Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Letter to Mr. Gross

One neat thing about the Internet is that you can leave a message for anyone.

When I was in third grade, I began taking music lessons. It was sort of a strange, one-room-schoolhouse music class. I had just enrolled at Blessed Sacrament School in Walpole, and the school had an arrangement with Coffey Music in neighboring Norwood to supply students with rental instruments in order to participate in a schoolwide group music class.

These weren’t one-on-one music lessons: It was like a band class, except it was comprised of mixed ages from third grade to eighth and some of us were literally just learning our instruments. We worked from individual instrumental books, not playing band arrangements. We sat in chairs on the school’s stage, usually with the curtain closed, and Mr. Gross would go down the line helping us. It was a small school, and there were maybe fifteen of us taking these “music lessons” together.

Our teacher was named Mr. Gross. I think he was employed by Coffey Music, or at least I think they arranged for him to come to Blessed Sacrament to teach. I don’t know what his first name was, because back in those days third graders were never told what their teachers’ first names were. My classroom teacher was Mrs. Brown and I don’t know her first name, either. But Mr. Gross was my first music teacher and he taught me to play clarinet.

I wish I could say that I remember much about Mr. Gross. I don’t. I remember him being soft-spoken, probably the only music teacher in my life who never got mad at me. I remember him seeming tall, but hey, I was eight. What I do remember was that I really had zero interest in playing the clarinet for myself, but Mr. Gross kept me going.

I kept playing clarinet for another five years. Like most boys, what I actually wanted was to play electric guitar, but my parents thought I needed to study an “actual” instrument. Finally when I reached high school, they let me have a guitar and my clarinet went in the closet. Guitar changed my life. My senior year in high school was mostly spend playing and teaching music, and from there I went to Berklee College of Music for my bachelor’s degree.

Ironically, three years later I pulled my clarinet out of the closet…for a girl. I joined the school band. That’s right, I traded my electric guitar for a clarinet to get a date. And it worked. I wouldn’t have been able to pull that slick maneuver if I hadn’t already learned how to play a mean clarinet. So thanks, Mr. Gross.

I would love to write Mr. Gross a letter. But Coffey Music is closed, and I doubt Blessed Sacrament had any records in the first place, let alone kept them. I don’t know whether Mr. Gross is still alive. But my grandmother taught second grade and I know that sometimes her children search Google for references to her (and find some), so I thought I’d leave this message here. Maybe Mr. Gross’s children or grandchildren will someday Google his name and the name of a school that he worked at, wondering what they’ll find.

Mr. Gross helped get me started on a path that took me far and brought me a lot of joy. He made a difference in my life, and I’m thankful for that. If you are related to him, maybe you can pass that along to the rest of his family.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Day 183

The last time I posted here, I was working on a New Year's resolution: "Cook more." It has been nine months and I'm happy to say that I have succeeded. My biggest accomplishment has been perfecting a roasted-chicken recipe, which involved cooking many, many chickens and trying more than a half-dozen different methods before assimilating my own. Other kitchen adventures included pork with vinegar peppers, crock-pot roast beef and roast-beef hash, chicken cacciatore, meatloaf, rabbit, peanut-butter candy, and more cookies than I knew what to do with. As a matter of fact, I baked a batch of chocolate-chip cookies just yesterday.

But instead of writing about all of that here over the past nine months, I picked up a new hobby. I am now a photographer. During a trip to New York in March I decided to start taking a photo every day for one year, and that was the beginning. I post my daily photos here. Today is my halfway mark.

That project has kept me inspired. In June I took a photography class at MassArt. I got a new camera in July, along with a book called Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson that is supposed to be the bible for learning photography. The book is great and I love the camera. In August I began using Lightroom. And just a few days ago, I submitted my first entry to a photo contest.

Photography has been a great decision for me. It's the kind of decision that you wish you'd made earlier, the kind of decision that feels so right that it makes you question other decisions you've made. I have made incredible strides in skill over the past six months, yet I am still learning the basics. I want to learn HDR techniques for landscapes. I want to develop the ability to shoot portraits that aren't just nice pictures but actually speak to an objective viewer.

Today is a big day for my project. Somewhere around two months in, I realized that if I had kept shooting daily for that long then I was definitely capable of keeping it up for a year. But being capable, that didn't mean that I would actually do it. Today, I am more than halfway to accomplishing my goal. The goal was arbitrary but not easy, and it was one I genuinely wanted to accomplish. I am on track.

My present plan is to keep shooting daily, indefinitely. I have discovered that it's really neat to be able to scroll back through your life day by day. I think it would be cool to have folders on my phone for 2012, 2013, 2014, etc., a daily chronicle of the sometimes-major and sometimes-minute details of my life. Even the throwaway days have value, if only to keep me shooting. I like being able to say, "I take a photo every day."

Ironically, shooting more photos and doing so daily has inspired me to keep fewer photos overall. I now delete mercilessly. I don't need all the photos, after all, just a few good ones here and there. I have learned that I'd rather have a cohesive series of photos that show my life's development than a barrage of photos that are isolated to a handful of special occasions. Day by day, I can accumulate a fascinating collection. Fascinating to me, anyway.

So that's my status and that's my plan. Although I haven't been updating this blog with my cooking adventures, I have kept them up faithfully and I've also taken up a new constructive habit. Taking a photo every day is called a "365 project" in blogging circles, and everyone who has done it seems to insist that it's okay to miss a few days here and there, but so far I haven't. I am proud of that. I hope that if the next time I update this page is next March, it will be to announce my 365th consecutive photo.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

216 Noodles

Sometimes I make chicken noodle soup. I make it from scratch—the stock, the noodles, everything. I'm obsessive about it. It takes two days and that's why I don't make it often, but it's amazing.

You start with a pot. Put in a chicken carcass, a bunch of aromatics, and water. Five hours later you have stock. Noodles are just flour and egg. Dice some vegetables, shred a chicken breast, put them into the stock with the noodles. That's chicken noodle soup.

It sounds simple. But that's just because I write well.

My trade is expository writing, and I view this journal as a practice scratchpad. It's valuable to break down recipes and explain them in prose because if I can do it with food, then I can do it with an appellate brief. Not every post will be that, though. Sometimes I just want to note for myself, "Today I made chicken noodle soup. It was delicious."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How to Cook Chicken Cacciatore

My dad could cook four things: haddock, meatloaf, spaghetti with meat sauce, and chicken cacciatore. After my parents divorced he cooked a lot more often, and these were staples of his diet. His chicken cacciatore was a hybrid of two recipes, and I think it's where he learned an important lesson about how cooking can be very individual.

He had visited my sister's family for dinner one night when she made chicken cacciatore, and he liked it so she told him it was simple and gave him her recipe. He tried making it a few times but couldn't exactly replicate what he remembered, so he called my mom to ask what he was doing wrong. My mom responded by giving him her own cacciatore recipe. Now he had two recipes for the same dish, and I think seeing the differences in front of him made something click. He stopped looking at recipes as precise formulas, and instead he cobbled the two recipes together as a guide to cooking something he'd enjoy.

It's fitting that my dad learned this lesson with chicken cacciatore of all dishes, since it's such a varied dish. You can order cacciatore in two different restaurants and get two plates that barely resemble each other. In her classic Italian cookbook, Marcella Hazan offers two cacciatore recipes after noting that "uncounted permutations" exist. The basic structure, she says, is stewed chicken with tomato and onion, and from there people add or change all kinds of things.

I don't really have a chicken cacciatore recipe, and I want to develop one. So I'm starting basic. Marcella Hazan's "New Version," found on page 331–32 of her aforementioned cookbook, is the simpler of her two recipes. Hazan's ingredients are simple and I stuck with them:
  • a 3- to 4-pound chicken, in eight pieces
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • one-third cup white wine
  • 1 jar of peeled Italian tomatoes

I always brine chicken before cooking. The short explanation is that brining, or soaking the chicken in a salt-water solution, helps to produce a juicier, flavorful meat. All you need is salt and water. Chefs put lots of different things into brines, and sometimes I'll add sugar or some black peppercorns, but mostly it's just salt and water. Afterward you need to thoroughly rinse the chicken so it won't be too salty when you cook it. I let it soak in a pure-water bowl for a bit, changing the water once or twice. Then give the chicken pieces a chance to dry.

The first step is to brown the chicken, by cooking it over medium heat until the skin forms a golden crust. (If the skin is still wet from rinsing, it won't brown.) Marcella Hazan suggests this step in the middle of her recipe, but I do it first. Partly, this is because I find it's easier to brown chicken in a pan that isn't cluttered with bit of onion. But also, I feel like it makes more sense to do first. The essence of chicken cacciatore is a fricassee, which is basically a stew. That's something that you build upward, from sautéing the onion to adding the meat and vegetables, and I feel like browning the chicken is more rightly thought of as part of the mise en place—like dicing the onion or peeling the garlic—than part of the actual cooking process. It doesn't build the stew, it prepares the chicken to be added.

If you think about everything above as prep, then the actual recipe is remarkably simple. The first real "cooking" step is to heat the olive oil and then cook the onion until it becomes translucent. Then add the garlic and sauté them together. This is the basis for every Italian dish that I cook, from my various acclaimed pasta sauces to my unique family-recipe lasagna. It's the foundation for many dishes.

Next, add the browned chicken pieces and the white wine. Turn over the chicken pieces every couple minutes, until the wine is reduced by about half. Take this opportunity to add salt and pepper. It's important to add salt early in the cooking process rather than adding it later ("to taste") because the salt helps the dish develop its flavor.

I can be obsessive about turning-over meat. It comes from grilling, which is my favorite cooking method and how I spend most of my summers. When you grill hamburgers, there are two methods. You can flip each patty four times to create flawless criss-cross scoring, or you can flip every 60 seconds to ensure thorough, even cooking. The first method guarantees burgers that look good, but the second is how you make burgers that taste good. I extrapolate and so I probably turn-over meat more often than is strictly needed in other contexts, but I figure turning it over too often can't hurt. Not often enough, definitely will!

The last addition is the tomatoes. Marcella Hazan advises cutting the tomatoes, whether you use fresh or canned. I don't think this is necessary. You are going to be stewing this dish for another 40 minutes, maybe an hour, and the tomatoes are going to basically macerate while being cooked. Cut them jaggedly, if at all, and just throw them in. They will fall apart as they cook.

Now you babysit the stew. Cover the pan partially, because you don't want to stifle the flavor from developing but you also don't want to lose too much water. Marcella Hazan notes that you may need to add a few tablespoons of water if you find that it cooks down too much, but I've never had to. Turn over the chicken periodically, and baste it with liquid from the pan. The benefit to brining chicken is that you can cook it for longer without worrying about it drying out, and between the brine and the stewing process, I like to cook this cacciatore until the meat begins to come easily off the bone. It should take about an hour.

When we call this a "stew," we're referring more to the method of cooking than how the final dish will look. It's a plate of chicken, not a bowl of stew. But my kitchen is already familiar with chicken that's been roasted, baked, fried, grilled, etc., so stewing is a welcome addition to the repertoire.

I've made this recipe a few times. I'm still learning. I have some ideas what I like and some ideas for future variations, like adding bell peppers. The bottom line is, I really like this dish. My dad was a supermarket chef; he wasn't cooking with imported Italian tomatoes and free-range chicken, and he wouldn't have cared about the difference between cooking with a lid or not. What's neat about cooking is that he and I could approach it from such different perspectives, yet still be on the same page.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Home Cooking

I made a New Year's resolution to cook at home more often. Restaurants are expensive. Also, it's lopsided to neglect the craft of cooking for the fun of eating. A gourmand should explore both, as each enhances the other; and in fact if there's going to be any imbalance, it should fall the opposite way. It's like being a musician, and how seeing a great concert makes you want to run home and pick up your guitar.

To build inspiration for cooking, I adopted a goal of trying one new recipe every two weeks. Even odds whether I'll have forgotten that by March, but at least for now it's a good way to get jazzed. I have plenty of cookbooks with simple, promising recipes lurking within. Not every experiment will be scuba-diving into The French Laundry Cookbook, although who's to say what the year may bring.

It's been five years since I wrote on this site regularly, and back then I wrote for my own purposes. That much hasn't changed. I'm publishing notes about this resolution because I think it might be fun to read back through later, and because if I'm going to write at all, it's important that I keep myself in the habit of writing for an audience. But no promises about whether I'll update frequently, regularly, or even again. For whatever reason—in part, because several friends have started blogs recently—the idea struck me and we'll see how long it lasts.

I'm looking forward to trying some new recipes. I have ideas about ones I'd like to try, and I'm looking forward to discovering more. In the meantime, here are a few of the cookbooks that I have relied on in my kitchen. These will probably be heavily represented. Saving money is definitely part of my goal; this resolution won't turn into an excuse to buy more cookbooks.Those are my favorites from three shelves' worth. I also have several confectionary cookbooks that might make appearances. After all, this is a New Year's resolution with economic and informational motives. It isn't health-related. Maybe next year I'll need to lose 20 pounds.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I've received about 6 variations of the following e-mail in the past two months:
I found your Cribnotes blog the other day and I noticed that you haven't updated it in a while. So I was wondering if you are interested in selling it. As you may or may not know search engines seem to like older sites a bit more than newer ones and since yours is a few years old, it would be better than if I just started a new one.
Let me save you some trouble. While I appreciate your attempted ingenuity, I am not interested in "selling" you this website. It's entirely possible that I'll decide to resume daily updates tomorrow—but in the meantime, at least, people apparently continue to find the eBay tips helpful so I intend to leave them be.

I was talking to a friend the other day. He builds custom guitars. He was telling me how, some years ago, he built a guitar company and then sold the brand when it had become successful. The new owners slashed costs, and with them quality, and long story short, my friend bought back his brand and then killed it. He didn't want lesser products associated with his name.

If there's one thing I adore, it's learning from other people's mistakes and thereby avoiding them myself. For all I know, the next Hemingway is ready to buy this website for $160,000 and I could wind up on Oprah talking about how I was there at the beginning. I doubt it; the myth of "undiscovered talent" is exactly that. But mostly, if I put my name next to something, then it's mine. (And vice versa.) This website's purpose was to be a scratchpad when I didn't have occasion otherwise to write regularly. It isn't something I took or take seriously, although obviously I'm gratified that some parts proved helpful. Nonetheless, I'm not interested in handing over the reins. Thanks for your offers, but the answer's no. Good luck elsewhere.

...Unless you're Thomas Keller, offering a renewing annual reservation at the French Laundry. In that case, we can talk.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Seth Godin points to this blog post, where an anonymous blogger (whom I'll call Jane) recounts an exchange with Lycos customer service. The nutshell is that Jane was using Lycos's free e-mail to store "hundreds of e-mails"; but when her account was left inactive for 30 days, Lycos emptied its contents. Jane complained and got several rude replies.

Jane posted excerpts from those e-mails on the Internet along with the alleged full name of the Lycos employee (Mike J____) who wrote them. Predictably, this juicy exchange was promptly picked up by MetaFilter, Digg, et cetera, and the blogosphere proceeded to drag Mike through the mud — although to be fair, there's an equal backlash aimed at Jane for blaming her negligent mistake on Lycos, whose terms of service are perfectly clear:
1. Description of Service. Lycos offers subscription and unpaid versions of its electronic mail services (the "Service"). Lycos reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to limit the amount of storage space available per user and to delete materials stored for an excessive period while the user's account has been inactive, or for violation of this Agreement. Specifically, Lycos reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to delete any materials (including emails) stored in connection with an unpaid Lycos Mail account if the user's account has been inactive for thirty (30) days. If you subscribe to Lycos Mail, you agree to be bound by the subscription agreement.
I'm sorry that Jane's e-mails were deleted; and assuming her excerpts are accurate, then I agree that Mike was inexcusably rude. But the question now becomes whether the punishment fits the crime. For practical purposes, Google is permanent. We've seen a hundred news articles about employers (to say nothing of friends, family, and dates) using Google and MySpace and Facebook to research potential hires; so in the case of someone with an unusual name, you can potentially cause serious harm. Oddly, Jane replied to suggestions that Mike should be fired by writing:
I don’t think the guy deserves to be fired for this. Repremanded, sure. Taken off customer support, sure. But being fired sounds - again - like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
In other words, Jane doesn't believe Mike deserves to be fired from this job, but it's OK to pollute Google and possibly cost him future jobs. Because that's exactly what's going to happen when Mike's next potential employer plugs his name into Google and gets three pages of results announcing, "Mike J____ verbally abuses customers."

Jane might regret her tantrum next week, but it's too late. Even if the original blog post is edited or removed, dozens of other websites are circulating Mike's name. Put yourself in his shoes. Yes, his e-mails were unprofessional, but he didn't commit a murder or rape a child. I managed a record store for 3 years; and although we ran a tight crew and boosted sales, I can think of a couple anecdotes that I wouldn't recount during a job interview. Do a couple of impolite e-mails warrant a persistent campaign of vengeance?

There's an interesting postscript, which is that although Jane's blog is unsigned the Consumerist has republished the story and attached a first name (not Jane). Using that name and the title of her blog, it took me exactly two searches to find her full name. She apparently writes for a newspaper and works at a state university. According to Google, her name is more unusual than Mike's, which means she's just as vulnerable to the kind of Google-bombing that she's doing to him.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


On Tuesday night, President Jimmy Carter came to Boston and spoke at Brandeis University. His speech followed weeks of national controversy over his book, which has been described as an indictment of Israel, and disagreement among the Brandeis community about whether Carter's invitation should be conditional upon his agreeing to debate Alan Dershowitz.

Dozens of experts and academics, both Jewish and otherwise, have noted factual errors and distortions in Carter's book. Carter has declined to respond directly to most of these criticisms — ironically, while claiming that his critics ignored his points. He has dismissed them as "ad hominem statements," and yet he said about Dershowitz, "He's so obviously's not worth my time to waste it on commenting on him." He refused several offers to debate Dershowitz at Brandeis.

Carter has repeatedly insisted that the reason he wrote his book was "to precipitate discussion." One Brandeis student defended Carter's evasiveness by saying that there are different ways to contribute, and that Carter's book can build discussion by presenting an opinion and leaving the debate to others. Indeed, that seems to be Carter's intention.

He has been called a coward, and I'm reluctant to use that word about any United States president. I have some appreciation for what Carter accomplished, rising to that job and performing in its capacity, and I think it merits respect; but the station carries more responsibility than privilege. It's fine for a PhD to write a book and leave the debate to others, but Carter's reticence is unbefitting a president. The objections to his book aren't cosmetic, and they're not coming from a fringe sect: Fourteen members of his own Carter Center resigned in protest.

The theme of Carter's 1976 presidential campaign was, "Why not the best?" He said that his defining moment came as a student at the Naval Academy, when he was forced to admit that he hadn't always performed his best, and he resigned to never repeat that mistake. Carter is right that Israel-Palestine relations is an important and misunderstood subject — but is this the best way to elevate the discussion, by cobbling together a tenuous thesis and then refusing to engage its critics?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Exit Poll

I've kept my attention elsewhere, mostly because I'm ambivalent about what to do with this space; but I should probably take this opportunity to brag that as of today, I'm standing 5 for 5 in terms of law school acceptances, including one offer of half tuition and two full scholarships.

I worked damn hard polishing every square inch of those application packets, and I'm gratified to get these results. It's a welcome surprise to be offered $225,000 before I've even applied for financial aid. I'm not finished yet and I'm loathe to disregard Aesop — but with 56% of precincts reporting, it's looking good.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Last April, the New York Times Magazine published an article titled "Pro-Life Nation" decrying the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador. To drive home his point, writer Jack Hitt reported the story of 26-year-old Carmen Climaco, who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison "for an abortion that was ruled a homicide."

Hitt reported as fact that Climaco had aborted her pregnancy at 18 weeks. The trial record, however, told a different story — "that Ms. Climaco’s pregnancy had resulted in a full-term live birth, and that she had strangled the 'recently born' [baby]."
The physician who had performed the autopsy on the “recently born” testified that it represented a “full-term” birth, which he defined as a pregnancy with a duration of “between 38 and 42 weeks,” the ruling noted. In adopting those conclusions, the court said of another autopsy finding: “Given that the lungs floated when submerged in water, also indicating that the recently-born was breathing at birth, this confirms that we are dealing with an independent life.”
That's a hell of a distinction: aborting an 18-week fetus, versus strangling a newborn baby. Hitt claimed that he got his facts second-hand from a magistrate who "had been helpful in other areas of the story and quite open." Hitt never bothered to check the trial record. But according to the New York Times public editor, "Obtaining the public document isn’t difficult. At my request, a stringer for The Times in El Salvador walked into the court building without making any prior arrangements a few days ago, and minutes later had an official copy of the court ruling."

The public editor concluded:
The care taken in the reporting and editing of this example didn’t meet the magazine’s normal standards. Although Sarah H. Smith, the magazine’s editorial manager, told me that relevant court documents are “normally” reviewed, Mr. Hitt never checked the 7,600-word ruling in the Climaco case while preparing his story. And Mr. Hitt told me that no editor or fact checker ever asked him if he had checked the court document containing the panel’s decision...

One thing is clear to me, at this point, about the key example of Carmen Climaco. Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect.
Despite these revelations, the New York Times Magazine editorial staff does not intend to public a retraction or correction. In fact, the Magazine's editor, Gerald Marzorati, dismissed the trial record despite the absence of any contradictory evidence. Marzorati simply said, "El Salvador's judicial system is terribly politicized."

This is what people are talking about when they reference the "liberal media bias," and this is why people disparage the New York Times as a partisan rag: Because its writers cherry-pick anecdotes to support their pet causes — and when one of those anecdotes proves to be a fabrication, the newspaper abandons journalistic ethics and refuses to acknowledge the truth.

Friday, December 22, 2006


I could give a damn about Donald Trump or Rosie O'Donnell, let alone why they're bickering — but a friend of mine, a reporter for a local newspaper, e-mailed me the following excerpt from an Associated Press report because it made him snicker.
In an entry posted Wednesday night on her Web site, O'Donnell duplicated an excerpt on Trump's rocky financial history from his biography on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is written by users. (Emphasis added.)
Every so often, Wikipedia gets mistaken for a legitimate reference. Last year, Nature published a study claiming that Wikipedia had only slightly more errors than Britannica. It was rather obvious this study would be debunked — and it was, quite thoroughly, when Britannica issued its 20-page response just three months later — but for those three months, Wikipedia got respect. Folks took it seriously.

It was kind of like, at Thanksgiving, when you offer the children a sip of wine; and it's fun and all, that for a moment they get to pretend they're grown-ups, but then it's finished and you send them back to the kiddie table. That's where Wikipedia belongs. Its founding principle is idiotic (rejecting the idea that "expertise" exists), and its primary defense ("Through collaborative edits, the truth will emerge") was best answered by Jerry Holkins: "What you've proposed is a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn't exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant fucking mob for my information."

Yes, the AP is throwing a sucker punch. "We would never cite Wikipedia; but since we think it's ridiculous that Rosie O'Donnell did, let's report that fact — and we'll append it with the observation that any 10-year-old with a modem can 'write' Donald Trump's biography on Wikipedia."

When you spend six hours daily reading wire reports, this is exactly the sort of drop-in that you keep your eyes peeled for. If you ask anyone who has worked in intelligence, he'll list a half-dozen street corners in Washington, D.C. where you can, on any given day, spot chalk marks left by covert operatives. This is the same principle in action. Wire services are designed to be dry and devoid of opinions — but they're usually written by people who are anything but. If you're paying attention, you can usually find the proof.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

LSAC Activity Update Error

Law School Applicants: If you elected to receive a monthly LSAC Activity Update via postal mail, you may notice a discrepancy regarding your letters of recommendation. Specifically, the key identifying each Letter ID might not match what appears in your LSDAS account online. See the comparison below for an example.

LSAC Activity Update (postal mail)
  • L1 — Charles Fitzgerald
  • L2 — Louise Dickens
  • L3 — Janet Hemingway
  • L4 — Bill Maugham
LSDAS (online)
  • L1 — Janet Hemingway
  • L2 — Bill Maugham
  • L3 — Charles Fitzgerald
  • L4 — Louise Dickens
If you chose to direct letters to law schools — for example, to send L4 to Harvard but not to Yale — this discrepancy might cause you concern. But I've spoken with several people at LSAC and confirmed that all LSDAS reports will match the letter assignments that you chose using the website. The monthly Activity Update is generated automatically using a separate software program, and the discrepancy is caused by a glitch in that program that assigns independent Letter IDs based on each letter's date of receipt.

LSAC is aware of the problem. However, since the problem doesn't affect the LSDAS reports, and since fewer applicants are choosing to receive the monthly updates anyway, LSAC doesn't consider this a priority. They probably won't fix it. Eventually, they expect to discontinue the postal mail option and the glitch will become moot; but I'm posting this notice in the meantime for applicants who might search Google looking for an explanation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Next week, Democrats will probably reclaim Congress. In two years, they'll probably reclaim the White House. This has nothing to do with education, health care, or the economy. Most of the important issues are being ignored — and for the record, it has nothing to do with gay marriage, either. This tide turns on two issues: Iraq, and loyalty.

The election isn't over. Republicans can still win, and it's up to the president: Explain to Americans why our troops are in Iraq, or else bring our troops home. In three years, the White House has been unwilling to do either. That's the first reason Republicans are losing.

The second is that, despite the president's refusal to take the simple step that would ensure their victory, Republicans remain loyal to him. Americans might be impressed with the president's disregard for polls, but they are thoroughly unimpressed with the way congressional Republicans follow in pusillanimous lockstep. The president has systematically abandoned first Republican values, then Republican interests...and still, the tin soldiers march.

Absent a responsible policy on Iraq from the White House, congressional Republicans need to grow a spine. Absent that, Democrats win. It's simple math — although if I were a Democrat, I'd look to the next step and point out that congressional Democrats haven't shown any more courage on Iraq than have Republicans. The question looming over 2008 isn't whether Hillary will run or whether Hillary will win, but whether Hillary will promise to bring our troops home. So far, she hasn't. No one has.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On Charity

Halloween is a good time to discuss Social Security, because Halloween is the best metaphor for Social Security. I hear Republicans promise privatization and I hear Al Gore talk about a lockbox, and it drives me nuts because both are misrepresenting the system's purpose. You're not supposed to collect your money.

Halloween is cyclical charity. When I was a kid, I rang your doorbell on Halloween and you gave me candy. Tonight, your kids will ring my doorbell and I'll give them candy. In 10 years, my kids will ring somebody else's doorbell. And so it goes.

People grumble about Social Security "running out." That's not how it works. Your money doesn't go into an account somewhere, to be kept safe until you turn 65. That's what an IRA or a 401(k) or a plain old savings account is for. Social Security is just that — social. It means that, for society's good, your contribution will be distributed amongst society's members. And one day, somebody else's money will be distributed to you.

You'll probably pay longer than you'll collect — just as you'll stop trick-or-treating when you turn 14, but you'll keep handing out candy forever. Maybe that's unfair, but it's not supposed to be fair: It's supposed to favor a specific portion of our population whom society has deemed worthy of special attention. Our goal isn't to be fair. Our goal is to be kind and to be just.

I wish Republicans would stop talking about privatization. No discussion of Social Security should include the phrase, "my money." Let's stop pretending that it isn't charity. The worst part of that charade is that it presumes there's something wrong with charity, or that charity shouldn't be a part of responsible government. Both are foolish — and complaining about what Social Security does with "my money" is every bit as small-minded as complaining about the inconvenience of buying candy for Halloween.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Next Generation

The Associated Press carried this newsflash about Democratic superstar Barack Obama:
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged Sunday he was considering a run for president in 2008, backing off previous statements that he would not do so.

The Illinois Democrat said he could no longer stand by the statements he made after his 2004 election and earlier this year that he would serve a full six-year term in Congress. He said he would not make a decision until after the Nov. 7 elections.
In other words, less than 2 years into his national career, Obama is prepared to abandon the first promise he gave his constituents. That's the kind of integrity I like to see from an aspiring president — but more importantly, he sounds like the perfect candidate to supplant the Clinton reign. Democrats should be ecstatic.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Closed Mind

I hate musicals.

David Mamet, who won a Pulitzer Prize for playwriting, insists that an audience's interest in drama operates on the question, "What happens next?" I agree. Plot is paramount and it relies on momentum, and you positively bludgeon that momentum to a standstill when you insist on repeating every frackin' line of dialogue 4 times and having the chorus echo it twice more.

And does every line have to be sung? The best musicals have some lovely songs; but in between those songs, the narrative is tortured with mostly abysmal, frenetic stabs at melodicism. I'll give you 10 to 1 odds that a halfway decent singer could improvise a random diatonic melody for just about any Gilbert and Sullivan soliloquy and no one would recognize the difference. If you've got a song to feature, that's terrific; but if you're scripting melody "just because," then you can stop wasting my time and just tell the damn story.

But none of that is why I walked out of Pirates of Penzance last week. I walked out because casting a 53-year-old man as Frederic and having him woo a 14-year-old Mabel is just flatly disgusting. I can appreciate that community theater groups have limited resources. I've watched men play women and women play men, and I can accept a 53-year-old man playing a 21-year-old character — but when that 53-year-old man wraps his arms around an adolescent girl and they start making eyes at each other, that's quite enough for my stomach.

To hell with political correctness, and to hell with enlightenment, and to hell with sophistication. To hell with broad horizons. Maybe I'm supposed to feel ashamed because my small mind couldn't look past reality to appreciate the artistic intent — but to hell with that, too.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I'm submitting three letters of recommendation with my law school applications. Law schools are terrified of attrition and they want assurance that prospective students can handle the coursework — so I'm triangulating my assault, to establish that fact from three different perspectives.
  • The first letter is from a professor. He's a mentor with whom I studied for six semesters, so he can certainly attest to my character and capacity as a student.

  • The second is from a close friend who is currently a third-year student at Suffolk Law. Under most conditions, I wouldn't expect that a friend's approval would carry much weight — but in this case, she's uniquely qualified to answer their question. They want to know whether I can handle the coursework; she knows me, and she knows the coursework.

  • The third is from a professor at Harvard Extension, from the last class I took. Granted, she only knew me for a semester; but on the chance that some admissions officer notices my Jazz Composition degree and wonders whether I can hack traditional scholastics, hopefully this will plug that hole.
From what I've read, recommendations are the fourth factor that law schools consider — after your LSAT score, your GPA, and your personal statement. I also know enough about admissions to know that, while an exceptional recommendation can boost your chances, admissions officers are accustomed to reading boring, interchangeable recommendations that rarely affect their disposition. So maybe I shouldn't worry myself; but at this point there's nothing I can do about my GPA or LSAT score, so it makes sense to concentrate whatever effort I have on the factors I can still control.

Speaking of which, that question of control is my only caveat: My Harvard professor asked me to write my own letter for her. She explained that she does this for two reasons: it gives her a sample of the student's writing, and it prevents her recommendations from sounding too cookie-cutter. I understand both — and after asking around, I've discovered this is relatively normal. Lots of professors have students write their own recommendations.

I know this professor. She's smart and she's dedicated, and she isn't lax and she isn't lazy; so I don't for a moment think she's trying to cut a corner. Nevertheless, I'm ambivalent. On one hand, I don't like imposing on people for favors; so if I'm doing most of the lifting, then I suppose it takes off some of the weight. But still, it seems unethical. Letters of recommendation are supposed to be something more than political advertisements stamped with a tagline, "This message was approved by" — and in an environment where professors claim that the most widespread problem in scholastics is plagiarism, I question the wisdom of having those professors sign their names to recommendations that are prepared by the students who request them.

But if that's the norm, then so be it. I can steer an ethical course in drafting the letter, and that's exactly what I'll do — and then, God willing, I'll be admitted to law school, at which point my ethical hand-wringing will become positively ironic.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Back in Session

I stopped posting last month when it occurred to me that if I found myself sitting at my desk at home with enough free time to write a column, then I ought to be spending that time studying for the LSAT. So I did — and today, I took the test.

When I took the Kaplan course in the spring, I couldn't raise my score above 170. That pissed me off. Maybe it's childish, but I felt like the test was 'beating' me; so I postponed my test date from June until September and I drew up a new preparation plan using Kaplan's extra materials (which included 12 full-length tests and every LSAT section that's ever been released). The good news is, I succeeded. In every practice test I took in recent weeks, I scored above 170.

Then on Friday, something broke. I froze in the middle of a logic game section. It was probably a mistake to drill myself on the day before the test; I should have just let my confidence ride and taken the day off. But I calmed myself, I finished the test, and I reminded myself that I had been working hard and achieved solid progress. I reassured myself with my sincere belief that chance favors the prepared mind.

LSAC rules prohibit disclosure of specific details about the test before its official release, and I'm not dumb enough to publicly disregard that warning on the World Wide Web — but there's a good story here, and if I remember, I'll tell it after the test's release. The bottom line is, Pasteur was right: Chance does favor the prepared mind, and sometimes it's damned uncanny to see that principle in action.

I've often said that you can't rehearse for a studio recording by playing live gigs. That little red light changes the dynamics of the entire system — and the same was true here. I don't feel like I did as well on this test as I have at home, although the conditions were otherwise identical, because there's something about Test Day™ that you just can't replicate. But that's OK. My preparation paid off; I'm certain that I scored better than I would have otherwise, and what's more, I felt prepared.

As I left the building afterward, I remarked to another student, "That's something we'll never have to do again, for the rest of our lives." That's a satisfying feeling. I'm not sure I broke 170, but I'm confident that I did well. The scores will be released in 3–4 weeks, which gives me time to arrange my letters of recommendation and polish my personal statement. In the meantime, study break is over. I'm back.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Glengarry Leads

People have begun asking about Kerry Healey. She's been our lieutenant governor since 2003 and she's been actively campaigning to become governor since February — but because she's unopposed in the Republican primary while three prominent Democrats are battling each other over the nomination, she is still basically flying below the radar.

On one hand, conventional wisdom suggests that this is smart: "When your opponents are battling each other, stand clear." Let Reilly and Patrick and Gabrieli hammer each other, and whichever one is left standing after September will be that much more vulnerable. There's no reason to get your hands dirty if somebody else is doing the work.

Moreover, it's economical. You've only got so much cash to spend; and right now, the airwaves are flooded with ads from candidates who actually have something to fight about. If you're sailing clear into the September primary, it makes good sense to hold your cash while your opponents spend theirs.

But there's another reason that Kerry Healey has been keeping a low profile, and it's a reason that nobody seems to be talking about. Mitt Romney is poised for a presidential bid in 2008, and the fact that he'll be running a Republican candidacy from a blue state means he'll need plenty of homegrown money — and the problem with shearing sheep is that you have to wait for the wool to grow back.

Republican fundraisers know that, in many cases, money collected today for Healey's campaign is money that won't be around in two years for Romney. Healey's numbers aren't ironclad, and most projections predict that she'll lose to a Democrat; and when you stack those odds against the obvious priority given to Romney's presidential bid, the reality is that Republican fundraisers aren't working their hardest for Kerry Healey. They're keeping the Glengarry leads on ice, so to speak, waiting patiently for 2008.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Logical Fallacy

CNN published an interview with "terrorism analyst" Peter Bergen, wherein Bergen answered viewers' questions about Osama bin Laden. The transcript is being circulated because Bergen disputed the idea that bin Laden ever worked for CIA, but I think there's a more interesting excerpt.
Q: I thought bin Laden was seriously ill with kidney problems. If so, how is he getting his medication and is he on dialysis in any form? — John Hatington, Stratford, Connecticut.

BERGEN: This is sort of wishful thinking. Bin Laden has got some chronic health problems, but none of them are life-threatening. He certainly doesn't have kidney disease, because he'd be dead by now if he did.

He's not going to die of natural causes anytime soon.
Do you see Bergen's logic? Bin Laden couldn't have kidney disease, because he'd be dead now — and since the United States insists he isn't dead, he must not have kidney disease.

OK. Let's pretend, for argument's sake, that I'm wrong and Osama bin Laden is alive. We know he had access to video equipment; and if he was worried about betraying his location, masking your terrain on video is as simple as standing with your back against a nondescript rock. So please explain why, after years of proudly facing into a camera lens to threaten the infidels, bin Laden has spoken only via scratchy audio recordings since 9/11.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"Civilization, Please."

I drove to my cable company yesterday and swapped my 6-year-old old box for a brand-new dual-tuner digital video recorder (DVR). I'm not a television person — but I had a good reason and this was a great deal, so I couldn't resist.

This fall, my two favorite screenwriters will both have shows on primetime television: David Mamet's The Unit, and Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Trouble is, even if I could plan my life around TV programs, I wouldn't want to; and even if I wanted to, NBC has decided to pit Studio 60 against Monday Night Football. I'm a writer and I love Sorkin's scripts — but I'm also a guy, and that means I watch football. This is problematic.

Enter the dual-tuner DVR. I can watch one channel while I'm recording another, or I can record two programs simultaneously. In other words, I can watch Monday Night Football while recording Studio 60 — or, perhaps more likely, I can spend my Monday nights ensnared in dull and tedious tasks while saving both programs for the mythical free time that I would have during the weekends in some parallel universe.

I suppose I risk crossing the line into astroturf if I add that my cable company, Comcast, employs telephone representatives who can actually answer questions — like how to override the preprogrammed remote or how to activate the auto-tune feature — without consulting a manual, or if I mentioned that subscribing to this feature cost me less per month ($9.95) than TiVo ($12.95) without signing any 12-month contract. That's OK. I like Comcast — and when I like a product or company, I don't mind lapsing into the occasional advertisement. That's what "word of mouth" is all about.

Actually, the only risk is that I'll become a TV person. I avoided installing a CD player in my car for years because I was afraid I'd be tempted to carry irreplaceable CDs on long trips and they'd get baked inside the car by summer heat. I'm not crazy about the idea of postponing TV programs for my free time; I think possibly the most poignant advice for Americans is to seek elevating recreation, and I think television probably ranks near the bottom of my options in that regard. But Sorkin and Mamet constitute two exceptions in my book, so I've allowed myself this indulgence — and I'll just have to exercise restraint to keep from recording General Hospital.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Big Guns

Following today's announcement by the British Security Service, three major security changes will be implemented immediately at Logan Airport.
  • No liquids will be allowed through check-in.
  • National Guard members will be posted as security.
  • Assault rifles will be issued to state police.
The first is obvious. According to published reports, the British plot involved using a binary explosive which could be carried as two separate, inert liquids. Since we don't have the necessary equipment to distinguish these components from harmless liquids like coffee or shampoo, the best short-term solution while suspects from this particular terror cell remain loose is simply to ban all liquids.

The second is trickier. Nobody questions that we have serious problems with airport security in the United States, but none of those problems are solved — or even addressed — by posting National Guardsmen in airports. We've seen no evidence that any terror organization has ever plotted to create a disturbance inside an airport. The only rationalization I can see is that, if something tragic did occur in the air, a National Guard presence might help to keep a crowded airport calm.

But the third is just plain gratuitous. What's the purpose of equipping state troopers with assault rifles? There shouldn't be anything a state cop can accomplish in the middle of a crowded airport with an automatic that he can't accomplish with a .45 — and if there is, then he hasn't been trained sufficiently with his service weapon. For that matter, do state troopers receive any substantial training with assault rifles? Exactly what threat do we think this measure will deter?

When we re-opened airports following 9/11, we immediately banned curbside check-in. Nevermind that it had nothing to do with what happened; nevermind that the hijackers relied on a dozen different loopholes in our national security, none of which we were plugging while we inconvenienced travelers. We're fond of quoting Ben Franklin, who warned of trading liberty for safety — but we're not affecting safety, we're just spinning our wheels. And I object to equipping police officers with military weapons for the purpose of political cosmetics.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Last weekend, bloggers discovered a file that AOL had posted on a public research website, containing 20 million search logs from 657,427 subscribers collected between March and May. Each user was assigned a number, presumably to protect anonymity, but all searches were grouped together according to the user who made them; so by scrutinizing a person's search history, it is possible in some cases to deduce that person's identity.

For instance, if User #458372 searched for the names of John Doe's friends and coworkers along with his address and e-mail, presumably you can deduce that User #458372 is in fact John Doe — and if those search results also include phrases like "how to grow weed in my garage" or "how to pass a drug test," then suddenly you've learned some very private facts about John Doe's life.

Several bloggers have already discovered specific examples of this in the data, and a few are even claiming to have identified specific people whose search data is included. The reason I'm using a hypothetical example rather than simply citing those individuals is that I don't want to exacerbate these people's victimization — and that point is why I'm writing this column.

The same bloggers who discovered this data and objected that it constituted a gross violation of privacy are now passing the data around. AOL has removed the file from its website, but the bloggers had already downloaded it and now they've set up mirrors to share it with anyone who goes looking. These same people who are excorating AOL for hurting its users are simultaneously combing through this data like voyeurs, playing detective to guess the identities of unsuspecting people and announcing their results on the Web, and generally making a bad situation worse.

By finding AOL's mistake, the bloggers did perform a service; but the harm they've done since grossly outweighs that good. Instead of bringing their discovery directly to AOL — or to a major newspaper, which presumably would have confirmed the story with AOL and allowed the company to remove the data before revealing its existence to the world — they chose to declare their findings on community weblogs and invite everyone to download the file, because the only thing more important to these bloggers than condemning AOL was being properly credited by driving traffic to their websites. AOL screwed up and should fire the technician who published this information, but its carelessness is far outstripped by these bloggers' deliberate indifference — and that's the greater tragedy here.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


This is what I love about the United Nations. For the past 25 days, southern Lebanon has been flooded with Israeli troops and ordnance while Hezbollah terrorists have peppered Jewish settlements with truck-launched rockets — and this morning, CNN's front page announced the situation's latest development in 14-point bold font: US, France Agree On Truce.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Small Omission

Barely two months ago, Boston politicians were scrambling to stop the exodus of young professionals from Massachusetts. The Boston Globe ran a front-page story attributing our population hemorrhage to taxes and our city's high cost of living, and Mayor Menino issued a dozen public statements advocating solutions to help Boston retain its middle class by reducing their financial burdens.

This week, City Councilor Robert Consalvo submitted a proposal to levy an automatic charge of several hundred dollars on commuters who cause traffic accidents inside city limits. Menino promptly indicated his support for this proposal and said he is "always interested in any legislation that could bring additional revenue to the city."

Note to Menino: You seem to have misread Emerson, who warned that foolish consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds. The adjective is key — and contrary to what you have mistakenly concluded, avoiding any consistency whatsoever is not a surefire route to wise and effective governance.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bigger Problems

Last weekend, Governor Romney referred to the Big Dig as a "tar baby." The Boston Herald responded by plastering a photograph of Romney looking befuddled on its front page alongside the headline, "That's Offensive!" Apparently there wasn't much else going on in the world this week, because the fact that our governor had accurately used a metaphor warranted a front-page scandal.

Both the Herald and CNN quoted angry remarks from a Larry Jones, who was identified as "a black Republican and civil rights activist." In other words, they couldn't locate anyone with authority at any reputable organization who could spare the time to froth about Romney's comment, but the editors had already committed itself to being outraged; so they pulled some schmuck off the street and pasted his remarks above the fold.

At the same time, Los Angeles was buzzing about Mel Gibson's arrest. Apparently Gibson was arrested for drunk driving last Thursday, and when he was taken into custody he spouted a half-dozen anti-Semitic remarks. When the story broke, Gibson released the following statement:
After drinking alcohol on Thursday night, I did a number of things that were very wrong and for which I am ashamed. I drove a car when I should not have, and was stopped by the L.A. County sheriff's. The arresting officer was just doing his job and I feel fortunate that I was apprehended before I caused injury to any other person.

I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said and I apologize to anyone who I have offended.

Also, I take this opportunity to apologize to the deputies involved for my belligerent behavior. They have always been there for me in my community and indeed probably saved me from myself. I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry.

I have battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health.
As if on cue, Abraham Foxman, national director for the Anti-Defamation League, offered this reply:
Mel Gibson's apology is unremorseful and insufficient. It's not a proper apology because it does not go to the essence of his bigotry and his anti-Semitism... We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.
I'm confused. Gibson's statement uses the words "ashamed" and "apologize" twice each and it ends with the phrase, "I am truly sorry." By what measure can this be described as unremorseful? If that statement doesn't constitute a proper apology, what would?

Don't hold your breath waiting for an answer from Foxman. He's part of the problem. It's the same problem faced by every local highway department in this country: When you pay someone to fix the roads, you give that person a vested interest in ensuring that the roads stay broken. You can't expect people like Foxman to defeat intolerance when their jobs depend on fighting it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Risk Management

A waitress who lost her wallet earlier this month recovered her license last week when a customer handed it to her in an attempt to buy alcohol.
The 22-year-old waitress, whose name was not released, called police last week and said she had been handed her own stolen driver's license by a woman trying to prove she was 21.

Maria Bergan, 23, of Lakewood, was charged Sunday night with identity theft and receiving stolen property. She was arrested at her home in suburban Cleveland.
The story is being reported as a statistical anomaly, but I'd say it's a textbook example of just how stupid your average criminal can be. The alleged thief is 23. Why didn't she simply use her own ID?

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Yesterday, the Big Dig claimed another victim, a 64-year-old man suffering from a heart attack who died inside an ambulance that couldn't navigate through traffic. The trip from Logan to Boston Medical Center should have taken 4 minutes. Instead, it took 25. They had to call a state police cruiser to escort the ambulance the wrong way through the eastbound tunnel — through the same section that has been closed since 12 tons of concrete killed Milena Del Valle two weeks ago.

Things are going to get worse before they get better.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Explain it to a 4-year-old."

Imagine you're 22. You're 6'2" and 185 pounds — and for some inexplicable reason, your 10-year-old brother is going through a violent phase where he feels compelled to punch you. You're too strong and too mature to trade blows with a scrawny 10-year-old, and you don't want to hurt the kid; but he needs to learn what's going to happen if he walks around hitting guys who are bigger than him, and better he should learn it from someone who loves him enough not to inflict real damage.

So you tell him to knock it off, and you give him a warning: "For every 3 times you hit me, I'm going to give you a smack on the head." He hits you once, and you ignore him. He hits you again, and you remind him. He hits you a third time, and you smack him — not hard enough to bruise, but hard enough to send him crying to Mommy.

This is Israel. (Maybe without the "love.") I've read a lot of criticism that Israel's attacks on Hezbollah haven't been proportional. It seems to me that if you ignore the first rocket attack, and you ignore the second rocket attack, your eventual response doesn't have to be proportional to the third rocket attack.

Then there's the other rebuttal, that a "proportional" response would occur if Israel began randomly launching rockets into Lebanese villages and marching suicide bombers into cafes in Palestine. It's not a particularly intelligent argument, but it amuses me in its simplicity.

But my favorite argument is about the Golan Heights. For 18 years, Syria used the Golan Heights to shell civilian targets inside Israel. In 1967, Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War — and today, nearly everyone seems convinced that Israel must return control of the Heights. I don't claim to be an expert in Middle Eastern relations, but I know something about military strategy and no one has been able to explain this in a way that makes sense. The logic escapes me: You attack me from a strategic position; I defeat your attack and capture control of that position; and now you expect me to give it back?

"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Small World

A friend of mine has been having trouble finding work. He lives in Florida, and he's been bouncing between various temp agencies without much luck. Suffice to say, he's both smart and qualified, so it was difficult to understand why he was having trouble until someone finally told him: There's a man living just over the border in Alabama who shares his name and date of birth, and that man is a convicted felon and registered sex offender.

In 1995, just as America was being introduced to the World Wide Web, Sandra Bullock starred in a bad movie called The Net. The premise was that computer hackers could erase a person's identity by pressing a few buttons, and that the justice system would trust a computer printout over the objections of a living person without a second thought. It was ridiculous in 1995 and it's ridiculous today — except that we're inching toward it.

How is my friend supposed to fix this problem? There isn't any error to be corrected; it's just an unfortunate coincidence. He has to rely on the diligence of future employers to differentiate him from the convicted felon using his name and date of birth — and every time someone fails to do that and moves on to the next resume, my friend loses.