Friday, November 19, 2004

SCRATCHING OVER THE BIG DIG. This past Monday the Boston Globe ran an op-ed piece that appeared to offer a lot of useful background and perspective with regard to the Big Dig fiasco. Peter Pendergast, the former general counsel of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, blamed much of the lack of oversight on former governor Jane Swift and on her hand-picked Pike chairman, Matt Amorello. Pendergast wrote:

As the direct result of the firings and her appointment of Matt Amorello as Turnpike chairman, Swift stopped the ongoing management restructuring of the Big Dig, including the cornerstone of the reform, to hire an owner's engineer to oversee the otherwise unsupervised Bechtel/Parsons....

The leading candidate at the time to become the owner's engineer supervising Bechtel/Parsons was legendary "Chunnel" construction manager Jack Lemley. In the mid-1990s, Lemley had written a report critical of Big Dig construction management. Ironically, Lemley is now leading the investigation of the leaks he might have prevented.

But wait. Two days later, Swift herself responded, not just whining at her negative portrayal, but making specific, factual allegations that Pendergast got it wrong. And today Swift's former top aide, Steve Crosby, writes to the Globe - again, with specifics suggesting that Pendergast allegations were factually off the mark.

Pendergast's charges are serious and relevant enough that we have a right to know whether they're true. This isn't just a job for ombudsman Christine Chinlund, although she might like to weigh in on the matter of how much vetting an outside op-ed piece ought to get. Rather, this is something the Globe itself should report.

The leaking tunnel is already a huge story. One major incident, and it's fair to say that this could become one of the great scandals in American history. The story is already going national. Today it's on page A3 of the Washington Post.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. From the New York Times to Al-Jazeera, the media try to make sense of the Fallujah.

THE YOUTH VOTE. I've written an article that's in the current issue of Bostonia magazine on a disturbing trend: the disconnect between young people and the news.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Bostonia article was interesting Dan, although you've got a house edge with me since I'm an alum (CAS'98). I offer this theory for consumption: part of the reason young people aren't connecting with "hard" news is because they just don't have the time. Everything in our culture for the last 20, even 40 years, has been about increasing productivity. This usually ends up meaning: do more in less time. Compressed school days. Two after-school sports. Part-time job. Extra honors classes. Play dates. Fast-paced video games. Ultra-quick-edited TV & movies (ever notice how most camera angles on TV are only held for a second or two these days?). We've ingrained the kids with the idea that if you can't absorb it in two seconds or less while doing three other tasks...either you're doing it wrong or it's not worth doing in the first place. No wonder they have trouble really taking the time to analyze and learn about the complex issues of our world. No wonder the simple, make-a-decision-and-damn-the-consequences approach of Dubya is so appealing to many younger voters.

Unfortunately I don't have a real solution for this. It just seems like it's a societal problem and the media isn't going to change that. Perhaps nudge it a little, but not change.

As an mildly interesting side note, I volunteer and/or consult for several college radio stations around Boston. At a vast majority of them, the college has strongly resisted putting any sort of training program in place to teach the kids the fundamentals of technical knowledge in radio. I'm not talking transmitter engineering...I'm talking basic knowledge of how to talk in order to convey a message over radio. FCC DJ rules (the obscenity morass aside) like EAS and whatnot. How to speak into a mic and segueway from song to song.

The reason given is as amazing as it is short-sighted and I think it does sort-of tie into your article: it's that these are liberal arts institutions and they do not believe in having technical instruction. This just blows me away...all the more so in that I've heard from no fewer than six different colleges. It's like expecting a student to perform critical thinking without giving them any sort of guidance on how do it in the first place. Or to put it another way, do you put a 16-year-old in a car with no instruction and say "That's the gas, that's the brake, this makes it go left and turn the key and get onto I-93 in rush hour"? No, of course're supposed to give that person some instruction first; let them know the rules of the road and some tips and tricks on how to be a better driver.

Is this something our colleges have lost sight of? Or am I just too young (28) to really understand that it's always been like this?

- AR