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I read The Sunday New York Times so you don’t have to: Oct. 14

Today’s coffee is a beautiful Guatemalan. First music of the day: Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd.

1,While Mitt Romney received a boost from his debate performance against Barack Obama – you may read my use of the word “performance” as a euphemism for my preferred phrase, “deception-filled” – the Times reports, “There is little sign, however, that Mr. Romney’s rebound has translated into races for the Senate.  Although Republicans have made modest gains in a few Senate races, the polls have been poor for them on a whole. Some races have already gotten away from them, while others are on the verge of being lost.” One forecast model, which predicted in August that Republicans had a 68 percent chance of winning the Senate, now lists that probability at just 16 percent. Mitch McConnell must be turning over in is grave.

2, Governor, we hardly knew ye: A Times examination of Romney’s schedule during his four-year term as governor of Massachusetts shows that he spent one-fourth of that time out of state. Seventy percent of that time was spent on personal or political trips unrelated to his job as governor, including activities laying the groundwork for a future presidential run. Critics of Romney’s performance in Massachusetts – actually, you’d have to call that non-performance – say this is proof he was more interested in getting the job than in doing it.

3, Bruce Springsteen had said he was staying out of politics this year, after working hard for Obama in 2008. But, borrowing from the familiar Romney campaign strategy known as the “Flip-Flop,” Springsteen is now joining the Obama campaign, with a Thursday appearance in the battleground state of Ohio.

4, Interesting story on juvenile killers on page 1A. Maurice Bailey is serving a life-without-parole sentence for the 1993 murder of his 15-year-old girlfriend, who was pregnant with their child. “I go over it pretty much every night,” says Bailey, now 34. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

5, The school superintendent of El Paso, Texas, has been sentenced to prison for a scheme to artificially inflate the school system’s test scores in order to keep it eligible for Federal funds under the No Child Left Behind Act. In Texas, student success is measured by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, a test administered when they are sophomores. “Students identified as low-performing were transferred to charter schools, discouraged from enrolling in school or were visited at home by truant officers and told not to go to school on the test day,” the Times writes. “For some, credits were deleted from transcripts or grades were changed from passing to failing or from failing to passing so they could be reclassified as freshman or juniors.”

6, Texas seems intent on demonstrating why states are often not best left to their own decision-making processes, despite the desires of non-regulatory advocates. Seven more cancer scientists have resigned in protest what they call “politically driven” decisions made by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The Associated Press story doesn’t say how many scientists had previously left the program, which is the second-biggest cancer-research funding agency in the country. The scientists are critical of the absence of scientific review before dispensing taxpayer money for what they call a “politically driven, commercialization-based mission.”

7, In an unusually long editorial, the Times makes a convincing argument for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan. Not in 2014, as Obama promises, but immediately. “America’s global interests suffer when it is mired in unwinnable wars, in distant regions,” it writes. “Dwight Eisenhower helped the county’s position in the world by leaving Korea; Richard Nixon by leaving Vietnam; President Obama by leaving Iraq.” The corrupt alchemy of government and religion there cannot  be undone. Our largest concern, that al Qaeda would find “safe haven” in an Afghanistan that has no U.S. presence ignores the fact that al Qaeda enjoys safe haven in countries like Yemen. And wasn’t bin Laden living withing the borders of our alleged friend, Pakistan?

8, The founder of the Principality of Sealand has died. A half-century ago, Roy Bates took possession of an abandoned concrete-and-steel British military outpost off the coast of England and declared it a sovereign nation. This was being done by other DJs in the 1960s, with the intention of setting up pirate radio stations beyond the reach of  British broadcasting regulations. Curiously, the British government itself seemed to concur with Bates’ right to do such a thing, and never interfered with the operations of Sealand, which funded itself by renting titles to people and selling stamps.

9, In The Sunday Review, two compelling personal stories shed light on two big election issues. Nicholas D. Kristof introduces us to his former Harvard roommate, Scott Androes, who quite his job as a pension consultant and was working as a seasonal tax employee – the kind of job where insurance isn’t built into your employment. Now at age 52, Androus has stage 4 prostate cancer. “President Obama’s health care reform came just a bit too late to help Scott,” Kristof writes, “but it will protect others like him – unless Mitt Romney repeals it.” Kristof also writes, “In other modern countries, Scott would have been insured.” Referring to the derogatory term chosen by anti-Obamacare critics, Krisftof adds, “Is that a nanny state? No, it is a civilized one.”  And Frank Bruni interviews Helen LaFave, the step sister of Michele Bachmann, and the “member of our family” who the Minnesota Congresswoman sometimes references during her attacks on gay and lesbian people. We also meet LaFave’s partner, Nia, as they discuss with heartbreaking sadness how Bachmann is leading a war against them.

10, If you’re old enough – let’s say mature enough – you’ll remember the sensational trial of Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Army doctor who was convicted in 1979 of the murder of his pregnant wife and two daughters nine years earlier at their home in Fort Bragg, N.C. Books have been written about the crime, and a movie made about it. MacDonald blamed the attack on a seemingly improbable gang of drug-crazed hippies. Now 68 and still in prison, MacDonald is getting yet another hearing. Errol Morris has just published another book on the murders, pointing to the MacDonald prosecution’s suppression of evidence and intimidation of witnesses. Particularly the testimony of a woman who – and DNA evidence apparently confirms this – says she was in the apartment at the time of the crime. She was a drug informant known to the narcotics cops. Her boyfriend at the time also confessed he was there. A witness, a paramedic, places her near the crime scene. Her attorney then testified this week that, yes, Helena Stoeckley had indeed told him at the time that she was at the crime scene. “Now there is a mountain of evidence supporting Mr. MacDonald and debunking the case against him,” Morris writes in an opinion piece. It really was, he claims, drug-crazed hippies.

11, In the Book Review, essayist Jim Arndorfer recalls when John Steinbeck was being recruited in 1958 to write a novel about a presidential candidate who was actually a thinly-veiled  Richard Nixon. Steinbeck declined the offer, reasoning that an attack novel would have little impact on the 1960 election (Steinbeck’s favorite candidate, Adlai Stevenson, lost the Democratic nomination to JKF anyway). A memo from the affair reveals that the literary plotters believed that books carried a weight that newspapers, TV and radio couldn’t duplicate. “It retrospect,” Arndorfer writes, “it’s easy to feel superior to their short-sighted sentiment – but who could have predicted the power of 140-character messages in today’s political environment? And who can predict the media that will make Twitter seem old hat?”

12, Interesting trivia from a review of Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. Just like Johnny Cash and prisons, the singer-songwriter included stops at mental institutions during a 1970 tour of Europe.

13, The magazine’s food issue is like grocery shopping: Don’t go in there if you’re hungry. Mark Bittman offers “Bacon 25 Ways.” With tofu, with popcorn, with sage and beans. My friend Dick left some home-ground sauerkraut at the house, that’s going in bacon today.

The Critical Mass

I read the Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: April 10

I saw a huge, bright green fireball flash in the sky when I got home last night at about 12:42 a.m. I was standing on the deck, looking out toward the lake. It only lasted a second. Must have been a meteor breaking up in the atmosphere over Canada.

1, This is typical of what the media analysts have been producing on the budget agreement that averted a partial shutdown of the U.S. government on Friday night: Of Obama, Jeff Zeleny writes on the front page of the Times this morning, “In his handling of the  closing stages of the budget negotiations, he portrayed himself more as a mediator urging the two parties to do their jobs than as another Democrat at the table.” Portrayed? Perhaps that’s what Obama is. In watching the President deal with hostile political opponents through his first two years of office, what stands out his his consistent attitude that he is the president of everyone in this country, and represents us all, and not simply the people who voted for him. Obama conducts himself as a calm healer. Most instant analysis of the budget battle and potential shutdown was a lot of cheering and hand-wringing over who was winning, and shouts that negotiation and compromise are signs of weakness. The best our pundits can come up with is a scorecard on who’s winning the political battle, rather than a careful examination of what effect these decisions will have on all Americans. It’s like reading the sports section.

2, OK then, so I’ll read the sports section. “Dodger Stadium has become a destination for too many people looking to get drunk and rowdy,” the Times writes in a story about a San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten into a coma in the parking lot following a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Vulgar chants have become commonplace…” Said one fan, “I feel safe, but that’s because I’m careful, and won’t wear the colors of either team.” Another added, “You don’t want to make eye contact in the lot.” Sounds like gang warfare.

3, Sidney Lumet, who directed classics such as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men, is dead at age 86. “I don’t think art changes anything,” he once said to the Times. Perhaps not. But art is responsible for this, he once wrote: “While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine of facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.” The best-known Lumet film moment may be Peter Finch in Network screaming to America, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Who can’t relate to that?

4, I see the biggest, most-important news in entertainment this week is Will Ferrell taking over for Steve Carell in The Office. Huge Arts & Leisure section-front story. Ferrell would have made the front page if he had chosen to instead replace Charlie Sheen in Two and One Half Men.

5, An illustration of the disconnect between pro-business factions in government and the remaining 98 percent of the American people: “At a time when millions of Americans are trying to hang onto homes and millions more are trying to hang onto jobs,” the Times writes in Sunday Business, “the chief executives of major corporations like 3M, General Electric and Cisco Systems are making as much today as they were before the recession hit. Indeed, some are making even more.”

6, The Times editorial page seems to contradict the policies of the Book Review. A researcher has concluded that John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning Travels With Charley in Search of America seems to be largely made up. Dates and places don’t match up and the dog, Charley, was hardly involved. Outraged, the editorial page writes, “books labeled ‘nonfiction’ should not break faith with readers.” Pardon me, but wasn’t Laura Ingraham’s relentlessly ridiculous The Obama Diaries, an entirely made-up and unfunny satire, listed on the Times best-seller list for nonfiction?

7, John Thompson was released from Louisiana’s death row in 2003, exonerated for a murder he did not commit, a conviction gained by the prosecution hiding evidence that would have proven Thompson innocent. That evidence finally came to light just weeks before Thompson was to be executed. In 2005, Thompson was awarded $14 million by a jury, which found the prosecutors and district attorney Harry Connick Sr. – yes, that is the singer’s father – liable for hiding that evidence. Last month the Supreme Court overturned that decision in  5-4 decision. “I don’t care about the money,” Thompson writes in the opinion pages today. “I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves.”

8, The magazine offers a feature story on Radiolab, the offbeat NPR science show that comes wrapped in music and the chatter of the two hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Radiolab, which produces maybe 10 episodes a year, and which many of its fans listen to as a podcast at a time of their choosing – much as you would listen to a CD – runs contrary to media thinking today. Radiolab illustrates where media today is going wrong. “Clearly we still accept, still crave, some deeper media experience,” writer Rob Walker notes. “The value of a media product does not come from being fast. It comes from being timeless.”

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