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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

los alamos bloggers

At the risk of sounding immodest, I feel compelled to say that SFR mentioned Los Alamos bloggers way back in the beginning of March when we published our blogging story
At the time, I thought to myself, "Jgo (sometimes in conversation with myself I call myself Jgo. I made attempts a few years ago to get others to call me this, as well, but only one friend took me on it, and I think he is mostly joking. My nickname of record seems to be either "Jules" or "Hoolia." You can't give yourself a nickname, it seems. It just can't be done- like proving a negative) you should pitch this story to The New York Times. It's got Los Alamos. It's got technology. It's got it all." Normally I'm quite good about immediately following up on my little ideas, but this time I sort of let it slip and, lo and behold, there's a story in the May 1 times titled At Los Alamos, Blogging Their Discontent. I have to say, as a headline writer myself, I think this one sucks (unless it's supposed to have some kind of Shakespearean thing going on with it?
I found the story lacked a certain credibility. I, of course, can't say what impact the blog will have on Nanos' alleged departure, but my guess is, um, nill. For it to do so, one would have to believe that the feds CARE when people, employees, are unhappy with LANL and there isn't a whole lot of evidence that they do. Now, I don't say this to disparage the site at all. I think it's quite laudable, anonymity or not, that some employees there have remained stalwart in their outspoken criticism, despite a great deal of evidence that watchdogs and naysayers do not always come to a pretty pass in such an environment. But their influence, I think, remains somewhat negligible. LANL is a place so unbelievably entrenched in a climate of secrecy and self-protectiveness, that the idea of Nanos resigning because of a blog strikes me as wishful thinking. The Times quoting Los Alamos Study Group Greg Mello didn't do a lot to magnify the credibility of the story. Believe me, I respect Greg Mello and I think he's godawful smart and dogged but, again, he's a true believer. I understand the Times calling Greg. I'd call him too if I wanted a fierce and definitive quote, but this is the thing about journalism and what makes it interesting to read the national news when they cover a story you've got a teensy bit of knowledge about; you can see how they constructed the story and understand the choices the reporter made, as well as the unspoken knowledge behind the story that perhaps pokes holes in its construct.
Anyway, speaking of Los Alamos, this week's SFR has an interview with Jenant Conant, author of 109 East Palace, as well as an excerpt of an early chapter (sorry online readers- no can do on the reprint of the chapter on our web site; only bought the rights to reprint once in the paper, so PICK IT UP).
It's a very readable book, dealing less with the science of The Manhattan Project and more with the characters and people. The story is told through the perspective of Dorothy McKibben, who was Oppenheimer's assistant and the "gatekeeper", so to speak, at 109 East Palace, which was the main clearinghouse for all the work going down up on the hill. I liked the style of the book, which had that nice breezy literary journalism thing, and I liked several of the observations about the people at the time—how the environment of The Manhattan Project scientists and their wives was occasionally like a frat party (I hadn't thought, before, about how young those people were), and how both Oppenheimer and McKibben ended up here because of TB and fell in love with the place. Interesting. A more thorough book about Oppenheimer also has been released recently called American Prometheus, but I haven't read it yet (nor can I swear I will. It looks awfully dense, but I will probably try to plow through some of it, I suppose).
Conant's work is of particular interest because her grandfather, James B Conant, was a main administrator of The Manhattan Project, so she grew up with Los Alamos as a constant topic of conversation, and the moral ambiguity of what finally happened (Nagasaki) was something she was always aware of. I think there's a lot to be learned, right now, from revisiting this story, given what's going on with our country and the rest of the world right now. Nuclear proliferation, in my view, is a looming and ongoing question the US has yet to answer, and the way things are looking right now, the answer the government is lisping towards doesn't look good. So kudos to the LANL bloggers for speaking out. There is never a good time for silence but if there was, this ain't it.