Daily Office:
Monday, 11 October 2010


¶ In Context, Amy Schalet writes about how differently adolescent sexuality (pretty much the same thing everywhere) is treated in the Netherlands. (via MetaFilter)

Karel and Rhonda illustrate a puzzle: the vast majority of American parents oppose a sleepover for high-school-aged teenagers, while Dutch teenagers who have steady boyfriends or girlfriends are typically allowed to spend the night with them in their rooms. This contrast is all the more striking when we consider the trends toward a liberalization of sexual behavior and attitudes that have taken place throughout Europe and the United States since the 1960s. In similar environments, both parents and kids are experiencing adolescent sex, gender,and relationships very differently. A sociological exploration of these contrasts reveals as much about the cultural differences between these two countries as it does about views on adolescent sexuality and child rearing.

Today, most adolescents in the U.S., like their peers across the industrialized world, engage in intercourse—either opposite or same-sex—before leaving their teens (usually around seventeen). Initiating sex and exploring romantic relationships, often with several successive partners before settling into longterm cohabitation or marriage, are now normative parts of adolescence and young adulthood in the developed world. But in the U.S., teenage sex has been fraught with cultural ambivalences, heated political struggles, and poor health outcomes, generating concern among the public, policy makers, scholars, and parents. American adolescent sexuality has been dramatized rather than normalized.

At least, we suppose, the christianists and other social conservatives are making sure that, if they do manage to send this country to hell in a handbasket, it will be a proper, gated hell.


¶ Will French studios save British fimmaking? Adam Dawltry, at the Guardian, thinks that they might. (via  Arts Journal) 

Historically, the UK and the French film industries have never been as close as they should have been. The British have always looked to Hollywood first while the French barricaded themselves behind the fortress of their language. In cinematic terms, the Channel is wider than the Atlantic, and harder to bridge.

The British mistrust the seriousness with which the French regard the septième art while envying the unshakeable political and financial support their film-makers enjoy. The French laugh at (not with) our floppy-haired comedies while envying our international success. And like Truffaut, who delivered his notorious snub in an interview with none other than Alfred Hitchcock, they love to provoke us with their sense of cinematic superiority – yet cherish our great directors better than we do ourselves.

But some on both sides have always dreamed of an entente cordiale that could unite the contrasting strengths of these two industries and mount a real European challenge to Hollywood.


¶ In an omnibus review of recent meltdown books, at Naked Capitalism, Satyajit Das has a lot of fun with the Money Honey’s contribution.

In “The Weekend that Changed Wall Street” CNBC “star” Maria Bartiromo aka “Money Honey” provides a “celebrity” take on the crisis. Some readers may be reminded of Groucho Marx’s famous comment: “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.”

There was a time, long past, when reporters merely reported on the facts and only occasionally passed opinions. Ms Bartiromo seems to have cast herself as a central and sometime the sole character in the drama. “Weekend” self consciously on each page focuses on the “I”.

The author seeks to share what happened “in a way that ordinary people can understand”. In order to do this, “Weekend” takes us into the author’s boudoir – “my world – behind the curtain of capitalism” (a hitherto unknown financial metaphor) to provide ” an intimate look at the personal stories of those involved…from the richest and most powerful to the average workers.” From the airbrushed “come hither” look on the dusk jacket to highly derivative and, at times, corny text, “Weekend” exceeds the sum of your worst fears. Certainly, as Faulkner noted about Hemingway, there will be no need for the reader to rush for a dictionary in perusing this offering.

There are problems of “time space” as the weekend seems to stretch out for a number of years, emerging through a wormhole into the European debt crisis (imaginatively entitled “A Greek Tragedy”) and the Goldman Sachs indictment over a CDO transaction. There are problems of judgement – Ken Lewis is “a quiet man who masked his masterful business sense…” (page 85) and Goldman Sachs’ “reputation was solid”. (page 183) There are problems of classification – Nassim Taleb’s “Black Swan” is apparently “a critical view of the deception inherent in financial instruments” (Page 177).

There is “in depth” analysis – “Greece was in over its head and didn’t show it.” (Page 179). There is poetry – “Each afternoon, when I alight from my car on Broad Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange, I pause for a moment to look up. I have been doing this for sixteen years; it’s an automatic response. There is majesty to the edifice, and its architectural grace is breathtaking.” (page 208) There is hope, although some readers by this stage may be in despair – “…we must restore fundamental principles. We must, once again, allow integrity to guide and protect us.” (Page 208)

The real insight provided by “Weekend” is unintended. The surreal power of the vapid medium of financial TV and its frequently shallow coverage of events is striking. The “names” that curry favour with the networks for coverage and airtime is astonishing. What they say is perhaps even more astonishing, as is the author’s readiness to share “off air” and presumably private remarks. The book also reveals some interesting things about modern publishing, especially its focus on celebrity rather than content, argument or writing skill.

If the future of democracy and capitalism requires a free, knowledgeable and fearless press then this book does not augur well.


¶ Everyone goes through a period, during adolescence if not later, of thinking that saying “thank you” is a meaningless social nicety. So it’s good to know that, quite aside from what your mother told you, expressing gratitude has objectively positive consequences. (PsyBlog)

The idea that saying thank you makes people more likely to help in the future is unsurprising, although the 100% increase is interesting, but what the researchers were interested in was why this happens.

Perhaps Eric’s gratitude made people feel better, or at least less bad? Or perhaps saying thanks boosted the helper’s self-esteem, which in turn motivated them to help again.

In fact the experimenters found that people weren’t providing more help because they felt better or it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.

This feeling of social worth helps people get over factors that stop us helping. We are often unsure our help is really wanted and we know that accepting help from others can feel like a failure. The act of saying thank you reassures the helper that their help is valued and motivates them to provide more.


¶ While it may be true that, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, it’s different if you’re known to be a woman, especially a young, pretty woman. Patrick Brown reflects on the problem — and it is a problem — by recounting the experience of a disturbing art installation. Do blondes have a life? (The Millions)

A few weeks ago, I went to an performance exhibition by my friend, the artist Charlie White. It was called Casting Call, and according to its website it was meant to further explore “White’s ongoing interest in the complexities of the American teen as cultural icon, image, and national idea.” For the exhibition, an art gallery was converted into two rooms, each separated from the other by a pane of glass.  On one side of the room was a casting call for teen girls exemplifying “the All American California girl” — blonde hair, tan skin, etc. — between the ages of 13 and 16. White and his crew interviewed the models, took a mug shot-style photograph of them, and then brought in the next girl. On the other side of the glass, an audience — mostly art students and hipsters — watched. Our friend Stephanie, White’s partner, pointed out that everyone on our side of the glass was brunette (except, it must be pointed out, Edan) while all of the models were, of course, blonde. White and his crew discussed each girl, both amongst themselves and with the girl, as well, but we could hear none of it. We were left to interpret the scene for ourselves. “Oh, look, they’re letting that girl look at the photo. They must really like her,” I said. “Yeah, either that or they could tell she was upset, and wanted to reassure her she did a good job.”

A seemingly never-ending stream of girls came through the door. What fascinated me most about the entire exhibition is how quickly we could objectify the girls. I don’t mean objectify them in the way that it’s commonly used — to turn them into sex objects — though there was certainly a tinge of the erotic about the event; by objectify, I mean to make them into something not quite human, and in turn, to talk about them as though they were things rather than people. “She’s too old.” “I like that one, in the leopard-print shorts. She’s my favorite.” “Look at how weird her hair is. Why does she look like that?” It was how we talk about people when they’re on television, but these people were merely a few feet away. The pane of glass, and the contrast between the brightly lit casting room and the dim audience space, was enough distance to effectively dehumanize these girls. There were other factors at work, such as the blonde California girl’s status as marketing conceit and sexual totem, but I think a big reason we all felt free to dissect and dismiss these girls is because they couldn’t really see us. We were, more or less, anonymous. It was especially unsettling to turn around after watching for a few minutes and see one of the girls who had been in the call standing just behind us. How long had she been there, the girl in the leopard print shorts? And how did she suddenly become so real?


¶ As it turns out, John Cutler’s unspeakable syphilis “experiments” in Guatemala, recently unearthed by historian Susan Reverby, were conducted during one of the rare good times in that country. (LRB blog)

So, for Guatemalans, the news that the US was complicit in crimes against humanity in their country is hardly surprising, though the fact that Cutler chose Guatemala precisely because it would permit experiments impossible in the US has made people angry. But above and beyond the revulsion at the details of the experiments, there is the hurt that will be caused by an investigation that in any way tarnishes the memory of Arévalo, one of the best loved men in Guatemala’s recent past. Already, right-wing voices are muttering darkly about the ‘excesses of Communism’.


¶ The Millions‘s editorial intern, Ujala Sehgal, has unearthed a What-Is-Literature essay by Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa that the New York Times published in 1984. Even in translation, its Latin impatience with physicial reality is palpable.

At the heart of all fictional work there burns a protest. Their authors created them since they were unable to live them, and their readers (and believers) encounter in these phantom creatures the faces and adventures needed to enhance their own lives. That is the truth expressed by the lies in fiction – the lies that we ourselves are, thelies that console us and make up for our longings and frustrations. How trustworthy then is the testimony of a novel on the very society that produced it? Were those men really that way? They were, in the sense that that was how they wanted to be, how they envisioned themselves loving, suffering and rejoicing. Those lies do not document their lives but rather their driving demons – the dreams that intoxicated them and made the lives they led more tolerable. An era is not populated merely by flesh and blood creatures, but also by the phantom creatures into which they are transformed in order to break the barriers that confine them.

THE lies in novels are not gratuitous – they fill in the insufficiencies of life. Thus, when life seems full and absolute, and men, out of an all-consuming faith, are resigned to their destinies, novels, perform no service at all. Religious cultures produce poetry and theater, not novels. Fiction is an art of societies in which faith is undergoing some sort of crisis, in which it’s necessary to believe in something, in which the unitarian, trusting and absolute vision has been supplanted by a shattered one and an uncertainty about the world we inhabit and the afterworld.


¶ Even though she intended to donate the proceeds of her recital in Detroit to the local orchestra’s pension fund, concert violinist Sarah Chang was hounded by union musicians into canceling the event, ostensibly in recognition of the Detroit Symphony’s labor dispute. The wrongheadedness of the campaign to prevent the making of fine music in a distressed city sharpens our sense that labor unions, while not necessarily bad in themselves, have got stuck in legacy issues. The fact that there was for many years an excellent symphony orchestra in Detroit does not mean that there ought to be one now.

The DSO players walked off the job after management implemented the terms of a new contract, including base pay cuts for veteran players from $104,650 to $70,200, rising to $73,800 in three years. The players had offered a cut to $82,000 in the first year, rising to $96,600 in year three. The parties are also at odds over work rules and other issues.

“The musicians of the DSO and professional musicians around the country are very grateful to Sarah Chang for her powerful gesture in refusing to play the replacement concert. … I feel very sorry if she or her manager received any communication which could be perceived as threatening,” said DSO spokesperson Haden McKay, a cellist.

Parsons said that the cancellation of Chang’s recital meant that the public was also victimized by what she called “reprehensible” and “unethical tactics.”

“We were just doing what we’re meant to do, which is present musical experiences at the highest level for our public, and if we can’t present orchestra concerts we have to present other things.”

Star soloists typically steer clear of labor disputes. Chang’s decision to perform as a good will gesture for Detroit music lovers was a tightrope walk from the start. “There’s little hope of not offending either side in a labor dispute when engaging in exclusive artist activity with one side or the other during a strike,” said Chicago-based arts consultant Drew McManus.

Have a Look

¶ Dalton Ghetti’s pencils. (Good)

¶ Photos from the Sixties. The Eighteen Sixties. (The Age of Uncertainty)