31 December 2005

This Week in The Boston Globe

I'm going to try to link to the best Globe Op-eds and Features from the ending week every Saturday morning (afternoon). You can expect that James Carroll, Robert Kuttner and the Ideas Section will always be here. Because no one reads the paper on Saturday mornings, it ends up being remarkably thin. That opens up forty-five minutes for me in the mornings, and this is the best diversion that I can come up with. Of course, after coming up with this idea, I realized that the Op-eds and features, but not the Ideas section, come off the free portion of the site after 48 hours. I'll excerpt some of them and you can e-mail me if you want any of them in their entirety. I'm going to come up with a better solution next week, I hope. Nonetheless, without further ado:

28 December:
Cars off the Esplanade:
Much of the Esplanade was torn up to facilitate the construction of Storrow Drive in 1951. Now that an 1,800-foot underground section of the road needs rebuilding, the state should not allow traffic to be detoured onto the green space during construction.


It's possible that running traffic through the park would be the most straightforward way to rebuild the tunnel. That was the same kind of thinking that led to the construction of Storrow Drive, which replaced a two-lane road called the Embankment. Auto ownership soared after World War II, and the state was wiling to sacrifice parkland for highways.


The best way to protect the Esplanade is to minimize intrusions. Construction equipment may have to be parked on a small portion of the park, but that is far less damaging than a temporary highway.

However long construction lasts, the process is not going to be easy for people accustomed to using Storrow Drive.

The City of Boston will need to work closely with the state and with Cambridge to plan detours and provide information to motorists. The MBTA needs to provide better service on the nearby Red and Green lines to help mitigate the disruption.

People in and around Boston have grown more dependent on their cars than they were even in the 1950s. The Esplanade is a reminder that city residents need more in their lives than work and bustle. It requires better care, not the intrusion of the automobile.

29 December:
No More Golden Gags:
THE LAST THING that state government in Massachusetts needs is an outbreak of the fever for secrecy that has marked the Bush administration in Washington. State Treasurer Timothy Cahill has been edging in this direction by getting departing staffers to sign confidentiality agreements as they go out the door with generous final pay packages.


The confidentiality requirements are a two-way street. One clause of the agreements, acquired by the Globe through a public records request, stipulates that departing staffers ''shall not disparage the state treasurer's office."

This might be the way it is done in private industry, but voters will be kept in the dark about the functioning of an important office like Cahill's if they cannot learn about it from those with inside information. Neither Governor Mitt Romney, Attorney General Thomas O'Reilly, nor state Secretary William Galvin uses such agreements.


Cahill acknowledged in an interview yesterday that there was an effort to refrain from such agreements while Harshbarger's report was in the works, and that he will use them ''on a case by case basis" in the future. Legislators should set down rules to ensure they are used as sparingly as possible. ''Consent of the governed" is an empty phrase if the consent is not informed.

Young and Injured:

A recent Harvard School of Public Health survey of 1,079 Boston students in grades 9-12 shows just how noxious the city can be for its young people. Over 80 percent of the students said they witnessed someone being hit, kicked, or beaten in the last year. More than a quarter said they had sustained such an assault themselves. Most shocking, perhaps, was the 30 percent who responded ''yes" when asked whether a family member had died as a result of violence.


Neither private school students nor public exam school attendees were included.


About 40 percent of the students showed significant signs of depression. Those who scored high on the depression scale were also most likely to top the charts for truancy, poor grades, and victimization. The likelihood that depression is going undiagnosed and untreated among young people in Boston seems high. That argues for mental health screenings in the schools where researchers found significant numbers of depressed youths.

One promising sign is the willingness of the surveyed teens to talk with responsible adults. They may be traumatized, but they are far from hopeless.
26 December:
James Carroll, "Staying the Course":

Again and again, in the year now ending, the American people have been told by their leaders that strategies based on a new ''repugnant philosophy" are required if the nation is to survive the challenge facing it. Forbidden incendiary weapons must be used in urban settings. Prisoners of war must be deprived of Geneva protections. Aggressive interrogations of enemies must approach torture. Commitments to provide US combat forces with adequate protective gear must be forsworn. Extrajudicial kidnapping of bad people must be justified. Allies must be pressured into joining secret networks of detention camps.

Human rights standards must be jettisoned. Traditional obligations to the United Nations must be ignored. Treaties that limit action can be cast aside. Distinctions between foreign and domestic espionage must be left behind, with US citizens subject to unmonitored surveillance by military agencies. Public libraries must be regarded as government peepholes. The lawyer-client privilege must no longer be regarded as sacrosanct. The press must be recruited into the project of information management. Dissent must be labeled as treason.

A great American erosion has occurred this year, and only now are the contours of what is lost becoming apparent. Much more is at stake than the abandonment of ''longstanding concepts of 'fair-play' " of which Doolittle wrote. To ''subvert, sabotage, and destroy" what threatens us, we have begun to subvert, sabotage, and destroy what protects us: the mutuality of solemn compacts abroad, fundamental safeguards of the Constitution at home. Because the justifying ''state of emergency" is an open-ended war, the trashing of ''hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct" will be permanent. Get used to it.

30 December:
Ellen Goodman, "Hedgehogs and Foxes":

The bottom line is that experts are no better at making predictions than dart-throwing monkeys or (not to be confused) careful readers of this newspaper. Experts are overly confident, choose evidence that supports what they already believe, and are loath to remember, let alone admit, when they're wrong.

Lest this support what you already believe about experts, the more interesting part of Tetlock's research is not about what people think but about how they think. He divided experts by psychology rather than politics, using those anthropomorphic creatures described in Isaiah Berlin's famous essay: the hedgehog and the fox.

The closed-minded hedgehogs are those who know ''one big thing" and relate everything to that single, central vision. The open-minded foxes ''know many little things" and accept ambiguity and contradictions.


It's no surprise that foxes are better at forecasting than hedgehogs. But the media roundtables and think tank conferences and wise guy lists are dominated by folks who speak the simple, decisive language of sound bites.


How then do we cultivate good judgment? Most Americans are probably hybrid creatures. In a fox-like moment, Tetlock advises that we listen to our own ambivalence as ''we struggle to strike the right balance between preserving our existing worldview and rethinking core assumptions."


Meanwhile, those of us who would like to see politics depolarized might begin by keeping score on political experts and pundits the way we do on weathermen and stock analysts.

Okay, on second thought, I'm just going to do this on days when there is something worth writing about in the paper. There's no way, with the length of this, anyone's going to read any commentary I --- or anyone else --- might have. Also, you'd have to pay to make sure I wasn't cutting and pasting these excerpts out of context. This keeps sounding more and more like a bad idea. I'll have a better plan next week.
Happy New Year.


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