"To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?" -- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

German Cover: The German publisher of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is holding a vote to determine which of two covers will be used for that country's printing of HP Book 6. I'd have to vote for the boat cover. The other option is too much of a spoiler, and I'd hate for readers to enter that scene knowing someone's about to topple off the roof.


Friday, August 5, 2005

60-Year-Old Cover-Up: From Editor & Publisher: SPECIAL REPORT: Hiroshima Film Cover-up Exposed.

This story describes how the U.S. suppressed all film footage, written stories, and still photos originating from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after atomic bombs were dropped there--the two U.S. attacks which, of course, led to a quick Japanese surrender in World War II. The man who directed the U.S. military's own filming of the post-bomb destruction, Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, gives his impression of some of the moods behind the scenes after those bombings:

"I always had the sense ... that people in the Atomic Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force -- it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn't want those [film] images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child. ... They didn't want the general public to know what their weapons had done -- at a time they were planning on more bomb tests. We didn't want the material out because ... we were sorry for our sins."

If so many people were (and are?) indeed "sorry for our sins," why has the U.S. never apologized for these attacks on civilians?

And even though plenty of observers of history still feel a quick end to such a war was far too great a temptation for any generation to have resisted, surely we can all concede that the U.S. was absolutely wrong to have chosen civilian targets for these bombings. Bombs in sparsely populated areas would have been equally effective in ending the war, wouldn't you think?


Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Pluto's Planethood: Stop the presses. The NY Times has decided that Pluto no longer deserves its planet status. Here's part of the Times' case:

...[S]cientists have long been uneasy about including Pluto [among the planets in our Solar System], an icy ball smaller than our Moon, whose orbit is more eccentric than the others and tilts in a different plane.

I'm always suspicious when the Times sticks its liberal arts nose into scientific debates. Nothing good--or rather, nothing useful--can come of it.

In my effort to background check the Times, it took no more than the quickest of Yahoo! searches to come across the Web site of Dr. Marc Buie, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory. He devotes one of his pages to the defense of Pluto's planetary status. First, we find that the Times' assertion that "scientists have long been uneasy" about Pluto being a planet is a disingenuous generalization at best:

Every couple of years it seems this "issue" flares up again in the media (but NOT within the scientific community). Most of these reports seem to be focusing on the question of whether Pluto is a proper planet or not.

Even if we assume that Buie is too quick to dismiss anti-Pluto sentiment in the scientific community, I think we can see that the Times clearly painted with too broad a brush when it claimed that "scientists"--a majority, or at least a sizeable gaggle?--don't consider Pluto worthy of its planet label.

Moving on: Buie's case is pretty simple. He first offers a pretty standard definition of a planet:

A planet is a special term applied to the larger members of our solar system. Rule #1, a planet must orbit the Sun. Rule #2, it must be large enough that it's own gravity is strong enough to maintain a spherical shape. There are certain properties we expect to see in a planet such as an atmosphere and dynamic and active surfaces at some stage in their history.

He then lists some relevant characteristics of Pluto:

...[C]onsider the fact that Pluto has enough gravity to be spherical and retain a significant atmosphere. It also probably has an active surface and very pronounced seasons.

And let's not forget that Pluto boasts a moon.

Look, I'm no expert on this Pluto debate. And I don't know how controversial this topic is (or isn't) within the scientific community. But I do know a shabby editorial when I see one. And the Times strayed well beyond its scope today.


Friday, July 29, 2005

Pondering Payola: Payola is in the news. Quick definition: Payola is the term used to describe the act of bribing radio stations to play certain songs. The music industry is usually the culprit. Slate's Daniel Gross is wondering whether this practice should remain illegal. I think it should, but I grant that Gross has made an interesting case. During a tangent, he hits on something especially worth highlighting:

With declining record sales , the rise of Internet and satellite radio, and the advent of iTunes, iPods, and podcasting, radio stations and record companies have become an object of pity more than fear. Indeed, read the correspondence, and you'll find people who aren't particularly good at business (or spelling) exchanging penny-ante favors with equally pathetic DJs in order to get them to play the lame songs they know the market doesn't really want to hear.

Yes, in many ways the radio/music industry has become "an object of pity rather than fear." I think there will always be a place for "free" radio--but expanding options for audio consumers, coupled with the lame, homogenized programming being provided by the majority of radio stations, are clearly hurting things.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hitch On Plame: In yesterday's Slate, Christopher Hitchens attacks the law at the heart of the Plame Case, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, from several angles. The entire piece is well worth reading, but I'll fast forward to Hitch's closing zinger:

But who is endangering national security here? The man who calls attention to a covert CIA hand in the argument, or the man who blithely says that uranium deals with psychopathic regimes are not in train when they probably are? And we cannot even debate this without the risk that those who are seeking the true story will end up before a grand jury, or behind bars!

Setting aside the issue of shield laws, which I believe should be in place and protecting someone like Judith Miller at the moment: I embrace a certain brand of hypocrisy here. As a journalist and a citizen, I appreciate having access to behind-the-scenes information--even when it may have been illegally acquired. I want the full story, and I don't feel too guilty about it. Yet I support aggressive prosecutions of those who may have broken the law to bring this information to my attention.

In the Plame Case, most of the key figures are political hacks. Plame. Wilson. Rove. The entire lot is motivated by nothing but bald partisanship--not a hero among them. Yet they all helped shine light on information the public is better off knowing. So here I sit encouraging more hacks to leak information, even illegally; and then I encourage others to release the prosecutorial hounds on them. Should I feel less comfortable with this hypocrisy?


Monday, July 25, 2005

The Roberts Slam Dunk?: The moderately left Washington Post editorial page weighs in on Bush's Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts:

According to one analysis of his voting record, he has agreed with Judge David Tatel -- perhaps the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit's] most liberal member -- 94 percent of the time. This reflects both the relatively apolitical nature of much of the court's caseload and the fact that Judge Roberts -- and, for that matter, Judge Tatel -- is appropriately sublimating his political views to apply the law.

That's what the Bushies were looking for--the least offensive (to the left) conservative judge they could find. Smart politics? Our political system in action?

Yep and yes.

Personally, I prefer liberal judges and moderate politicians. But the spoils of winning the presidency are Bush's. That's the way it is for these four years. So why waste effort and energy obsessing over this nomination of Roberts?

If Democrats would start focusing on health care and corporate abuses, rather than whining about the war, they might win a presidential election next go round. And then these decisions would be theirs. No sympathy here.








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