Archive for May, 2010
¶ Joe McGinnis lives next door! (Speakeasy)
¶ Avoiding phthalates. ( Good)
While We’re Away
¶ How viable is the state capitalism model? Too soon to tell. (Real Clear Politics)
¶ George Snyder thinks about eating, praying, loving — and buying paitinngs. He decides that Traverse City will do very nicely.
¶ Bob Cringely does the math on the Foxconn suicides.
Have a Look
¶ Are you ready to Enter the World of Boundless Sensual Enjoyments? (Brain Pickings)
A couple of neat things happened today — even without them, the day would have been grand — but the neatest thing may not, in fact, have happened at all. It may have been an accident, a coincidence. On their way out the door, Megan said something to Will about “Doodad,” and she and I saw him lift his eyes to me.
If I weren’t such a narcissist, that would have been the second-neatest thing. The neatest thing was Will’s falling into a deep nap on my chest, while we were sitting out on the balcony. I was stroking his back, absently, thinking about him but also about his life to come, in the city that stretched East before me — when I sit out there with Will, I’m supremely aware that his future is likely to be be full of intersections with thousands of slightly peculiar people (peculiar in the same way that all other babies are suddenly funny-looking) — and it was actually a few minutes before I realized that he had fallen deeply asleep. For half an hour, I sat with him perched on my right forearm, his head tucked to the left. I could gush about the profound gratifcation of being completely trusted &c, but what I meditated upon was the delight of having him asleep in my arms. He weights nearly seventeen pounds: there won’t be much more of that!
Actually, the neatest thing that happened was my carrying Will about in a sling, just like his mother’s, only larger. There is much to be learned about slings, and I had the good sense to follow Megan’s advice and buy a ten-pound bag of Carolina rice to practice with. I had thought that practicing with Will, with Megan there to help me, would be good enough, but I’ve become a quick study on points such as this, and I saw at once that Will is not to be confused with the outsized practice dollies at Metro Minis. It was only after seven or eight practice runs with the bag of rice that I was allowed to take Will himself on an errand to the Food Emporium. Megan came with, and I don’t know which of us was more beaming, I for carrying Will without having to hold him. or Megan for having a father who would practice with ten-pound bags of rice in order to pull it off. I will say this about slings: nothing is more tonic to a five month-old baby.
What made the day truly special was the dinner at the end: both Ryan and Kathleen came uptown for an impromtu steak. My hunch that Ryan would appreciate a baked potato that had spent over an hour in a hot oven turned out to be correct. For dessert, we had chocolate and coffee Häagen Dasz, which made us all wonder what Will’s favorite flavors will be.
Some day, of course, Will will look at me and call me “Doodad,” and nobody will think anything of it. Except me. I can’t imagine getting used to this angel.
Will arrived bright and early this morning. We haven’t even read the paper!
Even if I wasn’t quite as sparky today as I was yesterday and the day before, I continued to get lots of little stuff done, and some big stuff, and to enjoy life as, really, I haven’t enjoyed it in a very long time. That’s what breaks are for, no? Of course, my 62 year-old’s idea of “enjoyment” would send any healthy twentysomething grasping for a pulse. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
This week’s chicken salad involved doing things by halves: a dressing composed of half an avocado, half a small tub of Greek yogurt, the juice of half a lemon, and less than half a teaspoon of curry powder. The other half of the avocado was cubed and mixed with the white meat from a roast chicken, together with one minced rib of celery and two small spring onions — what my parents called “scallions.” Given the heat wave, the substituion of yogurt for mayonnaise was particularly welcome, but Kathleen had the bright idea of adding Zante currants, which I’ll try next time. We think that they’ll balance the yogurt’s chalkiness very nicely.
It was warmer than I liked (and it still is), but I wasn’t stalled by the heat. I simply took things easy. Having put the salad together, I washed up and went back out onto the balcony and finished the latest Donna Leon, which I believe is called A Question of Belief. My first e-book. When I sat down, I had no idea where I was in the (vitual) text, no sense of how much more I had to read. Now that this uncertainty was bothering me for the first time, I spent a little time with the doodads that appear on demand in the margins. They taught me something entirely new: I had read 53% of the book. How utterly coo-coo.
The reading was preceded by a moment of intense internal debate. Reading Donna Leon on the iPad was all very well, but it wasn’t going to do anything about the piles of physical books that I am trying to bring under control (= “make smaller”). I very nearly settled down with Deanna Fei’s A Thread of Sky, a novel that I’m well into and that I’m liking very much. My fondness for Asian-American fiction has lately been clouded, however, by a rather fishy ”complicity”: I am hoping that my grandson will grow up to have primarily Asian friends. Having scolded myself for this improper-sounding objective, I observe that Will lives in a good neightborhood for realizing it.
Earlier in the day, on that round of errands that I looked forward to last night, I added a drop-in at Barnes & Noble. I’ve been in the new store at Lex and 86th precisely three times, including today, and what I wanted this afternoon was a “fun video.” As I trawled the DVD shelves, it became painfully clear that my idea of a fun video, right now, is The Ghost Writer, and only The Ghost Writer. I tried to console myself with Lust Caution, but although Ang Lee’s setting of Eileen Chang’s story is one of the great Chinese movies, it is not a “fun video.” Imagine: I was actually combing the Criterion Collection display for someting “fun” that I didn’t already own.
Here’s an idea for a “fun video”: Ewan McGregor remakes Yojimbo. Can you dig it?
It’s awful. I’ve re-read yesterday’s diary entry several times, but if I didn’t remember what I thought I was writing about — a memory that’s completely independent of the words that I set down here — I wouldn’t know what I was trying to talk about. My excuse for avoiding specifics was that specifics would be deadly dull to read about. In fact, they’d have been even duller to write about. I was taking it easy. Sorry.
If I weren’t old and calloused, I’d nourish the hope that tomorrow or the next day might be just like today. But days like today happen once a month at best, doubtless because I’m a stupid dolt who doesn’t understand his own rhythm. I was busy all day, and on many different levels. I wrote up two reading items, the New Yorker story (a chunk of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel — exciting to read but a disappointing displacement of genuine short fiction) and Operation Mincemeat. I uploaded seven or eight CDs onto the pop-side laptop (the desktop is cordoned off for the classics), and edited the very eccentric playlist that wakes me up every morning. The paperwork that I did was not very serious but it wasn’t frivolous, either — a new medium. I read a lot; I started, finally, to read Steve Pincus’s 1688, a book that I’ve been dying to take up for months but that I insisted on setting aside until I’d finished Peter Wilson’s Thirty Years War. I did a number of little kitchen things, culminating in a very nice dinner of veal piccata, a dish that I haven’t made in over twenty years. Call it beginner’s luck: it was delicious.
I sorted out our Manhattan Theatre Club tickets. Don’t as me why, but Kathleen arranged for this year’s tickets to be held at the box office or in the patron’s lounge of MTC’s venues, with the result that I’ve had no idea of dates. It’s a good thing that I took care of this today, because Kathleen bought seats for Red that conflict with one of our MTC subscription evenings. All fixed.
I wrote a few letters, and I had a good talk with the Web designer who is helping me with the “tablet edition” of The Daily Blague. He’s also helping me with the tablet edition of Portico, a site to be known as Civil Pleasures. Getting these two sites up and running is the minimum required assignment of this spring break. I can’t wait to see this column of text fill the iPad screen from side to side.
So it wasn’t a day of mindless bustle; nor was it a day of “writing.” Thanks to the heavenly weather, I felt as though I were spending the day in paradise. A paradise where I have to clean up and pay the bills, true. But even more of a paradise for that very reason.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow. After a morning at home (the Book Review review, can we?), I’ll head out on a round of errands that will begin at Perry Process and Staples, carry me to Williams-Sonoma, and perhaps deposit me at the Museum. (And I know that I’ve already forgotten something here!) There may even be a croque monsieur for lunch.
For eight months, I’ve been engaged in a personal project so intimate that I didn’t know how to describe it. Until this past weekend, when I saw, startlingly, that I’ve been taking the elements of my everyday life apart and putting them back in the way that I want them arranged right now. The schedules, the possessions — the materiality of time and volume. Everything has been up for review. And everything is too boring to mention.
One unexpected boon connected with this project is that it doesn’t prompt me to ask: What took so long! This is not a project that I could have undertaken any earlier. Because in the old days, in my life until eight months ago, I was still growing, still open to options. Now I’m more like a retired person, eager to give the heave-ho to items and routines that are still essentially speculative: one of these days, I’ll get round to this. Maybe so, but I’m not going to make any room for such possibilities. While trying to throw away as little as possible, I’m focused on what I’m actually doing right now, not on what might take my fancy six months hence.
And I feel the very opposite of retired: I’m finally, at long last, engaged. Completely hooked up. I know that this entry would be vastly more cogent if only I would spell out a few examples of the changes in my thinking about everyday life, and, especially, a few examples of objects and outlooks that I have jettisoned. But the building blocks that I’m talking about here are incredibly dull. To make things exciting, I ought to confess that I am never going to read all of Proust in French. But that happens to be a confession that I can’t yet make — I’m still holding out hope for that. All the shifting and relocation has involved bricks both smaller and less intrinsically interesting. At least to talk about.
Is this entry a fail?
¶ Martin Gardner, 95. (NYT)
¶ Naughty Fergie: The latest in a series of “excruciating misjudgments.” (Guardian)
Have a Look:
¶ Dunkin’ Doughnuts! Happy Birthday, Elsa Maxwell (Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist)
As announced at the beginning of the month, we’ll be taking a break from the Daily Office for a few weeks.
At first, we’re just going to take a break. There will be daily entries during the week, and perhaps even the introduction of a new feature, to be called something like “Noteworthy,” in which we’ll mention items of interest that we may or may not follow in the Office itself. For example: Martin Gardner just died at the age of 95. We don’t really have anything to say about Mr Gardner (except that we enjoyed his “Mathematical Games” columns in Scientific American even though they were always over our heads), but we can’t leave his passing unmentioned.
Over the past year, we’ve learned that the Daily Office is not a news feature. It’s a collection of links to reflecions on current events. Nothing interests us quite so much as linking to a series of reflections on the same topic, one a day for several days. As we did, for example, with “denialism,” following Mark Lilla’s widely-read essay on libertarian populism. Or as we did when the iPad came out, and we saw early users discover, to their own surprise as well as to ours, what the device is really good for — what it allows that conventional computers do not. (Reading lengthy hyptexts in comfort.) We’d like to do more of that, but we think that it’s going to require a sift in mentality, and another step away from traditional blogging.
(That was fun: “traditional blogging.”)
Once we’re through taking a break, we’re going to pursue the new mentality that we think suits The Daily Blague. One thing seems almost certain: the entire four- (and eventually five-) day cycle of weekday Daily Office entries will be largely composed a week ahead of time.
And of course we’ll be working on the new, iPad-apecific version of The Daily Blague — where less will be plenty.
¶ Matins: A final word on “denialism,” this time from the New Humanist. Keith Kahn-Harris writes comprehensively about the matter, citing, among other things, the danger of mistaking diverging views from denials, and he enumerates five characteristics that make the difference. What we hope for is an essay that will address the other side of the problem, which critical thinkers are too apt to overlook: the problem of expertise without authority. Mr Kahn-Harris’s word is “sanctimony,” which speaks volumes.
¶ Prime: One nugget to carry away from the entry by Peter Boone and Simon Johnson at The Baseline Scenario, “The Very Bad Luck of the Irish,” is the alarming jump in the relative size of Ireland’s budget deficit when the Gross Domestic Product metric is replaced by the Gross National Product.
¶ Sext: At The Millions, Nell Boeschenstein writes with heartbreaking restraint about being fired at a job that, although she wasn’t cut out for it, she took because she couldn’t make a living as a writer: “Skills and Interests.”
¶ Nones: n case you’re just tuning in, Joshua Kurlantzick explains “What the Heck Is Going on in Thailand” — at Foreign Policy, for a change. Mr Kurlantzick’s sketch of a solution to Thailand’s impasse is elegantly stated and, even if, as he says, looks to be “very far away,” it is not by any means idealistic.
¶ Vespers: You don’t have to be particularly interested in poetry to be absorbed by “The Other Mother Tongue,” Michael Scharf’s review of a new anthology of Indian verse in English. (Boston Review; via 3 Quarks Daily)
¶ Compline: Lest you regard denialism as an American problem only, here is Timothy Garton Ash’s cry from the wilderness for a second Churchill to lead Europe out of its doldrums. Almost every public figure named in the following paragraphs is an expert without any widespread authority. Churchill, famously, was an authority without expertise whom the experts tried ceaseless to sideline. (Guardian; via RealClearWorld)
Topic A, chez moi, is of course the angel of grace whom I get to hold in my arms once or twice a week. Never have I felt my incapacity as a writer so thoroughly proved as it is by Will, with his unbeatable smile (Kathleen claims that it will be more effective than her own, which is saying something) and the extraterrestrial curiosity about the world that gives him the air of a higher being on assignment who only seems to be a baby.
And then there are his sighs. Oh.
Topic B is this other thing that I’m interested in: expertise without authority. The developed nations are ubiquitously captained by bright men and women who nonetheless lack authority. No doubt they trained themselves as such! Nobody understands authority anymore, and rightly: it needs a complete reinvention, a re-think that will clearly distinguish between “authoritative” (good) and “authoritarian” (bad).
An authority, first of all, believes in itself, and, second of all, behaves in a manner that’s consistent with its programme. It’s very important for authorities not to be chargeable with hypocrisy, with saying one thing and doing another.
So much for the essential prelimiary. The essential superstructure is the authority’s belief in a vision of life as it might be lived. This is what today’s meritocrats lack altogether: they’re successes at living life as it is lived right now, a life to which most people have no attachment. Testing well breeds a horrible complacency, but most of today’s leaders never meet anybody who isn’t just like them — other successful testers.
We were right to reject the vagaries of hereditary aristocracy (of which heredity monarchy is essentially the pimple), but we have not come up with a good replacement. Let’s just meditate on that for a while, calmly ad quietly.
¶ Matins: Yesterday, in this space, we quoted Jenny Diski; last week, we began with Mark Lilla. Today, a piece in New Scientist links “denialism” with the urge — common among Tea Partiers — to push back against the wisdom of the elites.
¶ Lauds: Anthony Lane sweetens his review of the rather dreary-sounding Ridley Scott Robin Hood with a truly unforgettable crack.
¶ Tierce: Two notes on that very gloomy subject, dementia (whether Alzheimer’s or not). The failure of the mind strikes us as the worst possible personal tragedy, because it entails the premature death of the self (and not in a nice way, either). It’s not surprising to read, at Wired Science, that “Dementia Caregivers [are] More Likely to Also Get the Disease” — not that it’s necessarily catching: there might be a “tendency of people who are prone to distress or mental illness to find and marry one another. Second, and even less surprising, Simon Roberts catches mention in the Times of studies showing that, as was the case with Iris Murdoch, the mental decline of Agatha Christie was palpable in her work prior to diagnosis.
¶ Nones: At The Bygone Bureau, Peter Braden recounts his trip to Bosnia last year, and how a visit to Mostar left him feeling “a little bit Bosnian.”
¶ Vespers: We had not really registered the existence of The Nervous Breakdown, a site that we are not even going to attempt to categorize just yet, but we agree with J E Fishman that there’s something wrong with the way books are handled at The New York Times if 13 of the 29 book-related alerts that Mr Fishman has received from the Times since late April relate to the work of dead writers. (via The Millions)
¶ Compline: At The Second Pass, John Williams shares a snippet from a friend’s interview with New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore. Just when you think that our schools might as well be closed, a flash of eccentric brilliance glimmers in the rubble.
This week’s New Yorker story, Roddy Doyle’s “Ash,” reads more like the instructions accompanying a kit than a piece of fiction. Assemble its fragments of dialogue and its (for the most part) short paragraphs of the protagonist’s thoughts and actions as best you can — the proper order has been taken care of, but you must supply the voice and the affect. How better to write about an Irishman with affect issues? About feelings and self-awareness in a culture that (still?) contemns feelings and self-awareness, inducing everyone of the male persuasion to find the lowest livable emotional settings.
That such inhumane self-policing makes you stupid is established right away.
We’ll still be friends, she said.
— Grand, he answered, and then he was walking down a street by himself, before he understood what had happened.
That “what had happened” turns out not to have happened — that Ciara, Kevin’s wife, having assured him that they’ll still be friends after she abandons him (and their two daughters), gets cold feet and comes creeping home — is what happens in “Ash.” The wife does not, in the end, leave her husband. We have no idea why, and, because Ciara is not a particularly attractive person, we don’t much care. We’re happy at the end because little Erica and Wanda won’t be growing up without their Mammy — not yet, anyway.
Most of what intervenes between Ciara’s departure (strung out over several nights) and her return is telephonic communication between Kevin and his brother, Mick. “Kevin was starting to dislike his brother, but this wasn’t a new feeling.” There are no new feelings in this story, which bears a startlingly recent date-stamp: at the end, the volcano in Iceland explodes, grounding all the airplanes in Europe. One can only wonder who was expecting to see his or her own short story published in the May 24 issue, and how he or she has dealt with the rescheduling.
“Ash” is compulsively readable — there’s no denying that. But it is also tripe.
¶ Matins: In the current issue of the London Review of Books, Jenny Diski’s “Short Cuts” will have you wondering whether to laugh or to cry. Her breezy write-up of crazy wingnut Melanie Phillips’s The World Turned Upside Down makes you ask just whose world has been turned upside down.
¶ Prime: Curiouser and curiouser: Goldman Sachs seems to have been left standing after a round of musical chairs. Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story (in the Times) and Felix Salmon note that Goldman is no longer the King of Cool.
¶ Sext: The Editor went to a book event last evening; Slow Love author Dominique Browning was interviewed by a sometime protégée who is still very much an admirer, Grace Bonney of the elegant Design Sponge. Ms Browning, speaking about her new Web site, Slow Love Life, confessed that she felt “born to blog.” At the signing part of the evening, the Editor acknowledged that he had made the same discover, and the author was kind enough to ask for a card.
¶ Nones: As of last night, it seems that no major American newspaper was interested in a story carried by BBC News: “Bolivia’s Morales urges Pope Benedict to scrap celibacy.”
¶ Vespers: At Survival of the Book, Brian writes one of those dispirited entries that are so invigorating. If publishers are as demented as Gallery Books’s Louise Burke seems to be (if only to associate her name and reputation with Jersey Shore), then who needs ‘em? But we do need Brians.
¶ Compline: Alex Balk lifts The Awl into the pundit zone with a relatively august piece about Richard Blumenthal, the Nixon White House alum and (improbable? but hitherto presumable) Democratic candidate to replace Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodds.
Will turned over. Onto his tummy. All by himself. He did it yesterday for the first time, but I saw it for the first time today, and, when I did, I spontaneously/unthinkingly applauded.
And then Will turned over again. And again. And again. He wasn’t interested in his bottle at all.
¶ Matins: We found Paul Girolamo’s contribution to this week’s Metropolitan Diary hard to believe — are Park Avenue doormen really such material guys? — but Quatorze insisted that it’s the way of the world. (NYT)
¶ Lauds: It’s a nasty job, but someone’s got to do it: the Chicago Trib‘s John von Rhein finds fault with Wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel’s leading of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (his own orchestra), on a visit to the Windy City. (via Arts Journal)
¶ Prime: We had a very long day yesterday, helping the Editor out with his new bookcase, and perhaps that’s why we can’t, no matter how many times we re-read it, understand Felix Salmon’s commentary on James Surowiecki’s Financial Page.
¶ Tierce: At Wired Science, Owen Jones, a law professor at Vanderbilt, recounts his impressions of a hearing of arguments for and against fMRI evidence of credibility — the new lie detection.
¶ Nones: Over the weekend, Seth Mydans and Thomas Fuller collaborated on an important story about the long-last failure of royal authority to settle disputes in Thailand.
¶ Vespers: One of the deeper mysteries of literary achievement is our loyalty, helplessly divided, to prolific successes on the one hand and to one-off wonders on the other. Robert McCrum considers the latter at the Guardian. (via The Millions)
¶ Compline: Again, it was a long day. We thought long and hard about Ross Douthat’s critique of the meritocracy, but couldn’t decide if we agreed or disagreed. To the extent that meritocrats are people gifted at taking examinations, we agree. (NYT)
This entry is over twelve hours overdue, but for a very good reason. The bookshelf that I ordered from Scully & Scully last October arrived today, and for seven or eight hours Quatorze and I worked like drays. We joked that we would sleep well tonight, but we were too punchy to believe any such thing. The hulking industrial shelving that I’d ordered last fall to serve as a combination staging area and placeholder gave way to a far smaller, but also far more capacious, burl walnut book case, The metal unit was emptied, dismantled, and donated to Goodwill — all this afternoon. For most of the day, the dining table was a war zone of competing piles, each one screaming for attention by trying to be uglier and less orderly than the others. Quatorze did all the heavy lifting, as well as moving an inconvenient phone jack and carrying over a decade’s worth of Museum Bulletins from one room to the other. I was prepared to let the project drag on for a week. Quatorze was determined to see it through all in one day, and he was frighteningly persuasive. We had dinner with Kathleen round the corner, but I insisted that Q come back afterward so that Kathleen could thank him properly. Even so, I was disappointed, because the living room was so tidy! There was no evidence whatsoever of the day’s struggle. Kathleen assured us, however, that what she remembered of earlier such struggles was clear enough to impress her big time.
As you can guess from the spines on view above, the new bookshelf is consecrated to books to look at. They are not all fine arts monographs and exhibition catalogues, however. I’ve included a category of books that’s congenial both in content and in physical dimension to weighty thick art books: slender, but equally tall children’s books.
The new bookshelf is right next to the dining table, the stoutest in the apartment. I look forward to getting lost in a searching thread that has me pulling down books right and left, to compare and contrast (or, better, to let the artists do the comparing and the contrasting.) A long dream, developoed the better part of a year ago, has come true. As the long day ebbs, I’m left feeling golden.