Archive for January, 2010

Letter from France: Montmartre

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Montmartre, Paris. By Jean Ruaud.

Dear DB’s readers —

Let’s talk about Paris. What a Parisian guestblogger is for if he doesn’t write about his city? I live in Paris intra-muros since twelve years and since my first visit here (I was ten and my uncle lived in the 16th arrondissement, close to the Trocadero gardens) I wished to live in Paris. So, it’s a dream made true, if you like. But I don’t live in posh 16th but in seedy 18th, in the north. My neighborhood, Barbès, is at the north end of Montmartre hill slopes, and is populous, multi-cultural, a bit dirty, with some traffics going on (drugs, cigarettes, mobile phones) and a lot of poverty. Why do I live here? Because the rents are low and, as I live in a somehow “gated community”, I don’t have to bother much with the neighborhood crowd.

Anyway, my neighborhood is not on the tourist tours schedules, but Montmartre, is very much. Montmartre is a tiny, quaint and beautiful neighborhood at the top of the eponym hill. From my home it’s a mere twenty minutes walk to go at the top, a steep walk with many stairs, but not a long one. From my windows I see the Sacré Coeur dome, illuminated at night. The Sacré Coeur is the most coveted tourist destination, from the esplanade in front of the basilica you have a wonderful view of the French capital. The sightseers crowd the esplanade and the Place du Tertre nearby but seldom spend the time to explore the narrow streets on the slopes. However this is my favorite place in Paris, these winding streets lined with beautiful houses, a very quiet place, not much cars, not much people, some old mills, many grand old houses, beautiful apartment buildings, little greens and a lot of little art shops and cafés, little groceries and pâtisseries. Montmartre is the place where I go when I want to take photos, and I have thousands of them in my collections.

So, if you visit Paris, even for a short time, I recommend you to walk those sometimes steep and winding little streets on the slopes of Montmartre. It really is Paris, a well preserved neighborhood, and my favorite.



A citizen of Montmartre. By Jean Ruaud.

Loose links

Sunday, January 31st, 2010


We’ll follow sometimes during this week our respected editor’s tradition:

¶ The excellent urbanism and architecture blog: BLDGBLOG has a very strange story in “Tama-Re, or the Egypt of the West“.

¶ Owl in flight is an awesome photography.

¶ And Howling at the Moon: The Poetics of Amateur Product Reviews, is a very thoughtful analysis of a social phenomenon (I’m an amateur sociologist!).


Letter from France: Another wonderful gadget

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

In the little harbour of Le Conquet, in France. By Jean Ruaud

Dear DB’s readers —

Hello everybody, the boss gave me the keys, let’s not wreck the place while he’s vacationing in some dismal sunny tropical island!

I’m certain that you’re aware of the two greatest week events: the State of the Union and the State of the Apple. I, in not so sunny and downright frigid France, watched both the addresses. The Apple address first, and live. The SOTU address, second, and the following evening because of this time-lag problem between the US and Europe.

I should disclose immediately that I like very much President Obama, for many good reasons, among others: he’s not my president! It is very possible that, should I be a US citizen, I would be much less enthusiastic, anyway, I like the guy and I admire his speaking talents and his intellect. I watched with interest the SOTU address but I must say, a little ashamed, that the other address (the one in San Francisco) interested me more.

So it is of the Apple announcement that I would like to talk here, today. First, I’m an Apple devotee, I own an iMac 24′ dubbed “Gros Mac”, a MacBook dubbed “Petit Mac”, an iPod classic, an iPod Shuffle and an iPhone. And I love them all insofar as you can love an appliance. I love their simplicity, their confort of use and their design. That’s the three main points. I used PCs in the past and still use one at work and I’m not adverse to using them again but I feel them cranky, too much complicated to use and too much breakdown prone. At work there are tech-supports and this is not a big inconvenience, but at home I’m my own tech-support and it’s another story. I know my way with computers and I’m able to diagnose a breakdown and mend it, but I don’t like that and I don’t like to spend my time tinkering with my computers, I’m not so geeky after all. This is why I prefer to use Macs instead of PCs, even Linux machines. And the esthetics: the Apple computers and mobile machines are always beautiful and every details are thoughtfully made. Apple is the only computer firm to employ a reputable designer, Jonathan Ive, to design its machines, and it shows. And the design is always first in the development process, the engineers have to adapt the hardware to the design not the other way round.

So, the iPad was this week announcement. I’ll not make another review here, there are roughly one million of them on the web, just stating two or three things I think as a computer user.

– The iPad seems a beautiful object and if it is as well conceived as the iPod Touch or the iPhone it will be pleasant to hold it in your hands, smooth and the right weight, a bit like a well designed book.

– The apps are compelling, iWorks is wonderful, Safari is a very good browser. The speed seems awesome.

– The prices are not to heavy (for an Apple machine, that is).

– The iBooks, well, that is single-handedly great!

– The only shortcomings I see are two: no multitasking and no Flash player. Even if Flash means a lot of CPU resources, is heavy to download and has other failings, the absence of the Flash plugging means a severe limitation when you browse the web. No multitasking means the impossibility to read, for instance, while playing music on Spotify. Or to simultaneously write an e-mail while consulting the web.

It is certain that I will buy one as soon as it is shipped, for I’m a sucker both for technological novelties and Apple products but I don’t think I need one, just I want one, and it is there where the well thought marketing magic operates: making you buy with pleasure an object you don’t really need!


Jean (

Weekend Open Thread: Cherubic

Saturday, January 30th, 2010


Housekeeping Note: Let's have a hand

Saturday, January 30th, 2010


For over five years, I have never taken a real vacation from The Daily Blague. I don’t know what the longest break between entries is, but I had the idea from fairly early on that “daily” means “every day” — or at least every week day. I think that I’ve earned a rest.

Letting the site just sit without fresh copy for a week would be unthinkable, though. Very kindly, my good friend Jean Ruaud (Mnémoglyphes) has come to my aid, and agreed to guest-edit The Daily Blague while I take a break. Jean will open the windows wide and let in some fresh air. I want you all to breathe deeply. And whenever you feel moved to advise Jean of a typographical error or the like, I hope that you will observe the guidelines that I have set forth here. I will leave it to Jean to provide an email address; corrective comments will be expunged.

Let’s have a hand for Jean Ruaud!

Have A Look: Loose Links

Friday, January 29th, 2010


¶ “Most Hated Building.” (via Things Magazine)

¶ Ampersands. (via The Best Part)

¶ Heavy Industry.

¶ Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, January 29th, 2010


¶ Matins: Can we call this “gesture substitution”: Vijay Anand has discovered a way to fight corruption. Instead of resisting or cooperating with demands for bribes, people use his zero-rupee notes to “pay” crooked officials. (CommGAP; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Lauds: Here’s a good one: the directors of the art museums in the homes of the Super Bowl contenders have made a bet: either Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt will go to New Orleans, or Claude Lorrain’s Ideal View of Tivoli will go to Indianapolis, depending upon whether the Saints or the Colts win the Super Bowl. (Speakeasy)

¶ Prime: We’re hoping to see some hard-ball analysis of AT&T’s quarterly earnings report, which claimed a boost of 26%. Here in New York City, where new iPhones are not being sold at the moment, because AT&T’s network is inadequate to existing demand, the company’s good news strikes a dissonant note.

One wonders where the nation’s anti-trust watchdogs have been. It would appear that we’ve seen a classic case of the disadvantages (to consumers) of monopolies. Free-marketeers might argue that it would be in Apple’s interest to force AT&T to make improvements, but accordingly to anecdotal evidence, nobody close to Steve Jobs cares very much what happens on the East Coast. (NYT)

¶ Tierce: Habitats by the (cubic) foot: Maria Popova writes about One Cubic Foot. (Brain Pickings)

¶ Sext: Choire Sicha explains “mansplainin,” with the help of a few good women. (The Awl)

¶ Nones: Ketuanan Melayu: The LRB’s Asia correspondent, Joshua Kurlantzick, suggests that the Malaysian government, in an attempt to win back the support of ethnic Malays, may be playing with matches.

¶ Vespers: Bookmark this: Timothy Egan’s provides a handy snap of the state of play in bookland at the dawn of the iPad, particularly with regard to two currently roiling issues: bookstores and royalties. Prognostications are widely avoided, and Mr Egan concludes on the wisest of notes. (NYT)

Whether books flourish the future, textbooks are probably doomed. (VentureBeat; via Marginal Revolution)

¶ Compline: Louis Auchincloss’s death marks, as Henry James would say, an era; but Louis himself would be the first to pooh-pooh talk of nostalgic backward glances.

Dear Diary: See America First

Thursday, January 28th, 2010


Is that my problem? I saw America first. Almost all of it, by the time I went to boarding school in 1963. Everything but the Old South and Arizona (and the two new states). Wasted, all of it was, on someone who responds to “natural wonders” in a decidedly pre-Romantic manner. Show me a majestic mountain range, and I’ll show you an obstruction. Show me Manhattan’s skyline, and I’ll show you a majestic mountain range.

“America the Beautiful”? Either I’m crazy or they’re crazy. I panted to go to Europe because I believed that there were beautiful things there. As indeed there are. Grosvenor Square (with your back to the Embassy). Wilton Crescent. Not every square inch of Paris is beautiful, certainly (the Champs-Elysées is rather a shock, if you’re not looking straight ahead), but most of it is either lovely or interesting. A lot of New York is interesting, but hardly any of it is genuinely beautiful. The Empire State Building, for example — it’s the perfect skyscraper, and I love it to pieces. But beautiful? It’s too big to be beautiful.

New York is better at jolie laide. The Plaza and the Dakota, both designed by Henry Janeway Hardenburgh. The central block of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is uglier every time I look at it. The scale is so off! Or, rather, there are two scales. The pillars and the portals belong to different designs. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t trade it in for the Sully Wing, but I wouldn’t tear it down, either.

Lake Louise, the most beautiful spot that I have ever visited on this side of the Atlantic (or the Pacific), is not in the United States. But even if it were, I have to tell you that I’ve no need to see it again: its beauties were perfectly captured in Springtime in the Rockies, probably because Daryl Zanuck made sure that they were. I’m content to watch the movie. When, by the way, will it come out on DVD? Probably never, now. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

Don’t you wonder, whenever you find yourself on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, why somebody decided to build a really big Cannes on the wrong side of the Arctic Circle? That’s the United States for you. Everyone says, brave new world. We left the Old World behind. To which I say, ha. Or, rather, Washington, DC.

As you can see, I can’t bring myself to talk about the natural wonders. Such as Mount Rushmore! I saw Mount Rushmore once. I had already seen North By Northwest, though. Actually standing by those dinky telescopes on a hot summer afternoon was a whole lot less interesting without Cary Grant and Leo G Carroll, let me tell you. I had a lot more fun the previous summer when I stayed, with my parents, at the Ambassador East in Really Big Cannes. It was a lot easier to imagine Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the deeply piled corridors of the Ambassador East Hotel than it was at a scenic outlook below Mount Rushmore.

I would not by any means call myself a people person, but I have absolutely no interest in rocks or the plants that like to grow on them — excepting, of course, the granite outcrops that bind Manhattan to the Westchester of my childhood. Them I like. Come to think of it, they must have been Henry Janeway Hardenburgh’s principal inspiration, working at a deeper inspirational level than the language of equally metamorphic Beaux Arts ornament that clads his famous façades.

Anyway, I saw America first, and I don’t recommend it. Remember that Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” I was singing it at fifteen. Happily, the answer was “no.”

Have A Look: Loose Links

Thursday, January 28th, 2010


¶ Never has Bill Clinton looked more like Elvis Presley.

¶ An idiot of the 33rd degree.

¶ We wonder what Louis would have made of this simple  tribute, although we think it’s peachy.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, January 28th, 2010


¶ Matins: We can’t decide if replacing “short-term” and “long-term” with “situational” and sustainable” is a substantial improvement, but we think that it’s worth floating for a while. Thomas Krugman recycles the counsels of ethcist Dov Seidman. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: We’re not quite sure that we understand the difference between form and content that Anne Midgette maintains in her complaint that classical-music lovers displace passionate response with too much information.

We think that the “content” of classical music here is what it means to you, the listener. Beyond “it’s pretty,” that is. We think. We’re interested, in any case. (Washington Post; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: As if on cue, Felix Salmon experiences cognitive dissonance at Davos. Also at Davos: Jonathan Harris.

¶ Tierce: The iPad is here, as expected, and — so what? How is there more to it than the next big whoop-di-doo? Well, if you follow the links in mpbx’s entry at MetaFilter, you may begin to get an idea of how.

Think: vook. It’s only a matter of time before the fun fumes burn off and the serious stuff begins to appear. So far as literature is concerned, we expect some exciting developments in graphic fiction (and graphic non-fiction as well) — and we don’t mean animation.

¶ Sext: Brooks Peters’s confessional entry at An Open Book is as compulsively readable as blogging gets.

¶ Nones: From the BBC News account, you might almost conclude that this is the end of the story for Manuel Zelaya’s truncated leadership in Honduras. But Radio France International’s report discloses the stinger that we knew had to be there somewhere.

¶ Vespers: Brooke Allen’s lively and penetrating review of Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness made its first appearance at Barnes and Noble That site is not on our list — yet. Thanks to the NBCC’s Critical Mass, we didn’t miss it altogether. After Ms Allen’s engaging consideration of one story, “Some Women,” one doesn’t doubt the final paragraph in the slightest.

¶ Compline: Martin Amis likes nothing so much as a good poke at a hornet’s nest. Calling for public “euthenasia booths” where the decrepit can end their misery with an ice-cold (and lethal) martini. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Dear Diary: The Situation

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010


Before Kathleen came home, I was going to write about my terrible mood. But Kathleen’s terrible mood was a lot more interesting. After talking about what’s bothering her for an hour , I can’t summon any interest in what was bothering me, which was, of course, the impending travel.

But I can’t talk about Kathleen’s terrible mood, because of attorney-client and spousal privileges. Which is another way of saying that, even though I’m unhappy about the impending travel (to put it mildly), Kathleen’s terrible mood doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with me.

So I have to talk about my terrible mood after all. As it happens, the terrible mood that I’m in right now isn’t so much a funk about the travel — about being obliged to leave Manhattan Island, which is really great and all but which really happens to be just the place where I live, for a week — as it is about all the nice things that friends say —

  • You lucky guy! A week in the warm Caribbean sun &c.
  • Oh, stop! You’ll have a great time!
  • Soldier on, as you always do.

That last one breaks me up, possibly because it captures the entire preposterousness of the travel. Be a man — relax and enjoy yourself. As I always do.

The friends who really know me say, “Kathleen needs you to go on this trip with her.” Which isn’t true, really. Kathleen is counting on my presence because she didn’t arrange for anyone else’s. In future she will. She has lots of friends (all women, please note), who would love to go with her to sunny places in cold months. She says this matter-of-factly because it is true. Kathleen has had many fine times with friends in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, she likes to get away from it all with me. I like getting away from it all with her, too, but it looks as though the getaways will have to be decoupled from any thought of Caribbean islands, or, indeed, any island other than the one that we’re already on. That’s why God made the Plaza Hotel, after all.

I don’t share Kathleen’s interest in bright sunlight. When we get  back from the travel, in fact, I’m having a second chunk of my head removed, lest it metastasize into lung cancer. It’s true that the damage was done during childhood. But I didn’t like being out of doors in those days, either. In those days, it was my mother’s wacky and unwelcome idea that the basement was less healthy than a ball field. I would blame her for my basal-cell woes, but she has already perished of lymphoma. A lot she knew.

Where we’re going is very nice, and the minute we get there it feels as though we’ve never been anywhere else. It’s a lovely resort. But I’m learning that dolce far niente only made sense to me when I was powered by martinis. Now that, in the interests of living long enough to teach my grandson bad French, I am trying to cut back on white wine, the whole idea of a week at a resort feels like an irreparably mildewed Cole Porter lyric. It’s my idea of nothing to do.

Kathleen used to say, “This is the last time I’m traveling with you anywhere, R J Keefe!” This time, I’m saying it. This is the last time I’m traveling with R J Keefe. From now on, R J Keefe is staying home. It is his one and only regular-guy trait, and he is sticking with it.

My next trip will be to the next world.

Have A Look: Loose Link

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010


¶ World’s largest book — an atlas from 1660. (via Arts Journal)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010


¶ Matins: Despite our inclination to hold up to a bright light everything that David Brooks writes in the Times, searching for telltale signs of inauthenticity, we have to admit that his analysis of “The Populist Addiction” is spot on, and nowhere more so than in the following observation.

The idea that the American “élite” is an undivided bloc is nothing but lazy demagoguery. Look high enough, and you find a million “teams” of one. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Cleveland Plain Dealer critic Steven Litt exhorts the local Museum of Art to do a better job of mounting touring exhibitions. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: The $5.4 billion sale of Stuyvesant Town and adjacent Peter Cooper Village to a a consortium of investors three years ago was both stupid and wrong. Stupid because what has happened since was obviously going to happen, and wrong because the transformation of a large middle-class enclave into Manhattan into more exclusive housing would be altogether indefensible; it’s bad enough that not much is being done to work transformations in the opposite direction. We can only rejoice at this news. And we can only hope that Mayor Bloomberg will regard this fiasco as his biggest fumble. (NYT)

¶ Tierce: Yikes! Donald MacKenzie reports, at Short Sharp Science: “Introducing Botox, bioweapon of mass destruction.”

¶ Sext: This time, Dave Bry’s Public Apology seems, innocently enough, to be directed more at himself than at the latest alleged victim of his general reprehensibleness. We’re not sure that poor old Tubby was taken in. (The Awl)

¶ Nones: George Packer writes stirringly of the dodginess of Dresden’s restoration, from firebombed ruin to “Baroque fantasia.” (The New Yorker)

¶ Vespers: The enthusiasm in Adam Gallari’s write-up of Albanian writer Ornela Vorpsi’s The Country Where No One Ever Died is extremely infectious. (The Rumpus)

¶ Compline: Felix Salmon is at Davos, where he despairs of hearing any long-overdo ‘splainin‘. (Not to worry: Davos is irrelevant to non-attendees.)

Dear Diary: My Pleasure!

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010


Will’s parents needed a bit of help late this afternoon, owing to the attack of a nasty flu bug that laid Ryan low and put Megan in the impossible position of not being able to do anything for her husband. I was called in. Lucky, lucky me.

I popped in a taxi, sped downtown, and scaled Château Gizmo. I washed my hands at every turn, and nothing else that I did was more remarkable than that. I ran a couple of errands and washed a few dishes.

Mostly, though, I sat like this, in the grandfatherly position known as “Cat & Canary.” The cat in this case is not going eat the canary, however, because holding it is too delightful.

I complimented Megan on having studied the major points of grandfatherly gratification. When I arrived, she was stressed, Will was wailing, and Ryan was cramped on an extra bed that he was too beleaguered to clear off. Within half an hour — well, Ryan was still feverish and miserable; there are limits to my magic powers. But Megan was contentedly feeding her contented son, and — what’s always essential in these crises, necessary if insufficient — the kitchen sink was cleared.

Although Will’s mouth is open in the photograph, he is as silent as the you-know-what. As zonked out as a sophomore.

Megan asked if I saw anything of myself in Will’s little face. I had to confess, with lingering surprise, that I wasn’t looking. I had certainly thought that I would. When Megan was Will’s age, I peered at her with narcissistic abandon. But I don’t seem to need any supplementary assurance that Will is my grandson. And that is sweet.

Have A Look: Refained

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010


¶ Lizbeth Mitty: Recent Paintings.

¶ Bryan Schutmaat: Recent Photographs. (via The Best Part)

¶ Dams Across America. (via Design Observer)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010


¶ Matins: Justin Fox kicks off his column at the Harvard Business Review blog by considering the very bad idea of treating business corporations as persons — something that we’ve been complaining about for a while, and that came to the fore with the rather unpopular (but wholly anticipated) Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. (via Felix Salmon)

(For some background on the foundational case on this issue, turn here.)

¶ Lauds: Molly Haskell’s short answer regarding Avatar: “No, you don’t have to see it.” An interesting comparison to Gone With the Wind does will probably not appeal to all readers. (Speakeasy)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon seems to be havng fun, thinking of Goldman’s London partners. Noting that Goldman Sachs isn’t going to share the pain of the British bonus tax, he reflects that a temporarily ill-compensated partner at that firm is still doing better than a richly-rewarded banker elsewhere.

¶ Tierce: Why the social isolation of the powerful is bad for any society, and particularly bad for a democratic society: it undermines the human inclination to benevolence. (The Frontal Cortex)

¶ Sext: Maybe you can help out an aspiring cosmetologist with better things to do than go to school. As a volunteer, of course! (You Suck at Craigslist) Maybe Ash wants to be a bedwarmer. (Marginal Revolution)

¶ Nones: In a further sign that Japan’s orientation is shifting toward China and away from the United States is manifest in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s decision to “re-think” the presence of an American airbase on Okinawa. The trigger was a local election won by an ardent campaigner against the Futenma base, home to two thousand Marines. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers:  The always interesting John Self has read Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, admired it very much, and written about it, for all the world, as though he were unaware of Tom Ford’s movie. It’s clear from his précis that the book is rather more different from the film than one might have thought. (Asylum)

¶ Compline: How nice: on the eve of the Editor’s vacation in St Croix, we have to share this: “A Deadly Quake in a Seismic Hot Zone.” Fun! (NYT)

Dear Diary: Varieties

Monday, January 25th, 2010


My latest resolution, which I have made several times now but not kept, is to refrain from commenting upon one of Eric Patton’s entries at Sore Afraid until I have actually written to him privately. This may put a stop to my comments altogether, but at least I’ll be free of that awful sticky teenaged feeling of having ventured an unappreciated witticism. Eric’s writing always makes me feel playful, but his subject matter makes me feel thoughtful. It’s a problematic blend, best bottled and shelved for a day or two.

As so often happens, it’s the obiter dicta that really caught my attention (even though I had the sense not to comment upon it). In passing, sharpening a point, Eric constructed the opposite of a so-called bucket list. “Puck-It” is, of course, a stand in for the name that I really have in mind; I refrain because I know — and delight in the fact — that many of my readers would be somewhat shocked and possibly offended if I headed an entry, in great big letters, “Fuck-It List.” Either way, such a list itemizes the things that one intends never to know more about than one already does, things that one rather wishes one didn’t know about at all, because they weren’t there to be known.

The subject of Eric’s entry is the variety of religious experience, historically considered, and, at an early point, he is forced to acknowledge that this is a variety in which, per se, many if not most people are uninterested. 

If I had a United States dollar for every time I heard or read “All religion is equally bad!” I would be able to afford a very nice dinner in one of the fine restaurants in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, located on the southwestern corner of New York’s famed Central Park. 

Also, it’s much easier to simply reject anything that falls under the rubric of religion than to actually learn about the differences between religions or religious movements or about religious history and philosophy, and it seems more even-handed.  I have chosen to do the same for business, sport, finance, cooking, real estate, and most technology, although I am a fan of the wheel, fire, and several metals.

The presence of cooking on this list makes saddens me a bit — I can’t believe that Eric wouldn’t make a very good cook, and it’s the item that, in combination with the others, proclaims Eric as a serious male intellectual. But when I remember that Eric is usually generating laughter on one level or another, I stop worrying: he’s not that serious. Or, rather, is not serious like that.

I think about my own list, which definitely includes sport — and may I pause to say how pleased I was to find another American willing to adopt the English singular, which emphasizes the absence of varieties of athletic experience. I’m certainly squeamish about real estate, but I can’t, as a trained lawyer, claim to be unaware of the varieties of property ownership. Technology interests me hugely, as an extension of cognitive capability, but I suspect that Eric is talking about toys here; if so, I share the allergy. (This would include the universe of automobiles.) Where we differ most is on the matter of business. I used to feel that business was a soul-destroying activity, but when I realized that it was only soul-destroying for me (and a few others), I began to appreciate it as the force that really does make the world go round. I’m not talking about “capitalism” here. I’m talking about the kind of commerce in which the proprietor knows most of his customers by name. Not necessarily small business, by the way: J P Morgan knew most of his customers by name.

But I have awakened to the fact that finance — a daring and often dodgy variety of the banking experience — has nothing to do with business. Repeat this often. Nor does it have much to do with retail investment (college and retirement funds) or the varieties of insurable risk. Finance ought to be occasional, triumphant, and apotheothetical, its gods invoked from time to time for the subscription of grand public goals such as the Triborough Bridge or the Museum of Television and Radio. Everyday finance — the trading routine of Goldman Sachs — would be indefensible if it were more generally understood. And advertising is to creativity as finance is to business: parasitical and mindless. At best, it is catalytic, as vital as vitamin A, and as lethal in greater than small amounts.

I have another list, one that Eric’s too young for yet. It comprises things that I know a lot about, so much in fact that they’re no longer really interesting. I’m not sure (to pick a slight example) that I can ever read PG Wodehouse again. I can’t take the thing known as “conceptual art” much more seriously than the fabulous accomplishments of other people’s little children. I’m shocked by how little I miss having my own garden, and knowing the Latin name of every plant in it. I pray that I remain ignorant of war, that worst variety of religious experience.

Have A Look: Loose Links

Monday, January 25th, 2010


¶ Googolopoly. (via reddit)

¶ Electoral College Reform (via Joe.My.God)

¶ Visualizing the campaign finance case. (via Marginal Revolution)

From the Guest Editor: Greetings

Sunday, January 24th, 2010


(A little “café” in Paris, by Jean Ruaud)

RJ asked me the other day to guestblog at the Daily Blague during his vacations which will be next week. I should say that I’m at the same time, daunted, humbled and grateful, at the prospect of this task. As a try-out I will now present myself to the Daily Blague’s readers.

My name is Jean Ruaud (Jean is John in English and is pronounced Jan, and is not the feminine Jean), I’m a frenchman of fifty two years old, working and living in Paris. I’m an amateur photographer and blogger.

Once upon a time RJ read my blog (ô, the magic of the Internet), which was, at this time (2004), L’Homme qui marche and contacted me by e-mail. We became Internet friends, RJ and me, and I visited him and Kathleen in 2007 during one of my visits to New York City (and again last year). RJ and I share, I think, the same cultural interests and the same sense of what is important in the world and in life and a great friendship.

I’m a veteran blogger, I opened one of the first blogs in France, in 2001. I began with Douze Lunes (Twelve Moons) and now I write in Mnémoglyphes (which means glyphs or prints or tracks of memory and is a neologism invented by a friend in a book devoted to the philosophical meaning of prints).

I have a job, wich is doing criminal analysis and criminal maps for the French Railway’s law enforcing and security unit.

English is not my maternal language, as you can guess by this post, French is. I was born in a little town, Chinon, in the center of France, some fifty years ago. Close to my little French town, when I was a kid, was something special: a US Army camp and military hospital, right there, at the edge of town. “Les Américains” were everywhere and participated a bit to the life of the city. A number of French citizen were employed at the camp and at the hospital and the city’s pubs and saloons benefited greatly of the American soldiers patronage, as you can figure. Thus, I was exposed early to “les Américains”, to their language and the American popular culture. Some officers and doctors lived with their families in little American villages at the edge of town and before that they even lived in town, in rented french houses or appartments. They had a very different way of life, different products and appliances in their houses, even different cars, and they listened to a different kind of music: jazz and rock’n roll. They were wealthy, athletic and healthy, at least for us! It was exotic and very enticing for us french kids and it gave me a natural fondness for all things American. “Les Américains” were sent home by the General De Gaulle in 1964, much to my dismay.

I learned English in high school but the language I learned there was a literary language not a spoken one. At the time of my first visit in the US, in 1993, I became aware of my incapacity to understand what people said and, more seriously, I was not able to speak in a coherent fashion. Back in France I was seriously commited to learn the English language and I undertook to read, learn the vocabulary, listen to English language TV (thanks CNN and BBC World) and see all the films and TV shows only in original version. Gradually I became almost fluent in this language I love.

During the recent years I visited parts of the United States, above all Manhattan, where I went five times out of ten visits, California (two times), parts of Colorado and Arizona (one) and Houston, Texas (two trips) where I have family working in the oil industry there.

I’m interested in the US culture, politics and history, and, of course, in the Internet and what is called the web 2.0, but my prime hobby is photography. My images were reproduced in some books here in France and you can see them on Flickr. I’m a proud member and reader in the famous American Library in Paris, a venerable institution and a wonderful place of culture and civilisation.

Well, I look forward to write here next week and do my best to entertain you while RJ is busy resting in the sun. See you when? Saturday? I’ll be there!


Weekend Update: The Koestler Problem

Sunday, January 24th, 2010


Back in callow college days, when I was assigned The Watershed, the book about Johannes Kepler that Arthur Koestler excerpted from The Sleepwalkers, I knew Koestler’s name, and I knew (from the jacket copy on The Watershed) that Koestler was the author a familiar title, Darkness at Noon, although I knew nothing about this latter book. I didn’t know much of anything about the Spanish Civil War, beyond Picasso’s Guernica, and it would have surprised me, in those days, to learn that the same man could face death in one of Franco’s prisons and, later on, write up Kepler’s search for the music of the spheres. But I’d have adjusted right away, because I somehow knew enough to place Koestler under the same rubric as Norman Mailer.

Arthur Koestler, in other words, wasn’t someone that I had to get to know right away, because he was one of those culturally immanent presences that float overhead from year to year, so constant that we don’t notice that they’ve been fading until something obliges us to look at them closely. That something, in Koestler’s case, was his suicide in 1983; which would have been unremarkable if he hadn’t been joined in the act by his younger, perfectly healthy wife. When I heard about that, I realized that I hadn’t heard Koestler’s name in quite a while, and that in fact I had never really known why he was famous.

Increasingly, fame feels like a kind of style; it is bestowed upon those who for one reason or another are in tune with the intellectual fashion of the moment. And it is withdrawn to the extent that its beneficiaries have committed themselves to looks and feels that have dated and staled. Koestler’s case is more encompassing. As Anne Applebaum notes in her review of a new biography of Koestler, the most urgent topic of Koestler’s prime has vanished from everyday discourse.

The most important change, however, is political. To put it bluntly, the deadly struggle between communism and anticommunism—the central moral issue of Koestler’s lifetime—not only no longer exists, it no longer evokes much interest. Thanks to the opening of archives, quite a few Western historians are, it is true, still investigating the history of the Soviet Union and of the international Communist movement. But outside of a few university comparative literature departments, Soviet-style Marxism itself is not a living political idea anywhere in the West. In the wake of the Lehman Brothers crash in the autumn of 2008, there were calls for a government bailout of the auto industry. No one—no major newspaper columnists, no leading politicians, no popular intellectual magazines—called upon the vanguard of the proletariat to rise up and overthrow the bourgeois capitalist exploiters. In the Europe of 1948, somebody would have done so.

What that means, though, is that the entire political context in which Koestler, Sartre, and Camus functioned—and in which Koestler’s most important works were written—is now gone.

Ms Applebaum goes on to suggest that, if Koestler is to regain anything like the fame that he enjoyed sixty years ago, it won’t be because he wrote about important things, but rather the reverse: he’ll be read, if at all, because he convinces readers that, beneath the political dramas that he addressed in his work, there is a timeless struggle between forces that bear more universal names than “communism” and “democracy” — a struggle that he understands with compelling clarity. Ms Applebaum doesn’t appear to find this eventuality very likely.

This has always been much on my mind, this “Koestler problem.” It’s one thing to be forgotten because you didn’t really grasp the issues that interested you. That’s a risk that we take knowingly when we publish an essay. What you can’t really grasp is the possibility that the issues that you address so well will fall away, and concern nobody. You can’t grasp it because you can’t see where things are going. You can guess, but you can’t see.

If you’re a journalist, you probably don’t care.