The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday Times, so you don’t have to: Feb. 7

First music of the day, Kenny Garrett’s Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane. Let’s start off with a few stories from the from the front page of The New York Times that are about groups who would love to control your life, rather than allow the government to do it.

1, Organizers of this weekend’s Tea Party convention in Nashville say they have deliberately kept anyone who looked too crazy out of the room, in an attempt to at least look like a legitimate political force. Unfortunately, the speakers weren’t monitored as closely: One claimed the Jesus’ birth was better documented than Barack Obama’s. The group’s goal is to contribute $10 million to conservative candidates this year. Perhaps one in your very own town. Citing the election in Massachusetts of Scott Brown to the Senate a couple of weeks ago, and the influence of out-of-state Tea Party money in that election, conventioneers spoke excitedly of ousting Democrats Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. The story leaves unchallenged some facts stated by conventioneers, that a Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C. drew a million and a half people (authorities estimate it was tens of thousands) and that Pelosi called the Tea Partiers “Nazis” (I can find no evidence that she did so; instead, Pelosi appears to have only said, and said correctly, that Tea Partiers have carried posters with swastikas on them). Attendance at the convention: About 600.

2, Voters in New Albany, Miss., have finally said that, yes, a hard-working citizen who spent all day filling potholes in your roads will soon finally be able to enjoy a beer in this town.  Prohibitionists still want liquor and wine outlawed, but their demands that beer not be sold on Sundays, or in single bottles, or even be refrigerated, were defeated. The writer William Faulkner, who was born in New Albany and was an enthusiastic drinker, led pro-alcohol movements in nearby Oxford, to no avail. An 85-year-old woman quoted in the story calls the prohibitionists “a mixture of hypocrisy and ignorance, with maybe a little stupidity thrown in.” Many churchgoers, she says, are known to drive to Tupelo for a margarita or two.

3, De-regulation advocates may want to re-think their position after reading “Toyota’s Pattern Is Slow Response On Safety Issues.” The company, whose cars have been troubled by sticking gas pedals and brake malfunctions, has a history of quietly fixing problems in future designs without taking the costly step of addressing the troubles of cars currently on the road. The free market does not police itself.

4, I knew this was going to happen: Karaoke has been shown to be deadly to your health, particularly in the Philippines, where murderous brawls have erupted during performances, particularly versions of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It’s been estimated the pop hit has led to to perhaps a half a dozen deadly hits on karaoke crooners in the past decade. Theories include the song is difficult to sing, driving listeners to take revenge on the tuneless victim, or perhaps the defiant words are accepted as a challenge by others in the room; It’s estimated there are one million illegal guns in the Philippines. The violence is not limited to that country, or to Sinatra. In Thailand, a man killed eight of his neighbors after they karaoked John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

5, The astronomer Geoffrey Burbridge has died at age 84. He advanced the idea that every one of us is made of chemical elements that came from one star, an exploding supernova that spread those elements throughout the universe. For the layman, The Times‘ obit sagely adds: “Or, as the singer Joni Mitchell put it, ‘We are stardust.’ ”

6, In The Week in Review, say your airplane explodes. We learn Popular Mechanics advises that your best odds of surviving a fall from 35,000 feet without a parachute is to “ride a piece of debris on the way down.” This has resulted in a successful landing 31 times since 1940.

7, In a long yet quite comprehensible editorial, the Sunday Opinion page gives us “The Truth About the Debt.” This whole mess is one big set of interconnected troubles. The Times writes that “Unless health care costs are controlled, there is no way to solve the country’s long-term deficit and debt problems.”

8, Columnist Frank Rich heard the silence from the right after Adm. Mike Mullen said gay men and lesbians should be allowed to serve in the military. While homophobia has long been a plank of the Republican party, Rich notes that the silence of the Republicans (excepting the occasional crank like John McCain) is its agreement that it can no longer fight against this Civil Rights issue.

9, Oh, God has blessed us. The classic 1941 monster flick The Wolfman has been re-made, with Benicio Del Toro in the title fur. And little else in the way of make-up, judging by the photo I’m looking at.

10, In the NYT magazine, Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, who invented the phrase “Generation X,” compares the U.S. with what some might call Canadian socialism: “To have  healthy culture you have to have stable health care financing and stable arts financing and stable sports financing, and if you don’t have that, your culture becomes a parking lot.”

11, The magazine’s letters page is filled with readers trashing the Jan. 24 cover boy, novelist James Patterson. “Assembly line page turners give up the ghost in a decade or less,” one writes, comparing Patterson’s best sellers with another once-popular writer whose work has displayed the shelf life of an avocado, Irving Wallace. Writes another, “Calling James Patterson a writer is like calling Fox News news.”

12, The Jan. 24 Book Review assessment of Crisis and Command: the History of Executive Power by Bush Administration torture apologist John Yoo set off similar fireworks.  His two books, one reader writes, have been “universally discredited by serious scholars.” Ponders another, “Why is The New York Times reviewing a book by someone who may be a war criminal?”

%d bloggers like this: