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I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Nov. 4

The coffee is standard-issue Colombian. First music of the day: The elegant psychedelia of Shearwater. Today’s Times is the post-Sandy, pre-election issue.

1, “I’m going to take a pass on predicting who will win the presidential election on Tuesday, because I can make a safer, more confident prediction about what will happen in its aftermath,” Frank Bruni writes in The Sunday review section. “The embittered troops of the party that loses will claim that their candidate didn’t get a fair shake and will hunker down to fight and foil the victor. It’s what we do, God help us. It’s who we’ve become.”

2, The electoral college system disenfranchises most Americans, according to Adam Liptak. With the electoral college votes of so many states lining up Red or Blue before the campaigns even started, “the candidates have campaigned in only 10 states since the political conventions,” he says. “There are towns in Ohio that have received more attention than the entire West Coast.”

3, For those who take a dim view of the Republican nominee for vice president: “Representative Paul D. Ryan may have largely disappeared from the national spotlight down the campaign homestretch, ceding attention to Mitt Romney,” the Times writes. Or, perhaps, the Times is threatening us: “But if the Republican ticket prevails, Mr. Ryan plans to come back roaring, establishing an activist vice presidency that he said would be like Dick Cheney’s under President George  W. Bush.”

4, As the East Coast pulls itself together post-Sandy, which will cost billions of dollars, it’s being acknowledged that billions more will be needed to storm-proof the country: Climate-change deniers may not have noticed, but we’ve been seeing a “Storm of the Century” every few years. Katrina wiped out New Orleans. Last year Irene and now Sandy on the East Coast. “It takes two catastrophic events of this kind within a generation to build political support to make investments of this sort,” Robert D. Yaro, president of an urban research group, tells the Times. “I’m hoping that Irene was the wake-up call and Sandy is the hammer coming down.”

5, The Sunday Styles section takes note of all of the high-profile Americans who have threatened moving to Canada, despite its socialized health care, if Romney wins. Susan Sarandon, Cher, George Lopez. “In Canada we’re happy to provide a safe haven for next-door neighbors in the middle of a marital dispute,” Canadian artist and writer Douglas Coupland tells the Times. “And if anyone trips while crossing the border, we’re happy to set their broken bones for free.”

6, A new cooking show, The Mind of a Chef, features one of the hot-shot new masters of Manhattan culinary arts, David Chang of the Momofuku restaurants. It starts next weekend on PBS because, as co-producer Anthony Bourdain says, The Food Network or Cooking Channel “can’t get a piece of the publishing or make bobblehead dolls. It’s unlikely there will be David Chang cooking equipment to be sold.” Rather than watching Guy Fiere stuff a baby-sized burger into his mouth, smart chefs like Rene Rezdepe of Copenhagen’s Nomo (“often rated as the best restaurant in the world,” the Times writes) will dish culinary secrets. In one episode, “Chang accompanies Rezdepe as he forages in tall grass by the seaside, then watches him assemble a salad from green strawberries, scallops, pea juice and ‘plants’ – the green shoots Mr. Rezdepe nosed out. ‘This took five hours to gather, five minutes to arrange, and it will take 30 seconds to consume,’ Mr. Rezdepe says.”

7, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the title character in the new film Lincoln, and apparently insisted on staying in character even when the cameras weren’t running. Jared Harris, best known for his role as Layne Pryce in Mad Men, plays Ulysses S. Grant, and also stayed in character, so as to not throw off Day-Lewis. “It was important for him to retain the attitude, if you like, and the dialect he had created. So we would sit there and joke, for example, about the Vicksburg campaign.” Harris also noted that “At the end of the day sometimes we’d ride back in the car, and he’d stay in character but talk about Mad Men, which of course he couldn’t know about, because television hadn’t been invented then.”

8, With Bill O’Reilly’s much-unadmired Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln residing at No. 1 and No. 3 on the Times non-fiction hardcover best seller list, it’s perhaps no surprise to read of the death – his age of 100  notwithstanding – of renowned Lincoln biographer Richard N. Current. Poor guy probably died of a broken heart out of frustration for his profession.  Even my mother bought Killing Lincoln (although, Mr. Reilly, she hasn’t read it yet). So it’s a relief to see Chyrstia Freeland’s Plutocrats showing up at No. 15. The book’s about the 1 Percent. As the Times reports Freeland told NPR, “In America we have equated personal business success with public virtue. And what I think has entered the political discourse now, and I think the president is one of the people pushing this, is he’s saying wait a minute, what is good for the guys at the very top is not necessarily good for the people in the middle…. I think it’s actually an existential threat. People don’t want to be just rich and successful, they want to be good. And I think it’s really threatening to feel like, wow you mean I’m not as full of goodness and virtue as I thought I was?”

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Oct. 23

The coffee, for the third straight week, is Burundi. First music of the day: Chick Corea.

1,“Why is there no electricity?” Muammar el-Qaddafi asked the band of loyalists who shuffled the Libyan leader from one abandoned house to the next in an effort to avoid rebel fighters. “Why is there no water?” His body, as well as that of his son, are awaiting disposition in a the meat locker at a local mall.

2, Running for the Republican nomination for president as an outsider, The Times reminds us that, from 1996 to 1999, Herman Cain was that ultimate of D.C. insiders, the lobbyist. Cain transformed what’s described as a “once-sleepy” National Restaurant Association into a force. “He allied himself closely with cigarette makers fighting restaurant smoking bans, spoke out against lowering blood-alcohol limits as a way to prevent drunken driving, fought an increase in the minimum wage and opposed a patients’ bill of rights – all in keeping with the industry he represented.”

3, “By considering a proposal to put filling stations in the sky, NASA is looking to accelerate plans to send astronauts to distant destinations,” The Times writes. “The filling stations – NASA calls them propellant depots – would refuel a spacecraft in orbit before it headed out to the moon, an asteroid or eventually Mars. Currently, all of the fuel needed for a mission is carried up with the rocket, and the weight of the fuel limits the size of the spacecraft.”

4, The re-drawing of Congressional districts, which occurs every 10 years, has resulted in lawsuits filed in half the states in this country. Republican gains in Congress and governorships in last November’s elections are allowing them to re-draw four times as many districts as Democrats. “In many states,” The Times writes, “the Republicans are using that power to help them hold on to the dozens of seats they picked up from Democrats in last year’s elections, often by tweaking their contours to add more Republican voters to those districts.” Texas, which has a particularly onerous history of redistricting discrimination, picked up four Congressional seats, largely because of its booming Hispanic population. But minorities will probably be empowered in only one of those districts, drawn up by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Rick Perry this summer. That plan went straight to the courts.

5, Condoleezza Rice’s apologia, No Higher Honor, hits the bookstores next month. She writes of conflicts with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld over issues such as how to handle terrorism suspects. Rice rejected Cheney’s contention that they could simply be “disappeared” in the same manner as many authoritarian states. Rumsfeld simply avoided the responsibility by announcing “I don’t do detainees” and leaving the room. Rice also discusses Qaddafi’s well-known obsession with her; Libyan rebels found a photo album filled with pictures of Rice in one of Qadaffi’s compounds. He also had a video made of her, with photos set to a song called “Black Flower in the White House.” She writes, “It was weird, but at least it wasn’t raunchy.”

6, In The Sunday Review, columnist Frank Bruni chuckles over the celebrities who have been supporting Occupy Wall Street. Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Russell Simmons, Roseanne Barr, Kanye West. They may sympathize with the OWS campers, but all have ties to the corporations that are being demonized in Zuccotti Park and now worldwide. Celebrities move in dollar-fueled orbits few mortal can comprehend. “The musicians Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Usher and Beyonce (a pitchwoman over time for L’Oreal, Armani, Nintendo, Pepsi) sang for members of the Qadaffi family,” Bruni writes. “Will they be warbling at the funeral? Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme attended the 35th-birthday bash for the Chechen tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov. This was not the outgrowth of a long, deep friendship. Let’s hope these entertainers steer clear of Zuccotti Park, but you never know. Performers do love their political pronouncements, even though they view the world from a vantage point as skewed and cloistered in its way as a Fortune 500 chief executive’s.”

7, After George W. Bush’s failed experiments in regime change, Republican candidates for president seem to have suddenly become isolationists. But as Sam Tanenhaus points out, isolationism isn’t realistic when you’re the world’s lone superpower, “as, perhaps, Mr. Obama demonstrated in his Libya policy. He followed a middle course criticized by neoconservatives, who found it too timid, and by isolationists, who warned against ‘mission creep.’ But it seems to have been vindicated last week with the death of Col. Muammar el-Qadaffi.”

8, The magazine introduces a new column, drink. In dwelling on Martinis (a too-large glass results in “massive martinis that quickly concede their vital, bracing chill”), Rosie Schapp lists the three “worst ideas for martinis currently in circulation.” Apple pie, candy corn and bubblegum.

9, In the Book review, reviewer Jennifer Schluesser asks, “Do dogs deserve biographies? In Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Susan Orleans answers that question in the affirmative, while also asking a harder one: Can a dog deserve an Oscar?” For the record, the dog did win the vote count for best actor for the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929, but in a fit of voters’ remorse the honor was instead handed to Emil Jannings. Rin Tin Tin is described as “a soulful German Shepherd who was born on the battlefields of World War I, immigrated to America, conquered Hollywood, struggled in the transition to talkies, helped mobilize thousands of dog volunteers against Hitler and himself emerged victorious as the perfect family-friendly icon of cold-war gunslinging, thanks to the new medium of television.” Orleans tells of of Rin Tin Tin’s war heroics, where dogs transported medical supplies in the trenches or were rigged to carry bombs. Rin Tin Tin was a stud of a dog who could leap 12-foot fences and jump through plate-glass windows, but sensitive enough to have been buried with his favorite squeaky toy. So, who was Emil Jannings, anyway?

10, In Why Read Moby-Dick?, author Nathaniel Philbrick makes a case for the big novel as an analogy for America. Reviewer Kathryn Harrison writes that the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by the legendary nutcase Ahab, is labelled a “misdirected melting pot,” by Philbrick that sails under “a man divided, seared and parboiled by the conflagration raging inside him.” Ahab, Harrison adds, “heedlessly sacrifices all those who have pledged their allegiance to him. ‘The mythic incarnation of America: a country blessed,’ in Philbrick’s words, ‘by God and by the free enterprise that nonetheless embraces the barbarity it supposedly supplanted,’ we are a nation, and a species, ever poised on self destruction.’ ”            

11, Who is this Brazilian named Jose Mojica Marins, whose alter ego is Coffin Joe, “a crazed and sadistic undertaker who always appears in a uniform of black, complete with top hat, cape and gruesome fingernails.” His cult films include 1960s films such as At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Writes Larry Rhoter in The Times, “Some admirers see Mr. Mojica, who has directed, written or acted in more than 50 movies, as a kind of South American Roger Corman, a B-movie auteur whose films contain references to Nietzsche and Dante.  Others view his work as pure camp – more in the tradition of Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space than Luis Bunuel or John Waters – or simply trash.” Bands such as The Ramones and The Cramps were fans. From 1964 until 1999, Mojica never cut his fingernails for the Coffin Joe character, and “at their peak they were nearly a yard long, with curves that made them look like strands of spaghetti.” Even after cutting them off, he stores them at home and glues them back on when resurrecting Coffin Joe.

12, While we’re on the subject, one of the most-elusive horror films of the 1930s has finally been properly resurrected. The 1932 Island of Lost Souls, “a horror film that the Marquis de Sade might have written,” The Times writes, was adapted from H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and was “so extreme in its effects that Wells himself denounced it.”

13, Anonymous, the new film by Roland Emmerich, jumps on the Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare bandwagon, noting in The Times that “certain things are very hard to explain, like how this commoner wrote these 36 – some say 38 – plays. And why does this most learned man have two illiterate daughters?” Many scholars dispute anti-Shakespeare notions such as his daughters being illiterate, but are accustomed to encountering such shaky evidence, until they hear that Emmerich has helped produce a documentary and classroom study guide described by Columbia English professor James S. Shapiro as “half-truths repeated through a 20th-century perspective…. I have no problem if Roland Emmerich wants to drink the Kool-Aid, but  do have a problem when it’s doled out in small cups to  school kids.”

14, Tom Waits’ new album, Bad as Me, gets a full page of explanation in Arts & Leisure, and appears to need it. Sometimes we over-explain, however. A waltz called “Last Leaf,” writes Jon Parales, “celebrates the image of a lone leaf clinging to a tree: ‘the autumn took the rest but they won’t take me,’ Mr. Waits sings. It’s temping to hear it as a manifesto for stubborn persistence, but Mr. Waits shrugged that off…. ‘I guess you could say everything’s a metaphor for everything else, but sometimes it’s just what it is. It’s just what it’s about – about a tree.’ “

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday Times, so you don’t have to: July 17

Today’s coffee, more of that awesome Sulawesi-Toraja. First music of the day: country chanteuse Eilen Jewell.

1, The lead story of the day exposes an accomplice in the massive British phone-hacking scandal conducted by the Rupert Murdoch-owned The News of the World: Scotland Yard. For four years, the legendary police force acknowledges it either ignored, or perhaps even covered up, mounds of evidence that the newspaper was engaged in illegally breaking into the phone systems of Royals, government officials, celebrities and common citizens. Among the many Murdoch media companies: Fox News.

2, Inside, a headline reads “Tentacles of Phone-Hacking Scandal Grow Tighter Around Prime Minister.” British Prime Minister David Cameron is being questioned about his cozy relationship with Murdoch’s people. The Times story reports that many people “believe that Murdoch helped swing the 2010 election to the Conservatives when his papers dropped Labour after 13 years and backed the Conservatives.”

3, Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman and divisive Republican candidate for president, has seen her political star rise through her aggressive stand against the rights of gay people to marry. “That’s her recipe: find the issue, then use it politically to mobilize previously marginalized or disconnected groups,” a political scientist at the University of Minnesota tells The Times. “For those of us who followed her since the beginning, it’s like reading a romance novel with a formula.” According to Minnesota state senator Scott Dibble, who is gay, Bachmann is an inappropriate mix of politics and her evangelical faith. “The threat she represented was very real,” Dibble tells The Times of his time with Bachmann in the state senate. He tells of Bachman “trotting out junk science and debunked claims that being gay is a choice.” When the chamber was not in session, Dibble says, Bachmann would bring visitors in “to pray around my desk.”

4, More to come: “Christian Counseling By Hopeful’s Spouse Raises Questions,” reads another headline. Bachmann’s husband, Marcus Bachmann, allegedly runs two clinics involved in helping gay people become straight, a service most psychologists regard as illegitimate and involving “some risk of harm.”

5, Hospitals are beginning to see their emergency rooms treating “people arriving so agitated, violent and psychotic that a small army of medical workers was needed to hold them down,” The Times writes. ” ‘These people were completely disconnected from reality and in a very bad place,’ ” said one Pennsylvania doctor.  They’re called “bath salts,” although they’re not, and are generally labeled “Not for human consumption.” It’s closely related to chemical stimulants such as synthetic marijuana, and is banned in at least 28 states. But in other states, it’s sold at convenience stores and in head shops under names such as “Ivory Wave” and “Vanilla Sky.” Snorted, smoked or injected, it caused one Indiana man to climb a flag pole and jump into traffic and a Pennsylvania man to break into a monastery and stab a priest. “I have never seen a drug that took off as fast as this one,” an Indiana police chief said. Others told The Times, “some people on the drugs could not be subdued with pepper spray or even Tasers.”

6, In the Sunday Review section, David Leonhardt explains the bad economy: “We are living through a tremendous bust. It isn’t simply a housing bust. It’s a fizzling of the great consumer bubble that was decades in the making.” In other words, we don’t have jobs, pay raises and money to fund social services because no one’s buying anything anymore.

7, The physician and author Oliver Sachs: “I buy lumps of metals because I am a periodic-table freak. I bought rhenium for my 75th birthday, osmium for my 76th birthday iridium for my 77th birthday. But I may not be able to afford more than a tiny pellet of platinum for my 78th birthday this year.”

8, Henry Carlisle, an editor who helped bring Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to print, has died. Carlisle was also a novelist, and one of his books was inspired by the same true-life incident that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick, the 1820 sinking of the whaling ship Essex, rammed by a whale. Except Carlisle’s The Jonah Man, published in 1984, went where Melville dared not go, telling of the eight survivors in lifeboats lasting for two months by eating the dead.

9, A reporter for The Arizona Republic says that, during an interview on gun rights with State Senator Lori Klein, she pulled her Ruger pistol from her purse and pointed it at him: the red dot of the laser sight was right on his chest. When Richard Ruelas asked if the gun had bullets in it, she said it always does. “Massacre after massacre hasn’t changed this nation’s mind-boggling blitheness about guns,” writes Frank Bruni. According to Rueles’ article, Klein told him, “I don’t like chocolate ice cream. Am I going to force you not to have any?” Bruni lowers the boom: “Firearms, Haagen-Dazs – it’s all the same. Her Ruger is pink, like a Barbi convertible. Showing it to Ruelas, she reportedly said, ‘Oh, it’s so cute.’ No, Senator Klein, it’s not. It’s a potentially deadly weapon. When are you and the rest of the country going to wake up to that?”

10, Ardis James, who in 1997 with her husband opened the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln, has died at age 86. “Mrs James had long been a fabric addict,” an affliction most commonly seen in women and not universally understood by men,” The Times writes (agreed: see http://www.quiltingwithmargaret.com). But James did explain the importance of quilts, The Times reports, in a talk that she once gave, when she cited Death of a Salesman. “Almost everything in our lives can be disposable if we want, and I’m not against paper plates, but there may be need of an anchor as well. A 1875 Log Cabin quilt can help when you feel, as  did Willy Loman, ‘kind of temporary about myself.’ ”

11, Similarly, James Gleick describes the thrill he felt in 1999 in the Reading Room of the Morgan Library in New York, seeing the oldest of Isaac Newton’s notebooks, dating back to 1659. “It’s a contact high,” Gleick writes. “In this time of digitization, it is said to be endangered. The Morgan Notebook of Isaac Newton is online now…. You can surf it. The raw material of history appears to be heading for the cloud.” But Gleick dismisses such thinking as “sentimentalism, even fetishism.” He points out that the human rights document Magna Carta sold for $21 million in auction three years ago, and it wasn’t even the real thing; it was a copy, made 82 years after the original was written. “Why is this tattered parchment valuable?” he writes. “Magical thinking.” The real Magna Carta is available online. The $21 million copy, “is like the coffin at a funeral. It deserves to be honored, but the soul has moved on.”

12, The world-wide drought – which in America follows a year of extraordinary tornadoes and floods – is what climatologists call “a creeping disaster.” Writer Alex Prud’homme asked a Columbia University scientist what’s going on. “You can’t really call it a drought because that implies a temporary change,” says Richard Seagar. “The models show a progressive aridification. You don’t say, ‘The Sahara is in drought.’ It’s a desert. If the models are right, then the Southwest will face a permanent drying out.”

13, In Austin, Texas, the new scene is Rainy Street, on the edge of Lady Bird Lake. Old bungalows have been turned into rough-hewn bars. “It’s not scene-y,” said one visitor. “it’s not people dressed in cocktail drag; it’s not desperate housewives.” The next new bar to open will be called Container Bar, The Times writes, “a collection of stacked and scattered shipping containers, set around a courtyard.”

14, In the magazine, Bill Keller wonders, if books are dying, why is everyone dying to write one? Amid a list of employees who are also would-be authors, including his “restaurant critic with a history of eating disorders,” The Times executive editor notes, “at least the death of books would put an end to the annoying fact that everyone who works for me is either writing one or wants to. I would get y staff back!”

15, Optometrists are increasingly suggesting that light-eyed ballplayers, particularly in baseball, struggle during day games because their baby blues don’t have enough pigment in their macula, “a little dot, about the size of a pinhead, that sits conveniently in the most centralized portion of the eye as light passes through your pupil to get ti your retina.” Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton’s batting average is 94 points lower in day games than night games.

16, Apparently, 2011 is a non-entity. “Once pop music was something by which you could tell the decade, or even the year,” writes Simon Reynolds in the Arts & Leisure section, noting the heavy retro sensibility of today’s hits. “But listening to the radio nowadays is disorienting, if you’re searching for a sound that screams, ‘It’s 2011!’ ” Reynolds cites a cyberpunk fiction phrase, “atemporality,” the “disconcerting absence of of contemporaneity from so much current pop culture. This curious quality can be detected not just in pop music but in everything from fashion to graphic design to vintage chic.”

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