Daily Office:
Tuesday, 9 November 2010


¶ Memo to the aptly-named Patrick Hipp: when planning the secession of Gotham from New York State, do not leave the city’s watershed behind. Delaware, Ulster, Rockland and Orange Counties come with. (Water also explains how New York State as it is used to make sense.) What we love about Mr Hipp’s piece is the overall tone of just having had the idea of secession for the first time. (The Awl)

And to the new old New Yorkers (we hope; if not, to the new Gothamites): enjoy packs of cigarettes that don’t require loans, a city-run MTA (did we mention that the City of New York will be absorbing our “public benefit corporations”? Oops! Well, you already signed the papers), city taxes that are your state taxes, and in all likelihood, legalized possession of marijuana, state-wide recognition of gay marriage, and bars that are open all goddamn night. Our state flag will be the front of a pack of Parliament Lights, our state anthem will sound an awful lot like Cee Lo, and our state bird will be the middle finger. And the next time this mercurial little country of ours swings suddenly from the left to the right, we’ll still be anchored in the same place we’ve always been.


¶ It’s nice to know that the top of the art market is doing well, thanks to a “new breed” of billionaires from all over the place who share a taste for the “tried and tested.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

For ordinary mortals – those dealing with the bleak everyday challenges of recession on both sides of the Atlantic – the prices are staggering. How come, when our own economy is struggling through the deepest downturn since the second world war, the art market seems to have wriggled out of the crash of 2008 and auction houses are mounting what one expert calls “ambitious, pumping, thrusting” sales?

After last week’s impressionist sales, it is the turn of contemporary art to go under the hammer. At Christie’s, Campbell’s Soup Can With Can Opener by Andy Warhol is among the star turns, estimated at $30-50m (£18m-£30m). Sotheby’s has a Coca-Cola bottle canvas by him at $20-25m.

The answer, or part of it, is that the very top of the art market is semi-detached from the movements of individual economies. Rather, it is bound up with the tastes and choices of a number of super-rich people in Europe and America – and, increasingly, Russia, China and the Middle East. As Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie’s, put it: “The market is not reliant on one single economy at any one time.”

In pockets, at least, the very rich are spending on luxuries – a category into which contemporary art arguably falls – without apparent restraint. In Hong Kong this month, Sotheby’s held an auction of fine wine that saw an Asian buyer purchase three bottles of 1869 Château Lafite for $232,000 each, a new record. Even more surprisingly, cases of wine that retail for $17,000 in New York were selling at the auction for $70,000.


¶ From Simon Johnson’s letter to the Financial Stability Oversight Council, imploring it to make the Volcker Rule work. (The Baseline Scenario)

With regard to the importance of the Volcker Rule (e.g., for your Question #12), James Kwak and I provided a great deal of supportive evidence in our book, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and The Next Financial Meltdown (see http://13Bankers.com).  American prosperity does not rest on having global megabanks of this nature and scale; we definitely do not need them to have proprietary trading businesses.  They pose great dangers to our financial system – and to taxpayers, as seen in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.  Please be sure to take our analysis into account when considering this matter.

The Volcker Rule is not a panacea but if designed and implemented appropriately, it would constitute a major step in the right direction.  The effectiveness of our financial regulatory system declined steadily over the past 30 years; it is time to start the long process of rebuilding it.[1] 

With regard to your Question #6, on capital requirements, which is closely related to these general questions, I urge you to read the latest writings from leading analysts of this issue.[2]

In particular, I would stress that Professor Anat Admati and her colleagues find that stronger capital requirements would not be contractionary for the economy (see footnote 2).  Professor Jeremy Stein and his colleagues show that capital requirements can and should be increased through requiring specific dollar amounts of capital to be raised – rather than through requiring banks to hit a particular capital-asset ratio (see footnote 2).  If you proceed in the fashion that they recommend, stronger capital requirements will make the financial system safer – without any discernible effect on short-run growth and making it more likely that we can sustain reasonable growth rates over the next 10 years.


¶ At Bad Astronomy, Phil Platt looks at the Nile at night from a great height, and makes the best case for space travel ever.

Of course, pictures like this are more profound for what you don’t see: country borders. Many astronauts come back from long-durations stays on the ISS with a deep new sense of citizenship not of just their country, but of their planet. I’ve heard several give impassioned talks about this. I sometimes wonder if this may prove to be the long-term benefit of space travel. I’m all for exploration, and getting off this planet to ensure the survival of our species.

But if enough people can get to space, they’ll see the planet for what it is: a fragile, magnificent ball with a thin shell of atmosphere protecting it from the entire Universe… and no artificial boundary lines to be seen. We made those ourselves, and we put an awful lot of stock in them. Remembering that fact might also be an important way to make sure our species endures.


¶ At The Bygone Bureau, Darryl Campbell interviews Mark Bittman. Why is it so not a surprise to learn that Mr Bittman started out in community organizing?

Do you think there’s been a transition in the way you write, that you’ve become less of a general food writer and more interested in particular issues in the last few years?

Yeah. I want to talk about the issues. I still want to develop recipes, I want to write cookbooks, I’m going to write more conventional cookbooks than The Food Matters Cookbook, although there’s a way in which How to Cook Everything is the chef d’ouevre of my life. I’m not going to do anything much better or bigger than that.

But there are ways to approach this. People want fast recipes, I can work on that; people want to concentrate on baking, I can work on that; there are other cookbooks that I can do. I think that my style of cooking, as it has been for 30 years, is to encourage people to get into the kitchen. I still strongly believe that one of the three or four most important things I can do or say is that cooking solves a lot of your problems. So I’m not going to stop doing that. And I think my recipes encourage people to cook, because they’re really, really simple. I’m not a chef, I’m not even a great cook. I can make pretty good food on demand and write great recipes.

But to be able to get up here and not do a cooking demo, and instead to give a talk that has a real message, which includes why people ought to cook, it’s totally exciting for me. It’s not a new career, it’s an extension of my career. It’s exactly what I want to do.

I started… I did community organizing, I did political work, I ran a little newspaper in Massachusetts when I was in my twenties, and when I started to write I really wanted to write about politics. No one was at all interested in what I had to say, and the fact is that I didn’t know shit. So I started writing about food. And I thought, well, writing about food — that’s not bad. And then ten years later, I thought, writing about food, well, I’m doing good. And now, I’m writing and talking about food and politics. It’s gone full circle, and it couldn’t have worked out better.

Now, if I could have an impact, then it would really work out great. (laughs) I feel like I don’t have much of an impact, but at least I’m saying something that I think is important for people to hear.


¶ We’re disappointed by the provincial, Middle-Kingdom-y editorial in today’s Times that calls for France and Britain to devote their new program of military cooperation to manpower, not weaponry — the better to aid our misadventure in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon can easily provide NATO with all the aircraft carriers and nuclear missiles it is ever likely to need. But NATO needs more ground troops, and the United States has been straining to meet that need.

It makes sense for Britain and France to save money on marginally useful aircraft carriers and on the costs of maintaining nuclear weapons they do not really need. The real threat to Europe now lies elsewhere. European cities have suffered repeated Al Qaeda terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, with new assaults threatened.

Britain and France should use the money they will save on these 20th-century prestige weapons to expand the number of combat troops, trainers and peacekeepers they can contribute to NATO missions like Afghanistan. That would strengthen a vital alliance strained by unequal burden sharing. And it would focus both countries’ military resources on their most pressing 21st-century military needs.


¶ At Crawford Doyle this afternoon, we bought a copy of Wait for Me! — the memoirs of a certain dowager duchess whose doings we’ve been following for, oh, decades, ever since we read her sister’s memoir, Hons and Rebels, nearly forty years ago. Although the book has come out over here, and not just in the UK, we weren’t able to rustle up any interesting Stateside reviews. Here are two from England, the Guardian‘s surprisingly sweeter than the (still admiring) Telegraph. From the latter:

Debo had the consolation of being her irascible father’s favourite, which may partly explain why Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity and Decca (Jessica) would chorus at her: “Who’s the least important person in this room? You.” “I read now about the necessity of self-esteem in children,” says the duchess. “We would have become impossibly pleased with ourselves had we been indulged with such a thing.”

Hmm. Some people might say that the Mitfords did indeed become impossibly pleased with themselves. Nancy’s novels may be a timeless tonic and the Communist Decca produced some fine campaigning journalism, but the Mitfords would not, I suspect, have become a thriving publishing industry unto themselves were it not for the beauty and the beast frisson provoked by Diana and Unity’s pash for Fascists. Question: Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler? Answer: the Mitfords.

Even hard-core fans must start to wonder how many more publications can be squeezed out of the Mitford mythology: how long, in short, before we are treated to the absolutely spanking diaries of Doughnut the pony and Mr Lay the poultry man? (What else would a Mitford chicken farmer be called?)

It is, however, my duty to report that even those who would gladly see all Honourables strangled at birth will find it hard to resist this book. It’s not just that the youngest Mitford sister has a hereditary talent to amuse; she is also blessed with the democratic ability, uncommon in the posh, to revel in human beings regardless of their station. As Debo wrote in In Tearing Haste, her immortal exchange of letters with the great Patrick Leigh Fermor: “Do admit one gets hold of some odd people in Life’s Rich Tapestry.”

Naturally, the first index item that we looked up was: “Presley, Elvis, 279-80, 311.” Aha!


¶ Justin E H Smith considers the Okies of California’s Central Valley (where he grew up) as an ethnic group. If they did the same, instead of seeing themselves, spuriously, as “Caucasian” (which means really nothing), perhaps they would have addressed their disadvantages without tumbling into Tea Party resentment. (3 Quarks Daily)

Until the 1960s (just before my era) one could still see ‘No Okies’ signs in stores and restaurants in the Central Valley. Okies had a way of speaking and a way of dressing that would pick them out as ethnic others just as surely as one might pick out a blond Chechen Muslim going through airport security. The Okies were an ethnic group, or an ethno-historical community with shared experiences and shared sources of meaning (embodied in material culture in the form of canned foods, orange cheese, Coors beer; in artistic culture as Bakersfield country; in spirituality as televangelism; in values as a love of independence and a suspicion of the federal government), and to deprive them of the ability to conceptualize themselves as such could not but deprive them of the ability to think about their plight in a lucid way.

It was bound, I mean, to lead them to stupid and reactionary political views, rooted most fundamentally in nativist resentment of non-’white’ people both American and foreign, and in the valuing of self-sufficient plot-ownership (or, later, tract-house ownership) above community-based social welfare. The shift from ethno-historical community to ‘race’ occludes from view the various commonalities the dustbowl migrants might have with other ethno-historical communities, particularly African-American and Mexican agricultural laborers. An ethno-historical community can grasp that it has been shaped by the same forces that forged a neighboring community, whereas someone who thinks of himself in terms of ‘race’ could never grasp this, since races are conceived as essential and unchanging, and so as never having been historically forged at all. According to a very plausible strain of radical history, racial thinking in the United States has been aggressively imposed upon the self-understanding of disadvantaged communities precisely as a way of forestalling any possible recognition of common cause between these communities. In this respect, it seems reasonable to me to suggest that the Tea Party is a sort of revolutionary force manquée.

Have a Look

¶ Antique paper theatres. (WSJ)

¶ Portaits of the Mind. (GOOD)


¶ Tarantula Terror Study. (80 Beats)