Archive for the ‘America the Frayed’ Category

Gotham Diary:
Expense and Enjoyment
28 November 2011

Monday, November 28th, 2011

When I saw that the editors of the Book Review had assigned John Lewis Gaddis’s new biography to Henry Kissinger for review, my brow furrowed. I don’t know much of anything about the personal politics of American diplomacy, but I have never thought that Kennan would approve (or even begin to approve) of Dr Kissinger’s brand of realpolitik. Indeed, when I read one of Kennan’s last statements, published in an interview in the New York Review of Books, in 1999 —

This whole tendency to see ourselves [Americans] as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable.

— I thought, not of Henry Kissinger certainly, but of his political masters and the pitch that they made to the American public. Dr Kissinger worked tirelessly (in the time remaining after self-promotion, it always seemed to me) to calculate ways of making America’s narcisissm practicable, and probably did a better job of it than anyone else might have done. But Kennan would have dismissed the entire undertaking as, ultimately, undesirable.

The Kissinger review was predictably suave, friendly and forgiving. What was there to forgive? “Kennan blighted his career in government through a tendency to recoil from the implications of his views.” So says Henry Kissinger. Of the book itself:

We can be grateful to John Lewis Gaddis for bringing Kennan back to us, throughtful, human, self-centered, contradictory, inspirational — a permanent spur as consciences are wont to be. Masterfully researched, exhaustively documented, Gaddis’s moving work gives us a figure with whom, however one might differ on details, it was a privilege to be a contemporary.

The fix was in. The first review of Gaddis’s book that I encountered was Louis Menand’s, in The New Yorker.

The one puzzle in John Lewis Gaddis’s first-rate biography of the diplomat George Kennan, which Gaddis began in 1982, when his subject was seventy-eight, and waited nearly thirty years to complete, since Kennan lived to be a hundred and one, is the subtitle. The book is called George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin; $39.95), and the most peculiar thing about Kennan, a man not short on peculiarities, is that he had little love for, or even curiosity about, the country whose fortunes he devoted his life to safeguarding.

That’s a way of looking at what Kennan himself said, quoted above, but looked at from the outside. Kennan was not interested in the cultural life of the United States; to some extent, he doubted that it had one. He was always more captivated by what used to be called the “Russian soul,” and he was a passionate advocate of the proposition that the Russians would eventually have done with Communist foolishness and Stalinist barbarity. This was, indeed, the wellspring of his notion of containment. Left to themselves — unprovoked by foreign aggression, military or otherwise — and kept to themselves — encircled by firm Western alliances, the inhabitants of the Soviet Union would sooner or later, but inevitably, replace it with something more humane and workable. As in fact they did.

In a very provocative and somewhat chilling piece in the current issue of the NYRB, Frank Costigliola, the editor of Kennan’s massive diaries, challenges the “authorized” claim of Gaddis’s work. There is no doubt that Kennan authorized the project. But his diraries, over the two decades and more that followed the green light, evidence a growing pessimism about the outcome.

By 2000, Kennan, now ninety-six years old, despaired in his diary that Gaddis “had no idea of what was really at stake” in the “long battle I was waging … against the almost total militarization of Western policy toward Russia.” Looking back at the nuclear holocaust narrowely averted during the Cuban missile crisis and the Berlin crisis of 1958 to 1961, and at the costly proxy wars waged in Vietnam and elsewhere, he believed that “had my efforts been successful,” they “could have obviated vast expense, dangers, and distortions of outlook of the ensuing Cold War.”

Gaddis, Costigliola charges,

sides largely with Kennan’s critics, such as former secretary of state Dean Acheson, in the heated debate over Kennan’s advocacy in 1957-1958 for US “disengagement” from the cold war in Europe.

What kind of a life — what kind of an authorized autobiography — is that? Well, it is the kind of life that will “save” Kennan for the American cause. Gaddis (and Henry Kissinger) praise the parts of Kennan’s thought that suit their understanding of the Cold War — in retrospect, a fatuous exercise of military expense and enjoyment (to borrow from Jane Austen; in Mansfield Park, she describes the heir, Tom Bertram, as “born for expense and enjoyment,” keenly nailing enjoyment to expense) — and they rap him on the knuckles for the rest, asking us to believe that Kennan was “inconsistent.” But the importance of George Kennan, for the people of the world, is precisely that he was a greater statesman than American; he knew which was more important. Costigliola writes,

Though he captures much of the man’s complexity, Gaddis’s depiction of Kennan is ultimately clipped and flattened. Perhaps the problem is trying to frame with “an American life,” as the subtitle has it, the  biography of someone who mused that even his friends did “not know the depth of my estrangement, the depth of my repugnance of the things [the American public] lives by.” As compared to the portrait in the biography, the personality revealed in Kennan’s diaries and letters — even the figure who emerges in the transcripts of Gaddis’s interviews — was more irreverent as a collegian, more deeply identified with Russian culture as a fledgling diplomat, more ambivalent about his marriage, more alienated from American life, more inclined to conceealment, and more tortured by the limitations of old age. The Kennan of the letters and the diaries is far less conventional and more complex and elusive than the person we encounter in Gaddis’s biography.

George F Kennan: An American Straitjacket. Let’s hope that John Lewis Gaddis’s attempt to bury his subjecct in it will not succeed.

Gotham Diary:
Rather Rotten
22 November 2011

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

That may be the most beautiful cloud that I have ever seen or shall ever see.

Reading the digest of the Times that is served here with breakfast every morning, I found myself thinking about the body politic — actually thinking, and not just feeling queasily hopeless. Then I put down the paper and picked up Steegmuller/Flaubert. From Turkey, Flaubert wrote to his friend, Louis Bouilhet,

From time to time, in a town, I open a newspaper. Things seem to be going at a dizzy rate. We are dancing not on a volcano but on the rather rotten seat of a latrine.

That’s it, exactly, and everyone is waiting for the rotten seat to give way. Who will fall in? Who will grab an edge and clamber to safety? Nobody knows? Will the environment and the economy conspire to collapse simultaneously? Probably not, but at every turn, as we make our way from the unsustainable present to whatever future awaits us, it will be difficult to distinguish the momentous from the trivial. The only certainty is that, given the global nature of the mess, no one will arrive in the promised land before anybody else. Or perhaps the only certainty is that many people will have a lot less to lose than others. At the moment, dancing is about the only thing that makes sense.

One thing that makes no sense whatever is the Occupy movement in its current configuration. Occupy Wall Street? This ranks somewhere with the Children’s Crusade for naive nonsense. In a word: occupy Washington instead! That’s where the laws are made, after all, that, among other things, permit Wall Street and other markets to do what they do. That’s where tax policy is decided. Occupy the statehouses (as seems to have had some effect in Wisconsin). Occupy the town hall! Better yet, run for election! Create a new political party! Read The New Yorker.

I haven’t said much — it’s possible that I haven’t said anything — about the Occupy movement, because I haven’t seen much in it beyond a dreary replay of late-Sixties fatuousness. (I was there.) A lot of noise, a lot of quite juvenile provocation, and a disheartening glimpse into the persistent social rift that separates families who produce police officers from those who turn out graduate students (a rift that, I’m sure,  tears a good many families apart). Absolutely nothing in the way of a program. An atmosphere of profound fecklessness. Too depressing to think about really. Don’t the protestors at Zuccoti Park know the first thing about how things work? It seems that they don’t.  

What is to be done? What is to be fixed? What needs to be replaced? These are the questions that immobilize us now, because too many of us believe that the time for fixing things has irrecoverably passed. Do we find a more fuel efficient family car, or do we abandon the idea of family cars altogether, and scramble to provide public transport? Do we attempt to reconcile the libertarian and communitarian impulses that have brought political life to a standstill? Or do we give up on the idea of fashioning a “unum” from the “plures”?  

Gotham Diary:
Indian Summer
10 October 2011

Monday, October 10th, 2011

In the end, I did have my way: late Friday afternoon, just before I piled into a taxi bound for Alphabet City and a few hours with Will (who spent the evening quietly mesmerized by ancient episodes of Sesame Street, unaware that they were older than his mother), I not only polished off but posted a page on Helen DeWitt’s corker, Lighting Rods. You can read it at Civil Pleasures, here. 

And I went to the movies, too. The Ides of March had a murky scene that didn’t not make sense until I thought about it later; perhaps I missed something. Otherwise, it was a first-rate civics drama. Like a few other movies about “insider politics,” The Ides of March informs the viewer that the façade of unity that any candidate and his supporters present to the voting public is something of a legal fiction. The difference between a legal fiction and a lie is the adult recognition that civic affairs would cannot proceed without legal fictions.

Party unity is not a genuine legal fiction; it’s a political fiction. The adoption of children and the eternal personhood of corporations — now, those are legal fictions. (They may both need a lot of work, by the way, but they’re both vital all the same.) Like them, political fictions enable us to get on with important business. The Ides of March reminds us, indirectly, that political fictions must appear to be largely true; whether they’re political, legal, or narrative, fictions crumble when they generate cognitive dissonance.

All of this is another way of saying that, if politics is dirty business, it’s none of your business. Your business is to vote for the candidate most likely to implement the policies that you support. Your business is not to like the guy. This very important lesson in democracy has been learned, over the past two hundred years, by no more than 12% of the population; the unreconstructed 88% are endangering the experiment, and that is no fiction.

George Clooney, who directed The Ides of March, gives himself one big scene, and, as big scenes go, it is small and dark. He is confronted by his campaign staff’s second banana, played by Ryan Gosling, in a deserted restaurant kitchen that’s also not very well-lighted. Clooney knows how to invoke the many, many film scenes in which professional kitchens, with their knives and their clublike pots and pans and their capacious sinks and their heavy appliances, have been put in the service of movie mayhem. Neither actor so much as picks up a toothpick, but the showdown is thorough, and “the good guy wins.” Which is to say that both men win, and both men lose, and nobody gets hurt, and a magnetic politicans with a John Edwards problem in his past goes on to become President of the United States. The movie leaves it to you, which is worse: the cover-up of the candidates romantic imbroglio with an intern, or his capitulation to a powerful senator who wants to be the next Secretary of State, where he will presumably argue for positions contrary to his president’s.

If nothing else, the Ryan Gosling character finally understands the nature and importance of political fictions, and we feel his pain. We know how it is. 

Big Ideas:
Disagreeing to Disagree

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Last night, Kathleen had a business dinner, so I scooted across the street to the Japanese pub. Like any pub, this place has its regulars, who can be found at the bar on almost any night. I didn’t at first note that one of the regulars was sitting at a nearby table, with an older couple. I was reading Sandra Tsing Loh’s response to the Tiger Mom and sipping a Sapporo contentedly when my chicken teriyaki arrived. As I began piling a few pieces of dripping chicken onto the bowl of rice, however, I became aware of the regular’s voice, which was expressing concern about military preparedness. It was, as always, a very clear voice, almost unaccented — a public speaker’s voice if ever there was one. Without being loud, exactly, the regular was projecting his well-modulated tones throughout the bar area, and I later realized that he was intending to be heard by another regular, this one seated at the bar, whom he was baiting with opposing political views. 

By this time, he held me captive; I couldn’t keep my mind on the page. I couldn’t stop listening to his remarks, but, worse, I couldn’t fathom an effective challenge. As he sang the praises of Sarah Palin and charged Barack Obama with having adopted some of his father’s communist ideas; as he informed his fellow diners that the problem with liberals is that they reduce politics to the personal, and try to smear their opponents with scandal instead of confronting the real issues; as he conceded that he would vote for a libertarian — reluctantly — against a socialist — as he spouted a stream of idiotically short-sighted and poisonously selfish vews, I could think of nothing to say that would pierce his sleek smugness. I had no intention of barging in on the conversation, but I was so unnerved by my inability to venture any silent counter-arguments that I gobbled down my dinner and fled. 

It was very distressing. A great deal of my helplessness, I knew, owed to the man’s genial, level tone. Several times, he said that he quite liked a certain politician, but wouldn’t vote for him because the politican’s views were too far to the left. Nothing personal! In defense of his preposterous claim about the president’s alleged communism, he urged his antagonee, who had joined in from his perch at the bar (making reading quite perfectly impossible), to read Dreams of My Father. Then they would talk about it and he would see! This was as close as the guy came to offering proof of anything — and I almost wished that I had an annotated copy of the book with me, so that I could ask him to point to passages in support of his claim. It would be a depressing exercise, of course; to my objection that a such-and-such a sentence in the book did not make Mr Obama out to be a communist (and here I thought that “socialist” was as extreme as the name-calling was going to get), he would demur suavely and even regretfully; I must be naive, misinformed, or in some other way intellectually wanting. The best that I could hope for would be an offer to agree to disagree — and that has become a wholly unsatisfactory option (hence my liberal “hostility”). 

I can agree to disagree about the nature of the Holy Trinity, but I cannot agree to disagree about creationism or evolutionism. I cannot agree to disagree about drug laws, the death penalty, or restrictions on abortion. As lamentable as some actions may be, they neither justify nor warrant incarceration, execution, or unwanted pregnancy. I can expect society to arrange for my protection, but I don’t give it permission to punish those who would endanger me (hence my liberal “naiveté”). I can only persist in denouncing the opposing position as wrong. I can only tear my hair out wondering how the humanism that I have always espoused and that used to be honored in the breach has become so embattled. 

I can only hope that those who think the way I do outnumber those who think the way he does.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

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¶ Matins: Tyler Cowen’s thoughts about Swiss minarets are appropriately complex. Referendums are deplorable, because they open the door as nothing else does to prejudice. “…knowing how and when to defuse an issue is one very large part of political wisdom.  The Swiss usually pass this test but this time they failed it.” (Marginal Revolution)

¶ Lauds: The painter Francis Bacon could write well enough, but, John Richardson informs us, he could not draw. (NYRB; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon, with the help of a commenter called Dan, advances a new theory of investing — one that is market- (and liquidity- !) shy.

¶ Tierce: 350 years of important publications by the Royal Society, celebrated at a new site, Trailblazing. (MetaFilter)

¶ Sext: In the rarefied world of dissertation-land, is one woman’s prudence another man’s paranoia? (Chron Higher Ed; via The Morning News)

¶ Nones: The Vatican continues to regard its affairs as lying beyond the writ and ken of civil authorities. “The Vatican should apologise for failing to co-operate with an inquiry into sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, a Dublin bishop has said.” (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: The Clutter murder, 50 years on. (Ed Pilkington at the Guardian)

¶ Compline: Shock and Awl: Choire and Balk both driven batty by current events. Choire returns from Thanksgiving weekend viscerally alert to the Idiocracy afoot in the land. “Craziness: it’s not just for wingnuts anymore.” Meanwhile, Alex has Lady Gaga issues.

Although both pieces are nicely funny, the two pieces are salt and pepper as to coherence. Choire, slightly hysterical perhaps, nevertheless sticks to his topic. Balk, in contrast, is almost grotesquely inconsequent. But that’s why we love him!

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, November 27th, 2009

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¶ Matins: On the banks of a faraway sea, Muscato connects.

¶ Lauds: Terry Teachout really likes The Starry Messenger, Kenneth Lonergan’s new play. As the author of a hit book at the moment, Mr Teachout is probably going to garnish somewhat more attention than he might otherwise do. Bravo!

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon finds a great chart illustrating the debt of Dubai.

¶ Tierce: Why the United States is even more medieval than the Holy Roman Empire, and has been, since FDR at least. (Letters of Note).

¶ Sext:  If there was ever proof that this is not one country indivisible under God, it’s in the food. (NYT)

¶ Nones: We thought that the Irish priest problem was dealt with ages ago. Apparently not. My good Catholic wife is mad as hell at Benedict XVI, and contrapuntally so. First, of course, this ought to have never happened. Second, what a distraction it all is from caring for the poor and hungry.

¶ Vespers:  Christopher Tayler says that Stefanie Marsh’s interview with James Ellroy “is a minor classic of the genre” — doubtless because Ellroy himself will never be major. (TimesOnline; via LRB).

¶ Compline: New cases of AIDS are down this year by 17%. With all the other stuff going on in the world, let’s not forget the pain and strife. It’s still a terrible shock. (Short Sharp Science)

Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Kenneth Davis writes about the first Thanksgiving to be given on land that would one day be part of the United States — by Huguenots in Florida. Their base, Fort Caroline (named after Charles IX), did not last very long; nor did they: the Spanish eradicated everything in 1565.

Mr Davis’s litany of religious persecutions in America exhorts us to regard Thanksgiving not as the commemoration of a hallowed past but as a celebration of how far we have come from our dark origins — and a reminder of how far we have yet to go. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Charis Wilson, Edward Weston’s most notable muse (and his only “art wife”), died last Friday in Santa Cruz, aged 95. (Los Angeles Times; via Arts Journal)

As it happens, we’ve been reading about Charis Wilson in Francine Prose’s The Lives of the Muses. Great reading!

¶ Prime: We’re not terribly interested in the recent privatization of Chicago’s parking meters — or, rather, we weren’t until Felix Salmon decided to look into the matter. His conclusion: the city didn’t do too badly, and the contractors are idiots. The detail worth noting is that what Chicago’s alderman wanted, of course, was to raise parking meter prices without being accountable.

¶ Tierce: The Aesthete unearths the strange figure of George Sebastian, an adventurer who married American money and used it to builid Dar Sebastian, still a breathtaking edifice in Hammamet, Tunisia. (An Aesthete’s Lament)

¶ Sext: We love a good prank as much as anybody — probably more, as long as we’re not the victim — and so we’re rejoicing at the news that The Awl now has a whole department devoted to reviewing “pranks and their aftermaths.” Okay, they have Juli Weiner, who we hope is still enrolled in a good college.

¶ Nones: William Finnegan’s New Yorker excellent report on the situation in Honduras is not, sadly, online, although an abstract is available. For regular readers who have been following the matter here, there is little substantially new in the piece, and in fact we were gratified to read that coup leader Roberto Michelletti, in television appearances, “tends to glower, and speak from the side of his mouth, like Dick Cheney.” However, we hadn’t encountered anything like Mr Finnegan’s thumbnail of the constitution that ousted president “Mel” Zelaya wants to replace.

¶ Vespers: We’ve read Lauren Elkin’s review of Jeremy Davies’s Rose Alley several times now, and while we’re not certain that we want to read the novel, we’re intrigued by Ms Elkin’s account of it. (The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings) takes “a look at what the Intenet is doing for learning, curiosity, and creativity outside the classroom.” There’s a lot about TED, which appears to be better understood in Europe than it is here. (Good)

To see how traditional education appears on the Internet, have a look at the Syllabus of Dr E L Skip Knox’s fully online course, sponsored by Boise State University, in HIST101 — The History of Western Civilization. (via MetaFilter)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Paul Krugman addresses our most dangerous problem: the growing power of a right-wing rump without any interest in governing and with every intention of preventing others from governing: “the GOP has been taken over by the people it used to exploit. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, who “became a teenager in 1972,” fears that the Internet has not been a positive force for popular culture. He seems troubled by the fact that it makes too much old stuff too easy to get, thus reducing the need for new stuff. (BBC News; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon disagrees with Wall Street Journal writers on the subject of Ken Lewis’s “mettle.”

¶ Tierce: Meryl Gordon’s discussions with some of the Marshall Trial jurors makes for fascinating reading at Vanity Fair.

¶ Sext: Choire Sicha remembers “vividly” where he was when The Wall Fell — although he didn’t know a thing about it at the time. (The Awl)

¶ Nones: George Packer reminds us why the Wall fell when it did, in a piece about the uniqueness of 1989 in Europe. (The New Yorker)

¶ Vespers: Tim Adams talks about Alan Bennett‘s new play, The Habit of Art — a little. Mostly he appreciates a writer who, against all the odds, has become a beloved fixture in Britain. (Guardian)

¶ Compline: Jonah Lehrer registers a new study about the “privileged” sense of smell. (Frontal Cortex)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Christopher Shea surveys the world of Letterman Apology Evaluations.

¶ Lauds: Soon to be arriving on your iPhone: an original picture by David Hockney.

¶ Prime: Versace will close its three outlets in Japan.

¶ Tierce: Linguist John McWhorter frolics and detours at  Good: The “For Themselves” Love Drug. (Did we say “linguist”?)

¶ Sext: “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, as long as both are covered with a sharp, original, Awly take.” The Awl turns five months, sixteen days old. Two days ago.

¶ Nones: And you thought Honduras was this boring provincial story. Ha! Bet you didn’t even know the word Chavista! (We didn’t.) As in “Chavista authoritarianism” and Cold War think tanks — in Washington.

¶ Vespers: Levi Stahl reviews the Man Booker winner, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, at The Second Pass.

¶ Compline: Amazing study about city people with guns — and how much more likely they are to be shot dead.

(more…)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Confidence in the once-almighty dollar is eroding. This could be a very good thing, in many ways, if it weren’t for those pesky Treasury Bills.

¶ Lauds: On the strength of Ken Tanaka’s write-up, we’ve just ordered a copy of On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004, by “unknown” photographer Gary Stochl.

¶ Prime: The subprime movie crisis: surprise, surprise, easy money left Hollywood unprepared for a very dry season. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Tierce: Jason Dean’s very snazzy ABCs of Branding.

¶ Sext: Box wines: nothing to sniff at.  (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Nones: The Honduran attempt at a bloodless coup is getting bloody — thanks to the return of the coupé.

¶ Vespers: Patrick Kurp waits, along with Phyllis McGinley, for “The 5:32.”

¶ Compline: Coming soon to the Internet: FTC disclosure rules.

(more…)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Michael Specter takes a good look at the potentially scary field of synthetic biology — and does not panic.

¶ Lauds: Booing at the Met: Luc Bondy’s Tosca. (Not to be confused with Puccini’s, no matter what they sang. Maybe Sardou’s, though.)

¶ Prime: Engineering in the Age of Fractals, or “Why Bankers Are Like Bacteria.” (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Abe Sauer’s quite informative Essay Touching Upon the Economics of Britney Spears’s Circus Tour Show in Grand Forks, North Dakota; or, Don’t Blame Ticketmaster.

¶ Sext: It’s a bit early for us, but our cousin Kurt Holm will be on the Early Show tomorrow morning, and CBS Studios at 59th and Fifth will be the place to hang out.  (Between 7:15 and 9, I’m told.) This week at notakeout: Mark Bittman guests!

¶ Nones: Yesterday, we were reminded of Il Trovatore. Today, it’s Rodelinda. How did Manuel Zelaya get back into Honduras? The sort of question that never comes up in genuine opera seria. Maybe this is opera buffa.

¶ Vespers: The book to read before it’s sold over here: The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, by William Shawcross. Why? Because she was “Past Caring.”

¶ Compline: Mash-ups considered as the model for creative intelligence, at The Frontal Cortex.

(more…)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

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¶ Matins: In an important editorial, the Times argues that corporations ought not to have the same set of constitutional rights as human beings.

¶ Lauds: At The Best Part, four terrific photographs that William Eggleston did not take — but clearly inspired John Johnston to take.

¶ Prime: The Netflix Prize — a million dollars to whomever improves the performance of its Cinematch engine by ten percent — is not really about the money.

¶ Tierce: Devin Friedman decides to have more black friends, runs ad in Craiglist… the beginning of quite the project. “Will you be my black friend?“, at GQ.

¶ Sext: Three things that V X Sterne would rather chat about than “So, What Do You Do?

¶ Nones: In what seems like a turn from Il Trovatore, ousted Honduras president Manuel Zelaya steals back into Tegucigalpa, where he takes refuge at the Brazilian Embassy.

¶ Vespers: Alan Gopnik reviews Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol — but not in the back of the book. As the lead Talk piece instead. Ho-ho-ho.

¶ Compline: Nige takes the week off, bumps around Norfolk with an old friend, and visits a famous French cathedral. We are so living on the wrong continent.

(more…)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Given the lunatic tone of national discourse these days, it’s refreshing to hear the “P” word spoken with such vigor and clarity:

Obama is sometimes faulted for conducting government by speech. But this speech was part of a patient strategy that, despite August’s rough weather, is looking increasingly sound.

Hendrick Hertzberg in The New Yorker.

¶ Lauds: Museum Director Thomas Campbell outlines his plans in an interview with The Art Newspaper’s Joshua Edward Kaufman.

¶ Prime: President Obama’s Federal Hall speech yesterday elicits interesting responses from Felix Salmon and James Surowiecki.

¶ Tierce: As deeply as our eidtor sympathises with Malcolm Gladwell, Sean Macauley’s totally high-school prank makes us laugh, even if it is a bit nasty. (What high school prank isn’t at least a bit nasty?)

¶ Sext: All of a sudden, everyone’s a racist. Well, simmer down. As Abe Sawyer suggests at The Awl, it’s probably anarchism. Racism is just one of the ”tools currently available with which to ‘win’.”

¶ Nones: Mark Garlasco’s hobby — collecting Nazi military memorabilia — will probably cost him his job, now that it has “armed right-wing fanatics” critical of Human Rights Watch, the humanitarian organization which Mr Garlasco served as a military analyst.

¶ Vespers: On the anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death, Jean Ruaud writes about the rewards of struggling with Infinite Jest all the way through to the end. [fr]

¶ Compline: An interesting, if not quite lucid, essay on the problem of giving unconditional love to a badly-behaving child, by Alfie Kohn. (more…)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Caleb Crain examines the culture of economic adversity — in the Depression.

¶ Lauds: Holland Cotter hopes that we have seen the last of the blockbuster exhibition.

¶ Prime: Over the weekend, Times columnist Joe Nocera raised the “what if” question about Lehman, speculating that “it had to die to save Wall Street.” James Surowiecki isn’t so sure — and neither are we.

¶ Tierce: More about the clothing style known as “trad”: this time from Joe Pompeo, at the Observer. (via Ivy Style)

¶ Sext: We had never seen a picture of today’s Hilo Hero, Margaret Sanger, before.

¶ Nones: Is Internet opinion in China driving a trade confrontation with the United Statess?

¶ Vespers: At The Second Pass, John Williams passes on The Lost Symbol — in advance.

¶ Compline: At  Good, 10 great urban parks, seen from above at roughly the same scale.

(more…)

Constabulary: Planned in Advance

Friday, September 11th, 2009

A routine training exercise in the Potomac River this morning — “planned in advance” by the Coast Guard — “took on a life of its own.” Just another Friday as usual, right?

The president’s motorcade had just crossed the Potomac, on its way back to the White House after a ceremony at the Pentagon honoring those who died there, when chatter on a marine radio channel used by the Coast Guard and monitored by the media told of shots being fired on the river.

No shots were actually fired in Friday’s training exercise that appears to have been routine in everything except for the date on which it was conducted. But while the confusion lasted only a few minutes, it was enough to scramble F.B.I. agents and halt departures from Reagan National Airport near the river from 10:08 a.m. until 10:30, Diane Spitaliere, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, told The Associated Press.

Much of the confusion seemed to have been stirred by reports on CNN, based on the radio chatter. Anyone listening to the marine frequency heard simulated instructions to fire 10 rounds at suspicious boats in the river. By the time it became clear that there actually were no shots and no suspicious boats, the confusion had taken on a life of its own, however brief.

Time to watch Idiocracy again.

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 11th, 2009

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¶ Matins: James Surowiecki assesses President Obama’s Health Care speech, finding it a success.

¶ Lauds: A Portrait of a Man, bequeathed to the Museum as a Velásquez, demoted to “studio of Velésquez” by skeptical curators, is revealed to be a Velásquez again — after cleaning and conservation.

¶ Prime: Megan McArdle explains why investment bankers make so much money. Think: drop in the bucket. Also: movie trailer. (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Who needs the movie? While planning your weekend getaway, you can have your fill of prison scenes at Scouting New York.

¶ Sext: It has been a while since we were treated to a gallery of weird old LP jackets. This one, it seems, comes from Russia. (Don’t be put off by the first, rather distubring one.)

¶ Nones: Hugo Chávez tears another page out of the Castro playbook, and sucks up to Mother Russia. And we thought that we’d won the Cold War once and for all!

¶ Vespers: Richard Nash writes about Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print. The book, which assesses the history of publishing and bookselling in clearly commercial terms, sounds compelling, but the review is an absolute must. (Grocery stores?)

¶ Compline: How two 75 year-old former bombshells couldn’t be more different, after all these years. Which would be your choice, stray cats or tomcats? (via Arts Journal)

Bon Weekend à tous!

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Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Citizens United v Federal Election Commission: that’s the case to watch. A special hearing before the Supreme Court took place yesterday. Do corporations have the right to free speech?

¶ Lauds: The other day, we discovered a Web site that we expect to visit regularly: ARTCAT. Not only will we stay up-to-date on gallery openings, but we’ll get to read some priceless press releases.

¶ Prime: The Timothy Mayopoulos story will probably not be told by Mr Mayopoulos himself — not, at least, without permission from his former client, Bank of America — which summarily dismissed him just when you’d have thought that it needed him most. Why?

¶ Tierce: A wake-up call that few Americans will heed. “United Nations Conference calls for new global currency.” (via Joe.My.God)

¶ Sext: Alex Balk diagrams yesterday’s Maureen Dowd.

¶ Nones: Good to know: “Brazil in ‘fugitive haven’ fight.”

¶ Vespers: Ellen Moody considers Paul Scott and his fiction — with pix from the mini-serial adaptation of The Jewel in the Crown.

¶ Compline: How do we forget? It seems that we don’t. Rather, we mislay. Jonah Lehrer on “persistent memories.” (more…)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Sorry! We missed this amazing news on Friday: “Mexico Legalizes Drug Possession.”

¶ Lauds: Christopher Hampton will adapt, Sam Mendes will direct, and Oprah Winfrey will produce a film version of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland.

¶ Prime: Tyler Cowen asks if the bailouts were a good idea, and decides that they were.

¶ Tierce: Thirteen year-old Laura Dekker wants to sail around the world, alone. Her parents don’t object, but the Nederlander government does. A tough call?

¶ Sext: President Obama has lost all “creditability,” according to an anti-health-care-plan auto-faxer that somehow came to the attention of Choire Sicha. Sure, the wingnuts are scary. But, boy, can’t they write!

¶ Nones: Why special Sharia courts in secular nations pose a threat to sovereignty: “Malaysia Postpones Whipping of Woman Who Drank Beer.”

¶ Vespers: John Self behaves himself, and reads Bohumil Hrabal’s Closely Watched Trains. (He had owned a copy for a while.)

¶ Compline: The awful truth about asexuality: it’s not awful! (via  Joe.My.God)

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Daily Office: Friday

Friday, August 21st, 2009

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¶ Matins: Edmund Andrews’s story about Ben Bernanke in this morning’s Times is strangely silent about the contribution of that self-made moron, Alan Greenspan, to the mess that Mr Bernanke has had to clean up.

¶ Lauds: These kids today: 91 year-old Arthur Laurents reads “the riot act” to the cast of West Side Story, which has been plagued with calling-in-sick-itis. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Why not call it the Goldstein Curve? Robin Goldstein culled data from Craigslist (and Felix Salmon turned it into a lovely scatterchart), revealing the inverse relationship between used car/bike prices in seven American cities.

¶ Tierce: Crazy or visionary? The developers of a building to be called 200 Eleventh Avenue (West 24th Street) plan to attach a garage to every apartment — just off the living room. (via Infrastructurist)

¶ Sext: Choire Siche discovers Hallenrad! And shares some of the best.

¶ Nones: Will the new face of Duchy Originals be HRH?

¶ Vespers: Garth Risk Hallberg reminds us of something that has been gently overlooked in the recent craze for All Things Julia: Mrs Child was not so much a great cookbook writer as she was a great writer period.

¶ Compline: Precisely because Reihan Salam’s Foreign Policy essay, “The Death of Macho,” made us uneasy, we think that everybody ought to read it.

¶ Bon weekend à tous!

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Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Jonah Lehrer proposes a molecular theory of curiosity: don’t worry, it’s easily grasped.

¶ Lauds: David Denby’s unfavorable review of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds makes sense to us — which confirms our suspicion that it is an old-man view of things.

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon reads that crazy story about the guy with the $25,000 certified check in his briefcase, and contemplates a depressing conclusion.

¶ Tierce: Why rock stars ought to die young: “eccentric-looking old man” spooks renters, turns out to be Bob Dylan. (via The Morning News)

¶ Sext: A “Good Food Manifesto for America”, from former basketball pro Will Allen. (via How to Cook Like Your Grandmother)

¶ Nones: Turkey struck an interesting agreement with Iraq last week: more water (for Iraq) in exchange for tougher crackdowns on PKK rebels active near the Turkish border. (via Good)

¶ Vespers: Not so hypothetical: what if you could teach only one novel in a literature class that would probably constitute your students’ only contact with great fiction? A reader asks the editors of The Millions.

¶ Compline: Two former policemen argue for legalizing narcotics. (via reddit)

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