Archive for March, 2009

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


¶ Matins: Over the weekend, the Times published architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff’s summary of good ideas for urban infrastructure, “Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time Is Now.” Although Mr Ouroussoff never uses the term, one leitmotif of his essay is the importance of undoing the long modernist trend of treating cities as “factories for living.”

¶ Lauds: How about some eye candy? (via

¶ Prime: Moscato goes shopping at the One Rial Store in Oman. I want a Mosque Shape Alarm Clock!

¶ Tierce: In this week’s New Yorker, James Surowiecki shares a misgiving that has been bothering me for more than a few years: what if the bank bailout works?

¶ Sext: Just what I needed: a “Variety Show” of Borden’s line of cheeses. (Remember Borden’s? Elsie the Cow?) And not only that, but a new-to-me “pop culture” site, Curly Wurly. Eight mouth-watering ways to “meet the royal family of Borden’s fine cheeses.

¶ Nones: Athens bombers said to be anarchists, not terrorists — well, that makes me feel better!

¶ Vespers: Maud Newton writes about Brad Gooch’s biography of Flannery O’Connor at “In its painstaking honesty, the book is both a great gift and a curse to O’Connor’s fans.” If you know anything about O’Connor, you know that Ms Newton is referring to the writer’s unconsidered racism.

¶ Compline: An appropriately colorful obituary for Sir Reresby Sitwell, Bt, of Renishaw Hall, in the Telegraph. It’s amazing how much family dysfunction can be fitted into a few paragraphs with hardly a mention of Auntie Edith.


Morning Read Luz Resplandeciente

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


¶ It cannot be said that Lord Chesterfield lacks a meritocratic bias.

I have known many a woman, with an exact shape, and a symmetrical assemblage of beautiful features, please nobody; while others, with very moderate shapes and features, have charmed everybody. Why? because Venus will not charm so much, without her attendant Graces, as they will without her.

¶ In Moby-Dick, two execrable chapters, stuffed to the “ridge-pole” with dead metaphors. For example, the head of the right whale is compared to a violoncello. How fatuously accidental! It would be impossible to write less musically than this:

But now, forget all about blinds and whisters for a moment, and, standing in the Right Whale’s mouth, look around you afresh. Seeing all those colonnades of bone so methodically ranged about, would you not think you were inside of the great Haarlem organ, and gazing upon its thousand pipes?

This is bad for the same reason that French puns are unfunny. Anything can be seen to resemble almost anything else, which makes the spinning of comparisons a convenient opportunity for name dropping. To be reminded of a pipe organ by the right whale’s baleen is not enough — we must have the famous organ at Haarlem — devoid though it be of marine implication.

¶ When Reverend Eager, in A Room With a View, declares that the Church of Sta Croce in Florence was “built by faith in the full fervour of medievalism,” Mr Emerson demurs. “No! … That simply means the workmen weren’t paid properly.” I thought of this when Don Quixote explained to Sancho why he could not offer him the salary that Teresa Panza urged her husband to fix.

Look, Sancho, I certainly should have specified a salary for you if I had found in any of the histories of the knights errant an example that would have revealed to me and shown me, by means of the smallest sign, what wages were for a month, or a year, but I have read all or most of their histories, and I do not recall reading that any knight errant ever specified a fixed salary for his squire. I only know that all of them served without pay, and when they least expected it, if things had gone well for their masters, they found themselves rewarded with an insula or something comparable…

¶ In Squillions, Churchill writes to George VI,

Since our conversation at luncheon today, I ahve examined, in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the details of the case brought against Mr Noël Coward. The Chancellor and Sir Richard Hopkins contend that it was one of substance and that the conferment of a Knighthood upon Mr Coward so soon afterwards would give rise to unfavourable comment.

Coward would have to wait until 1970.

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, March 30th, 2009


¶ Matins: Apprehensive about the future of newspapers? Hugging those quaint little object called “books”? Here’s a story to round out your apoplexy profile: “Stop Teaching Handwriting,” by Anne Trubeck.

¶ Lauds: First the good news; then the bad news. It’s the same story, really: Isabel Kershner’s report on a concert given by Palestinian youths for Holocaust survivors gets updated by Khaled Abu Aker, to take account of the fallout.

¶ Prime: If you are not in the mood for it to be Monday, Jonathan Soma’s interactive Singles in America map will make your day. Be sure to play with the slider at the top of the screen, and don’t overlook the cocktail party “feed” down below. (via  Things Magazine)

¶ Tierce: It’s not much of a story, really; and its topic — ostensibly the soon-to-end GM career of Rick Wagoner — is, when you get down to it, inertia. Because only inertia could explain “The Steadfast Optimist Who Oversaw GM’s Long Decline.” You have to wonder where anybody got the idea that corporate America is “dynamic.”

¶ Sext: Far and away my favorite New York City bridge, the Queensboro turns 100.

¶ Nones: If the Obama Administration is really unhappy about the Spanish prosecution of the Bush Torture Team (Gonzales, Addington, Feith &c), it can pre-empt the proceedings by seeking indictments here in the United States.

¶ Vespers: If you’re a mystery buff, you may well know about Sarah Weinman’s blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind: Crime fiction, and more. It looks to be a depot for all sorts of information about the more serious side of murder ink. (via The Morning News)

¶ Compline: From the Matter of Time Dept: “Hard-Pressed Colleges Accept More Applicants Who Can Pay Full Cost.” Depressing, but no surprise.


Weekend Update (Sunday Edition): All About

Monday, March 30th, 2009


Last weekend, it was books. This weekend, it was movies. But you don’t want to hear about my storage sagas. While Kathleen was packing for Coral Gables last night, we watched Laura, simply because, of the 220 DVDs that were taken down from shelves, removed from plastic boxes, and slipped into album sleeves, Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic was the one to hit a snag in my consciousness.

In the middle of Laura, Kathleen made the most astonishing remark. “I always confuse this with All About Eve.” She proceeded to offer a plausible explanation. You have to admit: it could have been called All About Laura. In any case, we had to watch Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1951 classic next — not that either one of us was awake for the ending.

Kathleen’s slight confusion must have thrown my antennae into overfeel, because one of Eve’s best-known scenes struck me in an entirely novel way. (Novel for me, I hasten to add.) It was the scene in which Margot Channing shows up very late for a reading with Miss Casswell, Addison DeWitt’s protégée. Having encountered Addison in the lobby, she enters the theatre perfectly well aware that Eve has stood in for her, giving a reading of the part of Cora that was full of “fire and music.” Her lover, Bill, and her playwright, Lloyd, behave as though it’s unreasonable (ie feminine) of her to be upset about her younger understudy’s encroachment.

What was new last night was that I saw the men’s response as a pretense, as a boys’ own club maneuver to wink away the bad faith of having let Eve read. They must have known that Margot would be furious when she found out, and they probably ought to have seen to it that there was nothing for Margot to find out. Instead, they indulged the pleasure of indulging a pretty young lady, and now they demonize their victim, framing her as an “hysterical woman.” When Bill “realizes” that Margot must have been wound up by Addison, the reptilian critic is saddled with the moral blame, but at the cost of Margot’s reputation for self-control.

Even more interesting was the aftertaste of grasping that, in order for the foregoing to be true, the two men must understand a thing or two about women, instead of being the clueless dudes that they pretend to be throughout the initial phase of Margot’s meltdown.

As for Laura, if I didn’t see anything altogether new, I was battered once again by the film’s modern raciness. Despite its thoroughgoing theatricality, Laura is every inch an adult feature — freakishly so, for the times.

Weekend Open Thread: Under Water

Saturday, March 28th, 2009


Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Folleggiare

Friday, March 27th, 2009


There were lots of empty seats at Alexei Volodin’s smashing recital at the Museum last night, and I don’t think that it had anything to do with a weak demand for tickets. Gotham has been down with a cold for a few weeks now — a cold or worse. What can I say? Maybe Bernie Madoff reduced everybody’s health reserves to zilch. That smirk of his was certainly bacillic.

Despite our own frailties, Kathleen and I did make it to the recital, but we were close to walking wounded. The week began weak; I couldn’t imagine how I’d get anything done. By yesterday afternoon, though — by seven o’clock, actually, just in time to head off to hear Mr Volodin — I’d written up the ideal number of new pages for Portico: four. I was so pleased, in fact, that the blessed event can’t possibly recur until summer. (I say that as a way of hexing it — a fertility charm.)

Today, I’ve got to be at the Tower East at ten, for Duplicity, and at the Museum two and a half hours later, for lunch with Ms NOLA and her parents, two of my most favorite people. Folleggiare di gioia in gioia…

The Week at Portico: A book at last: Michael Klein’s memoir of too many things to cram into a thumbnail (much less, you’d think, his short book!), Track Conditions. (Okay; there are horses.) This week’s movie is I Love You, Man, a delightful comedy about movie comedies. As for Legit, the night before last, we saw the most memorable one-man show ever, Humor Abuse — don’t bother reading about it; just buy some tickets. And of course this week’s Book Review review, which features an ever-so-slightly fishy cover review by Colm Tóibín.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


¶ Matins: What if the Christianists had a book fair and nobody bought? That’s apparently what happened in Dallas last weekend. Marjorie Kehe reports, at the Christian Science Monitor.

¶ Lauds: Anne Wilkes Tucker, the Houston MFA curator who has bought a print of the Mannie Garcia image from which Shepard Fairey drew his iconic but controversial (because appropriated) poster of President Obama, gets near to the hearts of a couple of concepts about art and performance.

¶ Prime: A look at Esquire’s slideshow of “the 50 Most Stylish Men“ may explain why most American men have all the flair of navel lint.  

¶ Tierce: It’s crazy, I know, but as tent cities such as this one in Fresno pile up, I can’t help wishing that the National Guard could help.

¶ Sext: Now I get what ideography is all about. “The Little Red Riding Hood,” as informatively retold by Tomas Nilsson. (via  The Morning News)

¶ Nones: One thing that Imperial China and Party China share is an obsession with truth control. Example: “China fury at US military report.” 

¶ Vespers: I stoutly resist the temptation to observe that the world is obviously going to the dogs, &c; but when I read Mary McCarthy’s 1962 review of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, unearthed at The New Republic by  The Morning News, it’s hard not to fulminate a little around the edges.

¶ Compline: Sara Rimer advances a cause that has most of us old folks wondering why we weren’t taught about home-office management when we were kids. It’s hard to learn at sixty! (Not that Ms Rimer is anywhere near sixty!)


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009


¶ Matins: Regarding prisons in America: close ’em, but keep paying the guards and other workers as if the prison were operational. Count on attrition;  break the cycle of industrial corrections! (Oh, you’ve already started?)

¶ Lauds: Jaime Oliver has won a prize for inventing his Silent Drum — which is indeed silent itself but which triggers, if that’s the word, computer-generated sounds.

¶ Prime: Thought for the day: Why Twitter? I still haven’t a clue, but The Elegant Esthete thumbnails five attractors that, for many people, make Twitter irresistible. Only two of the five speak to me, so maybe that’s my answer.

¶ Tierce: Here’s hoping that a rather self-righteous AIGFG exec’s letter of resignation is duly scrutinized. Jake DeSantis claims that he had nothing to do with credit-default swaps. Is that possible?

¶ Sext: Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, colleagues at the Times’s Dining desk, find themselves thrown into competition*, to produce the better $50 dinner for six (wine not included). Ms Moskin’s entrée really appeals to me.

¶ Nones: The government of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has fallen — not because of the economy, but because two members of the Chamber of Deputies defected from his coalition “for ideological or personal reasons.”

¶ Vespers: Vestal McIntyre’s novel, Lake Overturn, is about to appear. Pre-order it now!

¶ Compline: David Pescovitz writes about authenticity at Good: DIY funerals are better, and it helps if you make the coffin yourself (it’s easy!).


Nano Note: Schuffles

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009


A few weeks ago, I retired the old black Nano, replacing it with an even sleeker new 16G model. All the playlists that were on the old unit were loaded onto the new one, and at that very moment the friend to whom I was thinking of giving the retired Nano — loaded with operas for her —  called me up and invited me to lunch.

Now, my friend happens to have completely sidestepped the age of the CD. She decided to stop her technological advance at cassette tapes. We all shook our heads, but there was nothing for it — she refused to take one of our extra CD players.

But she never had any time to work up a case against iPods or Nanos, so I was able to take her by surprise, with my old black number and a nice Klipsch iGroove to go with it.

We were having a glass of wine before lunch, I insisting that my friend would master the controls of the Nano in no time, she just as sure that she’d never figure it out — but quite pleased with the noise that Un Ballo in Maschera was making in the other room. Suddenly I found that I wasn’t paying attention to our conversation. “Amelia doesn’t appear in Act I, does she?” But we went on talking.

It was only when she left the room to put lunch on the table that I went to take a look at the Nano. OMG! I’d forgotten to disable the shuffle option!

That’s what both the old and new black Nanos were dedicated to: playlists of jazz, Broadway, fado, lieder, opera arias, you name it. The one thing all the lists had in common is that they were meant to be shuffled.

Not so good with, say, the Ring cycle — also on the reloaded unit.

Just trying to imagine how I would have solved this problem over the phone, hours later and still full of my good deeds, still brings a cold sweat to my brow.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009


¶ Matins: Matt Taibbi lays it all out for you, in no uncertain terms. “It’s over — we’re officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock…” (via Mike O’Neill)

¶ Lauds: Listen, it’s disgusting that female actors “age” so much faster than their male colleagues that they find themselves playing the mothers of characters played by men hardly any younger than themselves. But maybe there’s a good reason that has nothing whatever to do with crow’s feet.

¶ Prime: Confucius say, a picture is worth a thousand words. (Citation, anyone?) RJ say, a thousand words is not too many. This week’s Economist cover gets a handy explication at Strange Maps.

¶ Tierce: GM’s goal of recapturing 29% of the American auto market, set at the beginning of this decade, probably contributed to the company’s distress. (And it’s not the “29.”) (via Morning News)

¶ Sext: “You’d better take the highway, because my way is for me only”: memos from Edward Mike Davis, proprietor of the Tiger Oil family of companies, make hilarious reading now. (Via Things Magazine)

¶ Nones: It’s hard to read the BBC’s story about increased surveillance on the Mexican border without feeling that received morality makes people really, really stupid.

¶ Vespers: Is the recession/depression stomping out ambition? Choire Sicha thinks so, and he’s going to write a book about it.

¶ Compline: What impresses me about President Obama’s press conference this evening is his ability to address issues substantively but in terms that almost everyone can understand.


Reading Note: Socialism and the Academy

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009


A paragraph in Tony Judt’s Postwar leaps out at me:

It is one of the paradoxes of the Socialist project that the absence of property tends to generate more corruption, not less. Power, position and privilege cannot be directly bought, but depend instead upon mutually-reinforcing relationships of patronage and clientelism. Legal rights are replaced by sycophancy, which is duly rewarded with job security or advancement. To achieve even modest and legitimate objectives — medical treatments, material necessities, educational opportunities — people are required to bed the law in a variety of minor but corrupting ways. (page 579)

With the exception of the last sentence, this looks like a perfect description of academia in America. Can Mr Judt, a doyen of our professoriat, have been directed to word this passage (doubtless correct) by an ivy-league planchette?

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, March 23rd, 2009


¶ Matins: It’s time for Larry Summers to be deported to Australia. Somewhere! Hiring him in any capacity is to date the president’s biggest boo-boo. As Frank Rich reminds us, “Summers worked for a secretive hedge fund, D. E. Shaw, after he was pushed out of Harvard’s presidency at the bubble’s height.”

¶ Lauds: Looking for an old house with new wiring, preferably something truly Palladian? Look no farther. (via Things Magazine)

¶ Prime: Dio mio! Thomas Meglioranza will be singing in New York in June — Beethoven at Mannes. Must I wait to buy tickets at the door?

¶ Tierce: Michael Cooper reports on the stimulus perplex from Houston:

But to ensure that the money is spent quickly, the law leaves decisions of how to spend some $27.5 billion in transportation money up to the states — and quite a few are using their shares to build new and wider roads that will spur development away from their most populous centers.

¶ Sext: Today, I want to share with you a masterpiece of sixth-grade humor. N!S!F!W!

¶ Nones: France rethinks its version of colorblindness.

¶ Vespers: And, in more news from France, Benjamin Ivry reports on the inevitable dustup concerning the publication of Roland Barthes’s diaries.

¶ Compline: The personal-responsibility folks won’t see a problem with this, but Pablo Torre reports, at Sports Illustrated Vault, that “within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke. (via Morning News)


Morning Read: Gamboge

Monday, March 23rd, 2009


¶ For some reason, the egotism of Lord Chesterfield’s ambitions for his son hits me like a slap in the letter of 29 October 1748.

My anxiety for your success increases in proportion as the time approaches of your taking your part upon the great stage of the world. (more…)

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition): Da Noive!

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009


Even though I was on my deathbed with an incipient cold, Kathleen absconded to sunny North Carolina for a weekend of carefree abandon with her parents. Da noive!

(As Fossil Darling likes to say, “If you believe that, I’ll tell you the one about the three bears.” In nearly thirty years of mystification, he has never once explained this wiseguy utterance. If he’d only offer to sell me a bridge, I could at least ask for a prospectus.)

That’s not all! Next weekend, when I’m sure to be seriously stuffed-up, Kathleen will be off to Coral Gables, a Floridian demesne notorious for its round-the-clock frolics.  Would that I had never figured out that “filing” — as in, dumping a hundredweight of paper on the SEC, which is what I thought Kathleen was doing all those late nights — is just an anagram for “I fling.”

(You know that ancient Chinese classic, the I Fling. All the hexagrams mean “No blame.”)

Da noive! (And, speaking of Da Noive, how about this?)

Weekend Open Thread: Mrs Edward Hillard Benjamin….

Saturday, March 21st, 2009


From the Times, 26 April 1895:

Mrs G H Benjamin’s reception — Mrs George Hillard Benjamin and Miss Benjamin of 46 East Seventy-Fourth Street sent out cards for a reception on April 30.

Now you know. Mrs and Miss had a party and they didn’t ask you.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Nervous Breakdown Lane

Friday, March 20th, 2009


Waiting to hear Just heard! that Kathleen has landed safely at Raleigh-Durham — her plane’s wings required de-icing at LaGuardia (!) — and I’m off to the movies (the new Paul Rudd thing) with a side-errand to the storage unit, a detour that I’d cut if it weren’t for Quatorze’s help. I’m on the edge of a cold, blah, blah, blah.

The Week at Portico: Still nothing in the way of a book page — although of course I had a look at the Book Review. And I wrote up a play, the hilarious 39 Steps, and a movie, the very non-hilarious Wrestler.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


¶ Matins: Blood and Treasure. We were supposed to be the land of the free, but we’re really that land of the pirates.

¶ Lauds: The death of Nathasha Richardson — how?

¶ Prime: Not since David Owen’s New Yorker piece have I seen such a ringing endorsement of Green Gotham. Hey, you rubes in your country idylls — we’re the conservors.

¶ Tierce: Something else to drive the Wingnuts crazy: Attorney General Eric Holder has announced an end to raids on medical-marijuana dispensers.

¶ Sext: Bullfighting becomes exciting — out of the ring. When one torero wins the top arts medal (?), an earlier laureate returns his in disgust.

¶ Nones: Sukumar Muralidharan’s concise and lucid “Accountability in a time of excess” exhorts you to know what you’re talking about when you invoke Adam Smith.

¶ Vespers: Everybody knows that French workers love to walk out in protest. For the chattering classes, reading books that are unpopular with the grosse légumes is preferred. As a result, La princesse de Clèves, a historical novel published in 1678, is once again a sell-out. (via Alexander Chee)

¶ Compline: It’s a lengthy, small-type read, but Danielle Allen’s review of Josiah Ober’s Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens in TNR may be the most important piece of political theory that you read this year. Yes,


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


¶ Matins: It seems that I had my eye on the wrong target. I expected the outgoing Bushies to act up. Instead, it’s the Wingnuts.

¶ Lauds: Sharon Butler writes about how Facebook works — for artists. “Go away Purity Police.” Amen — I guess. (via Art Fag City)

¶ Prime: Daniel Green is thinking of doing something like what I do, at The Reading Experience

¶ Tierce: Three out of four of today’s Times Op-Ed pieces concern the AIG bonuses. Two are by regular columnists, but the third, by Lawrence Cunningham, is the one to read.

¶ Sext: Christoph Niemann’s sweet elegance imposes order on the most disorderly of all things: cords.

¶ Nones: A few weeks ago (at the beginning of last month), Angela Merkel of Germany protested the Pope’s handling of Bishop Williamson. Now the French government is attackinig the Pope’s stand on condoms in Africa.

¶ Vespers: Simon Creasey interviews topnotch graphic fictionist Adrian Tomine. (via Emdashes)

¶ Compline: New Hampshire: the “Peter Pan” state!

Terry Stewart, a member of the town budget committee in Gilford, N.H., and a seat-belt-law opponent, has had it with the new majority. “No matter what’s your pleasure in life, sooner or later they’re coming,” he says.


Housekeeping Note :How Final?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


For a moment, I thought I’d thrown away my housekeys. Down the garbage chute, that is. I knew that I’d tossed my copy of the Zoë Heller novel that I am reading with the greatest avidity. In an abstracted moment, I was confused by a tumble of packing peanuts on my way out the door.

I suspected, too, that I’d thrown away today’s mail. The book could be replaced easily enough, and the keys turned out to be hanging in the lock. But I thought I’d better not just let the mail go without making an attempt to retrieve it. I had no idea whether this would be possible. There used to be a compactor — surely nothing could be withdrawn from that.

Down in the basement, whither I was directed by Dominic, the doorman, I found my refuse, lying in a hopper in plain view but out of reach. Pieces of the mail were there anyway. I asked one of the older porters, who happened to be standing around and who happens not to be Anglophone, for help. He enlisted a younger porter whom I see all the time. The younger porter wanted me to be helped, but not by himself. He directed a storm of Spanish at his colleague, who resisted with equal determination.

Eventually, though, the garbage was gone through. A few times, we had to stand back, as if an express were barreling through. We’d hear the rattling in the chute, and then the garbage, some of it not in bags, would come flying into the hopper. At one point, I covered my eyes, because bits of glass seemed to be flying everywhere.

When I felt that I’d recouped everything that hadn’t been rendered soggy by stray egg yolk, I tipped the men very generously and went straight to Barnes & Noble — for another copy of The Believers.


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009


¶ Matins: President Obama’s address to small business owners is good so far as it goes, but I’d like to see the Small Business Administration elevated to Cabinet status, with the bigger SBA overseeing tax policies for small employers.

¶ Lauds: Good for them: “Rose family denounces plan to close Brandeis museum.”

¶ Prime: How did I miss this story? “The city without a memory: treasures lost under collapsed Cologne archives.” What an inexcusable catastrophe.

¶ Tierce: David Brooks notes that we are, anomalously, in an “astonishingly non-commercial” moment. But we’ll snap out of it, he reassures us, because it’s in our DNA to do so. But is it?

¶ Sext: I’m beginning to understand that San Francisco writer (and computer geek) Lance Arthur has a magnificent curmudgeonly side. He suavely demonstrates that his hometown’s inferiority makes it a better place to live than New York.

¶ Nones: Sounds like something Evelyn Waugh might dream up: “Followers of Madagascar’s opposition leader have been carrying out an exorcism at a presidential palace in Antananarivo that was seized by troops overnight.”

¶ Vespers: Now that cabin fever is driving New Yorkers outdoors, regardless of whether spring has actually checked in for the day, here’s a handy independent bookstore walking tour from The Millions.

¶ Compline: Quaint old Amsterdam will be re-fitted with a smart electric grid by 2016. (via The Infrastructurist)