The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Oct. 2

A rain-drenched morning, and last week’s coffee, a new acquisition from Burundi, is working perfectly. First music of the day, The Cowboy Junkies.

1, When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney promised to be businesses’ “top salesman.” Instead, he quickly introduced $110 million in new corporate taxes. This was in 2003, and “it was very aggressive, and it was a surprise,” said one banker of the state closing a favored loophole. “For the next three years,” The Times reports, “the Romney administration relentlessly scoured the tax code for more such tax loopholes, extracting hundreds of millions of corporate dollars to help ease budget gaps in a state with a struggling economy. It was only after Mr. Romney was gearing up in 2005 for a possible White House bid that he backed away from some of his most aggressive tax-enforcement proposals amid intensifying complaints from local companies and conservative anti-tax groups in Washington.” What does this tell us? Once governor, Romney quickly realized that the only way to deal with his state’s budget was to buck the CEOs and go after corporate money. The very thing he says he wouldn’t do as president, since “corporations are people, my friend.” Running once again as a pro-business candidate, would Romney dare turn the same trick? Something tells me… no way, this time.

2, Web-site coupons, such as those offered by Groupon, which was set to offer itself up as a public company valued as high as $30 billion, were a hot commodity just a few months ago. But now, The Times reports, “coupon fatigue is setting in. Groupon’s public offering has repeatedly been put off amid stock market turmoil and internal missteps; the company says it is back on track, but some analysts say it may never happen. Dozens of copycats are closing….” In a market suddenly oversaturated by Internet coupon clippers, merchants couldn’t handle the stress.

3, The government never even acknowledged that it existed until 1974, but now you can tour President Kennedy’s secret fallout shelter on the tiny man-made spot of land called Peanut Island, just a five-minute helicopter ride from JFK’s winter retreat in Palm Beach, Fla. Lying beneath layers of concrete and steel-and-lead walls, its amenities included 15 bunk beds, a ham radio, lead-lined cans of drinking water (no longer approved by the FDA), a decontamination shower, castor oil, K-rations, gas masks and, on the floor, the Seal of the President of the United States. Of course, the United States might no longer have existed if Kennedy had been forced to use the facility.

4, Robert Whitaker, who took the infamous photo for the “butcher cover” on The Beatles’ 1966 album Yesterday and Today, has died at age 71. The photo showed the band wearing butcher’s smocks, with naked dolls and raw meat arranged around them. As many as 25,000 copies of the album appear to have been sold before it was to be officially released, but before it actually went on sale Capitol Records recalled the album and replaced the butcher cover with one showing The Beatles and a steamer trunk. Yesterday and Today, with the butcher cover, was to have sold for $2.99 in its day. Unopened copies of it today can go for $20,000. Whitaker said he never owned one.

5, HD 85512b is a newly discovered Earth-like planet, 36 light years away, orbiting its sun in a habitable zone that’s called the “Goldilocks.” Not too hot, not too cold, just right. Surface temperatures good for life – if there is an actual surface – may be somewhere between 85 and 120 degrees. “This month has been a marvel in the planetary world,” writes Diane Ackerman in The Times‘ op-ed pages. “In addition to HD 85512b, astronomers spotted a planet that may be fashioned entirely of diamond, a brilliant diadem set in the black velvet of space…. An a few weeks later, planet hunters confirmed the discovery of Kepler-16b, a planet that circles two suns in the constellation Cygnus.”

6, OK, now it’s time to get a Blu-ray machine. The 1965 Italian film The 10th Victim is out, which includes Ursula Andress as “a professional assassin who claims her first victim by shooting him in the face with her double-barreled gun bra.”  Based on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” The Times tells us The 10th Victim, “imagines the hunting of humans as a government-sanctioned sport, a gladiatorial combat meant to relieve tension and settle conflicts in an otherwise anesthetized world devoted to mindless consumption.”

7, From the Travel section, and a visit to Istanbul: “Another waiter wheeled in a cart topped with a rock-salt igloo, which he set alight. Then he smashed the flaming salt crust with a mallet and unveiled a whole roasted chicken that was stuffed with cardamon-spiced rice and exhaled fragrant steam.”

8, When it was released in 2010, Jeannette Catsoulis called The Human Centipede a “must-see for coprophiliacs and spanking enthusiasts.” At the box office, the film grossed – and we do not use that term lightly – $187,467, but did much better with on-demand services, where you didn’t have a ticket taker or teenage video clerk wondering what you were doing with a movie about a guy who, as The Times writes of the brand-new The Human Centipede 2, “kidnaps people and stitches them together, mouth to anus.”

9, Now Michael Moore’s finally done it. He attacks modern motherhood. His new book, Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life, derides baby formula, describing how “An entire generation of us were introduced in our very first week to the concept that phony was better than real, that something manufactured was better than something that was right there in the room. Later in life, this explained the popularity of the fast-food burrito, neocons, Kardashians and why we think reading this book on a tiny screen with three minutes of battery life left is enjoyable.”

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