Archive for the ‘Have A Look’ Category

Daily Office
Grand Hours
April 2011: Third Week

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

{Blague We Must}

Matins

¶ It looks crazy now, and let’s hope it stays that way: Joseph Harris, an Emergency Financial Manager in Benton Harbor, Michigan, empowered by recent state legislation, has prohibited elected officials from doing their jobs. He, in effect, is now the local government. (AlterNet; via MetaFilter)

Lauds

¶ Writing about the latest in opera — from Tod Machover’s “robot chorus” to the Met’s goggle-less 3D — Mark Swed interposes a wise note of caution.

This is the spectacle of opera trying hard to be more movie-like, to retain the pleasure of the company of flesh-and-blood singers and of the live, unamplified (or possibly lightly enhanced) human voice all complemented by the immersive experience of cinema. The problem with the approach is that opera is an art form with artificial surfaces and a deep interior. Singing is not speaking but rather a projection of an inner voice. Too much exterior realism hinders the all-important suspension of disbelief.

How easily some people forget the lesson of Capriccio: “Prima la musica, dopo le parole.” (LA Times; via Arts Journal) ¶ Maybe what perennial rediscovery candidate Preston Sturges (our favorite dramaturge) needs for permanent exaltation is some zippy approval from David Foster Wallace. Faute de ça: Martha Polk’s cheeky “PRESTON STURGES CAN YOU SAVE ME NOW?What keeps this piece vital is its refusal to decide whether The Palm Beach Story is better than The Lady Eve, or vice versa. (The Hairpin)

Prime

¶ P

Tierce

¶ Elizabeth Abbott ventures to make a liberal defense of polygamy, but concludes that she cannot. Whereas free-speech protections of homophobic utterances and the recognition of same-sex marriages expand the coverage of “an existing system of rights,” polygamy threatens that system. We agree, but we wish that the argument were more strongly made. (The Walrus; via The Morning News)

Sext

¶ Every party has a pooper, but, really, can’t Christopher Hitchens do any better? His royal wedding dyspepsia does, it’s true, reach surprisingly to criticism of Her Majesty Herself, but the crimes are ancient (quashing Margaret’s first love; abandoning Charles to his father’s pedagogical mercies). Even the would-have-been Countess of Finchley would have found Hitchens’s contumely to be uninflammably Wet. (Slate; via MetaFilter) ¶ Intentionally or not, Kevin Nguyen shows how the map has succumbed to the GPS navigator. (The Bygone Bureau)

Nones

¶ Tyler Cowen perpends: “Why do Brazilians emigrate so infrequently?” Is everyone having too much fun there? Is internal migration a viable alternative? How about the Portuguese angle (it is so not the language of Latin America)? (Marginal Revolution)

Vespers

¶ Sir Thomas Browne is near the top of the list of writers whom we’d like to spend more time with, or think we would, but never quite get round to; perhaps the newly published New Directions edition of Urn Burial, sized for portability, is the answer. At The Millions, Greg Gerke writes a lovely appreciation of Browne’s baroque prose that makes us wish we had the summer off.

Compline

¶ At The Infrastructurist, Eric Jaffe reports on the growing popularity of “smart-growth” residential areas, with smaller lots and rich alternatives to automobile transport — but he notes that people like these neighborhoods for everybody else.

Have a Look

¶ HL

Noted

¶ Habit Judo. (via MetaFilter) ¶ Putting Malcolm Gladwell to the test, at no proximate cost to Malcolm Gladwell. (TampaBay.com; via The Morning News)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
April 2011: Second Week

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Matins

¶ At Koreanish, Alexander Chee concludes a wandering entry with an arresting and very disheartening assessment of the decadence of current democratic leadership worldwide. 

And that really is the other point to make—the problems in the US are the problems in the world, really—few countries if any are inoculated from being subjects to a global financial elite that has figured out how to make money from firings and layoffs, foreclosures, highspeed computerized stock trades and stockpiled cash. Yes, I could move to about 60 other nations and receive socialized medicine, for example (one bright spot—soon may be able to add “Vermont” to that list of places), but wherever I go, this elite is indifferent to these crises, and no longer needs the good will or even the general population in order to be rich. They make money off each other, in brutal raids and corporate takedowns. They’ve manipulated the markets to the extent that we need their good will in order to survive them. It’s as if they decided 30 years ago that the creation of a middle class was a mistake, and they’re pulling up the gates.

Our only cold comfort is that the oligarchy is a patched-together international affair that lacks natural coherence.

Lauds

¶ The enviably satisfying life of Charles Rosen, pianist and writer. (Also, French teacher at MIT.) Mr Rosen’s current preoccupation (he is 84) is the way that Mozart and Beethoven had of veing unconventionally conventional. ”The public always demand something original, and then they resent it when they get it.” (Guardian; via ArtJournal) ¶ At Slate/FT, Jackie Wullschlager talks to “elusive billionaire,” purveyor of luxury goods, and art collector extraordinaire François Pinault, a self-made Breton who now sponsors two museums of new art in Venice. Takeaway: channel the emotions that you suppress in your ruthless business dealings into a passion for art collecting. As we said, “self-made.” ¶ Felix Salmon explains why Andy Warhol is not only the most successful modern artist but the best investment (or is that the same thing?) — twenty-odd years after his death. Liquidity, darling. ¶ At the Guardian, Simon Jenkins waxes impatient with “modernist nonsense” about ruins, and urges us to be more Victorian about them, fixing them up and restoring them for use instead of treating them as sacrosanct untouchables. (via Arts Journal)

Prime

¶ Although it’s billed as the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Bretton Woods conference sounds like the Same Old Same Old. Simon Johnson reports that a consensus of attendees holds that Goldman Sachs would be bailed out if it were in trouble. Politicians have given up on two fronts: cuttting down its size (and with it its riskiness), and raising its capital requirements. Capcha! (The Baseline Scenario) ¶ What with that budget adaptation of Atlas Shrugged going the rounds, Ayn Rand is back in the news, and who better than Maria Bustillos to examine Rand’s lunatic ethos, which, as she demonstrates with the example of Alan Greenspan, leads inevitably to hardening-of-the-brain. (The Awl)

Tierce

¶ Facts and Figures: Jonah Lehrer reports that the Allen Institute for Brain Science has established a 94% similarity in gene expression among human beings — making us all only 6% different, to put it facetiously — and, even more startlingly, that 82% of our genes are expressed somewhere in the brain. (The Frontal Cortex) 

Sext

¶ Simon Doonan’s Note on Camp (he has but one) is cheeky but accessible. He claims to be the child of camp parents. When was the last time you heard Sontag referred to as “Sue“? (Slate) ¶ Erin Carver, who resolved to sample religions this year, attends a meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, and, perhaps because she didn’t see any quaking, contemplates a return visit with something like enthusiasm. (The Bygone Bureau) ¶ At Bidoun, Curtis Brown meditates on the author of The Eternal Male, a sometime Anglophone schoolboy in Cairo called Michael Demitri Chalhoub who, among other things, bullied Edward Said. This would be Omar Sharif. (That’s “Omar” as in “Bradley,” by the way.) A fascinating page. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

Nones

¶ To the extent that it alerts naive American technophiles to the fact that societies other than our own may have very different priorities and purposings for social networks, Niall Ferguson’s “Mash of Civilizations” is useful. But dismissing those other societies as “enemies of freedom” — when in fact they have a very, very different idea of what freedom means — is simply wrongheadedly simplistic. (Newsweek; via Real Clear World) ¶ Once upon a time, CIA officials retired from their profession; since 9/11, they’ve been taking their expertise to private contractors. Julie Tate covers this depressing but unsurprising development at the Washington Post. (via The Morning News)

Vespers

¶ Until last week, we had never heard of Peter Mountford. Now we’re in the middle of his engaging debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism. Gregory Brown turned us on to it at The Rumpus; at The Millions, Caleb Powell interviews the author — who has a piece of his own at Speakeasy.

The hero/anti-hero of my novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, is tasked with trying to trying to find a monetizable angle on the 2005 Bolivian election for his new employer, a small unscrupulous (fictional) hedge fund called The Calloway Group. The mission is just a test. As the fund manager puts it, “In Bolivia, if you screw up, it won’t hurt us…you’re flying a worthless Cessna, not one of our gold-plated seven-forty-sevens.”

In the first chapter, Gabriel attempts to obtain a copy of Bolivia’s Article IV Report—the IMF’s completely candid assessment of a country’s economic outlook. Countries with especially dour prospects (like Bolivia in 2005) often keep their A-IV Reports under lock and key. Gabriel’s mission is pulled directly from a nearly-identical experience I had in Ecuador in late 2000, when I spent the better part of a month trying to chase down the IMF’s recent (but classified) A-IV Report on Ecuador for my then-employer, a small (now defunct) think tank.

¶ “On its own terms, sex is information.” This startlingly Gleickian claim appears in Alexander Chee’s tribute to James Salter’s sex writing, as virtuosically displayed in the classic A Sport and a Pastime, from which many enticing quotes are drawn. (The Paris Review; via The Morning News)

Compline

¶ Nothing on David Cay Johnson’s list of “9 Things the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes” will be unfamiliar to regular readers, but Mr Johnson’s tempered outrage is encouraging. “The Mad Men who once ran campaigns featuring doctors extolling the health benefits of smoking are now busy marketing the dogma that tax cuts mean broad prosperity, no matter what the facts show.” (Willamette Week; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Have a Look

¶ At City of Sound, amazing photographs by Dan Hill of the Linked Hybrid, a complex of buildings in Beijing, which basically comes off as the background of Eraserhead only in color. ¶ “This has been going on since Ronkonkoma.” (@ The Awl) ¶ Bent Objects, @ Brain Pickings. ¶ Canal Street subway interchange, much reduced, @ The Best Part.

Noted

¶ Getting Byrned. (GOOD) ¶ Tyler Cowen is in Brasilia. (Marginal Revolution) ¶ A selection of Vreeland Memos, @ Letters of Note.

Daily Office
Grand Hours
April 2011: First Week

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Matins

¶ At the LRB, David Runciman reviews two books about politics and finance and, in the process, speaks truth to sloth. The gravest problem of democracy is that the majority of citizens refuses to shoulder its burdens. In exchange for mandatory tax collection, the people reserve the right not to learn what’s really going on in public affairs.

Hacker and Pierson recognise that it has become bad manners to point this out even in serious political discourse. But it remains the truth. ‘Most citizens pay very little attention to politics, and it shows. To call their knowledge of even the most elementary facts about the political system shaky would be generous.’ The traditional solution to this problem was to supplement the ignorance of the voters with guidance from experts, who would reform the system in the voters’ best interests. The difficulty is that the more the experts take charge, the less incentive there is for the voters to inform themselves about what’s going on. This is what Hacker and Pierson call the catch-22 of democratic politics: in order to combat what’s taking place under the voters’ radar it’s necessary to continue the fight under the voters’ radar.

Lauds

¶ Buzz Poole gives The History of American Graffiti such an enthusiastic review that we wonder how this vibrant art form — but an art form much closer to writing and to architecture than it is to the visual art that hangs on the wall of a museum — might be detached from its associations with vandalism. (We never knew — or perhaps we forgot — about tagging cross-country freight trains) The review extracts commentary attesting to the positive impact that graffiti had on erasing racial barriers among the writers. (The Millions) ¶ What’s all this about information overload? At HTMLGiant, M Kitchell complains about being unable to find ANYTHING on the Internet about a fave filmmaker, Frans Zwartjes.

Prime

¶ At Triple Crisis, Mark Blyth offers an interesting essay about the dangers of “intellectual capture” and the “consensus” that the financialization of the American economy is a good thing. (via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ All about Coudal Partners, the makers of Field Notes, and how they got into the business of working for themselves. Timing is everything: in 2001, who knew where the Internet was going? (Signal vs Noise; via The Morning News) ¶ Robert Cringely considers the Engadget defections in light of Thorstein Veblen, noting, “When it comes to information there is no such things as conspicuous consumption and none of us are ever information-rich enough.” (That’s one way of looking at information overload.) ¶ Felix Salmon ponders the Larry Gagosian effect. Is the famous dealer the film on the bubble?

In the short term, that’s good for the contemporary art market: Larry simply won’t allow it to collapse, so it won’t. But in the longer term, as we all know, the longer that bubbles inflate, the nastier their bursting turns out to be.

Felix also surmises that Mr Gagosian is as rich as many of his clients.

Tierce

¶ Jonah Lehrer writes about how tests fail. They don’t last long enough, would be one way of putting it. (Wired Science) ¶ If you’re still wondering about James Gleick’s The Information, Richard Wirick’s quick but resonant review, at The Second Pass, may be the one that gets you to read it.

Sext

¶ At Slate Bill James asks why America is so much better at nurturing great athletes than great writers. When the silt finally settled, we were left with the feeling that when a sportswriter decides to talk about Shakespeare, he gets to say any old thing. (via MetaFilter)

We don’t genu­inely need more literary geniuses. One can only read so many books in a lifetime. We need new athletes all the time because we need new games every day—fudging just a little on the definition of the word need.

¶ If you’re not chuckling by the time Adam Robinson tells you the title of his forthcoming opus, you need a humor tuneup. We particularly liked the sentence in which Adam compares a writer whose books you cannot buy at Amazon (yet) to that Kilimanjaro guy.

Nones

¶ Tim Parks looks at some new books about the ongoing malaise of Italy, where everything is great in spite of itself, or vice versa; as always it’s his own observations as a thirty-year resident that bring the history to life. Here he makes the city-states that emerged in the later Middle Ages sound like teams competing in a league. (The New Yorker)

Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples, and Rome were aware that Italy might eventually be considered a territorial unit, and did everything they could to avoid being swallowed up in it: they were, as Graziano comments, “too weak to absorb others, too strong to let themselves be absorbed.”

¶ At the Guardian, Seumas Milne applauds David Cameron’s acknowledgment that the British Empire left behind ”many of the world’s problems.”

Of course, the colonial legacy is only one part of the story, and Britain’s is only one of the colonial empires whose baleful inheritance can be felt across the world. But the failure in modern Britain to recognise the empire for what it was – an avowedly racist despotism, built on ethnic cleansing and ruthless exploitation, which undeveloped vast areas and oversaw famines that killed tens of millions – is a dangerous encouragement to ignore its lessons and repeat its crimes in a modern form.

What’s needed are not so much apologies, still less declarations of guilt, but some measure of acknowledgement, reparation and understanding that invasions, occupations and external diktats imposed by force are a recipe not for international justice but continued conflict and violence, including against those who stand behind them.

Vespers

¶ In this week’s must-read piece, Maria Bustillos goes through David Foster Wallace’s papers at the Ransom Center in Austin, and is surprised to find a comprehensive library of thoughtfully annotated self-help best-sellers, by the likes of John Bradshaw and Alice Miller. Reading of Wallace’s efforts to cut himself down to size, to live as if he weren’t the recipient of a “genius” grant, is heartbreaking and at the same time damning of America’s leveling tendencies. It were better to have taught him how to be great. (The Awl) ¶ John Jeremiah Sullivan reviews The Pale King at length, at GQ, praising the late writer as a failure in Faulkner’s sense (“our splendid failure to do the impossible”). but that comes at the end, after a great deal of immensely sympathetic comment.

He’s maybe the only notoriously “difficult” writer who almost never wrote a page that wasn’t enjoyable, or at least diverting, to read. Yet it was the theme of loneliness, a particular kind of postmodern, information-saturated loneliness, that, more than anything, drew crowds to his readings who looked in size and excitement level more like what you’d see at an in-store for a new band. Many of Wallace’s readers (this is apparent now that every single one of them has written an appreciation of him somewhere on the Internet) believed that he was speaking to them in his work—that he was one of the few people alive who could help them navigate a new spiritual wilderness, in which every possible source of consolation had been nullified.

¶ At The Millions, Rebecca Rego Barry writes about Nicholson Baker, libraries, and discards — heartbreaking, infuriating, and in this time of transition to new information technologies, inevitable. Just as more work is being done, in this age of digital photography, in the archaic techniques of Nadar, Fox Talbot and others, so it will be, we hope, with books, as more people value the information that can’t be digitized.  

¶ We hope that readers will be encouraged by Stephen Dodson’s review to pick up a copy of Ward Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric; we trust that the book will set their tongues and pens in flight. (The Millions)

Compline

¶ In “The Windsor Knot,” Jonathan Freedland tries to guess just how close the Firm is to barreling over the waterfall’s edge.

Figures from Visit Britain, the British tourism agency, showed that tourism to the country declined in the banner royal years—by 15 percent in July 1981, just as Charles and Diana were wed in picturebook fashion, and by 8 percent in July 1986 when Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. The more visible the Windsors were, the more foreign visitors chose to give Britain a wide berth.

Have a Look

¶ Felice Cohen makes her 90-square-foot apartment seem positively enviable. (via MetaFilter) ¶ Bureaucrats at work. (Brain Pickings) ¶ Jimmy Chen produces The Catcher in the Rye, starring Eminem. (HTMLGiant) ¶ How Venice Works. (via MetaFilter) ¶ Replaced Mona Lisa. (@ GOOD) ¶ Photographer Drew Kelly. (@ The Best Part)

Noted

¶ Tyler Cowen’s choices for The Great Gatsby‘s equal in successive decades: The Grapes of Wrath; Farewell, My Lovely &c. Ultra-strange but strangely interesting. (Marginal Revolution) ¶ Palytoxin, the world’s second-deadliest poison. You may have some in your aquarium! (Not Exactly Rocket Science) ¶ Twenty-five things about Terry Teachout. (About Last Night) ¶ William Gass: Five books that every critic ought to have on hand — nice work if you can get ‘em! (Critical Mass)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
March 2011: Fifth Week

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Matins

¶ Tyler Cowen divides humanity — past and present, if not future — into two “coalitions,” the rulers and the ruled. The rulers usually disagree among themselves, but they close ranks in union against uprisings of the ruled. This is good so far as it goes, but his placement of “modern Americans,” as a lump, among the rulers scrathes our complaisance. Surely there is a problematic third group, ”the couch voters,” who want all of the benefits of power but shirk its responsibilities — especially the responsibility of assessing televised propaganda. (Marginal Revolution)

Lauds

¶ Brian Dillon write about Roland Barthes so movingly that we came to feel that Barthes died of despair. The ostensible subject of the essay is his last book, Camera Lucida, “probably the most widely read and influential book on the subject” of photography. (Guardian; via The Morning News) ¶ Although Andrew Searle’s talk of “crisis” is annoying, his “Drain in Spain“ assessment of the visual arts in Catalonia, Galicia, and elsewhere seems well-informed, at least about one side of the story. (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ They’re teaching Mad Men over at Regis High School. (Speakeasy)

Several universities like the University of California, Berkeley and Northwestern have incorporated the series into their media studies curriculum, producing essay anthologies and holding academic conferences. Regis is helping to  lead the way for high schools to take on the show and use it as a lens to view history.

Prime

¶ Felix Salmon has the sense to call what’s going on in Brazil — sorry; we’re talking about Adam Ross Sorkin’s gee-whiz piece in today’s Times, “In Brazil, No Room For Leverage at Buyout Firms” — venture capital, not private equity. ¶ Simon Johnson berates Spencer Bachus for claiming that Elizabeth Warren has been acting beyond her CFPB powers; but Yves Smith berates liberals for rushing to Ms Warren’s defense.

The key leverage point in this fight is not Warren; she’s become part of the problem. The leverage point is the attorneys general. Thus campaigns like CrimesShouldn’tPay and Credo’s “Jail Wall Street Crooks“, which organized calls to push the AGs to reject the settlement talks and to investigate the banks, are on the right track. Left-wing efforts to rally behind this Administration should be assumed to be wrongheaded until proven otherwise.

¶ While we agree with Robert Reich that the American economy’s health is not improving, but getting worse, we question the wisdom of his cold-water tone. “I’m sorry to have to deliver the bad news, but it’s better you know.” To the extent that economics is a confidence game, this is not helpful. We also believe that scolding is ineffective unless it is focused upon one individual or very small group of individuals. Scolding “Washington” is fatuous.

Tierce 

¶ Jonah Lehrer writes about the neuropsychopharmacy of the near-miss — and how casinos exploit this otherwise positive bit of wiring to our detriment. (The Frontal Cortex) ¶ At I, Cringely, an I-told-you-so note addressed to the TEPCO executives who dithered about plutonium containment at Fukushima.

Sext

¶ Laura Frey Daisley gave up snark for a month. She may just give it up, period. (Slate; via The Morning News)

Not giving voice to my flinty little put-downs also eliminated that weird guilt where you wonder if the person somehow heard you or found out what you said. I also stopped suspecting that anyone might be saying harsh things about me.

¶ Skiles Hornig writes about the desk that her husband would like her to get rid of, because an ex gave it to her. But it’s where she writes. (The Rumpus) ¶ At Salon, Drew Grant considers the dust-up over Big Al’s review of Jacqueline Howett’s self-published Kindle book, The Greek Seaman, and wonders about “people who have nothing to do all day than get into fights about grammar.” Big Al’s Books and Pals, a site that reviews indie fiction, was certainly given a boost.  

Nones

¶ David Rieff has a long piece in The New Republic about the foolishness of dismissing Mexico as a “failed state” à la Pakistan. We hope that it will spark meditation, in thoughtful minds, about the idiocy of the American gun and drug laws that have inevitably nurtured the cartels that, Rieff fears, may brutalize Mexican society. (via The Morning News) ¶ Even Omar Ali, revisiting the topic, dismisses talk of Pakistan as a “failed state” à la Pakistan. What worries him now is the governments flirtation with a Chinese alliance. (3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Yan Xuetong has some interesting things to say about the revival of Confucian values in Chinese political discourse; we didn’t know, by the way, that the Chinese navy had dispatched ships to evacuate Chinese nationals from Libya. (Project Syndicate; via Real Clear World)

Vespers

¶ Not exactly timely — perhaps the LRB wanted to herald the novel’s publication in paper — Pankaj Mishra’s excellent review of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad places the book on very high ground and then considers its contents from an international point of view. There are many standout lines. “But there is no theoretical reason why abstraction should be incompatible with storytelling…” is one. Here’s another:

Remarkably for a writer of her generation (she was born in 1962), Egan seemed like an expatriate, looking back with biting irony at her fellow Americans and their insufficiently examined expectations of wealth, comfort, beauty and fame. 

Scott Esposito refers us to Luc Sante’s rave review, in BookForum, of Geoff Dyer’s new book, a collection of previously published essays, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. Sante calls Dyer “a first-class noticer,” but complains about some items that he calls “dutiful.” Scott disagrees, at least with regard to the piece on Atonement, which he calls “ ingenious argument for a work you never would have expected him to get behind in a million years.” One mans gatherum is another’s omnium.

Compline

¶ Walking around the Old Town of Hannover, Justin E H Smith is drawn to make an arresting comparison, in an off-the-cuff entry entitled “When Buildings Stopped Talking To God,” between ancient Sanskrit inscriptions that are thought to have been addressed to the gods (not to mortals) and modern advertisements, which also “seem to be of no place.” (3 Quarks Daily)

Have a Look

¶ Happy Talk, Part Deux. (via MetaFilter)

Noted

¶ KMZT-FM returns to Los Angeles; experimenting with non-classical-music formats didn’t work. (LA Times; via Arts Journal) ¶ Richard Florida teases out some unsurprising but not uninteresting correlations between passport ownership and happiness, &c. (Atlantic)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
March 2011: Fourth Week

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Matins

¶ At 3 Quarks Daily, Jen Paton writes about the irony of distance — what we used to call “dramatic irony,” wherein the audience at a play knows something that the characters don’t — as a feature of foreign news reporting in the US, and how The Daily Show “‘reproduces, rather than interrogates’ the tropes of ‘conventional news journalism’.” ¶ We agree with Chris Mooney: OpEd pages ought not to be sanctuaries for anti-scientific fantasy. Opinion cannot be stretched to protect outright misinformation, such as the “array of misleading claims” advanced against solid climate science by Jason Lewis in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. (DeSmogBlog.com; via The Intersection)

Lauds

¶ At BBC News, Ian Yongs looks at British arts funding from three perspectives; what they have in common is considerably reduced contributions from the government. It’s no surprise that the tenants of handsome buildings with plenty of naming rights will do better than scruffy anti-establishment theatre companies. Lord Aldington’s suggestion that philanthropists benefit organizations with whom they share “aspirations” takes us right back to the Bourbons! (via Arts Journal) ¶ Simon Heffer, a movie critic who doesn’t get the theatre, writes a nice appreciation of Terence Rattigan, the stiff-upper-lip dramatist whose career took a nosedive when John Osborne & Co hit the West End in 1956, but who won an Academy Award for the Separate Tables screenplay. (Telegraph) ¶ The end of Dan Callahan’s appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor caught our eye. Referring to the magic between Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, Callahan writes, “that’s the way that any consideration of Elizabeth Taylor should end, too, at the height of her beauty, in thrall to a male beauty of equal standing, reaching out to him and to us.” (L)

Prime

¶ Frédéric Filloux captures the awful truth about the paywall at the Times: “Experimenting requires humility, agility, ability to learn from mistakes. Let’s admit it: such traits are in short supply in century-old news organizations that – until recently – thrived on their unchallenged confidence.” (Monday Note) ¶ Since we did indeed miss “The Poindexter Theory” when Joshua Brown ran it the first time, we’re grateful for the re-run. How did economists ever get to be so focal? It must have been the Cold War, which put capitalism right up there with nuclear fission as an vital phenomenon that needed to be understood and controlled. (The Reformed Broker) ¶ Further evidence of the duality of the United States, home of the home free and also of the chumps: everything that Simon Johnson has to say about the bank-dividend handout is just so much plain good sense, but bankers will be allowed to junk up on leverage all over again. (The Baseline Scenario)

Tierce

¶ No Surprise Department: middle schoolers with laptops perform better at math, and they write better, too. Since 2001, Maine has spent $18 million per year making sure that every seventh- and eighth-grader has a laptop. The results in Freeport (home of LL Bean) are pretty staggering: a maths-test pass rate jumped from 50% to 91% during the first eight years of the program. (GOOD) ¶ Never mind the title, “Does the Universe Need God?” This essay by Sean Carroll ends with one of the finest expressions of what science is all about that we’ve ever come across.

None of this amounts to a “proof” that God doesn’t exist, of course. Such a proof is not forthcoming; science isn’t in the business of proving things. Rather, science judges the merits of competing models in terms of their simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and fit to the data. Unsuccessful theories are never disproven, as we can always concoct elaborate schemes to save the phenomena; they just fade away as better theories gain acceptance. Attempting to explain the natural world by appealing to God is, by scientific standards, not a very successful theory. The fact that we humans have been able to understand so much about how the natural world works, in our incredibly limited region of space over a remarkably short period of time, is a triumph of the human spirit, one in which we can all be justifiably proud.

¶ David McRaney writes an excellent essay on the sunk-cost fallacy, with some intriguing observations about Farmville, at You Are Not So Smart.

Sunk costs drive wars, push up prices in auctions and keep failed political policies alive. The fallacy makes you finish the meal when you are already full. It fills your home with things you no longer want or use. Every garage sale is a funeral for someone’s sunk costs.

Sext

¶ Farhad Manjoo asks about the future of the Internet in the age of smartphone apps. We don’t know what to make of his preliminary conclusions, but we keep our eye on the question, because it seems to us that apps are yet another door closed on interconnectedness. (Slate; via Arts Journal) ¶ At The Hairpin, Edith Zimmerman shares her recipe for gettting to like any foodstuff, no matter how revolting initially. The secret seems to be ingesting in public. ¶ Dave Bry is now apologizing to kids he beat up on when he was a kid himself. Not for the squeamish! Prospective parents may wonder how they can bring children into such a world. We were relieved that no one ever made us eat grass. (The Awl)

Nones

¶ An excellent diagnosis of the American headache that turmoil in the Middle East might turn into a migraine, by Robert Kaplan. Never mind Libya; the viability of Saudi Arabia is the major perplex. Kaplan presents China as a ”free rider”; it certainly has a freer hand than our own haphazardly tied ones.  (WSJ; via Real Clear World) ¶ What the so-called ”Turkish model” of Islamic normalization looks like to the secularist opposition: “Turkey’s new ‘old Kemalists’,” by Soner ÇaÄŸaptay in Hürriyet.  ¶ The Epicurean Dealmaker reflects on the pleasant fluidity of social life as an expatriate, free of the local “status dance.”

Vespers

¶ Roxane Gay’s celebrated essay on self-publishing, which ought to have been titled, simply, “Don’t.” (HTMLGiant)

If you believe in your writing enough to invest that kind of money, I wonder why you don’t believe in your writing enough to pursue more traditional alternatives or, in the face of rejection, revise your work such that it will, eventually be published.

In the old days, when a book was still an object invested with status, self-publishing embodied a measure of authority that might persuade a stranger to read a book. Those days are over. But we agree with self-publisher Mary Maddox that there is an awful lot of caprice in the land of agents and editors. ¶ Michael Bourne recalls the thrill of reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a teenager. Forty years after Hunter S Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, what does the book have to tell us? How the Sixties died, is what. (The Millions) ¶ J R Lennon’s advice for getting people to notice your books deserves a hat tip: if you’re going to post about your work at Facebook, post your work, not an announcement about it or a report on how well it’s selling. (Ward Six)

Compline

¶ Jim Emerson writes about the old days, when people just went to the movies at any old time, and left when they got to the point where “this is where we came in.” He doesn’t remember them himself however. We don’t, either, although we remember hearing the grownups speak of having done so. Of course we were always tuning in to the middle of movies on television. (Scanners) ¶ Kevin Nguyen considers “lifelogging” — making a digital record of everything. Ah! to be young! Imagine spending a week at a memory spa, where your personal recollections were subjected to correction by implacable files. (The Bygone Bureau)

Have a Look

¶ More great book covers from Coralie Bickford-Smith. (@ Design Sponge) ¶ Appliance anatomy with Brittny Badger (@ GOOD) ¶ My Bad Parent (via MetaFilter) ¶ A real, live Turing machine. (New Scientist)

Noted

¶ Coke Talk (via MetaFilter) ¶ Seven Must-Read Books About Music (Brain Pickings)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
March 2011: Third Week

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Matins

¶ Sarah Firisen doesn’t say anything that we haven’t said a proverbial thousand times, but her exasperation with public education in the United States has a rousing edge that put a spring in our step. We’re very glad that she brings up Finland and Singapore and South Korea, because we believe that most public-school teachers ought to be recent honors graduates of the nation’s top colleges and universities, “giving back” two or three postgraduate years. (3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Meanwhile, at The Atlantic, three writers cope with the Tiger Mom phenomenon and its afterglow. Sandra Tsing Lo concedes that Amy Chua makes her feel like a slouch, and quotes a “report” on owls by her eight-year-old that, even she has to acknowledge, is “terrible”; Caitlin Flanagan just about sticks her tongue out, in “The Ivy Delusion,” and scolds that she has been issuing warnings about Tiger Mom-ism for ages (“I know a lot of social workers who would be very interested to learn of a 7-year-old forced, as Lulu once was, to sit at the piano, apparently for hours, without water or even a bathroom break.”); Christina Schwarz reflects on Robert Paul Smith’s newly reissued 1957 best-seller, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing, and reminds us that children believe that adults should be seen little and heard less.

Lauds

¶ Woody Allen talks to the Guardian about his loved ones. “They love me and are supportive in a meaningful way but they are very critical of what they would euphemistically call an eccentric. Although they think it’s worse than an eccentric, it really is much more like an idiot savant.” We know people who still won’t see his movies because of the scandal (almost twenty years old!). We’ve only seen You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger once, and we found it — dark. But we’re going back for Naomi Watts. ¶ Arthur Laurents has withdrawn permission for Barbra Streisand to star in a film of Gypsy. The reason he gives may not be the real one, but we applaud it, and its source, Stephen Sondheim. (Hartford Courant; via Arts Journal)

He recently spoke with the musical’s lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, who asked Laurents why he wanted to allow the film project to happen. “He said, ‘What is the point of it?’ And I said, ‘They have this terrible version with Rosalind Russell wearing those black and white shoes.’ And then Sondheim told me something that he got from the British — and it’s wonderful. He said, ‘You want a record because the theater is ephemeral. But that’s wrong. The theater’s greatest essence is that it is ephemeral. You don’t need a record. The fact that it’s ephemeral means you can have different productions, different Roses on into infinity.’

¶ A reporter from Chicago, Blair Kamin, takes a look at the Dallas Arts District, which remains very much a work-in-progress so far as the people part is concerned.

Prime

¶ Edward Hugh projects the economic consequences of the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, and surmises that it may mark an era — the end of the ”Modern Growth Era,” a period somewhat paradoxically opened by another catastrophe, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.¶ At The Economist, we learn about a 2002 study showing that the “bonus” effect of natural diasters (rebuilding invigorates the economy, &c) does not occur when the upset is “geological.” (via Marginal Revolution) ¶ Meanwhile, Joshua Brown talks about his small-cap Japanese ETF investments, which have been doing nicely. We couldn’t follow his remarks about Sell Stop Limit orders, but we’re assured by experts that they’re not nonsense. (The Reformed Broker) ¶ Felix Salmon rehearses the reasons against sending relief money to specific countries; better to trust the discretion of organizations such as Médecins sans frontières.

Tierce

¶ Bob Cringely brings good tidings of the Toshiba 4S (Super Safe Small and Simple) nuclear reactors, just right for a substation near you.

4S reactor cores are like nuclear building blocks, built on a factory production line and transported by truck to be installed 30 meters under the ground. Each 4S puts out 10 megawatts of electricity or enough for 2000 Japanese homes. Following this path means the lost 1000 megawatt reactors will need 100 4S’s each to replace them or a total of 1200 4S reactors. 4S’s are fueled at the factory, put in place to run for 20 years then returned to the factory for refueling. They are sodium-cooled and pretty darned impossible to melt down. If the cooling system is compromised they automatically shut down and just sit there in a block of sodium.

¶ For those who still think in terms of conventional nuclear power plants, Yves Smith concludes her piece, “Is Nuclear Power Worth the Risk?” with another question: “And if you argue against it, what energy/economic strategy do you recommend in its place?”

Sext

¶ How nice it is, as Confucius might have said, when one blogger whom we follow writes about another. Kyle Minor recently read all of Alexander Chee’s Koreanish, falling into it as if it were a book — a book without an end; a book with its end in its beginning. ¶ Bess Levin does a jerk a favor and lets him go nameless in her high-larious response to an article entitled “Sexless and the City.” You have to wonder what paid journalists are being paid to do, exactly. (Make Viagra-popping editors feel better about ageing?) ”Capitalism has replaced sex”? Nate Freeman must be new to this — any “this” you care to specify. (Dealbreaker) ¶ Felix Salmon enumerates the ways in which good blogging beats traditional journalism.

The main impact I think is the way that blog reporting can iterate. In traditional media, you report the story and then you publish it; with blogs, you can start with something much less fully formed and then come back at it over time in many ways and from many angles. Every print journalist knows the feeling of publishing a story which is read by great sources who then provide lots of really good information which would have been great in the original piece. Bloggers don’t worry about that: they just put up a new post, or an update.

Blogs can also geek out in a way that traditional journalists can’t. There’s no space constraint online, and so if I want to spend 5,000 words writing about vulture funds, or a reporter at HuffPo wants to spend 4,000 words getting into the weeds of regulatory reform, they can. Or look at the Ars Technica reviews of every new Macintosh operating system. That kind of material can be incredibly popular, but it just doesn’t work in print. Blogs have a reputation for being superficial, but they can also be much more detailed and accurate than traditional journalism. Not to mention the fact that they’re often written by genuine experts in their fields, rather than by journalists.

Nones

¶ In The New Yorker, David Remnick urges the Obama Administration to stop waiting for Benjamin Netanyahu to have his Nixon moment regarding a Palestinian state. We’re all for that. What surprised was the bit toward the end about the “unforeseeability” of the Palestinian crisis ‘way back in 1967.

One of the myths of Israeli history is that only a few intellectuals on the left could see, in the wake of the 1967 war, that a prolonged occupation of Palestinian lands would be a moral and political calamity. In fact, records of the first cabinet meeting after the war show that the Justice Minister, Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, said, “In a time of decolonization in the whole world can we consider an area in which mainly Arabs live, and we control defense and foreign policy? . . . Who’s going to accept that?”

What’s surprising is that such a “myth” could ever have taken root.

Vespers

¶ At the tender age of 69, Paul Theroux contemplates the autobiography, and shivers. The only literary one that he approves of is Trollope’s, and look what that did to the celebrated novelist’s reputation! Nobody read Trollope for decades! Theroux finds a more practical model in Dickens. (Smithsonian; via MetaFilter)

The more I reflect on my life, the greater the appeal of the autobiographical novel. The immediate family is typically the first subject an American writer contemplates. I never felt that my life was substantial enough to qualify for the anecdotal narrative that enriches autobiography. I had never thought of writing about the sort of big talkative family I grew up in, and very early on I developed the fiction writer’s useful habit of taking liberties. I think I would find it impossible to write an autobiography without invoking the traits I seem to deplore in the ones I’ve described—exaggeration, embroidery, reticence, invention, heroics, mythomania, compulsive revisionism, and all the rest that are so valuable to fiction. Therefore, I suppose my Copperfield beckons.

¶ Charles-Adam Foster-Simard writes about binge-reading Henry James for a course in the UK, making us glad that we are no longer young. Although his piece bears signs of binge-writing, it’s clear that our reader has gathered the essentials, and is now prepared simply to enjoy Henry James. He also provides yet another indication that Colm Tóibín’s The Master — which we read after we knew all about James — is an effective and alluring portal to James’s great novels. ¶ Also at The Millions: Lydia Kiesling doesn’t argue the point; she just comes out and says that Lolita is “the ne plus ultra of the novel form.”

Compline

¶ At The Best Part, designer Jason Dean makes an important plea, and cautions his colleagues against fashioning Japan-relief posters from disaster porn. “As poster designers, it is our duty to create something that functions beyond a simple depiction of a disaster and inspires empathy or even action on the part of the audience.” Well said! ¶ Richard Crary rambles, but we’re always glad to ramble with him, because the beginnings of his ideas are like buds in March. On him, they look good. Now he explains why his blog is called The Existence Machine. The following passage, from the end of the essay, is perhaps a bit over the top — people are always saying “capitalism” when they mean something else, something that doesn’t have a name — it has the rawness of a fine spring day.

I resist the strong tendency in this tradition to see life itself as the misery. I wish rather, writing as the father of a beautiful little girl, to celebrate life. It is, at times, easy to do that. All I have to do is be in her company for a few minutes, and life is great. Life is great. But it doesn’t take long, when away from her, when commuting, when reading about the problems of the world, to despair about the future world that awaits her. And I thus write with sadness and anger as I consider, as I often must, the death cult that is capitalism, its continued encroachment on and destruction of the natural world, and the immanent disaster “into which science has led us and abandoned us”.

¶ Andrew Woolner, from Yokohama, reminds us that, even in Japan, the world has not come to an end. (A Perfect Lover Has No Memory; via Mnémoglyphes)

Have a Look

¶ Kottke.org turns ten. ¶ 650 Quilts (@ Design Observer) ¶ Boris Smelov’s photographs. (ARTCAT)

Noted

¶ One world traveler’s list of Philippine quirks. (via Marginal Revolution) ¶ “A Century of Meat” — chicken used to be special. (NYT) ¶ Gordon Lish Bibliography. (HTMLGiant)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
March 2011: Second Week

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Matins

¶ Doug Saunders writes about the “catalyst class,” a growing lower-middle class with no ties either to local elites or to their radicalized opponents. Another way to describe them: angry first-time apartment owners who want open and fair business conditions. They threw Hosni Mubarak out of power in Egypt, and they’re increasingly mobilized in China. We should know these people. They were the ones who brought democracy to North America.” (Globe and Mail; via Real Clear World) ¶ Kwame Anthony Appiah’s review of the new Montaigne books by Sarah Bakewell and Saul Frampton includes the most excellent description of the liberal cast of mind that we have ever come across: it is “compounded of two principal elements: An abhorrence of cruelty and a sense of the provisional nature of human knowledge.” (Slate; via Arts Journal)

Lauds

¶ We agree with Justin Davidson, who believes that James Levine ought to retire from his leadership role at the Metropolitan Opera. “But even if he’s in fine fettle for the anniversary gala on May 1, the time has come to make him conductor laureate for life and hand the keys to someone else.” Mr Levine has built a great orchestra, which will now go on being a great orchestra for years to come, just as the Philadelphia Orchestra did after Leopold Stokowski handed it over to Eugene Ormandy in the Thirties. (New York; via Arts Journal) ¶ Jimmy Chen is such a funny man that we read his praise of Giorgio Morandi with eyebrows arched — cocked, Jimmy might say. Apparently there’s a Daren Wilson who paints slightly inaccurate copies of Morandi. Something to think about!  (HTMLGiant)

Prime

¶ Yves Smith cuts through all the blah-blah about how difficult it is to prosecute banking dereliction cases. She has found just the provision of Sarbanes-Oxley for the job, and it’s aimed at holding the top people responsible for risk management and other grown-up duties, and she believes that prosecuting a few Lehman alums would be a good start. Write to your prosecutor! ¶ Tyler Cowen serves up lists of the common misjudgments of left- and right-wing economists. (A pox on the lot of ‘em!) ¶ For Ezra Klein, one list is enough. We like the last two items. Nobody does know what “stochastic” means, and (more importantly) economists don’t spend enough time arguing with people who aren’t trained economists. Do they spend any? (via The Morning News)

Tierce

¶ Given the choice between fire and ice, we choose ice — when it comes to post-life body disposal. Promessa Organic Burial isn’t offering its services yet (dipping the corpose in liquid nitrogen, then vibrating it into dust, and finishing off by planting a shrub on the remains), but it’s certainly cooler than cremation. (Discoblog) ¶ Zoe Chance, at Harvard Business School, has arrived at some chilling findings: cheaters have self-serving oblivion powers! Especially when they win (undeserved) recognition for their (fraudulent) achievements, cheaters tend to forget about the cheating! Ed Yong reports, at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

This tells us a little about the mindset of people who fake their research, who build careers on plagiarised work or who wave around spurious credentials. There’s a tendency to think that these people know full well what they’re doing and go through life with a sort of Machiavellian glee. But the outlook from Chance’s study is subtler.

She showed that even though people know that they occasionally behave dishonestly, they don’t know that they can convincingly lie to themselves to gloss over these misdeeds. Their scam is so convincing that they don’t know that they’re doing it. As she writes, “Our findings show that people not only fail to judge themselves harshly for unethical behaviour, but can even use the positive results of such behaviour to see themselves as better than ever.”

¶ The editors of the London Review of Books finally got round to assigning Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows — or perhaps Jim Holt was dilatory about submitting his review. No matter; it’s a fine piece, and possibly the best that we’ve read. Although Holt disagrees with Carr on questions of “fluid” and “crystalline” intelligence, he brings up an anecdote by the great French mathematician Henri Poincaré as evidence in support of the proposition that Googling is bad for creativity — whatever that may be.

Sext

¶ Melissa Lafsky finds the new Red Riding Hood to be “face-clawingly terrible” — but instructive withal.Not! ”Yeah sure, it’s asking for all kinds of trouble to make teens ignore their sexual urges, we know. But does doing so really give them leave to become sociopathic murderers?” (The Awl) ¶ As the daughter of a lapsed Catholic, Erin Carver naturally wishes that the Mass were still conducted in Latin and in other ways rendered unintelligible. She hides out in the bathroom during Communion, and envies a young couple that has evidently gotten beyond the smells and bells. (The Bygone Bureau) ¶ Christine Byrne, who went to culinary school in order to become a better food writer, says a few words about taillage (knife work), and her meditative pursuit of the perfect julienne. (GOOD)

Nones

¶ At The Awl, Brent Cox runs through the pros (obvious) and cons (numerous) of seasteading, which has attracted the interest of Pay-Pay founder Peter Thiel. We expect that it’s only a matter of time before someone rigs up a floating campus of some kind and parks it in calm, sunny waters — not too near to Tonga, though. The whole thing reminds us a bit of Zardoz. ¶ Among the days we never thought we’d see was the one on which we read Judith Butler with pleasure and interest. But it has come. Butler’s essay, “Who Owns Kafka?”, in the London Review of Books, makes the most of the ironies contained in the suitcase of Kafka’s writings that Max Brod didn’t burn as instructed but left instead to a girlfriend, whose two daughters now proposed that it be auctioned off by weight. The essay underscores the black humor implicit in attempts by Israel and Germany to nationalize Kafka’s legacy.

Vespers

¶ John Williams gets round to Allen Shawn’s Twin, and writes about it very sweetly, responding to Neil Genzlinger’s gratuitous Book Review attack. (The Second Pass) ¶ K E Semmel roots for Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time to win a Best Translated Book Award, pointing out incidentally but enticingly how like Richard Ford’s novels it is. ¶ April Bernard laments the all-inclusive centenary collections of Bishopiana that Elizabeth Bishop herself would certainly have prohibited during her lifetime. (New York Review of Books)

A cooler editorial head—deciding that for whatever combined reasons of reticence, manners, oppression, and repression, Bishop simply did not often write well when writing directly about sex and love (as opposed to loss, about which she wrote better than anyone)—would lead one to a different conclusion, one that would continue to support the judgment Bishop herself made, again and again, about what constituted a finished poem.

Compline

¶ When The Reformed Broker (Joshua Brown) turns to Charlie Sheen for help, you know how deep the doo-doo has got to be: “Peak Sheen (or how $10 gas will save the world)” ¶ Here’s a conundrum (if one that is unlikely to come up very often): can a former porn actress have a career as a high-school science teacher? Not if there are boys in the class, it seems; Tera Myers has been outed twice by students who saw the movies that she made when she was a young and broke single mom. Maybe if there’s a really progressive girls’ school out there… (GOOD) ¶ At Slate, David Weigel asks why conservatives hate railroads? And he gets a very intriguing answer from a transportation consultant called Wendell Cox.

“A lot of this has to do with Euro-envy,” says Cox. “People like to talk about how much better Europe is. I don’t see that their quality of life is better in Europe. The fact is that we live in a dispersed society, and there’s no set of circumstances where people are going to leave cars and take rail transportation.”

But of course the population of the Northeast Corridor — what the Editor calls the Republic of 202, after a highway that threads the region at a distance that’s rarely closer than fifty miles from the Atlantic Ocean — is not “dispersed.” Nor is that of southern Florida; nor that of coastal California. The truth is that there are several mini-Europes in the United States. The thinly-peopled rump of the country looks a like George III.  

Have a Look

¶ Philip IV signs autographs at the Museum. (Improv Everywhere) ¶ Don’t: Barbecue a Water Balloon. (via The Awl) ¶ The body heat cell phone. (GOOD) ¶ Insane asylum plans from the old days. (Object; via kottke.org) ¶ The Australian Voices sing “The Facebook Song.” Must listen (@ Joe.My.God)

Noted

¶ The Grace Coddington story. (Intelligent Life; via The Morning News) ¶ Using Sweaters Better (The Awl) ¶ Why “Q-A-D-D-A-F-I?” (GOOD) ¶ Jennifer Egan wins the National Book Critics Circle Award. Brava! (Speakeasy) ¶ The week in review, summed up by Shakespeare (Where Else?)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
March 2011: First Week

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Matins

¶ If you want to lose our attention, just offer us a list of ten things. If we’re very bored, we may give it a glance, just to see how silly you are and probably to laugh at your expense. If Bob Cringely hadn’t been so entertainingly upset by a 24/7 list of the ways in which Americans “waste money” (ie, make discretionary purchases), we’d never have learned that there’s somebody out there who things that dry cleaning is optional — remind us not to sit next to that person! ¶ Abdul Fattah John Jandali, 80 and flourishing in Nevada, talks about his biological son, the guy who brought you the iPhone. (Ya Libnan; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Lauds

¶ At the Guardian, Mark Prescott asks, “Opera reviews: why does no one write about the music?” Actually, music critics write about almost everything but the music, for the simple reason that writing intelligibly about music is just about the hardest thing in the world to do. With regard to opera, though, we’re living in an era of silly, director-led “conceptions” of familiar classics that, in our view, clutter the stage and get in the way of the singing — but provide critics with nifty copy. ¶ Helen Mirren compares Michael Parkinson (whose 1975 “sexist interview” with the actress remains a must-see) with Russell Brand, who, she tells the Guardian, likes women, and not a lot of men do.” Having played Prospero, she now wants to play Hamlet. ¶ Nige reminds us of the death of Eric Blore, foretold in the pages of The New Yorker by Kenneth Tynan.

Prime

¶ We used to think that Jamie Dimon was the one reputable banker on Wall Street. Simon Johnson’s story about the folly of banks paying dividends right now (thus reducing their capital) mentions Mr Dimon’s “theory of excess capital,” which sounds like the sort of thing that a powerful man can make others listen to, nodding approvingly — but still crazy. (The Baseline Scenario) ¶ Whatever your opinion of Keynesian fiscal theory may be, there’s no question that Tyler Cowen identifies the functional problem that, Clinton-era good fortune aside, has bedeviled its implementation:

The technocratic Keynesian recommendation was to run deficits in bad times and surpluses in good times. But except for one stretch during the Clinton administration, this notion has been broken since the early 1980s. In the United States, at least, Keynesian economics has failed to find the necessary political institutions to enact and sustain a wise version of the theory.

Curiously, Tyler doesn’t regard this absolutely crucial insight as one worth exerpting in his own afterpost at Marginal Revolution. At least he doesn’t see the political weakness of Keynesian theory to be too obvious to mention. ¶ A True Historie and Account of McKinsey & Co, by Yves Smith! We dropped everything and read to the last word. Our favorite line: the writer’s personal recollection of Citibank in the reign of John Reed. “ I was on the Citibank team, where the client was smart and aggressive but often didn’t apply its energies to the best ends: the joke was that it was a “fire, aim, ready” organization.”

Tierce

¶ All about PKMzeta, the protein that strengthens synapses, thus enhancing memory. At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong tells us how the elimination of PKHzeta — there’s a chemical called ZIP that does the job — erases long-term memories irreversibly. The discovery, made by a team led by Todd Saktor at SUNY Downstate, doesn’t so much answer questions as refine them. One conjecture: PKMzeta enforces the survival of the fittest memories.

Memories are incredibly important, so why are they always teetering on the edge of disappearance? It probably has something to do with flexibility. The vulnerable nature of our memories allows us to easily update our entire network with new information. Without this flexibility, we’d be incapable of learning new things – a flaw that’s just as dangerous as the threat of memory loss.

¶ At HTMLGiant, Amy McDaniel muses anecdotally on favorite authors and ageing — or, in her case, getting older. She doesn’t quite say so, but the suggestion is implicit that, while we do outgrow adelescent tastes, the books that we love in earlier maturity will probably always been dear. (If only we had more time to get back to them!)

Sext

¶ Whitney Carpenter discloses the delightful if sordid truth about her fondness for special notebooks, pens, and other writing paraphernalia (id est: they protect her from having to write) with an understated candor that brings the more unspeakable sexual preferences to mind. (The Bygone Bureau)

Notebooks, as any notebook enthusiast will tell you, have a legacy, and all of that timelessness can weigh on a person. The pressure to do justice to the notebook, to write something as classic and romantic as the paper housing it, is just too much; I can never muster the courage to begin.

But there is something worse than a lot of pristine, untouched notebooks, and that is a lot of notebooks filled with the logorrhea of callow youth. Whitney is right: get rid of the things now! ¶ How delicious: Walter Kirn on Charlie Sheen. It’s almost redemptive, but only almost. We’ve never seen the show about fractions of men, and we can’t imagine tweeting about degraded actors with “very small holes in the center of his pupils where the ‘twinkle’ used to go,” but this entry from the writer’s new blog, Permanent Morning, makes us feel that we’ve had all the possible fun of doing so. “ He is the great Third Person Outside the Room that allows loosely associated strangers interacting on Twitter etc. to engage in synthetic confidential intimacy.” ¶ The ever-bad Dave Bry owes Streit’s Bakery twenty-two cents, the thief. It seems that matzo and camembert go well together, especially if the cracker is a Moonstrip from Rivingtton Street. Also that the bakery isn’t a particularly well-run shop.

Nones

¶ At 3 Quarks Daily, Omar Ali tries to get to the bottom of the Raymond Davis affair: does it signify a spat or a divorce between Pakistan’s ISI and our CIA? The larger importance of his piece lies in its firmly post-colonial thinking. “First of all, it is true that I assume that people in Pakistan have plans and ambitions of their own. I also assumes that the US is not some kind of God-like power.” Indeed, in Mr Ali’s view, the people of Pakistans have less to fear of the Amerricans than of their own “suicidal” elites.

Vespers

¶ Mary Beard is unhappy with a new book about “Elagabalus,” the Roman boy-emperor who reigned for four years from 218 and to whom the most shocking reputation for “decadence” was attached by the fourth century. The author of the new book, a Spaniard with a grandee’s name, Leonardo de Arrizabagala y Prado (we like the hint of acronymic connection to the emperor), has set out to distinguish fact from fiction, and wound up with a long, and in Beard’s view fatuous, list of “don’t knows.” The one story that Harold Nicholson omits from his tut-tutting account of Elegabalus is the one about smothering his dinner guests with rose petals. (TLS; via Brainiac) ¶ At Speakeasy, a taste of Anne Roiphe’s “Memoir of Lus Without Reason”: the glory (gory?) days at The Paris Review, when men wore ties and arm candy.

And then there was alcohol. It is hard to imagine these parties, this world without the clinking of ice in a glass, without the amber liquids loosening tongues, inhibitions, raging ambitions, hiding fears of failure, covering the tracks of depression and insecurity that might otherwise blight the scene. Yes, these were very intelligent and enormously gifted men and they lusted and they argued, they had sex like cave men on the savanna, or so they hoped.

Today’s writers seem a more cautious lot, less interested in some macho image that must be projected against an imaginary screen and perhaps they are less admiring of Hemingway and his giant fish than their elders.  Feminism, endless wars, a society in turmoil, civil rights, may have saved the current crop of writers from the long nights of their predecessors. But I’m sure the new crop of writers  have their own way to tumble down, to make their lives hard, and the sight probably isn’t pretty either.

But what is certain is that talent does not protect and that the drive to be an artist may set your hair on fire causing first degree burns. This is what happened with these writers before the height of the sixties and the sexual revolution would bring the rest of America into the party. This happened when I was very young and didn’t understand that a sleeping child’s breath on your neck is worth far more than any novel and that wild drink is not an answer to any inner yearning and that Art is fine but only one of the Mistresses of happiness and sometimes She is cruel in her demands.

¶ In an excellent essay at The Millions, Gabriel Brownstein surveys the field of “Jewish fiction,” only to give David Henry Hwang the last word: “ He talked of friends, fine playwrights with unspectacular careers, who had never been categorized, and said, look, that’s why they never took off.  You need to get categorized in order to succeed.” Surely this is not the old-fashioned business of categorizing and pigeonholing. Rather, it’s a kind of tagging.

Compline

¶ JR Lennon puts his finger (unintentionally, perhaps) on what makes us uncomfortable about writing programs — the (to us) meretricious patina of academic rigor. Teachers can do no more than grade a moment of excitement that may or may not turn out to be durable — no one can say.

If you ever wonder why creative writing classes often seem to be graded rather generously, this is the reason.  Everything is a gray area.  Nothing can be judged out of context.  There are no things you can’t do, and there are no things that always work.  There are only…things.  An infinite number.  And they can be arranged in an infinite number of ways.  It’s enough to make me think my job might actually be…difficult.

We’re all for writing programs. And we can see why calling them a kind of school is probably the easiest way to fund them, and to bring togetther But we have completely outgrown any faith in the product of writing programs. (Ward Six; via HTMLGiant) ¶ At Slate, Farhad Manjoo denounces the “snoots” who complain wheneverNPR devotes an iota of attention to the likes of Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber (plantinum- and chrome-plated junk, both of them). We agree that complaining is unattractive: we don’t listen to NPR anymore. For one thing, we don’t have the time! We just learned that we’ve read 155K Google Reader feeds in the past two years — lots and lots of which featured “Justin Bieber” in the headline. At least we didn’t have to listen! (via The Morning News)

Have a Look

¶ Helvetica and the New York City Subway System @ Brain Pickings. ¶ “The Drinking Man’s New Orleans” @ A Continuous Lean. ¶ Marc Giai-Miniet’s miniatures @ The Best Part. ¶ Next time, leave your camera at home: “Most Tourists Take Pictures from the Same Spot” @ The Online Photographer. ¶ Grace Bonney is having a stripes crisis. Help her out @ Design Sponge. ¶ Slam-dunking robot seal, gifted with stereo vision and, of course, great mechanicals. (Discoblog)

Noted

¶ Donald Trump’s loutishness continues unabated. (Joe.My.God)  ¶ The  editors of The Bygone Bureau revisit Pokemon, which all but two were deeply involved with. Darryl Campbell just missed the fad, by going off to high school, and Jonathan Gourlay was already a dirty old man.

Daily Office
Grand Hours
Saturday, 19 February 2011

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Matins

¶ Nobody who read James Gleick’s Chaos needs to be told that his new book, The Information, a a must-read. (Brainiac)

For Gleick, the essence of information is abstraction. Information exists where one thing (an idea) is abstracted into another thing (a word). But it’s also important that information be granular – broken down into what Shannon called “bits.” It’s this combination of abstraction and regularity that makes the idea of information so useful. The information age arrived, Gleick explains, not with the alphabet, the telephone, or the internet, but when, after it was “made simple, distilled, [and] counted in bits, information was found to be everywhere.”

Lauds

¶ Megan Lewit knows why Yanks don’t remake Brit comedy very well: “our Anglo friends take their comedy much as they take their tea: black.” Are Americans fundamentally too nice to be hipsters? (The Awl) ¶ We’ve never seen Friday Night Lights, and Kevin Nguyen’s hommage is probably not going to change that, but we read it with great interest just the same. “And maybe that’s the hardest part of selling Friday Night Lights to the uninitiated: it’s a show about football where the football is the least important part.” (The Bygone Bureau) ¶ Dan Callahan’s hot-pressed ode to the neo-noir films of the Eighties and Nineties makes us appreciate the original noirs all the more: watching people smoke cigarettes can be made to be so much more interesting than — well, something with Rachel Ward and Jason Patric called After Dark, My Sweet.

Foley cuts to a shot of Ward’s hands digging into the small of Patric’s back, which is lightly covered with hair. This is an image another movie might not show you; another movie might have made Patric shave that hair on his back, or made Ward cover the lines under her eyes, but After Dark, My Sweet seems to have an almost French appreciation for “flaws” like this and views them as turn-ons.

¶ Jens Laurson sits through Mahler’s Seventh (the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bernard Haitink) and nicely captures the adolescent grandeur of this fuzzy masterpiece, less difficult than the Sixth but more daring and “out there.”

Prime

¶ While waiting to be able to deliver their new plane, the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing executives and engineers must surely be finding the abstract of John Hart-Smith’s brilliantly titled study, “Out-Sourcing Profits: the Cornerstone of Successful Subcontracting,” to be horribly prescient (as well as fantastically readable). They must be wishing that Hart-Smith’s bosses at Boeing, for whom he wrote his cautionary presentation in 2001, had listened. “The point is made that not only is the work out-sourced; all of the profits associated with the work are out-sourced, too.” (via MetaFilter) ¶ Bob Cringely tells us that “the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem isn’t the American startup ecosystem.” The American system is slower and cheaper. (I, Cringely)

Tierce

¶ Yves Smith parses a mailing from a progressive group that’s trying to change JP Morgan Chase’s foreclosure policies — the group wants the bank to be more willing to modify mortgages — and shows how really lame the group’s proposals are. And she makes two suggestions that would probably offer help more effectively to troubled homeowners — and neither of them involve negotiating or pleading with JPMorgan Chase.. (Naked Capitalism) ¶ With slightly more patience, Robert Reich asks for a Democratic Party plan to counter the Republicans’ strategy of dividing the middle- and lower-classes along union/non-union lines (which today is pretty much a public sector/private sector divide.) ¶ Chris Mooney regards the complex of right-wing think tanks as an alternative to academia that’s less intellectually rigorous. “And now, while good liberals worry about academic balance, these think tanks are out there trouncing reality on a regular basis.” (The Intersection) ¶ Testosterone may increase athletic performance, but in the end it’s only going to let traders down — and, come to think of it, any man who’s supposed to be thinking. (Dynamic Hedge @ The Reformed Broker) ¶ Philip Greenspun rightly judges David Brooks’s “answer” to Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation — Brooks argues that young Americans “seek meaning not money” — is unworthy of a Times columnist. ¶ Amy Westervelt reports on a connection between light pollution and cancer — particularly the cancers that require hormones to grow. This is not offered as a scare but as something to think about. Is worrying in the dark better than worrying in front of the computer? (GOOD) ¶ Finally: “Viewers should not have to adjust the volume at every commercial break, and we will work with the broadcasting industry to find an acceptable solution.” Commercials in Canada won’t be so much louder. (CBC News; via Arts Journal)

Sext

¶ Choire Sicha mourns the death of email. “I recently witnessed an entire passive aggressive confrontation occur in the comment sections of other people’s Tumblrs! It wasn’t even taking place on their own Tumblrs! That’s just how distributed conversation has gotten.” What’s Tumblr? <wink> (The Awl) ¶ One of the funniest writers on the Internet, Jimmy Chen, confesses to being “addicted to sad.” Somewhat more problematically, he also uses Vuillard’s The Newspaper to illustrate an essay that concerns his own failure as a painter. Of course we forgive him. Vuillard, after all…  (HTMLGiant) ¶ Dominique Browning is too polite to put it categorically, but although you can’t always respond to a question with the required degree of interest, but you must never, ever dismiss what another person asks as a “bad question,” or as “boring and banal.” These maladroit moves remind us of the old saw that “boring is not where you are, it’s who you are.” ¶ Stephen Sherrill’s spoof of a book proposal actually written by Shrub isn’t the timeliest funny piece in the world, but it’s too delicious to overlook. It reminds us that the late president was what used to be called “affected,” but in an inverse way: a born patrician, he pretended to sound working class. Amazingly if not surprisingly, the gambit succeeded. (GQ; via The Rumpus)

Nones

¶ Rupa Sengupta muses on the “glocal” dissemination of American “soft power” — its pop-culture leadership. N “The future seems to be about partnerships, not one-way tickets; cross-currents, not hegemonies.” (Times of India; via Real Clear World) ¶ Morgan Meis takes a dry-eyed look at Al-Jazeera’s funding and still concludes that it may be journalism’s best hope — for the time being. (The Smart Set; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Hugh Miles, writing about Libya, reminds us that “Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libya has substantial oil wealth and steps have been taken to placate the people by raising salaries and releasing some political prisoners.

Vespers

¶ What ought to be a crashingly unreadable downtown review of a difficult poet becomes, under the touch of Olga Zilberbourg, an intriguing encounter with a reader whom you’d like to know better — even if you “know better.” Here’s the premise: “This is certain: I read Coolidge in the context of my experience, and my experience is grounded in 20th C Leningrad-St. Petersburg poetry.” You’ll have to teake it from me that the experience is fertile. (HTMLGiant) ¶ Bill Morris, asked to write a blurb for a friend’s book, swallows hard but gets a truly fine essay out of the experience that fingers all the complexities of this dark and undismissible subject. Also, happy ending: he can write a nice blurb with a clear conscience. (The Millions)

Compline

¶ Catherine McNally, a librarian from the Liverpool area, writes a defense of libraries that presents her own branch as a kind of community center for the exchange of information. One wonders how quiet it is,  and how quiet, in this age of headphones, it ought to be. (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ Rick Gekoski wants us to stop talking rot about the virtues of “books” and “reading,” and he quotes an apt line of Philip Larkin: “I should never call myself a book lover any more than a people lover. It all depends what’s inside them.” (Ditto; Ditto)

Have a Look

¶ Spencer Murphy’s “Fallen Empire” project: the “ruins” of a Chinese theme park in Florida. (via The Best Part) ¶ Molly Lewis wants to have Stephen Fry’s child, and her boyfriend thinks it’s okay. She is one talented song-writer. (YouTube; via MetaFilter) ¶ The Beatles — as they’ll be understood a thousand years from now. (Death to the History Channel!) (via Brainiac)

Noted

¶ Now you can make your own Coca-Cola at home. (This American Life; via kottke.org) ¶ Blake Butler writes from Level Zero. (HTMLGiant) ¶ The Weakonomist on “biflation.” (Weakonomics) ¶ Americans with passports; per capita by state (Grey’s Blog) ¶ We are not going to wax sentimental about this story of the last days of Borders; we’d have done the same thing. (I, Cringely)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
Saturday, 5 February 2011

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Matins

¶ Whenever we think of consciousness, and what it might be (if it means anything at all, which it probably doesn’t, by virtue of meaning too much for one word), we put ourselves in the place of Ramses II, who clearly thought that he was doing well. Knowledge has a history, people — which means that it has a future. Trust in us to get there without wasting time anticipating what will be found. Soul dust, indeed! (BBC Today; via MetaFilter) ¶ All things considered, we’re not terribly worked up about the recent decision in the Bombay High Court that upheld astrology as a science. The law itself is no more scientific than astrology. (Short Sharp Science) Leave astrology to Carl Sagan. (Bad Astronomy)

Lauds

¶ We’re inclined to agree with Wayne Anderson, that “what Marcel Duchamp did to the history of art is comparable to the impact of the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.” That doesn’t mean that we want to read Anderson’s book, which, in Francis Naumann’s utterly and completely unfavorable review, sounds crochety and undigested. We’re grateful to Christopher Higgs for raising the subject, and we agree with him, that any book that makes you fighting made is some kind of success. (Toutfait; HTMLGiant) ¶ Anne Yoder explores the “alignment” of Arthur Rimbaud and David Wojnarowicz, as miscreants, meddlers, thieves, deranged to the point of seeing, i.e., visionary.” We’re glad that they weren’t too deranged to get their work done, even though we wouldn’t have wanted to have them to dinner. ¶ But who cares about art anymore? It’s the artist that’s the thing. Felix Salmon writes about oligarch Victor Pinchuk flew Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons into Davos just to have them show up at a big non-WEF lunch. The meteor has definitely killed the dinosaurs.

Prime

¶ The incomparable Michael Lewis travels from Greece to Ireland — one begins to worry that airport officials will brand him as a terrorist before he can enter Spain or Portugal — and delivers a Vanity Fair piece, “When Irish Eyes Are Crying,” that makes a conclusive case that the Irish were as vulnerable to the ravages of optimism as Native Americans were to that old Irish staple, firewater. Most delicious sentence: “The politicians in Ireland speak Gaelic the way the Real Housewives of Orange County speak French.” ¶ At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell surveys Irish politics and recent history. He offers three forecasts for the long-ruling Fianna Fáil, which may have outlived its historic combination of “nationalist ideology and right-of-center populism.”

Tierce

¶ Noting a political likeness between “Metternich and Mubarak,” Bob Cringely reminds us that Europe was swept by revolutions in 1848 without any help from modern communications technologies. When the people are dissatisfied enough to rise up, they do so faster than Facebook can keep up. ¶ Cam Hui, at The Humble Student of the Markets, is also reminded of 1848, noting that discontent in China is becoming more open than ever. Tim Wu argues eloquently for dropping US charges against Julian Assange. (Foreign Policy)

Prosecution of WikiLeaks would hurt, if it not destroy, the credibility of the United States in claiming to be the world’s most vital advocate of an open Internet. It would send the dangerous signal that the United States only claims to uphold the virtues of an open Internet and free speech — until it decides it doesn’t like a particular website. There could hardly be a worse moment to send that message, to be telling the Arab world:  Do as we say, not as we do.

¶ Writing about Montaigne and the very different wars of his time, Saul Frampton ventures a few speculations on mirror neurons that argue for the importance of physical proximity in human affairs, further dampening the effectiveness of remote communication in exciting times. (Guardian; via The Rumpus) ¶ Simon Roberts, we suspect, doesn’t know much about the producers of the little video that he showcases, but, much as we object to AARP as a special-interest group, we’re willing to trust its numbers for the sake of fun. Old people really do need Facebook; they can’t get out anymore. (We should know!) (The Ideas Bazaar)

Sext

¶ We congratulate our friend JRParis upon the award of a medal from his employer, marking 25 years’ service. He’s a good sport about the fact that he ought to have received it in 2007. There is no TGV, apparently, in the administration of SNCF. ¶ According to the British Toilet Association, Britain’s toilets were once “the envy of the world.” James Ward wants to know whose toilets are the envy of the world today. If that’s a bit too gross for your reading pleasure, James has also visited the Web site of the British Plastics Federation, where you’ll find the bastard word, “pultrustion.”

Nones

¶ The editors of The Morning News have the great good sense to refer us to a tour d’horizon of Egyptian politics by Adam Schatz that appeared last May. Despite its titles, “Mubarak’s Last Breath,” it was written at a time when the temperature of Cairene politics was set determinately at “business as usual.” Schatz is particularly good, toward the end, at placing Mohamen El-Baradei. ¶ Justin E H Smith recalls the style dictatoire that he encountered in Egypt, where young men made “menacing attempts at immediate friendship” — an almost comical phrase that, we’re nonetheless certain, ought to be taken at naive face value. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

Vespers

¶ At The Millions, Henriette Lazarides Power writes about Ismail Kadare’s chilling version of a widespread Balkan folk tale, “The Three-Arched Bridge.” Ms Power already knew the story from her family, in Northern Greece. She had even crossed the very bridge itself, said to contain, in its foundations, the body of an immured volunteer. ¶ If Kyle Minor, stuck in Toledo, is going to miss the AWP thing in Washington, you can bet that he’s going to dream up a conference worth missing missing. The things that he’s sorry to have been left out of will be the envy of AWP attendees as well. Sing to us, Svetlana. In a nearby entry, Jimmy Chen soliloquizes for a lost soul who assumed that “Washington, DC” means “Deep Creek, Spokane, Washington,” and who wonders where everybody is. (HTMLGiant)

Compline

¶ The (depressing) state of play in the development of high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. John Mica, the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is chasing the chimera of “private investment,” which is just about exactly 100% wrong-headed. We agree that Amtrak’s record is poor-to-terrible, but we attribute this not to government sponsorship (such as it is) but to the legacy of the old railroad companies that devolved into it. We need to send a troop of smart yong engineers, accountants and administrators to Europe and insure that they replace current managers upon their return. (The Infrastructurist) ¶ Why Republicans hate mass transit — as if you didn’t know. They may say that they’re against subsidizing enterprise, but, as Ben Jervey points out, that doesn’t stop them from providing massive support to automobile-related transport (roads, especially). Republicans like to help people who don’t need help. (GOOD)

Have a Look

¶ Lily Pons, glamour girl with a voice. (Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist)

¶ Galaxy Quest — the 20th Reunion documentary! (via MetaFilter)

¶ Dominique Browning at the Taj Mahal. (Slow Love Life)

Noted

¶ Geoff Dyer loves Friedrich Nietzsche. (Guardian; via Maud Newton)

¶ Twilight on the syllabus at Ohio State. (GOOD)

¶ David Leonhardt talks to Tyler Cowen about necessary cultural changes. (NYT)

¶ Ayn Rand depended on government handouts in her battle, after a lifetime of smoking, against lung cancer. (GOOD)

¶ “Why I Am A Socialist” — In this moving testament, Wallace Shawn never uses the term. (Guernica; via MetaFilter)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
Saturday, 29 January 2011

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Matins

¶ At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok endorses the ethical sentiments of economist Ed Glaeser, who writes in a somewhat self-congratulatory way about the “respect” shown by liberal economists to individuals when they allow them to make their own decisions about such controversial actions as selling their organs. “Economists like John Stuart Mill thought that all people were able to make rational choices, that trade not coercion was the best route to wealth, and that everyone should be counted equally, regardless of race.” This is either blinkered or naive — blinkered, we suspect. How can anyone be so naive as to think that an uneducated woman, wholly dependent upon the men in her family for her material needs, would not be vulnarable to all manner of low-level extortions, culminating in an effectively arranged marriage? That’s why we go for blinkered. When Mill speaks of “all people,” he means “all heads of households,” the only people whose decisions naturally matter to economists. The trick for us is to allow the heads of households to follow their self-interest, while protecting members of their families from their petty tyrannies — in a way that does not give rise to two or more legal classes. ¶ “Questions About Heaven.” We have the answer: heaven is an incredibly infantile concept. God forbid! (The Awl)

Lauds

¶ Righteously scoffing at the prospect of a new opera about, of all things & people, Anna Nicole Smith (who was who, exactly? No — don’t remind us), Adrian Hamilton explains the power of grand opera in a few succinct sentences that anybody can grasp. (Independent; via Arts Journal)

Opera’s unique justification as an art form is that it uses the greatest of all musical instruments, the voice, to express the most fundamental drive of all society, the human emotion. At its grandest, as in Verdi, it can set the voice of the individual against the great swirl of events as expressed in the music. At its most intimate it can, as with Mozart, portray the frailty and humour of man by setting music not just to support the voice but to comment on and even contradict it. Music can make you feel what you want to feel – pride, pity or patriotism – but opera can also make you sense what you don’t want to – the dangerous yearning for a new beginning in Wagner’s Parsifal, sympathy for a witch in Handel’s Alcina, admiration for a philanderer in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

¶ We’re not sure why Eric Freeman entitled his Awl entry about The King’s Speech The Dark Side of Oscar Bait,” because the whole point of the piece is how well the film presents the stammerer’s agonies. Mr Freeman knows what he’s talking about: he share’s George VI’s affliction.

Prime

¶ Yves Smith dismantles Joe Nocera’s comparison of the recent housing bubble to the “tulip mania” that erupted in the Netherlands in 1636. First, she reports recent research that alters the picture first presented by Charles McKay a century and a half ago. Second, she challenges the claim that the housing bubble was the root of the recent financial crash; in Yves’s view, the housing bubble was no more than the ignition that detonated a larger, worldwide mass of imprudent gambles — risks by and large taken on by “sophisticated” professional investors, not the “men in the street” alleged to have paid too much for tulips and houses. A must-read for clear thinkers. (Naked Capitalism) ¶ Have we been saying this for years or what?: Health care costs must be dealt with before health care payments can be addressed. Thanks to Atul Gawande and Donald Marron, we’re getting closer to a mainstream understanding of that point.

Tierce

¶ We confess that our weakness for virtual explorations of the Mandelbrot Set severely challenges our ability to evaluate a new claim that partition numbers are predictable — that they follow patterns that mirror the Mandelbrot Set’s structures. That, and the fact that we’d never even heard of partition numbers before, and couldn’t tell you one useful thing about imaginary numbers  (which is what the Mandelbrot Set is made up of, no?) means that we have no business noting this development. (Wired Science) ¶ In Boston, an outfit called Gym-Pact will arrange for you to be penalized if you don’t show up for your appointed workouts. “Honey! I saved hundreds of dollars, and I lost forty pounds!” Somehow this reminds us of Sid Caesar: “Why don’t we not go to Paris and save a thousand dollars?” (GOOD)  ¶ Without the help of Gym-Pact, Carrie Fisher lost 4.8 pounds! That should get her to San Miguel de Allende at least! ¶ Carol Tavris reviews Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a book that includes a delicious “romp through the fields of neurosexism.” Our favorite example of a difference without importance: the toy choices of four year olds, a/k/a “the gender police.” (TLS; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Yet another reason for anticipating with pleasure the day when private automobiles no longer make sense: songbirds are singing at night because they can’t be heard during daylight. We do, however, hope to hear a real, live nightingale before we die. (Nigeness)

Sext

¶ James Ward takes a jaundiced view of a British ad campaign that seems to rest on a weird internal Schadenfreude. You may feel guilty about giving tourists bad directions, but you won’t feel bad about eating our low-fat chips! James is right: it’s wrong-hearted and -headed to infuse a pleasure with the consciousness of not doing some wicked thing that we’ve done in the past. Quite aside from the monstrosity of giving deliberately misleading directions. (Except, of course, for that great episode in 2 Days in Paris. (I Like Boring Things) ¶ Hallie Bateman writes about being mistaken, in high school, for “shy.” Whereas in fact she was determined never to speak unless it was “absolutely necessary.” Distinctly un-American! (The Bygone Bureau) ¶ “Fun to read” — Frédéric Filloux is writing about the Guardian and the Times, vis-à-vis Le Monde. We’ve been wanting to send a similar message to the good folks at The Nation, which has become an extraordinarily penitential experience.

Nones 

¶ Are we ready to talk about Egypt? The inestimable William Pfaff is: “Uprisings, From Tunis to Cairo.” (NYRB) ¶ “Gordon Reynolds’s” account of Cairo’s Friday. It’s a happening place — too much so for our reflective comments. We could make all the obvious criticisms of yet another failed oligarchy, but the only thing that matters is what happens next, and it hasn’t. (The Awl) ¶ The forgotten Christianity of the East, brought to life by Philip Jenkins. (Armarium Magnum)

Vespers

¶ While we agree as a matter of course that Orhan Pamuk is right to deplore the resistance of Anglophone literary life to translations from other languages, we also agree with Claire Armitstead, who disputes Pamuk’s claim that English and American critics “provincialize” him by observing (correctly, in our view) that the Turkish writer’s novels are “rooted in their particular social context” — which is what makes them the imaginative magic carpets that they are (at least for Anglophones!) (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ Speaking of the Jaipur Literature Festival (where Mr Pamuk made his complaint), Karan Mahajan has a very intriguing piece about William Dalrymple at Bookforum, “The Don of Delhi.” And here we thought that Mr Dalrymple was a study-wuddy. Unh-unh. He’s a baronet’s grandson and the descendent of a Scots adventurer who got to be known as “the biggest liar in India.” Mr Dalrymple, who runs the Jaipur festival, is as colorful as his Mughal and Company subjects. ¶ A cheerful look at the JFL at Globe and Mail.

¶ Meanwhile, when it comes to selling books, and not just sellebrating them, Sir Basil Blackwell said it all in 1935. Bookselling is indeed a timeless business. (The Age of Uncertainty).

Compline

¶ At The Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson worries about what we call the Blinder Prospect, after Princeton economist Alan Blinder, who blithely forecasted it several years ago in Foreign Affairs. In “Davos: Two Worlds, Ready Or Not,” Johnson points out the “cognitive dissonance” (we’d call it hypocrisy) that allows flourishing CEOs to disavow responsibility for public health while claiming benefits from the public weal. If unchecked, this leads to a world populated by rentiers and their employees. ¶ The Humble Student of the Markets illustrates the point with some clear and distinct infographics. ¶ What doesn’t help in this murky environment is cultural anti-elitism, a confusing smoke-screen behind which the power elite pull the strings. At Brainiac, Josh Rothman makes a valiant attempt to deal with the chewing-gum qualities of the term “elite”; clarity would be too much ask for. ¶ Ancient History: AO Scott addressed the problem of cultural elitism in the middle of January. (via The Rest Is Noise) ¶ Jason Kottke reminds us of a great mission statement that expresses everything that’s good about entrepreneurship — and, by implication, how far the titans of Davos are from embodying it.

Have a Look

¶ TJB has a look at Hollywood’s own Rose Bertin, Edith Head. (Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist)

¶ Der Rosenkavalier turns 100. (MetaFilter)

¶ A clip from Enthiran: have you heard of this Indian film? Well, you have now. (MetaFilter)

¶ The Gentleman’s Directory. (A Continuous Lean)

¶ The Hydraulic Escalator. (For Firefighters) (BLDGBLOG)

¶ Duncan Gray. (Find the Beethoven!) (3 Quarks Daily)

Noted

¶ Marilyn analyzes Sigmund (inter alia). Can this letter be for real? It’s certainly very readable, and we didn’t spot not one single typo! (Letters of Note)

¶ John Williams writes that Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule charms and befuddles.” (The Second Pass)

¶ Ongoing corona research. Sun. Beer. Penis. (Discoblog)

¶ We hate to admit it, but Choire Sicha’s Learn-to-Love-Flying program is the only one that will ever work. (The Awl)

¶ Elegant Variation. Maîtrisez-le. (Daily Writing Tips)

Daily Office: Matins
Pacem appellant
Thursday, 27 January 2011

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

As an unforeseen youth movement rocks Egypt more precariously than any previous opponents of Hosni Mubarak, the United States, stupefied by its fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, risks wrong-footing its relationship with the new régime, largely by hoping that there won’t be one. Mohamed ElBaradei,  a Nobelist and former head of IAEC as well as a champion of liberal reform, expected better of us.   

Dr. ElBaradei, with his international prestige, is a difficult critic for Mr. Mubarak’s government to jail, harass or besmirch, as it has many of his predecessors. And Dr. ElBaradei eases concerns about Islamists by putting a secular, liberal and familiar face on the opposition.

But he has been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the West. He was stunned, he said, by the reaction of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Egyptian protests. In a statement after Tuesday’s clashes, she urged restraint but described the Egyptian government as “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

“ ‘Stability’ is a very pernicious word,” he said. “Stability at the expense of 30 years of martial law, rigged elections?” He added, “If they come later and say, as they did in Tunis, ‘We respect the will of the Tunisian people,’ it will be a little late in the day.”

Daily Office
Grand Hours
Saturday, 22 January 2011

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Matins

¶ At GOOD, Noam Ross asks, “If Everyone Moves to the City, What Gets Left Behind?” His accompanying graphic is a bit less exciting. Although China’s rural population is predicted to drop by half, 2000-2050, the rest of Asia and Africa look to be stable. The thin slice of country-dwellers in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania is expected to drop by about a third. Still, this is an interesting think piece. One thing that goes unmentioned is that rural poverty will probably increase sharply in regions not served by railroads. ¶ Also at GOOD, an important word about elevators, which Alex Goldmark rightly calls the capillaries of urban life.

Lauds

¶ No one is going to be surprised that we wish the Guardian had spoken a little more firmly: “Behind the music: Why music education cuts could be a dumb move.” Could be?  How on earth are talented kids who don’t happen to be rich going to be discovered and nurtured without publicly-funded programs? Scratching our heads about Helienne Lindvall‘s version of this perennial story, we wondered if there’s a positive explanation for why music ed is always the first to go in Anglophone schools: it’s classical, and our natural tradition is vernacular. (Can there be any doubt that English-speaking writers and composers, born no matter where, have generated the richest spectrum of popular song forms?) This is no excuse for failing to educate children in the arts, but understanding the weakness of political support is a start. (via Arts Journal) ¶ In “Link Rot,” Connor O’Brien wants us to bear in mind how easily the whole Internet thing could callapse into a state of 404. Of course we already knew how right he is but his talking about it gave us asthsma. (The Bygone Bureau)

Prime

¶ We’re hoping that Max Chafkin‘s much-talked-about Norway piece, “In Norway, Start-ups Say Ja to Socialism,” inaugurates a truly serious examination of the relation between rates of taxation and prosperity. It seems, offhand, to be the very reverse of what the Reaganauts told us it was. “Socialism” seems a strong word for the Norwegian régime, which tolerates, after all, the likes of coiffeur-queen Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, the “Donald Trump of Norway.” She pays plenty beaucoup taxes, but she still owns plenty beaucoup. We don’t remember plenty beaucoup property rights as a feature of textbook socialism. Chafkin’s piece is a must-read, even though, at the end of the day, there are only five million Norwegians to share all that North Sea oil. ¶ At Weakonomics, Philip touchingly wonders if capitalism might be at an “inflection point,” by which he means (and hopes) that capitalists might see the advantage of taking a longer view than the quarterly. (No doubt, that sounds like socialism!) We quite agree with the point that he makes toward the end of the entry: “I like to support programs that solve problems before they start…” Poor corporate governance is definitely the place where trouble starts.  

Tierce

¶ A recent study correlating two genes with behavioral probability, one with friendship and one with aversion, is almost laughingly preliminary and — literally — precocious. The correlations may have been established, but working out their meanings, much less their mechanics, will take years, if only to amass correlations for hundreds if not thousands of other genes. But the research is probably on the right track, and it will be fought vehemently by people who refuse to recognize free will as an unpredictable distallate of chaotic events, deterministic at the atomic level but not higher up. Patrick Morgan reports at Discoblog. ¶ We’re wondering if there’s a gene that explains why some people get worried about whether one or two spaces follows the full stop. We strongly believe in inserting two spaces between the abbreviation for a state and the ZIP code on an evelope, but that’s not what’s agitating Farhad Manjoo.  We’re having so many problems with the idiocies of Platform WordPress that we don’t feel entitled to venture an opinion. (Slate)

Sext

¶ The bloom is definitely off the rose so far as business blogging is concerned. Ben Bradley, a marketer in Illinois, told Lisa Bertagnoli that blogging “wasn’t a giant time investment, but I’d rather be on the phone with a client.” Plus,  sales calls were whoppingly more effective. (via The Awl) ¶ Leigh Alexander catalogues Five Emotions Invented By The Internet. Unfortunately, they go unnamed. “The need to say something has lapsed and leaves a dim, fatigued sensation in its place. In advanced cases, a sensation approximating ‘headache’ but not as tangible nor identifiable as ‘headache’ sets in.” We think that Alexander must have been reading Oblomov. (Thought Catalog, via kottke.org)

Nones

¶ Meet Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister. James Traub profiles the man from Konya who both intellectually and diplomatically argues for Turkey’s importance in international affairs — not as the “sick man of Europe,” but as quite the opposite, a conciliating power. Mr Davutoglu’s program may have been swamped by the Mavi Marmara incident, and Traub suggests that he may have overestimated Turkey’s importance — a possibility that would not surprise his critics. (NYT)  ¶ Faced with one of Edward Hugh‘s prodigiously comprehensive analyses of economic developments, we glance over the introduction and shoot straight to the conclusion, which in the case of “Turkey’s Audacious Experiment In ‘Post-Modern’ Monetary Policy“ provides a persuasive examination of the factors that have put Turkey on a path that’s contrary to ours (and to Europe’s as well);  beyond that, you’ll get a sense of why the outlook for ”young” economies — which unlike ours are not immediately saddled with the problem of ageing populations — is so rosy. (A Fistful of Euros) BTW: How to deal with the problem of ageing populations? Throw open the doors to immigration, that’s how!

Vespers

¶ Rodney Welch writes lucidly and with great pleasure about two of Henry James’s three big late novels — The Ambassadors and The Golden Bvwl — which have at long last appeared in Library of America volumes. (The Millions)

You’re in the company of a writer who sees and imagines in depth. I occasionally thought “Where is he going with this?” but I also thought “I can’t wait to see where he goes with this.” There’s a purpose behind those metaphors – he wants you to see, to visualize the inner life of his characters. He knows how people think, and he has a superb sense of how they reveal themselves, the way looks give away clues, the way people may not even know their own mind until they see another person’s reaction. These novels are set against great geographical backdrops and big fancy homes, but all the action is inside, where people plot, conceal, and create. These novels are broad French comedies and existential mysteries, stories you understand piece-meal, along with the characters, who are feeling and (quite often) thinking their way through.

¶ “So what are we to make of the Major and his minors?” asks Brooks Peters, in an essay at Open Book about the ardent canoeist, naturist, and ephebist, Rowland Raven-Hart, a tall, thin, bearded gent who appears to have had no trouble in the world picking up legions of comely youths to accompany him on his paddlings through Europe and elsewhere. Prepare for Major eye-rolling, is what we make of it.

Compline

¶ Do we value killing? This odd question is posed by philosopher Alva Noë, at NPR’s 13.7. Grappling with the Tucson shootings, Noë argues that emergencies, far from triggering instinctive responses, reveal our values; and that the contingencies of the event determine which values will be revealed. “Why is one man a war criminal, and the other a great soldier? Look to the situations in which they respectively find themselves to answer this.” (via Arts Journal) ¶ Any doubts that American society values killing will be killed by Charles Blow‘s graphic report, correlating firearms possessions with per capita homicides. The United States is in a class by itself, it seems. (Any doubts that handguns have any other purpose than to wound and kill other human beings ought to be cleared up by a moment’s sober and honest thought.) (NYT)

Have a Look

¶ Felicia Honkasolo. (The Best Part)

Noted

¶ “How to Actually Read Things on the Internet.” (My Life Scoop)

¶ Dan Hill’s illustrated account of the Australian floods. (City of Sound)

¶ The Philosophical Novel. By the way, what would David Foster Wallace have looked like had a good barber tended his hair? (NYT)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
Saturday, 15 January 2011

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Matins

¶ Tyler Cowen ticks off a list of the factors that make France a “highly dynamic and performative economy.” Item Number One: “ The French elite work very hard and are educated very well.” We could not agree more heartily, and if we have any purpose in the world it’s to prick members of the American/Anglophone elite into recognizing the importance of a rigorous education and the value of cooperative industry. Tyler also mentions what he terms ”the prevailing norms of status competition” twice. We turn this around anc call it “the importance of setting a good example.” We are inclined to agree that the choice of acceptable examples in France is regrettablylimited; we believe that living happily, generously, and attentively can be attained in many different ways.  ¶ Don’t miss Jeremy Waldron on the political virtues of hypocrisy, at the LRB. The piece is behind the paywall, unfortunately, but that’s a good reason for buying a copy of the Review or, better, suscribing. In our view, it’s one of the three indispensable magazines, the others being The New Yorker and the NYRB. We’ll have more to say about hypocrisy during the week.

Lauds

¶ The all-too-familiar conflict of artists and nationalists is simmering in Hungary. Conductor Adam Fischer (whose recordings of Haydn symphonies ought to be in your library) alerted journalists in Brussels to the seriousness of intrusions by the current conservative government into artistic affairs, which extends to tolerating anti-Semitic atttacks on pianist András Schiff, who has announced that, as a ”persona non grata” in Hungary, he has no plans to revisit his native land, much less perform there. The great European experiment that remains to be undertaken is the decoupling of nationalist impulses from the exercise off sovereignty; short of that, “Europeanism” is just a lot of well-intentioned chatter. (Independent; via ArtsJournal)

Prime

¶ A tale of two temperaments: Floyd Norris’s scolding reproof to Charles Schwab & Company boils into outrage in Felix Salmon’s pages. Mr Norris has a reluctance, not shared by Mr Salmon, to accuse Schwab of lying, but it’s hard to know what else to call the fine-print borne mendacity of Schwab’s sales literature. No doubt that good people at Schwab expected, just like everybody else, that the market would continue to boom, and that nobody would mind; just as bankers confected huge volumes of mortgage-backed securities in order to minimize the appearance of risk, so Schwab sliced and diced the meaning of “maturity.” ¶ At The Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson shows that Goldman, Sachs is far more suave at “misdirection.” Then he goes on to point out the increasingly apolitical cast of regulators and economist who argue that banks too big to fail are too big to be permitted.

Tierce

¶ At Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait notes that Salon has removed “an antivax hit piece” from its archives. Better, he suggests — and we couldn’t agree more — to leave the story in the archives, embedding it with links to stories that got the the anti-vaccination fraudernaut right from the get-go. ¶ We thought of Adam Fenwick-Symes when we read that European Commission tax officials have declared that lighting installations by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola’s video installations ought to be taxed as appliances instead of as art. This is molto dumb! Josh Rothman reminds us that the Customs Court here in New York was persuaded to reach the opposite conclusion vis-à-vis Brancusi’s Bird in Flight.

Sext

¶ Rebecca O’Neal writes about her hobby: requesting samples from consumer-products manufacturers.

In a good week, I’ll get over a half dozen samples: diapers and baby formula for my niece, magazine subscriptions, pads and tampons (!), laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, perfume, post-it notes, pens, vitamins, calendars, mouse pads, ziploc and trash bags, dog food, medicine, human food (mostly grains and instant beverages: health food bars, cereal, tea, coffee, protein supplements), calendars, subscriptions to Rouge, Ebony, and American Baby magazines, toothpaste, stickers, key chains, bumper stickers, condoms, and lube — pretty much all the things a single gal could need. And plenty of things I have no use for: a year’s subscription to MotorBoating and Dime magazines, anti-ball chafing salves, and, of course, the Dependsâ„¢

If you want to get things faster, she advises, write to retailers instead of manufacturers. Procter & Gamble, not surprisingly, has a subscription setup, so that you have to ask only once! Ms O’Neal recycles most of her loot among family, friends, and a neighborhood nursing home. If we ever decide to stop buying books but miss receiving all the packages, we’re going to remember this pastime! (The Awl) ¶ The greatest thing about our friend Eric (or so we feel right now) is that he will come out and admit to having wanted to change his name to “Eric Sèvres-Babylone” when he first passed through that station of the Métro. We’re so glad to hear that he had a good time in Paris, se débrouillant with the best of them. (Sore Afraid)

Nones

¶ In the Times Magazine, Paul Krugman prognosticates about the Euro, which is going to make life very difficult for the overheated peripheral economies of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, and also for Spain and Italy, as they attempt attempt deflation as to prices and wages without, however, being able to adjust their Euro-denominated indebtedness. Mr Krugman outlines four options: toughing it out; debt repudiation; withdrawal from the Euro Zone; and, least likely of all, “revived Europeanism.” We confess to being cranks on the subject; we believe that each local economy ought to have its own currency. (An idea that we got from Jane Jacobs.) We’re also intrigued by the parallel currencies in Renaissance Florence that Tim Parks describes in Medici Money. One way or another, local economies and the global economy must be connected by adjustable gears, not by bolts.

Vespers

¶ Once you’ve heard Gary Shteyngart read, you see him for the entertainer that he is and claims to want to be; reading him on the page is a diminished experience of his mordant critique of American despair. (His word for that despair is “complacency,” the complacency that ensues when you no longer care about anything anymore.) We don’t want to suggest that this dependence, for full effect, on soundtrack makes Shteyngart a less literary figure, but we don’t know what else to suggest, either. His interview with Alex Shephard at Full Stop is a delight. (via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ In a grand long read at the Guardian, Laura Miller singles Shteyngart out (along with Jennifer Egan) as a rare fictionist who writes about the impact of the Internet on daily life.

Compline

¶ Kyle Minor meditates on the inappropriateness of politically-correct controls in literary life. He’s thinking, of course, of the expunging of the “N-word” from a new edition of Huckleberry Finn — a misguided but harmless editorial decision, in our view, at least so long as there are accurate edition of Mark Twain’s strange book. The simple truth, as Kyle clearly sees, is that people think of themselves in politically incorrect ways that can’t be captured without recourse to the proscribed vocabulary. But what’s needed is a signpost at the gate of literature that warns readers not that they might encounter offensive language but that they’re joining a community of human beings, many dead and many yet to be born, who test life against the imagination (their own and others’), and that they’ll be expected to keep their voices down until they understand that project. ¶ Elsewhere at  HTMLGiant, Kyle interviews Elizabeth Harris, a translator from the Italian whose authors, Giulio Mozzi and Marco Candida, sound worth getting to know; and writes movingly of the comfort to be drawn in hard times from uncomfortable books:

The contemplation of death is for some people this great terror, and the best reading is often full of the contemplation of death, and so they stave off the contemplation of death by choosing the lostness of a contemplation of the contemplation of death.

Have a Look

¶ So You Found Something Cool on the Internet…” (Rosscott, Inc; via Brain Pickings)

¶ Mieke Meijer @ The Best Part.

¶ La Tour Montparnasse. (Mnémoglyphes)

Noted

¶ Yves Smith’s “must-read” list, and why she doesn’t think much of NPR’s. (Naked Capitalism)

Please Don’t Misinterpret My Inflammatory Remarks.” (The Bygone Bureau)

Daily Office
Grand Hours
Saturday, 8 January 2011

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Matins

¶ We doubt that any report of Saturday’s grim attack on a Congresswoman and her constituents will resonate more deeply that that of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. (via Joe.My.God) Sheriff Dupnik is not the best-spoken of men, but he brings, with rare authority, a warm heart to his office, and we think that he is a great American. It is not necessary to follow the press conference after the sheriff begins to be peppered with trivial, sound-bitey questions from the press corps. (Have they no sense of decency?) ¶ Michael Tomasky argues that Sarah Palin has been “diminished” by the shootings; we wish that we didn’t find her so phoenix-like. We do concur, however, with the note upon which Mr Tomasky’s piece ends: Today’s Republicans and conservative commentators, however, surely understand the fire they’re playing with. But they do it, and a tragedy like Saturday’s won’t stop them, as long as they can maintain a phoney plausible deniability and as long as hate continues to pay dividends at the ballot box.” (Guardian; via Mnémoglyphes)

Lauds

¶ We wholly support Zawi Hawass‘s demand that the obelisk in Central Park that’s known as Cleopatra’s Needle be returned to Egypt. The secretary-general of Egypt’s ministry of antique loot and treasure is right to claim the obligation to protect such monuments, wherever they may be, and if New Yorkers are not going to shield the granite sculpture from the distinctly non-Nilotic weather obtaining on the Northeast Seaboard, then we ought to send it back to where it came from. Ditto for London’s. (Yahoo News; via Arts Journal). ¶ James Franco has filmed an episode from Blood Meridian, in an attempt, apparently successful, to obtain the rights to adapt Cormac McCarthy’s novel for the screen. This gives new meaning to the term “screen test.” (Entertainment Weekly; via Arts Journal)

Prime

¶ While we were holidaying, Richard Crary published a fine piece on the Dunbar number, which is ”a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships,” and which Dunbar sets, provisionally, at 150. We came across this number a few years ago in a description of a manufacturing firm that builds a new plant whenever the number of workers at an existing one swells above 150. Of course we can’t remember where we read this, so Richard’s piece comes as something of a godsend. We call for an economic theory that takes the Dunbar number fully into account. ¶ In one of his characteristically brilliant summaries, Felix Salmon touched last week upon the Dunbar number in two distant contexts, US homebuyers with less than stellar credit histories and Bangladeshi microborrowers. In both cases, debts are far more likely to be discharged when a community relationship (paralleling, not replacing, the financial relationship) exists between debtors and creditors. This is hardly surprising to anyone with an ounce of common sense — but that’s the very deficit that we’ve come to expect in eonomists.

Tierce

¶ Whenever we read that “Dear ” is an inappropriately intimate way to begin a letter (or an email) addressed to unloved-ones, we’re reminded of our adolescent grousing about the insincerity of non-heartfelt thank-you notes. But we can understand that men whose introduction to functional literacy was digitally midwifed might regard the salutation as “girlie.” (Dionne Searcy in WSJ; via Arts Journal). ¶ How to make a pot of tea — Christopher Hitchens gets it wrong: boiling water is too hot for the subtle flavors of Earl Grey and the like. Of course the tea leaves go into the pot before the hot water, but pre-warming is counterproductive: a cool pot cools the water down a bit. Mr Hitchens doesn’t mention steeping times; does this mean (horror!) that he drinks from the brewing pot? Despite the occasional gleam of polished prose, Christopher Hitchens is all guy. (Slate; via MetaFilter and Scocca)

Sext

¶ No site that we’re aware of honors the sweet silliness of youth better than The Bygone Bureau. Three recent pieces have made us laugh very wistfully, because they magically restore the lost perspective of the twentysomething worldview. First, Darryl Campbell commemorates the third pair of shoes that he has worn in his adult life; after five years’ service, they can no longer be worn. We are not told what becomes of them, but dumpsterization is difficult to imagine: ”I’m still fairly certain that sand from the Kuwaiti desert and dirt from the Louisiana bayou are commingling in a wrinkle somewhere.” It’s when your next pair of shoes collects similarly evocative detritus that your perspective shifts, and, hopefully before the age of sixty, you get rid of them. Hallie Bateman’sSex For Idiots” makes up in brio what it lacks in plausibility. We loved her response to learning about the birds and the bees from mom: “I only remember coming to consciousness later, with water all over my eyes and face, with my fingers jammed really deep in my ears. I guess I was trying to hold in all that sexy, dirty knowledge in order to write this column!”

Best of all, David Tveite describes the first thrilling intimations of mortality that transmute vague abdominal rumblings and mild muscle spasms into terminal cancer — confirmation of which, by a licensed physician, must at all costs be avoided. It’s so much easier (and cheaper and sweeter) to imagine one’s impending demise, planning one’s funeral &c — few narcissistic exercises are more anodyne.

Honestly, I can see the appeal of being dead. It’s one thing that’s impossible to do wrong; it happens and then nobody expects anything of you. And people will say wonderful, nice things about you that they never would have said while you were still alive. And the younger you die, the less you have to do for it to be considered a tragedy. Death is easy. Life is hard.

I know that this is all pretty morbid, but before my family starts planning an intervention I think I should say that I doubt I’d ever seriously consider suicide. But if I did, I know that it wouldn’t be for a good reason. If anything really bad ever happened to me, I’d be too shattered to get out of bed, let alone buy a rope and write a note and whatever else I’d have to do. Even now I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it.

But this morning, I got out of bed and went into the kitchen to get some breakfast and I realized that I didn’t have any food in the house. And I really didn’t want to walk the three blocks to the grocery store. And for just a moment, I was like, “That’s it. Today’s the day.”

Then it passed, and I went grocery shopping.

Nones

¶ All about the Republic of San Marino, a mountain fastness famous for its postage stamps. (Hey, it’s a living.) One reason for the republic’s persistence: there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of local attractions. (MetaFilter) ¶ Mention of San Marino always reminds us of Andorra, which lies on the Pyrenean border of France and Spain. Way back when, sovereignty was held by the Bishop of Urgel, a neighboring potentate; in 1095, the bishop turned to the Lord of Caboet, on the French side, for military protection from the Count of Urgel, an even greater potentate. The bishop of  Urgel and the French aristocrat made a deal to rule Andorra jointly. It’s a measure of the great differences in French and Spanish national development that the Bishop of Urgel is still co-ruler; the Lord of Caboet’s title has devovled upon the shoulders of the President of France. (BBC News; Wikipedia)

Vespers

¶ We’re in the middle of  All a Novelist Needs, a collection of pieces by Colm Tóibín on the subject of Henry James, and we read Gabriel Josipovici’s review, in the Irish Times, with the greatest interest (via 3 Quarks Daily). We’re very much inclined to agree with the review in its one dispute with both Tóibín and James:

I do, however, have to take issue with Tóibín and with James himself on one important point. In an essay on the meaning for the novelist of Lamb House, his Sussex retreat in his later years, Tóibín quotes a letter James wrote to his friend Grace Norton about the heroine of A Portrait of a Lady and her relationship to the real-life Minnie Temple: “I had her in mind and there is in the heroine a considerable infusion of my impression of her remarkable nature. But the thing is not a portrait. Poor Minny was essentially incomplete and I have attempted to make my young woman more rounded, more finished. In truth everyone, in life, is incomplete, and it is [in] the work of art that in reproducing them one feels the desire to fill them out, to justify them, as it were.”

Tóibín is so taken with this formulation that he repeats it verbatim in one later essay and paraphrases it in another. But what artists say about their work, even artists as self-aware as James, is, as Tóibín knows all too well, not necessarily the truth. It seems to me that both James and Tóibín in The Master are using their art not to round out and fill out a portrait left incomplete by life, which sounds more like the sort of aim Oscar Wilde might have expressed, but to bring home (to themselves, to the reader) the mystery of that life. That is why each of the great last novels ends not with resolution, not with final understanding, but with the sense that something which could be said in no other way has, remarkably, been said by the accumulation of things not said, of actions not done. That is why James’s greatest short story, The Turn of the Screw , ends so magnificently and so mysteriously: “I caught him, yes, I held him – it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it was truly that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.”

¶ Dwight Garner on Annie Proulx: “Reading Ms. Proulx’s prose is like bouncing along rutted country roads in a pickup truck with no shock absorbers.” Couldn’t agree more. (NYT)

Compline

¶ At Brainiac, Josh Rothman writes about a new collection of essays, The Offensive Internet, that argues for equal protection in the digital sphere — in other words, equal enforcement of free-speech restrictions that hold in the bricks-and-mortar world. “The Internet has grown up – and it should be subject to grown-up laws.”

Have a Look

¶ SS Streets of Monaco (Superyacht Design; via Things)

¶ The Baroque Inevitable — an LP that the Editor bought new, in 1966. Can it really have been reissued on CD? We shall see! (The  Rumpus)

Noted

¶ We have ALWAYS wanted to attend a concert at Wigmore Hall. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Matins ¶ Abby Goodnough’s story reminds us that, for the first time in a very long time, there will be no Kennedys in national office. Patrick Kennedy, six-term representative from Rhode Island who declined to seek re-election this year, is packing up for his farmhouse in Portsmouth. One aspect of the Kennedy legacy is stronger than ever: Americans are quite used now to political dynasties. Movie-star dynasties, as well. Indeed, it may be that we’re reverting to the very traditional idea that children follow in their parents’ footsteps because they grow up in them. (NYT)

Lauds ¶ Sebastian Smee weighs in at the Globe about the Hide/Seek/Wojnarowicz controversy — which is, of course, a controversy only the nation’s smaller minds. The idea that art that some viewers find “offensive” must be denied exhibition to all viewers is itself offensive. Underlying the conservative criticism of Hide/Seek is a fear of liberal depravity, which is the counterweight to liberals’ fear of conservative bigotry. The notion that Americans who reject Christianity — or, more particularly, its worldly representatives — are depraved must be staunchly “refudiated.” (via Arts Journal) 

Prime ¶ What caught our attention about the “firestorm of controversy” raging in Bedford, New Hampshire wasn’t so much the appropriateness of placing Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent Nickel and Dimed on a high-school personal-finance curriculum, but the charge, made by complaining parents, the the book contains a “negative depiction of capitalism.”

Really? How so? Capitalism is a system of legally-protected property rights that, notoriously or not, allows investors to make money from the labor of others. As we recall, Ehrenreich nowhere challenges the legitimacy of this system. Rather, she complains about the failure of many businesses, large and small, to provide workers with a living wage. Those businesses may all be as capitalist as you please, but the problem of wages has nothing to do with capitalism — unless you believe that investors own the right to make money from the underpaid (that is, unpaid) labor of others, which is simply another way of saying “slavery.” (Union-Leader; via MetaFilter)

Tierce ¶ The inclusion of the iPad among The Onion‘s list of 2010′s most notable people is a silly joke that’s not so silly. The editors of The Morning News extracted this sentence to cover their link to The Onion: “We replaced the human being you naturally expected in a list of the year’s most prominent newsmakers with an inanimate object.” Anyone who didn’t spend the year in a cave could predict what that inanimate object would turn out to be.

In 1985, when he bought an IBM Peanut, the Editor did not feel that he was anywhere near the leaders of the personal computing pack, and as he becomes more interested in what computers can do, he is less interested in how they work. But he feels that the iPad makes an apt 25th-anniversary celebration of his digital life. We agree: the iPad is the first computer to feel at all personal. So, even though there are millions of iPads out there, the Editor’s feels like the only one.

Sext ¶ Who’d a thunk it? Hitler’s opus, Mein Kampf, topped an Amazon list of legal-thriller ebooks. Briefly. People have actually been paying either $1.58 or $1.60 to own this classic rant. They can’t be reading it, though. Mein Kampf is unimaginably dull. In a test of his First-Amendment rights, the Editor checked Mein Kampf out of the Bronxville School library in the eighth grade, but he gave up when he ran into the word “juxtaposed,” which he did not know. Mrs Cochrane, his savvy home-room teacher, defined the word for him in a way that let him know that she saw this Mein Kampf thing as just another one of his ridiculous stunts. The book was returned to the library long, long before it was due. (Crave; via The Awl)

Nones ¶ At Today’s Zaman, Kerim Balci writes about the Ottoman Commonwealth of Nations. Well, no, such a commonwealth does not exist, except as a dream — which is wha,t Mr Balci argues, it ought to remain. His cogent arguments against the attempt to “restore” the Ottoman Empire in any form are cogent and instructive, making a connection between then and now that is realistic rather than romantic. Interestingly, the European Union currently provides a painful example of what can go wrong with bright ideas.

Vespers ¶ John Self reads They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and discovers that, yes, there are no horses in Horace McCoy’s grim pulp, which Simone de Beauvoir called the first “existentialist” American novel.  The exhausting marathon dance at the end of the line — a pier on the Pacific — is both pure and pungent, an implicit excoriation of broad American failure that never so much as whispers a scolding. A classic on this side of the Atlantic as well, Horses can be found in the first volume of the Library of America’s Crime Novels collection. See the movie if you’re inclined, but do not regard it as a substitute for the experience of reading the book. (Asylum)

Compline ¶ At Smithsonian, historian John Ferling lays out seven “Myths of the American Revolution.” He means the term “myth” properly: myths grow up around some truths and occlude others; that’s what’s “wrong” about them. Briefly, Mr Ferling clarifies the following popularly held understandings: the British began the war impulsive, without knowing what they were in for; American support for the war was unanimous; the American army was bedraggled, and its militia useless; Saratoga was the turning point; Washington was a military genius; and the British could not have won the war. All correct, to a point — except the one about Washington, who was all but incompetent. The omission of France’s indispensable role suggests that it’s not a myth, but we think that it would have been nice to mention. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

Have a Look

¶ Ah Xian. (The Best Part)

¶ Behold Benedict XVI leering at shirtless acrobats. (Joe.My.God)

Noted

¶ Boring 2010 a success! (James Ward: I Like Boring Things)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Matins ¶ While we’re greatly cheered to read Fernanda Santos’s front-page Times story, “A Kitchen-For-Rent Is a Lifeline for the Laid-Off,” in which we’re introduced to a handful of cooks and caterers who are making the most of a professional kitchen in Queens that formerly served as a continuing-education facility for a labor-union constituency. But one or two mysteries stand between us and perfect happiness. What is the name of the kitchen, or of the not-for-profit organization that operates it? And is this organization self-supporting, or will it continue to rely upon grants and subsidies? Who actually owns the plant, which is currently rented to the not-for-profit for $1 per year? There is nothing in the story to make us doubt that it’s presenting a very worthy cause, but whether or not it depends on the kindness of strangers is a very important detail.

Lauds ¶ At The House Next Door, John Lingan frames Godard’s Breathless, one of the most influential films of all time (because it’s also one of the most intriguing), alongside the witless 1983 remake — which we’ve never seen. We’re tempted to, now, though, just to feel Mr Lingan’s perspicacity more keenly.

Prime ¶ Nothing clears up mental fog better than the dismantlement of a sloppy and tendentious financial story, preferably in the Journal, by Felix Salman. “The WSJ mistrusts companies which pay down debt” is a golden example. He shows that Sharon Terlep is still drinking boom-time Kool-Aid, intoxicated by “the leverage-is-good meme [that] simply refuses to die.” Felix carefully unpacks the article’s double-talk about General Motors debt, and raises a serious question about an alleged company statement.

Tierce ¶ The fascination of Chuck Dimock’s “I Was A Male Chatbot” is a little bit perverted: in place of the ironic levity that might so easily have been inspired by his pretending to be an approachable, unthreatening female on a retail sales Web site, we get an orthodox analysis in terms of gender theory and artificial intelligence. The piece is quite lucid, but it seems vaguely Turingesque itself, as if written by a computer with an underdeveloped sense of humor. Which just figures, if you think about it: social theorists, longing for the patina of scientific rigor, are probably going to wind up sounding less than human. (As It Ought To Be; via The Rumpus)

¶ So we’ve added Tom Scocca’s “conversation” with Eliza about today’s “machine-mediated” communications. What’s so funny? 

Sext ¶ We watch The Family Stone every year at Christmas; one of its powerful themes is the terrible but harmonisable dissonance between Christmas and cancer. Tracy Clark-Flory’s “All I Want For Christmas Is Nothing” sounds a carol in the same dark but warm key. In seven beautifully-crafted paragraphs, Clark-Flory brings her parents — a mother weakened by the final stages of lung cancer, a father, overcoming his aversion to Christmas, determined to make his wife comfortable — vividly alive. (Salon; via The Morning News)

Nones ¶ At the Globe, columnist James Carroll refrains from stating what every sentence in his piece points to: the possibility that Ireland entered the Twenty-First Century with an optimism so out of character that calamity was inevitable. Connecting the lending bubble to the religious abuse scandals seems particularly astute: both disasters show it to be harder than expected to get beyond the blacker parts of Irish history. We hope that a genuine Irish Republic will emerge from all the ruin. (via Real Clear World)

Vespers ¶ We share Laura Miller’s belief that readers of popular fiction know what they like, and that literary fiction doesn’t have what they’re after. Ms Miller is responding to novelist Edward Docx’s claim that there would be less Larsson and Brown, and more Franzen and Amis, dust jackets on view in the Underground if only riders could be made aware of the latters’ richly interesting prose. But richly interesting prose is just what most readers can’t abide. The Editor has never forgotten an important critical insight that was imparted by his sister: “And the best thing is that you can skim over a lot of it.” (Salon; via The Rumpus)

Compline ¶ Roxane Gay has the gift of being passionate and level-headed at the same time. Writing about her life in academia, she claims that she “wouldn’t give it up for anything,” but she begs to disabuse readers of any fantasies that they may have about its cushiness. She manages to convince us of her personal satisfaction while at the same time making it clear that her job, or assemblage of jobs, is an underpaid rat-race. We’re left more convinced than ever that higher education in the humanities needs not only a complete re-think but also a detachment from research institutions. (HTMLGiant)

Have a Look

¶ Beethoven snips at YouTube. (MetaFilter)

¶ “Map of Facebook Friends Connections Lights Up the World.” (Discoblog)

Noted

¶ The head of Henri IV (1589-1610; decapitated 1793) can be re-interred at St Denis as genuine. (Cosmos; via The Morning News)

¶ The Lawrence/Julie & Julia Project. “ You don’t have the enzymes to honor family either!” (via MetaFilter)

Daily Office:
Monday, 13 December 2010

Monday, December 13th, 2010

{The next edition of the Daily Office will appear on Wednesday.}

Matins ¶ Having called for just such an initiative, we’re following the Young Entrepreneur Council with interest. This band of self-employed men and women between the ages (at the moment) of 17 and 33 is not waiting for corporate America to provide comfortable berths — especially now that even the most satisfying corporate jobs are hardly more secure than the ones they create for themselves. Their maxim — “Never Get a Real Job” — ought to be taken seriously; it’s what Noël Coward (a workaholic if ever there was one) had in mind when he said, “Work is so much more fun than fun.” (NYT)

We have a business idea for the Young Entrepreneurs: develop an inexpensive kit for renovating the typical suburban home by converting the garage into office space, complete with (monastic) sleeping quarters. Not only will this dignify heading back home after college and making the most of parental support, but it will probably shame genuine loafers into finding their own place. 

Lauds ¶ The Times sent its leading arts critic, Michael Kimmelman, to attend opening night at La Scala, and the evening provided a handy pretext for glancing at arts and heritage budget-cutting by the Berlusconi government (the prime minister, notoriously, has no use for such folderol). Although Italians don’t go to the opera the way they used to do, and seem to take their unmatched cultural patrimony for granted, opening night at La Scala is still a very big deal, and everyone shows up for it (except Mr Berlusconi). But it’s jarring to think that the season began with Die Walküre. According to Mr Kimmelman, the performance was excellent, at least from a musical standpoint, and it’s nice to know that La Scala can deliver a first-class production of Wagner. But surely one of Verdi’s masterpieces would have been more opportune. Otello might have been used, perhaps, to show the tragedy of a heroic people seduced by a wily nihilist into mistreating its prize resources (Pompeii).   

Prime ¶ Splashed across the front page of Sunday’s Times was Louise Story’s story about a cabal of Wall Streeters that controls trading in derivative commodity contracts. It is all very lie-down making, what with universal derivative fatigue in the wake of the late subprime mortgage — credit default swap — anything-involving-tranches calamity. So instead of plowing through the newspaper report itself, you can read the glosses, of which we highlight two: Chris Lehmann’s indignant pitchforkery at The Awl, which hails Ms Story’s determination, and Felix Salmon’s relatively becalmed wish for more rigorous substantiation of charges against the bankers.

Tierce ¶ A big story toward the end of last week was the study showing that you can cut down on your calories by imagining consuming them, as long as you do so carefully, one calorie at a time. As usual, Ed Yong gives the clearest account of the findings. We only wish that we had a better imagination. We cannot really conceive of the crisp cruch of a salty potato chip unless there happens to be a real one between our teeth. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Sext ¶ “After three or so hours of sleep, it was time to get up. It was like waking up to take an early flight, or for surgery, or for execution — all things I dislike.” Our friend Eric hauls himself off to New Jersey for an extreme obstacle course “race.” Read all about it; you’ll learn what “marathon” is in Greek. “The course flew by, just like my youth. Saudade stirred in my stomach, hüzün hit my heart, and melancholia (μελαγχολία) muddled my mind. I had never been around guys like this much in my life, and this seemed a pity. They seemed like the salt of the earth (מלח הארץ), although I’m sure that many of them must have been jerks. Still, I felt some envy and regret.” (Sore Afraid)

Nones ¶ Nursultan Nazarbayev, now 70, wants to leverage his not inconsiderable influence as president-for-life of Kazakhstan to spur his nation’s research scientists into defeating old age, and possibly death itself. “That’s what people are studying these days,” he recently announced. “Those who do are the most successful states in the world – those who don’t will get left on the sidelines.” We imagine a wizened little old man ruling from his coffin, like Titurel in Parsifal. (Discoblog)

Vespers ¶ When Frances Wilson’s review of Elizabeth Abbott’s book about mistresses (subtitled A History of the Other Woman) bumps up against the influence that myth and literature have had upon the careers of actual kept women, the air gets unbreathably powdery. For one thing, who’s on the record here? Angie Dickinson, it seems — with a dig at JFK. (It was Prince Charles’s great-great grandfather, by the way, who was his wife’s great-grandmother’s lover.) For another: since today’s powerful man can marry whomever he pleases, why should he support a mistress? This is clearly the sort of book that Victorians were determined to keep out of the hands of young girls — but the fallen life does not sound very appealing. (Guardian; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ We were riveted, speaking of cheating, by Wendy Plump’s view from both sides of marital infidelity. Betraying is apparently no more agreeable than betrayal. (NYT)

Compline ¶ Dominique Browning writes about breaking the Stuff Cycle. This is an entry that middle-aged readers will find handy right now, but young folks can learn a tip or two as well. When you’re young, and life is more a matter of possibility than of probability, it’s good to try out different things. Whatever different things you try out, however, the accumulation of Stuff is inevitable. (There are very few possibilities that don’t involve some kind of equipment.) Don’t imagine for a moment that you can anticipate the difficulty of getting rid of stuff when you’re middle-aged, and have become attached to everything that you own (even if you don’t like it). You wouldn’t know what to get rid of. Nobody under the age of fifty-five does.  

Have a Look

¶ Seven red states with fewer inhabitants in toto than my home town. (Scocca)

Noted

¶ Keeping Siegfried Sassoon alive. (Ivebeenreadinglately)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 9 December 2010

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Matins ¶ “How America Will Collapse (By 2025)” — a theme with four nightmarish variations by Alfred McCoy, at Salon. Best read as a wake-up call, the piece takes one thing for granted: that Americans will remain apathetic and inattentive toward global matters and continue to cling to the security blanket of “American exceptionalism.” We have more hope in today’s young people than that, so we renew our call: don’t wait for the older guys to figure things out, because that’s not going to happen. (via MetaFilter)

Lauds ¶ At the Globe and Mail, Russell Smith weighs in on the Object of Beauty interview, but not idly. Mr Smith does not concern himself with what went wrong at the 92nd Street Y. Rather, he suggests that the fiasco lays bare the unworkable premise of such events, which we long ago found unbearably dissatisfying. The artist shows up to present his work, but the audience shows up to get acquainted with the artist. Neither objective makes any sense. All the artist can do is point at something that, if it has been well done, exhausts the artist’s thoughts and feelings &c upon the subject. Read the book. As for the audience, it is clearly hoping for a magical encounter with a shaman, and the created work of art is nothing more than excitingly explosive piffle. How’d he do that? Mr Smith: “Is there any point, really, in trying to promote a book by talking about the book? Or should we just talk about our childhoods?” (via Arts Journal)

Prime ¶ Confronted by a gobbledygook message from Citibank, Felix Salmon decides to take up the offer to call Customer Service with questions. After a round of predictable Kafkosity, he finally connects with an intelligent human being who (a) explains the announcement in simple terms and (b) acknowledges that it took Customer Service itself ”quite a long time” to find out what the announcement meant. Why are businesses so anti-communicative? Too many lawyers? CYA? Plenty of both, no doubt. Felix chalks it up to “information asymmetry.” We blame the smiley-face pseudo-polite large-corporation style. It’s the opposite of the zombie look, but it’s just as null.

Tierce ¶ Social psychologist Simone Schnall talks about her work on the close association between cleanliness and morality, between uplift and generosity. Underlying these associations is the stark fact that what we call “thinking” has very little to do with any of it. Indeed, this “thinking” thing looks more like one of those activities that exists only notionally, as an abstract plan that we’re happy to urge other people to follow but that we’re unconscious of never using ourselves. You might say that thinking is for other people. According to Ms Schnall, we’re all much too busy sniffing out disgust. (Edge; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Sext ¶ One of our warmest childhood memories is of sitting through hours and hours of Kabuki (without translations) at City Center. (No wonder we’re so sophisticated!) That’s why this is what we’d like to see: we’d like to see a Kabuki adaptation of the bar fight between a motorcyclist gang member and Ebizo Ichikawa XI, currently the tradition’s “most famous exponent” but also something of a party animal. We bet we’d be able to follow the action this time! The only tricky part would be the doctors’ scene: “Perhaps of more concern to the actor is the suggestion by some medical experts that an injury to his left eye could impair his ability to execute the nirami, a protective, cross-eyed glare that has become his family’s trademark.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Nones ¶ We can’t resist dipping into Today’s Zaman for more post-WikiDump analysis, not least because the diplomatic cables present a world of sanity that the pundits want no part of. Aaron Stein, a freelancer living in Istanbul, writes that the image of Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan reflected in the leaks is that of a pragmatist, not an ideologue. Turkey’s advances toward Iran, for example, may be motivated by nothing more complicated than securing a second source of natural gas (after Russia). Mr Stein concludes that Turkish foreign policy is “rooted in Western political theories.” Perhaps the Kemalist work is done, and it is no longer necessary for Turks to be ashamed of being Turks.  

Vespers ¶ Chuck Klosterman’s GQ interview with Jonathan Franzen reminds us of the time that Dick Cavett tried to coax Louis Auchincloss into telling tales about Jackie O, but got nowhere. At every turn, no matter how genially he replies, Mr Franzen seems to be underscoring the pointlessness of trying to connect a writer’s personality to his work. When he observes that he has been working at being America’s serious novelist for thirty years, his candor surrounds him with a moat of difference — for after all, who among the (sane) readers of the interview can claim such an ambition, much less thirty years’ pursuit of it? And he proves to be as savvy about his public image as the brightest movie star. At one point, the novelist agrees to answer an “astute” question, but only off the record.  “ During the three minutes my recorder is off, he provides one of the most straightforward, irrefutable, and downright depressing answers I’ve ever experienced in an interview. His posture relaxes. His language simplifies. Nothing is unclear.” Jonathan Franzen knows the difference between talking to Chuck Klosterman and talking through him, and he will not do the latter in an unguarded manner. (via The Millions)

Compline ¶ Mr Cringely whispers darkly about the Edifice Complex: “It’s not clear exactly what kind of corporate hubris makes this happen, but almost every dramatic corporate HQ in the Bay Area that was originally owned, not rented, tends to have been built by a company that no longer exists.” We don’t get his choice of illo, though.

Have a Look

¶ Fourteen Actors Acting. (NYT)

¶ MIT’s Proverbial Wallets. (Short Sharp Science)

¶ Jonathan “Saran” Foer. (HTMLGiant)

Noted

¶ Brenda Starr, Reporter: 1940-2010. (Chicago Tribune; via The Awl)

¶ “Why the Terrorists Can Never Win.” (Federalist Paupers; via Marginal Revolution)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Matins ¶ The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s suit against Dick Cheney is probably not going to cause the former vice president to lose any sleep. That KBR executives bribed Nigerian officials is not in dispute, and the Commission does not appear to be looking for money. Mr Cheney’s responsibility is purely constructive: he was the head of KBR’s parent, Halliburton, at the time of the crimes. It is highly unlikely that such charges could be made in an American court, at least under current law. Nigeria’s ranking as one of the most corrupt nations on earth would seem to invite a countercharge of hypocrisy, but its corruption is of course fed by improper payments from foreign corporations. The gesture is noteworthy, but we don’t expect it to amount to more than a gesture. (Christian Science Monitor; via The Morning News)

Lauds ¶ One easy target for the incoming Republican congressional majority looks to be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB has weathered Republican majorities before, but not like this one — a cohort almost entirely devoid of moderates. At The Wrap, Brent Lang also points to recent NPR gaffes, such as the firing of Juan Williams because of allegedly anti-Arab remarks made on Fox, and the defection of West-Coast public television station KCET. All in all, we think that it’s time for an overhaul of the 1970′s-era interface between elite broadcasting and government funding. Quite aside from big changes in American politics, we have entered the Internet Age. (via Arts Journal)

Prime ¶ Continuing its trend of confirming what attentive observers already suspected, the Wikileaks dump shows that Chinese leaders at a very high level are aware that the books are being cooked, especially at the provincial level. Chinese leaders are also continuing the much older trend of putting a happy face on things for as long as possible — until the country blows up in the next dynastic struggle. China today reminds us of the time when boilers were reliably dangerous. (Naked Capitalism)

Tierce ¶ Razib Khan’s response to the “replication woes” issue that we mentioned yesterday: Calm down. “ The answer is probably going to come down to a combination of the reality of randomness (regression to the mean falls into this category), individual bias, and the cultural incentives of the system of scientific production.” What he means by the last item is that the pursuit of fresh and exciting results can be intoxicating. (Gene Expression)

Sext ¶ Amy Larocca profiles Tyler Brûlé in the current issue of New York. Mr Brûlé’s magazine, Monocle, is so handsome to hold that we have to buy it a couple of times every year, but we could never justify subscribing, because the points of intersection between our world and Monocle‘s are vanishingly few. We do not travel, and, when we do, we prefer stodgy hotels to trendy ones; we don’t expect Monocle to tell us where to get a great BLT on the Upper East Side. But there is definitely something madly Henry Luce about Mr Brûlé, even if his cloth us cut to a much finer grain. Monocle depicts an alternate universe, but it’s a genuine, visitable universe for all that. (Thanks, Eric!)

Nones ¶ We’ve given up being surprised by the sites that Real Clear World links to, but we’d still like to know more about Today’s Zanam, an English-language site covering turcophone affairs. (“zanam” is Turkish for “time” or “epoch”) We say “turcophone” because of “today’s” story, by Amanda Paul: “Azerbaijan is nobody’s little brother.” Meaning: not Turkey’s. The piece is occasioned, as what isn’t these days, by the Wikileaks dump; Azerbaijani president and dynast Ilham Aliyev “harshly” criticized the Erdogan Administration in Turkey— and has since denied everything. The issue seems to be that Turkey is warming to Armenia, Azerbaijan’s mortal enemy. (Armenia straddles the mountains that divide the ”one nation, two states.”)  

Vespers ¶ Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Lecture, “In Praise of Reading and Fiction,” been published online at Nobelprize.org.  Corny as it is to say so, we can feel the Spanish ardor through Edith Grossman’s translation. Corny, too, to note, not without pleasure, that the old self-improvement justification for Victorian fiction has kept up with the times: now, fiction offers self-transcendence. Which is pretty much the same thing, no?

 Sorcery, when literature offers us the hope of having what we do not have, being what we are not, acceding to that impossible existence where like pagan gods we feel mortal and eternal at the same time, that introduces into our spirits non-conformity and rebellion, which are behind all the heroic deeds that have contributed to the reduction of violence in human relationships. Reducing violence, not ending it. Because ours will always be, fortunately, an unfinished story. That is why we have to continue dreaming, reading, and writing, the most effective way we have found to alleviate our mortal condition, to defeat the corrosion of time, and to transform the impossible into possibility.

Compline ¶ Ryan Boudinot’s keynote address to a writing program in Washington State is nothing less than Step One of nurturing a purposeful environmental consciousness. “If we can agree that technology exists within the realm of human invention and that humanity exists within natural law, and that therefore technology is natural; if we can dispose of the naturally artificial distinction between “natural” and “artificial,” then we can argue that whatever happens to the planet bears no moral value outside that which is relative to our health as a species.”

Have a Look

¶ We’ll take the stairs! (Scouting New York)

Noted

¶ Popcorn spills. (This is a test.) (Discoblog)