I read the Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: May 1

Today’s coffee goes with a chocolate-almond biscotti. First music of the day, Bob Dylan’s Biograph. Thankfully, the dog is in the mood to sleep in this morning.

1, “Republican leaders, activists and donors,” the Times writes, “anxious that the party’s initial presidential field could squander a chance to capture grass-roots energy and build a strong case against President Obama at the outset of the 2012 race, are stepping up appeals for additional candidates to jump in starting with Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana.” Daniels? Wasn’t that George W. Bush’s budget director, the guy who helped take the surplus that Clinton handed over and turned it into a historic debt? Keep looking. “The race needs more responsible adults who can do the job,” said a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Which raises an interesting question. How do irresponsible incompetents even get to the position where they’re viable candidates to lead the world’s most-important nation?

2, The construction of a 64-mile highway in southern Afghanistan has cost about $121 million so far, with a final price tag expected to reach $176 million. That’s $2.8 million a mile. Security alone has cost an estimated $43.5 million, including about $1 million a year being paid to a local leader – suspected of having ties to insurgents – to keep the construction workers safe. The unfinished section of highway runs through Taliban territory. “Despite the expense, a stretch of the highway completed just six months ago is already falling apart and remains treacherous,” the Times writes. “Cost overruns are already more than 100 percent, all for a road where it was never certain that local Afghan officials wanted it as badly as the American officials who planned it.”

3, The tornadoes that swept through the South this week, killing at least 350 people, were the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Katrina. But, “It ain’t like Katrina,” said one man whose house was destroyed.”We’re getting help.”  Obama’s disaster declarations for Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi mean “the Federal government will pay 75 percent of the uninsured costs of repairing public buildings, like a damaged fire station,” the Times writes of the “unimaginable wasteland” that was once the town of Alberta, near Tuscaloosa, Ala. The federal funding means “residents can apply for modest recovery grants; and that businesses can apply for low-interest loans.”

4, Bill Blackbeard, who compulsively collected newspaper comic strips to the point that he made himself an authority on them, died unnoticed in March in California. Word of the death of the “enigmatic, somewhat elusive figure” first began appearing on the Internet, as Blackbeard left no survivors who might otherwise get out the word. His personal archive reached 2.5 million strips published between 1893 and 2006. Comics consumed his life. “There were newspapers in the garage, where stacks stretched to the ceiling,” the Times writes of Blackbeard’s home near San Francisco. “There were newspapers in the bedroom. There were newspapers in the living room, where foot traffic was dictated by the paths carved among tottering piles. There were newspapers in the kitchen. There were newspapers everywhere but the bathroom and that, Mr. Blackbeard told inquisitors, was only because the humidity would have been bad for them.” When Blackbeard’s archive was acquired by Ohio State University, “it took six semi trucks to move the collection, more than 75 tons in all.”

5, Fleet Foxes, whose marvelous 2008 debut album was filled with harmonies that seemed to come from some Gothic church lost in the Pacific Northwest woods, releases its new record on Tuesday. Songwriter Robin Peckhold calls himself “optimistically crestfallen,” a good quality for our artists.

6, “If you have ever attended an Internet conference,” a Syracuse University student named Caitlin Dewey writes of her web-fueled romance in the Sunday Styles section, “you understand how pale skin, thick glasses and scruffy hair can be attractive; otherwise, I can’t explain it to you.” I worry about the social skills of these youngsters. “He took me out for dinner and read his e-mails while we waited for our food,” she writes. “He took me to a party at his friend’s house where they proceeded to argue for hours about Web design while I sat on a futon and stared at the ceiling, drunk and bored and terribly concerned that I looked thinner online.”

7, In Tibet, nomadic yak herders are harvesting an aphrodisiac, much-sought after in Beijing and Shanghai,  that several weeks of collecting can earn a man enough money to live on for a year.  It’s a fungus that takes root in the bodies of dead caterpillar larvae and grows, grass-like, out of their heads.

8, The Obama birthers won’t go away, despite overwhelming evidence that the President was born in Hawaii, the Week in Review points out. Americans seem particularly eager to accept conspiracy theories, from the attack on Pearl Harbor (FDR had advance warning), the Kennedy assassination (Lone gunman? Impossible!) to Roswell (The government is hiding dead aliens from us). The Times writes, “Kathryn Olmstead, a history professor at the University of California, Davis, notes that the John Birch Society claimed that President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican and staunch cold warrior, was actually a secret communist. But the attacks on Obama, she argued, are at essence about race. And because these theories are fueled by partisan hatred, many won’t be satisfied.’They”ll always question the authenticity of the documents they’re given,’ she said, ‘because they’re not driven by a quest for truth.’ ”

9, The magazine examines the disturbing cases of American soldiers murdering Afghan civilians. Sport killings. Sociologist Stjepan Mestrovic, who specializes in war crimes, “excoriated the tendency of the Army – and the news media – to blame such crimes on ‘a few bad apples’ or ‘a rogue platoon,’ ” the Times writes. “Close examination of these events, Mestrovic argued, invariably reveals that the ‘bad actor’ explanation ‘doesn’t fit the picture.’ ”

10, The Book Review examines 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day. Author Dorian Lynskey has plenty of opinions – he values the protest songs of Phil Ochs over Bob Dylan – and worries, according to reviewer Sean Wilentz, that he may have written not simply a history of protest music but a eulogy.” If so, I’m not inclined to blame our musicians: I’ve certainly heard plenty of protest songs over the past decade; you probably haven’t, because commercial radio doesn’t play a song like James McMurtry’s scorching “We Can’t Make it Here.”  Rather, as Wilentz points out, it’s the result of a ’60s protest culture that “seemed to run out of steam a long time ago.”