I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: April 22
Today’s coffee, a simple Colombian. First music of the day: Townes Van Zandt’s At the Window, on vinyl acquired yesterday at National Record Store Day.
1, “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle,” is the lead story of the day. Perhaps you’re not surprised to read about “a campaign of bribery to win market dominance” waged by Wal-Mart de Mexico. But Wal-Mart officials in the United States took significant steps to keep the story secret once they’d gotten wind of illegal activities. Laws were broken in both Mexico and the U.S., but authorities were not notified.
2, A rotting log has been rolled over, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, nicknamed ALEC, has been exposed. Last week, as its activities came to light, the conservative group backed off from its endorsements of tighter voter identification regulations, anti-labor union policies and pro gun laws such as Stand Your Ground (too late for Trayvon Martin, the dead Florida teenager). ALEC turns out to be an organization of “not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country,” The Times reports. Delving into the morass, the newspaper writes of how “The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.” The organization creates “model bills” that lawmakers can introduce in their states and “sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Last month, on the day that Supreme Court arguments on the law began, ALEC sent an e-mail to legislators with a bullet-point list of criticisms of it, to be used ‘in your next radio interview, town hall meeting, op-ed or letter to the editor.'”
3, A 51-year-old woman named Carolina Salguero purchased an oil tanker for $16,500 in 2006 because she believed it was important to preserve the vessel as a piece of history. It’s now tied up at a Brooklyn dock. “Some ships run into icebergs and become 3D movie extravaganzas,” The Times writes.”Others disappear silently into the abyss of paperwork.” The 74-year-old Mary A. Whelan will soon be homeless. Salguero is just about of of money; it costs $5,000 a month just to park the ship somewhere, anywhere. “Of course it’s a romantic impediment,” Salguero says of her selfless task of preserving this 613-ton piece 0f maritime history. “‘Mother of a homeless oil tanker’ is not a label that encourages many fellows to step up.”
4, The government of the Republic of Georgia is building a futuristic “instant city” in the shore of the Black Sea, a city called Lazika that it says will be home to 1.5 million people in 10 years. Megelians, the ethnic group that has lived in that marshland for centuries, say that the planned skyscrapers would require 80-foot foundations. “Those are huge buildings,” said one resident. “I don’t know how the swamp will hold them.”
5, Alex Cassie has died at age 95. He was the British officer who produced many of the forged documents that his fellow prisoners of war used after they’d tunneled out of Stalag Luft III in eastern Germany, an exploit that inspired the Steve McQueen film The Great Escape. The real-life ending wasn’t particularly satisfying. Seventy-six prisoners got away, but 73 were recaptured and 50 executed on Hitler’s orders. Cassie, who suffered from claustrophobia, chose to stay behind.
6, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Sting, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton first learned to play guitar from the instructional manual Play in a Day. Bert Wheedon, the British studio musician who wrote the manual, has died at age 91. “As I travel up and down the country, I meet many groups who try to blast their way to success with too much noise and not enough talent,” Wheedon said in a 1997 interview with the British newspaper The Independent. Perhaps thinking of Pete Townshend, another famous guitarist who learned to play with his manual, Wheedon told The Independent, “I can’t understand why anyone should want to smash a cup and saucer, let alone a guitar.”
7, In the Sunday Review, essayist Andrew F. March nails the argument against social media. “We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”
8, A new argument by The Times editorial page against legislation being enacted by some states: “Arizona’s cold-blooded immigration statute was enacted in 2010 to bring about ‘attrition through enforcement’ – to make life so harsh for undocumented immigrants that they would be driven out of the state. It invites unfettered racial profiling and the abuse of police power. And, if allowed to stand, it opens the door to states’ writing their own foreign policy, in defiance of the Constitution.”
9, “I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once as a wayward teenager, and never tried it again,” The Times reports Mitt Romney as saying last fall. In the essay “The Wrath of Grapes,” Timothy Egan makes a case, perhaps coincidental, that our better presidents were the one who drank. Drinkers: FDR, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams. Occasional tipplers: Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Non-drinkers, William Howard Taft, Jimmy Carter (who had all alcohol removed from the White House) and George W. Bush, “who seems doomed to have his name forever followed by, ‘and we know how that turned out,'” Egan writes.
10, For decades, a Russian-built clunker called the Lada was the family vehicle of necessity in Finland. The cars had two selling points: They were cheap, and had a good heater. The Automobiles page interviews Risto Nykanen, a Fin who restores Ladas. “For everyday use, Mr. Nykanen owns a sporty two-door Opel,” The Times writes. “But its computerized innards do not fully impress him. ‘If a nuclear bomb goes off, all microchips will collapse,'” he said. He affectionately tapped the hood of one of his Ladas, a washed-out gray 1974 sedan. ‘Well, this is one model that has no chips inside,’ he said. ‘It’s all mechanical. It’s atom-bomb proof,'”
11, The Columnist is the third play about the newspaper industry – all based on true stories – to open this season in New York, following The Wood, about Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, and CQ/CX, about a Times reporter who was exposed as having made up fake sources for his reporting. Starring John Lithgow and written by Pulitzer Prize winning David Auburn, The Columnist is about Washington columnist Joseph Alsop, a hawkish supporter of the Vietnam War. Alsop dismissed war critics as “misguided young crusaders and Communist sympathizers among the press corps” even as the helicopters were landing on the roof of the American embassy in Saigon to remove the last of our personnel. Auburn says he was inspired to write the play while reading contemporary pundits’ similarly mistaken cheerleading of the invasion of Iraq. “Noting the unwillingness of many of those involved to recognize their errors,” The Times writes, “he found himself wondering: ‘How do you arrive at that point when you are so firmly committed to a particular point of view that nothing will dissuade you or force you to re-examine it?'”
12, The Avenging Conscience, the upcoming film starring John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe, is the 241st film or TV show to feature Poe or his work.
13, In the magazine, we learn that the city museum of Waycross, Ga., features a mummified dog that had been trapped inside the hollow trunk of a tree.