Monday, January 30, 2006

The Globe on domestic spying

The Globe's Ombudsman Richard Chacon has a great quote from the paper's Washington bureau chief on why it refers to domestic spying as, well, domestic spying:
We've used spying, wiretapping, surveillance and probably a few other terms to describe Bush's NSA program. In the first few stories we explained in detail what was known about the program (the monitoring of overseas phone calls by Americans, etc.) and what was not known, such as the extent of the surveillance. Since then, the story has become broader -- a test of presidential authority in wartime, as applied to torture, the Patriot Act and detainee policy as well as the domestic spying program. In these broader stories, we needed a shorter way of describing the NSA program and more or less settled on "domestic spying."

We emphasize domestic because there are different sets of laws governing wiretapping of Americans and foreigners, and it's only the domestic side of these phone calls that has raised a furor. If we called it "spying on international phone calls and emails," or something like that, it could disguise the real issue. It could also cause confusion, as in sentences like "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he had "grave doubts" about President Bush's spying on international calls. . .," since the claim is that Bush has violated laws governing domestic surveillance.

As for spying, I think it's the clearest and most easily understood term. Wiretapping is not quite broad enough because the surveillance includes emails. Surveillance and eavesdropping are fine by the dictionary, but seem a little esoteric to me. Given the complex and legalistic subject matter, I think we should strive for the most easily understood term. (And while surveillance may be a less loaded term than spying, I'm not sure that's true of eavesdropping -- it sounds more polite, but no less intrusive.)
It's clear, it's called domestic spying because the targets are Americans (even if the call is being fielded or sent to someone internationally. That's all the explanation you need. The Bush administration's semantic push was a clever idea that sort of blunted momentum on the story, but it should be settled now, and the pressure has to be reapplied. I mean, really, did anyone buy that whole "It's not really domestic because that's not what it says on phone bills" bit?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lunch was interesting yesterday

I was out at Marblehead Light eating lunch yesterday, which is sort of an everyday thing for me. While snacking away and listening to WEEI and NPR, I looked around the parking lot. There weren't many cars there yesterday, but I did see this Red VW Jetta or Passat or whatever about 15 feet away from my car. I hadn't noticed it when I pulled into the lot, and I didn't see anyone walking around out in the park near the lighthouse. OK.

After about five minutes of eating, listening and watching the waves hit the rocks, I look over again, and now I see people in the car; there's a guy with the passenger seat tilted way back, and a girl who's sitting with her back toward me. She was upright but leaning over towards the guy. Crazy, I think, I didn't see them walk back to their car. Was she…are they… And I sort of scold myself for being a sick pervert and thinking that that was what was going on.

Then the girl's shoulder starts moving rhythmically, and the guy gets this look on his face like he's constipated or has searing gas pain or…Jesus, is this really happening? I think, and now I can't stop looking in this car. I can't see anything that can confirm my suspicion, and I wonder at what point happy guy looks over at me and freaks out (Or gives me a thumbs up?).

Then I scold myself again, because really, who's that dumb to give someone a tugger in the car at 1:30 in the afternoon? I had to be imagining things, even if the guy now had his hand on the back of our heroine's head in the classic filthy guy move.

But apparently, I wasn't alone in thinking that these kids were taking matters into their own hands. An old lady, who had heretofore been sitting with her husband in her car, gets out and walks over to the red VW to check things out. She clearly was trying to be nonchalant about it, but was about as obvious in her snooping as any mom checking in on her teenage daughter.

At that point, I sort of craned my neck to check out this old lady (she was behind me). Then I look over at the happy couple. The girl was looking at the woman with a shocked look on her face, and wheeled her head around and looked at me with the same shocked look.

Next thing I know, she straightens up in her seat, starts the car and takes off. The entire time the guy is still in a supine position with his hand on her head. Talk about pressing your luck…

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This is a weird feeling

I have to side with Mitt Romney on this one: Churches should not have to share financial information with the state.

It's clearly a constitutional issue, and the state legislators behind this have made no effort to hide their motives; this was a move to curtail the power of the Boston archdiocese by blocking real estate deals and meddling in abuse settlement cases. No matter how wrong the archdiocese has been over the last four yeas, I can't believe people feel that degrading the separation of church and state is the correct course of action. You weaken your stance against prayer in school and other C &S issues if you do this. It's not worth it, even to harass and expose the embarassing actions of the archdiocese.

Maybe you should pass me a note instead, John Henry

Well, this isn't what we had in mind.

According to the CHB, the Red Sox will put out a press release rather than stand up in front of a press conference and explain the whys and hows of Theo Epstein's return. How exactly will they announce the acquisition of Coco Crisp, when all anyone will want to talk about is Theo. Did John Henry and John Harrington have a mind meld or something? What happened to the open administration over at Yawkey Way?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Theo's back, but nothing is resolved

Theo's back. That's great news, ultimately, but I can't help but feel embarrassed for everyone involved in this debacle. After three months of flailing about, we end up right where we started, so what was the point of all this? Everyone loses face on this deal, and it's embarrassed the organization.

Shaughnessey seems more upset that the Sox blew his scoop than anything else, but he does ask the right question; if you were in the front office of another team, or an agent, who in the Red Sox organization do you call for definitive answers? Is Larry Lucchino really still in charge, or has Theo usurped his baseball responsibilities? And what about the two patsies, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherrington? Do they have any sway, or just over inflated titles? And if the Sox bust their collective rank, do these guys walk to take a job elsewhere?

Supposedly, the Sox will answer these questions early next week, but who can believe what they say? Theo made it clear things had to change for him to come back (even though he never really disengaged from the club in the first place). So did those things change? What were they?

Clearly, he was talking about his relationship with Lucchino. So does Lucchino walk out and talk about his diminished or refocused role in the club? Of course not. The two men will walk out and say everything is smoothed over, misunderstandings were cleared up and they're both ready to get to work together. No one will explain what's changed, so no one will believe anything's changed. And if nothing's changed, this thing will blow up again.

Pay close attention to next week's press conference. If the club is honest, they'll say how embarrassed they are about things played out, where Theo, Larry, Jed and Ben all fit in the command structure, how the individuals came to that conclusion, and what changes were made to facilitate Theo's return. Anything less will just fuel speculation.

Maybe they need to walk into that room with Coco Crisp. In that case, all would be forgiven…

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Buckle up or Die!

Scott Lehigh has a column today detailing the latest effort to force Massachusetts drivers to wear their seat belts.

Scott lays out the most obvious and compelling reasons why this is such a stupid idea, but I feel like piling on. Seat belts laws are paternalism at its worst, and the government has no right to tell me or anyone else how to live. If I decide, stupidly, not to wear a seat belt,I harm only myself.

He also notes that the state is already has the lowest driving-related fatality rate in the country, so the argument that we'll all be safer seems a bit hollow.

Beyond the column, though, there are other things to think about. Making seat belt violations a primary offense gives the police carte blanche to pull anyone over, for whatever reason. There's that small number of cops who will take advantage of that and profile minorities, even if the Globe pooh-poohs the idea in
an editorial.

For the vast majority of cops who work hard and care about their jobs, this is just another headache that adds meaningless work to their schedule. Most cops have better things to do than tut-tut drivers who forgot or are unwilling to buckle up.

I almost always wear my seat belt, because it's stupid not to. I hector passengers to wear their belts as well. But if someone says no, that's the end of it, because it's none of my damn business what other people do. It's not the government's business, either. And that goes for seat belts, smoking dope, killing yourself, or whatever else you do that doesn't directly harm anyone else. Just because something is smart and good doesn't mean the government has to step in and require it. I'm no libertarian, but I don't think you need to be one to understand the point.

UPDATE: The bill narrowly passed in the house, 77-74. Here's a breakdown of how each rep. voted. Maybe next week we'll get a bill requiring everyone eat their broccoli.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A couple of things...

  • The T wants to make Copley Square handicap accessible, and everyone is happy. Except for the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (People's Front of Judea?). Brian McGrory has the details.
  • The New York Times has an excellent and sad series on the Diabetes epidemic, and how this chronic disease is poised to explode over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, nearly zero funding is dedicated to combat the problem, leaving the prospect of an army of amputees and blind retirees. Very scary stuff.
  • Tom Reilly: Isn't it clear that this guy is already parylized by campaigning for governor? Does it really take a week to come up with this lame an excuse? Reilly says he called to DA to make sure the media wouldn't get the autopsy report. But that's already barred by state law, so who are you trying to convince.
  • OK, I take shots at GM all the time, and maybe this is just another nail in the coffin. It comes three years too late (at least), it's following the lead of others, and it won't keep the wolves at bay, but this is truly a Bitchin' Camaro (Via Jalopnik).