I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Aug. 8
I generally don’t remember my dreams; but last night, John Mellencamp came to stay at our house while he recorded his new album. He was kind of a talkative guy, and while we were sitting around the dining room table, listening to music, I was trying to remember if I had any of his albums around the house to play. I asked him what he wanted for breakfast the next morning and he said, “Just a couple of Cokes.”
1, Reacting to the over-reaction to the building of a mosque a few blocks from the site of the Twin Towers, The Times writes, “In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim center proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for marches and planning board meetings.” Citing other areas where Tea Party groups and Christian ministers have lead similar protests, The Times notes that communities once questioned the effect such buildings would have on local traffic, parking and noise. “But now the gloves are off,” as “opponents have said their problem is Islam itself.” The fear mongers are turning American into a land of intolerance.
2, Hate is running hot. Ten aid workers were executed in Afghanistan by the Taliban. “They appear to have abandoned previous taboos on using woman and children as suicide bombers,” The Times writes, “and now have dealt a blow to the longstanding custom of giving safe passage to aid workers, who have often been free to work in both government and insurgent dominated areas.”
3, Ignoring similar trips taken by Laura Bush during her husband’s reign, critics are attacking Michelle Obama for taking her younger daughter and a few friends to Spain, a trip that the Obama family is largely paying for. The Spaniards, however, are ecstatic, The Times writes, with “one study claiming the publicity from her visit would be worth $1 billion for a country where tourism is at its lowest level in seven years.”
4, In a story headlined “Leading the Way into Deep Water,” The Times explores how the now-disbanded Minerals Management Service abandoned its mission as the public watchdog over activities such as offshore oil drilling in a corrupt pact with energy industries. In Louisiana, “oil saturated the state’s culture long before it covered its marshes. Oil is equally prized as a source of jobs and tax revenue.” The MMS’ long history of mismanagement of its duties may have helped make an accident such as the gulf oil spill inevitable, but that doesn’t stop folks such as Louisiana governor Ding-Dong Bobby Jindal from telling 10,000 people at a pro-deep water drilling rally to “defend our way of life.”
5, Fritz Teufel, ” West Germany’s answer to Abbie Hoffman,” has died at age 67. While leading a protest of the Shah of Iran’s visit to West Germany in 1967, he compared the event to “low comedy,” and said “the public is justified in throwing eggs and tomatoes if the performance does not satisfy them.” Teufel was also the mastermind behind a foiled attempt at throwing bags of yogurt, flour and pudding at Vice President Hubert Humphrey to West Germany. The “Pudding Assassination,” as it was dubbed, was typical of Teufel’s Woodstock-era frame of mind. “We were young, carefree and inexperienced,” he said in an interview before his death from Parkinson’s. “In 1967 and 1968, confidence and cheerfulness prevailed, and an unbelievable sense that a new beginning was under way.”
6, Photojournalist Lee Lockwood has also died, at age 78. He was known for being allowed access into communist regimes such as Castro’s Cuba. In 1967, he took a famous photo of an American prisoner of war, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard A. Stratton, in prison pajamas, bowing before his North Vietnamese captors. Stratton gave a long confession condemning the U.S. bombing on the country, and Lockwood’s description of the empty-eyed Stratton as “like a puppet” led the State Department to accuse North Vietnam of brainwashing POWs. Years later, Stratton said it wasn’t brainwashing. “You are being tortured,” he said, “all all you have to do to get them to stop is say the same thing that Bobby Kennedy is saying.”
7, In The Week in Review, even free-market advocates are admitting that, in a country offering few job opportunities for its 14.5 million unemployed, government may indeed be the answer. “We think the coma will last for years unless government policy changes to re-stimulate the private sector and bring unemployment down,” says Bill Gross, one such free marketeer who runs the world’s largest bond fund, Pimco. “In the new normal world, there are structural problems, which require structural solutions.”
8, In an editorial, The Times wonders why Democrats have been so timid in celebrating their accomplishments, with the mid-term elections just 90 days away. The Times points to legislative successes in health care, insurance, financial regulation, three million jobs preserved or created and communities benefiting from stimulus projects. “As the economy recovers,” The Times writes, “there will be money available for sane and careful deficit reduction, territory the Democrats know far better than their opponents.” Indeed, does everyone remember what happened to the national debt under Bush? The Times quotes recent remarks on the Republicans by Obama: “It’s not like they’ve engaged in some heavy reflection. They have not come up with a single solitary new idea to address the challenges of the American people…. they’re betting on amnesia.”
9, Uh, oh, two pages later, columnist Frank Rich writes, “Betting on amnesia is almost always a winning, not losing, wager in America.” A handful of evidence, such as anti-health care reform protesters evidently forgetting that Medicare is a government program, and the millions of Americans who still apparently believe Obama was not born in America, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is reason enough to worry that these issues are not being decided by any intellectual process.
1o, A bedbug panic is unfolding in America. “This Bedbug’s Life” offers exciting insight into these tiny critters. Writes May Berenbaum, the head of the entomology department at the University of Illinois: “They not only attack while we sleep, but they also inject anesthetics, so as to not awaken us, and anticoagulants, so that in every 10-minute feeding they can suck in two or three times their weight in clot-free blood.” Berenbaum also gives us a little bedbug porn: “Because the female bedbug has no genital opening, the male inseminates her by using his hardened, sharpened genitalia to punch a hole through her abdomen. With no elaborate courtship ritual, males in pursuit of a sexual congress often blunder into and puncture the bodies of other males, occasionally inflicting fatal wounds.” So in that last observation, perhaps there is something for proponents of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.
11, The re-awakening of interest in vinyl records is well said in a report on LP re-issues from the legendary Blue Note label in Arts & Leisure. “Yes, they’re available on compact disc, but the CDs lack the LP’s visual cool – the urbane photos and silk-screen lettering on the hand-pasted cardboard covers – and fall short of the first edition vinyl’s sonics: the vibrant horns, wood-thumping bass, head-snap drums and sizzling cymbals.” Interestingly, a couple of companies manufacturing these re-issues are doing them in 45 rmp, rather than the standard 33 1/3, because the turntable tracks the groove better at the higher speed, producing a better sound.
12, Brilliance has its limits. In the Book Review, we read that for ourselves in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters. Reviewer Blake Bailey writes “Two stoned white guys writing almost exclusively about dhyana and the like – and I can think of no better way to describe the long middle section of this book – are generally only interesting to each other.” Yeah, I’ve been to that cocktail party, too. Ginsberg aged with dignity, Kerouac went out in flames. One year before his death at age 47, he appeared on Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr., “bloated and drunk, knocking hippies and explaining the war in Asia as a Vietnamese plot ‘to get Jeeps into their country.’ ”
13, The Book Review also examines Mary Roach’s Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. We learn all about “spaceflight’s grossest engineering challenges: disposing of human waste, controlling body odor without washing, and containing nausea – or, if containment fails, surviving a spacewalk with a helmet full of perilously acidic upchuck.” Reviewer M.G. Lord manages to make a case for this as compelling reading, along with Roach’s previous books: Stiff, exploring the science of death, and Bonk, exploring the science of sex. In the new book, we read that male astronauts get a pee unit that comes only in L, XL or XXL. What, no small? This, I assume, is what Roach really means by “Packing For Mars.”