A pat on the back, a slap in the face

The article ``News media glare prompts Soviet labor-camp reforms,'' Oct. 14, captured my eye. Why wasn't this front-page news? The article tells of sweeping reforms in Soviet prison labor camps, outlines the reforms undertaken, and shows not only the willingness of the government to reform but also their willingness to admit that reforms are needed. Over the last few years I recall the world press giving ``headline'' priority to any civil rights violations by the Soviet government. Now that the Soviet government is attempting these reforms, the press does not give them credit where credit is rightly due.

The US government has also followed this trend. US leaders are quick to roast the Soviets over the flame of world public opinion but very slow to commend these deeds. Even when they do commend reforms, it is not with the same zest with which they condemn.

The US government should be as quick with a pat on the back as a slap in the face. Clarence Ergle Florence, Ala.

Define summer, please The article ``Astronomical illiteracy,'' Oct. 14, poses the truly puzzling question, ``Why is the earth hotter in the summertime?''

``The earth,'' of course, refers to the planet we live on - the entire planet. To suggest that the planet Earth gets hotter in the ``summertime'' is not so much incorrect as it is utterly meaningless.

Whose summertime? Is that summer in New Jersey or summer in New Caledonia?

If summer is defined as that time of year during which the sun's path lies most directly overhead, as viewed from the earth, then, since the tilt of the rotational axis of the earth relative to the sun is continually changing, summer continually exists on the earth, as a latitude which is continually changing.

Even if one assumes that summer refers to summer in Boston, ``the earth'' does not get hotter during the Boston summer - only the climate in Boston (and other northern latitudes) gets hotter.

The Harvard graduates may not be so ``astronomically illiterate'' after all. Maybe they just weren't expecting a trick question! David Carico Pasadena, Calif. California Institute of Technology

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