The Atlantic’s business vertical, Quartz, decided to take a look at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in January, as it neared its 70th birthday. I think the writer, Leo Mirani, did a good job of amassing a lot of historical material and winding it together with comments from me. And, as you know, I don’t go around praising journalists for no reason, even if they’re smart enough to write nicely about me. Another way to know Mirani’s a good one: The Quartz piece ran ahead of the Bulletin’s announcement on January 22 that its Doomsday Clock would move forward to a very scary three minutes to midnight. That announcement generated tens of thousands of tweets and retweets and some 2,000 news articles, going out toward a potential audience that was in the neighborhood of half a billion readers/viewers. But Mirani was first, and I bet his piece was accessed for background purposes a lot, all around the world.
I thought I knew something about Picasso and Guernica before I started editing this piece, “Guernica: Horror and inspiration,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rhodes. I was wrong. By way of explanation, a sample of Rhodes’ prose:
Most of the buildings in Gernika were constructed of wood above the ground floor. For that reason, the Junkers had been loaded with both high-explosive bombs and incendiaries—the HEs to make kindling, as Kurt Vonnegut once explained to me from his similar experience in Dresden, the incendiaries to light the fires. The HEs were 100- and 500-pounders. The lightweight incendiaries—tubes 14 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, made of Elektron (an alloy of 92 percent magnesium, 5 percent aluminum and 3 percent zinc) filled with thermite—were packed in droppable dispensers, each holding 36 bombs.
Thousands of Elektron incendiaries fell on Gernika that night, skittering down like icicles broken off a roofline. Pure metal burning at 2,200 degrees Celsius, they were almost impossible to quench.The Australian journalist Noel Monks describes the aftermath (Monks, 1955: 97):
[On arrival] I … was immediately pressed into service by some Basque soldiers collecting charred bodies that the flames had passed over. Some of the soldiers were sobbing like children. There were flames and smoke and grit, and the smell of burning human flesh was nau-seating. Houses were collapsing into the inferno.
In the Plaza, surrounded almost by a wall of fire, were about a hundred refugees. They were wailing and weeping and rocking to and fro … . Most of Guernica’s streets began or ended at the Plaza.
It was impossible to go down many of them, because they were walls of flame. Debris was piled high. I could see shadowy forms, some large, some just ashes. I moved round to the back of the Plaza among survivors. They had the same story to tell, aeroplanes, bullets, bombs, fire.
This one is worth reading all the way through. It’s part of a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘ special issue on art and destruction that is also worth taking a look at. As is the exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, which collaborated with the Bulletin on parts of its Doomsday Clock Symposium in November.
This is the best explanation of a tennis forehand I’ve ever seen. And it’s about Rafael Nadal’s forehand, and Rafa rocks, so I’m just going with it.
I’m sharing this Texas Tribune post in hopes my various journalism-professor friends will also share it, so baby journalists across the land encounter the real-life example of how acronyms ruin stories, and why journalists need to step out of their enclosed little worlds and remember that no one is assigned to read what they write. Here’s the headline of the story:
House Committee Pushes CPRIT Reforms.
Of course, we all know what CPRIT means, right? But that’s not the extent of the sin. The story below the headline uses the CPRIT acronym 11 times in 454 words. Not to mention two uses of CTNeT. The story looks like ants are crawling through it. Capitalized, poisonous, illiterate, unidentified ants that don’t want you to read … one … word … further.
ADDENDUM: The Texas Tribune has updated this story with information on testimony before a legislative committee, adding four CPRITs and three CTNeTs and possibly setting a new world record for acronym misuse by a digital nonprofit news enterprise.
In the early 2000s, I had the joy/honor of working with Ron Russell, a writer who’d come out of the Los Angeles Times to work in the alternative weekly world. Ron was a consummate pro and a genuine bulldog. He’d chased the Catholic Church pedophile coverup in Los Angeles before he worked for me in San Francisco; there, he did many a wonderful (meaning horrifying) story about the church’s refusal to own up to its past and treat the victims of priestly pedophilia with the decency they deserved. I will not reveal what Ron told me about the situation in Los Angeles — the writer/editor relationship being roughly equivalent to penitent/priest — but I can tell you that in my not very humble opinion, God will need to make a new, lowest level of hell for Los
Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to reside in. Read this. Try not to vomit.
In the second of a three-part series in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, leading world experts look at the possibility that France — which gets three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power — might phase out of its commercial nuclear sector. The cultural angle is, in my opinion, the most interesting. The primary obstacle to a French nuclear exit, it seems, may well be France’s national notion that being a world power is inherently linked to its civilian and military nuclear efforts. The whole package. My intro.