Monthly Archives: December 2003

A Book and a Film and a Meal

We’ve been goofing off. Wednesday we head back to the US—a long day flight after we change planes in London.

Highly recommended book(s): Alastair Reynolds, Redemption Ark, the third in a series beginning with Chasm City and Revelation Space. Almost as good as Ian M. Banks’s best, and far better than his latest.

We wanted to see the Return of the King, but it was sold out so we took what was available and saw Love Actually, which turns out to be a surprisingly fun film. It’s silly, frothy, full of simplistic plots that collapse if you think about most of them for five seconds, but it is wonderfully acted by an all-star cast, and is much more fun than I would ever have expected. Even the miscast Hugh Grant isn’t as annoying as you might fear, and Alan Rickman is superb. (Other cast members include: Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Martin Freeman, Martine McCutcheon, and a very funny dual cameo by Rowan Atkinson).

Very highly recommended if you are ever in the area: The Original Third Eye, a tiny Nepalese restaurant in Didsbury. Not worth a large detour perhaps, but great to have only ten minutes walk away.

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The NYT Gets It–Eventually

When I was a kid, I thought the New York Times was the epitome of journalism. I've learned better. By law school, I was receptive to Charles L. Black Jr.'s warning that “The New York Times is a slim reed” for the support of justice and good causes. But here's one where the NYT editorial board gets it right. OK, it's at least 2 years after everyone else figured this out….

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Protect Access to the National Archives: Our National Memory Bank

Here's the sort of under-the-radar item that never gets the attention it deserves: who will control access to politically sensitive material in the National Archives. I missed the original item praising the Nixon tapes as a valuable history lesson, and only saw the darker follow-up letter, The Nixon Tapes. The letter (latter?) is more important:

But who protects archivists?

In 1986, the Justice Department tried to force the Archives to accept without discretion Mr. Nixon's claims against release of records. A court threw out the directive.

In 1987, Mr. Nixon blocked the opening of 42,000 documents deemed releaseable by archivists. Mr. Taylor later claimed that the blocked items represented information “routinely” withheld at presidential libraries. The Archives sat on the documents for nine years before upholding most of its archivists' decisions on disclosure.

The belated release showed that Mr. Nixon wanted information about Vietnam (“tell Henry [Kissinger] get best deal — let Thieu paddle his own canoe”) and Watergate (“put it on Mitchell”) withdrawn as “personal.” Who will prevail in future battles, Mr. Nixon's advocates or archivists?

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Mad Cow: US Learned Nothing from UK Experience

One of the most famous images of the UK's incompetence over its Mad Cow infestation was the early pronouncement by then Agriculture Minister John Selwyn Gummer that all British beef was safe. It wasn't. Now this: US Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman,

assured Americans: “The risk of spreading is low based on the safeguards and controls we have put in place.” She said the risk of the disease entering the human food chain was minimal. “I plan to serve beef for my Christmas dinner and we remain confident in our food supply,” Ms Veneman said, in an echo of the then British agriculture minister John Selwyn Gummer's ill-fated ploy to have his young daughter eat a hamburger on behalf of British beef in 1990.

And, it seems that the US assurance is worth as little as the earlier British one: As Probe of Infected Cow Spreads, So Does Worry (talk about headlines that leave out the main point—the administration simply lied (again)!):

Cattle in other states may have eaten the same contaminated feed that infected a Washington state Holstein with mad cow disease, but investigators who want to track the infection to its source are being confounded by the lack of an organized system that would lead them to the herd where the cow was born, officials said yesterday.

The lack of a reliable tracking system, and a complex trail of clues, rumors and false leads, mean it could be days or months — or never — before all the links are fully explored, officials said.

Which is what one would suspect from the speed with which the phony 'assurance' was issued….

So, the US failed to put into place all the safeguards it should, it failed to have a decent tracking system, and it failed to level with the American people. In the UK many people on the left call the Tory party “the stupid party”; while perhaps unfair on economic matters, it was certainly fair on the Mad Cow issue.

How sad to see history repeating itself. Let's hope it's just farce and not tragedy.

Posted in Science/Medicine | 4 Comments

Mad Cow Disease and Blood Donations

As the whole world knows by now, they've found a case of mad cow disease in the USA. Reported, but under-stated, is the fact that the meat processers tested the animal that arrived half-parylized, but had no hesitation in sending it right into the slaugherhouse and into our food supply. And indeed the law requires nothing else.

I spent several years living in a country — England — which woke up gradually to the fact that it had a serioius Mad Cow disease problem. [Best newspaper cartoon. One cow says to the other, “So, what do you think about this Mad Cow disease?” Second cow replies, “Doesn't bother us ducks.”] When I got back to the US I found tha the Red Cross wouldn't take my blood in blood drives, because I'd lived (oddly the rule didn't apply to mere tourists) in a country where there were reported cases of Mad Cow disease. I presume that this rule will now be relaxed for domestic blood donations at least?

If we continue the path of recapitulating the not-very-admirable British experience (denial that there's a big problem, no change in regulations, followed by a growth in the problem), expect a bunch of jokes about which of our politicians are infected. Probably Karl Rove is working them up already….

Posted in Science/Medicine | 1 Comment

The Post-Xmas Phrase Parents Learn to Hate

The post-Xmas phrase parents learn to hate: “Some assembly required.”

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I Trust the Professional Prosecutors on This One

washingtonpost.com: Leaks Probe Is Gathering Momentum. The good news is that the professional prosecutors are getting heavily involved in the Plame Affair. The bad news is that Ashcroft isn't recusing himself. It sounds as if there is enough momentum here that if the professionals decided to prosecute there's no way Ashcroft could stop them. Worst case, he warns folks in the admnistration about what's coming down, most likely allowing damage control operations. (Very worst case, he sabotages the prosecutors by spilling beans, but I think that Justice has done all the obstruction it can get away with already, by giving the administration 24 hours to shred stuff before moving in to seal records.)

Posted in Politics: US | 2 Comments