The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Sept. 12

When I first heard the sound early this morning, I thought someone had tossed a dead pig on the stoop. But it was the delivery of the Sunday Times, particularly bulky this morning, with three separate Arts & Leisure sections. These honor “The New Season,” including one entire section devoted to film. It’s simply too much to consume on one Sunday morning and afternoon. So I’ll set those aside, and report on anything noteworthy later this week. But let’s read the rest of it, while listening to the elegant Charlie Haden Quartet.

1, Saturday’s 9th anniversary observance of 9/11 included Barack Obama saying “We are not at war and never will be at war with Islam.” With the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments spurred on by conservatives objecting to the construction of a community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero, and with Koran-burning hooligan pastors in town, “For the first time,” The Times writes, “the anniversary of the worst attack on American soil and the deadliest disaster in New York City history served almost as a political backdrop.”

2, According to The Times, “Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.”

3, Last December, as House Democrats prepared to vote on the financial regulatory bill, minority leader John Boehner called 100 lobbyists to Washington to discuss what could be done to stop the bill. “We need you to get out there and speak up against this,” The Times alleges Boehner as saying. None of this is surprising – Boehner is not known for having ever summoned 100 of his constituents to Washington. “He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aids representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses,” The Times reports, and is especially fond of accepting expensive golf junkets. According to one lobbyist, the story says Boehner agreed to “combating fee increases for the oil industry, fighting a proposed cap on debit card fees, protecting tax breaks for hedge fund executives and opposing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.” That’s who your next majority leader will be if the Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives in November.

4, This summer, two Chinese scientists piloted a submarine the size of a small pickup truck two miles down to the bottom of the South China Sea, symbolically planting a Chinese flag there amid an estimated trillions of dollars worth of mineral nodules and, The Times notes, “undersea cables carrying diplomatic communications, lost nuclear arms, sunken submarines and hundreds of warheads left over from missile tests.” The submersible now allows China to go as deep as 7,000 meters, or 4.35 miles. Japan his built one that will descend to 6,500 meters while “Russia, France and the United States lag further behind in the game of going deep.”

5, Columnist Frank Rich cites one of America’s most-unnerving statistics as he calls on Barack Obama to campaign with the same forcefulness that he displayed in his run for the presidency: “He must join the many who are talking about why the top 1 percent of American earners now take home nearly a quarter of America’s income – perhaps the single most revealing indicator of how three decades of greed and free-market absolutism have eviscerated America’s fundamental ideals of fairness.”

6, In the Magazine, a Sub Pop Records exec mentions how the label has toyed with the idea of selling stuff associated with a new release – a shirt, or maybe a key chain – and tossing in the music for free. The band Of Montreal tried this with its 2008 album Skeletal Lamping, marketing it as a “multi-object format: aside from traditional packaging, you could buy a set of wall decals or a lamp and have the digital download of the music thrown in.” The story quotes Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes, who may not have been entirely serious, but I hope so: “We hope this idea catches on and, in the future, square CD packaging will be abandoned forever and only interesting art objects will fill record stores. We envision a time when you’ll be walking around your local record shop and be like, ‘What’s the new Radiohead album again? Oh yeah, a Bonsai tree in the shape of a deformed goat, I see it over there.’ ”

7, In a  headline, the Magazine also asks,”What Does It Mean That the Most Popular Cultural Depictions of America’s Current Wars Happen to Be Video Games?” As Army platoon leader and Afghanistan vet Andrew Exum says, “There’s something annoying that most of America experiences the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are actually taking place, through a video game.”

8, In the Travel section, writer Matt Gross uses Tangier to open his every-few-months series of stories on getting lost. He explains, “I’ve lately been wondering, how does it feel to truly not know where you are? Are the guidebooks, GPS devices and Internet forums pointing us in the wrong direction? In our efforts to figure out where we’re going, have we lost something more important?”

9, The day’s most thought-provoking character can be found beneath the headline “For Froggy, One Last Story.” It tells of a writer who went by the name F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, who’d had a few books published, as well as stories in magazines, but apparently was better known on the sci-fi Internet circuit. On June 25, MacIntyre set fire to his Brooklyn apartment, which went up easily considering it was nothing more than  a nest of newspapers, science fiction books, rejection letters from publishers and correspondence from  people throughout the sci-fi world.  The fire also consumed the 59-year-old MacIntyre, who had been on an increasingly downward spiral after years of living a life in which details seemed to be made up and changed as easily as MacIntyre changed his socks. “What was his real name?” mused a fellow Brooklyn writer, Andrew Porter, after the fiery suicide. “Where was he born? No one knows. Froggy was weird, and his death is just as weird.” On his web site, MacIntyre had written of his hoarding, “I collect the fragments of time that other people throw away, and I put these to good use.” MacIntyre also wrote on his site,  “Immortality is for suckers.  If even a few of my words outlive me by even one hour, then I have cheated death.”