Archive for April, 2010

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, April 30th, 2010


¶ Matins: We really cannot speak of a “race to the bottom” in the vying of Party of No candidates for Iowa’s Third Congressional District. Each and every one of the candidates is already là-bas. The winner, in our view, is Mark Rees, not so much because he has any brilliant ideas about illegal immigration as because he knows that modern politicking is a kind of three-card monte. (; via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds:  Music written for Prince Charles by Sir William Walton, never before recorded, has just come to light, having been forgotten in the hoopla of Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales forty years ago. (Telegraph; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Meet Oliver Budde! A former associate general counsel at Lehman Brothers, Mr Budde was outraged when Lehman capsizer Richard Fuld claimed, in Congressional hearings, to have made $310 million over three years and to have lost it all. Having very unhappily prepared Lehman’s compensation disclosure documents over a number of years, Mr Budde knew better, and he decided to blow a few whistles (one wasn’t enough). His story appeared at Bloomberg News yesterday. (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: This will sound perfectly ridiculous at first, but apparently you really can teach yourself to see better. The effort won’t improve your eyes, but it will do wonders for your brain. (Wired Science)

¶ Sext: At Ivy Style, Christian interviews Lisa Birnbach, and if you have to ask who she is, save yourself the embarrassment and don’t; just stick around and find out for yourself.

¶ Nones: If the Liberal Democrats win the UK election next Thursday, then party leader Nicholas Clegg will be honour-bound to raise Gillian Duffy to the Lords. (The Daily Beast)

¶ Vespers: At Survival of the Book, Brian writes about a satire of the publishing biz, Steve Hely’s How I Became a Famous Novelist. (Clever young man writes bilge-worthy tripe that enjoys phenomenal sales.) He doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

¶ Compline: Make a point, over the weekend, of reading Janet Malcolm’s “Iphigenia in Forest Hills,” currently behind the paywall at The New Yorker. (We strongly recommend begging subscriber friends for a discarded copy of the May 3 issue.) Ms Malcolm clearly believes that the trial was a miscarriage of justice, but the thrust of her piece is to show how likely such miscarriages are, given our still quite sexist way of doing the justice business. “Iphigenia in Forest Hills” will almost certainly hold forever a high place in this writer’s remarkably clear-sighted reportage.

Dear Diary: Four

Thursday, April 29th, 2010


This morning, I was Eve Harrington in New Haven: “I couldn’t possibly.” But if my day did not call forth the performance of a lifetime, it was not the discreditable heap that I dreaded in the runup to my trip downtown.  

We will all be happier, it is generally agreed, when Will learns how to crawl. He so clearly wants to get about on his own! At the moment, he is making great strides at the core competence of holding his own bottle. (It is very hard not to laugh at his misdirections, which showcase the complexity of organizing two limbs and one mouth in a common project.) Crawling will make our Will a free agent. I’m sure that we won’t miss the time when he more or less had to stay wherever we planted him.  

Until last week, I’d have said, Will was incapable of doing anything deliberately. That has changed only to the extent that what Will now does deliberately he does not do very well. We are in no hurry for him to develop; we know that he will get where he’s going in good time. But Will himself is in a terrible hurry. His good nature is all that protects him from crossly flailing tantrums. Such is life, at four months, for a curious little fellow.

Four months — is that all? Admit it: you thought he’d be off to college by now.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, April 29th, 2010


¶ Matins: When you’ve read Amanda Bensen’s review of a new paperback about the orange juice biz, you may agree with us that the only acceptable alternative to squeezing your own is doing without. (Smithsonian; via MetaFilter)

¶ Lauds: Writing about the William Eggleston exhibition, “Democratic Camera,” which has reached Chicago, Ken Tanaka has three good tips for visitors. We’re particularly drawn to the second, which emphasizes the role of Mr Eggleston’s body of work on the appreciation of individual photographs. (The Online Photographer)

¶ Prime: In an entry at his New Yorker blog, John Cassidy explains why we saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming even though the bankers didn’t: we didn’t (and don’t) understand the first thing about risk models. (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Carl Zimmer reports on “deep homology,” the appearance of similar clusters of genes across widely different species that do the same sort of things. For example, one module enables yeast cells to fix cell walls, and human beings to create blood vessels. Mysteries remain! (NYT)

¶ Sext: Jimmy Chen explains the many different flavors of “editor,” at HTMLGIANT. (“It just seems like a bunch of people calling one another fancy names.”)(via The Rumpus)

¶ Nones: Tired of worrying about Greece? Consider Hungary, where an authoritarian administration is about to take office while the value of the forint plummets. Edward Hugh has seen this coming, but what’s the satisfaction of that?. (A Fistful of Euros)

¶ Vespers:  Vespers: In a short but poignant piece, Cindy Jane Cho, currently doing NGO work in Namibia, reads three books, two of them celebrated (The Catcher in the Rye and Middlemarch), one of them utterly unknown to us. The entry bears the unmistakable pong of yearning youth. (The Millions)

¶ Compline: As part of its valuable Backlist series, The Second Pass publishes Lila Garnett’s impressive review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s The Culture of Defeat: On Trauma, Mourning and Recovery, a book that is currently out of print. Never mind: Ms Garnett’s cogent paragraphs spell out an important message: defeat is bad for everyone, even winners. Is anything as toxic as the thirst for revenge?

New Yorker Story: "La Vita Nuova"

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Allegra Goodman’s “La Vita Nuova,” in the current issue of The New Yorker, is a palpably artful story, but not a very appealing one. At the beginning, an unnamed fiancé breaks up with Amanda, a girl from New York who has followed him to Cambridge. Her immediate response is to carry her wedding dress to the school where she teaches art, and to invite her first-graders to embellish it with paint and feathers. It is impossible not to imagine an operatic mad scene or two, involving deranged heroines and blood. Certainly the school’s principal is disturbed.

The principal told Amanda, that for an educator, bounderies were an issue. “Your personal life,” said the principal, “is not an appropriate art project for first grade. Your classroom,” said the principal, “is not an appropriate forum for your relationships. Let’s pack up the wedding dress.”

At the end of the school year, Amanda’s contract is not renewed. I couldn’t tell how the author wanted me to feel about this. But I knew that the fiancé had done a sane thing in walking away from Amanda.

The meat of the story describes the summer that Amanda spends with Nicholas, one of her first-graders and now her babysitting charge. Nicholas’s parents no longer live together, which makes it easier for Nicholas’s mother to express her dislike of Amanda, and for his father to express his desire to sleep with her. Amanda and Nicholas do neat things, like going to the zoo, and Amanda behaves very responsibly with the boy, but recurring references to things that the fiancé used to say suggest that Amanda is enjoying a protracted mad scene. She is as closed to us as any disturbed person. Instead of hearing her thoughts, we watch her paint several sets of nested Russian dolls.

As before, she coated each painted doll with clear gloss until the colors gleamed. As before, she made each doll a perfect jewel-like object, but she spent the most time on the biggest, oldest doll.

After that, she bought more blanks and painted more sets: people she knew, people she didn’t know. People she met. Portraits in series, five dolls each. She painted Patsy, blonder and blonder in each incarnation. She painted her fiancé as a boy, as an athlete, as a law student, as a paunchy bald guy, as a decrepit old man. She didn’t kill him, but she aged him.

She lined up the dolls and photographed them. She thought about fellowships. She imagined group shows, solo shows. Refusing interviews.

She took Nathaniel to swimming lessons. She went down to the harbor with him and they threw popcorn to seagulls that caught the kernels in midair.

The self-indulgence of Amanda’s obsessive painting is mirrored quite perfectly in the author’s self-indulgent stylishness. What else could possibly link the third and fourth paragraphs here?

At the end of the story, Amanda breaks up with Nicholas; she decides to go back to New York. Nicholas — an unusually likable child, especially for literary precincts of this temperature — is far more dramatically heartbroken by Amanda’s defection than Amanda was by the fiancé’s departure. His squirming pain is so real, in fact, that I wondered if it were not the very point of “La Vita Nuova” (I’m going to let the Dante angle, such as it is, slide): Amanda’s revenge.

Dear Diary: Concussion

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010


I was walkiing along First Avenue this afternoon, with Quatorze, when BAM! my head struck something. It was the transverse pole of some scaffolding that a group of turbaned South Asians were assembling — almost certainly in non-compliance with code. Angry as always when my head is struck, I forged on a few steps and BAM! it happened again. “Don’t you people have any brains?” I shouted at the silent men, who had done nothing to warn me as I blundered in their midst. Then I continued walking, but not without an upward glance to rule out further hazards.

For twenty minutes or so, my eyes felt a bit odd — just a bit, as if focusing them were a problem. But I don’t think that a trip to the hospital (quite close by, as it happened) would have been helpful.

It astonishes me that most people aren’t as tall as I am — something of an understatement. It seems grotesquely unfair that they’re not. I never think of being tall as an advantage, and I shouldn’t care to be any taller. If everyone stood to about seventy-five inches, that would be the end of many tight corners, and I’d find the world somewhat more accommodating. There’s something very handy about my height. Everybody ought to have it.

My mother, who was five-eight, used to exhort me to “go out and find a nice tall queen and make her happy.” My suppressed inward jeer at her ignorance of the popular meaning of “queen” masked, but was also prompted by, the irritation that anyone would feel by such erotic dictation. Of course my mother didn’t mean anything erotic. She was much too sentimental to give much thought to the particularity of love. She expected me to be content with a gallant’s role — that is what men were for. It took forever to outgrow the rather unnatural oafishness that I assumed in self-protection.

In the event, my abiding bond has been with a rather short woman, someone over a foot shorter than I am. She would certainly like to be as tall as I am; she has said so many times. But I’m afraid that if my dear Kathleen were as tall as I am, then I’d be expecting her to bring me tea and toast in the morning, instead of the other way round.  

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010


¶ Matins: The “culture” at Goldman Sachs gets the gimlet treatment from Choire Sicha and John Lanchester. Choire laughs at the “horn-blowers” whose self-reviews were aired in the Senate, while John compares the testifying executives to the hooligans who cheer for the Millwall FC. (“No one likes us/We don’t care!”)

¶ Lauds: Ann  Midgette continues her campaign to improve classical audiences by urging President Obama to set an example by not worrying about “when to clap.” She has some really good ideas about how to proceed, the excellence of which we’ll discuss some other time.

¶ Prime: Leave it to Luxury Bob to explain the libertarian nature of progressive income tax. (NYT)

¶ Tierce: Did we say “culture” in connection with Goldman? Jonah Lehrer writes about the enculturation problem: we see what we’re taught to see.

¶ Sext: Every now and then, somebody distills a drop of the true oddness of Manhattan Island in a New York Times story. “Too Fancy? Too Long? How to Name a Co-op,” by Christine Haughney, is merely the latest instance of Gothamdipity. We do wish that Ms Haughney had a clearer understanding of the rule that names are all very well for buildings on the West Side of Central Park.

¶ Nones: What’s going to happen to Greece? A short piece about geopolitical destiny to open your sinuses from A Fistful of Euros, followed by Felix Salmon’s discouraged report of poolside talk at an LA bond conference.

¶ Vespers: Brooks Peters looks into Patrick Hamilton as only Brooks Peters can. Proving my point, by the way, that only intelligent gay critics can be bothered to doubt the homosexuality of fellow-travelers. What if Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope were all about incest?

¶ Compline: “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Power Point.” Elisabeth Bumiller’s latest chapter in the story about the nonsense of wartime bureaucracy (and, in particularly, the preposterous unintelligibility of the flow-chart shown below) must bring joy to a self-published Yale man. (Identity disclosed upon request.)

Dear Diary: Blame it on the Bellboy

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010


You might say that this is a not very good picture of my grandson Will — because, you’d observe, he is always so much cuter than this. Even with the milk dribbling down.

Over and over and over again, however, the beautiful pictures of Will fail to be taken, because Will knows how to throw a banana into the lens.

Prophylactically, therefore, I propose to interpret Will’s many “off” photograths as the mug shots of serious bad guys: hypothecating accountants, defalcating lawyers, and so on. Here, for example, we have Junius Q Lawsby, just back from an amortization swindle at Atlantic City  — more amazed that you wanted to take his picture than he is shy about his wide-ranging peccadilloes.

Give the kid a cigar, somebody!

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010


¶ Matins: At the risk of playing with paradoxes, we submit that, buried in plain sight in the following extract from Jill Lepore’s Letter from Boston, “Tea and Sympathy,” there is an indictment of the largely liberal academic class — an indictment not from the right or from the left, but from the point of view of engaged humanism. (The New Yorker)

¶ Lauds: Toni Bentley has her hip replaced, and comes to terms with the arthritis that ended her City Ballet career when she was still a young woman. She also learns what you do with bones to keep them from going rancid. (NYRBlog)

¶ Prime: For some reason, the idea of self-financing the Securities and Exchange Commission — funding staff and operations with fines and fees would double its budget — has just moved Tyler Cowen to consider the idea. He sees some pros, but more cons. (Marginal Revolution) The Epicurean Dealmaker made the case for self-financing in March.

¶ Tierce: Fight or flight: a guy thing? Looks like it. Ingrid Wickelgren reports at Scientific American.

¶ Sext: In case you’ve been hoping that the story would just go away, David Carr wrote a thoughtful piece about it over the weekend: “Monetizing an iPhone Spectacle.” Quaere: is a news story a commodity? Perhaps it’s better to ask if a news story is actually involved in this case. (NYT)

¶ Nones: Todd Cowell and Joshua Kurlantzick agree that intercession by Thailand’s King Bhumibol would probably not quell the Red Shirts’ insurgency. Mr Cowell traces chilling similarities between Thailand today and Spain in 1936. Interestingly, it’s difficult to assess the one difference that he locates — is it a good thing or a bad thing?

¶ Vespers: What Jill Lepore calls presentism (above), Patrick Kurp calls temporal parochialism. (Anecdotal Evidence)

¶ Compline: There’s a first time for everything, and this one is sweet to read about: Emily Guerin takes her first train ride along the Northeast Corridor, from Boston’s South Station to Washington’s Union Station. It’s a strange kind of sightseeing, to be sure. (The Bygone Bureau)

Reading Note: Cheerful Money

Monday, April 26th, 2010


If I could only findAlexander Waugh’s Fathers and Sons, I’d shelve Tad Friend’s Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor alongside it. Both books are heady blends of  eccentric family history, upper-middle-class anxiety, and painfully conditional love. Here is Mr Friend’s grandmother, trying to play testamentary tug-of-war with her son.

“Don’t you want my money?” she finally asked, plaintively. Jess seemed to understand that expectations of inheritance ratchet impossibly high because Wasps tend to express love not as a flow of feeling but as a trickle of side tables — leading their children to look to recoup in dead money what they lost in live affection. As Muriel Rogers once told her son Dickie, “I give you money because I love you at that particular time.”

Also: TMI alerts. Alexander Waugh doesn’t talk about himself very much, but his family can’t have been altogether pleased to read some of his stories about his father and grandfather. As for Mr Friend, one’s happiness at his apparently blessed marriage to Amanda Hesser is taxed somewhat by a polite discomfort occasioned his zesty retailing of previous romances. If nothing else, there is the racket of smashing taboos. Nothing could be less WASPy than the author’s accounts of his interactions with Giovanna, Melanie and Christine. Is this progress, or recklessness?

Considering that Mr Friend’s family background must, by any standard measure, be called privileged, it treads water in an ocean of disappointment. Take John Herman Groesbeck Pierson, the author’s maternal grandfather, whose graduation from Yale, in 1927, occasioned a local news item,

“YALE RECORDS SHATTERED BY J H G PIERSON.” The article noted that he had one nine academic prizes, been president of Phi Beta Kappa, and composed the class poem, while also being a member of the cross-country, rifle, and soccer teams, of the student council, and of the Whiffenpoofs — “prizes and recognitions for almost every form of worthy activity that Yale men admire.” 

But how could a newspaper take cognizance of the award that wasn’t bestowed, by Yale’s too-famous-to-mention club? “My mother, and her mother before her, liked to say that Grandpa John’s later frustrations flowed from a single headwaters: his rejection by Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society that ‘tapped’ fifteen juniors each year.” Grandpa John, who lived into his nineties, was saddled with the albatross of having reached his apogee fully seventy years earlier. And yet his career was burnished with real achievement, at least when contrasted with that of the author’s paternal grandfather, a feckless stockbroker who depended on the kindness of moneyed wives.

One  thing that’s for certain: this engagingly written book’s title is brilliant. It refers, specifically, to an emotionally stunted reward system that Mr Friend’s parents devised for reinforcing good behavior in their three children. But it also captures the material paradox at the center of late-WASP life.

So the money Amanda and I have now is almost all money we have made. Still she suggests that my real issue with ambition and money is my residual belief that I don’t have to do anyting I don’t feel like doing in order to establish our family’s financial security, becauase there will eventually be some sort of inheritance to tide us along. This charge is one of the things we sometimes fight about, all the more bitterly because I worry that she might have a point.

Let’s hope that she doesn’t!

Monday Scramble: Bad Code

Monday, April 26th, 2010


Whether or not I caught a bad cold from Will, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t give it to him — he was congested long before I was. All this week, I woke with a scratchy throat and a cargo of coughables. This morning, it wasn’t so bad, but that’s only because the truly awful stage of the cold was about to hit. I’ve gone through boxes of tissue today. Boxes.

Under the circumstances, Tad Friend’s Cheerful Money was a very good companion. I wish that I could tell you why the book took my mind off the miserable state of my sinuses, but I seem to have sneezed away most of my brains, and I’ll be dimming what’s left with NyQuil in an hour or so. Tomorrow, I hope, I’ll be alert enough to write the two (two!) Book Review reviews that are now due, as well Tuesday’s Daily Office. If I don’t, you’ll know why.


Weekend Open Thread: Cold

Saturday, April 24th, 2010


Friday Movies: Paper Man

Friday, April 23rd, 2010


It’s a sign of my age that I can remember when madness and breakdown were widely thought to be dramatic and interesting. In those far more discreet times, when few people had any actual contact with deranged and disturbed persons, mental illness was indeed quite exotic, and we were free to dwell on the presumed spiciness of bizarre states of mind. Decades of de-institutionalization, SSRI prescriptions, and celebrity rehab have put an end to all that. There is no romance in madness and breakdown anymore. They are simply varieties of self-destructive behavior. They are also — in most cases, we believe — treatable. As a result, we are probably less patient with troubled minds than people have ever been.

Kieran and Michelle Mulroney, the writers and directors of Paper Man, are certainly aware of this trend. They have created a strong part for Lisa Kudrow that is founded on impatience. As Claire Dunn, Ms Kudrow banks this prevailing emotion skillfully enough to hold our sympathy, but it’s clear at the very start of the film that Claire, a top surgeon, has been down a very long and winding road with her husband, Richard. As the titles roll, the Dunns drive out the Long Island Expressway all the way to Montauk, where Richard plans to work on his second book in weekday seclusion. When Richard moves to kiss Claire goodbye, she pulls back with a wary question, to which Richard responds with what we know to be a lie. Claire’s life, however privileged, isn’t easy.

I can’t think of an actor who could have made the boy-man Richard less dislikable than Jeff Daniels. Mr Daniels’s outsized goofiness (brilliantly highlighted by Richard’s dependence on a nine year-old’s bicycle for transportation) deflects our judgment. Criticism is also pre-empted by Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), an “imaginary friend,” who reminds Richard of his tendency to make foolish choices. I won’t go so far as to say Ryan Reynolds makes Paper Man worth seeing all by himself, but those foolish choices would be pretty tiresome without Captain Excellent’s acerbic, slightly campy commentary. Despite having been Richard’s friend since the second grade, Captain Excellent is powerless to prevent Richard’s frequent inappropriatenesses. It’s a pity that he appears only when Richard is alone, because he might have saved the almost unwatchable scene in which Richard hosts a kegger for teenaged louts. Did I mention that Captain Excellent is dressed up like Superman, in primary-colored tights, with a cape? Mr Reynolds is to be commended for the ease and grace with which he inhabits this ridiculous costume.

Richard’s link to the teenagers is Abby (Emma Stone), a wounded, good-hearted beauty whose boyfriend is, in her own words, “chickenshit.” After an odd introductory encounter, Richard helplessly follows Abby through the back alleys of the village. If you think that his denying that this is what he’s doing is trouble, wait till you hear him hire Abby as a babysitter: a very inappropriate stab at appropriateness. When Abby accepts the engagement, we can only guess at the extent of the inevitable disaster, but, perhaps because she is wounded — she lost a twin sister in a dreadful pact when she was eight years old — Abby’s response to discovering that there is no baby to be sat for is to shrug and say that her job will be so much the easier. If Paper Man is evidence in support of the proposition that a terrific cast can save a movie from itself — and it is — Ms Stone’s performance is the sine qua non. She brings Abby’s confused teenager sharply and endearingly to life. (It helps that, never having seen her before, we forget that an actress is involved.) What might be cloyingly quirky comes across instead as painfully honest.

Just like the good people who are sure that they can save a loved one from some newly-discovered addiction, we used to believe (back in the Sixties) that gestures of wild imprudence could at least occasionally lead to happiness; but now we know that throwing your house open to underage drinkers can lead only to tears. (I was rather surprised that the local constabulary didn’t show up, but that particular development, as it turned out, would have ruined a big scene for Ms Kudrow.) Telling young women that they’re beautiful when you’re standing too close to them because you’re drunk is rarely redeemable. And scenes of writer’s block, repeated like flash cards — did I mention Richard’s determination to write his book on a portable electric typewriter? — are never funny anymore. The Mulroneys’ mistake, in writing Paper Man, lies in assuming that the audience will see the movie from Richard’s point of view. They save the film by making us wish that we could see it from Abby’s point of view. But the only thing that distinguishes our response from Claire’s point of view is that we get to see Captain Excellent.

Have A Look: Bon Weekend à tous!

Friday, April 23rd, 2010


¶ “My wife won’t let me!” goes the punch-line to the old music-hall song. Conan O’Brien politely declines an invitation to the prom. (Letters of Note)

¶ Michael Tyznik’s much-better dollars (The Best Part)

¶ Neat anamorphic illusion, employing 400 candles. (reddit)

¶ LOLCANO. (Let There Be Blogs)

¶ Life goes to Fairfield County – in the days of the Editor’s wee-dom. (A Continuous Lean)

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, April 23rd, 2010


¶ Matins: “Social scientists do counterinsurgency” — an important overview by Nicholas Lemann. Effective measures are very important, of course; and General Petraeus, among others, reminds us that thinking big is rarely effective. Beyond trying to decide how to respond to terrorism, however, there lies the problem of sovereign integrity: of the four Middle-East nations that are currently on the boil, the only one strong enough to suppress terrorism is Iran, perhaps our most mortal enemy.

¶ Lauds: A word on that fringe theatre in London that has sent two productions to Broadway — showing in theatres on opposite sides of West 48th Street. David Babani and the (Menier) Chocolate Factory. (LA Times; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Since it’s Friday, we’re only too happy to let Michael Lewis itemize, with his trademark clarity and coherence, three game-changing effects of the SEC’s Goldman Sachs case. His peroration will be widely cited:

Indeed, the social effects of the SEC’s action will almost certainly be greater than the narrow legal ones. Just as there was a time when people could smoke on airplanes, or drive drunk without guilt, there was a time when a Wall Street bond trader could work with a short seller to create a bond to fail, trick and bribe the ratings companies into blessing the bond, then sell the bond to a slow-witted German without having to worry if anyone would ever know, or care, what he’d just done.

The part that we especially like, though, is Mr Lewis’s clear-headed appraisal of the ACA problem, which amounts to recognizing that there is an ACA problem, sticking to Goldman’s coattails like a bad smell. (Bloomberg; via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Two economists at Emory, Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, have developed a thesis that social tolerance of homosexuality correlates to low rates of HIV infection. If this is true, then the social price of religious opposition to homosexuality increases sharply. (via Marginal Revolution)

¶ Sext: Two of our friends, Patricia Storms and George Snyder, have recently blogged about books in their lives. In Patricia’s case, this is a matter of creating an inviting library in her Bloor West Village home (and framing some nifty Penguin-cover postcards). George writes about the well-timed appearance in his life of Michael Holroyd’s biography of Lytton Strachey, which came out in 1967.

¶ Nones: How Toomas Ilves, the president of Estonia, grounded like everyone else, drove home from Istanbul. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: Ken Auletta’s essay about Amazon, the big six book publishers, and the “agency model” — occasioned by the arrival of the iPad — would seem to quell any fears that the giants of Siliconia are ever going to do (or do without) the work of conventional publishers. (The New Yorker)

¶ Compline: Garrison Keillor argues that, notwithstanding the claims of sociobiology, young men really ought to text less and talk more. We can only add that the locked-up demeanor of many intelligent young people makes us worry that we’re living at the wrong end of the Matrix. (IHT)

Dear Diary: Glow

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010


When I came back into the apartment this afternoon, after having put Megan and Will in a taxi bound for their house, the place seemed abandoned, bereft. I’m not sure why this hasn’t happened before, on any of the other days that Megan has worked-from-home-from-my-house, but I’m not complaining, because it was really pretty painful for a minute or two.

My hunch is that Will has ceased to be an amazing, inexplicable miracle, and become a terrific little boy, and my grandson for real. But that can’t be all that there is to it, because I missed Megan as well. I suspect that if I have ever missed Megan in the past, I have surpressed the feeling, because one ought to want one’s child to go out into the world. Megan has certainly gone out into the world. But now she has come home — to her home. Her home is not in this apartment, certainly. But she carries a glow from her home wherever she goes, and it was that warmth that I missed when she took Will back down to the Lower East Side, and I was suddenly all by myself.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010


¶ Matins: Sabrina Tavernise writes about the microcosm of Pakistani confusion that threatens the University of the Punjab. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Ann Midgette’s good time at a recent triple bill of Terrence McNally plays about opera ended, as good times so often do, with a hangover. (Washington Post; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: The Epicurean Dealmaker surfaces to pronounce rough justice on Goldman Sachs. As for the SEC lawsuit, “the criteria which ultimately determine the nature of Goldman’s alleged offense will be legalistic ones, akin to judging exactly how many mortgage CDO investors’ brains can be fitted onto the head of a pin.” But the firm’s reputation is toast.

¶ Tierce: Carl Zimmer brings us up to date on the zombification of cockroaches by Ampulex compressa. Come on, the zombification of cockroaches has to be a good thing, right? (Discover/The Loom; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Sext: “That was no critic; that was my wife!” Orlando Figes, a leading British academic specializing in Russian studies, announced that the author of some rather nasty online reviews of books by other specialists in Russian studies was none other than his wife, senior law lecturer (Cambridge) Stephanie Palmer. Professor Figes says that he “only just found out.” (Guardian; via Brainiac)

¶ Nones: Russia’s need to rent a Black Sea naval station from Ukraine is the result of bad imperialist map-making (the Soviet empire’s, in this case), but all is sweetness and light at the moment, because the new president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, is a good friend to Moscow. But wait — the Ukrainian opposition challenges his authority to make nice. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: John Self unearths yet another interesting-sounding novel that we had never heard of, Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar (1959). (Asylum)

¶ Compline: New novelist Deanna Fei writes a drolly bittersweet memoir about how she found her book when she stopped worrying about herself — while discovering that “Chinese American” is a lot more alien in China than it is in the United States. They knew that she wasn’t Chinese (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding), and they didn’t believe that she was American. (The Millions)

Out & About: Illuminations

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010


Even though I’ve got a bit of sore throat, and could really use a day at home (writing writing writing), I got myself to the Morgan shortly before eleven this morning for an outing with Quatorze and Lady D. (Lady D, although new to these pages, has been resident in New York City for nearly fifty years, a stylish British secretary right up to her retirement from an eminent foundation — and still stylish.) It was all my idea: we would look at the two world-class illuminated manuscripts that (a) happen to be domiciled in our fair city and (b) have been unstitched for one reason or another, making it possible to mount all the interesting pages at once.

Of course, no one but specialists knew about the more recent of these manuscripts, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, until the day before yesterday. The prayerbook, broken up into two books by an unscrupulous dealer in the 1850s, had only recently fallen completely into the Morgan’s possession. The sheer novelty of the book’s presence in New York harmonizes deliciously with the novelty of the book itself, which is not your father’s book of hours. Indeed, it seems designed to suit a post-modern agenda. Scurrilously humorous marginalia are a hallmark of medieval devotional manuscripts, but the trompe l’oeil jewelry (a rosary, a necklace, some gold coins) and the outsize naturalism (moths, shellfish, pretzels) completely up-end any idea that you might have of Fifteenth-Century miniatures, while the scenes in the margins often upstage the vignettes at the center of the page. The jokey quality of this book of hours is best characterized by the utterly immodest image of the donor/owner herself in the margin of a vignette featuring Mary and the infant Jesus. Mother and Child appear in timeless attire, but Catherine has the air of an ambitious hostess from Massapequa who has just tottered off the LIRR with only seconds to spare for her lipstick. It is not surprising to learn that Catherine spent the better part of her marriage waging war on her husband. Military war, that is, with battles and dead soldiers.

In other words, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves really does belong here in New York.

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, also belongs in New York, because it is best known for not being the Très Riches Heures of Jean d’&c, which belongs to the collection at Chantilly, outside Paris. Fantastic as the TRH is, I’m devoted to the Belles Heures, and have been ever since I first saw them, many long years ago (more than forty), at the Cloisters. I can say, I think, that this creation of the Limbourg brothers (natives of Nijmegen, it seems) is the first work of art that I loved on my own and just for itself. Of course, it is not just a work of art. It has a literary/liturgical quality that, as regular readers of this site will not have to be told, made a profound impression on my teen-aged mind; the “book of hours” is more than ever a construct with which I live in deep communion from day to day. I may not be a believer in the higher object of the book of hour’s devotions, but its varied regularity is sacred to me. And it is so taken for granted that I can see how beautiful the art of it all is.

The borders of the vignettes (illuminations) of the Belles Heures are relentlessly uniform, with only the smallest variations placed among the sprays of ivy that delicately frame quire after quire. The vignettes themselves, however, are magnificent final expressions of medieval narration, where space is temporal as well as physical. (See the illumination of Gethsemane, for example.) In contrast to the vignettes in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, which are earnest but rudimentary early-Renaissance scenes, the illumination of the Belles Heures is accented by Gothic arabesque. There are crowd scenes that might remind you of Giotto, until you remember that Giotto called a halt to that sort of medieval shimmying and swaying. The compositions of the Belles Heures are Giotto, if at all, before Giotto.

The parade of spot-on images exhausts any idea of comprehensiveness. The Office of the Blessed Virgin begins with the Visitation of St Elizabeth and ends with the Flight into Egypt. The Office of the Passion begins with the Agony in the Garden and ends with the soldiers asleep over an empty sarcophagus. Catherine of Alexandria is the subject of a virtual novella, and the stories of St Jerome, of Saints Paul and Anthony (with their red Red Sea), and of St Bruno and the Chartreuse all inspire mini-cycles of illumination. The suffrages — miscellaneous prayers to the saints — bring stirring dramatizations of the doings of Saints George, Nicholas, Ursula and Charlemagne (!), and of course St Michael the Archangel. Amidst all this colorful glitter, the somber grisaille of Passion’s Nones is almost lowering.

In between our museum visits, we had a jolly lunch at Demarchelier. Lady D told us about the appalling organist at her parish church, which is down in Turtle Bay. The woman is not so bad at the keyboard, but she can’t carry a tune to save her life. There came a moment when Lady D could stand now more, and she stopped her ears with her fingers. This was, unsurprisingly. noticed. After the service, the harpy asked Lady D if “she had a problem”! Indeed she did, our Lady D, and “since, after all, she did ask me, I told her what was wrong.” Whereupon the organist demanded Lady D’s name (she didn’t get it). Imagine such goings-on! At dinner, Lady D’s story was repletely corroborated by Kathleen, who, for reasons of her own, has sat through many services at the selfsame church. One thing’s for sure: neither Catherine of Cleves nor Jean de France would have put up with such incompetence. But that’s what the Church has come to, no? 


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010


¶ Matins: What it means to be Jewish — to Tony Judt, a decidedly non-observant non-supporter of Israel. (NYRB)

¶ Lauds: From the Arts Journal, two pleasant bits of news about painters and paintings. First, the view from Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod studio will be preserved, undefiled by a McMansion. Second, Picasso’s The Actor is back on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The canvas was accidentally torn in January, and conservator Lucy Belloli talked to the Times about her remedial work.

¶ Prime: Although very complicated, Felix Salmon’s comparison of the Goldman Sachs Abacus deal (which prompted the SEC to launch criminal proceedings) and the Magnetar Auriga deal is well worth trying to grasp. It is very likely that a new — or newly clear — understanding of market fraud is going to emerge from the Goldman Sachs case.

¶ Tierce: It turns out that the ban on flying through the residue of volcanic activity is blunt and quite unscientific. (NewScientist)

¶ Sext: The Awl celebrates its first birthday!

¶ Nones: Arguing that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg comes off as less posh than Conservative David Cameron, Sholto Byrnes makes disparaging remarks about Euro headquarters in Brussels (“deeply dull-sounding“). At A Fistful of Euros, Jamie Kenny rebuts. (“It was more fun that that.“)

¶ Vespers: Marion Maneker is quite unimpressed by the clout that independent booksellers claim to have brought to bear in advancing Paul Harding’s Tinkers to Pulitzer Prize-winning status. (Slate/Big Money; via The Millions)

¶ Compline: Listening to the radio in France, says Richard Goldstein, is a lot more interesting than it is here. To be sure, it wasn’t always. (NAJP ARTicles; via   Marginal Revolution)

Dear Diary: Little Boy

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010


Megan captured this beautiful souvenir of Ryan and Will at our house on Sunday. I was in the room at the time, but I was so busy talking about something or other that I didn’t register a memory of Megan’s snap. I am always talking, and will probably be boring folks stiff at my own funeral. “Close the lid already!” Happily, Will, like Kathleen, can sleep right through it.

I ask you: is there any sense memory that feels more sacred than the recollection of a child’s head upon your shoulder, brushing up now and then upon your ear? It’s no wonder that we’re tempted to think of them as angels (especially when they’re asleep): how else to account for their sudden appearance as utterly real and distinctive beings?

Kathleen and I were talking about the misery that an old friend has endured, upon discovering that her lover was unfaithful. The worst part of such betrayal is that you find yourself obliged to hold up every memory — especially the happy ones — to gimlet-eyed review. The past that you thought of as your own has been hijacked, discredited, evaporated.

The arrival of Will has had a complementary, but entirely positive effect. I simply can’t remember the reality of life without him. He’s not four months old, but he has entirely denatured the reality of my first sixty-one years. I believe that it is always that way with love.  


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010


¶ Matins: Even though she was flying from Tokyo to New York, Melissa Lafsky encountered fallout from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption “every stretch of the trip.” (The Infrastructurist)

¶ Lauds: Sean Shepherd’s entry at NewMusicBox does not persuade us that the young composer will have a second career as a man of letters, but we applaud his spirited defense of the Philharmonic program that will launch one of his works. Not to mention this vivid snapshot of Gotham’s lyric fertility. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Our official position, as brokers of information, is to counsel all readers to familiarize themselves with the facts (such as they are) of the SEC suit against Goldman Sachs. It is a prototype of kind of “business as usual” case that can lead to the redefinition and restructuring of rights and responsibilities in a market that has been looking at fumes where the mirror ought to be. Felix Salmon has posted mightily on the topic, but we’ll follow his lead to a sharp entry by Brad De Long on the materiality of John Paulson’s role in the CDO’s formation.

¶ Tierce: The Climate Desk launches at Wired Science with a heartening essay on global warming by Clive Thompson. What’s to hearten? The simple fact that reality-based businesses are going to put doubts about the phenomenon to an end, as they struggle to adapt.

¶ Sext: Manisha Verma takes the trouble to analyze what anyone with a brain must suspect: “Internet advertising” is as insubstantial as the emperor’s new clothes. (3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Nones: Now that you’ve finally bothered to find out where Bishkek is, and where Kyrgyzstan stands in relation to the other Central Asia stans (there will be a quiz!), Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar puts the background to the ten day-old coup into ready perspective. If only they could put this thing in a box and call it “The Great Game”! (Asia Times)

¶ Vespers: A portrait of the wily Andrew Wylie, the literary agent widely credited with sulphurously Satanic powers, despite his low-key demeanor.

¶ Compline: Dave Bry apologizes yet again, this time to a former French teacher. Alas, Mr McCormack is unlikely to be altogether appeased. We have highlighted the offending passage in black. (The Awl)

“D’ou venez vous…”

“Je suis Nicoise,” you said, with a quizzical expression. “Je suis originaire de Nice.”