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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Thursday, June 27, 2002
 
Kaffiyeh Land -- There's an Atlantic Monthly story on Yassir Arafat that comes close to verifying the my-kaffiyeh-is-Palestine legend peddled by Jeff Jacoby with which we took issue.


Hublog remains skeptical, but Mr. Jacoby's off the hook.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002
 
On Track -- The Amtrak collapse story has a huge local angle. The Boston to NYC to DC run is among the few profitable or near-profitable lines Amtrak has. And, much of the MBTA's commuter rail service is sub-contracted to Amtrak and/or runs on Amtrak lines. Good columns by Cosmo Macero and Jon Keller. Unfortunately for hublog's loyal following, the Keller column ran in the Metro, so is not available on-line. (Hublog has e-mailed Keller to see if it's okay to quote extensively.) Also, interesting pieces in Slate here and here.

Mr. Macero's take is that

 
Nit-picking -- Hublogger Robert Paci asks if his favorite blog shouldn't have a feature much like the "New York, Lack of Familiarity With" feature of hublog inspiration smartertimes.com. Why not?


To launch the new feature, Mr. Paci's submission of a minor, but telling error in the Globe's report of the recent South End fire. The article describes the fire scene as a "triple-decker," of which there are exactly none in the architecturally distinctive neighborhood. Lots of sub-divided three-story townhouses (some with fourth-floor additions), but no three-unit, three-story wood-framed homes.


Of course, the story was about something much larger: yet another example of how firefighters regularly put their lives on the line for the safety of others.

Monday, June 24, 2002
 
Blame the readers -- Hublog's first rule of user interface design: if the user/reader doesn't understand what he's seeing, the failure is the designer's, not the user/reader's. Apparently, the Globe does not subscribe to the rule.

In response to reader confusion about what's news and what's opinion in the Globe, ombudsperson Christine Chinlund writes a tutorial. No lie, a tutorial. Set aside the fact that the tutorial will not be available as ongoing help for those who are confused in the future but not prescient enough to read and clip Ms. Chinlund's very helpful guide. "Using" a newspaper shouldn't require a tutorial. (The preceding seems so ridiculously obvious, hublog feels a little silly having typed it.) If the opinion/reporting distinction it's confusing enough to enough readers that an ombudsman piece is required, than change is in order ... a change to the paper, not its readers.

Ms. Chinlund's suggestion -- adding "[Writer's name here] is a Globe columnist" at the bottom of opinion pieces -- seems to hublog solving the problem on the wrong end. The solution should make the column/reporting distinction before the reader begins. Ms. Chinlund's suggestion is especially ill-suited to the sports pages where columnists also report (noting that Bob Ryan is a columnist, itself doesn't address whether a particular bit of writing is a column) and columns frequently don't end on the page they begin.

Of course, there's the inevitable fun to be had with the confusion between reporting and opinion as a matter of substance. Instapundit has such fun here.

But, really, a tutorial? She must be kidding.


Friday, June 21, 2002
 
Not a war zone, actually -- Beverly Beckham compares the current threat of terrorism in metro Boston to present-day Jerasulem, and Europe as Hitler built death camps.

It trivializes the Holocaust, the Israelis who live in justifiable day-to-day fear, those across the world who live under brutal and violent regimes, indeed even the memory of those who died on 9/11, to suggest that putting a daughter on a train in Boston triggers comparable anxiety.

Life in this country is still good enough that Beckham's daughter is far likelier to be killed by a drunk driver or an angry boyfriend than by terrorist attack. Sure, we need to be more mindful, and today's unusually specific FBI warning about tankers in Jewish neighborhoods is sobering (and a welcome relief from the Bush administration's politically-tinged, vague, and color-coded hysteria). But, has 9/11 really changed "everything"?

 
They're doing so nicely -- This picture is on the front page of boston.com.


The caption reads:
    Using a formula that combines money and fame, Forbes magazine says Britney Spears (upper left) tops its latest Celebrity 100 list. Clockwise from upper right, Tiger Woods, Oprah and Michael Jordan also made the list.
The caption might as well have said:
    Britney's number one, and, look, there are some nice black people on the list, too.
Appalling.



Thursday, June 20, 2002
 
Advantage Romney -- Has no one else noticed the striking difference between Romney's Belmont-is-my-home ad and the Democrat's Romney's-a-liar ad? Romney himself names and criticizes Shannon O'Brien and Tom Birmingham, while actors have fun listing Romney's "mitt-statements." Watch or listen to Romney's ad here. Links are in the bottom, right-hand corner.

On the residency issue, Hublog agrees with Barney Frank that the Democratic Party has pushed the legal case too far, possibly undermining the political argument that Romney's an opportunistic weasel. But, let's focus on form for a second.

Hublog decries the knee-jerk tendency to label all critical ads as "negative" or "attack" ads. As a voter, I want politicians to distinguish themselves from each other. Sharply, if necessary. But, when candidates and campaigns do draw those distinctions, they ought not hide behind surrogates. Kudos then to Romney and raspberries to O'Brien and Birmingham. (To be fair, I think Birmingham narrated his own anti-Mitt radio ads earlier this year.)

It would be great if the six gubernatorial candidates pledged to issue all criticism of their opponents themselves. If an ad on a candidate's behalf mentions or alludes to an opponent, the voice on the soundtrack ought to be the candidate's.

Wouldn't that change the tenor of the debate?

UPDATE: Hublog just caught a professionally-voiced Romney radio ad that criticizes "Shannon O'Brien and Tom Birmingham's allies." Halve the kudos.

 
Maybe it was the beard -- Hublog whipping boy Jeff Jacoby gets it just about right on profiling. About the politically correct race-, gender-, nationality-, and age-blind system used to select airline passengers for special screening, Jacoby says:
    But the only ones who should be happy about this system are terrorists. Every minute spent patting down Al Gore or an elderly man in a wheelchair is a minute not spent focusing attention on a passenger who has a higher likelihood of actually being a hijacker. A passenger named Abdullah, say, who is 24 years old and a citizen of Saudi Arabia.

Jacoby's best point:
    US airports have made a massive investment in security since Sept. 11. But the emphasis remains exactly where it was before the attacks: on things. Is there a gun or knife in your carry-on? Does your luggage contain an explosive? Do your shoes look odd?

    But things don't hijack planes; terrorists do. And terrorists can be detected only by studying people.

Certainly, we're going to have to balance our security interests against civil liberties, but it's time to recognize that civil liberties can't be a trump card on every issue.


Wednesday, June 19, 2002
 
Scandalous -- Turns out, the continued public furor over Cardinal Law and the rest of the church hierarchy is a function of greedy trial lawyers and longtime church malcontents, not anything the church authorities did or could have done. At least that's the angle Joe Fitzgerald's pitching. Cardinal Law is a "lightning rod" and victim of a "witch hunt." And, to Fitzgerald and the others who can look past the scapegoating, Law's "never looked stronger."

This on the same day we learn that the AG has a grand jury considering charges against Cardinal Law for shifting pedophiliac priests from parish to parish.

No, Joe, the church has a long way to go to ridding itself of the cancer that's been revealed over the last several months. A long way.


 
Trapped? -- A headline in today's World section says "57 tourists trapped by ex-paramilitaries" in Guatemala. A sharp-eyed reader notes that it's probably more accurate to say that tourists surrounded by armed men are being held hostage.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002
 
Inherit this -- Daleynews praises and disses Ellen Goodman's Sunday column on the Estate Tax, calling it "well written but poorly reasoned."

Hublog agrees with the former and not the latter. Goodman takes on the strawmen built by repeal advocates (the destruction of the mythical family farm), justifies the tax (concern about wealth concentration and consistency with other, taxed transfers), and spells out the consequence of repeal (impacts on Social Security and charitable giving).

Goodman even provides an explanation for why the estate tax repeal resonates so broadly: while less than 2% of us are affected by the estate tax, more than 30% think that they will be.

They don't call it the American Dream for nothing.

 
Roots -- Joan Vennochi's got an interesting take on the residency requirement that's currently tying Mitt Romney into knots. (The second link is to Peter Gelzinis's very funny account of Romney's testimony before the Ballot Law Commission.) Vennochi locates the requirement in the Commonwealth's colonial frustration with carpetbagger governors appointed by the King. (Hold those e-mails; hublog knows that carpetbagger is a Reconstruction era coinage.)

The historical roots of the requirement are as much an argument against its enforcement as for it. Today's Massachusetts citizen, especially if she's college-educated, has far more mobility than her colonial counterpart. For instance, the thirty-seven-year-old hublog was born in New York; grew up in Pennsylvania, D.C., and Connecticut; went to college in Connecticut; worked in Massachusetts; went to law school in upstate New York; and practiced in New York City before moving to metro Boston. It seems counterproductively parochial to deny the corner office to people with the broad range of experience that such mobility affords. Really, would the Commonwealth have been better off if Romney had declined the Olympic gig to maintain his residency?

As for the rule of law argument, is there any meaningful injury Massachusetts suffered because Romney tried to keep his options open and save a few bucks? Does his form-filing and voting behavior for three years undo his prior years of service to and in Massachusetts? Whatever residency concerns our predecessors had in the 18th century, the political process today is more than adequate to test a candidate's commitment to the Commonwealth.

The archaic residency requirement diminishes hublog's partisan delight in watching Romney squirm as he's confronted with his half-truths, evasions, and misdirections. Romney's substantial roots in Massachusetts and his patently genuine desire to serve the Commonwealth ought to be enough. (Who cares if he would have been as genuinely committed to the people of Utah if he'd chosen to run there?)

Now, if you want to talk about a residency requirement for Republican governors once their elected ...


Friday, June 14, 2002
 
deTwowheel -- Scott Lehigh's mad about motorcycle noise and wonders why police don't enforce noise emission regulations. It's a political problem predicted by the under-read and over-cited deTocqueville back in the 18th century: the influence that a committed minority can have over a relatively complacent majority.

There's a lesson in this.

Thursday, June 13, 2002
 
Two birds, one stone -- Hard to imagine Shannon O'Brien's not chuckling over the news that the residency vortex is sucking in another big headache, the underfunded but potentially dangerous Robert Reich campaign. The GOP wants Reich to prove he was a resident in August 1995, the latest he could have "moved" to the Commonwealth and still be eligible for the gubernatorial primary.

Mickey Kaus is right. The residency requirement is ridiculously long. But, it has exposed Reich and Romney as shameless and something-less-than-truthful opportunists.

 
Failure of imagination -- Don't mean to return to Jeff Jacoby so soon, but do we really need to see the video of Daniel Pearl's decapitation to, in Jacoby's words, "make[] him real"?

Hublog's going to skip the video. The fact and description of his death, the tragedy for his wife and recently born child, that's enough for the reasonably compassionate person to consider Daniel Pearl a real person.

 
It's Oprah's fault -- Just in time for Father's Day, Don Feder explains why men avoid their duty as fathers. It's Oprah's, Rosie's, and Homer's fault.


Don, you seem to be exempting all the deadbeat dads from the lesson you say your father taught you: a man's failings are his own.

 
Important update below

Jeff Jacoby's recent two-parter on the death penalty (here and here) is full of holes and hysteria, but ultimately raises provocative questions about enacted and proposed moratoriums on the death penalty. First the problems (by no means an exhaustive list):
  • Innocence and the Constitution -- In defense of the allegedly "broken" death penalty system, Jacoby asserts that "there is not a single proven case in modern times of an innocent person being executed in the United States." Uh, Jeff, assuming that's true, aren't you swapping the burden of proof set forth in the Constitution? The issue isn't whether death-penalty critics can prove that an innocent person has been put to death, but whether death penalty advocates can prove that every person put to death was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in trials and appeals untainted by procedural and substantive error. Hublog grants that it would be virtually impossible to prove the absence of taint, but that doesn't make it any less the appropriate measure. Just as defendants don't have to prove they are innocent to avoid conviction, death penalty critics shouldn't have to prove innocence to demonstrate a constitutionally unjust execution.

  • Innocence and Jacoby -- Jacoby takes a risk with his no-execution-of-an-innocent-man defense of the death penalty. Criminal investigation, arrest, and prosecution are supremely human endeavors, subject to the error that is inevitable in human endeavors. (Hublog knows whereof he speaks. He was a big city prosecutor after law school.) One of these days, we're going to find out some state killed an innocent person. Will such a discovery cause Jacoby to reverse his position? Doubtful. Seems to hublog like the no-innocent-person-executed argument is the death-penalty advocate's version of the the don't-kill-children argument. It hides the advocate's true position: even an occasional error is okay. (Actually, Jacoby has already addressed this point. See the update below.)

  • Super due process -- One of Jacoby's arguments is that the "super-due process" the US criminal justice system provides capital defendants makes the risk of error essentially zero. Funny, hublog reviewed Jacoby's considerable death-penalty oeuvre (it's one of his favorite topics) and could find not a single column expressing concern that the Rehnquist Court and congressional Republicans have been making every effort to streamline the capital appeals process and give capital defendants somewhat less super due process.

  • Distinguishing incarceration and death -- It seems Jacoby has become such a death penalty fan, he's lost sight of its unique, um, outcome. He asserts that the concern about error that's behind a moratorium on the death penalty apply "a fortiori" to all criminal sanctions. Hublog ventures that most people understand that there's a difference between a deprivation of liberty and death and are willing to put up with a higher risk of error when the outcome can be reversed.

  • Numbers -- Jacoby's has an interesting relationship to statistics. In the first of the two columns, he summarily dismisses as "highly tortured" statistics that the death-penalty system is broken. The point of the second column is to conclude that homicide and execution trends prove a causal link between the death penalty and murder rates. In neither column does Jacoby give his readers the opportunity to come to their own conclusions; he doesn't cite the source of his numbers. Hublog would really like to check Jacoby's assertion that murder rates "fell the most in states that use capital punishment."

  • Moratorium value -- Jacoby breathlessly warns his readers of the cost of the last "moratorium," without discussing its underlying cause, a 1967 Supreme Court decision that articulated constitutional requirements that were not met by a single contemporary death penalty statute. Ironically, most of the "super-due process" safeguards that Jacoby relies on to argue against the need for new moratoriums arose from that decision and the subsequent hiatus in executions while states fixed their laws.

Ultimately, Jacoby's got at least one point. A moratorium is a red herring for most people. Sure, we can take a break from state-sponsored murder (whoops, bias slip) and fix some of the problems that remain with death penalty administration. With DNA analysis and other mechanisms of the modern criminal investigation, error will undoubtedly go down. And, maybe states will even figure out a way to make color and income non-factors in deciding who gets life and who gets death.


But, those of us in the anti- camp have to acknowledge that no moratorium can overcome our fundamental objection: killing people is wrong. Those in the pro- camp have to acknowledge that there will never be an error- or bias-free administration of the death penalty, but there's an acceptable level of risk because the argument in favor is so compelling. Hublog's done the former. Mr. Jacoby, the ball's in your court.

Update: Seems Jacoby whacked the ball out of the court two years ago. Hublog missed a key column in the Jacoby oeuvre. On June 8, 2000, Jacoby made precisely the point that hublog challenged him to make: a few mistakes are an acceptable cost for the benefits of the death penalty.

Since Jacoby's accepted the risk of mistake, hublog wonders why he bangs the no-innocent-people-have-been-executed drum so loudly in his recent columns. Charitably, hublog assumes that Jacoby means to question what it is that moratorium proponents seek to fix.

Monday, June 10, 2002
 
Not quite -- A very amusing (intentionally, I think) take on the name-that-bridge question. Mr. X wants to call it the "Taxpayer's Bridge." Okay, but if it's appropriate for one bridge, wouldn't it be appropriate for all bridges? Then, how would we distinguish one bridge from the next?

Hublog is firmly in the Zakim Bridge camp, though he could stand for the Lenny Bridge.

Thursday, June 06, 2002
 
Some outrage -- Hublog is not the only one bent out of shape about David Childs' recklessly insensitive comments about the Twin Towers.

Check out this post on rave/rant/whimsy.

We disagree about the beauty of the towers, but we are in complete accord that Childs' "linking of the construction of the towers to brutal terrorism is unforgivable." rave/rant/whimsy even started a campaign to call Childs and express disgust, listing his phone numbers.

UPDATE: I've linked to my original post.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002
 
Watch your words -- Did Mary Leonard's article on Title IX in the Globe on May 30 display the Globe's ideological disposition? Hublog contributor Steve Skwara thinks so. (The article's not available online without paying for it.)

Skwara wonders what reporting Leonard did to support her assertion that "most women's rights groups [view Title IX] as the most important piece of civil rights legislation in a generation." He also wonders why Leonard used the ideological "conservative" to describe a Title IX foe -- "Conservative groups like the Independent Women's Forum say federal regulators have zealously overinterpreted Title IX ..." -- but doesn't tag any other cited groups as "liberal."

Actually, Skwara doesn't wonder. He's sure that both excerpts reflect the Globe's genetically coded lefty bent. Says Skwara, "Leonard has effectively 'reported' that the women's mainstream supports Title IX in its perversely discriminatory glory while only an isolated, marginal, conservative group is asserting that the lawsuit against the U.S. might have some merit."

Hublog ultimately disagrees with Skwara's take on the value of Title IX, but can't argue with his college classmate's finely-tuned bias detector.