The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times so you don’t have to: June 10

Today’s coffee is from the island of Java. The first music of the day: birds singing outside the open windows after the early morning rain.

1, In this poor economy, unemployed people in their 60s are being forced to turn to Social Security much sooner than they’d planned. About 200,000 more people than expected filed initial claims in the last two years which will, of course, place a greater strain on that entitlement program. And when Republicans blame people for not working, we have to gently remind them: Congress must pass the jobs legislation that they are blocking. People want the opportunity to live to their full potential, and the country will benefit from  that. “I would rather be functioning and having a job somewhere,” says a 62-year-old California who lost her job as an executive ad assistant in 2008. “I really don’t enjoy living like this. I’ve got too much to do still.”

2, Monday is the 50th anniversary of the escape of three prisoners from Alcatraz. It is generally assumed that the three men – Frank Lee Morris (who had a genius IQ of 133) and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin – drowned in the attempt. Their battered raft, made from raincoats glued together, was found the next day on an Angel Island two miles away. But today’s story in The Times says that a 2011 National Geographic TV program “disclosed that footprints leading away from the raft had been found on Angel Island, and that contrary to official denial, a car had been stole nearby on the night of the escape.”

3, Speaking of enduring mysteries, Jane Mendelsohn, who years ago write a book called I Was Amerlia Earhart (she wasn’t claiming to be, she was simply inspired by the aviator) writes in the Sunday Review about the public’s fascination with her disappearance. Earhart’s in the news again as an expedition prepares to search for the remains of her plane on a Pacific island where someone found a broken jar that once carried the kind of face cream that Earhart used. And a old photo taken on that island years ago now looks to someone like a piece of the landing gear from her airplane. And radio signals long ago dismissed as either hoaxes or the product of freak weather have been re-analyzed and declared very likely to be distress signals that came from Earhart hours after her plane would have run out of fuel. “But did she really survive?” Mendelsohn writes. “I still don’t think it matters. We will always care and wonder about the things that vanish, the personal ones like a jar of face cream or our 20s, or the big ones like Amelia Earhart or the MF Global money, but what’s important is taking responsibility for our actions and for the things we’ve lost, even and especially if what we’ve lost is out own way.”

4, Just a reminder, in case you’re for or against Obama’s health care law, from an essay by Pam Belluck, a health reporter with The Times: “Most of the major elements of the Affordable Care Act have not taken effect, and would not until 2014.”

5, In an editorial, The Times warns, “If you wanted to reproduce the conditions that lead to the Great Recession in 2007, the easiest way would be the plan unveiled last week by House Republicans: gut the regulators who are supposed to keep the worst business practices in check.”

6, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, examined Google searches to determine if a decline in racial prejudice helped elect Barack Obama. His conclusion? Quite the opposite. “Racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized,” he writes. “A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans.” Depressingly,  Stephens-Davidowitz writes, “In 2008, Mr. Obama rode an unusally strong tail wind. The economy was collapsing. The Iraq war was unpopular. Republicans took most of the blame. He was able to overcome the major obstacle of continuing racial prejudice in the United States. In 2012, the tail wind is gone; the obstacle likely remains.”

7, Modern classical compositions, such as works by Philip Glass, offer a daunting problem: The electronics on which they are created quickly become outdated. So a Glass piece written for an electronic organ in 1978 will very likely sound different today because of improvements in the technology of the instrument. “Ligeti’s Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes (1962) should be the easiest of his scores to perform,” writes Allan Kozinn in the Arts & Leisure section. “All you have to do is wind up the 100 metronomes, start them at exactly the same time (OK, that is not so easy) and let them wind down until the last one stops. But try finding 100 wind-up metronomes these days.”

8, I lived in Texas for three years. I know what Gail Collins is talking about in her new book, As Texas Goes… How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. Texas politics does seem to have played a major role in destroying important financial and energy regulations, and has contributed characters to the debate – George W. Bush –  who weren’t up to the job of leadership. The Alamo and “the massacre of 189 stubborn white men,” as reviewer Lloyd Grove writes, is certainly a symbol of the Texas mindset. He points out a Collins comment that The Alamo reflects Texas as a state which is “at its best when there’s an enemy to rise up against. Outsized and brave. And frequently somewhat lunatic.”

9, In the magazine, we learn that, “According to a new study in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, failure to follow unwritten ‘Facebook friendship rules’ causes immediate, real-life defriending.” Please allow me to apologize now to all of you if my Facebook etiquette is lacking; but that comment defines exactly why I hold social media in such disdain.