I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: May 2
It is a morning of scents here. A salmon, for my friend Frank’s 70th birthday later today, is in the smoker on the deck. The lilacs have peaked, the flowering crabapple tree is an explosion of white blossoms.
1, No one’s shouting “Drill, baby, drill” now, as we watch the oil from last week’s explosion of a BP-operated oil rig creep toward Louisiana in what may rival the Exxon Valdez disaster. In today’s Times, we see how that oil may destroy Louisiana’s wetlands. To us northern folk, the wetlands sound like swamp. But the wetlands, beside its role as a wildlife refuge, is an essential piece of the gulf ecosystem. As the wild grasses that hold the land together are destroyed, Louisiana has lost an area the size of Delaware since 1932, with the shoreline washed away and islands sinking out of sight. For the people of Louisiana, it’s a key environmental issue. The great blues guitarist Sonny Landreth, who lives in the area, reminded me of that during an interview a few months ago. And, he added: People live there. We sigh and shake our heads sadly as we watch rich people’s houses ride California mudslides into the ocean, but when some poor crawfish fishermen lose their homes – the only thing they have – it seems to matter less, for no good reason.
2, Not incidentally, if the wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, approved last week by the federal government, are built, “they could replace the electricity made by more than 100 billion gallons of oil annually,” The Times writes. There are problems with wind power. The cost is higher than other forms, but “utility bills tell only part of the story; no one knows yet what the costs will be to clean up the oil that has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.” Europe currently has 800 offshore wind turbines. The United States has none. Not only are we behind in this growth industry, we don’t even have any experience to draw on.
3, In the Week in Review, “The Spill vs. the Need to Drill” agrees that we need to move forward on alternative energy. But essayist Jad Mouawad – I wish they’d tell us who these people are, and who they work for – points out we need the oil now, as it will take decades to develop new energy forms. This may be true. Or maybe not. The debate wouldn’t be so infuriating if oil companies, and their politicians and media spokesmen, didn’t lie so outrageously about the issue. As I recall, from all of those BP TV commercials featuring earnest, real American actors, and that nice confident lady in the pants suit, offshore oil drilling is safe, and today’s technology protects us from big spills. Those TV commercials have been relentless for the last year. They’re very quiet, now.
4, Columnist Frank Rich examines Arizona’s new illegal immigrant law and warns that it is part of a far broader politics that wants to “Take Back America” after losing the 2008 election. As these race-based issues explode, the Republican leadership is “a lot of guys hiding under their desks,” Rich writes. “It’s getting harder and harder to cling to the conventional wisdom that the Tea Party is merely an element in the GOP, not the party’s controlling force – the tail that’s wagging the snarling dog.”
5, Greece’s financial crises is worsened by it’s “Culture of Evasion.” A front-page story reports on a wealthy northern suburb of Athens, where 324 residents checked the box on their tax return forms indicating that their homes had swimming pools. A check of satellite photos said otherwise: 16,974 pools. “That kind of wholesale lying about assets, and other eye-popping cases that are surfacing in the news media here,” The Times writes, “point to the staggering breadth of tax dodging that has long been a way of life here.”
6, Count Guiseppe Panza di Biumo, Italian businessman and one of the world’s major art collectors, has died at age 87. “To understand the new art was of primary importance to me,” he said three years ago. “It was like discovering a new theory in physics, or a new celestial body.” He also noted, “I collect art because I love beauty, not to make money.”
7, Susan Reed, forgotten folk legend, has died at age 84 in a Long Island nursing home. Just as Johnny Cash’s shows seemed incomplete without his introductory proclamation, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” Reed had her own traditional show opener: “This is a zither.” Reed also played harp and lute, singing old Irish, English and Appalachian ballads. A critical and commercial star, she ended her career after six years, in the mid-’50s, appearing only sporadically in the 1960s and ’70s. “I was singing in the Palmer House in Chicago when I thought, ‘This is a rotten business.’ And I just turned it off,” she told The Times in 1971. Her son added another page to the story, when he said, “Although that may be true, the Red Scare also forced her to leave the limelight. She was involved with civil rights; her father had been a Communist. She was pretty much relegated to whistle-stop engagements in Podunk towns.”
8, While I have a tough time getting excited by anything on TV except baseball or Tyler Florence cooking enchiladas, the PBS series Secrets of the Dead has my interest. Wednesday’s episode, “Japanese Super-Sub,” describes a World War II weapon being worked on by the Japanese: A giant submarine that could carry bombers close enough to American cities to launch attacks, perhaps with biological weapons. Foldable planes were devised, as well as “solving technical problems like finding a way to warm the planes for flight without having their exhaust fumes suffocate the crews.” Some of these super-subs were actually built.
9, Interesting profile of The Fall, the British rock band now releasing its 28th album. If you’re surprised to learn that the band still exists, a reasonable argument could be made that it doesn’t, or perhaps barely does. It has gone through 45 musicians by one count, and the only continuous member, singer and rock and roll agitator Mark E. Smith, is, The Times writes, “a heavy drinker and smoker who’s been spending time in wheelchairs lately, having broken a hip in 2004 and a leg in 2009.” And, at 53, he looks like hell in the accompanying photo. But, “The point is to last; the point is not to stop.”
10, A headline in the magazine asks, “Why are so many of the leading Republican presidential candidates politically unemployed?” Mike Huckaby, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and New Gingrich. Tim Pawlenty will be by the end of the year. The most-appealing reason: “There has never been a worse time to be an incumbent anything.”
11, The Book Review examines Tom Nolan’s Three Chords For Beauty’s Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw. Did you know that the jazz clarinetist (Ray Charles called him “One of the greatest musicians who ever lived”) claims he picked up a clarinet only once in the last 50 years of his life? (He lived to be 94). Instead, reviewer David Gates writes, Shaw spent the time “busying himself with dairy farming, marksmanship, movie distribution, writing a never-to-be-finished autobiographical novel – anything except what he seemed put on earth to do.” Oh yeah, he was married eight times, and had a handful of girlfriends, all the most glamorous of women: Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Lena Horne.
12, Hugh Raffles’ Insectopedia bugs me. It’s a personal, stream-of-consciousness collection of essays, touching on subjects such as the contemporary painter Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, who paints watercolors of insects deformed in the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Flies with legs growing out of their eyes, stuff like that.
13, In Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, Max Hastings presents Winston Churchill as both an indomitable spirit who saved Britain, and a boob who nearly blew it. “Had Churchill died in January of that year,” reviewer Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes of 1940, “Hitler might not have been defeated at all. Is it possible that, if Churchill had died in January 1942, Germany might have been defeated sooner?”
14, Also in the Book Review, three books on Shakespeare: James Shaprio’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?; Charles Beauclerk’s Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth; and Tony Tanner’s Prefaces to Shakespeare. All three address the true author of Shakespeare’s works, with Shakespeare’s doubters summed up by the 19th-Century, slowly-going-insane literary critic Delia Bacon, who asked, “How a ‘stupid, illiterate, third-rate play actor’ could have written works of such ‘superhuman genius?’ ” Shapiro seems to conclude that, like it or not, there was a fellow named Shakespeare who wrote this stuff. We don’t know much about him, including his literacy level. And so what if we have no evidence that Shakespeare was involved with falconry? That doesn’t mean he couldn’t use his imagination to write about it. Ultimately, Shakespearian historians dig too deeply into Shakespeare’s writing for clues, reviewer Jeremy McCarter writes. “Sometimes an ass’s head is just an ass’s head.”