Tunnels in Boston and the private sector as government

July 24, 2006

I have always felt skeptical about government relying too much on the private sector. The opportunity for the private sector to take advantage of government seems to be too great. Where the private sector must respond to investors and shareholders first, government must respond to the people first. These two populations are rarely the same, nor do they have the same interests; thus a conflict arises when government relies on business to perform some function.

A case in point is the collapse of a section in one of the tunnels of the Big Dig in Boston. The Big Dig is a project designed to move a large portion of Boston’s automobile traffic underground. Earlier this month, a 12-ton section of the roof of one of the tunnels collapsed, crusing a car and killing a motorist. According to the Washington Post, the project is significantly over budget, a contractor is under indictment for providing inferior concrete, and the Big Dig is the subject of state and federal investigations. What was the genesis of the difficulty? The article suggests this:

The warnings were overshadowed, many officials now acknowledge, by zeal among politicians, business leaders, lobbyists and private contractors who had a stake in the project. That eagerness to move forward coincided with a political culture in which a series of Republican governors and the state’s independent turnpike authority have trusted a private consultant to shepherd virtually every facet of the project, with relatively little government supervision. “What was missing from the whole project was outside oversight,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D).

When I read articles such as this I wonder why many insist that the market is superior in providing quality work and goods. I don’t see it. Perhaps because of the “liberal bias” in the media the only things that are reported are the huge singularities like Enron or the Big Dig. Still, I’m less convinced than ever of the ability of the private sector to perform in a manner that is in the public’s best interests.


Windows genuine advantage

July 22, 2006

On the one hand, credit to Bill Gates et al. to making computing available to the masses. Windows has made computing possible for the nontechnical. On the other hand, I wonder if so much power in the hands of so few (relatively speaking) is a healthy thing. Doesn’t Microsoft trust the customer? Andy Patrizio asks the same question in “Where’s The Advantage In Windows Genuine Advantage?”.

A cheerful second to Midspot’s Ubuntu post

July 20, 2006

Jon Barnhardt has posted his “Top Ten Reasons to use Ubuntu”. I cheefully concur. While not as technically savvy as Mr. Barnhardt, I have also successfully installed Ubuntu 6.06 in a dual boot environment with Windows XP Professional. I’m very pleased, generally. I’m moderately frustrated because I can’t print. My wife’s color laser printer is a Minolta 2300 DL for which there are no readily available Linux drivers. This is hardly the Ubuntu development team’s fault though. And I haven’t always been terribly successful in getting connected to my DSL modem that doubles as a wireless router.

Others don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Barnhardt, or I suppose with me then for that matter. Two comments to Mr. Barnhardt’s post expressed such disagreement. I was bothered by the comments, not so much because they disagreed but because of the tone. It seemed, to me anyway, to be less than civil. Disagreement can be a vital and necessary part of conversation; it’s what helps us question our own assumptions and either defend them or abandon them when they are shown to be inaccurate. Disagreement can be civil though. As for one poster’s criticism of Ubuntu’s default wallpaper (which I find relatively soothing and warm myself, a nice departure from Windows’ bright, cartoonesque appearance), perhaps he could visit “Ubuntu is on my head” over at Teenage tantrums 😉