Daily Office:
Thursday, 7 October 2010


¶ We would like to think that mention of the “fragility of Pakistan“ marks an advance of sorts in the awareness of American diplomatic and military officials that our alliance with the government of Pakistan may turn into a pillar of salt at any moment. (NYT)

“We have historically had astonishing sources of resilience in our relations with Pakistan,” said Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One should not too quickly assume we’re in a breakpoint. But having said that, the time we’re in right now, the intensity of anti-American feeling, the antipathy of militants, all of these things make new crises a little more complicated to get through than the old ones were.”

The overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has been pulling out all the stops — aggressively using the American troop buildup, greatly expanding Special Operations raids (as many as a dozen commando raids a night) and pressing the Central Intelligence Agency to ramp up Predator and Reaper drone operations in Pakistan.

He has also, through the not-so-veiled threat of cross-border ground operations, put pressure on the Pakistani Army to pursue militants in the tribal areas even as the army has continued to struggle with relief from the catastrophic floods this summer.

The fragility of Pakistan — and the tentativeness of the alliance — were underscored in a White House report to Congress this week, which sharply criticized the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and other insurgents and noted the ineffectiveness of its civilian government.


¶ We can’t think when we’ve been so keen on Chopin. Never, probably. And what we’re really into is listening to different performances. The music, qua sheet music, has become transparently familiar. Always fond of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s reading of the Nocturnes, for example, we’re surprised by how much more we like Artur Rubinstein’s way with the Ballades and the Scherzos. Now we’re going to look into some of the recommendations made by David Patrick Stearns, in a genial tour d’horizon of new Chopin recordings, at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

For all its meticulous craftsmanship, improvisational inspiration and matchless charm, Chopin’s music asks – but never demands – a degree of self-revelation not all performers are willing (or able) to give. His pieces are soliloquies, invariably written for solo piano, aside from a few concertos, a piano trio, and a cello sonata. Had Chopin a report card, it would read, “Does not play well – if at all – with others.”

Any interventionist collaboration goes badly, whether from jazz players, transcribers wanting to add heft, or just those desiring to spruce up the orchestrations of the concertos: It all comes out sounding cluttered, wrong and strangely exhibitionistic.

Unlike his near-contemporary Franz Liszt, Chopin has a distilled directness that circumvents romantic posturing or playing to the gallery. He was a performer, but in salons. A few years before his 1849 death, he returned to the public concert hall but reportedly could barely be heard. Is that any surprise for a performer/composer used to communicating with friends rather than strangers?


¶ The abstract metrics of macroeconomics (does that even makes sense?) tend to fly right over (and through) our heads, but we’re not so hopeless with tangible assets — in today’s case, commercial real estate, which, according to the party line, has bottomed out. Nonsense! cries Jim Quinn — and he backs up his claim that things are going to get worse with a lot of comprehensible charts and graphs. Yves Smith, hosting Mr Quinn’s piece, begins by pointing out that a square-footage-per-capita figure of 24 betokened excess capacity to her when she had occasion to study the market over twenty years ago. Now, according to Mr Quinn, that figure has jumped 46 — compared to 13 in Canada. Jim Quinn:

Retailers expanding into an oversaturated retail market in the midst of a Depression, when anyone without rose colored glasses can see that Americans must dramatically cut back, are committing a fatal mistake. The hubris of these CEOs will lead to the destruction of their companies and the loss of millions of jobs. They will receive their fat bonuses and stock options right up until the day they are shown the door.

All of the happy talk from the Wall Street Journal, CNBC and the other mainstream media about commercial real estate bottoming out is a load of bull. It seems these highly paid “financial journalists” are incapable of doing anything but parroting each other and looking in the rearview mirror. Sound analysis requires you to look at the facts, make reasonable assumptions about the future and report the likely outcome. Based on this criteria, there is absolutely no chance that commercial real estate has bottomed. There are years of pain, writeoffs and bankruptcies to go.


¶ In a presentation (delivered at the Frankfurt Book Fair) that’s sure to be linked to far and wide, James Bridle pitches Open Bookmark, a proposed medium for storing and sharing the aura of reading a book, which in his view replaces the concept of the copy. Don’t miss it! (booktwo.org; via The Morning News)

I believe that the copy is no longer important, that we can all get the book, the text itself, if we need it. What is valuable and what is core and what we can lend to our friends and pass onto our children is not copies of books but originals of our own experiences, associated with those singular works of art.

Which is where Open Bookmarks comes in.


¶ Sloane Crosley celebrates the Gotham-as-Gigantic-Hamlet myth as enthusiastically as anybody — she leaves her housekeys in her unlocked mailbox! — but she is finding that there are limits, beyond which “trusting” morphs into “thoughtless.” (NYT)

There’s a real tinge of the smug to this “the world is my safe deposit box” mentality. It’s a luxury to blithely trust that everything will work out in your favor regardless of precaution, a luxury commonly reserved for the very young or the very super-model-y.

Indeed, we’ve ventured so far out on the trust spectrum that it’s not simply a matter of assuming other people aren’t criminals, but assuming they’re an army of personal assistants. In the past year I have twice found someone’s phone in the back of a cab. The first time a woman asked me if I was still in the neighborhood and could drop it off at her apartment. The second time a man asked me if I could have a messenger bring it to him at his office the next morning because he was “super busy.”

I could do that, I told him. Alternatively, I could break the thing and sell the parts online after I texted every woman in his phone to inquire when they had last “been tested.”

What these new mutated strains of extreme faith have in common is a shortage of charm, the very thing we value the most. They lack humility in the face of the unknown, replaced with a hubris for which New York is infamous. Such a shame because, frankly, most of the time our ego is warranted. We have very best and the very most of a lot things. I just don’t want us to have the very most of the clueless and the gullible.


¶ Daniel Larison’s eloquent and sensible call for the dissolution of NATO. (The Week; via Real Clear World)

Nine years after September 11, it no longer makes sense (if it ever did) to be asking Canadian and British soldiers, among others, to risk their lives for what has always been an American war in Afghanistan. As much as we can appreciate and honor the support our NATO allies have provided, we shouldn’t drag them into conflicts that have never really been their concern. “Out-of-area” missions will just keep happening again and again as the alliance looks for new conflicts to enter to provide a rationale for its existence. European nations are clearly tired of it, and at present they can’t afford it, either. The need for fiscal retrenchment has been forcing European governments, even the new coalition government in Britain, to make deep cuts in their military budgets.

Making NATO into a political club of democracies in good standing is also no solution to the Alliance’s obsolescence. As we saw in the war in Georgia two years ago, proposed expansion of NATO has been more of a threat to European peace and security than dissolving it. Once again, this is something that most European governments understood at the time, and which Washington refused to see. Without the belief that Georgia was eligible for membership and would eventually be allowed to join, it is unlikely that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would have escalated a conflict over its separatist regions and plunged his country into war with Russia. That conflict was a good sign that the Alliance had outlived its usefulness. If it isn’t disbanded, it may start to become a menace to the very things it was supposed to keep safe.

America doesn’t need and shouldn’t want to perpetuate an outdated alliance. The creation of NATO was an imaginative solution designed to respond to the security conditions of the immediate aftermath of World War II, and it was an enormous success. But it is time for Americans to begin thinking anew about the world. A first step in doing that is letting go of an alliance neither America nor Europe needs.


¶ At 5 o’clock this morning, Mario Vargas Llosa got the call, right here in New York City. The Stockholm call. (NYT)

Mr. Vargas Llosa, 74, is one of the most celebrated writers of the Spanish-speaking world, frequently mentioned with his contemporary Gabriel García Márquez, who won the literature Nobel in 1982, the last South American to do so. He has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including “The Feast of the Goat” and “The War of the End of the World.”

In selecting Mr. Vargas Llosa, the Swedish Academy has once again made a choice that is infused with politics. Recent winners include Herta Muller, the Romanian-born German novelist, last year, Orhan Pamuk of Turkey in 2007 and Harold Pinter of Britain in 2005.

In 1990, Mr. Vargas Llosa ran for the presidency of Peru and has been an outspoken activist in his native country. The news that he had won the prize reached him at 5 a.m., when he was hard at work in his apartment in New York, preparing to set out on a walk in Central Park, he told a radio station in Peru. Initially, he thought it was a prank.

“It was a grand surprise,” he said. “It’s a good way to start a New York day.”

He is currently spending the semester in the United States, teaching Latin American studies at Princeton University.

The prize is the first for a writer in the Spanish language in two decades, after Mexico’s Octavio Paz won the Nobel in 1990, and focuses new attention on the Latin American writers who gained renown in the 1960s, like Julio Cortazar of Argentina and Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, who formed the region’s literary “boom generation.”

¶ Benedicte Page’s list of five MVL must-reads. (Guardian)


¶ Lucky Nige takes a walk in West Surrey and passes directly in front of a house that we’ve always admired.

Our walk ended with a building that leaves no room for doubt that Lutyens at least was an architect of true genius and outstanding originality. Tigbourne Court, an early masterpiece of his, is a house with a dramatic U-shaped entrance front, great curving single-storey wings sweeping out at either side, crowned with immensely tall paired chimneys. The main house has three gables over three extremely tall and elegant windows over a low plain Doric loggia. The overall effect is simply breathtaking, marred only by the fact that the house stands right on what is now the very busy Petworth road, loud with passing cars. Tigbourne looks best from the far side of the carriageway, but cross over for a close-up view and marvel at Lutyens’s use of vernacular materials and techniques – the Bargate stone used to imitate brickwork, the cheery galleting (chips of dark stone in the mortar), the courses of thin tiles set flat, often in herringbone pattern, that continue right around the house… But enough – you must go and see it for yourself. Or, if you’re driving down that wretched road, turn off, park up and stroll back, and admire this building so startlingly and joyously beautiful it almost silences the traffic. This is the Surrey style in exelcis.

(Thanks, Nige for mentioning the Petworth Road. We found the house right away at Google Maps.)

Have a Look 

¶ Executive Suite Primer. (Weakonomics)

¶ Natasha Vargas-Cooper and Sasha Frere-Jones are not impressed by The Social Network. We loved the movie, but we see their point, and, anyway, the exchange makes us LOL. (The Awl)

¶ The End of the Bacon Bubble? (WSJ; via The Morning News)

¶ The Mandelbox Trip. (via MetaFilter)