Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

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Friday, December 30, 2005
Plan the play, play the plan.
Today's Washington Post reports on another secret war plan:
Invading Canada won't be like invading Iraq: When we invade Canada, nobody will be able to grumble that we didn't have a plan.

The United States government does have a plan to invade Canada. It's a 94-page document called "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan -- Red," with the word SECRET stamped on the cover. It's a bold plan, a bodacious plan, a step-by-step plan to invade, seize and annex our neighbor to the north...

It sounds like a joke but it's not. War Plan Red is real. It was drawn up and approved by the War Department in 1930, then updated in 1934 and 1935. It was declassified in 1974 and the word "SECRET" crossed out with a heavy pencil. Now it sits in a little gray box in the National Archives in College Park, available to anybody, even Canadian spies. They can photocopy it for 15 cents a page.

Thursday, December 29, 2005
What Upton Sinclair didn't tell the world.
If you were paying attention during your U.S. history classes, you probably learned about Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were tried, convicted and executed for a 1920 murder and robbery in Massachusetts. To this day, many people believe that one or both were actually innocent. But a letter from author Upton Sinclair that recently turned up tells a different story:
Prosecutors characterized the anarchists as ruthless killers who had used the money to bankroll antigovernment bombings and deserved to die. Sinclair thought the pair were innocent and being railroaded because of their political views.

Soon Sinclair would learn something that filled him with doubt. During his research for "Boston," Sinclair met with Fred Moore, the men's attorney, in a Denver motel room. Moore "sent me into a panic," Sinclair wrote in the typed letter that Hegness found at the auction a decade ago.

"Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth," Sinclair wrote. " He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them."

Hegness paid $100 for the box containing Sinclair's confessional letter and tucked it away in a closet where it gathered dust. Now, after stumbling upon it again, he plans to donate it to Sinclair's archives at Indiana University, where it will join a trove of correspondence that reveals the ethical quandary that confronted Sinclair papers that even some scholars of the author weren't aware of...

On the 50th anniversary of their execution, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis all but pardoned the pair, urging that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names." But the fearless Sinclair was left a conflicted man by what Sacco and Vanzetti's lawyer and later others in the anarchist movement told him.

"I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point," he wrote to his attorney. "I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case."

Other letters tucked away in the Indiana archive illuminate why one of America's most strident truth tellers kept his reservations to himself.

"My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement and may not live to finish the book," Sinclair wrote Robert Minor, a confidant at the Socialist Daily Worker in New York, in 1927.

"Of course," he added, "the next big case may be a frame-up, and my telling the truth about the Sacco-Vanzetti case will make things harder for the victims."

He also worried that revealing what he had been told would cost him readers. "It is much better copy as a nave defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public," he wrote to Minor.

This isn't positive proof either, of course, but it is interesting. The debate will continue, I'm sure.(via Metafilter)

Monday, December 26, 2005
So what will you do with your leap second?
You get an extra second at the end of 2005. Use it wisely. Apparently some people may use theirs arguing whether or not we should have "leap seconds":
Time marches on, but Earth is falling behind. The solution again this year is to add a "leap second" as 2005 ticks away, so Earth can catch up with the atomic clocks that have defined time since their unerring accuracy trumped the heavens three decades ago.

This will be the first leap second in seven years, and its arrival will be closely watched by physicists and astronomers enmeshed in a prolonged debate over the future of time in a world increasingly dominated by technology.

Some experts think the leap second should be abolished because the periodic, but random, adjustment of time imposes unreasonable and perhaps dangerous disruptions on precision software applications including cell phones, air traffic control and power grids.

Others, however, argue that it would be expensive to adjust satellites, telescopes and other astronomical systems that are hard-wired for the leap second, and besides, people want their watches to be in sync with the heavens.

Nobody knows how disruptive the leap second really is, but researchers hope to find out soon. "We're going to look at what happens this year," said Naval Research Laboratory physicist Ronald Beard. "If there are no significant problems, the whole issue will go away, but I don't expect that to happen."

Monday, December 19, 2005
Mission to Pluto.
The Washington Post reports that NASA plans to launch "New Horizons," its first-ever satellite to the planet Pluto, next month (hopefully). The mission profile is wild. At between 28,000 and 30,000 mph, it will be the fastest space trip ever, passing the Earth's moon a mere nine hours after launch. And if they can make the early part of the launch window, Jupiter's gravitational pull will accelerate it to 47,000 mph ... meaning it will take only 10 years to reach its destination.