Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Smart move -- with an asterisk. Boston mayor Tom Menino wants to reduce the ticky-tacky factor at historic Faneuil Hall, and replace souvenir shops with a first-class National Parks Service visitors center. Donovan Slack has the story in today's Globe.

On the face of it, this sounds like a terrific idea. There's something cheesy about letting the first floor of Faneuil Hall -- one of our cradles of liberty -- be used as a junk emporium.

But I pulled up short when I saw this old quote from Frank Jones, who was involved in similar efforts in 1990: "We're trying to raise Faneuil Hall to the same level of consciousness as Independence Hall and the Statue of Liberty."

I hope Menino doesn't intend to pursue that particular vision. One of the things that makes Boston's historic sites so compelling -- and so different from those in other cities, including Philadelphia -- is that they are still being used, and are not simply monuments to the past.

The reverential hush that surrounds Independence Hall, with its velvet-roped exhibits of where the founders met and debated, may be appropriate to that particular venue. But I'd hate to see the same thing happen in Boston.

For that matter, the National Parks Service hasn't exactly done a kick-ass job at the current visitors center, at the Old State House, which has the feel of a little-noted afterthought.

Before moving ahead, Menino needs a commitment that things will be a lot different if the agency relocates to Faneuil Hall.

Why don't we just go back to paper ballots? I'm serious. We'd have to wait longer for the results. But the problems of technology appear to be insurmountable.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today writes about the massive potential for fraud that exists with touch-screen voting machines, which leave no paper trail. It wouldn't be difficult to program such a machine to throw an extra vote to Candidate X for every 20 ballots that are cast.

The best question comes from Congressman Rush Holt, of New Jersey, who has filed legislation requiring both a paper trail and open software standards. When told by opponents of his bill that there has never been a problem with the new technology, Holt asked, "How do you know?"

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