The week (July 21st): Nobody asked me, but…

Once more, with a tip of the cap to New York’s great newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

APPLE SHOULD RETHINK THE GENIUS BAR branding in their retail outlets. What is a Genius Bar, you ask? It is a computer repair service desk with a New Age name. The technicians carry the title of Mac Genius and wear trendy black tee shirts and serve customers (who can perch on stools) from behind a long, wooden desk (the Genius Bar). You can make an appointment on the web, in advance, to meet with a Mac Genius.

The downside of this? When your Mac Genius isn’t such a genius in handling your complaint, and there’s that temptation to make snide, wise-guy comments (“If you’re a Mac Genius, what are the Mac Dummies like?”) My assigned Mac Genius finally fixed the problem with my son’s iMac after two trips to the store. For what it’s worth, I observed many frustrated iPod owners grousing about batteries and screens on their sleek little music devices, apparently now a common challenge for the Mac Genii to confront.

And lurking in the shadows, the Evil Empire of Microsoft…where plans for an iPod-like device move inexorably ahead.

ONCE AGAIN, CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS offers a brilliantly contrarian read of events in his Slate piece, “The End of the Affair: Novak Exonerates the Bushies in the Plame Case.” Hitchens argues:

Robert Novak’s July 12 column and his appearance on Meet the Press Sunday night have dissolved any remaining doubt about the mad theory that the Bush administration “outed” Ms. Valerie Plame as revenge for her husband’s refusal to confirm the report by British intelligence that Iraqi officials had visited Niger in search of uranium.

Hitchens promises that he will publish “more material” to prove that “that the original British intelligence on the Niger connection was genuine, and that Wilson missed it.”

On this same topic, attorneys Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown restated the obvious in the Washington Post: leak investigations are a waste of time. If only the editorial page editors of the Post and New York Times had agreed at the start of the Plame episode on this sensible position and had not called for a leak probe, reporters Matt Cooper and Judith Miller might have avoided jail time.

BLOGS PROMOTE FREE SPEECH in repressive regimes” reads the headline on The Editors Weblog (published by the World Editors Forum). The late June post notes how blogging offers an outlet for social and political criticism in countries like Saudi Arabia and China. It quotes the optimistic assessment of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (“With the Internet, China is developing for the first time in 4,000 years of history a powerful independent institution that offers checks and balances on the emperors.”) and while not characterizing the blogs as journalism suggests that they will eventually help to “bring down repressive regimes.”

I’m not as sanguine. One of Kristof’s points is that in the future China’s 30,000 Web censors/monitors won’t be able to control the millions of Chinese Internet users (currently estimated at 120 million), yet advances in supercomputing and intelligent software may make the monitoring of Web expression much simpler and suppression easier. I think prospects for a more benign form of governance in China rest more on pressure from Western trading partners for the rule of law and free expression, which is why American companies must make clear their support of those values when doing business in the People’s Republic.

The blogosphere’s freedom unsettles even democratic governments. India shut down access for some bloggers in the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings, much to the legitimate dismay of free speech advocates.

THE WEB IS QUITE DEMOCRATIC: where else could fans of former Del Amitri member Justin Currie get a chance to directly “friend” him other than Currie can be found at (where you can hear some great new Currie songs, including “What is Love For” and “Out of My Control”).

FORMER CIA VETERAN MICHAEL A. SCHEUER, chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center, authored a very tough op-ed in the Washington Times in advance of ABC’s mini-series based on former “terrorism czar” Richard Clarke’s memoir, “Against All Enemies.” Scheuer suggests the September 11 Commission whitewashed the failure of American intelligence agencies pre-9/11, reserving his harshest criticism for President Bill Clinton and colleagues.

Mr. Clarke’s book is also a crucial complement to the September 11 panel’s failure to condemn Mr. Clinton’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden on any of the eight to 10 chances afforded by CIA reporting. Mr. Clarke never mentions that President Bush had no chances to kill bin Laden before September 11 and leaves readers with the false impression that he, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, did their best to end the bin Laden threat. That trio, in my view, abetted al Qaeda, and if the September 11 families were smart they would focus on the dereliction of Dick, Bill and Sandy and not the antics of convicted September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

Scheuer closes with even harsher words for Clarke, Clinton, and Berger; he says he fears that “the reality that Bill, Dick and Sandy helped to push Americans out of the windows of the World Trade Center on that September morning will be buried in miles of fantasy-filled celluloid.”

This is clearly transcends the bounds of decency: Scheuer may believe that Clinton Administration dithering played a part in 9/11, it is another thing to personalize the debate in such a nasty and sneering way (referring to his three targets dismissively by their first name). No matter how bitter Scheuer may be about 9/11, to suggest that Clinton or other officials are responsible for Americans jumping out of the WTC windows is quite simply wrong.

A “TRUMAN-KENNEDY-CLINTON DEMOCRAT” is the label Senator Joe Lieberman assigns himself, leads naturally to this question: can a self-described centrist survive in today’s Democratic Party? The New Republic headline “Cuppa Joe: Can Lieberman Survive?” sums it up. It is now looking like Lieberman may lose his August 8th Connecticut primary showndown with anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, as the latest Quinnipiac Poll shows the challenger inching ahead. If Joementum fails in the primary, Lieberman is prepared to run as an independent, and you can count on a bitterly contested three-way general election.

BRUCE ARENA, FORMER US NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM COACH, is taking over the New York Red Bulls (as predicted here last week); it would be great for Major League Soccer if Arena can make the Red Bulls instant winners and recapture some of the magic the fabled New York Cosmos once brought to New Jersey.

FORMER NEW YORK TIMES EDITOR HOWELL RAINES offered up a great quote in an appearance in Aspen, Colorado when asked about media leaks: “Almost all leakers are lawyers. That’s the bottom line.”

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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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