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

Good morning. It’s raining, and that means the first music of the day will be Bill Frisell’s Good Dog Happy Man.

1, The narrative adopted for a year now by the news media has insisted that incumbents, and Democrats, are in trouble in these upcoming mid-term elections. Not so fast, says The Times, writing, “enough contests remain in flux that both parties head into the final four weeks of the campaign with the ability to change the dynamic before Election Day.” The story notes that “even as the spending from outside groups is threatening to swamp many Democratic candidates, Republican strategists estimated that only half of the 39 seats they need to win control of the House were definitely in hand. Many Democratic incumbents remain vulnerable, but their positions have stabilized in the last month as they have begun running negative advertisements to raise questions about their Republican challengers and shift the focus away from contentious national issues like health care, bailouts and President Obama’s performance.”

2, In Afghanistan, 40 female Marines have “skirted” – an inadvertent pun, I’m sure – “Pentagon rules restricting women in combat,” and are fighting alongside their male counterparts. They were originally moved into the units in order to work with rural Afghan women, who are culturally banned from associating with outside men. The tough resistance being met by the Marines has meant the women are getting shot at, and are shooting back.  None have been killed or injured yet.

3, We’ve grown overly accustomed to Osama bin Laden’s rants against the United States. But we never hear many other bin Laden tapes. The most recent urges aid for the flood victims of Pakistan, blaming global warming. He has commented on many worldwide issues, and apparently has a reading list the includes the leftist writer Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter’s recent book on the Palestinians. But as noted by Lawrence Wright, who wrote a book on bin Laden, “It’s a little galling to hear bin Laden lecturing on flood relief when Al Qaeda has never done any socially constructive work, but has only sowed chaos.”

4, In the New York section, a beautiful Sunday Routine Q&A with 91-year-old folk legend Pete Seeger, who offers advice on cooking omelets, making salads (“almost a religious experience”), chopping wood (“It’s in our DNA to go ‘whack’ “) and how “It’s very important to learn to talk to people you disagree with.”

5, In Sunday Styles we meet the actor Vincent Kartheiser, who plays the starched ad salesman Peter Campbell in the AMC show Mad Men. Kartheiser is quite the interesting fellow, living in LA without a car. He uses public transportation. “They’ve done a study and they’ve found that people under 30 no longer view cars as status symbols or even positive things,” he says. “They look at them as pollutants.”

6, The wrong version of the most-talked about novel of the year, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, was accidentally released in Britain last week. Apparently, an early draft of the book was used, rather than the acclaimed finished product that much of America has been reading.

7, Columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who over the years has won my trust with some prescient observations, predicts that a serious third-party presidential candidate, backed by a serious third party, will emerge in 2012, He’s not talking Tea Party. “I know of at least two serious groups,” he writes, “one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing ‘third parties’ to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.” This revolution is not from the left or the right, but from what he calls “the radical center.”

8, Columnist Frank Rich is laughing along with the rest of us at the Republican candidate for the Senate from Delaware, Christine O’Donnell, “a bottomless trove of baldfaced lies, radical views and sheer wackiness.” But, he warns, this may be obscuring more-dangerous truths that need to be understood as the next election nears. Namely, who are all of these unnamed benefactors contributing millions of dollars, each, to conservative reactionaries like the Tea Party? O’Donnell, he writes, “just may be the final ingredient needed to camouflage a billionaire’s coupe as a populist surge.”

9, On facing pages, the Book Review asks the same question of two presidential biographies: Do we need another book on these guys? The answer is yes, because Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery and Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life are so well written. The common thread between these two legendary presidents, and these biographies, is how these men reacted to their times. Lincoln, who initially had no interest in freeing slaves, and saw blacks as inferior, was molded by his times to see otherwise on both counts. George Washington “didn’t just learn from events; he shaped them to his own purposes.”

10, Interesting profile of Glenn Beck on the cover of The Times magazine. The conservative mouthpiece comes off as an opportunist, shifting with the broadcasting winds as he leverages the best route to his next goal. His ideas do not seem particularly notable; they’re just bumper-sticker opinions and conspiracy theories cut from different sources and pasted together in an incomprehensible collage. Jon Stewart is quoted, a comment he made about Beck, back when Beck was still on CNN, and that evaluation still stands. “Finally,” Stewart said, “a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.”  The story also notes that Beck rarely gives interviews. That must be a fairly recent development. In the last five years, I’ve turned down two offers to interview Beck, back when he was touring auditoriums with kind of a “Support the Troops, Liberals Aren’t Americans” style of show.  I told Beck’s publicist both times, anyone who calls the widows of 9/11 victims “tragedy whores” would have to draw his crowds without my support.