Daily Office
Grand Hours
March 2011: Second Week


¶ 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)


¶ 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)


¶ 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)


¶ 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.


¶ 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)


¶ 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.


¶ 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.


¶ 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)


¶ 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?)