hublog

Things Boston.

Hublog encourages correspondents to contribute thoughts about local news, particularly criticism of local media.

E-mail hublog at seanroche - at - attbi.com.

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Friday, May 31, 2002
 
Off-key -- Nothing Derrick Jackson has to say about racial profiling is exactly wrong, but it's still a little off pitch. As Nicholas Kristof explains in the Times today, it's time for liberals and libertarians to recognize that security must now be a meaningful component of the civil liberties calculation. Not the only component as the Bush Administration would have it, but a significant one nonetheless.

Yes, there are young, white men like Lucas Helder (the recent pipe-bomber) and the country has to be more vigilant generally. But, Helder didn't kill anyone, much less the thousands killed on 9/11. And, Helder is, relatively speaking, an aberration. The terrorists who turned commercial jets into deadly bombs represent many -- yes, not all -- Muslims and other Middle Easterners who have been socialized to hate the U.S. and actively wish its destruction. It's time for liberals like Jackson -- and hublog -- to struggle with how to recognize this new reality and still treat Muslims with dignity.

As for Zayed Yasin, the Harvard senior planning to deliver a commencement speech entitled "The American Jihad," it's either a case of pathological naivete or cynical media manipulation. If it's the latter, Jackson's getting played. It sounds like an interesting and important topic: explaining that "in the Muslim tradition, jihad represents a struggle to do the right thing" and encouraging classmates to embark on their own jihads. But, in this climate, was it necessary to invite the firestorm the title creates? Only if Yasin wanted to be the subject of columns like Jackson's.

It seems unlikely that neither Jackson or Harvard-educated Yasin is aware that some people are understandably sensitive to the word "jihad."


Thursday, May 30, 2002
 
The lovable Dr. Golub -- Fresh off his selection as one of Boston Magazine's 40 Bostonians We Love, Todd Golub gets some more richly deserved ink for his work as a research oncologist and clinician.

Good work by the Globe's Anne Bernard!

Full disclosure: Hublog's thirteen-month-old son is a charter member of the Dr. Golub fan club.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002
 
Damned by association -- Robert Paci of Cambridge takes Thomas Oliphant to task for trying too hard to connect Accenture to Enron. Oliphant bemoans the growing trend of companies to incorporate off-shore to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. taxes. Connecticut's Stanley Works is the recent poster child. The company will avoid something like $30 million in taxes every year with its recent decision to incorporate in Bermuda.

Oliphant justifiably focuses on the irony of Accenture, incorporated in Bermuda to avoid taxes, building the IRS web site. Hublog has nothing against foreign companies competing for U.S. government contracts, but a company ought to be a legitimate tax-payer someplace substantially connected to its operations. That should especially be the case for IRS contracts. Accenture ought to lose the IRS gig.

Oliphant's problem is that he tries to tie Accenture's distasteful but legal practice, with auditor Arthur Andersen's unethical and probably illegal activity in connection with Enron. Accenture is the renamed Andersen Consulting which was formerly part of Arthur Andersen's parent Andersen Worldwide. Not only is Accenture no longer "the consulting arm of the morally challenged Arthur Andersen accounting firm," as Oliphant puts it, the two split in a messy and contentious divorce consummated in August 2000. Consultants Accenture and accountants Arthur Andersen are as far from connected as any two bitter divorcees.

As Mr. Paci puts it: In his cheap attempt to throw some red Enron meat into his piece, Oliphant misled his readers.



Friday, May 24, 2002
 
Where's the uproar? -- "What they [presumably the towers themselves] did to lower Manhattan was an act of vandalism just as complete as 9/11."

Such a statement would be a breathtaking display of insensitivity and emotional detachment if it came from a commentator, but it issued from the architect who may have as large a role as any person in shaping what arises from the ashes of Ground Zero.

Architect David Childs, of Skidmore Owings, & Merrill, Childs is the choice of Larry Silverstein, he of the 99-year lease to the towers, to design a plan for rebuilding the site. Both the Time article in which the quote appears and a recent New Yorker piece by Paul Goldberger note his likely significant role in the redevelopment as Silverstein's guy and as a major architectural figure.

Now, hublog was no fan of the towers, but equating an urban planning disaster, an architectural banality, and a gross misuse of quasi-governmental authority to an act of war against this country that cost thousands their lives ought to immediately disqualify Childs from even seeing blueprints of the towers' replacements, much less designing them.

I presume any Child's designed building would carry an inscription by Arundhati Roy.

 
Too many or not enough? -- Hublog's first contribution, from S (no period, like Harry Truman's middle name), notes that today's Globe cover story on the "serious shortage" of certain medical specialists seems the logical consequence of an effort to create more primary care physicians lauded by the Globe in 1997.

This paragraph ran in a Globe story March 10, 1997:
    America's teaching hospitals finally are fulfilling a promise to produce more primary care doctors and fewer specialists, an unheralded turnaround that they hope will restore the personal doctor-patient relationships of generations past.

A few year's earlier, the Globe had this to say:
    Driven by the need to curb US health costs, policy experts are targeting America's reliance on specialists and the expensive brand of medicine they practice...analysts document the cost of this nation's dependence on medical specialists and warn that strong action is needed to reorient US health care toward a less expensive style of medical practice.

Is it fair to cite years-old articles? Hublog thinks so. When would you expect to see the results of programs to produce fewer specialists? The following month?

We'll leave the last word to the contributing letter, S. "I guess you can file this under, 'Ooops, the Globe is
wrong on public policy again.'"

Update: Talk about closing your circles. I came across this page from the Harry S. Truman Library site that discusses the use of the period after Truman's S. What's on the banner for the page? "Meet the president who proposed America's first national health care plan." Cool coincidence.

Thursday, May 23, 2002
 
The shape of things to come -- Fascinating column by Jeff Jacoby forwarding the insight that Palestinian depictions of the hoped-for state of Palestine show a country that looks a lot like Israel. Jacoby refers readers to IRIS -- Information Regarding Israel's Security-- for some examples of Palestinian organization emblems with Israel-shaped Palestines.

It can't be trivial that the symbols of a Palestinian state seem to rule out co-existence with Isreal.

Two quibbles. 1) Will the Globe and boston.com ever figure out how to make links out of URL's included in articles? 2) The bit about Arafat's Palestine-shaped kaffiyeh smacks of myth. I found a few articles that repeat the notion uncritically, but could find no source for the claim. Jacoby wouldn't be making the myth-repeating mistake again, would he?

Wednesday, May 22, 2002
 
Macero, architectural historian? -- Buried in an interesting piece about the value of the Hancock Tower to John Hancock Financial Services, Cosmo Macero makes what appears to be a gross attribution error. Macero credits Henry Cobb for the design of the still controversial building. (Hublog's opinion: It's an interesting shape on the skyline, not as bad a Copley Square neighbor as its mass would suggest, a soulless disaster at the ground floor.) Everybody and his brother knows that Cobb's far better known partner I.M. Pei designed the Hancock Tower. See Hancock's own site (the tower gets a mention as a 1971 entry on the timeline), here (Cobb gets a mention), and here.

But wait, maybe Cosmo's onto something. The Pei Cobb Freed & Partners site (formerly I.M. Pei & Partners, the firm credited for the Hancock Tower), alone among any other site I found, lists Henry Cobb as lead designer (with Harold Fredenburgh). Interestingly, the pages honoring Pei for his 1988 Pritzker Prize, do not list the Hancock Tower among his projects.

It's good of Cosmo to give Cobb his due. Cobb deserves some fame/noteriety in Boston. He's the lead designer of the absolutely abysmal Moakley Courthouse.

Macero, bring you the inside scoop on Boston business and correcting the architectural historical record.

Thursday, May 16, 2002
 
Short sighted -- Wayne Woodlief in today's Herald justifiably praises Robert Reich's self-deprecation. (Oddly, Herald columnists must have been short on material; Marjery Eagan does the same). However, Woodlief mistakenly contrasts Reich's good humor about his height to the apocryphal bile of Randy Newman, the writer and performer of Short People.

Read the lyrics, Wayne. Randy's not making fun of short people, rather people who would discriminate against short people. It's called satire. Check out this verse, in particular:
Short People are just the same
As you and I
(A Fool Such As I)
All men are brothers
Until the day they die
(It's A Wonderful World)


Wednesday, May 15, 2002
 
Who are we? First, "we" is only me ... for now. I was inspired by smartertimes.com to create a place for daily critique of the Globe, Herald, and other Boston media. Until its recent -- likely permanent -- hiatus, smartertimes.com ruthlessly identified "errors of fact and of logic" in the New York Times. (Ira Stoll, apparently the sole Times critic on smartertimes.com, is now busy as editor of the recently launched New York Sun.) Ira's analysis was in length and attitude not what you'd find on the letters-to-the-editors page. (Nor would you get letters published on a daily basis, on multiple topics, by the same person.) I aspire to the same sort of careful analysis and foot-waming.

As for the we/me thing. Unlike Ira, I am not well-read or -educated enough to supply meaningful content on a daily basis. I am hoping to inspire other careful consumers of Boston media to send me little pieces that I'll assemble on this page. For now, I'll do the posting, though I can imagine self-posting by regular critics down the road.

Two ground rules.
  • Nothing that's mere disagreement. There's got to be something demonstrably flawed in the reporting or analysis.

  • Home-grown stuff only. The local papers are largely wire-fed. Only affiliated reporters and columnists are fair game. Not wire stories or syndicated columns.


Otherwise, send me an e-mail when you see something ridiculous.

 
Slippery slope -- Another installment of the Globe's ongoing spotlight investigation of Cardinal Law and the Catholic Church draws an unfortunate comparison between Cardinal Law's handling of Father Shanley and a Father Berthold, fired from St. John's Seminary for kissing a nineteen year-old seminarian. Certainly, Law's failure to make note of the dismissal in his recommendation of Berthold to a Catholic College in South Carolina further illustrates his penchant for keeping the diocese's dirty secrets close to the vestments. But the suggestion that Berthold's offenses are in the same league as Shanley's borders on hysteria and threatens the credibility of the Globe's outstanding work disclosing the church's sins.

The point about Law's willingness to move problem priests around, indeed even if it meant lying, could have been made by noting that Law dismissed Berthold for inappropriate conduct then subsequently recommended him for another teaching position, describing Berthold's record as, according to the Globe, "unblemished." Unfortunately, writer Steven Kurkjian, goes into intimate detail about Berthold's offense and draws a series of parallels to the child sexual abuse cases. The clincher, this paragraph:
Law's willingness to help Berthold obtain another position that would put him in contact with young men is another reminder that the archdiocese has only recently taken an unforgiving stance on issues of sexual misbehavior.

There are significant differences between Christopher Sellars, Berthold's "victim," and the victims of Shanley, Geoghan, Paquin and the rest of the accused child-abusers. Sellars was a nineteen-year-old adult, fully capable, as he demonstrated by reporting Berthold, of recognizing the behavior as wrong and doing something to stop it. If Berthold's behavior was technically criminal -- I was a sex crimes prosecutor and would never have pursued such a case -- it's worth remembering that all he did in this case was kiss an unconsenting adult. Suggesting that Berthold's actions merit a Spotlight report (as opposed to just Law's cover-up), minimizes the horror of what some priests have done to children.

In fact, the Globe, and other media, are guilty of an ongoing failure to make an analytical distinction between true pedophilia -- sexual attraction to prepubescent children, typically boys, that is clinically separate from homo- or hetero-sexuality -- and opportunistic homosexual advances on underaged boys by men who cannot express their sexuality with adults. Now, the Globe is lumping in unwanted, and rebuffed, contact between adults. The three types of offenses have different etiologies, require different responses, and merit significantly different levels of outrage.

In the end, what are we supposed to be outraged about with the Berthold case? Because Berthold, a dean, kissed a student? Because he violated his vow of chastity? Because he kissed someone on the lips without consent? Or, because he kissed another man?

It's too trivial an example of faculty-student contact or an unwanted advance. Whether a priest remained celibate is remarkably un-newsworthy. My sense is that the Berthold/Sellars example, intentionally or not, feeds on the public sentiment that homosexual behavior is what makes the church cases so deeply offensive and that homosexuals are to blame.


Monday, May 13, 2002
 
Tax this! -- Hublog comes to bury, not to praise, and we aim for fresh kill. But, sometimes exceptions have to be made, even on our first day. Alex Beam's column on the cigarette tax last week was vintage stuff. Funny, incisive, and relevant. Beam at his best.

As for his obituary for the mini-van on Friday, he only got it part right. The modern mini-van, possibly among the top three innovations of the automobile's first century (after the Model T and the original Mini), is exactly what the SUV is not. The mini-van is exquisitely engineered to accomplish its appointed task: ferrying children and objects in bulk. (Okay, the ride and handling part has been a work in progress, but have you driven a Honda Odyssey?) The SUV is exquisitely engineered to perform where more than ninety percent of its drivers never go -- off-road -- and remarkably ill-suited for driving on pavement, carrying lots of stuff or people efficiently, handling, consuming one's fair share of petroleum, etc. The modern mini-van, by the way, does not share the same chassis as its truck-based SUV cousins, though some more modern SUVs are built on mini-van chassis (pace the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot, which rest on an Odyssey platform, or the Lexus RX300 and Toyota Highlander, which share their chassis with the Camry-based Toyota Sienna).

What accounts for the hostility towards the mini-van is probably, as Beam alludes, hostility towards our lot in life. The mini-van is what we are, the SUV is what we wish we were.

 
It's the Zakim Bridge, damnit -- You'd think that the Globe would be at the very forefront of any campaign to rationalize the unwieldy moniker of the destined-for-landmark-status Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Bridge. Not only is calling it the Zakim Bridge the right thing to do, so long as you don't live in Charlestown or toady to those who do, it has the virtue of consistency with the Globe's legendary liberal bent.

But, no. In today's account of the Mother's Day walk and in Friday's preview of the same, Globe writers fell all over themselves to avoid a nickname and even cast doubt on the legitimacy of calling it the Zakim Bridge. Note to Douglas Belkin: the point of honoring Lenny Zakim was not to reflect a high Q rating, but to honor the man and his deeds and raise the visibility of both. That three out of four people have no idea who he was is argument for, not against, calling it the Zakim Bridge.

The Herald had no such compunction. It's the "Zakim Bridge" in the lede and thereafter, except for one mention of its official name in the second paragraph.

 
Jacoby's Broad Brush -- In yesterday's column, Jeff Jacoby manages to smear all of the Commonwealth's state judges solely on the basis of the spectacularly goofy behavior of Judge Maria Lopez in the Horton case. Judges, Jacoby concludes without wasting precious space on evidence, consider themselves "gods on high." "[T]oo many judges seem to forget ... that their power comes from the people and is not theirs by divine right."

There may be an argument that judges need to be more accountable, but Jacoby hasn't made it. It would require too much heavy lifting.