Archive for August, 2006

All the news that gives us fits

August 31, 2006

Some people are saying the gross overcoverage of the phony JonBenet suspect is the worst embarrassment for the press in recent memory. Worse than the Katrina incomeptence? Worse than the Valerie Plame non-story? Then, there is this, another strange lapse from one of the formerly great newspapers:

Imagine you are the world’s most powerful newspaper and you have invested your credibility in yet another story line that is falling apart, crumbling as inexorably as Jayson Blair’s fabrications and the flawed reporting on Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD. What to do?

If you’re the New York Times and the story is the alleged gang rape of a black woman by three white Duke lacrosse players—a claim shown by mounting evidence to be almost certainly fraudulent—you tone down your rhetoric while doing your utmost to prop up a case that’s been almost wholly driven by prosecutorial and police misconduct.

Nothing much happened in the JonBenet followup except that a lot of time and money were wasted, and a pathetic figure got his 15 minutes of fame. Real lives are being destroyed in the Duke case.

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Lighting up

August 31, 2006

Now don’t all you people feel guilty for chasing all the smokers outside?

A MAN was killed by a horrific explosion in a garden shed at his parents’ home after popping outside for a smoke.

Investigators believe the 31-year-old victim was visiting relatives in Tyldesley, near Atherton, when he went out of the house to smoke a cigarette.

It is thought he went into the shed to shelter from the rain and accidentally ignited petrol stored in the outbuilding while he was lighting up. The shed exploded into a ball of flame, leaving the man with 100 per cent burns.

Note that the man who called the fire brigade was awake because he couldn’t sleep and got up for a smoke, which he had inside his house and so was near the phone. Something for Nelson Peters and Marla Irving and Linda Bloom to think about, eh?

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License to pander

August 31, 2006

Boy, if Republicans as well as Democrats are piling on, that must mean the political class realizes how peeved people get at bad BMV service. Guaranteed 30-minute service? Longer hours to handle more people? What a brave stand.

I have to say, though, that I like this a lot better than Pat Bauer’s plan to turn the whole shooting match over the the secretary of state:

They also called for allowing more private sector places, such as car dealers, insurance agencies, motor clubs and banks, to be allowed to perform many license branch functions . . .

Once upon a time, running the license branches was a perk for whichever party won the governor’s office. That was a BAD thing, too political, you know, all that graft and corruption. Anybody miss those days now?

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Fish-in-a-barrel time

August 31, 2006

The first two paragraphs of a story about new Census data:

The number of Indiana residents living in poverty increased 13 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to new census data, but advocates say even more people are struggling to make ends meet.

More than 740,000 residents were living below the poverty line in 2005, an increase of more than 88,000 people from 2004, according to the 2005 American Community Survey released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the third consecutive year that the state’s poverty rate grew.

And, from later in the story:

Donna McCall, 36, and her three young children are staying at a shelter in Indianapolis because she has no job and no other financial support.

"I didn’t have enough to get by on," she told The Indianapolis Star for a Wednesday story. "I didn’t finish high school and don’t have my GED yet, so I can’t really find a job that pays enough to live."

You connect the dots.

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Soylent Green is people!

August 30, 2006

Well, for goodness sake. Any environmentalist in this country can tell you that the only way to combat the dwindling amount of landfill space is to recycle:

Tirana residents are trying to put off dying until the government and city officials end their row over space shortages in the Albanian capital’s graveyards.

Tirana municipality has shut down one of the city’s two cemeteries and said the other has space for only one more week. It blames the government for holding up the expropriation of nearby land that would add space for two years’ worth of graves.

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Colts and dolts

August 30, 2006

The Indianapolis Star wants the state to bail out Indy over the Colts debacle:

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, makes a valid point that the various Central Indiana hotel, restaurant, ticket and car rental taxes enacted to build the stadium were not represented as a discretionary funding source for day-to-day operations. The first obligation is to make sure construction is covered. But Kenley and other state leaders are wrong to toss off the looming shortfall as the city’s problem when, after all, the state took control of the stadium as part of the financing process.

Advance Indiana is not impressed with the argument:

Because Mayor Bart gave away the farm to keep the Colts here he’s now not able to keep the place running. If Mayor Bart wanted to keep everything for himself he’d just raise Marion County taxes to pay for it. He didn’t and he thought the other counties would bow down and open up their wallets to Mayor Bart. Bzzt! WRONG!

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Busted

August 30, 2006

A brave citizen finds the courage to report a heinous crime:

A daily special at a Lincoln Square restaurant has triggered the first — and only — official complaint stemming from Chicago’s controversial ban on foie gras.

A caller to the city’s 311 non-emergency system complained that foie gras was being served over the weekend at Block 44, 4365 N. Lincoln. The restaurant is not refuting the claim.

Rick Spiros, the chef at Block 44, acknowledged that he served "about eight orders" of foie gras on Friday night even though he knew the liver delicacy is illegal in Chicago. It wasn’t an act of defiance, so much as a desperate effort to avoid wasting expensive food, he said.

"I had a couple pieces left over, and I just got rid of it. I just did it. I’m a bad chef, I guess. People loved it. People bought it. One person complained? I’ll take the slap on the wrist. I’m not in fourth grade. I had the decision to make, and I served it. Whatever the repercussions are, I’ll deal with it," Spiros said.

Bad, bad chef.

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Keeping on

August 30, 2006

While we wallowing in the "what went wrong with Katrina" reminiscences this week, let’s not overlook the continuing debacle:

After the hurricane, newspapers around the world showed photos of New Orleans under headlines that shouted: "America’s shame." In truth, New Orleans was America’s shame long before Katrina. In large part the residents of the Big Easy were victims of the predatory behavior of their own politicians. Louisiana already ranked among the bottom five of all the states in crime, poverty, health care and school performance; the murder rate in New Orleans today is 10 times the national average.

For all the finger-pointing this week, Congress hasn’t spent much more than a dime to clear away the debris of corruption, patronage, welfare dependency, high taxes and racial division of decimated neighborhoods. What is still lacking in the life of New Orleans is the vital architecture of local capitalism.

What’s that saying? If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.

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Theirs to lose

August 30, 2006

I think this is true:

Democratic insiders, who months ago thought their chances of winning a majority in the House were no better than even, and that the Senate was a lost cause, have become far more optimistic. Now, they say, winning the House is a lock, and the Senate is within reach.

“We have to go back to 1974 (during Watergate) to find such a favorable environment,” says James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. “If we can’t win in this environment, we have to question the whole premise of the party.”

I have faith in your party, James. If anybody can screw this up and lose anyway, you guys can.

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An eyeful in Vermont

August 30, 2006

Some young people in Vermont seem to have discovered something other legal scholars have overlooked:

"I think most of Vermont wants Vermont to be nude," said Hannah Phillips, 15, who added that she has not disrobed. "People have a basic human right to be naked if they want to."

What they have there is kids just being kids, and adults being completely stupid about it. Apparently nobody is in charge in Vermont. Love this guy’s reaction:

Andrew Wdowiak, who works at Everyone’s Books, said that he’s not put off by the nudity, but that the act has become a little tired. "I think it was more for the shock value," he said. "They weren’t flagrant about it."

But last week, when about a half-dozen naked teenagers congregated outside the store," it was like they were baking a cake, and they really frosted it," Wdowiak said. "All the men were naked, and the women were topless. I needed about three drinks to erase that vision."

I really, really hope this trend doesn’t move to Indiana. I don’t think three drinks would be nearly enough.

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A truly evil plot

August 30, 2006

Gas_1 Where are the front-page stories, the TV reporters asking people how their lives have been affected, the calls from politicians for immediate action, the letters to the editor from the conspiracy theorists? Gasoline prices have dropped dramatically, even drastically, in the last couple of weeks. And they’ve dropped everywhere, so this can’t be a mere marketplace mechanism — there’s some collusion going on here, folks. When prices go down like this, it does not just mean that the oil companies make obscene profits, though they surely do. We are also being sucked into driving even more, which means we will become even more dependent on all that oil. I tell you, this is one of the most evil, ingenious plots I have ever come across, and if it’s not a reason for the immediate impeachment of George Bush, I don’t know what is.

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Elevator folk

August 29, 2006

I don’t care for the politics of either Bruce Springsteen or Pete Seeger, but I’ve always liked their music, so I was looking forward to Springsteen’s "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions." But I had to give up at about track 5, and I haven’t listened again. I like my folk songs rough and raw, and this sounded like elevator music. The songs were allegedly done in one take to capture a "spontaneous" feel, but they surely sounded rehearsed to death. And the 12 musicians sounded like an orchestra — violins, horns and a grand piano on folk music? Come on.

Apparently, I’m one of the few people who think it’s awful. The 319 customers who reviewed in on amazon.com gave it four stars out of five. The reviewer who wondered why "the best country music of the past ten years" is on a Bruce Springsteen record has not been listening to much country music.

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Condomania

August 29, 2006

The Indianapolis condo market is booming:

. . . the Downtown condominium market is alive, kicking and guzzling Red Bull.

Supply is high. Dozens of condos are open or in the works.

Demand is even higher.

And it seems no one — not developers, not Realtors, not residents — thinks supply or demand will come down soon.
Not when there are people like Jessie Mills.
Last year, Mills and her husband, John, moved out of their sprawling home near Eagle Creek Park and into a smaller townhouse Downtown.
They love it, she said. It’s a maintenance-free lifestyle in the heart of a walkable city brimming with restaurants and retail.

Condos are big in Indy because of something Fort Wayne doesn’t have — that "walkable" environment brimming with things to do. We have a classic dilemma here. It’s hard to sell the condos if there’s nothing to do, and it’s hard to persuade developers to provide the things to do if there’s no one to do them. And notice the pricde tags — $200,000 to more than $1 million, with monthly fees added to that. Even if condos were cheaper here, we’re talking about a limited pool of potential buyers.

And even in Indy, not all condo projects are succeeding:

The city’s hopes for a luxury high-rise condo in Downtown sounded great to Cindy and David Pride.
The tower would rise on the former site of Market Square Arena, where Elvis performed his last concert and the Pacers played basketball for 25 years. It was supposed to transform the east side of Downtown Indianapolis into a new urban center.
The Prides, moving to Indianapolis from Florida, reserved their unit in One Market Square soon after plans for the building were revealed three years ago.
But ground has yet to be broken on the project, which was supposed to be completed this year. The Prides and others who were ready to buy have backed out of their commitments and are moving elsewhere.

One of the possible reasons for the project’s lack of success is interesting: "Because of its location in — rather than on the edge of — Downtown, the project wouldn’t offer what high-rise residents desire most: a skyline view."

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We’ll always have Paris

August 29, 2006

Remember "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America"? Here’s a project that’s really ambitious — "10,000 Reasons Civilization Is Doomed." There are only about 2,700 things on the list so far, but the Web community is invited to make additions. With that many annoying things listed, there are bound to be some we disagree with, but it’s hard to argue with No. 1: Paris Hilton. I’ve stopped worrying about her, frankly. Even if she disappears, we’ll get somebody else exactly like her. The culture demands it.

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Creepy Christmas

August 29, 2006

Better hurry. Only 117 shopping says left:

It’s that special time of year again, when the first plush Santas, singing snow men and blown-glass Christmas ornaments begin to appear on store shelves.

[. . .]

Labor Day, Columbus Day and Halloween, much less Thanksgiving, are now mere speed bumps on the highway to Christmas, folded into the 115-day month of Septoctnocember.

Researchers call it "Christmas creep." That’s shorthand for the ever-backward march of the holiday retail season.

You know. August.

What, you find it hard to muster yuletide spirit when you’re wearing a bathing suit?

Well, too bad.

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Not a police state yet

August 29, 2006

Common sense on balancing safety and civil liberties in the fight against terrorism:

What we have tried to do, in the wake of watching 3,000 of our innocent fellow citizens incinerated before our very eyes five years ago, is to try and find ways of protecting ourselves against foreign and domestic terrorist threats. It seems to me we’ve done so with a great deal of respect and attention to civil liberties – even though the process has been awkward and clumsy at times.

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Exit strategy

August 29, 2006

If something so clearly isn’t working, isn’t it time to change course?

Prohibition has failed to stamp out markets and quality, or increase street prices for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. The drug war kicked off by President Nixon in the 1970s costs $40 billion or more a year. It is a massive, embarrassing, destructive failure.

King County in Washington is trying out an exit strategy for the war on drugs by sending minor street drug users and sellers through drug courts instead of incarcerating them. So:

Its average daily jail count is down from 2,800 to 2,000. The Washington Legislature was persuaded to cut back drastically on mandatory drug-possession sentences, apportioning funds to adult and juvenile drug courts, and family "dependency" courts. Tens of millions of dollars have been saved.

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Brrrrrrrh!

August 28, 2006

Whenever we’re standing around at work griping about the weather, I participate only halfheartedly if the "this heat is unbearable" topic comes up.  No matter how bad summer gets, I hate winter so much more. (Bring it on, global warming). I don’t believe the claims of Farmers’ Almanac that its forecasts are accurate 80 to 85 percent of the time (the dirty little secret of meteorologists is that when they’re talking about the weather more than 48 hours out, they’re just making it up). Still, this can’t help but make me shiver a little:

Americans shouldn’t expect Mother Nature to help with their heating bills this winter because it’s going to be nippy, according to the venerable Farmers’ Almanac.

After one of the warmest winters on record, this coming winter will be much colder than normal from coast to coast, the almanac predicts.

Many defenders of winter make the point that, no matter how cold it gets, you can always add clothing. There is a limit to how much clothing you can subtract, no matter how hot it is. This may have been amusing before modern technology brought us innovations such as furnaces and central air. The main consideration today is travel time, how much you wilt or freeze going from cooled or heated house to the car and from the car to and cooled or heated office. And what’s the common denominator there? No matter how hot it is, the car will cool down in a minute or two. Unless you live and work a half-hour apart, you won’t even start warming up before you reach your destination.

And don’t even get me started on scraping the windshield. Shoveling the sidewalk. De-icing the steps. Walking backwards into the wind.

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Uniform approach to education

August 28, 2006

The idea of school uniforms is looking better and better:

HAMMOND (AP) — Fed up with inappropriate outfits, the principal at a high school suspended 128 students on the first day of school as part of a crackdown on dress code violators.

Wednesday’s one-day suspensions came minutes after doors opened at northwestern Indiana’s Morton High School and affected more than 10 percent of the 1,200 students.

The offending attire — including baggy pants, low-cut shirts, tank tops and graphic T-shirts — are banned from classrooms. Students were also cited for cell phone use.

When I was in high school, the dress codes we had would seem positively medieval today. On the other hand, I just came across my graduation program and noticed that, right in the middle of the ceremonies, the Senior Vocal Ensemble sang "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You." Something like that wouldn’t be allowed within 100 miles of a public school today.

(Congratulations. You have just survived one of this blog’s periodic excursion into fuddy-duddy land.)

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Gun violence

August 28, 2006

This is a pretty comprehensive look at the state of gun laws and pretty evenly balanced in presenting the views of both gun supports and gun-control advocates. But it veers into wishful thinking at the end:

Gun regulations, while complicated and cumbersome, are the answer to eliminating gun violence, according to Berarducci.

“This is all about partnerships,” he said. “We work closely with county, city and state law enforcement” to enforce the laws on the books.

“That’s why we’re successful in what we do.”

Gun regulations can’t even control who has guns, let alone how they are used. The only answer to lessening gun violence (not "eliminating," alas) is to be serious about punishing people who use guns to commit (rather than defend against) violence.

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Reality bites

August 28, 2006

A lot of people are getting exercised over the latest twist in the "Survivor" TV series, apparently believing it will set back efforts at "racial harmony through diversity" 100 years:

LOS ANGELES – Get ready for a segregated "Survivor." Race will matter on the upcoming season of the CBS show as contestants will be divided into four tribes by ethnicity. That means blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians in separate groups.

The announcement was made on CBS’ Early Show. Host Jeff Probst says the idea "actually came from the criticism that ‘Survivor’ was not ethnically diverse enough." He says the twist fits in perfectly with what "Survivor" does, saying the show is "a social experiment. And this is adding another layer to that experiment." Probst says contestants had mixed reactions to the racial divisions.

Actually, it was a brilliant public relations move, creating just the kind of buzz that will bring in viewers. If "Survivor" is any kind of "social experiment," it’s one to attract millions of viewers, and thus advertising dollars, without having to incur a lot of expenses for sets, scripts and big-name stars.

And if the show were titled honestly, it would be called "Office Politics." The winner is determined as much by negotiating skills in building coalitions and stabbing each other in the back as it is by the ability to start a fire or build a shelter or find bugs to eat. This new version is perfectly in keeping with that. People will play the same game by the same rules toward the same goal, then go back to their separate tribes, just as, in real offices, they work together for eight hours before retreating to their separate residential enclaves.

What he have here is a "reality" show that might actually become that.

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Good eats

August 28, 2006

As we do occasionally, my sister and I decided to try a restaurant we’d never been to before. Indianapolis Monthly raved about it, it had "bistro" in the name; what could possibly go wrong? We were both underwhelmed. It turned out to be one of those self-consciously trendy places that put the haughty in haute cuisine. Elaborate presentations, painfully ostentatious decor, waiters and waitresses dressed better than we were. The portions were tiny, the vegetables exotic and the sauces adventurous. The pork loin — about 10 bites worth– I found under the exquisitely arranged accompaniments was tough and dry. Here’s the kind of place it is: They do have mac and cheese on the menu, but with goat cheese, don’t you know, mixed in with pesto. My sister and I dropped about 50 bucks each (not something we do very often) and stopped at Marsh on the way home to pick up ice cream sandwiches, just to have a dessert that had a familiar taste and feel full enough to believe we had actually eaten.

The next day, she fixed a birthday meal for me, drawing on the familiar foods of our youth: pork chops, smoked side bacon, corn bread, mustard greens, fried potatoes, pinto beans topped off with raw onion. The whole thing probably cost about $20, and I brought enough leftovers back to Fort Wayne for another meal. It was filling and, in its humble way, delicious. Man, them was good eats!

I don’t mean to claim the bistro was a bad restaurant. There are obviously plenty of people who like the place. My opinion is no better than theirs — we are talking about matters of taste, which are as idiosyncratic as the people who have them. And mine admittedly are a little more prosaic than most. But the opinions of restaurant reviewers aren’t superior, either. They might know how a restaurant is "supposed" to operate or a presentation to look or a sauce to be mixed. But how something tastes to them is no more a predictor of how it will taste to other people than one person’s preference for reds or blues should dictate the color of clothes the rest of us should wear.

Restaurant reviews tend to try to objectify something that is utterly subjective, and some people, I think, are intimidated by that, especially here in the middle of the country where we sometimes feel like rubes who need to pretend to be more sophisticated than we are. Stick a silly thing that looks like it was removed from a construction site in front of the art museum and call it art, and we’re too intimidated to laugh at it. Open a fancy restaurant and give it a five-star review, and we’re too overwhelmed to run screaming to the nearest hamburger joint. It’s an "emperor’s new clothes" kind of thing.

One of my favorite books of recent years is "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain, a well-known and -regarded chef. If I’m remembering correctly, this is his definition of a great meal: the best ingredients, simply prepared. I’d wager a lot of restaurant patrons on the coasts — more than here, anyway — are catching on to that and starting to demand it.

(Just in case you think I’m a total reverse snob, I do like a good meal in a high-end place from time to time. Hartley’s is my idea of one that gets it right. I’ve never had a bad dish or a less-than-first-rate experience there. They might have the equivalent of Hartley’s in Indianapolis, but my sister and I haven’t found it yet.)

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Time will tell

August 25, 2006

Stories come and go, and you might never put them together without your friendly neighborhood blogger to provide the juxtaposition. First is this story that John McCain, were he to be elected, would be the oldest person ever to take the office of president. This might be problematical, because:

The elderly face a greater risk of developing problems in the years ahead, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, infection, Alzheimer’s or even death.

I’m glad that was pointed out; must be a study out there I’m not aware of. Then there is this, affecting us right here in Hoosier state:

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Students could be appointed as nonvoting members on city councils under legislation two area lawmakers plan to draft.
The proposed bill being written by Republican Reps. Matthew Bell of Avilla and Marlin Stutzman of Howe stems from a heated Kendallville City Council session last week where member Jim Liechty questioned Mayor Suzanne Handshoe’s appointment of East Noble High School senior Cory Allen to the council.
A lot of young people are very smart, but they don’t know much. A lot of old people know a lot, but they aren’t very smart. I don’t know which I’d trust the city to, let alone the country.

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Live and learn

August 25, 2006

I haven’t linked to any dramatic new studies in the last few days, so I thought I’d give you two. First up is some bad news for fatties:

"People who are overweight have a moderately increased risk of premature death, and people who are obese have a greatly increased risk of premature death," said lead researcher Dr. Michael Leitzmann, an investigator at the National Cancer Institute.

And I know it will cut down considerably on your driving pleasure, but you should probably start paying attention:

Research found that 27 percent of drivers were distracted by breathtaking countryside such as the Lake District while 12 percent said their eyes wandered to admire famous landmarks.

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Off the planet

August 25, 2006

Pluto_1 Poor Pluto. After all these years, its status killed, kicked off the list of planets.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn’t make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a … nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune’s.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets." The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun — "small solar system bodies," a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites.

As a colleague said, "Not only are we screwing up this planet, now we have to mess with the whole solar system." Now, all of ys who learned the planets in order from the sun with that nifty mnemonic (My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas) will have to come up with another one. Just Sent Us Nachos?

It’s been much remarked that we are living through a knowledge explosion, with the amount of available information doubling every two or three years. Some of it results from our exploration of things we couldn’t fathom before, such as the human genome, but much of it comes just from refining how we look at things we already know. Nothing has changed in the solar system. We’re just defining it more precisely.

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