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'I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.' -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick


Tuesday, August 28, 2001  

In terms of sheer inhumanity it may not rate with the Tuskegee syphillis experiments, nor does it attain the whacked out hallucinatory heights of the CIA's M.K. Ultra project, but the recent revelations concerning 'Project Sunshine' place its atomic scientists in the same kooky spook firmament, sporting a morbid distinction all their own...

Britain snatched babies' bodies for nuclear labs
Eddie Goncalves
London Observer June 3, 2001

An investigation into the 'body snatching' programme - codenamed Project Sunshine - ordered by former President Bill Clinton, was scathing: 'Researchers employed deception in the solicitation of bones of deceased babies from intermediaries with access to human remains.'

Among the documents obtained by The Observer is the transcript of a secret meeting in Washington of Project Sunshine's keenest minds. They show that Willard Libby, a renowned scientist who later won the Nobel prize for his research into carbon dating techniques, instructed colleagues to skirt the law in their search for bodies.

'Human samples are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, they will really be serving their country,' Libby said. 'We hired an expensive law firm to look up the law on body-snatching. It is not very encouraging. It shows how very difficult it is going to be to do it legally.'

The September 2001 issue of Harper's prints additional excerpts from the Sunshine Boys' meeting referred to in the piece. In this transcript, snatcher supervisor Dr. Laurence Kulp discusses the locations of the finest meat markets...

. . . we have the channels in these places where we are getting everything.  We have three or four other leads where we could get complete age range samples from different other geographic localities.  These three are Vancouver, Houston, and New York.  We could easily get them from Puerto Rico and other places.  We can get virtually everyone that dies in this range.

Meeting description and partial transcript.

Did he say Vancouver? Reading that triggered my unflagging sense of community pride, sending me scurrying to the search engines, turning up...

Vancouver doctor linked to U.S. body-parts testing
Don Harrison
Vancouver Province June 6, 2001

Customarily, when one reads these tales of covert ops and shady science they tend to occur someplace else, in some military factory town or compliant Central American dictatorship. With Project Sunshine, British Columbians may at last claim involvement in an atrocious boondoggle of the highest order. (Local readers are asked to keep Fast Ferry and Canucks jokes to themselves.)

In June of 1995 Vancouver newspapers published stories that were factually almost identical to The Province's piece. The Vancouver Sun interviewed Dr. Kulp, at that time living in Seattle and a professor at the University of Washington. 'There was nothing secret about Project Sunshine. There was no conspiracy, nothing was done illegally,' he said. Defending the project, Kulp argued that it 'was a truly global environmental study that helped convince policy makers to bring about an atmospheric nuclear test ban.'

On February 26th, 1996, CBC's The National reported that contrary to Dr. Kulp's claims there was 'no evidence that next of kin ever gave consent or even knew that bits of their loved ones had gone missing.'

Since the flurry of attention that accompanied the most recent release of documents, the story has once again disappeared from the pages of the local and international press, leaving questions unanswered. Has anything more been learned about the mysterious pathologist Dr. W.B. Leach? And what has become of the Vancouver General Hospital's investigation? Possibly this story is a relic of a distant Cold War era, and citizens can rest comfortably knowing that abuses like Project Sunshine could never occur in today's age of ethical excellence. Not to quibble, but the British Medical Journal in its 1996 piece on the U.S. investigation into Sunshine (which also revealed that living patients were injected with radioactive isotopes without their knowledge as late as 1973), reported 'that under current federal regulations, human research can still be performed in secret, and that in some circumstances informed consent can be waived. Moreover, governmental policies still allow the intentional atmospheric release of biological and radioactive contaminants.'

Perhaps this is a case for the intrepid Scribbler. Barring the intervention of the military-industrial complex or a flare-up of Chronic Procrastination Syndrome, an update is pending...

More Links:
National Security Archive
Official roadmap to the project
Fallout data collection report from the Presidential Advisory Committee
Alexander Cockburn's brief take on the subject

Monday, August 20, 2001  

The kindly cabal of ivy league elitists at The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University have dedicated their Fall 2000 edition Nieman Reports to the practise of narrative journalism. As might be expected, the contributors to the issue are luminaries of the American journalistic establishment, such as Atlantic Monthly editor-in-chief Michael Kelly, Ted Koppel, and author Susan Moeller (Compassion Fatigue).

One of the contributors is Mark Kramer, who among many other credits co-edited the excellent 1995 anthology Literary Journalism. In his introductory essay, Kramer lays out the issue's central thesis: that 'newspapers might both improve coverage and retain more readers by employing storytelling techniques to convey news'. The obvious increase in the number of feature articles in major newspapers would suggest that this is already well understood, although Kramer notes that the shift has met with resistance from traditional 'hardboiled' types who 'don't want some commercial fashion, ordered by management, to push them to absurdly personalize plain ol' news.'
Neiman Report's Narrative Journalism issue in HTML format
The issue in .pdf format (41 pages, 4.3 MB)

Perusing this journal, it requires effort to imagine a time when narrative journalism was a controversial practise. There was a tempest in Tom Wolfe's mind, at least, when he wrote his oft-cited essay on 'The New Journalism', in which he styled himself and his comrades as 'huns' wreaking 'havoc in the literary world', not only shocking the stuffed shirts but 'dethroning the novel as the number one literary genre'. With storytelling techniques having been profitably accomodated within mainstream journalism (and Mr. Wolfe writing novels), hindsight suggests that the stir made by the new journalists was more indicative of the times and the larger than life personalities involved than of conflicting aesthetic sensibilities. How could the likes of Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Hunter Thompson be expected to do anything but wreak havoc in the cultural madhouse that was the Me Decade? The post-Hemingway shotgun wedding of writing and celebrity that took place in the early seventies was observed with some bemusement by Michael J. Arlen, who suggested that 'the New Journalist is in the end less a journalist than an impresario'.
Read the 1972 Atlantic Monthly Article

Thursday, August 16, 2001  

Why a weblog?

Good question.

It may be a case of aimless ambition seizing upon a stray mechanism and jamming itself into the gears. Whatever violence that happens to be done to the content, and the way it ought to be presented, is secondary.

Of course, any media form impresses itself upon the ideas it transmits--and here the urge to quote McLuhan is dutifully resisted. But the question lingers like a bad smell: is this weblog an appropriate format for its purpose?

Oh yes, the purpose. Perhaps this particular bit of anxious technocultural speculation could be avoided if only a purpose was articulated. So I'll admit to the following ambitions:

a) I want to use this page as a collection of resources.
b) I want to use this page as a marketing tool.
c) I want to use this page to further my development as a writer.

Of these, the weblog form is an ideal match for ambition a), of dubious value for ambition b), and possibly antithetical to ambition c).

A writer writes, yes, and if the 'blog promotes the act of creation, then I suppose that it is indeed aiding the production of crappy prose for readers around the world to ignore.

But so far, about ninety per cent of the time spent on this project has been dedicated to fiddling about looking for resources, and ineptly massaging the HTML in the template.

style & usage
some writers