Archive for July, 2008

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

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Morning

¶ Antikythera: I’m not sure what prompted the report in Nature (which prompted the Times), but the Antikythera Device is always cool. Hey, it’s the world’s first analog computer!

Noon

¶ Uncle Bobby: Jamie Larue, a librarian in Colorado, was recently asked to reconsider the shelving of Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah S Brannen.  Aimed at children between the ages of two to seven, Uncle Bobby’s Wedding deals with a little girl’s fear of losing her favorite uncle when he gets married. Incidentally, Uncle Bobby is marrying another man.

Mr Larue’s thoughtful — and effectively all-purpose — reply appears at his Web lob, Myliblog.com. I urge all Daily Blague visitors to read it.

Night

¶ Lordly Hudson: Among New York City’s totally unfair stack of natural advantages is the mighty Hudson, an estuary posing as a highly scenic river that, for most of the Twentieth Century, was treated as a giant sewer. John Strausbaugh’s update on improved conditions features a flabbergasting image of the deserted  castle on Bannerman’s Island, which seems second only to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart in square footage.  

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Reading Note: Not Funny

Thursday, July 31st, 2008


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After seeing the new Brideshead Revisited last Friday, I went to McNally Robinson and bought a copy of the novel. (I may still have the one that I read as a teenager in storage, but, if so, it has got to be unreadable: a ghastly old Dell cheaperback with, by now, pages of ochre.) I also bought a copy of Scoop — forgetting that I already had one, probably because I’ve never read it.

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Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

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Morning

¶ Intellectual Property: A core tenet of free-market capitalism is that the best product or service wins. On the level playing field, blah blah blah, consumers beat a path to buy the better mousetrap. The brouhaha over Scrabulous, however, shows just how bent our markets have become, as corporations have pushed for expansive application of intellectual property laws — yet another instance of socialism for the rich.

Noon

¶ Wallonia: The march toward breaking up Belgium inches forward. In a poll, half of the nation’s Francophones (or Walloons) say that they’d be happier as Frenchmen — and an even higher percentage of Northern Frenchmen agreed!

Night

¶ Naughty Bits: Father Tony went to a wacked-out art show in Chelsea. So far, it seems, none of Robert Fontinelli’s furniture designs have been executed in three dimensions, but that may change.

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In the Book Review: House Proud

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

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The book on the cover, Thrumpton Hall, sounds wonderfully funny — and horrifying as well. Below the jump, Thrumpton from the air. (more…)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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Morning

¶ Junk: For me, the political problems attending the Beijing Olympics have taken second place to the terrible air pollution that has bedeviled the city ever since — well, I don’t know for how long, but certainly since the easing of economic constraints in the 1980s. How would you like to run a mile in this?*

Noon

¶ What’s the Worst That Could Happen?: Want to know why I have trouble getting to sleep? Worrying about doofuses who ask the referenced question. Because the worst that could happen is often catastrophe, the question is not a very intelligent one. Adam Brown reports, at Cracked.  

Night

¶ Faculty: Here’s an interesting article in the Times — if you know what I mean by interesting — that appraises Barack Obama’s career as a law school professor (actually he was a “senior lecturer”).
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One Day U Note: On Genius

Monday, July 28th, 2008

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When I was thinking about attending One Day University, Craig Wright’s lecture on Mozart was the big draw. You might think it perverse, but I was not out to learn more about the interesting life and ineffable work of the Austrian prodigy. Rather, I intended to use my own accumulated knowledge of the composer as a yardstick against which to measure what Professor Wright had to say to laymen. If I came away feeling that we “students” were being talked down to (however agreeably), I would know that ODU was not for me.

What I got instead was a new way of thinking about genius generally and Mozart’s genius in particular. I must make it clear at the outset that a lot of what Professor Wright had to say slipped into a mind that was prepared not only to hear it but to amplify it. Bach and Beethoven were not discussed — I don’t think that they were even mentioned — but I found myself contrasting their genius, as enlightened by Professor Wright’s template, with Mozart’s. Even before the lecture was over, I understood, as I have never understood before, why music-lovers who prize the “Three B’s” (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms) are either chilly about Mozart or convinced that it is Mozart who is chilly. (more…)

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, July 28th, 2008

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Regular riders of these BMT lines affectionally refer to them as “N”ever, “R”arely, and “W”henever. As discerning observers may deduce, the W is a relatively recent creation, as MTA routes go.

Morning

¶ Guest: Perry Falwell has been soliciting contributions to his great new site, Booksaga. The other day, I wrote to him to explain that, while I wished I had some interesting stories for him to post, my times in old bookshops have been happy but dull.

The real purpose of my note was to encourage him to stick with blogging. I think that he has a natural gift for the form. He could write about any old thing, and I’d probably want to read it. But I did throw in a few proofs of “happy but dull.”

¶ Subisdy: When you hear of “foreign subsidies,” you probably think of agricultural supports and turn over to go back to sleep. This story, about foreign subsidies of fuel consumption, may wake you up.

Noon

¶ Soin de soi: Further proof, if needed, that habits (good and bad alike) are contagious: Stephanie Plentl finds her inner Frenchwoman, in the Telegraph.

Night

¶ Up: Chris and Father Tony went up, up, but not away, in a balloon in the middle of Central Park.
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Books on Monday: John Burrow'sHistory of Histories

Monday, July 28th, 2008

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Moral of the story: the Middle Ages did not exist until they were over! Read on at Portico…

Or perhaps this is the moral: what was originally the very stuff of history has now become a genre, popular with middle-aged men: Military History.

Open Thread Sunday: Yellow

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

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Friday Movies: Brideshead Revisited

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

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What I really intended to see yesterday was Transsiberian. But the first showing didn’t start until 12:30, which is rather too late in the day.

I wanted to see Brideshead Revisited too, of course, but I’d thought of waiting to see it with Kathleen. But it will be awhile before the movie arrives in this neighborhood (if indeed it ever is).

This version is going to make some people very unhappy, because the character with whom you naturally identify (Charles Ryder, played beautifully by Matthew Goode) is not the character with whom, in the end, you sympathize — or ought to.

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, July 25th, 2008

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Morning

¶ Vincit Max: Max Mosley won his libel suit against The News of the World. The Judge, Sir David Eady, found that the newspaper’s imputation of Nazi-themed sadomasochism was bogus. He also found that Mr Mosley had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” when submitting to bodacious discipline. John J Burns reports.

A good (and cooler) weekend to everyone!

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Housekeeping Note :Gootodo.com

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

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In twenty-three years of personal computing, I have never encountered a truly useful To-Do list facility. Every tool that I’ve picked up has quickly turned out to be ineffective for one reason or another, usually by failing to realize the dreams of hyperproductivity that automated To-Do lists by nature inspire. After all, if your To-do list can take care of itself, then why can’t it actually do the work that it outlines?

In twenty-three years &c — until today. Today, I read Chapter 5 of Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy , “Managing Todos.” Given my long experience with frustration, I wondered what the guru was going to come up with. When what he came up with turned out to be an online service that his outfit, Good Experience, Inc, provides for a small monthly fee, you may be sure that I blinked. In his opening pages, Mr Hurst is eloquent about the flimflammery of most “productivity solutions”:

Although we need hardware and software to work with bits, no technology company has the solution to bit overload. It’s far too rarely stated that the technology industry is not in the business of making people productive. It is only in the business of selling more technology. Granted, some companies make better tools than others, and users can be productive with some of today’s tools. But in the technology business, users’ productivity is secondary to profitability. No matter what a company claims, feature lists and upgrades are designed for the company’s success, not the users’. This isn’t a judgment against technology companies; to the contrary, they are a vital part of the economy and do the world a service by creating new and useful innovations. The point is merely that users should not look to the technology industry to deliver the solution to their overload. Doing so cedes control to companies that, whenever they have the choice, would rather have paying customers than productive customers.

([Gnash!] No wonder I was invariably disappointed.)

Now here was Mr Hurst, turning around and presenting himself as a “technology company” in search of paying customers! I blinked, as I say, but then I forged on. The faith that I had already placed in Mr Hurst’s advice had earned me, within an hour or so, a totally empty inbox, with all the email that I chose to save stashed in handy folders that I already had the wit to set up according to the way my mind works. By the time I read about Gootodo.com, I was fairly sure that the $18 investment (for six months) would not be a waste of money. The secret of Mr Hurst’s To-Do list lies in a blend of its simplicity and its interaction with email: to add a To-Do item that’s due next Wednesday, for example, you write an email addressed “wednesday@gootodo.com,” summarize the task in the subject line, and add any details in the body of the email. Done! (Assuming, of course, that you have set up a Gootodo.com account, and that you are writing from the email address that the service recognizes as yours — in case you have several [and who doesn't?]. And don’t forget to hit “Send.”) You can work with the service from outside its interface. Pretty cool.

Mark Hurst has apparently been a computer person since childhood, and he has two degrees from MIT. More importantly, perhaps, he is a shrewd psychologist. He prescribes that computer users read personal mail first, not that they wait to get their work done before hearing from friends and family. The only people who will abuse this liberty at work probably don’t merit their jobs for other reasons. About To-Do lists, Mr Hurst’s eye is gimlet:

The truth is that many users just don’t want to do their work. Given a choice between completing a todo or spending several minutes deciding what color it should be, lots of people — especially techies, who love playing with software — would choose the latter. Color are fun, and don’t require much thought. Doing the actual work in the todo requires time and energy, risks railure, and might not be any fun. Users are best served by a tool that encourages the discipline of actually getting the work done, rather than endlessly tweaking the system.

Let’s hear a bit “GOTCHA!” for Mark Hurst! After all, instead of getting round to my first To-Do item — organizing my in-box — I’ve been merrily blogging away!

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

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Morning

¶ Reserves: Help me out here: While Times Op-Ed writer Timothy Egan hails T Boone Pickens for his windfarming campaign against the idea that drilling for oil will lead to lower gasoline prices, Jad Mouawad reports, in Business Day, that the “Arctic may contain as much as a fifth of the world’s yet-to-be-discovered oild and natural gas reserves,” according to the United States Geological Survey. Which way are we going, here?

Noon

¶ Pathetic: We interrupt our non-political coverage to link to Jacob Heilbrunn’s comment at HuffPost: “Bush Bans State Department Officials From Obama Rally.” 

Night

¶ Manipulation: If you read just the top of the story, it looks as though the pipe dreams of demagogues have come true, and speculators are making fortunes by manipulating the price of oil. (more…)

Museum Note: Pietre Dure

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

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This afternoon, LXIV and I paid a couple of visits to the pietre dure show at the Met. We saw it right after we met up, and then we saw it again after we’d had lunch and taken another look at the Master Photographers show — for which, by the way, there is most regrettably no catalogue.

Which all the more regrettable in light of the fact that the pietre dure show’s catalogue, Art of the Royal Court, is one of the worst that I’ve ever seen. Available in cloth only, it costs $65. I should dearly like to have it as a reference to this exciting show, but I’m not convinced that it would serve that purpose. As a souvenir of the lovely pieces on exhibit, it is wholly inadequate. (more…)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

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Morning

¶ Manners: Whether or not there is any truth to the story that Senator John Edwards has fathered a “love” child with documentarian Reille Hunter (thanks, Joe), I’m far more distraught by David W Chen’s report on the bad workplace conduct of Representative Anthony Weiner of New York (Brooklyn and Queens).

Noon

¶ Quilts: Ian Hundley designs quilts that look like World War I aerial photographs of the French countryside. Well, that’s what they look like to me.

Night

¶ Moses: Wow! Joe Lieberman, who addressed John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel Washington-Israel Summit yesterday, compared Rev Hagee to Moses! To think that Senator Lieberman might be our Vice President today! D’you think he’d be cuddling up to the man who blamed the devastation of New Orleans on the Big Easy’s having hosted a Pride parade?

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In the Book Review: Killer Children

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

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A lazy week at the Book Review….too lazy to inspire a complete sentence.

Housekeeping Note :Bit Literacy

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

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For a Tuesday, I had a big day. I got through all the important jobs — reviewing the Book Review, writing up the One Day University program for my second note on the subject, lunching alone at Café d’Al  — and most of the small ones as well. On top of all that, though, I took what I had read in Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy to heart, and purged the bulk of my email in my inbox.

It feels, shatteringly, like my own private Protestant Reformation. (But enough about Les Huguenots, which I’ve been watching in the furtherance of my understanding of Verdi’s immensely more important grand operas. The DVD of Joan Sutherland’s farewell performance at the Sydney Opera is a lot cheaper than the Decca CDs. It may be wildly off-topic to point out, in the middle of this discussion of computer hygiene, that Dame Joan drifts through Lotfi Mansouri’s staging as if she were Dame Edna’s older, dafter sister, but I write under the protection of the Geneva Convention’s Droit de la Parenthèse.) Piff Paff! No more nasty email!

Of course most of what I didn’t delete was simply transferred to folders that I set up on the spot. That’s okay with Mr Hurst. You may ask, what difference does it make where you stash your email? but I know better, or at least enough to commit to the Bit Literacy credo of the Daily Emptied Inbox. 

Tomorrow (or whenever), I’ll bone up on “todos.” No point in quibbling: the younger people are comfortable, for the time being, with this brutalist appropriation of the Spanish plural for “all.” Which, to them, means, “to-do lists.” If you’re going to hold out against “hopefully,” you really need to know how to pick your fights.

For two or three years, I’ve had a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done on my desk. Literally, right next to Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths. It would be difficult to say which book has impressed itself more palpably upon my daily life. It is true that I grasped Mr Allen’s “two-minute rule” right away (it’s recommended, without credit, by Mr Hurst), but the fate of King Pentheus has had a much greater impact upon my behavior both in public and at my sites. In other words, Getting Things Done has left my stables pretty much in their Augean originality.

Whereas one night alone with Mr Hurst was all it took for me to light virtual bonfires of the vanities — the vanities of thinking that I would ever progress in a leisurely way through the bilgy backup of my unclassified email. Not that the inbox is empty. I saved the headaches for tomorrow. I know that I wasn’t supposed to; I ought to have gotten rid of everything in one fell swoop. My consolation, which I hope is not fatal, is that I didn’t plan to do anything today.

Seriously, folks: Bit Literacy. May I live to hail the fifth edition!

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

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Morning

¶ Verdigreen: Two stories in this morning’s Times sound a retro-green note. Kim Severson writes about locavores who want to grow their own produce but can’t — or oughtn’t to — do their own gardening.* And John Tagliabue reports on the windmill revival in the Netherlands.

Noon

¶ Communion: Communion is a good thing, generally, but in the case of the Anglican Communion, I think it’s time for a sundering. (Not that it’s any of my business.)

Night

¶ Disguise: War criminal Radovan Karadzic has been arrested in Belgrade, after years of disguising himself as me. “For Bosnian Serb, a Life of Hiding in Plain Sight.”
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One Day U Note: The Program

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

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Times Center, One Day U’s New York City venue. Couldn’t be nicer.

The typical One Day University Program, I gather, consists of four lectures, each about an hour long, separated by breaks and, between the second and third, a box lunch provided by ODU. Last Saturday’s program began at nine-thirty and ended at around four o’clock.

The Times Center,* with its rear wall of glass, graced by the stand of birch trees in the atrium just beyond, makes an ideal venue for a midday of insightful talk. To the illusion of being on the campus of a major university, ODU and the Center add distinctly uncollegiate comfort and convenience. Coffee and rolls on arrival; Times Center personnel to watch over the auditorium during breaks; stout notebooks designed for writing on laps — it would probably be inappropriate for a genuine university to be so thoughtful. Steven Schragis, who runs One Day U with John Galvin, is quite frank about the fact that ODU is a “fake university.” The “students” don’t do any work and they don’t earn any degrees. It will not be the worst thing in the world if this new institution, once it establishes itself, finds a new name, because the idea of a “university” is something of a red herring here, even if the professors are indeed gifted teachers from the best schools. I shall enlarge on that statement in this and succeeding notes.  

Saturday’s program was as follows:

  • Music: The Remarkable Genius of Mozart/Craig Wright, Yale
  • Law: Criminal Justice in America — A 250 Year History/Stephanos Bibas, Penn
  • Art History: Lies, Propaganda, and Truth in Photography/Robin Kelsey, Harvard
  • Psychology: Understanding America’s Depression Epidemic/Shelley Carson, Harvard

Now, because I wanted to see what One Day University itself was like, I didn’t let the familiarity of these topics persuade me to wait for another lineup. Rather, I made a virtue of that familiarity.

  • I have thought about Mozart for most of my life, for the simple reason that his music has been a source of unending and astonishing beauty. (How lucky I’ve been to live after him!)
  • In law school, I learned that the study of criminal justice in this country involves very little black-letter law, but concerns itself chiefly with Constitutionally-sanctioned procedures.
  • As for clinical depression, I have first-hand (family-member) familiarity with its unimaginable desolation.

The only one of the four lectures that promised to break new mental ground was the third, and even there I would be bringing the thoughts inspired by Susan Sontag’s On Photography. In other words, “familiarity” was something of an understatement. If ODU’s professors could make any of this material fresh for me, I’d be mightily impressed.

Reader, they all did. I said this yesterday, and I’ll say it again: the more you know about the world, the more you’re going to get out of One Day U.

Next up: Craig Wright’s remarkable thoughts about genius — and about why Mozart’s genius was remarkable.

Tuesday Morning Read Forecast

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

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The next round of Morning Reads will begin on Monday, 18 August 2008.  

Here’s the line-up of books. Indispensably at the core are Don Quixote and Moby-Dick. It may take a while to figure out how much to plow through ever morning, but I’ll always read at least a few pages. If I’m slightly pressed, I may read no more than a bit of AN Wilson’s After the Victorians (a collection of shortish pieces) and a few of Noël Coward’s Letters.

Chesterfield and Rochefoucauld are garnish, for truly energetic mornings.