. Notwithstanding Biblical pronouncement, marriage is an unnatural state. But so is a skyscraper. Marriage is an achievement.

It's no wonder that divorce is so prevalent in our society. Divorce is a function of entropy. Despite what we tell ourselves in wedding vows and Hallmark cards, we aren't really expected to stay married forever. Last month, New York Magazine reported that the number of young couples planning to sign prenuptial agreements has more than tripled in the past three years. These days, your average marriage ceremony comes with an asterisk — "till death do us part" is pure sentiment.

I've written elsewhere that a successful marriage requires personal motivation. It has to be more than, "I love her." This might sound cold, but there has to be an element of yourself that genuinely wants to be married — irrespective of your spouse. And to that, I'll add another element: You have to possess a measure of personal defiance. You need to acknowledge the myriad forces, biological and cultural, pulling your marriage toward the rocks; and you need to be one of those people who feels impelled by that dare.

Dr. Phil is famous for asking his guests, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?" Any marathon runner will tell you that pain is impossible to avoid, that you have to run through it. With respect to Dr. Phil, I think a successful marriage sometimes requires two people who would rather win than be happy.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


The Vatican chose to celebrate Easter by condemning Dan Brown and asking that Sony attach a disclaimer to The Da Vinci Code. My favorite comment came from Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa during his Good Friday homily delivered in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI inside St. Peter's Basilica. Cantalamessa said, "Christ is still sold — but not any more for 30 coins, but to publishers and booksellers for billions of coins."

I love that. During the past few years, the Boston archdiocese has been the epicenter of the Roman Catholic Church's worst nightmare — the sex abuse scandal. In addition to the massive blows suffered in public relations, lawsuit settlements have drained the church coffers beyond its ability to sustain. So how did these wise and gentle leaders, these Christians, choose to solve their financial crisis? They closed churches.

They reassigned the priests and locked the doors. In some cases, parishioners tried to organize protests and sit-ins. They were families who had spent four generations worshipping inside these churches. They were told that they didn't own the buildings. They were told, "Tough luck."

You drive past some of these suburban churches, and they look like palaces. They're outfitted with beautiful masonry and lush landscaping and they're adorned with enough polished gold to blind geese. Did the archdiocese ask its most generous (read: wealthy) worshippers to sacrifice a bit of their opulence for the benefit of their less fortunate brethren? Of course not. They picked a couple dozen low-income parishes and locked the doors.

And the Vatican wants to look down its nose at Dan Brown, accusing him of using Christ to make a buck? What a joke. The word you're looking for, Reverend Cantalamessa? "Projection."

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I spent today at a wedding. For two of my friends, it genuinely seemed to be the happiest day of their lives. Marriage carries with it a host of connotations and consequences, but for one day it was wonderful to watch two people simply enjoy each other. There was nary a moment of tension or discomfort, and nothing went wrong. In fact, the day went perfectly. It was, in a word, "nice."

Congratulations, Adam and Jaime.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rubber Hoses

Last weekend on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley interviewed Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, who stands charged with the murder of Iraqi major general Abid Hamed Mowhoush during the search for Saddam Hussein in 2003. When the Army captured Mowhoush, a soldier with close ties to Saddam who might know the Iraqi dictator's location, his interrogation was assigned to Welshofer. He spent three days questioning Mowhoush, and he got nothing. Then he tried a different tactic.
He remembered that years before, in an approved training exercise, he helped stuff American soldiers into oil drums to induce claustrophobia and panic. The idea was to teach our soldiers for what could happen if they were captured. In Iraq, Welshofer did much the same thing, this time, with a sleeping bag.
Prior to implementing this tactic, Welshofer asked permission from his commanding officer, Major Jessica Voss. She approved it. After 30 minutes, Mowhoush was dead.

Welshofer was issued a letter of reprimand from the Army and the case was closed. But three months later, the press published photographs from Abu Ghraib and the world exploded. Although Welshofer's base was miles away from Abu Ghraib, the Army promptly re-opened his case and charged him with murder.

60 Minutes interviewed Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Sanchez is outraged by Mowhoush's death, and she's demanding answers and accountability from the Department of Defense. She seemed to agree that Welshofer is being made a scapegoat, pointing to an e-mail in which Welshofer and his comrades were specifically instructed to take off the gloves. "We want these individuals broken," the e-mail read.

At one point, the Army's official rules governing interrogation were revised and reissued thrice in 30 days. Welshofer and his soldiers were on the receiving end of a dizzying barrage of conflicting directives, and it's amazing that Welshofer showed the professionalism and integrity to consult with his commanding officer before employing a non-standard interrogation technique. Regardless, Sanchez is furious, and she's determined that someone will answer for Mowhoush's murder.

I'm furious, too. But I could give a damn about what Welshofer did. I'm more concerned by something else.
Two days before he died, Gen. Mowhoush was visited by a team from U.S. Army Special Forces and the CIA, men who came equipped with rubber hoses. When the general continued to insist he knew nothing, Welshofer watched the session turn violent.
Until his sleeping bag stunt, Welshofer says the worst he did was to slap Mowhoush once. That doesn't surprise me. We drown these guys in policies and guidelines; we ask them to stand on the front lines and then we threaten them with jail if they break our rules of etiquette. But I maintained faith that in back rooms, the unnamed soldiers of Special Forces were doing what's necessary to get intelligence from these captives.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib were embarrassing — not because they broke the Geneva Conventions, but because they showed teenagers screwing around rather than soldiers manhandling detainees. It was humiliation without purpose. It was spring break for vandals. I hoped that somewhere, someone was crossing the lines that needed to be crossed, not simply for sake of amusement but to achieve real strategic objectives. And it turns out that's not the case. When they show up, they honestly do show up with rubber hoses.

Let me tell you. The first thing you do, if you're Special Forces, you close the door. Welshofer doesn't get to stay. He doesn't get to watch. He's probably a nice guy and he's probably a good soldier, but there's a reason you have Special Forces and it isn't because they look good on TV. They belong behind closed doors.

Then you bring in another Iraqi, some prisoner who means nothing. You stand him in front of Mowhoush and you take your pistol and you shoot him in the head. Now you've established clarity. Mowhoush understands you're not bluffing, that he's either going to leave his life or he's going to leave the information in that room. And if he doesn't start talking, then you take out your knife and you start with his thumb.

We're capturing men who have lived under the yoke of Saddam Hussein, for Christ's sake, and we think we can break these men with sleep deprivation and tricky questions. In Saddam's army, if you didn't cooperate, you bled. We're crumbcake to these guys. We're cheese Danish, and our prisoners are being blown up and decapitated. But we still want to believe in the myth of polite warfare. I had hoped that while the liberals ran the protocol in Congress, that overseas, a different story was taking shape — that hard men were protecting our troops at any cost. It turns out that's not the case. And we're losing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Opening Day

Today was Opening Day at Fenway Park. The Globe just published a feature about the nonbelievers, Bostonians who remain immune to Red Sox fever, and I have to confess that I stand among them. Baseball? I could give a damn.

First, there are too many games. Every MLB team plays 162 games, not counting the postseason. In the NFL, teams play 16 games and every one counts. On one hand, you can argue that baseball players have to work harder; but for the fans, it's more difficult to care about the outcome of any individual game. The stakes simply aren't as high.

Individual teams play each other too often, also. The Red Sox have a famous rivalry with the New York Yankees — a grudge that should be even hotter this year, following Johnny Damon's defection. But this year, the Sox and the Yankees are scheduled to play 19 games in 6 different meetings. It's a rivalry without a showdown. Hardly the anticipation created by the annual Army-Navy game.

Even the weekly schedules are redundant. When two teams meet, they play between 2 and 4 games over a couple days. So your team wins on Monday, and my team wins on Tuesday. Where's the sport? If they're just going to play again tomorrow, who cares what happens tonight?

And there's the nature of the game itself. The term "perfect game" refers to one where a pitcher manages to pitch for nine innings without a single player reaching first base. The implication, obviously, is that outfielders exist just in case. Each game is advertised like a boxing match, pitcher versus pitcher. Played at its highest level, it's not really a team sport.

But my favorite aspect is the price. Ignoring the cost of tickets, which has become obscene, a hot dog will cost you $4. If you want a beer, that's another $7. Parking runs from $40–60, with one lot promising to charge $90 this year. Tell me again how this is the game of the red-blooded, blue-collar American.

I watched the 2004 World Series. When you live in Boston, the postseason fever can be contagious. The team hadn't won a championship in 86 years, so there was actually something at stake. But that was the last week of October. The preceding six months? Inconsequential.

I'd like to care. I really would. It's an American institution; and honestly, most of the ways in which it's been screwed up have nothing to do with the spirit of the game. But the product being pitched by MLB and broadcast on television simply isn't interesting. It isn't engaging. It's replete with redundancy and anticlimax. And I could give a damn.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sliding Scale

Predicting your score on the LSAT is kind of like predicting tomorrow's weather. You can see a warm front advancing and you know it will probably rain, but there are just too many variables and you can't be certain. The LSAT poses the same problem.
  • The questions change, and a different number of students take each test.
  • As a result, each test's scaling changes.
  • As a result, the corresponding percentiles change.
In three tests, I've scored within a four-point range. If I took the test for real tomorrow, it's reasonable to figure I would place within that range — but it could also be two or three points outside, which would widen the percentile possibilities to anywhere from 83–96%.

If I can narrow and lift my score just a few points into a predictable 168–170, that should translate to a percentile range between 97–98%. That's the difference between a 13-point range versus one single point's gamble — and when you're facing a three-year investment that's going to sink you into a short lifetime of debt, and since high scores can translate to lower tuition, that can be all the difference in the world.

If you're wondering why I've been anxiously sweating a few measly points, or if you're a friend wondering why I seem to have disappeared from the face of the planet lately, that's the answer. I've got a three-hour window to score $100,000. I'm basically planning a heist, and it requires homework.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Snake Oil

The price of gold broke $600 per ounce today. It's the highest price in 25 years, and analysts agree that it's purely the result of artificial inflation by speculative buyers. On a completely unrelated note, Bill O'Reilly's radio broadcast is sponsored heavily by a commercial gold exchange.

When I first heard the ad spot, I laughed. It followed an advertisement for a diet pill and preceded one for a start-your-own-business scheme. Liberals and conservatives can bicker all day about the intellect of O'Reilly's listeners, but the surest way to measure an audience's demographic is to survey its advertisers. Which companies choose to invest in airtime — are they selling substantive products and services, or are they scams looking for suckers?

The gold exchange's pitch is simple: Buy from us now, and we'll guarantee to buy back your gold at current market value anytime, anywhere. My response is equally simple: I don't understand how they can make a profit with that business plan — and if I don't understand how you're making a profit, then I assume one of two things: (1) You're hiding something; or (2) Your business plan sucks, and you'll be bankrupt by the time I want my money back.

Apparently I'm alone in my skepticism. I listen once or twice a week and I still hear the ads, and they wouldn't still be spending the money if they weren't getting a return. Moreover, the analysts say it's working: If you read between the lines of the economic jargon, most of this afternoon's business reports are saying the gold market has been flooded with ignorant, uninformed investors.

According to a report published earlier this year, personal saving levels are at their lowest levels since the Great Depression. That's staggering. It's absolutely staggering. We're addicted to credit. Our money is spent before the work week begins. We're a nation living on borrowed time — and amazingly, still, we're chomping at the bit to buy snake oil.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

You Heard It Here First

Katie Couric announced this morning that she will leave the Today show when her contract concludes next month. She's moving to CBS where, beginning in September, she will serve as anchor and managing editor of The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric. She will also contribute as a correspondent on 60 Minutes.

The CBS Evening News has consistently placed last among network news. And notwithstanding Elizabeth Vargas's current situation at ABC, where co-anchor Bob Woodruff has been sidelined for two months, Couric will be the first woman to anchor an evening news program by herself. Most critics and columnists are focused on these two facts. The resulting discussion has been fairly trite: whether "Katie" will become "Katherine," whether her bubbly persona will disappear, whether a woman anchor can boost CBS's ratings.

Let me offer counterpoint with one observation: CBS hasn't yet named an executive producer to Couric's newscast.

Evening news is on its way out. No one, absolutely no one in television believes otherwise. I saw Larry King talking with Dan Rather a few weeks ago, discussing this very subject. King asked Rather, "Do you watch the evening news?" Rather admitted, "Not very often." Rather asked King the same question, and King laughed. "Not very often," King agreed.

It's the most antiquated facet of television. The Internet and 24-hour cable news have rendered it absolutely obsolete. There's only one reason all three networks keep it alive, and that's perception: No one wants to be the first to dump it. Evening news still commands sentiment and prestige, and whoever blinks first will look cheap. Make no mistake: As soon as it becomes feasible, all three networks will kill evening news.

So consider what's happening. CBS is investing heavily in a brand. Katie Couric is a known entity, and her rapport with both guests and viewers is a valuable commodity. She's not going to become "Katherine," and CBS won't ask her to change. Evening news has long been the province of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings, and there's no question that Couric brings something different. That's deliberate. In signing Couric — and next, in choosing an executive producer — CBS is planning to set a new direction for evening news. They're not looking for a short-term ratings boost. They want out, and this is the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Restaurant Review: Carl's Steak Subs

Carl's Steak Subs
55 Prospect Street
Waltham, MA 02453
(781) 893-9313

If you've watched The Phantom Gourmet, then you've probably seen Carl's. Dan and Dave Andelman, the brothers who host the show, love to shill their favorite restaurants, and Carl's frequently makes that list. It's kind of odd, because Phantom is a restaurant show and Carl's is a sub shop offering take-out only. There are a few tables outside, but inside you're trapped standing between the cash register and a refrigerator case; if there are more than five people waiting for orders, you're going to be squished.

Waltham is a 40-minute drive for me, which is ridiculous for a steak sub; but I'm a die-hard and I had to know. So I made the trek for the first time last year, and I've been nursing a jones ever since. The hook is that their steak isn't exactly "shaved"; it's more like "stringed" steak, about the width of heavy twine. Traditional shaved steak is easy to overcook because it's thin, and these guys figured out a way to dice it for the grill without sacrificing dimension. It's just thick enough to stay moist and retain its flavor. I suppose it won't earn anybody a Nobel prize; but they managed to fix a recipe that wasn't quite broken, and that's gotta be worth something.

Quality: Perfect. I'm telling you, these guys redefined the steak sandwich. It's like you spend your whole life eating Hershey bars, then someone feeds you a Scharffen Berger and suddenly Hershey's chocolate tastes like waxy sugar. Eat this sandwich, and you'll never look at another steak sub the same way.

Value: A small steak sub with cheese and peppers costs $6.10 — if you want to add toppings, you work your way up by nickels and dimes. Whatever you want, you'll eat lunch for about 7 bucks. And these guys don't skimp: Your roll will be absolutely packed, overflowing. Don't even think about ordering a large.

Hospitality: It's kind of ridiculous to discuss hospitality at a take-out sub shop, but I'll say that Carl's isn't going to win points for atmosphere. The inside is cramped standing-room only, and the outside is what you'd expect from a side street in a poor, industrial city. To be fair, I have to add that the service can be gruff. They're always bustling and you may not get a "Thank you," but the flip side is that I probably wouldn't be recommending any sub shop for its pleasant service. What Carl's lacks in style, they make up in substance.

Monday, April 03, 2006


You may notice that I've removed Michelle Malkin's blog from the sidebar. Malkin is a good writer but her website sucks lately. She's not really writing; most of her content is just blockquoted from various sources, incessantly pinging the same couple stories. (Muslim cartoons, immigration, Cynthia McKinney. Lather, rinse, repeat.) In short, it's dull and it's cheap, and I'm done with it until she finds something better.

If I find something worthwhile, I'll add it. In the meantime, check out Chris Warner's link. Scroll down to his entry dated Wednesday, February 15 and read his apology — then go back and read it again, skipping every other line. Genius like that deserves to be stolen.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Practice LSAT #3

I scored 165.

I've completed one-third of the Kaplan class. They tell you not to expect real improvement until you move from Mastery into Endurance and Pacing. They tell you the boost comes later in the class, and the average student improves his score by 7 points.

Still. I've had enough experience, both as a college student and as an American, to know that the "average student" probably doesn't invest much time outside class each week. There are certain requirements for Kaplan's Higher Score Guarantee — call them a bare minimum — and then there's an absolute mountain of work above and beyond, and I've been completing every lick of it. I was hoping for 168; and Kaplan's prescriptions notwithstanding, I'm disappointed I didn't nail it.

My "realistic" goal for June was 170. Obviously, there's perennial hope for 180, but I figured 170 was reasonable and attainable. I still do. But I was hoping to progress faster; and since I haven't, I'm left with only two options: Adjust my expectations, or push twice as hard.

Guess which I've chosen.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

You Must Be Joking

In honor of April Fool's Day, here's a story from this week's Boston Globe so absurd and so incredibly, offensively stupid that you'll be certain it's a prank. It's not.
Two teenage girls face child pornography charges after posting sexually explicit photographs of themselves on the Internet.
That's right. Photographs of themselves.

If convicted, these girls will spend the rest of their lives branded as Registered Sex Offenders — for posting photographs of themselves on MySpace. Everyone involved with this case should be fired: The police officer who reported the photographs, the district attorneys who filed charges, and the judges who presided over the girls' respective arraignments. We're spending tax dollars to jail, prosecute, and possibly imprison two girls whose lives are about to be ruined because they posted photographs of themselves on the Internet.

What the fuck.