I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: July 15
A steamy, humid morning. The kitchen is overflowing with the detritus of last night’s dinner party. Ugh. The coffee? All I have is that generic stuff. First music of the day: A Donovan collection. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter at @jeffspevak1. Not that I have anything to say.
1, “U.S. Is Building Criminal Cases In Rate-Fixing” is the lead story of the day. Charges are expected to be filed later this year by authorities in Washington and London against banks and individuals who manipulated interest rates during the world financial crisis.
2, In the magazine, and “The One-Page Magazine” page, a one-sentence book review of Scott Reynolds Nelson’s A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America’s Financial Disasters that’s shorter than the book title. “We have hardly ever had a well-functioning banking system.”
3, The Food and Drug Administration was spying on its own scientists – at first just five suspected of collaborating with Congressional officials, outside medical experts and journalists. The FDA’s goal was to quell criticism of the agency’s procedures, particularly concerns that some approved medical equipment, including scanners for mammograms, exposed patients to high levels of radiation. “The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home,” The Times writes. “The software tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives, and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted….” Alarmed, the White House told FDA administrators last month that it must operate within whistle-blower protection guidelines. That warning appears to have come too late. Some scientists who were dismissed by the FDA claim they were let go in retaliation for their whistle-blowing activities, and have filed lawsuits.
4, Joining the mountain of evidence that climate change is altering the face of the planet are the mountains themselves. Thirty-four people in the U.S. alone have died in avalanches since November. “The extremes are becoming more extreme,” says a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park.
5, In the Sunday Review, we find more on the effect that man has on the planet and nature support system: “ecosystem services,” the biologists call it. “AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme Disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades,” says science writer Jim Robbins, “don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.” Our increasing encroachment on natural wildlife habitats increases the likelihood of disease infecting the human species.
6, Brian McFadden’s political cartoon, The Strip, digs into voter disenfranchisement, with one panel lampooning the screenings that some segments of society – the poor and minorities, mainly – will be subjected to. “But fear not fellow Republicans!” says a guy who looks like Florida Governor Rick Scott. “The test will not reveal your Super-PAC donors. Adds another old white pol, “We respect their privacy.”
7, “Are Parents Too Involved?” asks Stephanie Coontz in an essay on parents who orchestrate their children’s lives after college and beyond. Depends on the circumstances, Coontz writes; it’s certainly more costly for children to build a separate life these days. But the real damage, she says, may be that kids who have wealthy helicopter parents have an unfair and even dangerous advantage over the rest of us. “The academic achievement gap between low- and high-income children has increased over the last 40 years, as has the gap in rates of college entry and completion,” she writes. ” The arms race among high-income parents often does turn their children into winners. But society as a whole loses.”
8, “That device in your purse or your jeans that you think is a cellphone – guess again,” write Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan, two reporters specializing in digital privacy. “It is a tracking device that happens to make calls. Let’s stop calling them phones. They are trackers.” According to Paul Ohm, a law professor at the University of Colorado, “Every year, private companies spend millions of dollars developing new services that track, store and share the words, movements and even the thoughts of their customers. These invasive services have proved irresistible to consumers, and millions now own sophisticated tracking devices (smartphones) studded with sensors and always connected to the Internet.”
9, In an editorial, The Times scoffs at conservatives who continue to insist that the answer to America’s energy needs is “Drill baby drill.” After noting that states such as California and Maine will not welcome the kind of rampant drilling of Republican dreams, The Times writes, “The deeper Republican fraud is the idea that a country with only two percent of the world’s oil reserves – and a daily appetite for more than one-fifth of the world’s oil production – can drill its way to energy independence.”
10, Japanese manufacturers import cars to to our shores via box-like ships like the Andromeda Leader. It looks less like a ship an a floating warehouse, two football fields long, carrying 8,500 cars on 13 decks. The journey from Japan to Jacksonville, Fla., at 17 to 19 knots, takes 28 days. The NYK Line, one of several operating between the two countries, has 120 ships similar to its Andromeda Leader. And there are other lines. When these ships return to Japan, they are empty. A dramatic illustration of the world trade imbalance.
11, While on the subject of imports, outrage hit these shores this week when it was revealed that the Ralph Lauren outfits to be worn by the U.S. Olympic team were manufactured in China. But the last couple of Lauren designs for U.S. Olympians were also manufactured offshore, while for a decade before that the U.S. teams were dressed by the Canadian company Roots, mostly without public outcry. This could all be avoided, The Times notes, if the teams were “to go back to the ancient tradition of competing in the buff.” Nice idea, until the gymnasts get to the uneven parallel bars.
12, “The Plain of Jars” in Laos bears the scars of American carpet bombing during the Vietnam War. And the imprint of a forgotten Iron Age civilization that littered the landscape with hundreds of stone jars, some thigh-high, others 10 feet tall. Like the Easter Island statues, they were made elsewhere and brought to where they now stand, silent, refusing to bear witness to who created them, and for what purpose.
13, An improved version of the 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers is out on DVD and Blu-Ray. The Times muses over whether this film is about pod people taking over the planet or is actually about McCarthyism and the fear of standing up to that evil. Your choice. But the latter resonates today when Kevin McCarthy says “I’ve seen how people allow their humanity to drain away. We harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is.”
14, The 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth on July 14 came with a reminder that his best-known song. “This Land is Your Land,” originally featured lyrics that you didn’t sing in elementary school, but that enjoyed a resurgence at Occupy encampments throughout the county:
There was a high wall there
That tried to stop me
A sign was posted that said ‘Private Property’
But on the other aside it didn’t say nuthin’
That sign was made for you and me
15, In the Book Review we learn that Guthrie wrote a novel, still unpublished, despite acolytes such as Bob Dylan praising its genius. House of Earth refers to the adobe houses that Guthrie became fascinated with in the Dust Bowl of the ’30s, where a man could build himself a home of mud if he set his mind to it. But it also has themes of greedy capitalists against the little guy trying fight the forces of nature in the scorched Texas Panhandle. “Today, Texas is in the midst of a prolonged drought; global warming is a scientific fact; and wildfires, blizzards and tornadoes increasingly ravage the American landscape,” write essayists Douglas Brinkley (who wrote the new biography Cronkite) and Johnny Depp (yes, the actor). “The unerring rightness of adobe living is now more apparent than ever. It’s almost as if Guthrie had written House of Earth with the summer of 2012 in mind.”