Archive for September, 2008

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008


¶ Matins: French Muslims are doing what black New Yorkers have been doing for years: sending their children to Catholic schools. Katrin Bennhold reports.

¶ Tierce: I was tempted not to post today — not to add more noise to an already overloaded network. The only thing worth talking about is how to tell working Americans that yesterday’s rejected bailout may be all that stands between them and a credit lockdown that might freeze their everyday lives. (Credit isn’t just a matter of consumer credit debt. It lubricates most commercial relationships as essentially as oil lubricates an engine.) And it’s rather late in the day for that conversation.

¶ Sext: Front-page news, buried on page A6: “Olmert Says Israel Must Leave West Bank.” I didn’t believe my eyes!

¶ Compline: Édouard came across a bit of video that hasn’t been run on any of the major sites that we’ve seen. Chant after me: “The bailout is bullshit! You broke it, you bought it!”


Friday Movies: Ghost Town

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008


When I wasn’t laughing, I was crying, but mostly I was laughing. Laughing a lot more than the five other people in the theatre, from what I could tell. But Ghost Town is very funny, and I am nothing if not gelastic (a word I learned from Reading the OED).

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, September 29th, 2008


¶ Matins: The extent of Paul Newman’s philanthropies does not, and ought not to shade by a hair, our estimation of his talent as an actor — which, in any case, needs little boosting. But it’s not a bad thing that he set the bar for matinee idols very, very high. Aljean Harmetz reports (as I suspect she hoped she’d never have to.)

¶ Lauds: Lucky me. I’ve got tickets, for next weekend, to The Seagull, a Chehov play that I vowed I’d never see again ever after the last time, which was an adaptation, as, in fact, have been all the Seagulls that I have seen. Next Sunday, I’ll see it for the first time straight, and what an introduction: Kristin Scott Thomas as Arkadina.

¶ Tierce: Memo to financiers: Banks ought to be boring! Virginia Heffernan laments the rise of “Shiny Happy Bankers.”

¶ Sext: Meet Nora Dannehy, our latest Special Prosecutor.


Morning Read: I do not hint

Monday, September 29th, 2008


¶ In La Rochefoucauld, variations on a theme: If we didn’t have faults, we wouldn’t take pleasure in noticing others’/If we weren’t proud, we wouldn’t complain about the pride of others. If such maxims still hold true in society, I’m unaware of it. (more…)

Books on Monday: How Fiction Works

Monday, September 29th, 2008


A tract for our times. The title might have been improved: How Readers Work.

Weekend Update: Tuesday?

Sunday, September 28th, 2008


As if nothing else were going on, last Friday afternoon, the phones at the apartment went dead. I found this out from an email that Kathleen sent, after failing to get through. I had a minor meltdown. When the power or the water or the cable don’t work, I know that it’s not just me. But our landline phone service is fragile for several reasons, almost all of them having to do with the age of the building. In 1963, you might have two phones in a house, one in the kitchen and one somewhere else. You might have a third phone on a bedside table. We have seven phones — three in the bedroom alone — on two lines, and those two lines are jury-rigged (by the phone company) out of one. Only two of phones, moreover, run without extra electric power. A problem with any one of the units can knock out service. So can a loose jack. And if the problem occurs within the apartment’s wiring, anywhere beyond the phone company’s junction box, then we’ll have to pay to fix it.

Kathleen was wonderful. She took a moment (a long moment) from helping out with some bits and pieces of the aftermath of the credit collapse to contact Verizon. They told her that the outage affected “the area.” That was the good news. The bad news is that it would be repaired by Tuesday evening. I was so relieved by the good news — it wasn’t us! there was nothing that I could do about it! — that the bad news didn’t register until shortly before it was mooted, and phone service was restored.

We never did find out what “the area” comprised. Some tenants in the building reported uninterrupted service. The liquor store, across the street, took the vino order that I placed for vino, using the cell phone. (Like most people in their sixties, I hate everything about cell phones except their convenience. They’re pretty unendurable products, as “utilities” go.)

The news about the phones came just as I was settling down to put the afternoon to use. I’d been to the movies, and I’d made myself a sandwich for lunch, actually measuring out one ounce of potato chips. (Saturdays and Sundays not included!) I am trying to make Fridays my menus plaisirs afternoon. That’s a joke; the more correct French term would be paperasse. This site defines paperasse as “papiers san valeur” — papers without value. That’s just what having paperasse means: turning receipts and notes into rubbish by entering information on a computer. You’ll have to agree that anything in French sugars the pill that would be hard to swallow as “data entry.”

But I was already too unsettled by the news. My feverish imagination, which is more or less permanently set on “wingnut putsch” alert, was quick to crochet dire prognostics from the financial meltdown, John McCain’s dithering about the debate, and a rather too party-linish comment by Barney Frank about House Republicans. Congressman Frank turned out to be speaking the truth, but in such a way that only made the House Republicans seem even more seditious than they already are. (Happily, they’re not sure of just whom they aim to subvert.) And, on top of that, I was giving a little dinner party.

Well, an old friend whom we hadn’t seen in a while was coming to dinner, because I’d asked him, on the spur of the moment, the night before — when it was still the night before, and it was still possible to think of “throwing something together” as a larky pastime. In the event, this repast saved my bacon. Shoving Big Ideas out of my way, I concentrated on the orderly production of a meal. Have I already mentioned that Friday is our night for home-made fried food? That’s because I dust and vacuum on Saturday, elimination most of the aerosols that linger whenever fat has been brought to three hundred seventy-five degrees. I was so well organized, however, that I managed to set up the deep fryer out on the balcony.

Our friend is a fan of my fried chicken, so there were no leftovers. He’s also a fan of my cornbread, which is curious, because I rarely use the second cornbread recipe twice, and, even when I do, I throw in little bits of tasty leftovers. On Friday, I threw two breakfast sausages that Kathleen had virtuously left on her plate after breakfast a few days earlier (okay, Saturday; but sausages age well once they’ve been cooked). Also a few gratings of Cabot’s Monterey Jack with Jalapeños. What we had a lot of afterward was Caesar salad; I’d forgotten that our friend doesn’t eat salad.

We did listen to a bit of the debate, while waiting for Kathleen to come home. I certainly hope that Mr Obama wins, but I want to report that, because I can listen to John McCain without wincing, the silliness of most of what he said didn’t bother me so much. When the angels ask me to recall the hardest thing of all, I’ll tell them it was watching Alfred E Bush run for President. I still can’t believe it happened. I can’t even be shocked that he won.

I’ll be having another dinner party this evening. I don’t really know who’s coming, though. Ms NOLA, for sure. Kathleen, if she can. The newlyweds if it fits in with their plans — they’ve got something musical to go to later in the evening. It is probably incorrect to speak of dinner parties here, since everyone who’ll have shown up is family or the next thing to it.

Open Thread Sunday: A Bench in the Park

Sunday, September 28th, 2008


Exercice du Style: Had better!

Saturday, September 27th, 2008


The following bit of pidgin appeared in an editorial in Tuesday’s Times:

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, better urge his recalcitrants to get over it and start delivering that Washington Change they proclaim so loudly on the hustings.

There is, in English, an idiomatic expression, “to have better/best X,” meaning, “to have a possibly unacknowledged duty or responsibility,” where X is the verb describing the prescribed action.

You’d better get out of here!

He had best do his homework before dinner.

In vernacular speech, the auxiliary part of this expression is sometimes omitted.

I better get my ass in gear.

Pidgin is the minimal version of a language that can still be understood by others. It is pardonable in speakers in a language that is not their first. It is barbarous on the editorial page of The New York Times.

It will be tiresomely argued that everybody knows what the sentence means. This is not true. The New York Times is read by many foreigners — let’s at least hope that it is! — and while many of them doubtless have fluent reading comprehension of English, some undoubtedly do not. A struggling reader might well seize on “urge” as the verb in the sentence’s first clause. This makes some sense, but not very much, and such a reader could be forgiven for doubting his or her own comprehension.

It is also true that attentive readers of English will trip on the omission of “had.” There is no reason in the world for any reader to be obliged to pause over this sloppiness.

The only readers who won’t be inconvenienced by this solecism are the one’s who matter least: those who don’t read the Times.

English is endowed with loads of idiomatic expressions that mix verbs with other parts of speech. They must  be used, if not sparingly, then with great care. And they must always be used properly and in full.

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 26th, 2008


¶ Matins:The other day, someone said — and I  can’t remember who; someday, I’ll be just like Mr Peabody and have a boy who can write these things down — that it isn’t the stocks, stupid, it’s the credit market. The most basic, elemental player in that market is the money market fund, and talking about money market funds (which are really just specialized mutual funds) was all Kathleen did today. Primary Reserve Fund is the first to fall into the water she is hot.

¶ Tierce: Another Friday, another movie. I’m off to see Ghost Town, which is conveniently playing across the street. Meanwhile, Ken Layne reports on a real ghost town. One in the making, anyway.

Then, under cover of darkness, the family leaves. Sometimes they disguise this escape, coming by once a week to change the lights left on and blinds left open, maybe parking an old camper or beat-up car in the driveway. Other times, nobody bothers. The coyotes and vermin knock over the trash cans, a kid’s bike with training wheels is grown over with the invasive weeds that love dead bulldozed desert.

Have a good weekend, everyone — hold on tight!


Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, September 25th, 2008


¶ Matins:  I was worried about voting machine chicanery — I hope that it’s clear by now that Republican Party operatives will stop at nothing, short of outright putsch — but I’m dismayed to see that the states with the most foreclosures — and thereby address-less, disqualified voters — are either solidly Democratic or important swing states.

¶ Lauds: Louis Menand writes about Lionel Trilling, The New Yorker. As current cultural history, it doesn’t get any better.

¶ Tierce: As regular readers know, I was never a partisan of either Democratic Party contender for the nomination. I could see the appeal of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and both were clearly cut of presidential timber. Right now, though, I’m wishing that the lady had gotten the job, and the lead Times editorial this morning will tell you why. Hillary is more of a leader than anyone anywhere currently on the scene.

¶ Sext: We can only hope that Ronald Fryer will turn up something interesting in his “rigorous” study of theories of education.


Morning Read: ¡Sus libros mentirosos!

Thursday, September 25th, 2008


¶ Advising his son against disparaging women in general, the Earl of Chesterfield goes on to discourage generalizations generally.

All general reflections, upon nations and societies, are the trite, thread-bare jokes of those who set up for wit without having any, and so have recourse to commonplace. Judge of individuals from your own knowledge of them, and not from their sex, profession, or denomination.


¶ In Moby-Dick, one of the scenes that I remember from the Classics Illustrated edition: Queequeg makes his mark when he signs on to the Pequod. I remember thinking that it must be pretty easy to forge. More interesting at the moment is Ishmael’s defense of Queequeg’s religion, when Peleg and Bildad balk at signing on a cannibal.

Finding myself thus hard pushed, I replied, “I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother’s son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congretation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets noways touching the grand belief; in that we join hands.”

I don’t think that Melville was being optimistic about the universality of faith. People simply did not not believe; atheism was for crackpots. It’s a lost world.

¶ In Don Quixote, the famous encounter with the flocks of sheep, within whose dust-clouds our hero makes out Alifanfarón, Pentapolín, and other figures from his “lying books.”

¶ In Squillions, a spate of amusing letters by Noël Coward — what a refreshing change. Here he is in Havana, enjoying a mid-run break from the Broadway production of Private Lives:

It feels funny having a holiday in the middle like this, and very enjoyable. My Spanish came in very useful in Havana, I was surprised to find out how much I knew. It really is a beautiful place. Heavenly drives in the country through Sugar Cane and Banana plantations and masses of every conceivable type of flower.

We dined out in restaurants outside the town, with trees hung with lights and Spanish orchestras playing very softly. The Oliviers are in Nassau and are meeting us tomorrow. I am sorry to see Arnold Bennett is dead.

¶ A N Wilson addresses the change in the status of women after World War I, discussing Lady Astor, Marie Stopes, eugenics and contraception, and Radclyffe Hall. It is a pleasant chapter, very much in favor of “the belief that the world might be a better place if men and women regarded one another* a little more tenderly.”

* See my “Exercice du style,” 16 August. I am aware that my recommendation contradicts an earlier preference, and I recognize that there might once have been a compelling semantic underpinning to Wilson’s usage. But I stick, somewhat obstinately no doubt, with my prescription.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008


¶ Matins: Among all the dumb things that Wall Street has been up to in the past 25 years, James Surowiecki reminds us of one that I’d forgotten: the folly of going public.

¶ Lauds: Andy Borowitz nails it:

Given that Internet porn is the only fundamentally sound engine of the American economy…

¶ Prime: My friend, George Snyder, author of 1904, has been tinkering with a new blog, No Talking Cure. Yesterday’s imposing entry has stuck with me.

¶ Tierce: Barbara Ehrenreich has said it before, but maybe now people will listen: positive thinking is for dopes.

¶ Nones: Given the size of my — CD collection, I am often asked, “What’s a great disc for a first date?” The question invariably arouses a great blush, because I am so madly tempted to give very bad advice. The “48”. Charles Ives singing “Over There.” (Heard that one, have you?) Dorian Lynskey at the Guardian can’t believe that Debrett’s recommends Sexual Healing.


In the Book Review: The Student of Desire

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008


In my ongoing argument that the Book Review ought to confine its attentions to works of literature — in which I include thoughtful books of every kind — I’m pinched by need of a definition of “literature.” And I think I may have got one, in a quotation that appears in James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Permit me to mull it over for a few more weeks — at least until my page on Wood’s book pops up. As for this week’s….

Reading Note: Baixa

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


Staying at the table after dinner, indulging myself with a book instead of cleaning up, I came upon a relatively brief passage from The Maias that captures Eça de Queirós’s wonderfully light hand. (more…)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


¶ Matins: The Chinese milk problem is the second of this year’s challenges to the Way They Live Now. (Shoddy constructions of the schools that collapsed upon students during the Sichuan earthquake back in May was the first.) Flames from the scandal continue to reach higher into the hierarchy. As China grows more affluent, these scandals will probably increase.

¶ Tierce: You’d think that the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression might inspire the Bush Administration to change its ways. Not a bit of it. What we’re getting is a replay to the Iraq run-up. The government’s bailout plan is written in the Key of Panic.

¶ Nones: Have you discovered a great little organic red wine from Chile, Palin Syrah? It used to a big seller at Yield, a hip San Francisco wine bar, but no longer.

¶ Compline: Google Maps now offers NYC subway directions! (via


Letter from Yvonne: Hope – And a Thing with Feathers

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


Hello, Everyone.

When R J invited me to guest blog, I teased that he must have read the CNET article in which the CEO of I Can Has Cheezburger (…yes, that blog has a CEO; let’s all contemplate that for a moment…) reports that his site “is approaching 100 million page views a month.”  Surely this is why I’ve been brought on board:  clever R J is expecting moi to contribute plenty of the kind of cute animal stuff which would not otherwise tread upon the green expanses of The Daily Blague.  Win/win:  perhaps a few thousand of my fellow giggle-buckets will be lured over to the DB, away from those trivial LOL sites – and once reeled in, R J will get them reading The Decameron and Moby Dick, or at least something about the Mitfords.

If that is your secret agenda, R J, I’ll do my part!  But, oh, the Critter beat has seen some dark days lately.


Morning Read: Lawrence

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


Still gasping for time, I read no new Maxims or Letters, but I did remember a bit from one of Chesterfield’s letters to his son that really ought to be mentioned, because it’s one of those points that becomes more salient with age.

Certain forms, which all people comply with, and certain arts, which all people aim at, hide, in some degree, the truth, and give a general exterior resemblance to almost every body. Attention and sagacity must see though that veil, and discover the natural character.


Friday Movies: The Women

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


Kathleen wanted to see this — and she liked it for what it was, an evening away from the office. A few “cute” laughs. With its fundamental belief in the strength of women’s friendships, the new version appealed much more to her than George Cukor’s 1939 classic.

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, September 22nd, 2008


¶ Matins: The land of opportunity? Not so much. The Polish community in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is moving out as the gentrifiers move in — back to Poland, though. Kirk Semple reports.

But Poland’s admission to the European Union sharply accelerated that trend, business owners and residents say. They note that the momentum has increased as the dollar has weakened against the Polish zloty, the American economy has faltered and the United States has been more aggressive in enforcing immigration rules. (Similar reverse migrations have occurred recently among other New York immigrant populations whose homeland economies have improved, like Brazil and Ireland.)

¶ Lauds: In “The Art of Darkness,” novelist Jonathan Lethem muses on the mirror that The Dark Knight holds up to the nation.

¶ Prime: Sergey Brin’s new blog, Too, begins with the announcement that he carries the G2019S mutation of gene LRRK2. That’s Genomic for saying that he stands a very high risk of developing Parkinson’s. One can only imagine what it must be like for one of world’s most successful knowledge workers to contemplate the degradation of his brain.

¶ Tierce: Brent Staples writes about “uppity,” “disrespectful” people of color, and how Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (Rep, GA) must have been perfectly well aware of the implications of applying the “U” word to Barack Obama.

¶ Compline: Did you know that Cauliflower Cheese is a British alternative to Macaroni & Cheese? I’m going to give it a try one of these days.


Morning Read: Work and Play

Monday, September 22nd, 2008


A staggering number of pages today. Melville surprised me with a very long chapter — twelve pages, that is, after a string of two- and four-pagers. Squillions threw up a long “Intermission” about Noël Coward’s professional relationship with Gertrude Lawrence. I’m afraid that I’ll still be writing it all up at dinnertime. (more…)