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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Break in tolls on Pike may go

It really is time that the Commonwealth bit the bullet on the turnpike issue (Break in tolls on Pike may go, Boston Globe, August 22: A1, A8. Fiddling about with toll discounts will not bring us a 21st century way of paying for the highway system.

It is very clear that the state roads should be run on an integrated basis. So that having two government departments -- or quasi-government departments -- run the Turnpike and the Highway System makes no sense at all. Once it might have for financial reasons but it does not in these days of difficult financial times. It will of course be difficult to effect a merger between these agencies but the transition might be eased if we took a first step by abolishing tolls on the turnpike.

All of us benefit from the turnpike every day of our lives. The food we eat, the consumer products we buy all reach the cities and towns of the state via the turnpike. Those of us who live closer to it may benefit a little more through reduced congestion when other users travel the turnpike rather than local roads. Those of us who use the turnpike benefit most of all, but we do not benefit more than those who use Interstate 95 and pay no tolls at all.

It is therefore clear, that the turnpike tolls are an additional tax imposed on those who drive on the turnpike; logic -- as opposed to politics -- tells us that, as we all benefit from the turnpike then we should all pay for it.

Last year, the gas tax at 23.5 cents per gallon raised about $600 million. Raising the tax to 50 cents per gallon would raise about $1.26 billion or an additional $626 million. While, if oil prices stay constant, the price would increase to about to about $4.00 per gallon.

The increased revenue would greatly surpass the $18 million to be gained from playing with the discounts by discontinuing them and would even cover all the turnpike revenue from tolls (about $250 million as of December 2006) several times over.

This would leave $330 million to be allocated to the road and bridge repairs that we desperately need or to pay down the debt. The Governor has made some tough decisions in the past few weeks. I hope he will make the changes necessary to repair our broken highway system.

Sent to Boston Globe

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Boston Globe, The American Psychological Association, and Torture

What has happened to the Globe?

Where are your science reporters? In town this week were many thousands of Psychologists from around the world presenting their psychological findings at more than 1000 sessions. As of this morning, the Globe could only muster four stories coming out of the convention. Only one of those was about a scientific psychological finding -- one abortion does not impair a woman's mental health. You didn't even report that Barbara Meltz received an APA award. The other three articles in the Globe were about the upcoming vote on psychologists aiding torture.

I am embarrassed that we psychologists are even having the conversation. Surely the rule "do no harm applies" and it doesn't need a PhD in psychology to tell an interrogation team whether it is disobeying the lax torture rules acceptable to this administration or not. Furthermore a single psychologist is unlikely to have much influence on such a team -- he or she would soon succumb to the groupthink shared by the other team members.

So no psychologist should be involved in these interrogations -- period.

Sent to the Boston Globe

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Frank on Romney

It is the height of foolishness for Barney Frank to excoriate Mitt Romney as a running mate for John McCain at this stage of the game (Frank slams Romney as a potential vice president. Boston Globe, August 16, 2008).

From my perspective, he is the ideal candidate -- think what fun we Democrats can have with him in the fall -- his chameleon like changes in posture will prove an admirable source of criticism for the months between now and the election.

Sent to the Boston Globe

Make Diplomacy, Not War

Is Nicholas Kristof correct when he says, "After all, you can't bomb global warming?" (New York Times week in Review, August, 10, 2008: 12)

I recall in the late 1960's we were all worried about something called the Nuclear Winter. After a limited nuclear war, the atmosphere would be polluted with dust stirred up by the nuclear bombs. As we now worry about global warming, I wonder if there is an intermediate stage where some limited particulate matter might be injected into the atmosphere at just the right level to offset warming.

I expect that this is probably infeasible as it would be very difficult to get the balance right.

Sent to New York Times

Seniors as Volunteers

Maggie Jackson notes (Balancing Acts: Age Discrimination, Business Section, Boston Globe, July 27, 2008: G1, G4) that seniors have three motives for seeking work: to make money, to stay active, and "giving back."

Those of us who do not need to continue working for financial reasons can easily find worthwhile occupations as volunteers.

Many places need voluntary labor. You can find information on volunteer opportunities at or Many kinds of volunteer placements are available: there are placements that fit the extroverted (tutoring) and others that fit the introverted (stuffing envelopes).

I do recording for the blind a couple of mornings a week. I started to do this because one of my good friends had a period of temporary blindness when his retinas had detached. After six months, laser surgery had put him partially to rights and he could see well enough with one eye. But during his months of blindness, he had to rely on talking books and recorded journals to keep up with our academic field. I thought that a good way to honor him would be to do some of that recording -- a classic case of "giving back."

Of course, in this election year, political campaigns -- from President to town council -- are looking for volunteers to go out into the community and pass on the candidate's message. But there are non-partisan political opportunities too: many good government organizations need volunteers to plan fund-raisers, send out mailings, and generally keep the office running on a shoe-string. My choice was Common Cause where I volunteer a couple of times a week.

So, if you don't need paid employment, do not despair: there is no age discrimination in the volunteer sector.

Sent to Boston Globe

Sunday, August 10, 2008

John Cleese and Management Education (New York Times Book Review)

Click the link for my letter in the New York Times Book Review August 10, 2008.