The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: June 3

Rain: It’s a deluge this morning. The dog refuses to go out. She’d better not crap by the door. The coffee is from the island of Java. First music of the day: Jimmy Smith’s jazz organ.

1, The National Rifle Association always remains quiet whenever a gun crime leads the day’s newscasts, and last week’s killings in Seattle were no exception. A guy who’d been ejected from a coffee shop for erratic behavior returned with a .45 automatic, shot two people dead, both klezmer musicians, then murdered three people in a carjacking before killing himself. Seattle has had 21 gun homicides in the first five months of 2012, equal to all of last year. “If you look back to the shootings we’ve had this year and the prior year,” says Mayor Mike McGinn, “you can see many of them are related to the belief that it’s OK to carry a gun somewhere to solve a dispute.”

2, A debate simmers over the September 11 Memorial Museum, taking shape at the site of Ground Zero. “Everyone agrees that it is the museum’s job to tell the truth,” The Times writes. “The question, though, is how much truth. The museum has more than 4,000 artifacts, from a wedding band to a 15-ton composite of several floors that collapsed into a stack, like pancakes, and then fused together. There are photographs of men and women jumping out of the windows, burned and mutilated bodies, scattered and blood-soaked limbs, images so awful they tested the bounds of taste and appropriateness.” Also, the cockpit recorder from Flight 93, the jet that crashed into a Pennsylvania field, which “captured the hijackers’ last words and a flight attendant begging for her life.” As a museum exec says, “We have to transmit the truth without being absolutely crushed by it.” And, the museum’s initial plan to display photos of the 19 hijackers has been questioned. But as the site’s chief executive says, “You don’t create a museum about the Holocaust and not say it was the Nazis who did it.”

3, “What explains the ongoing literary bloodbath?” asks Jill LePore, musing in The Sunday Review over all of the vampire films and literature of the day. Evidently, there’s yet another film on the way, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. LePore explains it as “basically, Buffy in a stovepipe hat.” The film is based on a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, whose first book, LePore notes, was The Big Book of Porn. He followed up with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So it looks like this genre is a fusion of sex and refusing to let a good thing die a dignified death. LePore notes that the average age when Lincoln was president was 16, and life expectancy was under 40. Now, you have a fine chance of living past 80. “Dread of death, not love of sex, is why the dead keep rising,” LePore concludes.

4, Twenty-thousand species are considered a high risk for extinction. If that story unfolds, it would be a mass extinction rivaled only five times in the planet’s fossil record (Intelligent Design proponents may stop reading here). The last time was 65 million years ago, with the demise of the dinosaurs. Does it matter if we lose a frog here and there? “It is often forgotten,” writes scientist Richard Pearson, “how dependent we are on other species. Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies. These systems provide food, fresh water and the raw materials for construction and fuel; they regulate climate and air quality; buffer against natural hazards like floods and storms; maintain soil fertility; and pollinate crops. The genetic diversity of the planet’s myriad different life forms provides he raw ingredients for new medicines and new commercial crops and livestock, including those that are better suited to conditions under a changed climate.”

5, From the Department of I Take It All Back: Gary Taubes, who has researched the question for decades writes, “the evidence published from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying early.”

6, Two psychologists – one from the University of Washington, one from Cornell – have determined that “Gaydar,” the ability to detect whether a person is gay, “is indeed real and that its accuracy is driven by sensitivity to individual facial features as well as the spatial relationships among facial features.”

7, In the Travel section, “Wi-Fi and Amtrak: Missed Connections” headlines a whiny story with rail passengers complaining about poor Internet connections on the train. They don’t know what to do with themselves! Should they, like, talk to each other?  “It’s a mandatory break from work, since I can’t connect,” concedes one passenger. “Maybe they are doing me a favor.”

8, Oh, no! It’s The Summer Reading edition of The Book Review! I don’t have time for this. I’ll set it aside and read, at my leisure, reviews of books on the New York Yankees, the making of Animal House and a comic book called Best of Enemies: A History of U.S.and Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953. But I’ll peak at a review of two new books on Dylan and Springsteen, musicians who, reviewer Robin Finn writes, “outwitted the hype.” Finn points to a description drawn from Who is that Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan, in which author David Dolan describes Dylan as “some great galleon encrusted with barnacles, seaweed, old shoes, tin cans, condoms,” before conceding “the authentic American genius is a synthetic personality. They’re all hybrids, hence, inevitably charlatans.”

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