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Truth and Reconciliation

One might almost be inclined to feel sorry for still-my-president if one could only forget what a horrific mess he's made of things.  Reading the transcript of his last press conference was bad enough -- seeing the still pictures or the video of the clueless guy struggling to present his administration in a positive light was truly painful.  Jon Stewart said, "He really doesn't know why we're mad at him!"  I think that might be true.  He's been living in an even thicker bubble than I'd imagined.

His petulant defenses of his interrogation procedures ("Do you remember what it was like right after 9/11?") are particularly gruesome when they're followed just a day or two later by the assessment of a senior administration official that she couldn't bring a certain Guantanamo case to trial because "His treatment met the legal definition of torture."

I admit to being of two minds as to how strenuously the Obama administration should investigate and attempt to charge senior administration officials for war crimes.  The country is in such serious shape that I really don't want their attention diverted in that direction.  It's also clear that, unlike his predecessor, Obama really is trying hard to be a uniter (note his unannounced dinner the other night with several prominent conservative columnists), and any attempt to address the torture and civil liberties issues now would severely damage that effort.

But the damage that's been done to the country has been so severe that I'm loathe to let it go altogether.  If you read the comments to the various news stories on the torture angle it is clear that there are plenty of people who now feel that the administration is completely justified in doing whatever they feel is necessary and that concerns about torturing terrorists are just more namby-pamby left wing liberal hand-wringing.

Thank god we've had Bush, they say.  He kept us safe.  Actually, he didn't.  You can't prove a negative in the first place, but if one wants to run with that argument, then it was Clinton who kept us safe and Bush who screwed up and allowed 9/11 to happen.  There were plenty of warnings.  The evidence is now clear and it was pretty obvious at the time.  Remember Condi Rice saying that nobody could have imagined that terrorists would fly airplanes into buildings?  The report from the Rudman-Hart Commission suggesting just that possibility had been on her desk for months.  I never could understand why she was not only allowed to keep her job as NSA, but was eventually promoted to Secretary of State.

When I was growing up, and was learning about the United States of America, I learned that its heroes were the people who were willing to die in defense of its liberties.  Young men and women went off to war to protect, not just the lives of those at home, but their right to free speech, to free assembly, to freely practice one's own religion, to be free from excessive government control and surveillance.  I grew up believing that our system of government and our way of life was a beacon to the world showing how a free people were willing to put their lives on the line rather than compromise those precious freedoms.  I grew up believing that protecting our principles was more important than just protecting my personal safety.

That's what Bush took away from me.  And I want it back.

I don't care what happens to him.  I don't feel any need to see him punished.  I wish that Congress had had the guts to impeach him years ago, when it might have made a difference.  That doesn't matter now.  But we, as a nation, still have to come to terms with what went terribly wrong.  If we are going to be able to get back to the country that I grew up believing in, we've got to be able to acknowledge to the world that the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz vision of the country was a terrible wrong turn, and that we will do everything possible to see that we don't go down that road again.

In that last press conference, Bush said, "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be damaged amongst some of the elite, but people still understand America stands for freedom, that America is a country that provides such great hope."

Wrong again, George.  But I think we still have a chance to get it back.  I still believe in the best of my country that much.

UPDATE:  At this morning's confirmation hearing for Obama's pick for Attorney General, Eric Holder said what no Bush administration official has been willing to say: "Waterboarding is torture." 

Finally.


Rhetorical Excess in Advocacy

The Open Access Working Group has released an open letter to Obama's transition team.  Among other things it says,

Peer-reviewed articles reporting the results of scientific research funded by U.S. tax dollars should be made publicly available online no later than six months after publication. ...  One U.S. agency has taken the lead in successfully implementing such a policy...  (italics in the original).


'Scuse me?

I've read the damn thing a bunch of times and it is really difficult for me to see this in any other light than intentionally implying that the NIH's policy, developed "[a]fter careful examination of the issues and extensive consultation with stakeholders" and which "appropriately balances the interests of all stakeholders" includes a six-month embargo, rather that the actual twelve-month.  Interesting sleight of hand.

Does it matter?

Maybe not.  But I note that in her written testimony for the hearing back in September on the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act," Heather Joseph, from SPARC, emphasized that the 12 month embargo was one of the important safeguards embedded in the policy to insure that it wouldn't damage journal publishers.  She even references a survey stressing that for 92% of librarians, an embargo period would have to be "6 months or less" before it would factor into their cancellation decisions.

I spoke with Ray English at the Charleston Conference after his talk in 2006.   He expressed surprise that publishers should be concerned about the NIH policy -- after all, he claimed, he and the other advocates had worked hard to develop the 12-month compromise explicitly to address the concerns of publishers.   Why should they be worried?  Maybe because at the end of his talk he had explicitly called for the complete dissolution of the subscription system?

It's the inconsistency that bugs me -- to argue on the one hand that publishers have no reason to be concerned about the NIH policy because of the length of the embargo, while at the same time laying the groundwork to try to get the embargo shortened.  Peter Suber, at least, has been consistently vocal in his belief that the embargo is a "needless sop to the publishing lobby."

There are other cute rhetorical flourishes in the letter.  "Open access of scientific data has already revolutionized life science research..."  Absolutely true.  The letter uses the examples of GenBank and the sequencing of the SARS virus as examples of the value of open access to data.  Equally true.  But it's a non sequiter to move from those examples to the claim that mandated open access to peer reviewed articles is just more of the same thing, or is likely to lead to similar advances.  Few publishers have ever expressed concerns about the open sharing of data.

I've written in the past about my dismay at the poisonous tone of much of the rhetoric that surrounds the open access debate.   There are librarians and other OA advocates who are quick to accuse those who have opposed the NIH policy of being disingenuous, of using discredited arguments, of outright lying, and worse.  Why shouldn't publishers feel the same way about OA advocates?

But maybe none of that matters, as long as your side wins.


Kid Magnets

"What's that new friend's name, again?" Josie says, shyly, pointing into the kitchen at John's niece Noelle.  John & Ev had come up for the weekend, so we'd invited Noelle over for Saturday brunch.  She'd arrived shortly before Marian & Josie, and Jo's initial reaction had been the usual little kid shyness.  But it didn't last long.

"That's Noelle,"  I said.  "She's Bispo's niece."   Josie looked at me quizzically, but decided that she didn't need to delve into figuring out what a "niece" was just then.

"I need to show her something," she said.

"Do you want me to go tell her?"  She nodded, so I went out and tapped Noelle on the shoulder.  "Josie says she needs to show you something."

Noelle went out to the living room and sat on the floor with Josie, who began to explain her new Little People racetrack, which John & Ev had given her the night before.   Josie makes friends easily and gets along just fine with adults, but I have never seen her take to a new person that quickly before.  But Noelle's been a preschool teacher for many years and although I hadn't seen her treat Josie with anything other than a friendly hello when she arrived, Josie was apparently able to tell that she was her kind of people.

It's an amazing quality.  I remember when I first really realized that Marian has it.  This was maybe ten years ago, when she and I were doing a bit of performing as a guitar/vocal duo.  She'd gotten us a gig at one of the summer fairs in the small town south of Birmingham where she was living.  The park was a bowl shaped area with a stage at one end, and people on blankets or in lawn chairs throughout.  As we walked from the car toward the stage it seemed like every person under three feet high came running as soon as they saw her, "Mimi, Mimi!" they'd call, and reach for her hands.  At the time, she was doing quite a bit of babysitting and working at a local day care.  Every kid in town knew her and wanted to be with her. 

Over the years, as I've watched Marian, I've come to the conclusion that the magic is quite simple.  Most adults, I'm afraid, view very small children only as potential people, unformed, incomplete.  And so they condescend to them.  Marian never does.  She doesn't view them as little adults, by any means, but she views them as complete human beings.  And so she respects them, and pays attention.  She understands their limitations, and the needs they have that are different from those of people at other stages of life, but she never forgets that they're people.  Kids pick up on that instantly and are drawn to it.

Noelle has the same quality and Josie could tell as soon as she met her.    To be respected and to be listened to.  Who doesn't want that?


Obama's Blackberry

Apparently, Obama hasn't yet given in to the wishes of the secret service and the lawyers that he give up his blackberry. 

"Well, here's what I think I can get. I think I'm going to be able to get access to a computer somewhere. It may not be right in the Oval Office. The second thing I'm hoping to do is to see if there's someway that we can arrange for me to continue to have access to a BlackBerry." (from an interview on CNBC.)

In the early days of the Iraq war, I was channel surfing one night and came across a remarkable scene on MTV-UK.   The prime minister of England was sitting among a group of teenagers -- sitting among them -- and answering questions about the invasion and the rationale for it.  And they were tough questions.  It was clearly not a carefully selected group -- they were sceptical and concerned and wanted answers, and Blair appeared to be doing his best to be straight with them.  I watched for awhile, somewhat wistfully, knowing that I would never see my president in a similar situation.   I did some more channel flipping, watched the end of a movie, and about an hour or so later came across that channel again and they were still at it!  I don't know how long the segment was, but it must've been an hour and a half or more.

And then there's the "Prime Minister's Questions" -- a tradition in the UK and several Commonwealth countries where the prime minister spends half an hour every week answering questions from members of parliament.

Part of the problem with W is that he never saw himself as accountable to the American people.  It was apparent (if you bothered to pay attention) as far back as his first campaign for president that he was actually rather contemptuous of the population at large.  So "politics" was a matter of manipulating the message as necessary in order to retain power, but once power was achieved, he believed that it was his job to "stay the course" according to his beliefs about what was best for the country.  His press conferences (such as they were) were designed to reveal as little as possible about what was actually going on, and his public appearances were simply theater.

I want a president who is willing to make unpopular decisions and to stand his or her ground when the going gets tough.  A president should not be unduly swayed by the opinion polls of the moment.  But the president does need to stay in touch with the people, listen to them and answer to them.  While I believe in respecting the Office of the President, we have come to a point where we give far too much deference to the individual in that position.  We need to remember that the title is Mister President, not Your Highness or Your Excellency.  The grimaces of annoyance and flashes of temper that W showed when being asked tough questions were an indication of his belief that he had the right not to be challenged in that way.  I think that Obama knows better.  I hope he gets to keep his blackberry.


What Do They Know About Plagiarism?

I hesitated when I saw the email message.  It was Saturday morning, the tail-end of my holiday break and I was gearing up for my return to the world of work.  I was already looking at a full schedule and much of it was going to be consumed with dealing with the very ugly realities of our budget crisis.  Could I really manage to take something else on?

The message was from a professor in Public Health, who I've guest lectured for in the past.  She was getting ready for the class she'd be teaching in the spring.  It's a required class that the students take the semester before they graduate.  She said, "In talking to one of my colleagues, I found out (to my surprise) that one of the issues in the fall was that they didn't know basics of how to search the literature and how to utilize our library resources."

She wanted to know if I could come in and do a version of my lecture on copyright, plagiarism and research ethics, and include some basic material on resources appropriate to public health students.  For her first class.  On Wednesday evening.  This Wednesday evening.  She did say that if that didn't work we could try for the following week.  But I know how she structures her classes and that it would really make the most sense to kick off the semester with it.  So despite everything else it took me only about half an hour of pondering to say sure.

The daunting part would've been doing an effective portion on public health resources.  What the hell do I know about that?  Fortunately, we have an expert in the library (who not only has been our public health liaison for years, but is currently a student in the MPH program), so I figured I could crib from her.  Turns out she volunteered to come and do the class with me.  The students don't know how lucky they are!

So I did a version of my standard copyright basics, plagiarism basics, issues in research publication ethics lecture.  I've been doing this one for years and years.  Every time I pitch it a little differently and change the examples a bit and update where necessary, but the essentials of it are the same. 

Concerns over plagiarism by students have mushroomed over the past few years.   While the internet has made it extremely easy to commit plagiarism, it has also made it very easy to discover.   Surveys show high numbers of students admitting to cheating during their high school or college careers.   A while back, a rep from one of the big publishing houses told me that whereas a couple of years ago the hot topic at the publisher meetings he went to was open access, during the past year or so it had become plagiarism and other ethical violations.

It is apparent to me, when I do these lectures, that most of the students have only the vaguest notion of the concepts behind copyright and plagiarism and most have only the foggiest notion of what are considered to be appropriate norms of scholarly and professional behavior.  While intentional plagiarism or other ethical violations certainly takes place, I'm convinced that much of what happens occurs through simple ignorance.

Case in point -- a few years ago, I was on an advisory panel for the project of an informatics student.  My involvement was extremely minor.  But the student was appreciative -- and showed his appreciation by including me as an author on a paper he wrote reporting the results of a different project altogether!  I didn't know about it until after the paper was submitted to a journal.  I immediately notified his advisor and the paper was withdrawn before any harm was done.  This was a smart guy doing very interesting work.  He just didn't know any better.

Some junior scholars and scientists end up with good mentors who will model appropriate behaviors, but unfortunately many don't.  I suspect the only formal exposure that most of our undergraduates get to the ethical issues of plagiarism occurs if they read the Honor Code.  But the faculty assumes that the students know all of the rules.  That's a bad assumption.

If we expect students to understand the ethical issues involved we have to take the time early in their college careers to insure that those issues get addressed.  The professor who emailed me was surprised that the students had gotten as far as they had (last semester before graduation in an MPH program) without understanding the basics.  Sadly, I wasn't.


A Pile of Books

It was introvert heaven.  Lynn left around noon the day after Christmas to take her dad back to Little Rock and to spend a few days sorting through more of her mom's stuff.  Marian and Josie had come over to say goodbye, but they left shortly thereafter.  From then until Tuesday evening, when Lynn got home, I had no obligations, nobody that I had to see, no place that I had to go, nobody that I had to talk to.

There was the daily email to take care of, but with a lot of people taking vacation, that was pretty light.  I fixed myself some nice meals, watched movies in the evening, played guitar for an hour or so everyday.  Mostly, I read.

I had been working my way through Just Enough Leibling, so I was able to finish that the day after Lynn left.  I'd bought it several years ago, based on the reviews it received when it came out.  I suppose I'd been vaguely familiar with the name, a guy who wrote long pieces for the New Yorker during that magazine's early heyday, but I don't think I'd read any of his stuff.  The review convinced me that I ought to, but then, of course, it sat on the shelf for a few years.  It was worth waiting for.  His tales of the characters in the streets of New York are great fun, and his exaggerated sentences, perfectly pitched to the extravagances of his subjects are a delight, but I was most moved by his reporting from World War II.   Here, his sentences are spare and almost flat as he describes the most dramatic and searing episodes.  The restraint makes it all the more moving.  The Library of America has just come out with a collected Leibling that is now on my shelf and I look forward to getting to that one day.

On the stand next to the chair in my study is a stack of books that have come in via the Booksmith's Signed First Editions club, so I looked through that next.  This year's free thirteenth was Standiford's The Man Who Invented Christmas.  Seemed like appropriate timing, so I picked that one up next.  It's the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol and, in the process, helped to establish many of the traditions that we now associate with Christmas.  I was very impressed with it -- it's fairly brief, but the writing is excellent and Standiford has done great research.  Down here in the Bible Belt, where the recent announcement that scientists have determined that the Christmas Star probably shone in June rather than December has been received with great consternation in some quarters, it was very amusing to be reminded that up until fairly recent times the major Christian holiday was Easter, and that in certain parts of the colonies it was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas, because the holiday had such a reputation for licentiousness and debauchery.  I wonder what Bill O' would make of that?

By then I was ready to dig into a novel, so I pulled from the stack Ron Rash's Serena, which turns out to be a reworking of the themes of Shakespeare's Macbeth set against a backdrop of the battles between the lumber barons and the conservationists in North Carolina in the 1930s.  Great story, well drawn characters, nicely absorbing.  I was particularly taken with the way that he uses one of the work crews to fill the same role that Shakespeare would give to his clowns -- minor characters who can comment on the main action and fill out the picture.  Impressively believable, given how over-the-top the story actually was.

Next from the stack I went with The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig, which got a good review in the NYT shortly after it arrived from the Booksmith.  There's nothing flashy about this novel, which takes it's starting point from a true story.  During WWII, the eleven members of the starting lineup of a Montana college football team all enlisted and all died (Montana had the second highest casualty rate of any state in the union, just behind New Mexico).   In Doig's version (which does not attempt to retell the actual story), one of the eleven is tapped to be a correspondent for a shadowy government outfit tasked with writing propaganda pieces about the other members of his team.  Of course, one by one, they get killed.  Doig comes close to melodrama on occasion and strains a bit at times with maintaining the central premise of his story, but he pulls it off.  It was particularly moving against the backdrop of our current idiotic war in which so many young men and women with so much to offer are being senselessly sacrificed to no good purpose.

By the time I finished The Eleventh Man, Lynn was back, it was New Year's day and Marian and Josie were here.    I was ready for something light.  I'd given each of them a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard as stocking stuffers and, unbeknownst to me, Marian had bought a copy for her Mom, so that one came to me.  It had gotten mixed reader reviews -- some people were disappointed that it wasn't more substantial, apparently wanting it to be the eighth volume of the Harry Potter series, so I picked it up without any particular expectations.  I thought it was marvelous.  It took just an hour to read, but all of Rowling's humor and inventiveness are on display.  There's no story in particular, but that's okay.  My favorite part was finding out that the seeds of the enmity between Dumbledore and Lucius Malfoy arise from Dumbledore's refusal to remove a book that Malfoy disapproves of from the Hogworts library.

Having cleared my palate, so to speak, I was ready to dig back into something substantial, and I went for Roberto Bolano's 2666 which Lynn gave me for Christmas.  It's shown up on several Best of...  lists and some of the praise has been quite extravagant.  I'm about midway through and from what I can tell at this point, the extravagance is not misplaced.  It's about 900 pages in total, so now that I'm back at work it's going to take me awhile to get through it.  I'm both eager and hesitant -- I know it's going to get a lot darker before we get to the end.

I won't get another chance to indulge in that depth of reading until at least next summer, I suppose, but that's okay.  By Tuesday morning, when I finally went out to the grocery store, it was the real world that felt strange and I knew I needed to get back to it.  Even introverts have to live outside of themselves.


Asking Students About Open Access

I had an ulterior motive.

What would happen if a small group of smart doctors-to-be without much background in intellectual property and scholarly communication were presented with the key issues surrounding the open access debates without being told what they ought to think, and then given the chance to discuss the relative merits of the various arguments that have been floated around for the last few years?   What would they be persuaded by?  What conclusions might they come to?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a chance to find out.

Awhile back, the School of Medicine established one- and two-week long "Special Topics" electives for 1st and 2nd year students.  (There's been a similar program in place for 3rd & 4th years for some time).  I put in a proposal for a one-week seminar grandly (if clumsily) titled, "The Internet, Intellectual Property, and Their Impact on the Future of Medicine."  My intention was to provide some background on basic copyright law, implications of licensing, developments in open access over the past few years, particularly with regard to the NIH Public Access Policy, and some speculation about what the future might hold. 

The proposal was accepted and my first session was scheduled for the week before Christmas.  Three students enrolled.

Then, to my delight, just as I was starting to think concretely about the seminar content, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act was introduced.  The congressional hearing, which occurred on September 11th, provided the perfect focal point for what I was trying to achieve. 

So I structured the seminar this way: 

We met for a couple of hours each morning, and I gave them progressively more reading as the week went on.

On Monday, I went over basic copyright law, implications of licensing, and some of the current controversies about copyright, highlighting things like the Creative Commons, orphan works legislation, and the recent Google books settlement.

Tuesday, we got into scholarly publishing itself -- some history, some economics, some nuts and bolts of the publishing process, peer review, impact factors, ethics, etc.

Wednesday was open access -- some of the background & history, PLoS, DC Principles, BioMed Central, DOAJ, institutional repositories.    I tried to be clear with them when I was stating what I thought was opinion and what I thought was fact, and how uncertain those distinctions can be in all of these debates.  I tried to present what I thought were the strong arguments from the various sides while also pointing out where I think the various factions go overboard in their claims.   I didn't want to be an advocate and I didn't want to convince them of any point of view.  I wanted them to think.

Up to this point, I'd been doing most of the talking, trying to lay the groundwork.  They asked good questions and we had some good discussion, but it was still mostly me leading.  For Thursday, I wanted things to shift.  I'd given them a couple of reports to read and some websites to look at, and we spent that morning talking about how things were changing and what the future might hold and what that might mean for them as students now, and as practitioners later.

Which brought us to Friday. 

At the congressional hearing on September 11th, four individuals testified -- Elias Zerhouni, Director of NIH; Martin Frank, Executive Director of the American Physiological Society and coordinator of the DC Principles; Ralph Oman, Pavel Professorial Lecturer on Intellectual Property Law at GWU; and Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC.  If you've followed the debates, you probably already know the various points that each of them tried to make.

My students didn't however, and that was the key.  So I had them read all of the written testimony, as well as the transcript of what actually transpired at the hearing.  And then gave them this assignment for the Friday morning discussion:

Examine the written testimony and the transcript of the verbal discussion on the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which occurred on September 11, 2008.  Based on what you have learned and what you know, be prepared to identify which of the four witnesses you think did the best job of presenting their case and why.  This may not be the one with the position that you most agree with.  Focus on how effectively they made their arguments, and how persuasively they countered the arguments against them.  Identify any particular weaknesses or evasions that you see in the testimony or discussions.

In thinking about possible directions for the future, identify what you consider to be the top five likliest and/or most desireable trends.

My hope was that by putting it this way, rather than asking them which point of view they agreed with, I would get them to look critically at all of the arguments and gain a greater appreciation for the complexity of the issues involved.

My ulterior motive was to find out what would stand out in the testimony when it was approached critically by bright young doctors-to-be who didn't have an axe to grind and who didn't come to the testimony with their minds already made up.

I don't want to put words in their mouths, or misrepresent their views, but some of the things that came up in the discussion included:

  • Heather Joseph was compelling in the emotional tug of her testimony, particularly in relating the story about her son, but it is very difficult to really assess the costs and benefits of making radical changes to the system based on this kind of anecdotal example.
  • Martin Frank somewhat "shot himself in the foot" by pointing out that many journals make their contents free after 12 months without suffering negative consequences -- it seems to be more a matter of control and who gets to make the decisions about what gets made freely available.  He did a good job of making that case against "one size fits all."
  • Elias Zerhouni seemed more interested in the ability to do computing across the body of literature than he was in making the articles freely available, and why couldn't that be done in a dark archive of some sort?  To do that kind of analysis in this day and age, do you really need to have everything in the same database in the first place?
  • Ralph Oman seemed primarily concerned with making the case that this would be a huge headache for congress and never really addressed the underlying copyright question.  His claim that this would put publishing as we know it out of business seemed to be contradicted by Frank's testimony.

There was much more, of course.  We had a spirited discussion for a couple of hours and I suspect minds changed about more than one point more than once during that time.  I suppose my favorite moment of all was when one of the students said, "I had no idea these issues were this complicated and this interesting when I signed up for this course!"

There was consensus about the fact that we have to continue to do everything possible to make scholarly information more widely available and that we have to be creative and innovative in using all of the new tools that have been developed in recent years.  I think sometimes in the heat of the open access debates people forget that everyone involved -- authors, librarians, editors, educators, publishers and scientists -- agree on that.  The debate is really over what's necessary and what's possible and what the unintended negative consequences of various actions might be.

I have my own views on many of these issues, and I wouldn't necessarily have responded to my own assignment in the way that my students did.  But I didn't want them to come to my conclusions.   I wanted them to understand that the issues are complex and that there are valid points on all sides, being made by people of good faith, who still occasionally fall into rhetorical excess in their desire to make their case.  I wanted them to care about the issues, and I wanted them to think.

When I got back to the office this morning, after the holiday break, the grading sheets were waiting for me.    I marked all of them "Pass" and sent them in.






A couple of simple pasta recipes

My sister writes to say that her daughter, now in her second year at MIT, is looking for recipes.   Dining halls and many other campus dining options aren't open during January, so she and a group of her friends are doing a dinner rotation.  Here's a couple of my favorites that are easy, fun and delicious.

One of the simplest and most flavorful pasta sauces is called puttanesca (look it up).  There are many variations -- I first learned mine from my very favorite cookbook, Jack Bishop's Pasta e Verdura

For four people, use a 28-ounce can of tomatoes.  (Jack recommends whole tomatoes, roughly chopped, but I typically use diced -- depends on what texture you want).

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet.  Add 4 minced garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp of hot red pepper flakes.  Saute that over medium heat for a minute or two, until the garlic turns golden.

Then add the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of drained capers, and about 16 olives, pitted and chopped.  Jack recommends half black (like Kalamatas) and half green (like Spanish Queens) but really, you can use whatever's handy.  Simmer that until the sauce is the consistency you want -- takes about fifteen minutes.  You can use a fork to mash the tomatoes a little bit if you want it smoother.

That's it.  While the sauce is simmering you can cook and drain the pasta.  I typically use linguine, but spaghetti or any other long thin shape works great (figure three to four ounces pasta per person).  Mix the pasta and the sauce and serve it up.

I usually sprinkle a little fresh grated parmesan on mine, but don't do that unless you've got really good parmesan -- it's expensive, but you only need a little bit.   And getting good parmesan in Boston should be a snap!

If there's just one or two of you, use a small can of tomatos and reduce the rest of the ingredients appropriately.  Once you've had it a couple of times you'll get the hang of what proportions you want to use. 


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I've got nothing against jarred pasta sauces, particularly those made by Classico or Barilla.  Here's a lemon-chicken pasta that uses Classico's tomato and basil sauce.

Grate the skin of a lemon with the medium grate of a standard box grater (which you ought to have in your kitchen anyway).  Then juice the lemon -- you should get about 1/4 cup of juice.  Mince three or four garlic cloves.  Add the lemon juice, lemon zest (the grated skin), and the garlic to about 1/3 cup of olive oil in a small frying pan.  Heat on medium just until the mixture froths up for a minute or two.

While that's  cooling, cut up a couple of chicken breasts into the thinnest strips you can manage (if they're slightly frozen, it makes the slicing easier).   Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and pour the marinade over them.  Mix them well with your hands so that all of the pieces are well-coated with marinade.  Let that sit for half an hour.

Set a large skillet (or a wok, if you have one) over medium to medium-high heat.  Pour the chicken and marinade in, and saute the chicken until it's white, then pour in a jar of pasta sauce (like I said, I use Classico's tomato and basil or tomato and sweet basil.  A jarred marinara would work well too.  I would not use a sauce that has other flavors in it, because that might clash with the lemon-garlic-chicken flavor).

Let that simmer while you fix the pasta. 

Leftover sauce will keep for a week or two -- I always make enough for two or three meals.  And you can double the whole thing if you've got a large crew to feed.

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If this kind of thing appeals to you, get a copy of Jack's book (mentioned above).   Over the past few years I've probably made half the recipes in that book and every single one has been fantastic.  Plus, I've learned a tremendous amount about cooking.   I've got several other of his cookbooks and they're all wonderful, but Pasta e Verdura is the very best of all.