The Olympics and Boston

Over the past 20 years or so, whenever the topic arose–or something close enough to the topic for me to connect the two–I’ve asserted that tribal infighting, lack of vision, and parochialism would prevent Boston ever from hosting the Olympic Games. Now my prediction is being tested. Boston 2024 is barraged with criticism, observers are calling for the IOC to reject Boston’s candidacy, and Boston’s pretensions at being a world-class city are met with eye-rolling. Shirley Leung’s Globe piece today nails the dilemma.

Boston 2024’s problem? It’s not [John Fish], it’s us . . . At stake is nothing less than Boston’s reputation. So far the world knows we’re great at taking people down, making sure nobody gets too big. Instead we should be showing how a city that pulled off the Democratic National Convention is now emerging as a life sciences capital and undergoing a wholesale makeover of its skyline.

A successful 2024 Olympics should establish Boston’s bona fides as a world city of the 21st century. The Games could provide the motivation to fix the T, improve bridges, roads, and traffic circulation, update aging utility and telecommunications infrastructure, rehabilitate parks and public venues, create jobs, and invite investment. Making all of that happen would not be easy, and of course there are risks it goes off the rails. But does anyone see such necessary improvements happening within the next decade without a huge spur like the Olympic Games? Will Boston have a plausible claim to world-class status if a critical mass of such improvements does not occur?

I understand glass half-empty thinking. That’s how I’m wired. But even I see that everyone needs to get behind Boston 2024.

Half-empty glass

Goose-Stepping

By the time we returned to I-95 traffic was heavy, but moving at 40 mph, picking up speed after the I-95/I-93 interchange. We sailed along to South Lynnfield, where traffic slowed inexplicably. Traveling in the far left lane we saw why: a family of geese, two adults and three goslings, standing adjacent the jersey barrier in the highway median. We stopped, as did the car in the middle lane, as the geese paraded before us across the Interstate. In the rearview mirror I saw cars in the right lane moving along, their drivers’ views of the geese blocked by the cars stopped to their left. After the geese cleared our lane I said “I don’t want to see this” and started forward. I saw the lead goose step into the right lane. The first car swerved right to avoid them and the car behind it, far enough behind the first car for its driver to see the peril and without a tailgater to crash into its rear, stopped just short of where the geese finished strolling across six lanes if I-95 rush-hour traffic–without losing a feather. The Miracle on Blacktop.

I said “I hope they didn’t leave something important on the other side.” Judy said “yes–like another baby.”

Merge Your Enthusiasm

While crawling in bumper-to-bumper highway traffic last week I was thinking about the differences between those drivers who wait in line to merge and those who cut the line to merge at the last possible point. I try to avoid binary thinking but yield when it comes to highway-merging behavior: I fume about line-cutters 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time I cut the line. (What this says about my values I’ll leave aside for now.) Everyone who drives has an opinion on merge behavior, which is why The Urge to Merge in today’s paper will likely be the most-emailed article from the New York Times this week. Cynthia Gorney’s article, on what she calls “The Caldecott Tunnel Problem” (in pre-Ted Williams Tunnel Boston we’d have called it the Callahan/Sumner Tunnel problem), is quite funny and breaks (brakes?) the binary-thinking barrier, explaining why the most efficient merging pattern uses both “lineuppers” and “sidezoomers.”

QPRT

I’m in Maine this week with the dogs, enjoying the solitude. I’ve been working most of the day. I needed a break so an hour ago I played fetch with the dogs–this time I threw and they retrieved–and went to the transfer station to get rid of the accumulated trash and recyclables. It’s a short drive and the snow that started earlier this afternoon made it especially picturesque. At the station I dumped the trash in the appropriate bins and chatted with Eric, the affable and quite competent transfer station agent. Eric, as he always does, had biscuits for the dogs and, as he always does, Eric handed them to me for feeding. Cleo and Chelsey don’t distinguish much between biscuits and fingers and in their eagerness they will take in everything attached to an item of food and sort it out later. As I was leaving Eric motioned for me to roll down my window. “Your sticker expires on the 31st. You’ll need a new one for next year.” “Thanks” I said. “Are the town offices open today?” He confirmed they were.

Driving there I noticed the lack of cars. I’d driven about 5 miles and seen no more than ten vehicles, including town trucks sanding the roads. I was savoring the lack of traffic, contrasting it with traffic at home, when I arrived at the town offices. I never mind going there. The ladies who work there–I’ve only seen women behind the counter–have always been helpful and efficient.

“What can I do for you?”

“I need a new Bulky Waste sticker.”

“Where do you live in town?” I gave her the local address. She entered something in a computer and looked at the screen for a while. Then she pulled a map out from under the counter, consulted it, and entered something else in the computer. Then she looked at me. “Who are you?”

“David Randall.” And as soon as she asked the question I knew I had a problem.

“That property is owned by a trust.”

I know that, of course, but I only think about it twice a year when I pay the real estate tax bill. I owned this property originally but four years ago we transferred it to a Qualified Personal Residence Trust–a QPRT. My wife, the estate planning lawyer, knows all about these legal techniques for reducing estate taxes. Owning this property in a QPRT is a good thing for our children when we get deposited in the bins of that great transfer station in the sky, but not a good thing for me today at town hall. Only the trustee has the legal authority to act as the owner, which means that she has to write a letter to town hall on behalf of the trust authorizing the town to issue a Lakes Region Bulky Waste Facility sticker to me so I can take out trash in 2008.

When I need to explain the difference between legal and beneficial ownership I’ll send students to this post. Beneficial ownership means the trash belongs to you; legal ownership means someone else controls what you can do with it.

Online Gaming Smorgasbord

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act has created interesting ripples. Before the recent election there was speculation that the Republican-sponsored Act, which imposes civil and criminal penalties on financial institutions that process transactions with online gaming sites, could affect the fortunes of some house races. “‘I’ve been a loyal Republican for over 30 years, and I’m quitting the party I once loved,’ said Jim Henry, 55, who lives outside San Francisco. ‘Not because of the Mark Foley scandal or Middle East policy. But because the Republican Party wants to stop me from what I love to do: play poker over the Internet.'” The Republicans, of course, lost the control of both houses of Congress, although I’ve read nothing that suggests opposition to the Act materially affected the outcome. Reactions to the Act underscore a split in Republican voters, between religious conservatives who oppose gambling on moral grounds and libertarians who object to government regulation of a private recreational activity.(1)

Since President Bush signed it into law on October 13 the Act has had serious financial consequences for online gaming companies. Traffic to Internet gaming sites by U.S. residents dropped 56% in the month following the Act’s passage and companies such as Sportingbet PLC (60% U.S.-based business) and Party-Gaming PLC (80% U.S.-based business). Investors sold off shares of publicly traded gambling companies; PartyGaming PLC saw more than half of its market capitalization disappear (£2 billion), Sportingbet PLC lost £500 million, and other publicly-trade companies experienced major losses.(2) Companies like PokerStars continue to operate, offering online poker games that they argue are games of skill, not chance, and therefor outside the Act’s reach.(2)

Meanwhile, BetOnSports PLC settled a civil lawsuit filed by the U.S. Attorney in St. Louis by agreeing (a) not to take any bets from U.S. residents, (b) to take out advertisements in U.S. newspapers telling readers that online gambling is illegal in the United States, and (c) to establish a toll-free number to advise customers how to obtain refunds of wagers placed before the suit was filed. BetOnSports, which did not admit any wrongdoing in settling the case, said it plans to concentrate its business on the Asian market. BetOnSport’s CEO David Carruthers, who was arrested in July along with other BetOnSports employees for conspiracy, fraud, and racketeering charges, still faces criminal charges and is in custody in St. Louis.(3)

The U.S. has also stepped-up enforcement of existing criminal statutes. One week ago law enforcement officials announced the prosecution of a “billion-dollar-a-year gambling ring,” charging 27 people with “enterprise corruption, money laundering, and promoting gambling.” The gambling ring allegedly centered on a web site through which bettors, supplied with a secret code, could track bets placed with bookies on football, baseball, basketball, and other sports. Police say that defendant James Giordino, the putative mastermind, ran the gambling operation from a laptop that he never let out of his sight–until he left it behind in his hotel room while attending a wedding on Long Island in 2005. Police hacked into the computer (presumably subject to a warrant) and discovered information that led to the recent arrests. Prosecutor seek forfeiture of $500 million in assets.(4)

  1. Adam Goldman, Did Republicans overplay their hand with the anti-Internet gambling bill? FindLaw, 2-Nov-06
  2. Sean F. Kane, New Legislation Forces Gaming Sites to Decide When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em, Internet Law & Strategy, 3-Nov-06; Associated Press, Traffic to online gambling sites drops in wake of new U.S. law, SiliconValley.com, 14-Nov-06
  3. Associated Press, U.S., BetOnSports Settle Civil Case, 10-Nov-06, The Wall Street Journal; CBS/AP, 11 Charged in Web Gambling Crackdown, CBSNews.com, 18-Jul-06
  4. Associated Press, Criminal charges brought over online gambling, MSNBC.com, 15-Nov-06