Archive for the ‘Have A Look’ Category

Daily Office:
Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Matins ¶ Abby Goodnough’s story reminds us that, for the first time in a very long time, there will be no Kennedys in national office. Patrick Kennedy, six-term representative from Rhode Island who declined to seek re-election this year, is packing up for his farmhouse in Portsmouth. One aspect of the Kennedy legacy is stronger than ever: Americans are quite used now to political dynasties. Movie-star dynasties, as well. Indeed, it may be that we’re reverting to the very traditional idea that children follow in their parents’ footsteps because they grow up in them. (NYT)

Lauds ¶ Sebastian Smee weighs in at the Globe about the Hide/Seek/Wojnarowicz controversy — which is, of course, a controversy only the nation’s smaller minds. The idea that art that some viewers find “offensive” must be denied exhibition to all viewers is itself offensive. Underlying the conservative criticism of Hide/Seek is a fear of liberal depravity, which is the counterweight to liberals’ fear of conservative bigotry. The notion that Americans who reject Christianity — or, more particularly, its worldly representatives — are depraved must be staunchly “refudiated.” (via Arts Journal)

Prime ¶ What caught our attention about the “firestorm of controversy” raging in Bedford, New Hampshire wasn’t so much the appropriateness of placing Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent Nickel and Dimed on a high-school personal-finance curriculum, but the charge, made by complaining parents, the the book contains a “negative depiction of capitalism.”

Really? How so? Capitalism is a system of legally-protected property rights that, notoriously or not, allows investors to make money from the labor of others. As we recall, Ehrenreich nowhere challenges the legitimacy of this system. Rather, she complains about the failure of many businesses, large and small, to provide workers with a living wage. Those businesses may all be as capitalist as you please, but the problem of wages has nothing to do with capitalism — unless you believe that investors own the right to make money from the underpaid (that is, unpaid) labor of others, which is simply another way of saying “slavery.” (Union-Leader; via MetaFilter)

Tierce ¶ The inclusion of the iPad among The Onion‘s list of 2010′s most notable people is a silly joke that’s not so silly. The editors of The Morning News extracted this sentence to cover their link to The Onion: “We replaced the human being you naturally expected in a list of the year’s most prominent newsmakers with an inanimate object.” Anyone who didn’t spend the year in a cave could predict what that inanimate object would turn out to be.

In 1985, when he bought an IBM Peanut, the Editor did not feel that he was anywhere near the leaders of the personal computing pack, and as he becomes more interested in what computers can do, he is less interested in how they work. But he feels that the iPad makes an apt 25th-anniversary celebration of his digital life. We agree: the iPad is the first computer to feel at all personal. So, even though there are millions of iPads out there, the Editor’s feels like the only one.

Sext ¶ Who’d a thunk it? Hitler’s opus, Mein Kampf, topped an Amazon list of legal-thriller ebooks. Briefly. People have actually been paying either $1.58 or $1.60 to own this classic rant. They can’t be reading it, though. Mein Kampf is unimaginably dull. In a test of his First-Amendment rights, the Editor checked Mein Kampf out of the Bronxville School library in the eighth grade, but he gave up when he ran into the word “juxtaposed,” which he did not know. Mrs Cochrane, his savvy home-room teacher, defined the word for him in a way that let him know that she saw this Mein Kampf thing as just another one of his ridiculous stunts. The book was returned to the library long, long before it was due. (Crave; via The Awl)

Nones ¶ At Today’s Zaman, Kerim Balci writes about the Ottoman Commonwealth of Nations. Well, no, such a commonwealth does not exist, except as a dream — which is wha,t Mr Balci argues, it ought to remain. His cogent arguments against the attempt to “restore” the Ottoman Empire in any form are cogent and instructive, making a connection between then and now that is realistic rather than romantic. Interestingly, the European Union currently provides a painful example of what can go wrong with bright ideas.

Vespers ¶ John Self reads They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and discovers that, yes, there are no horses in Horace McCoy’s grim pulp, which Simone de Beauvoir called the first “existentialist” American novel. The exhausting marathon dance at the end of the line — a pier on the Pacific — is both pure and pungent, an implicit excoriation of broad American failure that never so much as whispers a scolding. A classic on this side of the Atlantic as well, Horses can be found in the first volume of the Library of America’s Crime Novels collection. See the movie if you’re inclined, but do not regard it as a substitute for the experience of reading the book. (Asylum)

Compline ¶ At Smithsonian, historian John Ferling lays out seven “Myths of the American Revolution.” He means the term “myth” properly: myths grow up around some truths and occlude others; that’s what’s “wrong” about them. Briefly, Mr Ferling clarifies the following popularly held understandings: the British began the war impulsive, without knowing what they were in for; American support for the war was unanimous; the American army was bedraggled, and its militia useless; Saratoga was the turning point; Washington was a military genius; and the British could not have won the war. All correct, to a point — except the one about Washington, who was all but incompetent. The omission of France’s indispensable role suggests that it’s not a myth, but we think that it would have been nice to mention. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

Have a Look

Ah Xian. (The Best Part)

¶ Behold Benedict XVI leering at shirtless acrobats. (Joe.My.God)

Noted

Boring 2010 a success! (James Ward: I Like Boring Things)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Matins ¶ While we’re greatly cheered to read Fernanda Santos’s front-page Times story, “A Kitchen-For-Rent Is a Lifeline for the Laid-Off,” in which we’re introduced to a handful of cooks and caterers who are making the most of a professional kitchen in Queens that formerly served as a continuing-education facility for a labor-union constituency. But one or two mysteries stand between us and perfect happiness. What is the name of the kitchen, or of the not-for-profit organization that operates it? And is this organization self-supporting, or will it continue to rely upon grants and subsidies? Who actually owns the plant, which is currently rented to the not-for-profit for $1 per year? There is nothing in the story to make us doubt that it’s presenting a very worthy cause, but whether or not it depends on the kindness of strangers is a very important detail.

Lauds ¶ At The House Next Door, John Lingan frames Godard’s Breathless, one of the most influential films of all time (because it’s also one of the most intriguing), alongside the witless 1983 remake — which we’ve never seen. We’re tempted to, now, though, just to feel Mr Lingan’s perspicacity more keenly.

Prime ¶ Nothing clears up mental fog better than the dismantlement of a sloppy and tendentious financial story, preferably in the Journal, by Felix Salman. “The WSJ mistrusts companies which pay down debt” is a golden example. He shows that Sharon Terlep is still drinking boom-time Kool-Aid, intoxicated by “the leverage-is-good meme [that] simply refuses to die.” Felix carefully unpacks the article’s double-talk about General Motors debt, and raises a serious question about an alleged company statement.

Tierce ¶ The fascination of Chuck Dimock’s “I Was A Male Chatbot” is a little bit perverted: in place of the ironic levity that might so easily have been inspired by his pretending to be an approachable, unthreatening female on a retail sales Web site, we get an orthodox analysis in terms of gender theory and artificial intelligence. The piece is quite lucid, but it seems vaguely Turingesque itself, as if written by a computer with an underdeveloped sense of humor. Which just figures, if you think about it: social theorists, longing for the patina of scientific rigor, are probably going to wind up sounding less than human. (As It Ought To Be; via The Rumpus)

¶ So we’ve added Tom Scocca’s “conversation” with Eliza about today’s “machine-mediated” communications. What’s so funny?

Sext ¶ We watch The Family Stone every year at Christmas; one of its powerful themes is the terrible but harmonisable dissonance between Christmas and cancer. Tracy Clark-Flory’s “All I Want For Christmas Is Nothing” sounds a carol in the same dark but warm key. In seven beautifully-crafted paragraphs, Clark-Flory brings her parents — a mother weakened by the final stages of lung cancer, a father, overcoming his aversion to Christmas, determined to make his wife comfortable — vividly alive. (Salon; via The Morning News)

Nones ¶ At the Globe, columnist James Carroll refrains from stating what every sentence in his piece points to: the possibility that Ireland entered the Twenty-First Century with an optimism so out of character that calamity was inevitable. Connecting the lending bubble to the religious abuse scandals seems particularly astute: both disasters show it to be harder than expected to get beyond the blacker parts of Irish history. We hope that a genuine Irish Republic will emerge from all the ruin. (via Real Clear World)

Vespers ¶ We share Laura Miller’s belief that readers of popular fiction know what they like, and that literary fiction doesn’t have what they’re after. Ms Miller is responding to novelist Edward Docx’s claim that there would be less Larsson and Brown, and more Franzen and Amis, dust jackets on view in the Underground if only riders could be made aware of the latters’ richly interesting prose. But richly interesting prose is just what most readers can’t abide. The Editor has never forgotten an important critical insight that was imparted by his sister: “And the best thing is that you can skim over a lot of it.” (Salon; via The Rumpus)

Compline ¶ Roxane Gay has the gift of being passionate and level-headed at the same time. Writing about her life in academia, she claims that she “wouldn’t give it up for anything,” but she begs to disabuse readers of any fantasies that they may have about its cushiness. She manages to convince us of her personal satisfaction while at the same time making it clear that her job, or assemblage of jobs, is an underpaid rat-race. We’re left more convinced than ever that higher education in the humanities needs not only a complete re-think but also a detachment from research institutions. (HTMLGiant)

Have a Look

Beethoven snips at YouTube. (MetaFilter)

¶ “Map of Facebook Friends Connections Lights Up the World.” (Discoblog)

Noted

¶ The head of Henri IV (1589-1610; decapitated 1793) can be re-interred at St Denis as genuine. (Cosmos; via The Morning News)

The Lawrence/Julie & Julia Project. ” You don’t have the enzymes to honor family either!” (via MetaFilter)

Daily Office:
Monday, 13 December 2010

Monday, December 13th, 2010

{The next edition of the Daily Office will appear on Wednesday.}

Matins ¶ Having called for just such an initiative, we’re following the Young Entrepreneur Council with interest. This band of self-employed men and women between the ages (at the moment) of 17 and 33 is not waiting for corporate America to provide comfortable berths — especially now that even the most satisfying corporate jobs are hardly more secure than the ones they create for themselves. Their maxim — “Never Get a Real Job” — ought to be taken seriously; it’s what Noël Coward (a workaholic if ever there was one) had in mind when he said, “Work is so much more fun than fun.” (NYT)

We have a business idea for the Young Entrepreneurs: develop an inexpensive kit for renovating the typical suburban home by converting the garage into office space, complete with (monastic) sleeping quarters. Not only will this dignify heading back home after college and making the most of parental support, but it will probably shame genuine loafers into finding their own place.

Lauds ¶ The Times sent its leading arts critic, Michael Kimmelman, to attend opening night at La Scala, and the evening provided a handy pretext for glancing at arts and heritage budget-cutting by the Berlusconi government (the prime minister, notoriously, has no use for such folderol). Although Italians don’t go to the opera the way they used to do, and seem to take their unmatched cultural patrimony for granted, opening night at La Scala is still a very big deal, and everyone shows up for it (except Mr Berlusconi). But it’s jarring to think that the season began with Die Walküre. According to Mr Kimmelman, the performance was excellent, at least from a musical standpoint, and it’s nice to know that La Scala can deliver a first-class production of Wagner. But surely one of Verdi’s masterpieces would have been more opportune. Otello might have been used, perhaps, to show the tragedy of a heroic people seduced by a wily nihilist into mistreating its prize resources (Pompeii).  

Prime ¶ Splashed across the front page of Sunday’s Times was Louise Story’s story about a cabal of Wall Streeters that controls trading in derivative commodity contracts. It is all very lie-down making, what with universal derivative fatigue in the wake of the late subprime mortgage — credit default swap — anything-involving-tranches calamity. So instead of plowing through the newspaper report itself, you can read the glosses, of which we highlight two: Chris Lehmann’s indignant pitchforkery at The Awl, which hails Ms Story’s determination, and Felix Salmon’s relatively becalmed wish for more rigorous substantiation of charges against the bankers.

Tierce ¶ A big story toward the end of last week was the study showing that you can cut down on your calories by imagining consuming them, as long as you do so carefully, one calorie at a time. As usual, Ed Yong gives the clearest account of the findings. We only wish that we had a better imagination. We cannot really conceive of the crisp cruch of a salty potato chip unless there happens to be a real one between our teeth. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Sext ¶ “After three or so hours of sleep, it was time to get up. It was like waking up to take an early flight, or for surgery, or for execution — all things I dislike.” Our friend Eric hauls himself off to New Jersey for an extreme obstacle course “race.” Read all about it; you’ll learn what “marathon” is in Greek. “The course flew by, just like my youth. Saudade stirred in my stomach, hüzün hit my heart, and melancholia (μελαγχολία) muddled my mind. I had never been around guys like this much in my life, and this seemed a pity. They seemed like the salt of the earth (מלח הארץ), although I’m sure that many of them must have been jerks. Still, I felt some envy and regret.” (Sore Afraid)

Nones ¶ Nursultan Nazarbayev, now 70, wants to leverage his not inconsiderable influence as president-for-life of Kazakhstan to spur his nation’s research scientists to defeating old age, and possibly death itself. “That’s what people are studying these days,” he recently announced. “Those who do are the most successful states in the world – those who don’t will get left on the sidelines.” We imagine a wizened little old man ruling from his coffin, like Titurel in Parsifal. (Discoblog)

Vespers ¶ When Frances Wilson’s review of Elizabeth Abbott’s book about mistresses (subtitled A History of the Other Woman) bumps up against the influence that myth and literature have had upon the careers of actual kept women, the air gets unbreathably powdery. For one thing, who’s on the record here? Angie Dickinson, it seems — with a dig at JFK. (It was Prince Charles’s great-great grandfather, by the way, who was his wife’s great-grandmother’s lover.) For another: since today’s powerful man can marry whomever he pleases, why should he support a mistress? This is clearly the sort of book that Victorians were determined to keep out of the hands of young girls — but the fallen life does not sound very appealing. (Guardian; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ We were riveted, speaking of cheating, by Wendy Plump’s view from both sides of marital infidelity. Betraying is apparently no more agreeable than betrayal. (NYT)

Compline ¶ Dominique Browning writes about breaking the Stuff Cycle. This is an entry that middle-aged readers will find handy right now, but young folks can learn a tip or two as well. When you’re young, and life is more a matter of possibility than of probability, it’s good to try out different things. Whatever different things you try out, however, the accumulation of Stuff is inevitable. (There are very few possibilities that don’t involve some kind of equipment.) Don’t imagine for a moment that you can anticipate the difficulty of getting rid of stuff when you’re middle-aged, and have become attached to everything that you own (even if you don’t like it). You wouldn’t know what to get rid of. Nobody under the age of fifty-five does.

Have a Look

Seven red states with fewer inhabitants in toto than my home town. (Scocca)

Noted

Keeping Siegfried Sassoon alive. (Ivebeenreadinglately)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 9 December 2010

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Matins ¶ “How America Will Collapse (By 2025)” — a theme with four nightmarish variations by Alfred McCoy, at Salon. Best read as a wake-up call, the piece takes one thing for granted: that Americans will remain apathetic and inattentive toward global matters and continue to cling to the security blanket of “American exceptionalism.” We have more hope in today’s young people than that, so we renew our call: don’t wait for the older guys to figure things out, because that’s not going to happen. (via MetaFilter)

Lauds ¶ At the Globe and Mail, Russell Smith weighs in on the Object of Beauty interview, but not idly. Mr Smith does not concern himself with what went wrong at the 92nd Street Y. Rather, he suggests that the fiasco lays bare the unworkable premise of such events, which we long ago found unbearably dissatisfying. The artist shows up to present his work, but the audience shows up to get acquainted with the artist. Neither objective makes any sense. All the artist can do is point at something that, if it has been well done, exhausts the artist’s thoughts and feelings &c upon the subject. Read the book. As for the audience, it is clearly hoping for a magical encounter with a shaman, and the created work of art is nothing more than excitingly explosive piffle. How’d he do that? Mr Smith: “Is there any point, really, in trying to promote a book by talking about the book? Or should we just talk about our childhoods?” (via Arts Journal)

Prime ¶ Confronted by a gobbledygook message from Citibank, Felix Salmon decides to take up the offer to call Customer Service with questions. After a round of predictable Kafkosity, he finally connects with an intelligent human being who (a) explains the announcement in simple terms and (b) acknowledges that it took Customer Service itself “quite a long time” to find out what the announcement meant. Why are businesses so anti-communicative? Too many lawyers? CYA? Plenty of both, no doubt. Felix chalks it up to “information asymmetry.” We blame the smiley-face pseudo-polite large-corporation style. It’s the opposite of the zombie look, but it’s just as null.

Tierce ¶ Social psychologist Simone Schnall talks about her work on the close association between cleanliness and morality, between uplift and generosity. Underlying these associations is the stark fact that what we call “thinking” has very little to do with any of it. Indeed, this “thinking” thing looks more like one of those activities that exists only notionally, as an abstract plan that we’re happy to urge other people to follow but that we’re unconscious of never using ourselves. You might say that thinking is for other people. According to Ms Schnall, we’re all much too busy sniffing out disgust. (Edge; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Sext ¶ One of our warmest childhood memories is of sitting through hours and hours of Kabuki (without translations) at City Center. (No wonder we’re so sophisticated!) That’s why this is what we’d like to see: we’d like to see a Kabuki adaptation of the bar fight between a motorcyclist gang member and Ebizo Ichikawa XI, currently the tradition’s “most famous exponent” but also something of a party animal. We bet we’d be able to follow the action this time! The only tricky part would be the doctors’ scene: “Perhaps of more concern to the actor is the suggestion by some medical experts that an injury to his left eye could impair his ability to execute the nirami, a protective, cross-eyed glare that has become his family’s trademark.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Nones ¶ We can’t resist dipping into Today’s Zaman for more post-WikiDump analysis, not least because the diplomatic cables present a world of sanity that the pundits want no part of. Aaron Stein, a freelancer living in Istanbul, writes that the image of Prime Minister Erdoğan reflected in the leaks is that of a pragmatist, not an ideologue. Turkey’s advances toward Iran, for example, may be motivated by nothing more complicated than securing a second source of natural gas (after Russia). Mr Stein concludes that Turkish foreign policy is “rooted in Western political theories.” Perhaps the Kemalist work is done, and it is no longer necessary for Turks to be ashamed of being Turks.

Vespers ¶ Chuck Klosterman’s GQ interview with Jonathan Franzen reminds us of the time that Dick Cavett tried to coax Louis Auchincloss into telling tales about Jackie O, but got nowhere. At every turn, no matter how genially he replies, Mr Franzen seems to be underscoring the pointlessness of trying to connect a writer’s personality to his work. When he observes that he has been working at being America’s serious novelist for thirty years, his candor surrounds him with a moat of difference — for after all, who among the (sane) readers of the interview can claim such an ambition, much less thirty years’ pursuit of it? And he proves to be as savvy about his public image as the brightest movie star. At one point, the novelist agrees to answer an “astute” question, but only off the record. ” During the three minutes my recorder is off, he provides one of the most straightforward, irrefutable, and downright depressing answers I’ve ever experienced in an interview. His posture relaxes. His language simplifies. Nothing is unclear.” Jonathan Franzen knows the difference between talking to Chuck Klosterman and talking through him, and he will not do the latter in an unguarded manner. (via The Millions)

Compline ¶ Mr Cringely whispers darkly about the Edifice Complex: “It’s not clear exactly what kind of corporate hubris makes this happen, but almost every dramatic corporate HQ in the Bay Area that was originally owned, not rented, tends to have been built by a company that no longer exists.” We don’t get his choice of illo, though.

Have a Look

Fourteen Actors Acting. (NYT)

¶ MIT’s Proverbial Wallets. (Short Sharp Science)

Jonathan “Saran” Foer. (HTMLGiant)

Noted

Brenda Starr, Reporter: 1940-2010. (Chicago Tribune; via The Awl)

¶ “Why the Terrorists Can Never Win.” (Federalist Paupers; via Marginal Revolution)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Matins ¶ The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s suit against Dick Cheney is probably not going to cause the former vice president to lose any sleep. That KBR executives bribed Nigerian officials is not in dispute, and the Commission does not appear to be looking for money. Mr Cheney’s responsibility is purely constructive: he was the head of KBR’s parent, Halliburton, at the time of the crimes. It is highly unlikely that such charges could be made in an American court, at least under current law. Nigeria’s ranking as one of the most corrupt nations on earth would seem to invite a countercharge of hypocrisy, but its corruption is of course fed by improper payments from foreign corporations. The gesture is noteworthy, but we don’t expect it to amount to more than a gesture. (Christian Science Monitor; via The Morning News)

Lauds ¶ One easy target for the incoming Republican congressional majority looks to be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB has weathered Republican majorities before, but not like this one — a cohort almost entirely devoid of moderates. At The Wrap, Brent Lang also points to recent NPR gaffes, such as the firing of Juan Williams because of allegedly anti-Arab remarks made on Fox, and the defection of West-Coast public television station KCET. All in all, we think that it’s time for an overhaul of the 1970′s-era interface between elite broadcasting and government funding. Quite aside from big changes in American politics, we have entered the Internet Age. (via Arts Journal)

Prime ¶ Continuing its trend of confirming what attentive observers already suspected, the Wikileaks dump shows that Chinese leaders at a very high level are aware that the books are being cooked, especially at the provincial level. Chinese leaders are also continuing the much older trend of putting a happy face on things for as long as possible — until the country blows up in the next dynastic struggle. China today reminds us of the time when boilers were reliably dangerous. (Naked Capitalism)

Tierce ¶ Razib Khan’s response to the “replication woes” issue that we mentioned yesterday: Calm down. ” The answer is probably going to come down to a combination of the reality of randomness (regression to the mean falls into this category), individual bias, and the cultural incentives of the system of scientific production.” What he means by the last item is that the pursuit of fresh and exciting results can be intoxicating. (Gene Expression)

Sext Amy Larocca profiles Tyler Brûlé in the current issue of New York. Mr Brûlé’s magazine, Monocle, is so handsome to hold that we have to buy it a couple of times every year, but we could never justify subscribing, because the points of intersection between our world and Monocle‘s are vanishingly few. We do not travel, and, when we do, we prefer stodgy hotels to trendy ones; we don’t expect Monocle to tell us where to get a great BLT on the Upper East Side. But there is definitely something madly Henry Luce about Mr Brûlé, even if his cloth us cut to a much finer grain. Monocle depicts an alternate universe, but it’s a genuine, visitable universe for all that. (Thanks, Eric!)

Nones ¶ We’ve given up being surprised by the sites that Real Clear World links to, but we’d still like to know more about Today’s Zanam, an English-language site covering turcophone affairs. (“zanam” is Turkish for “time” or “epoch”) We say “turcophone” because of “today’s” story, by Amanda Paul: “Azerbaijan is nobody’s little brother.” Meaning: not Turkey’s. The piece is occasioned, as what isn’t these days, by the Wikileaks dump; Azerbaijani president and dynast Ilham Aliyev “harshly” criticized the Erdogan Administration in Turkey— and has since denied everything. The issue seems to be that Turkey is warming to Armenia, Azerbaijan’s mortal enemy. (Armenia straddles the mountains that divide the “one nation, two states.”)

Vespers ¶ Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Lecture, “In Praise of Reading and Fiction,” been published online at Nobelprize.org. Corny as it is to say so, we can feel the Spanish ardor through Edith Grossman’s translation. Corny, too, to note, not without pleasure, that the old self-improvement justification for Victorian fiction has kept up with the times: now, fiction offers self-transcendence. Which is pretty much the same thing, no?

Sorcery, when literature offers us the hope of having what we do not have, being what we are not, acceding to that impossible existence where like pagan gods we feel mortal and eternal at the same time, that introduces into our spirits non-conformity and rebellion, which are behind all the heroic deeds that have contributed to the reduction of violence in human relationships. Reducing violence, not ending it. Because ours will always be, fortunately, an unfinished story. That is why we have to continue dreaming, reading, and writing, the most effective way we have found to alleviate our mortal condition, to defeat the corrosion of time, and to transform the impossible into possibility.

Compline ¶ Ryan Boudinot’s keynote address to a writing program in Washington State is nothing less than Step One of nurturing a purposeful environmental consciousness. “If we can agree that technology exists within the realm of human invention and that humanity exists within natural law, and that therefore technology is natural; if we can dispose of the naturally artificial distinction between “natural” and “artificial,” then we can argue that whatever happens to the planet bears no moral value outside that which is relative to our health as a species.”

Have a Look

We’ll take the stairs! (Scouting New York)

Noted

¶ Popcorn spills. (This is a test.) (Discoblog)

Daily Office:
Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

MatinsScott Horton talks to C Bradley Thompson about the new book that he has co-authored, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea, and — wow! “War–perpetual war–is the ultimate means by which the neocons can fight creeping nihilism and promote sacrifice and nationalistic patriotism.” Shout it from the housetops! Given the lack of sacrifice evident during the neocon-accented Bush Administrations, we can only suppose that there just wasn’t enough war. “In the end,” Thompson remarks, “this is what neoconservatism is all about and it’s why we’ve written its obituary in the hopes of killing it. (Harper‘s)

Lauds ¶ What we want to know is, how do you stuff 175 Picassos into a suitcase? (Even a suitcase as big as the Editor’s, which always gets a HEAVY tag from baggage handlers.) There are lots of other mysteries surrounding the trove that an electrician and his wife, Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec, showed to Claude Picasso in September, and you’ll get an idea of just how murky this mess is from Kim Willsher’s breathless account in the Guardian or from Kate Deimling’s less atmospheric account at ArtInfo. From the latter, which is based on a radio interview, we learn that M Le Guennec stored the Picassos in the garage and never looked at them, because “I wasn’t at all aware of their value.” Douteux!

Prime ¶ We were thrilled to read that Don Blankenship was retiring from Massey Energy, even though we didn’t know the story by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone that may well have prompted the unexpected move. Mr Blankenship’s wickedness was branded on our minds in the wake of last April’s Upper Big Branch mine explosion, which killed 29 men. Goodell calls him “the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the business and politics of energy in America today,” and we think that that’s putting it mildly. Like Felix Salmon, we hope that the story doesn’t end the way the coal baron wants it to:

I don’t care what people think,” he once said during a talk to a gathering of Republican Party leaders in West Virginia. “At the end of the day, Don Blankenship is going to die with more money than he needs.”

Next up? Rolling Stone ought to get Chris Lehmann to expand his investigation of Stewart and Lynda Resnick.

Tierce ¶ We are not thrilled to learn that Jonah Lehrer has retreated behind the paywall at The New Yorker. His article on the replication woes of modern science, “The Truth Wears Off,” is hugely important, not least because it will probably be openly misinterpreted by creationists and other Doubting Thomases as “proof” that research scientists fudge their findings. The problem that Lehrer labels “the slipperiness of empiricism” must now be examined from every angle. Our own suspicion is that we’ve reached a frontier of research that can be crossed only with new tools — language tools especially. Over two hundred years ago, Lavoisier made a science out of alchemy by codifying chemistry’s nouns and adjectives. It may be time to tackle the verbs.

Regarding the paywall, though: if you can afford only one magazine subscription, you ought to make it The New Yorker.

Sext ¶ It has been a while (we think) since Dave Bry entertained us with one of his Public Apologies, and from the latest in the series, we can sort of guess why: he has, astonishingly, run out of things to feel sorry for. In the current offering, he apologizes to his black date for squeezing her hand a bit tightly at a Gravediggaz event (we really cannot bring ourselves to call such things “concerts”). Dave was one of only two white attendees, and when the band rolled out a guillotine… “’Fear’ is a strong word. I never felt directly threatened.” But. (The Awl)

Nones ¶ At Foreign Policy, Charles Kenny re-examines “the resource curse,” which holds that nations with abundant natural resources are prone to poverty and civil war. We’re not sure that we ever subscribed to this idea, which is not quite the same as holding that extractive economies are prone to poverty and civil war. Even Mr Kenny admits that ” countries don’t get rich if all they do is produce crops and dig stuff out of the ground.” (via Real Clear World)

Vespers ¶ Kyle Minor makes explicit a distinction that we have often sensed but never thought through. We must confess that the word “experimental,” when used in connection with the creative imagination, conjures up “the experiment that rises from something like a creative chaos, and which finds whatever form it finds out of a chaotic process and in a state that is often enough mimetic of that chaos.” What Kyle has come to prefer is the fiercely economic and literally conservative experiment embodied in a novel such as Pale Fire, which he has just re-read. The wild and un-pin-downable effect of the whole thing is paradoxically achieved by a structure of utmost elegance and simplicity, and the overall project is not made of wildness, but rather of utmost control.” In the end, we suppose that we’re guilty of applying the “experimental” label to works that don’t come off. An experiment that succeeds has a way of effacing its own chanciness. (HTMLGiant)

Compline ¶ Revenge of the cattle barons: there’s a new kind of “MBA”: Masters of Beef Advocacy. Its mission: to save the planet from Michael Pollan. In his story at Mother Jones, Wes Enzinna captures the program’s irony: “The next generation of farmers realizes that the days of oil-fueled, corn-fed, resource-intensive agriculture are numbered.” Let’s hope that they can come up with something better than blackmailing universities into denying Mr Pollan a podium.

Have a Look

Green getaway. (Dwell; via The Best Part)

Noted

¶ An online snippet of Jonathan Franzen at the Paris Review.

The diet of worms cure. (Discoblog)

Daily Office:
Monday, 6 December 2010

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Matins ¶ Until just the other day, what frightened us most about zombies was their immense popularity: The Walking Dead quickly claimed an audience more than twice the size of Mad Men‘s. Had, we worried, the social fabric frayed so badly that Americans have come to regard their neighbors and co-workers as living dead? Then along came Chuck Klosterman in last Friday’s Times. He briskly swept away the nonsense of our grandiose theorizing. “In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche.” Aha! We get it, now. (But we’re still not going to watch. We don’t get 400 work emails a day.)

Lauds ¶ The fiasco of what we have heard was billed as “An Interactive Conversation with Steve Martin” has become New York’s querelle du jour: you must have an opinion regardless of how little you actually know. At Emdashes, Martin Schneider sticks to his guns. Mr Schneider was there, and he insists that interviewer Deborah Solomon made a hash of things by discussing the details of a book that no one in the audience could have had time to read. Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction was expressed digitally — by remote viewers — long before anyone in the hall expressed unhappiness. In the end, however, we think the management’s intervention was inappropriate. The price of a ticket does not include a guarantee that a good time will be had by all.

Prime ¶ Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World was already in our shopping basket before Tyler Cowen hailed it: “I am convinced by the major thesis.” We already were; now all we have to do is read the book. Tyler links to a provocative interview at the National Review, where the author enjoins, “We need a humanomics, not more freakonomics.”

Tierce ¶ Here’s a really bad idea — right out of Idiocracy! Let’s let voters decide which science projects ought to be funded! Democracy in the laboratory! Peerless peer review! That’s what Nebraska omedhaun Adrian Smith is proposing. ” Help us identify grants that are wasteful or that you don’t think are a good use of taxpayer dollars.” The silver lining may be that the request generates a list of projects that ought to be retitled. That’s precisely where a good science writer such as Chris Mooney comes in. Professional elites have a lot to learn about communicating the importance of their work to non-specialists.

Sext ¶ In his Times column this weekend, “She Who Must Not Be Named,” Charles Blow made a very important vow, and right-thinking Internauts ought to do likewise, and let a certain former vice-presidential candidate go nameless. There is no need to feed a fire by trying to extinguish it. “The never-ending attempts to tear her down only build her up. She’s like the ominous blob in the horror films: the more you shoot at it, the bigger and stronger it becomes.”

Nones ¶ What does Julian Assange want? At 3 Quarks Daily, Robert Baird comments on Aaron Bady’s analysis, which is a bit on the complicated side but worth working through all the same. Transparency and muckraking are not the ultimate objectives; destabilizing the “conspiracies of power” is. This is naiveté of an elderly vintage, and nothing demostrates the emptiness of Mr Assange’s theoretical constructs more forcibly than the contents of last week’s mammoth diplomatic dump. Again and again, the cables reveal that official thinking, while more complex and detailed, is more or less in accord with public understanding of official objectives. The idea that power is exercised by secret cabals is laughingly nostalgic: today’s power is quite cynically flexed right out in the open. The American foreign policy problem appears, indeed, to be that everyone else practices conspiratorial duplicity.

Vespers ¶ In the course of doing his day job, Ivebeenreadinglately‘s Levi Stahl came across an old Paris Review interview from 1978 in which Anthony Powell speaks sublime truths on the subjects of children and marriage. “Well, there again it’s frightfully complicated, but clearly people don’t tell you what their life with their wife is like if they’re at all satisfactorily married.” (Not until the Times began encouraging women to write “Modern Love” columns, anyway.)

Compline ¶ Ross Douthat’s reconfigured anatomy of the “culture wars” seems sound to us. Committed Christians have been making great gains in educational status, and now challenge liberals more from within the academy than from without. Meanwhile, these Christians and liberals are in accord about the seriousness of sex and the importance of marriage. On the other side — and apparently outside the arena of cultural conflict — lie that 58% of Americans without a college degree, whose family arrangements increasingly disregard the order of married life and feature high rates of divorced and unwed parenthood. (NYT)

Have a Look

Cameras at auction in Vienna. (The Online Photographer)

¶ Jim Kazanjian’s Fun Houses. (The Best Part)

Noted

College Radio Rag. (NYT)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 2 December 2010

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Matins Maureen Freely discusses her rich life as a translator of Orhan Pamuk. She doesn’t note, for some reason, that she grew up in Istanbul and makes her home there, but she does remark on the very unusual, not to say unnatural, role that has been projected upon her by Turkish chauvinists who resent the critical cast of their Nobelist novelist’s mind. “Many Turks who feel ambivalent about Pamuk like to attribute his international success and most especially his Nobel prize to his translators, who have, they claim, ‘improved his words for western consumption’.” What kind of bed do you have to get up out of in the morning in order to think such nonsense? (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Lauds ¶ Maybe you had to be there, the other night at the 92nd Street Y. According to Felicia Lee’s story in the Times, Steve Martin and interviewer Deborah Solomon had an onstage conversation about the art world. That’s what Mr Martin’s new novel, An Object of Beauty, is about. According to Martin Schneider at Emdashes, however, Ms Solomon “alienate[d] the audience” with a clunky book report. Either way, the audience was palpably discontented, and a stagehand was sent out with a note to the intterviewer: “Ask him about his career.” We have only one thing to say about this kind of audience passivism: it is not a good idea, because the artistic reaction against such philistinism will inevitably impose classical-music-concert restraints, leaving the audience no choice but to sit still and applaud at appoointed times. No matter how bad the performance.

Prime ¶ At The Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson explores the concept of “too big to bail.” Noting that any Eurozone member can veto the easy-out proposition that another member is “merely illiquid,” he goes on to ask how deep are the pockets that Europe can dig into for rescue efforts. How rich, for example, is the IMF? “[B]ottom line: the IMF has no more than $1 trillion, but in terms of usable cash, the experts start to look pale as you discuss committing more than $500bn.”

Tierce ¶ Recent studies of the hormone oxytocin, written up by Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science, point to an intuitively more correct understanding of just what it is that this chemical does in the brain. Long thought to cause powerful feelings of bonding, oxytocin has now been shown to be more of an intensifier that strengthens existing predispositions — such as resentment for the lack of maternal bonding. By now, you’d think, the claim that any single agent in brain chemistry always triggers something as complex as an emotional state of mind would be laughed out of court, but the hunger for Wonderland cookies that have an immediate and invariable effect is obstinately persistent.

Sext ¶ Don’t miss Jessica Roake’s insight into the “Hide/Seek” brouhaha at the National Gallery. Takeaway pearl: “Which means that all of the works on display at Hide/Seek have been shown before; it’s the context that’s new, and it’s the context that makes people so uncomfortable. The curators built the show because they were tired of seeing, as Katz said, ‘Museum after museum where they don’t mention the partners, the autobiography, the question of gender and sexuality. It’s hiding in plain sight, yet no one has put it together’.” (The Awl)

Nones ¶ One of the most arresting peculiarities of the political development of the United States is its proliferation of competing and overlapping jurisdictions (read: power bases), which makes getting anything done almost as impossible as it was in the European Middle Ages. It is commonly thought that Europe’s patchwork of provinces was stitched together slowly during the Dark Ages, but the sclerotic complication of American governance took place in the clear light of day. Now that our partisan climate is reminiscent of the feuds of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, our political redundancies work to paralyse, not support, civic affairs. As Robert McCartney’s piece about the DC Metro so maddeningly shows. (Washington Post; via Marginal Revolution)

Vespers ¶ Levi Stahl, whose blog, Ivebeenreadinglately, we encountered thanks to Terry Teachout, appraises Virginia Woolf’s gifts as a critic, which we have always regarded as first-rate. Woolf wrote for readers, not for people who wanted to be in the know without actually bothering with books. You may not agree with her judgments, but that is not the point; the point is that they are never ill-considered or foolish. (We especially agree with her remark about Dickens, quoted in the entry; we don’t think that Dickens had the faintest idea what he was doing. The wonder is that there are readers who do.)

Compline ¶ Hard times in Mitchell, SD: “In today’s world, an arena with corn on it is less interesting by the year.” When that’s what the local newspaper has to say about the Corn Palace, melancholy thoughts ensue. Some time ago, we proposed that the city fathers establish a Museum of High School Yearbooks across the street. We freely offer this brilliant idea. We have never recovered from our own visit to the Corn Palace, in 1963. CE. (LA Times; via Arts Journal)

Have a Look

Probe Field (BLDGBLOG)

Noted

¶ Nige appreciates Osbert Lancaster.

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Matins ¶ “Keep your identity small” — Paul Graham’s excellent maxim. Don’t identify yourself as anything — Catholic, American, sports-crazed — unless it’s absolutely necessary (and it rarely will be). “The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.” Our bet is that most self-labeling is inspired by other people’s thumbnail questions. So the corollary to Graham’s law would be: resist the temptation to describe yourself. Nothing particularly newsworthy here; we followed a link from Tyler Cowen to Ben Casnocha.

Lauds ¶ Blake Gopnik rightly blasts the National Gallery for yielding to the Catholic League and “various conservatives,” in shuttering a video by artist and AIDS victim David Wojnarowicz, allegedly because of an ant-covered crucifix but, hey, let’s not kids ourselves, because the work is rawly homoerotic. We were a little shocked ourselves by a Wojnarowicz show at the New Museum in their old Soho location, but, as Mr Gopnik points out, there is no “common standard of decency” in this country — not at the moment, anyway — and nobody’s distaste is grounds for censorship. Écrazey l’infâme. (Washington Post; via Arts Journal)

Prime ¶ “Books After Amazon,” Onnesha Roychoudhuri’s report on the dark side of the online behemoth’s business dealings — with publishers — may make you wonder if the good people at Amazon have the sense to know when to stop pricing books underwater. Ever inclined to be sanguine, we expect that small publishers will be forced by Amazon’s coercive discounting and co-op practices to rethink their business from the ground up, perhaps setting up a book distribution network of their own (after all, their scale is vastly smaller than Wal-Mart’s or Amazon’s). They’ll think of something. It’s a matter of distinguishing the true books from the cans of soup. (Boston Review; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Tierce ¶ “In silico” — we like the sound of that. It makes digital goings-on sound less “virtual,” even if only by a hair, so far as our actual comprehension is concerned. Have you heard of the Avidians? According to Brandon Keim, they’re “digital organisms” that mutate in distributed computer networks according to parameters that simulate what we know of organic evolution. And, what do you know: the Avidians have evolved the ability to flash synchronously, like fireflies, more or less (not the ones we remember). (Wired Science)

Sext ¶ We know that it’s shameless, but we’re going to direct your attention to The Bygone Bureau‘s list of Best Blogs without having checked out any of their recommendations. You know, you could help out around here if you wanted to. You could send us your own report. Anything that you recommend, we promise to read. So, get on it.

Nones ¶ The recently-ended civil war in Sri Lanka appears to have produced one good thing: a bumper crop of accountants. Another side-effect of the war, equally helpful to the island nation’s bid to sop of lots of outsourced bookkeeping, is that nobody is very well paid there. As William Gibson said, the future is here, but it’s unequally distributed.

Vespers The Daily Beast reprints Colum McCann’s preface to Aleksandar Hemon’s collection of the Best European Fiction 2011, which begins with a very strange statement: “The writer’s proper destiny is to know where he or she comes from, confront his conscience, draw the border line, then step beyond it.” Did he just make that blarney up? When he later suggests that Europe is now, in a literary sense, more American than America itself, the nonsense of it would be cleared up if he simply said that Europe is a great big New York City. He ought to know that, living here as he does. (via The Morning News)

Compline The Crimson calls for “randomizing admission” to Harvard by lottery. The model is the medical residency program that has been in place for some time. Having identified the 80-to-90% of Harvard applicants who are qualified to be Harvard students, the university ought to stand back from the process instead of helping privileged kids — the ones with the greatest access to resume-building programs — who don’t need it. (via Felix Salmon)

Have a Look

Mamie and Scaasi. WHO. KNEW. ?. (Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist)

Noted

¶ “Was TGI Friday’s America’s First Singles Bar?” A pressing question! We go to the Baker Street Pub (the bar that’s there now) so often that they just bring us the black-and-tan without our having to ask. That’s about all we pick up, though. (Brainiac)

Daily Office:
Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Matins ¶ Kathleen Seelye’s excellent story about controversial celebrations of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War — there’s going to be a “fun” Secession Ball in Charleston — serves as a semi-official reminder that the aftermath of the War of Northern Aggression remains problematic at best. The concept of celebrating “soldiers’ right to defend their homes” without reference to the casus belli that made such defense necessary — secession from the Union, occasioned by the (likely) preclusion of slavery in the nation’s new territories — will strike Yankees as odd, if not positively hypocritical; but it would be well for northeastern liberals to spend the anniversary mulling over not the old enemy’s “bigotry” but the their own condescension toward the South, which, as you might expect if you bothered to think about it, has made many old Confederates feel bound to a republic that does not really welcome them. Ms Seelye refers to the conflict as the Civil War throughout her article. (NYT)

Lauds ¶ We haven’t seen either of the movies that Dan Callahan pitchforks in his “rich girl cinema” piece at The House Next Door, but we’re certainly going to see Sophia Coppola’s Somewhere, and Mr Callahan has sold us, however inadvertently, on Lina Dunham’s Tiny Furniture. We’re amused by Mr Callahan’s blithe assumption that rich people are not interesting (we take the opposite view), and we’re touched that, at the start of Ms Dunham’s movie, the critic “found it difficult to focus because Dunham looks and sounds and acts exactly like a girl I used to know in college, a rich girl who wrote poetry, plain-faced but magnetic, who always was taking up with pretty boys who treated her badly.” That kind of fresh and immediate personal association makes moviegoing sweet indeed.

Prime ¶ In an important essay that you will be glad that you read, “A Client Is Not a Counterparty,” The Epicurian Dealmaker draws a line between “proprietary trading” and “proprietary investing” that is clear enough to expose the perniciousness of the latter practice, which almost everyone who hasn’t gotten rich working at Goldman, Sachs (and the lesser firms of its ilk) agrees ought to be stopped.

Tierce ¶ There are two things to cherish about Susan Dominus’s nature tale, “The Mystery of the Red Bees of Red Hook.” The first is the given name of one of the beekeepers embroiled in the mystery, which turns out to be funny on a level that Ms Dominus either missed or was too kind to mark. The other is the unexpected reminiscence of St Augustine that floats up when Cerise Mayo laments her swarm’s “unnatural” fondness for the maraschino cherry syrup, loaded with Red Dye Nº 40, that the bees have discovered at a nearby factory. Like romanticisers of the savage from Montaigne’s day to our own, she is disappointed to learn that bees are no less fallen — er, driven by their appetite for instant gratification — than the children of Adam and Eve, whose lust for pleasure Augustine could explain only by means of his egregious invention, original sin. (NYT)

Sext ¶ If our friend George Snyder is not sitting by the phone waiting for a call from the producers of The A List, that’s because he has a rather more regal sense of what “A List” means. We only wish that Patrick Dennis were still around to correct George’s misapprehension that “being followed about New York City with multiple cameras while you smoke and drink and work out is hardly natural.” (1904)

Nones ¶ Jonah Goldberg dumps on President Obama, in the wake of the Wikileaks release, for relying on “engagement, dialogue, kumbaya” to solve international problems. More specifically, he blasts the president for failing to secure a favorable trade treaty with South Korea. There is a great deal of offstage saber-rattling in Mr Goldberg’s paragraphs, but no specific recommendations, not even an explicit demand that the president “get tough” with America’s antagonists. (LA Times; via Real Clear World)

Vespers ¶ Ben Hamilton makes a persuasive case for not treating rap lyrics as “high poetic art” — and he means no disrespect to either art form. His most forceful objection comes early on: “rap lyrics just do not work on the page.” We found this to be true of a little volume of Cole Porties verses, which in many case don’t even scan without musical support. Mr Hamilton also worries that the equation of Ice Cube and Wallace Stevens will work to the detriment of the latter. (The Millions)

Compline ¶ Don’t miss Robert McCrum’s account of a spirited talk with Margaret Atwood that conveys the impression that Ms Atwood is one of the great minds of our time, and only incidentally a poet and a novelist. She is the rare person whose interest in the environment has not pushed her into the abyss of misanthropy. “We shouldn’t be saying ‘Save the planet’; we should be saying: ‘Save viable conditions in which people can live’.”

Have a Look

¶ Our great friend, JRParis, is in town, and as always he is taking great photographs, several of which he has already posted. (Mnémoglyphes; [oldest permalink])

¶ “Crumpled City” maps. (GOOD)

Noted

¶ “Radiation Rings Hint Universe Was Recycled Over and Over” (Wired Science)

Daily Office:
Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Matins ¶ Cory Doctorow asks: “What Do We Want Copyright To Do?” Putting the question that way cuts through the self-serving claims of “content providers” and the radical eyewash of those who claim that “information wants to be free.” Mr Doctorow offers no detailed proposals, but he argues persuasively that any reasonable copyright system will be (a) based on actual evidence of need and (b) balanced between remuneration and inconvenience. We’re inclined to believe that the question ought to be, “How Do We Want Copyright To Work?” — meaning how, exactly, revenue streams from consumers to creators. But a moment’s thought suggests that this is just another way of framing Mr Doctorow’s call for balance. (Guardian; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Lauds ¶ One of the first things that we read on our return from vacation was Peter Schjeldahl’s report on van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, “The Flip Side.” [P] The amount of information packed into this extremely readable account of the panels’ current conservation project is astonishing profuse but never miscellaneous; every sentence is informed by Mr Schjeldahl’s understanding thatt the Altarpiece is, above all, a beautiful thing. We also shared his outrage that the masterpiece is a hostage of the Ghent cathedral’s dependence upon gate receipts; it ought to be in a proper museum. (The New Yorker)

Prime ¶ Is Felix Salmon biting the hand that feeds him? We don’t have any idea, to be sure, of how much revenue Thomson Reuters pulls in from retail market reports (possibly none), but the idea that individual investors ” should probably check up on the value of their investments no more than twice a year (and even once every two or three years is fine)” seems radically contrarian, at least for anyone who isn’t Warren Buffett. As if that weren’t renunciation enough, Felix wishes that the White House would release the daily report that Treasury prepares for the Oval Office. “I’m sure that the product would be extremely popular on Wall Street and beyond, and help build a fair amount of free goodwill for the White House.” And it would render television’s moronic market reports superfluous.

Tierce ¶ More from Ed Yong about the strange phenomenon of stereotype threat — strauge because it is really the opposite of a phenomenon, because it is invisible alike to those whose performance falls off simply because they believe that they’re thought to be incapable of doing better, and to those who thrive on the stereotyping, almost always white males. In this double-blind experiment, women taking a university physics course narrowed the gap in gender performance when they completed a writing exercise before the course commenced. Byaffirming their own ideas of what’s important in life in a brief essay, they created a foundation of self-confidence that negated the stereotype threat.

Sext ¶ Bob Cringely has some thoughts about the death — or dying, if you prefer — of email. We thought that it was just us. To the list of factors that Cringely lines up as rendering email less enticing than it used to be, we would add a certain sense of surfeit; those of us who are old enough to have done so certainly gorged on email for about a decade before other media (blogs, social networks) began to alter Internet communication. We said everything that we had to say, and then we said again — and the bums got into the White House anyway. Also unmentioned, and not entirely irrelevant, is the anecdotal evidence that smart people have come to detest phone calls.

Nones ¶ Timothy Garton Ash is astute about the Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables, noting that State Department officials come off looking pretty capable. What we’re hoping for is that this heap of clear-eyed analyses of foreign affairs will make it more difficult for our politicians to support bankrupt governments and indefensible regimes. (Guardian; via Real Clear World)

Vespers ¶ Emma Garman writes intriguingly about the last NYRB republication of a Stefan Zweig title, Journey Into the Past. Zweig is one of those mitteleuropäisch writers whose name we’ve always known but whose work we’ve never read. This novella, translated by Andrea Bell (and introduced by Andre Aciman), promises an agreeable corrective. (Words Without Borders; via Conversational Reading)

Compline ¶ Bill Morris is one of those guys who like to type — on a typewriter. The way he talks, you’d think that the typed letter was at some point in the past considered to be “correct,” but that’s not how we remember it. Just as condolence notes and love letters are not supposed to be conveyed via email today, so they weren’t supposed to be typed when we were growing up, either. We’re amused by the romance of Mr Morris’s reflections, but we fail to see an intrinsic difference between letters composed at typewriters and with word processors. The fact that many writers don’t take the trouble doesn’t delete the fact that computer-aided writing is vastly easier to polish. (The Millions)

Have a Look

Ancient Madder. (Ivy Style)

¶ The Espresso Book Machine — a reprise. (via HTMLGiant)

Noted

¶ Alexander Chee: Thoughts on writing in a land where it is safe to write anything because writing has been discredited and is considered unimportant. (Koreanish)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 11 November 2010

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Matins

¶ We begin and end the day with Felix Salmon’s insights, first on Medicare, then on Ireland. What both entries have in common is a stubborn refusal on the part of conservative, “property-owner” officials and business leaders to learn a new way of thinking about oversized liabilities. With respect to Medicare, which liberals acknowledge to be disastrously over-extended going into the future, Kevin Drum’s analysis has been discredited simply because it is liberal. That’s because there isn’t anything more cogent to argue.

Lauds

¶ The brouhaha about Cathy Black’s appointment as New York’s schools chancellor, we hasten to note, may be premature, because Mayor Bloomberg’s choice is subject to approval by Albany officials. All the more reason, then, to ask questions about the mayor’s fundamental premise, summed up (mockingly) by Alex Pareene. (Salon; via GOOD)

Prime

¶ At Abnormal Returns, a thought experiment about ETFs, lately alleged to cause market pricing distortions. What if the performance of ETFs during the financial crisis were a better measure of their market effects than that during the “flash crash”?

Tierce

¶ What a fun story to read, just a week before we take off for vacation: “Advanced jets hitting technological turbulence.” (Short Sharp Science)

Sext

¶ Regular readers know that we like to check in with the raucous outlook of Awl columnist Mary H K Choi from time to time. She can be one sharp-tongued lady! Now we know why: she’s making up for all the repression of her Korean background. In a sweet piece at the Times (you’d never know…), she describes a recent pedicure.

Nones

¶ Timothy Garton Ash calls upon EU members to respond en bloc to Chinese tempations to “splittism.” The Nobel Peace Prize controversy is a fine occasion for showing firmness, but already there are signs of wavering from France. (Guardian; via Real Clear World)

Vespers

¶ Maria Bustillos is crazy about her new Kindle, but, if anything, it has determined her to keep on buying books — because she’d rather own physical objects than license digital ones. The latter leaves the door open to fascist abuse. We advise all purchasers of ebooks to read the fine print.

Compline

¶ One of the most noxious developments in international finance has been the growth of big banks in small countries. It’s a kind of “globalization” that doesn’t make sense, as the good people of Iceland found out to their cost. Now it’s the turn of the Irish. (Felix Salmon)

Have A Look

¶ Tom Meglioranza sings Rückblick, from Schubert’s Winterreise.

¶ Manhattan: the underlying wilderness. (BLDGBLOB)

Noted

¶ Tyler Cowen: “Which works ought to be read in their original language?

“How the Gas Tax is Like Keyser Soze.” (The Infrastructurist)

¶ Choire Sicha on corpses in public. (The Awl)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Matins

¶ James Fallows tackles coal, here and in China, as only James Fallows can. (The Atlantic; via The Morning News)

Lauds

¶ Attending the third Avignon Forum, John Thakara is put in mind of the popes and cardinals who once held sway there — and their blithe hypocrisy. For example: the holy principle of copyright protection.

Prime

¶ A leading Japanese economist, Noriko Hama, plays the child’s part in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes — where the dollar is the emperor, or in monetary terms, a currency with no backing. (Japan Times; via Naked Capitalism)

Tierce

¶ Ed Yong reviews what looks like the much-needed contemporary re-writing of John Greene’s The Death of Adam: Written in Stone, by Brian Switek The role of the fossil record in the evolution of evolutionary theory is crucial, and all smart people ought to be familiar with the onlines of this story. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Sext

¶ “Secret optimist” Chris Lehmann marks the recent , first-time upholding of a pre-nuptial agreement by a British panel of judges. “Purple” is too common a word for his account of the Radmacher case; we’ll go with “magenta.” (The Awl)

Nones

Hürriyet reporter Mustafa Akyol persuasively argues that the Turkish government is not in any meaningful (menacing) way an “Islamist” one. (Daily Star; via Real Clear World)

Vespers

¶ The uncollected stories of J D Salinger — published only once, in magazines — are notorious for tempting vandals to cut them out with razors. Emily Darrell writes about “A Girl I Used to Know,” a story that did appear in a book, The Best American Stories of 1949, but that suffered the fate of the uncollected. It took her a while to find an intact copy of the anthology. Good for her! (The Millions)

Compline

¶ How Vikram Akula learned how to help the poor. (Hint: academic education not required — nor even particularly useful.) (GOOD)

Have A Look

The Roman Army Knife. (Wired)

Noted

¶ Well, well: Alex Ross got his start in college radio.

Daily Office:
Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Matins

¶ David Carr outlines the correct way of evaluating cable personality Keith Olbermann’s campaign contributions: the air time that he has given to Democratic Party candidates is vastly, vastly more valuable. MSNBC ought to re-instate the exile and put this embarrassment behind it. (Note: we have never seen Mr Olbermann’s show.)

Lauds

¶ Movie maven Jim Emerson tips us off to the blog of The Self-Styled Siren, who writes in a recent entry about having been allowed to watch anything old and black-and-white on television, but forbidden to see an R-fated movie until she was actually seventeen. This gave her an understanding of what good movies ought to be like that’s very familiar to us.

Prime

¶ We had already come across the Erzinger hit-and-run story via MetaFilter when we saw that Felix Salmon had picked it up; as usual, we prefer to link to considered commentary than to regurgitate news items. Apparently on the theory that Denver money manager Joel Erzinger can make financial restitution to New York physician Stephen Milo, the District Attorney in whose jursidiction Vail lies has decided not to prosecute a felony charge. Income inequality has made greater (or more egregious) strides than we had imagined!

Tierce

¶ Peter Smith sensibly argues that the proper response to the scourge of Four Loko abuse is not a ban but a learning campaign that will teach adolescents how to drink instead of pretending that they don’t. (GOOD)

Sext

¶ Jessanne Collins refers to her brief stint as a copy editor for Demand Publications as “ill-fated,” but we can’t agree; she got a very funny piece out of the experience — not to mention $10.50 in carfare remuneration. (The Awl)

Nones

¶ We don’t want to complain, but we do wish that President Obama had mentioned something besides automobiles in his Op-Ed piece about exports — trade suddenly being the subject of his mission to India and Korea — if only because we’d like to know what this country is still manufacturing for export. (NYT)

Vespers

¶ At The Millions, Kevin Frazier flourishes a keeper review of Lydia Davis’s translation of Madame Bovary, with especial attention to the novel’s echoes of Don Quixote.

Compline

Zadie Smith’s powerful meditation on Facebook (posing as a review of The Social Network) is the talk of the town. As the footnote that we’ve included suggests, old folks like us probably don’t get what’s most potent — and dangerously reductive — about Facebook in its current version.  (NYRB)

Have A Look

A Jolly Day Out in London. (The Age of Uncertainty)

Prank casserole. (The Awl)

Noted

¶ Essential books — in 1974. Where are they now? (Guardian; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 4 November 2010

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

{The next Daily Office entry will appear on Monday, 8 November.}

Matins

¶ We’ve looked at Sabrina Tavernise’s story about Washington’s storeys, but we can’t find what triggered it. As you know, an old Act of Congress limits the height of buildings in the nation’s capital to a multiple of the width of the street on which they stand. This most excellent law is not about to be repealed or seriously amended — or is it?

Lauds

¶ Here’s good news: HM Government have postponed the grant of an export license for JMW Turner’s Modern Rome — Campo Vaccino, to give British buyers a chance to meet the Getty Museum’s winning auction bid. Campo Vaccino is a pendant to Turner’s Ancient Rome, and it belongs alongside it, at the Tate. (LA Times; via Arts Journal)

Prime

¶ For the most concise account of the pros and cons of Quantitative Easing II is, predictably, Yves Smith’s, at Naked Capitalism. But Felix Salmon makes a important general point about the way in which the plan was announced by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Tierce

¶ From the Dept of Whizbang (meaning, don’t hold your breath), researchers have brought the refresh rate for holographic teleprojections down from four minutes to two seconds. Thet’s about two-thirds of the way  to an acceptable rate of 30 times per second. The secret ingredient is a new type of plastic. (Wired Science)

Sext

¶ Even more whizbang: James Somers imagines the Deskotron, the perfect personal assistant. The bit at the end would be the beauty part. (jsomers.net)

Nones

¶ In Hanoi, last weekend, the members of ASEAN held a summit meeting with China. China continues, however, to insist on treating its South China Sea claims as bilateral agreements with ASEAN members. Simon Roughneen reports, at Asia Times.

Vespers

¶ We thought that the VQR was in abeyance, but Kyle Minor caught an extraordinary interview with Alice Munro (with Lisa Dickler Awano) that, among other things, explains that blush-making dinner-for-two in the celebrated story, “Wenlock Edge.”

Compline

¶ Simon Johnson hopes that President Obama will boldly confute incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s claim to be a fiscal conservative, which Mr Johnson challenges on three grounds (Mr Ryan wants to cut taxes, has no spending cuts in mind beyond the blather of the “Pledge to America,” and has yet to say anything about Medicare’s future). (The Baseline Scenario)

Have A Look

¶ Sketches from Chris Roth’s jury duty. (The Rumpus)

Written in stone. (Letters of Note)

¶ “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” for our whatevs times. (GOOD)

Noted

Google’s “creepy line.” (Short Sharp Science.)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Matins

¶ In “Caucasion Nation,” Marco Roth  reflects on racism in America in its surreptitious but no less malignant modern form: the crisis of “white victimhood.” We haven’t read anything so in accord with our own view of the problem — ever. (n + 1; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Lauds

¶ We knew that David Hockney began creating art on his iPhone the moment he got one; we’re not surprised to find that he has moved on to the iPad. Nor is it really unexpected of him to prefer to display his digital art on the tablet as well — instead of printing and framing it. (BBC; via Arts Journal)

Prime

¶ Felix Salmon is back, and he has lost no time picking up on a guest post by Barbara Kiviat that we linked tothe other day about whether financial regulation ought to be rules-based or principle-based. Felix agrees with the Michael Lewis rule that Barbara captured, banning “any sort of position-taking at the giant publicly-owned banks.” He goes further to make an extraordinarily interesting point, one that we’re still chewing on.

Tierce

¶ Tyler Cowen tips us off to the blog of former Scientific American editor John Rennie, The Gleaming Retort. (And he has us on “retort,” always our favorite piece of chemistry-set glassware.) In “Height, Health Care, and I Q,” Mr Rennie makes a very strong case for attributing variations across populations to environmental, rather than genetic, factors.

Sext

¶ Someone’s gotta do it, and Roxane Gay steps up to the plate. She not only makes the case for money, but she suggests that, in the wake of the Virginia Quarterly Review debacle, everybody in the lit world did.  

Nones

¶ Yves Smith, who lived in Australia for a few years, insists that they’ve got some things terribly wrong Down Under; but, when it comes to elections, they put us to shame. No TV ads, and no shirking the ballot.

Vespers

¶ As Yevgeniya Traps argues, in her discussion of Howard Jacobson’s Man Booker winner at The Millions, the real ”Finkler Question” is one of just how different Jews are from everybody else. Not that it can be answered clearly; but one point that the book doesn’t make is the Family-of-Man thesis that Jews are “just like everybody else.”  And she turns to the author himself for an eloquent rebuttal.

Compline

¶ At Salon, Michael Humphrey interviews Ted Fishman, author of Shock of Gray, a book about “How old people will remake the world.” We certainly sat up. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

Have A Look

Antonio Rubino. (The Rumpus)

Noted

Amazing retinal implant. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Facebook knows when you will break up. (GOOD)

Daily Office:
Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Matins

¶ At The New Yorker Online, Eric Osnos posts a bracing Letter from China: what we look like to the Chinese as we thrash through the midterms. Actually, it makes more sense to us than anything we’ve heard here.

Lauds

¶ Via Arts Journal, a couple of pieces about classical orchestras that, taken together, show us where we’re going (compact, traveling jazz-like bands) and what we’ve left behind (city-centered behemoths).

Prime

¶ At 3 Quarks Daily, Nick Werle explains the preference for fiscal austerity or Keynesian stimulus in terms of Foucault’s distinction between discipline and security. And he’s perfectly lucid, too, so once you’ve finished throwing up your hands, give his page a read.

Tierce

¶ A study of the bluffing brain, reported simply at the Times, a bit more richly at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Are you a strategic deceiver? If so, there are three parts of your brain that will give you away to a mind-reader.

Sext

¶ We love  Ted Wilson — or whoever it is who writes under his name for The Rumpus; he is a breath of fresh air on the Internet, because you don’t have to wonder if he’s out of his mind. He is out of his mind. And yet he is much too funny to be suffering from actual dementia. His gift for dropping deadpan bombs reminds us of Robert Benchly; perhaps Ted Wilson has tacked down a Mergenthaler Laugh Detector!

Nones

¶ The always-provocative Bob Cringely has a theory about India and China. It’s crazy, but so crazy that we’re inclined to agree.

Vespers

¶ We almost forgot! Cathleen Schine wrote a terrific review of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad in the NYRB. It works especially well as an appreciation of the book, to savor after it has been read

Compline

¶ We don’t want to carp, but there is something a trifle disingenuous about Cornell University president David Skorton’s plea for humanities funding. Forgetful, anyway. Swamped by “theory” and other deconstructive programs, the liberal arts curriculum has tended more to undermine civility, in the past thirty-odd years, than to bolster it. (Inside Higher Ed; via Arts Journal)

Have A Look

Edward James, rememberd at Mondoblogo. (Note: Monkton is a Lutyens house.)

Noted

¶ The John Evelyn Institute of Arboreal Science. (BLDGBLOG)

Daily Office:
Monday, 1 November 2010

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Matins

¶ At Naked Capitalism, Yves Smith is persuaded by a commenter to retrieve, from one of her daily roundups, a link to Johann Hari’s persuasive essasy on the efficacy of protests and demonstrations. The most curious thing is that it’s the powerful, the exponents of policies that demonstrators are protesting, who appear to be the most sensitive. And — a point that Anthony Trollope would appreciate — protestors may never know how effective they’ve been.

Lauds

¶ In today’s Times, two pieces on ephemeral art. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Starn brothers are dismantling Big Bambú, while at an undisclosed,abandoned subway station somewhere in the city, an exhibition of graffiti closes immediately upon opening, and not because the MTA shut it down, either.

Prime

¶ At Felix Salmon, Barbara Kiviat weighs and considers the utility of legal vagueness: Paul Volcker believes that financial regulations ought to be vague, to make gaming them difficult; but Michael Lewis thinks that they ought to be starkly unambiguous

Tierce

¶ Anybody who types will be fascinated to read about the two independent feedback loops that alert us to typographical errors. The first, surprise surprise, is called “proofreading,” but there doesn’t seem to be a name for the second, unless it’s “You can just tell.” Ed Yong reports at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Sext

¶ Have you seen the Feltron Annual Report before? In it, Nicholas Felton (note the interpolated “r” in the report’s title) compiles masses of mundane data about how he has spent a given year. Then he works them up into a spankingly handsome, beautifully printed object. Would you pay for hard copy ($23)? Sean Patrick Cooper does, hopeful that the Report will achieve, one of these years, genuine narrative thrust. That hasn’t happened yet, though. (The Rumpus)

Nones

¶ Simon Johnson’s essay on the background of the now-averted “currency wars” has our heads spinning, largely because we can’t believe that a respectable columnist asserts that the emerging-markets portion of the G2o is in better economic health than the 0ld G7 rump. The problem that interests Mr Johnson, however, is the EMs’ determination to keep their currencies cheap and their reserves “safe.”

Vespers

¶ Sonya Chung offers an appealing modest defense of teaching the writing of fiction. At no point is it a rebuttal of Elif Batuman’s thunderclap, but this only makes it more eloquent. (The Millions)

Compline

¶ “If television is, indeed, our art form, we need to start treating it as such.” So says Daniel D’Addario, who proceeds to demonstrate why we can’t. (The Bygone Bureau)

Have A Look

¶ Steerforth visits the second-oldest building in Britain. (The Age of Uncertainty)

¶ The photographs of Evan Leavitt. (A Continuous Lean)

Noted

¶ Khoi Vinh’s iPad Magazine Stand. (via kottke.org)

¶ Hungarian is just, what with everything else on one’s plate, too Hungarian. (Sore Afraid)

Daily Office:
Thursday, 28 October 2010

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The next edition of the Daily Office will appear on Monday, 1 November.

Matins

¶ A bit of concrete poetry from Roxane Gay. We Are All Very Busy Being Busy! (HTMLGiant)

Lauds

¶ Newsweek has published a list of the top-15 highly-compensated heads of not-for-profit organizaations — museums, orchestras, foundations, and hospitals. At the top (owing more to a blip of deferred compensation — if you can call $1,649,540 a blip) is the New York Philharmonic’s Zarin Mehta. (Add a million in base salary.) At Good, Alex Goldmark asks some good questions.

Prime

¶ On page A3 of this morning’s Times, the continuation, from the front page, of Stephanie Clifford’s “Why Wait? This Year, Retailers Push Black  Friday Into October” sits atop “Gulfstream Orders Suggest Recovery in Business Jets,” a story by Christopher Drew. Such juxtapositions, droll to say the least, can be appreciated only in newsprint. (Just for fun, there’s an add for Tiffany’s Lucida rings — “From $3900″ — in the corner.) From Ms Clifford we learn that “Customers have been trained to buy merchandise only on sale.” Mr Drew tells us that “Analysts watch the sales of business jets as an indicator of how willing corporations are to spend money as the economy rises and falls.”

Tierce

¶ For a different angle on yesterday’s story about epileptic patients, neural implants, and Marilyn Monroe, we turn to Carl Zimmer, at The Loom. We try not to repeat ourselves in this way, but we’re stunned by the factoid toward the end of the second paragraph.

Sext

¶ Roman Hans, ever the self-improver, struggles with the “language barrier” (“chuse,” “sallad”) posed by Pride and Prejudice. Predictably, he loses. (World Class Stupid)

Nones

¶ When George Will sighs that campaign spending’s not so bad — after all, we spend more on potato chips! — Robert Reich is there with a pitchfork. “The number of dollars spent isn’t the issue; it’s the lopsidedness of where the dollars come from.” (By the way, how much do we spend on advertising potato chips?) And we spend a lot more on lobbying that we do on election campaigns.

Vespers

¶ Alexander Chee makes a very compelling case for John Dos Passos.

Compline

¶ Sandra Day O’Connor, Stanley Prusiner, and Ken Dychtwald team up to issue a powerful Op-Ed exhortation to mount a federal campaign to brake Alzheimer’s Disease.

Have A Look

Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews. (via The Awl)

¶ “Let the Children Kodak” (The Online Photographer)

Ration Books. (A Continuous Lean)

John Lennon complains. (Letters of Note)

Non-Official Movie State Map. (via Joe.My.God)

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Matins

¶ In the middle of Seymour Hersh’s “exciting” article about “cyber warfare,” in the cartoon issue of The New Yorker, there’s a lovely tidbit about someone we’d never heard of, an office that we’d never heard of, and a fecklessness that has become all too familiar since January 2009.

Lauds

¶ What a surprise. Annie Liebovitz, who has never had much time for the fine-arts racket, is finding that her work fails to bring high prices at sale or auction — a matter of no small concern, now that she notoriously needs the money. How could that be? Something inherently lacking about the work? Or something else… John Gapper at FT Magazine.

Prime

¶ With Inside Job still very much on our mind — what struck us the hardest was the overt but legal corruption (called “consultancy”) of academic economists — we fastened on a comment to Barbaria Kiviat’s entry at Felix Salmon today, an entry that follows up nicely the one that we linked to yesterday. The gist of the entry is that we’ve all become so indoctrinated by the terms of economic analysis that we can’t see beyond fruitless policy debates even though we know that economists don’t know which way is up.

Tierce

¶ Brandon Keim’s report on a recent neurological study of focus isn’t his most lucid work, but there may be a bombshell for multitaskers planted not so deep within it. The study involved epileptic patients whos brains had already been invasively wired for pre-surgical study; Moran Cerf and his team made the most of a free ride. The patients were asked to focus on images of famous people (movie stars and sports figures). (Wired Science)

Sext

¶ The good people at The Awl have created a new Web site just for Mary H K Choi, called the hairpin. Mary is upset by the current craze for men dressing well; it’s throwing off her guydar.

Nones

¶ We don’t pay much heed to polls, but the results of a new Times/CBS poll are nonetheless distressing, precisely because ideas and information, nor to mentioin democratic confidence, appear in such short supply. The more we consider the results, the more impatient we become for the Democratic Party to be supplanted.

Vespers

¶ The most intriguing part of Poets & Writers‘s interview with Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally-Jackson Books, is her take on Chinese booksellers — which is also a take on herself. (Ms McNally was recently a member of a delegation of American booksellers that paid an official visit to — or was in any case officially received in — China.)

Compline

¶ Joshua Brown reports that there are no televisions at his investment management firm, Fusion Analytics. That’s the rule there, and the Reformed Broker can’t believe he managed without it. Which is great for him. When will everyone else in money management realize that television is an obscenely powerful herder?

Have A Look

Obituaries for literary magazines. (HTMLGiant)

Plan to fill in the East River — from years ago. (Strange Maps)