Today's Papers

I’m OK, You’re Microbial DNA

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead (and the New York Times goes below the fold) with the continuing investigation of Friday’s collision of a U.S. Navy attack submarine, the USS Greeneville, and a Japanese fishing vessel, Ehime Maru. Although 26 survivors were rescued when the Ehime Maru was split open and sank within 10 minutes between nine and 12 miles off the Hawaii coast, nine people are still missing: four high-school students who were learning commercial fishing, two teachers, and three crew members. At the time of the collision, the 362-foot nuclear-powered sub was practicing an emergency surfacing procedure. The NYT leads instead with the Democrats’ and Republicans’ race to raise as much money as possible before legislation is passed that would limit political fund raising. The papers either off-lead or go above the fold with pieces foretelling the announcement this week by scientists of their first interpretations of the human genome.

The papers differ on the length of Ehime Maru (LAT: 191; NYT: 181; WP: 190) and also on details they provide about the tragedy. The LAT fronts a graphic depicting a submarine’s process for the annual emergency surfacing exercise, “during which the submarine rockets through the ocean’s surface.” The NYT includes word from the Navy that the Greeneville was carrying 16 civilians on board as observers (or 15 civilians and a high-level Pacific Fleet submarine officer, according to the LAT and WP) but doesn’t distinguish if the following appositive is the Navy’s admission or the NYT’s own assertion: “a courtesy that is sometimes extended to V.I.P.’s or local residents, in part to burnish the military’s image.” But, the paper notes, the presence of such civilians could account for the sub’s proximity to Honolulu and, moreover, will be scrutinized as to whether or not it interfered with carrying out the routine drill.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy widened their search for survivors yesterday, and a Coast Guard official said that although there are no signs of the missing passengers, “we are holding out hope that they are still alive.” The LAT also goes into detail about what could have wrong, from sonar to human error to weather conditions. The WP’s harrowing account of the collision reveals that an engineer on the Ehime Maru said his boat was “moving briskly” through the 77-degree water, some 1,800 feet deep, when the sub hit the engine room. “The Navy,” according to the WP, “said the Ehime Maru was not moving when the collision occurred.” The sub’s captain was reassigned to a desk job pending completion of an investigation.

The WP’s front-pager on California’s energy crisis explains that the state is on the verge of spending as much as $20 billion to keep its two largest utility companies out of bankruptcy. Strapped with doubled monthly power bills, nearly 60 percent of the state’s voters believe this year’s two blackouts are “mostly a ploy by energy companies to raise rates,” according to an unattributed poll. The WP, which characterizes residents of an L.A. suburb as “dropping hints of revenge,” names the following as “[s]igns of a budding public backlash”: ballot proposals to revamp the state’s electricity delivery system, irate phone calls to the utility companies, petitions, public demonstrations protesting the use of public funds to bail out utilities, bill burning, candlelight vigils, and radio and TV ads daring utilities to cut off power. An LAT above-the-folder asserts that California’s energy crisis–and increases in residential electricity consumption–are due in part to the state’s big homes, big screen TVs, multiple computers, chilled wine cellars, and other “energy-gulping widgets.” But it’s not just the rich who get the blame, as the LAT fingers “little old homes with their leaking windows, outdated air conditioners and energy-guzzling water heaters.”

Former Secretary of the Treasury Robert E. Rubin says in a NYT opinion piece that he couldn’t hold his tongue any longer: “The proposed tax cut of roughly $2 trillion–$1.6 trillion of tax cuts plus $400 billion of interest on debt that would otherwise have been retired–would substantially diminish the fiscal position of the federal government, and would create a serious threat of deficits on the non-entitlement side of the federal budget.”

Gene, thanks. By June, the rival research teams had already assembled the human genome (the DNA-encoded blueprint for making a human), but it’s taken until now to analyze the findings. The teams’ articles, to be published on Thursday and Friday, report that there are far fewer human genes than previously thought–about 30,000–only a third more, reminds the NYT, than the roundworm. We all have a few more things in common than we’d realized: The WP says humans are about 99.9 percent genetically identical, and the LAT informs that human genes have been derived directly from bacteria. And next time you’re searching for a relative to blame if you have the blues, you might have to look a little further into your past. Millions of years in your past, according to the WP. Turns out hundreds of our genes, including a gene that has been implicated in depression, are from bacteria that infected human predecessors millions of years ago and left their microbial DNA behind.