Daily Office:
Wednesday, 27 October 2010


¶ In the middle of Seymour Hersh’s “exciting” article about “cyber warfare,” in the cartoon issue of The New Yorker, there’s a lovely tidbit about someone we’d never heard of, an office that we’d never heard of, and a fecklessness that has become all too familiar since January 2009.

In theory, the fight over whether the Pentagon or civilian agencies should be in charge of cyber security should be mediated by President Obama’s coördinator for cyber security, Howard Schmidt—the cyber czar. But Schmidt has done little to assert his authority. He has no independent budget control and in a crisis would be at the mercy of those with more assets, such as General Alexander. He was not the Administration’s first choice for the cyber-czar job—reportedly, several people turned it down. The Pentagon adviser on information warfare, in an e-mail that described the lack of an over-all policy and the “cyber-pillage” of intellectual property, added the sort of dismissive comment that I heard from others: “It’s ironic that all this goes on under the nose of our first cyber President. . . . Maybe he should have picked a cyber czar with more than a mail-order degree.” (Schmidt’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the University of Phoenix.)


¶ What a surprise. Annie Liebovitz, who has never had much time for the fine-arts racket, is finding that her work fails to bring high prices at sale or auction — a matter of no small concern, now that she notoriously needs the money. How could that be? Something inherently lacking about the work? Or something else… John Gapper at FT Magazine.

Yet Leibovitz, who changed galleries several times in recent years, including a spell at Phillips de Pury, has neglected these disciplines. “She is terribly nice but she is her own worst enemy,” says Zelda Cheatle, curator of the Tosca Photography Fund. “If there is a proper collectors’ print, it goes for a lot of money but no-one is sure if others that float around are the real thing or not.”

“We dropped her because it would take six months just to get a print signed,” says Hoppen. “I’ve got one of her prints of Steve Martin sitting here that I hope to get signed soon instead of waiting for months. You have to set aside half a day a month to sign if you are serious about it – that is paid time.”

Cardinale, who has worked with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and other photographers’ estates, denies that there is a problem with past editioning of Leibovitz’s work. “Disorder is not a problem. Her archive is very organised and it is an impressive body of work. It is quite exciting to be in a position to review it and to see the breadth of what she has accomplished.” But, she says, Leibovitz has to buckle down. “The active participation of the artist is of immeasurable importance in the development of a market. She is meeting dealers, discussing possible courses of action and becoming an engaged participant and that in itself is a big step. She is still an artist who loves to take pictures but this will be a priority in her life.”

Although most people in the art world express both admiration and affection for Leibovitz, there is an undercurrent of schadenfreude at the fact that a celebrity who defied the system has been brought low. “She is such a difficult person to work with and it’s always been her way or the highway,” says one photography specialist.


¶ With Inside Job still very much on our mind — what struck us the hardest was the overt but legal corruption (called “consultancy”) of academic economists — we fastened on a comment to Barbaria Kiviat’s entry at Felix Salmon today, an entry that follows up nicely the one that we linked to yesterday. The gist of the entry is that we’ve all become so indoctrinated by the terms of economic analysis that we can’t see beyond fruitless policy debates even though we know that economists don’t know which way is up.

Actually, we liked the first two comments. The first one is a reminder of the importance of leadership, something that we’ve seen very little of in our lifetime. Here’s the second:

Economists are tools for politicians, who use them as cover for the policies they want to implement. The politicians usually do not understand the math behind the economists’ theories, but they don’t care, as they are usually just trying to sell a tax cut or spending program. The economists abuse and misinterpret statistics and history to support their wishful thinking, ignoring the fact that the conditions and factors for past economic events and trends are never the same for the present.

Politicians love their jobs, and want to keep them, so they will use whatever tool is at their disposal to achieve that goal. Economists, for some reason, like their jobs, too, so they are always happy to get endorsement from politicians, as it helps them keep their jobs. I think it’s called a co-dependency.


¶ Brandon Keim’s report on a recent neurological study of focus isn’t his most lucid work, but there may be a bombshell for multitaskers planted not so deep within it. The study involved epileptic patients whos brains had already been invasively wired for pre-surgical study; Moran Cerf and his team made the most of a free ride. The patients were asked to focus on images of famous people (movie stars and sports figures). (Wired Science)

“The most exciting thing is that patients sometimes fail in the task. Someone sees a picture of Marilyn Monroe and Josh Brolin, and his task is to focus on Brolin. But, somehow, the image of Marilyn Monroe catches his attention more. The image moves away from Brolin. It’s 90 percent Marilyn. And then, when he’s about to fail, he manages to summon Josh Brolin in his mind,” Cerf said.

“There’s competition between two senses, between vision and imagery. The eyes bring one image, his mind’s eye brings another, and those fight. We can see how one wins over the other. This is a remarkable moment, because it happens every day in our life, and we never saw it first-hand.”

Cerf expected focus would result from an increase in target-focused activity, so with people asked to focus on Josh Brolin,  the Brolin-linked parts of the brain would fire more. Instead, he found the Marilyn Monroe-linked regions fired less. Brains narrowed focus not by enhancing their targets, but by diminishing distraction.

Wouldn’t this explain, not only the limitations of multitasking (which is really just another word for selective distraction), but also the difficulty of concentrating on anything when distracting inputs (other people’s cell phone conversations) cannot be “diminished”?


¶ The good people at The Awl have created a new Web site just for Mary H K Choi, called the hairpin. Mary is upset by the current craze for men dressing well; it’s throwing off her guydar.

I can’t figure out how old anyone is. I can’t figure out how gay anyone is. On silent subway morning commutes there are no tells. The brogues, desert boots and quickstrike high-tops not only have me manic-fantasy-banging every well-dressed dude on the F BECAUSE IT IS ALL SO GODDAMN GOOD but the fact that so many are suddenly well shod plus the prevalence of hard-bottoms straight CRIPPLES my ability to tell how rich anyone is. And that is fucking my game up major. Aaaaaaaaaand everyone’s watch is now the old timey Timex from J.Crew for $150 so yeah, 360 IDK. Plus, also, seriously, there must have been some clandestine colloquium workshop situation where all the dudes in all the land shucked to skivvies and got sized for their perfect pair of Uniqlo jeans and nobody said “no homo,” not even one time, because, Hi, y’all all look fantastic FUCK YOU.

I recently became transfixed by a pair of jeans on a lean dude who was 6’4”. The break was such that the hem fell atop his shoe in beautiful, chiaroscuro’d, raw indigo stacks and the whole thing white-knuckled me into wanting to SMELL HIM so badly that I skooched over and did what I never do on mass transit — talk to a bedbug stranger. I decided (apropos of nothing since I have ZERO idea what dude is who right now) that he was a graphic designer or maybe a tech writer (om nom) and when I discovered he was an actor it was beyond confuselment and then when the google told me that he was engaged to marry someone SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT I was pissed. Yo, when’s the last time I DIDN’T know I was macking above my station? It’s all crazytown.

We’re surprised that they didn’t call it the hairpoon.


¶ We don’t pay much heed to polls, but the results of a new Times/CBS poll are nonetheless distressing, precisely because ideas and information, nor to mentioin democratic confidence, appear in such short supply. The more we consider the results, the more impatient we become for the Democratic Party to be supplanted.

More than 6 in 10 Republican and independent voters said they did not think that their own representative deserved re-election, while fewer than half of Democrats agreed.

The poll also finds that this year’s elections have grabbed the attention of a similar number of voters as the last midterm elections did, in 2006. More than 8 in 10 say they are paying attention to campaigns, including more than 4 in 10 who say they are paying a lot of attention.

Republicans are following the election more than Democrats or independents are. More than half of Republican voters say they are paying a lot of attention, compared with fewer than 4 in 10 Democrats or independents.

The poll also finds that attention to the campaign increases with age. Just 28 percent of voters under age 45 say they are paying a lot of attention, while nearly twice as many voters age 45 and older are. Older voters are historically more likely than young ones to vote in midterm elections.

Vespers¶ The most intriguing part of Poets & Writers‘s interview with Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally-Jackson Books, is her take on Chinese booksellers — which is also a take on herself. (Ms McNally was recently a member of a delegation of American booksellers that paid an official visit to — or was in any case officially received in — China.)

Other than the influence of the state, how does Chinese bookselling compare to bookselling here in the States?
It was really like bookselling twenty-five years ago. Remember what middle class retail used to be like? Go back to our early teenage years. It wasn’t nice before the Banana Republicization of retail. I remember even when I opened this store people kept coming up to me, saying, “It doesn’t feel like a book store. It feels like a restaurant or a clothing store.” And I thought, “Why can’t bookstores be nice?” It’s ridiculous. [Laughter.] So retail is changing in China. There are more and more Western chains, and there’s a lot of money suddenly. So there are more and more high-end stores that are beautiful. Retail feels very 1982 there.

So if you went back to China ten years from now, do you think their stores will have evolved in the same way that ours have?
I hope so. That’s what I gave my speech about. Online retail is just now starting to impact their businesses. It really is like a snap shot of our own history. So they are going to have to figure out how to make their stores feel necessary. They’re about to come up against the same challenge that we’ve been fighting. And the only way I know how to do that is to create an attractive physical space. My customers tend to also say it’s the staff.


¶ Joshua Brown reports that there are no televisions at his investment management firm, Fusion Analytics. That’s the rule there, and the Reformed Broker can’t believe he managed without it. Which is great for him. When will everyone else in money management realize that television is an obscenely powerful herder?

I still grab clips off the web, still have news scrolling from all the wires, still have my trusty StockTwits stream, still listen to Tom Keene on Bloomberg Radio for my pre-market routine, still tune in to Fast Money or Kudlow occasionally after hours.  But during Game Time, I need to concentrate.  I can’t be impulsed or influenced by the box and the talking heads who appear on it during the trading day.  Of all the things I’ve learned from Barry and Kevin, this tuning out of other peoples sentiment thing has made the most dramatic impact on me by far.

Things are better now, you should try it.

Have a Look

¶ Obituaries for literary magazines. (HTMLGiant)

¶ Plan to fill in the East River — from years ago. (Strange Maps)