Today's Papers

Money, Blue Gene, Space Oddity, and More

The New York Times lead reports that 116,000 private-sector jobs were lost in May, causing the unemployment rate to rise from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent, according to a Labor Department report released yesterday. “The employment report came on the heels of a half-dozen other indications this week that a still very strong economy is starting to cool off”–indicators like fewer car and home sales and increased car loan and mortgage rates. In the seventh paragraph though, the piece corrects its bearish attitude some, saying “the economy may not be losing as much steam as many investors now seem to believe.” It goes on to say that if you “count all the census takers hired in May … jobs actually rose by 231,000.” As the piece implies but does not directly state, the census hires did not create a rise in employment rates because they are not private-sector jobs. (It would be nice if the piece stated that instead of making the reader do the work.)

A similar Washington Post lead was less gloomy, headlining “Slowdown Hint Spurs Stocks.” It noted that the rise in the unemployment rate encouraged Wall Street investors to rally because they were “cheered by signs that runaway U.S. economic growth is finally slowing.” The tech-heavy Nasdaq had its biggest weekly gain in its 29-year history; it closed 19 percent higher than it had opened on Monday. Financial pundits welcomed the employment slowdown, as they hope it means the Federal Reserve will not continue aggressively raising interest rates; they fear that if the Fed does continue doing so, a recession will be triggered. The Los Angeles Times leads with a story and headline similar to the Post’s.

The WP off-leads a story about a new IBM computer to be built over the next five years whose name is (almost a David Bowie song) Blue Gene. It is to be 500 times faster than any other computer currently in existence. Blue Gene’s mission: to “model the way a human protein folds into a particular shape that gives it unique biological properties.” Though there are about 40,000 proteins in an average human body, “Blue Gene, 40 times faster than the combined speed of the 40 fastest computers in the world today, will run for an entire year to produce [a model] for one protein.” (Post staff writer Justin Gillis peppered the piece with such enjoyably vivid descriptions.) IBM’s ultimate goal is to come up with some general rules about how proteins behave–which would be helpful in understanding human mysteries such as genetic disease. IBM is paying for the research in the hopes that it will be able to use it to develop products to be sold in the fast-growing biological computing market.

The NYT off-lead describes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Thursday NBC Nightly News interview, in which he agreed with American officials that rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran pose a nuclear threat–despite the fact that Russian officials have denied the possibility in the past–and suggested an alternative to the proposed American defense against potential missile attacks. Putin suggested that the U.S. and Russia should work together on a plan that would shoot down enemy missiles soon after they were launched, rather than when they are in space, as the current U.S. proposal recommends. His idea is similar to something known as “boost phase defense.” Advocates say his plan would protect the U.S., Europe, and Russia against the rogue states while the current U.S. proposal would only protect America. However, Putin’s plan would afford the U.S. little protection against the Russian nuclear force. “Administration officials reacted cautiously to Mr. Putin’s comments, which were very sketchy and at times hard to interpret,” the NYT states. Putin and Clinton will soon have a summit meeting; the NYT piece predicts negotiations during it will be difficult. The WP buries a similar Putin piece.

The LAT takes advantage of its deadline, later than that of the East Coast papers, to front a piece with different Russian news: President Clinton called on Europe to invite Russia into military and economic alliances in a speech given Friday, wrapping up his Germany trip and preceding his journey to Moscow. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder expressed the Western allies’ concerns about the proposed American anti-missile system.

The LAT off-leads news that the L.A. County district attorney’s office erred earlier in the week when it told the paper that the LAPD had never asked prosecutors to file a criminal case against an officer named Gustavo Raya. A Thursday story by the LAT was built around a claim made by the L.A. DA’s office that the LAPD had never turned Raya’s case or the case of another officer named Mark Haro over to the DA’s office. Yesterday, the DA’s office said that the LAPD had in fact sought criminal prosecution for Raya and that they did not seek to prosecute Haro because they were advised that their case against him would not hold. The LAPD found both Haro and Raya guilty of drug violations and forced them to leave their jobs.

A story on the WP front decries “a monumental shift in the American timber industry.” Though the industry used to be concentrated in the publicly owned forests of the Pacific Northwest, environmentalists successfully battled to preserve that area so that “over the past decade … the pulp and paper side of the industry has turned to the 200 million acres of timberland in the Southeast.” About 85 percent of that land is privately owned and barely regulated. Opponents argue that the timber industry is “ravaging the South’s natural forests and their mix of old oaks and pines and diverse wildlife.” Presidential hopeful Gore has voiced support for landowners to voluntarily (yes, voluntarily) do more to protect the land but is reserving further comment on the issue until the Forest Service completes an analysis of Southern woodlands, due out next year.

A NYT profile of philosophy academic Alain de Botton, author of The Consolations of Philosophy and How Proust Can Change Your Life, quotes him: “One element of Stoicism is to think that you can survive, that what is essential for life is a lot less than you might think it is.” His advice might be helpful for those who have “had quite enough of New Economy New Millionaires” and are suffering from a syndrome, noticed by NYT op-ed columnist Frank Rich, called “Schadenfreude dot-com.”