Archive for October, 2008

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, October 31st, 2008


¶ Lauds: Michael Jackson’s Thriller is being reissued — not something that you would expect to read about here. But LXIV sent me the link to a story from Soul Tracks that’s full of interesting numbers. In 1984, Thriller sold 27 million “units” (LPs, tapes, and perhaps even a few CDs). The most recent big-seller sold only 4. The pop market has fractured into splinters.  

What this means for classical music recordings…


Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, October 30th, 2008


¶ Matins: You know the drill: first you read the hard stuff, and, then, if you’re really good, there’s a fun picture below the jump. Let me thank, preliminarily, JMG and Wonkette — but don’t touch those links! First, the hard part. First, you must know that

In early August in her prayer time Cindy heard the Lord say, “There will be no more business as usual.”

No, I didn’t know who Cindy Jacobs was, either. It turns out that she’s one of those astute Jahwists who don’t know dingo about Scripture. (Now you may jump.)

¶ Tierce: Howard Schultz and Arthur Rubinfeld, two men who thought that they had retired from the ardors of selling that old black magic at Starbucks, are back at work, hoping to save the baby. (Actually, Mr Schultz has been back since January. Here is Mr Rubinfeld’s rejuvenation plan in one sentence.

Now that he is again leading Starbucks’s real estate team, Mr. Rubinfeld says he will focus on adding stores to urban areas — where there is already a near-saturation of the coffee market, but also a preponderance of affluent young professionals who subsist on fancy coffee drinks.

I hate to say it, but this sounds like Richard Fuld’s insistence that all was well at Lehman Bros. All those affluent young professionals have turned into Ugly Bettys.

¶ Vespers: There’s a career here for me — or there would be if I were a twentysomething: “Does This Song Match My Sofa?” I would specialize in classy sounds for the classically unsure.


Reading Note: Noblesse Oblige

Thursday, October 30th, 2008


Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog is narrated by two denizens of 7, Rue Grenelle, in Paris: the concierge, Mme Michel, and Paloma, the twelve-year-old daughter of a parlementaire. From the very beginning, these two have more in common than either of them would guess (comparison hasn’t yet occurred to them); what I noticed right away is that both are sticklers for attentiveness and, perhaps consequently, attuned to the compression of Japanese aesthetics. For her part, Mme Michel is a big believer in noblesse oblige, at least where language is concerned. When the Mme Pallières, a privileged standout in a building tenanted by the privileged, interpolates an unnecessary comman into a utilitarian note for Mme Michel, the latter delivers a tirade:

For all of these reasons, Sabine Pallières has no excuse. The gifts of fate come with a price. For those who have been favored by life’s indulgence, rigorous respect in matters of beauty is a non-negotiable requirement. Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work. Language and usage evolve over time: elements change, are forgotten or reborn, and while there are instances where transgression can become the source of an even greater wealth, this does not alter the fact that to be entitled to the liberties of playfulness or enlightened misusage when using language, one must first and foremost have sworn one’s total allegiance. Society’s elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendors of language. Finally, Sabine Pallières’s misuse of punctuation constitutes an instance of blasphemy that is all the more insidious when one considers that there are marvelous poets born in stinking caravans or high-rise slums who do have for beauty the sacred respect that it is so rightly owed.

I must figure out how to make the heart of this paragraph serve as a credo for The Daily Blague.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008


¶ Matins: As everybody knows, the Dow took flight yesterday. I wouldn’t be mentioning it if it weren’t for a call that I got from Kathleen at about twenty to four. “I’m going to ring the closing bell,” she said. “On CNBC.” Then she had to go.

¶ Tierce: If you were to ask me why I’m going to vote for Barack Obama, I’d answer with Charles Savage’s appraisal of the Federal judiciary, which the Bush Administration has pushed in a patriarchal direction that can only bring obloquy on our system of justice in the long run.

But the fact that you were asking would send me to another piece in today’s Times: “Report on Iraq Lists 610 Contractors,” James Glanz’s report on the Wild-West irregulation that a plethora of privatized goon squads has introduced into Iraqi affairs — all as the result of the wingnut ideology that has poisoned the Republican Party.

¶ Nones: I knew there was a silver lining: “Plastic Surgeons, Not Immune From the Economic Slump, Report a Decline in Cosmetic Procedures.” Natasha Singer reports.

¶ Compline: In a tough decision, Britain’s High Court decided against Debbie Purdy, who was diagnosed with MS in 1995 and who sought a clear position on assisted suicide from the Director of Public Prosecutions. Peter Walker reports.


Morning Read: Timor Jack

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008


An abbreviated read today, as I spent most of the morning trying to find the source, in the Decameron, of the “exemplary novel” of the curioso impertinente that takes up today’s and the next two chapters of Don Quixote. Can it be X, viii, the tale of Titus, Gisippus, and Sophronia? My morning reads would be but poor skimmings if I did not from time to time drop everything to make connections between what I’m reading and what I’ve read.

¶ There I go, sounding like Melville. Chapter 45, “The Affidavit,” seems aimed at adventure-starved boys. Yes — believe it or not! — sperm whales can be so individually distinctive that they’re recognized on successive voyages, so much so that some of them are given nicknames! Timor Jack! Don Miguel! Morquan! One begins looking for the one with the red nose. Here we have, as a parenthesis of sorts, the brief but rich account of what a certain sailor did with his time in the three years between harpooning the same whale twice:

… happening, in the interval, to go in a trading ship on a voyage to Africa, went ashore there, joined a discovery party, and penetrated far into the interior, where he traveled for a period of nearly two years, often endangered by serpents, savages, tigers, poisonous miasmas, with all the other common perils incident to wandering in the heart of unknown regions.

To someone like myself, for whom home life is far more adventurous than I should like it to be (“Notice: hot water will be turned off tomorrow between 10 AM and 4 PM”), Moby-Dick is a vast duney desert, and phrases like “poisonous miasmas” are the oases that sustain me.

In the Book Review: Mr Wizard

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008


Not only better than most, this week’s issue is also shorter!

Cute picture of Nathaniel Snerpus,* no?

*Be patient with the commercial announcement.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008


¶ Matins: Far be it from me to natter on about the Kurds — the largest ethnic group in the world without a country of its own. Farther still to crow, “I told you so,” as Kathleen reminds me every day that I could. I’m simply relieved to read this (accent on the third paragraph):

The Kurds are resisting, underscoring yet again the depth of ethnic and sectarian divisions here and the difficulty of creating a united Iraq even when overall violence is down. Tension has risen to the point that last week American commanders held a series of emergency meetings with the Iraqi government and Kurdish officials, seeking to head off violence essentially between factions of the Iraqi government.

“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region.

Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

¶ Tierce: Two pieces about decision-making — on the OpEd page! Let me know if the piece about “Undecideds“ by Sam Wang and Joshua Gold, of Princeton and Penn, tells you something you didn’t know. But don’t miss David Brooks on what he calls “the coming-out party for behavioral economists.”

¶ Sext: Do I really need two computers?* Yes, and Lance Arthur reminds me why.

You can always remove yourself from it by choice, for sure. Go on computer vacation and never check e-mail (unless you have an iPhone) and never get WiFi access in your hotel room and never worry about what’s going on the world at or or the blogs you regularly check or the friends who live — at least partially — online. Frankly, I’ve tried it and it sucks. It’s too much a part of my life now, rather than a peripheral of it. I rely on my computer and the web to be part of my life, and when the familiarity of my own computer is taken away from me, even when it’s replaced by another one, I am left lost and forlorn.

* Two computers that I use every day, with most apps loaded on both.


Morning Read: Necedades y Mentiras

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008


¶ What bogs down Moby-Dick for me — and what made it so popular seventy-odd years ago, I expect — is the fearlessness with which Melville wades into metaphysical speculation. No vicarage teas here! Just manly abstractions — which I, unfortunately, find altogether gaseous. I had to read the following four times just to see what mighty point Melville was laboring to make.

For, at such times, crazy Ahab, the scheming, unappeasedly steadfast hunter of the white whale; this Ahab that had gone to his hammock, was not the agent that so caused him to burst from it in horror again. The latter was the eternal, living principle or soul in him; and in sleep, being for the time dissociated from the characterizing mind, which at other times employed it for its outer vehicle or agent, it spontaneously sought escape from the scorching contiguity of the frantic thing, of which, for the time, it was no longer an integral. But as the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab’s case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth. Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a formless somnabulistic being, a ray of living light, to be sure, but without an object to color, and therefore a blankness in itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

The renown of this charmless book surprises me — unless, as is often the case among self-consciously “serious” men, that charmlessness is the charm. (more…)

Friday Movies: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008


This film needs no prod from me. It’s one of the greats.

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, October 27th, 2008


¶ Matins: What I wouldn’t pay to witness an encounter between Joe the Plumber and Joe the Jervis.

¶ Prime: Who knew? New York has five, count ’em five, Main Streets: one per borough! (Can there be but one Wall Street?)

¶ Tierce: Pakistani and Afghan elders are getting together for a jiragai (a “mini” council), to talk over the increased violence in both countries. Right at the start, however, an Afghan official throws a spanner in the works:

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said last week his government was at the start of a dialogue process, but it would only negotiate with those who lay down arms.

Can anyone tell me the source of this crazy condition, which pops up over and over again when states feel obliged to deal with internal opponents?

¶ Sext: Business as usual: An Army intelligence report notes that terrorists could make use of Twitter. Nobody’s asking why they would want to. Want to be terrorists, that is. Hell, no! What’s the Army without terrorists? (via JMG)

¶ Vespers: Margaret Talbot writes in The New Yorker about recent research into red state/blue state family values. The red state family values — this will come as no surprise to attentive observers — are largely eyewash.


Morning Read: Whiteness

Monday, October 27th, 2008


¶ In Moby-Dick, Melville/Ishmael attempts to explain the horror of “whiteness,” and fails utterly. Despite two footnotes, endless anecdotes, and an appeal to the subtlety of the imagination, the only thing that Melville can put any weight on is “the instinct of the knowledge of demonism in the world.” This assertion appears in a description of equine fearfulness that must bring a smiling, if not smirking, recollection of Plato’s Meno to mind. In connection with shudders about the white shark, he traces a connection, which my Larousse Étymologie dismisses as “fantaisiste,” between requin (shark) and requiem. (It would seem that Melville at least picked this up from some French armchair etymologists.) Chapter 42 is stuffed with the most garrulous nonsense, all pedantry and no horror. (more…)

Books on Monday: Medici Money

Monday, October 27th, 2008


Medici Money is the kind of book that didn’t exist when I went to school. Histories in those days were either ponderous or pop. Monographs were too scholarly for lay readers. Some things, I’m happy to say, have changed for the better.

Tim Parks has his own approach to Renaissance government and finance, and he sees Renaissance art as — contemporaneously, not for us — so much whiting on the sepulchre. He also explains how things worked, when fast minds had to do without fast technology. His wrong-end-of-the-telescope view could not be handier. Don’t miss it!

Open Thread Sunday: Grace

Sunday, October 26th, 2008


Weekend Update: On the Young

Saturday, October 25th, 2008


When my aunt called, I said that Kathleen and I had just gotten back from One Day University. My aunt did not ask what One Day University was. She said, “Oh, I’d like to go to that so much!” — or enthusiastic words to that effect. It killed me (as if often does), that my aunt lives in New Hampshire, and not here in New York City. True, she lives in a deep pocket of high culture. Also, she is perfectly happy there, and has been for years. It’s entirely likely, by the way, that Il y a longtemps que je t’aime will show in a theatre nearby. Nearby her, in the middle of the Monadnock Mountains. She said as much when I told her how much I’d loved the movie, which I did in response to her faux question about Kristin Scott Thomas: “Have you seen your lover-girl yet?” My aunt knew that I had tickets to see The Seagull, but her eyes do not allow her to track my every burp on the Internet, so she could be excused for not knowing whether I’d seen the play. Like the hormonal teenager that, in fact, I never was at the time, I rushed right over the Broadway show to say that I’d seen the movie, “which opened yesterday!” As though my aunt might pin a medal on my chest for cultural diligence. Have I forgotten to tell you how crazy I am about my aunt? New York is the poorer for her absence. In my heart I am still about fourteen and she is in her early thirties. Octavian’s crush on the Marshallin was about half the size. But now I’m sixty — so I don’t stammer.

Ordinarily, when my aunt and I talk, we are both home alone, but today, having just got home from ODU, Kathleen was on the premises as well, so I put her on the phone. At some point, we asked if my aunt had heard a certain bit of news. She hadn’t. “But I’m completely desensitized,” she said, “to the communication skills of younger people” — by which she meant that younger people have no discernible communication skills. Kathleen said, “We were brought up very differently, weren’t we?” and for that instant my aunt and I belonged to the same generation. “We were indeed,” she said.

As usual, One Day University’s program consisted of four one-hour lectures. Three of the professors were very explicit about the pleasure of speaking to an audience familiar with such references as “Nixon,” “Glass-Steagall,” and the fact, that, once upon a time, there was only one phone company, and that you rented your telephone from this telephone company, which is why it always worked. Fear not: I am not going to launch into my “Prowst” lecture. That’s the one in which I indignantly demand that Dartmouth reimburse my aunt’s grandson (M le Neveu) for having failed to teach him how to pronounce a great French writer’s name. The anecdote on which this lecture is built never fails to shock the people to whom I tell it. They know that my cousin is brilliant, so it can’t be his fault. How did he get through one of the premier liberal arts colleges without so much as knowing that it’s “Proost”?

The last lecturer of the day — Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore — actually came out and said that he finds that today’s students don’t work as hard as their predecessors because they have so much more other stuff to figure out. The lecture began with a reminder of the world that most of the audience grew up in: When Mr Schwartz became an adult, the question wasn’t whether he’d get married, or whether he’d have children. The answers to those non-questions, both of them, was “As soon as possible.” The only genuine question was whom he’d marry — and he had the grace to point out that there was no question that this partner would be a woman. I suspect that Mr Schwartz and I would agree that, even if we were given all the options in the world, we’d still have been happy with the women who consented to marry us. But we were lucky. Lots of people were miserable when it came time to deal with the marriage question, and that’s why it’s a good thing that there are more choices today.

Which would mean that things are great if it weren’t for a slippage problem: undergraduates have to think about having sex. You could say, they’re allowed to have sex. Lord knows, we weren’t. “We were brought up very differently.” You might dream all the time about “scoring,” but it was just that, a dream. Meanwhile, you read your Shakespeare. And your Proust. You would not have known what to do with a hookup if the girl had knocked on your dormitory door. All right, you would have known. But only short-term: you’d have handled the matter like an Edwardian roué. The deeper connections would have been off-limits. And she, of course, would have been Germaine Greer. Rocket science.

When I was growing up, my aunt was the only adult I knew who had anything to say to me. She was beautiful, intelligent, romantic, and the mother of four children. (She is still all of these things.) I am sure that she had a great deal to do with my falling in love with Kathleen. By which I mean, not that I fell in love with Kathleen because she’s just like my aunt (although she sort of is), but because my aunt taught me what I might hope for in a partner. Without that example, I might have lived my life alone.

Instead of which, I haven’t lived the life of the prickly autodidact that I probably deserved.

Letter from Yvonne: Mr. Ramaupolster

Friday, October 24th, 2008


Hello, everyone!

When I first sat down to write this entry, I opened Google and entered “Mr. Ramaupolster” in the search field…but paused for a delicious tingling moment before moving my cursor to Search.  Because, oh my god…what if I’d get a hit?

I’d written about Mr. Ramaupolster to R J — whose practiced eye immediately identified the story as a blog post waiting to happen.  So here it is; I’ve certainly enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days of Mr. R, in which I’d been granted a peek at how the other half lives.

And by “the other half”, I mean those who live only in my imagination. (more…)

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, October 24th, 2008


¶ Matins: Liechtenstein: There will be a test! You have the weekend to bone up.

Did I say “weekend”? Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008


¶ Matins: The only bad thing about Sarah Palin’s $150 K Neiman Marcus wardrobe is that it is not a story. That’s what wardrobes cost for people thrust in the public eye. If Ms Palin were a game show host, her clothes would cost a great deal more. Why are smart, worldly people suddenly pretending to be frugal Yankees, shocked, shocked to discover that Ms Palin wore Cole Haan boots in Bangor? Seal view, play!

¶ Tierce: In what could be a bold stroke for the Information Age — if money doesn’t run out altogether — the MTA will enhance a Brooklyn subway station with computer screens indicating the current location of every train on the L line, which stretches from the old Meatpacking District in Manhattan to Canarsie on Jamaica Bay.

¶ Nones: Leading market indicators suggest that Wall Street is doing fine. Take today’s joke, for example: “What’s the difference between a pigeon and a hedge fund guy?” (Give this a minute, and you’ll see it coming.)


Concert Note: On with the Crawl

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008


The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is making music at Carnegie Hall again, speeding along without training wheels. The season’s opener featured a program that turned out to sound a lot more interesting than it looked.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008


¶ Matins: To somebody who loves Les Invasions barbares as much as I do, but wonders what the Gotham equivalent of a lakeside send-off might look like, the story of Marie-Dennett McGill comes as revelation.

¶ Prime: Ah, for the good old days (Mortgage Banking Division):

“We had streakers during the 1990s, but that was a joyful, happy thing,” said Mr. Lucas, who had been coming to such events for 20 years and recalled how a group of inebriated and naked bankers had once entertained the crowd. “But now everyone is blaming us for everything.”

In other developments, a woman tried to arrest Karl Rove for treason. Way to go! Jesse McKinley reports.

¶ Sext: Anne Barnard writes about the welcome that gangsta lit is getting at the city’s public libraries. Whatever gets people to read is fine with me.


Morning Read: No hay que proseguir

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008


¶ To say that Lord Chesterfield advises against laughter is severe understatement.

Having mentioned laughing, I must particularly warn you against it: and I could heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. … In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. True wit, or sense, never yet made anybody laugh; they are above it: they show the mind, and give a cheerfulness to the countenance. … I am neither of a melancholy nor a cyunical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; butr I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh.

Hopelessly Irish, perhaps, I must confess that nothing draws laughter out of me more surely or inevitably than wit and sense. One might as well never weep. (more…)