Archive for March, 2010

Dear Diary: Long-Winded

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010


An agreeable day: up by eight, paper done by nine, with tea and toast for Kathleen.

Off to work. At 9:30, the door opens. That can’t be Kathleen leaving! And it isn’t; it’s Sonja. Wednesday mornings are her new (and much better) “day.”

Kathleen leaves at 10:30, as I am just wrapping up the Office. (Choosing the links, that is; I’ll write the DO up later.) She stops by the  super’s office and tells them about the broken dishwasher, which isn’t broken really. It’s not working because the intake filter is gunked up. The super himself will confirm this in the afternoon. He will arrange for the mechanic’s visit on Monday. I can live with that. The dishwasher belongs to us, not to the building; it’s pricey Miele. We’ve upgraded every appliance in the house. Another thing: we’ve never had the building paint the apartment, something that they’re obliged to do every three years. We may weaken on this point. Nobody else wants to do the job, for love or money. We are tired of the Russian émigré look.

Instead of writing, I launch a maintenance project. I have graduated to that sort of thing. In the old days, it was always a matter of dealing with impossible messes, Augaean stables. There was no mess today. Instead, a lot of small-scale disorder. Too boring to discuss, but very satisfying to knock off. In the end, a byprodut of three shopping bags. Plus the Bag of Crap.

The Bag of Crap used to be the Box of Crap.  Either way, it deserves a separate entry. Let’s just say that the box had to be forgone when, filled to the brim and beyond, it missed the shelf and dumped out all over the floor. Here’s a promise: I’ll photograph the contents of the Bag of Crap. Pester me if I don’t!

Throughout the tidying — moving chairs and upending tables so that I can vacuum the carpet beneath them, but no big deal really; this is no do-rag day by any means — I cannot get over the flush of satisfaction that overcomes me all the time these days. It’s the same flush that tells eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds that they’re really grown-up now! The sense of having gotten the hang of things. I have spent much of the past six months splashing in the puddle of this flush. Getting the hang of things, in spades!  

Did you know, for example, that a dishwasher makes the perfect dishrack? For drying dishes? You wash things in the sink and then slot them in the nice clean dishwasher. No dishrack in the world holds as much as a dishwasher! And then, first thing in the morning, you put all of yesterday’s dishes away. I’m not saying that this is a brilliant idea. I can think of at least twenty women who would have advised me (mordantly — we’re only human) to give it a try. But it is a very useful idea, and I seem to have at least three really useful ideas every week. Being a fallapart 62 years of age, I really do have to ask, “What took so long?”

Shortly after five, I get dressed and run two First Avenue errands. First stop: Morning Calm Gallery. Another separate entry. Second stop: Agata & Valentina, where I pick up the ingredients for my ragù and then add enough other stuff to round out the bill to $75. (More than a third of that goes to oversized red snapper filets.)

Home from the errands, I sit on the balcony for the first time in 2010 and read the LRB. Don’t get me started on how lucky I feel. If the dishwasher were working, I’d wash all the items on the balcony table that have been sitting out there all winter, plates, bowls, bottles, teapots, whatnot; stuff that has to find a new place. Something tells me that it will find its new place without having been dishwashed first. My parsley plantation, by the way, could not be more robust. Another separate entry: how crazy am I to eat parsley that has grown in soil that gets a fresh coat of lampblack pollution every day? Mayor Bloomberg: New Yorkers have respiratory diseases because of the trucks, not because of the cigarettes! Let me tell you about my Venice Plan for Manhattan.

Eventually, I go indoors and write up the links. This takes longer than usual because I get choosy. In the end, Compline is the original choice but Prime and Tierce are replaced. As soon as I’ve uploaded the pages, I throw the bunch of stuff on the bed into shopping bags, and the shopping bags into stout canvas tote bags, and head off for Westphalia. I am in and out of storage in less than five minutes. I call Kathleen at the office. Leaving storage, I say, “I’m crossing First Avenue,” meaning that it will take about ten minutes to reach our rendez-vous at Lex and 62nd. Twenty minutes later, just after the waitress at Mon Petit Café (I’m not making this up) advises me that the kitchen will be closing shortly, Kathleen calls from First and 62nd. “Where is this place?”

Everything works out well, I have onglet, Kathleen has boeuf bourguignon. We have a good talk about the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, even though Kathleen hasn’t seen them in the flesh (she loves the catalogue). Trust me: the people lucky and/or provident enough to see the show at the Morgan are not going to shut up about it for The Rest of Their Lives. Think really, really seriously about missing this show if seeing it is an option.

Speaking of seeing things, our tickets for the revival of Lend Me a Tenor arrived yesterday. We’ll be a party of six. What fun that’s going to be! The play will be fun, too. One of these days, don’t you know, we’ll be treated to a show that begins with series of actors reading a series of blog entries. They’ll be playing characters who are writing about the same event, but from surprisingly different perspectives. The rest of the play will be repair. Rashomon not so much.

Sometimes, it’s heaven to be sixty-two. What I won’t have to live through.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010


¶ Matins: Sorting out the ancient but crippling rift on the Left, between the people who listen to Paul Krugman and the people who listen to Noam Chomsky, Michael Bérubé gets it dead right in his final paragraph. (Dissent; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Here’s how we deal with it: when we’re talking to ourselves in the mirror, we follow Chomsky. When we talk to other people with the hope of encouraging them to do something good, we follow Krugman. And we don’t think for a minute that we’re being inconsistent.

¶ Lauds: At a blog that’s new to us, Nail Your Novel, Roz Morris outlines the plot twists that make The Hurt Locker such a fresh film to watch.

¶ Prime: While we were off doing other things, Felix Salmon questioned Henry Blodget’s decision to fire a top writer at TBI. Mr Blodget questioned Mr Salmon’s blog post, &c &c. The matter is of interest to us not only because it involves being paid for what we’re doing, but because what we hope that what we’re doing is what Felix Salmon says that we ought to be doing. Feel free to take issue!

¶ Tierce: Where hair comes from — aside from your head, that is. “The Temple of Do,” at Mother Jones. (via The Morning News)

¶ Sext: How Rob Weir, who teaches college somewhere (?!), deals with the Wikipedia problem on students’ research papers. (Has anybody out there got a copy of Gerald Nosich’s Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum?) (Inside Higher Ed; via Arts Journal)

¶ Nones: As the Murphy scandal washes over Europe, a “widespread apathy toward all things religious has turned into aggression,” according to Der Spiegel‘s Alexander Smoltczyk. Even Italians are beginning to mobilize.

¶ Vespers: British writer Robert McCrum is working on Globish. If you can read this, you do not have a head start on “the worldwide dialect of the third millennium.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

¶ Compline: At dinner last night, there was discussion of David Elkind’s Op-Ed piece about the end of “the culture of childhood,” and we brought up something much nicer to think about on the subject than bullies. From Nigeness:  

Dear Diary: Driftwood

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010


In one of the best developments of 2010, my grandson has taken possession of the driftwood lamp. The driftwood lamp, brought back from Florida by my grandfather and my mother when they took a road trip down there, in 1956 I think (the year after my grandmother died), sat on my “bureau” (chest of drawers) for well over fifty years now. It’s fair to say that it required adult sophistication for me to like the thing; my nature is the very opposite of “free form.”

Miraculously, the lamp and the chest were not separated until last fall, when Quatorze convinced me that the lamp was wildly out of place in the blue room. I had to agree — it was really rather kitschy. Not the lamp itself, but the placement of such a piece of beach-house furniture in sit-up-straight library. So we put it in storage. (On 13 October! I should have put it later than that.) I hated that it wasn’t being used, but I wasn’t about to give it away.

Did Megan ask for it? I doubt it, but I don’t recall for certain. It doesn’t matter. Will is stuck with it now.


I had planned to spend the day helping Megan work from home, at her house, but the weather was frightful, and I needed a day to myself. So did Megan and Will, as it turned out — and we all stayed home. I got a fair amount of conscientious work done, but I also spent hours in what, quite seriously, I’ve come to call driftwood mode, not in honor of the lamp, by any means, even if it’s a word that probably wouldn’t have come to mind without it. Driftwood mode involves bobbing among stacks of things and seeing what’s in them. I don’t actually do anything; like a doctor, I palpate. What’s this book? Where does this go? How much of this stuff can I throw away? There is really no sense of “project” about this drifting from pile to pile, but I managed to get quite a lot done.

Don’t think me too virtuous. I was avoiding something: the final forty-odd pages of James Hynes’s Next. There’s no point to explaining why, because every literate person will know what I mean before the year is out. Next is an amazingly strong book, one of a handful (at least) of novels by writers somewhat younger than I am that seem to sweep away all the efforts of the generation older into a dustbin of peculiarity. Vonnegut, Barth, Updike and Roth — wankers all in comparison to artists such as Mr Hynes, writers with a profound regard for the material world — only Updike shared their attentiveness to it, but he lacked their interest in it. But when I saw where Next was going, I was angry — angry! — and had to put the book down. That was late last night. I spent a lot of today in mourning. And I still have to read those forty-odd pages!


At one time — did I ever tell you? — I was known as Otis. “Big Otis,” to be exact. I certainly didn’t know what I was doing in those days, or where I was going.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010


¶ Matins: Over the weekend, Times columnists Charles Blow and Frank Rich made one thing clear: the white Christian teabaggers who want “their country” back can’t have it, now or ever.

Like Mr Rich, we’re hardly comfortable with any of this. It makes us worry about what we call “the Searchers Option.”

¶ Lauds: Jazz and rock photographer Jim Marshall died last week. At The Online Photographer, Mike Johnston reviews the monographs, in and out of print.

¶ Prime: When we saw David Segal’s piece in the Times about “Day Traders 2.0: Wired, Angry and Loving It,” we were embarrassed. Is this Brides Magazine, where the same articles get trotted out at periodic intervals? Tyler Durden thinks so.

¶ Tierce: Daniel Lametti’s “How to Erase Fear — in Humans” is unfortunately titled, because it will be a long time before anyone develops a practice for erasing real-life fear in humans. But we find the concept of reconsolidation amazingly on. Every time you remember something, you recreate, reconstitute — reconsolidate — the memory. No wonder &c! (Scientific American; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Sext: The pregnant futurism of the letter R. “Sound poetry“? Headsets recommended. (triplecanopy; via The Morning News)

¶ Nones:  A lament by Ewen MacAskill about the “Special Relationship Partnership” between the UK and the US. (Guardian) 

¶ Vespers:  On the need to believe that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare: The Economist reviews James Shapiro’s Contested Will. The unsigned review makes at least one important point about the history of literary appreciation. 

¶ Compline: Merrill Markoe, at least, knows where to find a laugh as the country breaks in two. (Speakeasy)

Dear Diary: Écrasez?

Monday, March 29th, 2010


Reading Matt Taibbi’s furious denunciation of the Roman Catholic Church this afternoon, I thought, Oh dear, let’s not. Let’s — as I suggested last week — remember how revitalized the old Church was by the attempt of the New French Order to secularize it in 1790.

The French Revolution had many turning points; but the oath of the clergy was, if not the greatest, unquestionably one of them. It was certainly the Constituent Assembly’s most serious mistake. For the first time the revolutionaries forced fellow citizens to choose: to declare themselves publicly for or against the new order. And although refusers branded themselves unfit to exercise public office in the regenerated French Nation, paradoxically their freedom to refuse was a recognition of their right to reject the Revolution’s work. In seeking to identify dissent, in a sense the revolutionaries legitimized it. That might scarcely have mattered if, as the deputies expected, nonjurors had amounted only to a handful of prelates and their clients. But when, months rather than the expected few weeks later, the overall pattern of oath-taking became clear it was found that around half the clergy of France felt unable to subscribe.*

“Unprepared to subscribe” — soon they were inflated by all the reaction that the Revolution inevitably generated. The oath of the clergy transformed the Church from an outmoded institution into a unified receptacle for opposition to the new régime. And from that, in the course of the Nineteenth Century, it swelled into the bulwark against liberal humanism that persists to this day. 

So let’s not repeat Voltaire’s expostulation, Écrasez l’infâme. Let’s keep the strong language to a minimum. It has a tendency to echo.

*William Doyle: The Oxford History of the French Revolution (Oxford, 1989, 1999), p. 144.

Monday Scramble: Bambino

Monday, March 29th, 2010


Don’t ask me. Will looked perfectly normal through the view-finder. I had no reason to expect that, digitized, he would grow the four-year old body of a Mannerist Christ child. Where did those legs come from?

During the six hours that we spent at Will’s new house on Saturday afternoon, he slept for no more than thirty minutes. (There were passages of overtiredness, but for the most part he was bright and cheerful; amazingly, he forgave his nitwit grandfather for clamping him to a spitup-soaked shoulder.) As a result, his maternal grandparents spent all of the following day at home in bed, or near it. In a flush of optimism just after noon, I did get dressed, but as the hours ticked by I found myself incapable of anything but reading.

Weekend Open Thread: Mad Man

Saturday, March 27th, 2010


Have A Look: Bon Weekend à tous!

Friday, March 26th, 2010


¶ “I’ll never be short again.” [Editor’s note: Or too tall to hear what everybody’s saying.] (via

¶ Interesting bookshelves. (incredible things; via Oddee)

¶ Kathleen’s latest project. (more…)

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, March 26th, 2010


¶ Matins: Whatever critics were calling President Obama prior to this week, they now appear to concur that he’s a capable Machiavellian. Stephen Burt joins the chorus of commentators cited by William Saletan at Slate. (LRB)

¶ Lauds: Alexandra Lange, who teaches architecture criticism at NYU, explains why she’s unhappy with Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. Doing so, she lays out a handful of very sound principles to bear in mind when reading almost any critic. (Design Observer)

¶ Prime: If this is the best that Ernst & Young can do to exculpate itself from facilitating the folly at Lehman Brothers, says Felix Salmon, “they really are in for a world Lehman-related pain.”

¶ Tierce: At Wired Science, “6 Ways We’re Already Geoengineering Earth.”

¶ Sext: At The Awl, Natasha Vargas-Cooper and Julie Klausner discuss Greenberg.

¶ Nones: Will those 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem prove to have the weight of a fatal straw? (Ethan Bronner, at the Times)

Also interesting in this connection is Michael Young’s piece in the (Lebanon) Daily Star: “Israel is losing the battle of narratives.

¶ Vespers: A delightful reminiscence of mythologue Stanley Edgar Hyman and his wife — Shirley Jackson — by one of Hyman’s thesis students at Bennington, Patricia Highsmith biographer Joan Schenkar. After reading it, you may want to dig out Jackson’s immortal short story, “The Lottery.” (Speakeasy)

¶ Compline: The Editor was recently asked by a friend if he thought that future generations would pity us as condescendingly as we pity, say, medieval folk. “I certainly hope so,” was his optimistic reply. At New Humanist, Sally Feldman surveys an aspect of life that could be a lot more civilized (outside Japan, anyway).

Comment: Starve the Beast

Thursday, March 25th, 2010


It seems hard to argue that, if Benedict XVI were at the head of some American institution, his resignation or discharge or impeachment or whatever would be clamored for on a bi/non-partisan basis. The priests who preyed on boys were at least the victims (by today’s thinking) of unmanageable drives. Cardinal Ratzinger’s only concern was to keep the brass nameplate on the door untarnished. In the Anglophone world, that’s definitive, unpardonable hypocrisy.

Not in the Roman world, though — not in the profoundly patriarchal mind-set of law that prevails on the European Continent, most of it a by-product of ecclesiastical practice. Father Knows Best may be a short-run sitcom in the early history of American television, but the maxim is the essence of Roman, or “civil,” law theory. When terrible things happen, the institution must be protected from its misbehaving exponents. Certainly no one will argue that the Roman Catholic  Church has ever supported any kind of sexual abuse, much less the abuse of children and teenagers.

But why does the Church support celibacy? Sadly, the best answer is that it painted itself into a corner, or was painted into a corner by revolutionary overreaching in the 1790s. When the Church dusted itself off after the Jacobin and Napoleonic turmoils, it was so reactionary that the word “reactionary” was invented to describe it. Reactionary it remains, and that is why the Church stands for celibate priests. There is no better reason, and don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that there is one.

Never mind about history, though. Both Joe Jervis and Choire Sicha are asking the question Lénine: What is to be done?

I have two suggestions, based not so much on my familiarity with Roman Catholic institutions as on my readings in the history of upsets. First: don’t count on the Church to fix this. As it happens, the Church has only the most paltry and technical mechanisms for coping with a bad pope. That’s where there were all those schisms and antipopes in the Middle Ages. And even if there were impeachment procedures (repeat: there are not), it would be dim to expect them to be imposed upon Benedict. After several decades of John Paul II, the College of Cardinals in particular and the episcopate generally are at least as rear-guard as our Supreme Court. Que — zut alors — faire?

To some extent, this is strictly Catholic business. Smart people who grew up Catholic but “lost their faith” don’t really have a say in how Benedict is dealt with. The Pope (Cardinal as he then was) is right to put faith ahead of circumstances. Cafeteria Catholicism ought to be as objectionable to sophisticates as it is to dogmatics. If you believe in transubtantiaion, then you’ve got to believe in (the far more recent doctrine of ) papal infallibility. End of discussion.

Here, then, is my advice for American Catholics who want to do something without risking anathema. Just stop giving money. Correction: continue giving money to any of the fantastic charities that American nuns have been running, under the radar, for the last thirty years, and be especially generous to any sister who complains about the latest visitation from Rome’s wolfhounds. But stop putting money in the basket on Sunday, and — especially — cut off donations to Peters Pence.

This is your chance to play Grover Norquist: starve the beast. Let Rome figure out what to do next

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, March 25th, 2010


¶ Matins: Phil Dhingra puts a health-insurance agent through his paces. (Philosophistry)

¶ Lauds: In our opinion, the bottom line of Alex Ross’s evaluation of Peter Gelb’s first full season at the Metropolitan Opera is that Mr Gelb is insufficiently interested in music. (The New Yorker)

¶ Prime: Regarding the sale of Gothamist to Rainbow Communicatioins, Felix Salmon digests Nick Denton’s sour grapes.

¶ Tierce: Jonah Lehrer’s essay on dreaming quite acutely puts Freud out of place.

¶ Sext: Book Blog Birthdays: The Second Path recently celebrated its second; The Millions is now seven years old. Meanwhile, at Salon, Laura Miller considers the delightfully pseudo-competitive folly of The Morning News’s Tournament of Books.

¶ Nones: The game between Somali pirates and civilian crews has been ratcheted up a level by the presence on the freighters of private armed guards, a detachment of which killed a pirate last weekend. The story of the MV Almezaan may be more worrying than it at first appears. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: Maria Bustillos’s advance review of David Lipsky’s memoir of five days spent with David Foster Wallace in 1996, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is downright invigorating. (The Awl)

¶ Compline: There are no strange maps at this unusual entry at Strange Maps, just a discussion of population density. If the nation were as packed as densely as Brooklyn, which state would it fill? Not a very big one.

Dear Diary: Health & Wisdom

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010


So far, this week has been what last week was not: quiet and uneventful. For me, that is. For Will, today marked a milestone: his first day of school. Megan went back to work; it was twelve weeks ago today that she went to the hospital for a test/checkup of some kind — and, what with one thing and another, she stayed. When she left the hospital a few days later, she was a mother.

Megan feels very, very good about the day care arrangement that she has been lucky enough to make, and that is really all that one can ask on behalf of a conscientious mom. Will passed the day surrounded by older children (most if not all of them in diapers just as he was) and appeared to undergo a developmental boost as a result. I’m told that I won’t recognize him when I see him next. I expect that I shall. Through all the hurdles that he has cleared so far, he has always seemed to be the same little man, only with more moving parts. As he grows, he becomes more complexly himself.

I have come to a conclusion that I should have rejected out of hand (and not without foot stamping) when I was young: we become ourselves more quickly if we just let it happen. Being and becoming take care of themselves. What we need to attend to is doing. Oh, how I should have hated this advice! Like many Americans, I was certain that, “somewhere deep inside,” there lay a highly polished version of myself, imprisoned in the darkness, in chains as it were, and that my most important task was to discover it and “set it free.” To fail at this mission would be to live a second-rate life of grey disappointment. To which I now say: poppycock.

Correspondingly, I believed that defining yourself by your deeds was vulgar, betraying a slavish and dim-witted regard for merit badges. Here, at least, I was closer to sound thinking. It is vain indeed to expect a string of accomplishments to make sense of life — something that we should apprehend more readily if, like the French, we treated “achievement” more ambiguously, and infused it with a sense of absolute termination (death). To complete something is to lose it forever. It’s not the deed, but the doing.

When I say that I wish I were writing more for Portico, I don’t mean that I’d like to produce a higher number of pages per time period. What I’d like is to have a routine more conducive to the turning out of pages on all the things that interest me, one after the other. The transmutation of experience into language is pretty much what I’m all about, to the extent that I’m more than a generic human being, and I’d like to spend more time at it. It’s not that I lack the discipline to sit down and write. What I lack is the intellectual suppleness to think broadly and comprehensively after spending two or three hours every morning reviewing hundreds of Google Reader feeds for the Daily Office. I’ll get there. But getting there will be the beginning of a project, not the end of one.

Who cares about me, though. If a reliable angel were to assure me that I could bequeath everything that I have learned in the past couple of years to my grandson, in a form that would be useful and helpful to him, I’d take to my deathbed straightaway. Anything for the boy’s health and wisdom. 

Have A Look: Shattering

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010


¶ Stress-relieving vending machine. (via Marginal Revolution)

¶ Baraby Barford’s amazing and beautiful stop-motion animated short, Damaged Goods (Thanks to George Snyder)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010


¶ Matins: In “Waterloo,” David Frum assesses what the Republican Party really lost in Congress this week, and he sounds a lot like Frank Rich in the process.

¶ Lauds: We just wish they’d give it a name: “New York’s Museum of Modern Art said today it is adding the “@” symbol to its permanent art collection.” (Speakeasy)

¶ Prime: At Abnormal Returns, a note on “the proper time frame to judge the benefits of international diversification” — or of any investing strategy.

¶ Tierce: Sturgeon endangerment update: no joy. (Short Sharp Science)

¶ Sext: Charlie Brooker laments the heartbreak of newspaper abuse. (Guardian)

¶ Nones: Psychiatrist Barbara Schildkrout is not annoyed when her patients take cell calls; on the contrary, she’s attentive to the depths that these interruptions can reveal. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: A study in refraction: Martin Schneider, of Emdashes, writes up a talk given by James Wood on David Foster Wallace. (In our very neighborhood; we ought to have gone!) All the more interesting, in that Mr Wood took Mr Schneider’s post-talk question.

¶ Compline: Jerry Sime’s 1937 photograph, now retailed by Getty under the title “Toffs and Toughs,” shows five boys, two of them top-hatted Harrovians, standing outside Lord’s Cricket Ground; it has become the cliché of class division in England, then and now. Ian Jack deconstructs. (Intelligent Life; thanks to George Snyder)

Dear Diary: Reasonable Hope

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010


I love Tuesday. Tuesday is my favorite day of the week, and there is really nothing finer than a productive Tuesday. Monday is a hinge day, daunting no matter how I arrange it — there’s no getting around the need to look at Google Reader again, for one thing. Friday used to be transitional as well, but I shifted going to the movies to Monday so that I could do the Saturday housekeeping one day in advance. This leaves Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for writing. Since I have never had more than two good writing days a week, and because the norm is just one day, Wednesday and (even more) Thursday are either days off or days of desperation and disappointment.

I did not have a particularly productive Tuesday; certainly I wrote nothing for Portico (that’s what I mean by “writing”). I went to the movies — I saw Greenberg — because yesterday was gross, weather-wise, and because I was still broken-down exhausted from last week. Especially from the Great Pots and Pans Raid at Chateau Gizmo on Friday, followed by a Lenten Outing on Saturday with Eric Patton. (We went to the Morgan to look at the incredible illuminationed pages of Catherine of Cleves’s Book of Hours, something that became possible only a few years ago and that will resume impossibility (for at least fifty years) when the show closes at the beginning of May — so SEE IT!) Even though I took it easy on Sunday and Monday (yesterday), I found walking to be arduous in new and painful ways this morning. I would feel bad about being in such bad shape if I weren’t amazed at having actually lived this long.

But I did, for once, get to the Angelika before Quatorze.

I have no idea what I’m going to say about Greenberg. Right now, I can only say that I can’t imagine buying the DVD. And yet I probably will. Greta Gerwig is very interesting in the soubrette lead; I detected intimations of Kate Winslet. I’d have liked to see more of Chris Messina — I’m ready to see him in a leading role — but he did benefit from leaving the action early in the film, because almost everyone in the story proper exhaled a cloud of unpleasantness. Jennifer Jason Lee, the director’s wife and co-writer, looked lovelier than ever, rested and relaxed and not at all strung out. A nice change. Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans were super, of course (how could they not be?), but their characters were walking arguments for the overall hopelessness of testosterone. Do we really need so many undersocialized men? Weren’t they supposed to gravitate toward Australia? To Australia?

On my way home, I stopped in at Shakespeare & Co, the very prosperous, utterly un-Parisian branch at Hunter College, and bought three books. The new Michael Lewis, which I will swallow like a plump oyster now that I’ve been appetized by the Vanity Fair excerpt. Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide — I cite Jonah Lehrer at least once and usually twice a week in the Daily Office, so the Long Form Commitment is overdue. And the thin Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land. I mean, how can I not, given the man’s tribulations? Tony Judt is the very model of the man I would never forgive myself for not growing up to be. I knew this when we were both about fourteen.

But I have had the satisfaction of growing up to be the man whom I could reasonably hope to be.


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010


¶ Matins: A solid editorial at the Times takes the smart view of health-care reform and regards the new legislation for what it is: a beginning.

¶ Lauds: Steve Almond discusses his discovery of the “Music Critic Paradox.”

¶ Prime: If you want to sell your widget globally, James Surowiecki advises you to aim for either luxury or economy, and to steer clear of the the “Mushy Middle” (f/k/a “Big”), a market that may be shrinking even as its profitability dwindles. (The New Yorker)

¶ Tierce: Interesting findings at Johns Hopkins: the common anti-acne medication known as minocycline targets HIV-infected immune cells. (via Joe.My.God)

¶ Sext: Food for thought: Jonathan Harris hears from a friend at SXSW. (Wikipedia on SXSW)

¶ Nones: Last week, Rand Richards Cooper complained about poor RSVP etiquette (online, that is). This week, some responses. Most of them mention a resistance, on the part of an invitee, to commit to one event when (it is alleged) better offers may come along. Phui, say we. Margaret Moore, of Portland, Oregon, has it right: we’re not sure that we’ll be in the mood to go out at all when the date comes round. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: Randolyn Zinn interviews Jonathan Dee, author of The Privileges, a book that, ahem, the Editor ought to be writing up (he liked it quite a lot.)(3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Compline: Tom Bissell announces at the outset that he is writing under the gun, having spent the day glued to the subject of his essay, Grand Theft Auto. Not altogether coherent, the page is nevertheless dense with unexpected but lucid sense impressions. (There is also a good deal of ill-digested cocaine.) (Guardian)

Comment: Abominable Conceit

Monday, March 22nd, 2010


On Saturday, Eric Patton and I were talking about the advance of technology. Eric expressed a very reasonable concern: media are evolving faster than we are, much faster. We have no idea of the long-term consequences of such immediate access to so much information.

If I were truly clever, I’d have said to Eric, “Yes! We’re already so far evolved that we’re aware, in advance, that adverse long-term consequences are a possibility, if not a likelihood!” But I wasn’t; I just listened.

Doubtless it’s nothing but my abominably conceited determination to be different, but I still think that the technological advances that were in place by 1960 changed human life far more radically than any that have  been implemented since then. The Internet is really just a fancy improvement on the telephone and the television. The convenience is amazing, but the action-at-a-distance thing was settled long before Sir Tim Berners-Lee worked out the protocols for browsing. You could even argue that HTML represents no technological advance whatsoever, that it’s only a more comprehensive use of existing technology. For a long time, remember, the Internet ran on phone lines, and on phone lines only. 

And I’m not sure that a sharp increase in the convenience of communication constitutes a disturbance of deep-seated human expectations. It’s just that, all of a sudden, everyone is on call all the time. This can be exciting, and like most exciting things it can also be stressful and tedious if overdone. Our ability to sustain excitement has not evolved, at least in any physical, genetic sense. So it’s really no different from the cultural/metabolic problem that cocaine posed to stockbrokers in the 1980s. Dreadful, but, ultimately, a test of reflection and self-control.

Finally, I’m old enough to know — to know — that much of the ADHD whatnot was in place long before Bill Gates’s Quick and Dirty Operating System was contracted out to IBM. Young ‘uns will be amazed to hear it, but complaints about “long-form reading” were rife in the 1960s. I’m still shocked to recall the exaltation with which a particularly brilliant member of my graduating class from college (1970) announced that he would never read another book in his entire life — he was done with that. One might well ask if the Internet’s true midwife wasn’t Marshall McLuhan, the pen-wielding critic who published Understanding Media in 1964.

I don’t mean any of this as a reply to Eric. Every time someone takes a call in the middle of a conversation with me (or, worse, a meal), I’m dumbfounded by the want of judgment. Can anyone who would think of answering a telephone, on a what’s-this? basis,  in the middle of an interesting conversation, be regarded as truly thoughtful? I’d say not.

Eric certainly didn’t. Although a close friend was in ordeal mode, at long distance, for much of the afternoon, Eric confined his phone calls to moments of pause and transition. Not once did he allow his iPhone to interrupt his bill of particulars against the pervasiveness of gadgetry — or my pontificating responses.

Which didn’t surprise me at all. If I were truly clever, I’d have reminded Eric that he gave up Facebook for Lent. How grounded in our unevolved humanity is that?

Have A Look: Lundi à Paris

Monday, March 22nd, 2010


¶ Jules Vernacular (via  MetaFilter)

¶ Paris 26 Megapixels (via

¶ Inondations 1910 (via The Purest of Treats)

Monday Scramble: Stitches

Monday, March 22nd, 2010


Am I on the edge of a cold? I’m on the edge of something. Last week was, for me, incredibly busy, with something going on every day and several nights as well. By Saturday night, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to stay awake through the Orpheus concert at Carnegie Hall, so we just stayed home, without even trying to find someone to use the tickets. Collapse!

Collapse has begun to feel fairly familiar, but what’s interesting is that it doesn’t bother me much anymore. I do what I can, and I let the rest go. I’d like to write more, for Portico — but I’m confident that I will. Did I say “Will”? He’s the reason that collapse doesn’t get to me — as long as it falls nowhere near him.

It would be nice to stay at home, on this cold and wet spring afternoon, but I’ve got to have some stitches taken out. Not the most apt way of celebrating whatever it is that has happened in Washington, but, at this point, almost anything will do.

Weekend Update: Eleven

Sunday, March 21st, 2010


On Friday afternoon, I played a game with my grandson. It was a very simple game, but it was our first, and the memory of Will’s chuckling delight — he can’t quite laugh yet — is never far from front-and-center. 

With both hands, I gripped his chest and held him over my lap; we both pretended that he was standing on it. This is a favorite posture of Will’s, these days, but what may also have increased his pleasure was the fact that he was looking down on me, slightly. His eyes were eager and wide, and his mouth wavered between a crooked smile and an expectant “O.” What would happen next? What happened next was his grandfather’s angling him forward, feet in place, until our foreheads touched, whereupon I said “boom!” in a silly voice. Then I eased him back to the original position. After a few seconds, he gurgled his approval. The gentle noggin knocking was repeated about a dozen times. Inevitably for Will (who takes after his mother in this regard), hiccups ensued, but the game was grand while it lasted.

Will’s development is riveting, of course, but I’m learning that the development to watch is mine. For one thing, I’ve become the most frightful bore. On Friday night, I suggested that we’d better watch an episode of Inspector Morse, if only to spare Kathleen the fifth or sixth re-telling of the afternoon’s doings in Alphabet City. Kathleen is probably not going to leave me on account of my inability to talk about anything but my grandson for three days after I’ve seen him, but I don’t expect my friends to be so tolerant.

Another problem that I’ve got to work on is anthropomorphism. True, Will is already a human being. But when he laughs, I’m ready to buy him a ticket for the revival of Lend Me a Tenor! — I’m sure that he’d love that! No? He likes to play with my big black wristwatch so much that surely he ought to have one of his own. Eleven weeks, Doodad, I tell myself. Patience!

Eleven weeks — is that all? But as spring burst out over New York this week, beginning on St Patrick’s Day, the holidays and winter dark quickly came to seem unimaginably distant. So, although Will has only just arrived, he has also been with us forever.

At one of the playgrounds in Tomkins Square Park, which Megan took to visiting on Thursday, we sat by an open space between two play structures, and as the children whizzed by in one direction or the other, crossing directly in front of us, I felt that I was watching a performance choreographed by Paul Taylor: the idea of children playing was perfectly realized by these children playing. Will may be on the brink of telling time well enough to show up for a Broadway curtain, but even I can tell that it will be a while before he scurries up a slide or climbs out on a low-hanging branch. There’s plenty of time to build up the stamina to keep up with him.

For the time being, though, I’m feeling an entirely new kind of tired.