Archive for 2009

Daily Office:
Thursday

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

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Matins: Are plastic highways — roads paved of recycled rubbish — a good idea? Saritha Rai seems to think so. But we agree with the commenter who worries about the pollution of groundwater. (GlobalPost; via The Morning News)

Lauds: Colm Tóibín buys a minimalist painting — a pair, actually — only to discover their baggage of invisible meaning when he unpacks them in his Dublin flat. (LRB)

Prime: While Felix Salmon scratches his head over the to-him mystifying refusal of incoming Cravath, Swain associates to take the firm’s offer to stay home for a year at a salary of $80,000, a handful of sharp law students attempt to illuminate the high-end legal profession for our British visitor. This one is for the comments.

Tierce: Peter Reynolds leads off an intriguing discussion (entry and comments) on autism and the neurological basis of the sense of self, which seems to be lacking or underdeveloped in ASD patients. (Short Sharp Science)

Sext: Here’s the piece that got the Editor wound up about MP3s last night. Jeremy Eichler feeds his CDs into his computer, packs them away, and muses on the death of the personal music library. (Boston Globe; via Arts Journal)

Nones: You have to love the new Russia — which is really just the old, old Russia, Mother Russia. And you have to love the fact that the Cold War is over. Try to imagine, if you will, the response of any American administration from Eisenhower to Reagan to the purchase of the world’s smallest republic’s recognition of the breakaway, pro-Moscow territory of an American ally. Try to imagine how different the Russian response would be. (NYT)

Vespers: Joan Acocella isn’t crazy about Peter Ackroyd’s “retelling” of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but at least the book occasions a jolly essay on our tongue’s first major poet (and major writer, for the matter of that). (The New Yorker)

Compline: Jonah Lehrer responds to James Surowiecki’s New Yorker column about Tiger Woods and the branders with an interesting discussion of Fundamental Attribution Error, something that we’re far more prone to than we like to think. From the TV fans to the brass at Accenture, everyone was mistaken in attributing the golfer’s formidable self-control to his character overall — they were mistaken to make the attribution, and now we know that they were mistaken.

See also Mr Surowiecki’s blogged follow-up to his column.

Dear Diary:
Voter Motor

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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This afternoon, I read “Green Giant,” Evan Osnos’s New Yorker piece about China’s aggressive pursuit of environmentally-aware energy strategies. The piece is no love note; Mr Osnos makes it very clear at the start that China has a long, long way to go before its atmospheres are as clean as ours. But the thrust of the story takes a longer view, and the United States suffers in the comparison. If China has improved, we’ve done the other thing.

In America, things have gone differently. In April of 1977, President Jimmy Carter warned that the hunt for new energy sources, triggered by the second Arab oil embargo, would be the “moral equivalent of war.” He nearly quadrupled public investment in energy research, and by the mid-nineteen-eighties the U.S. was the unchallenged leader in clean technology, manufacturing more than fifty per cent of the world’s solar cells and installing ninety per cent of the wind power.

Ronald Reagan, however, campaigned on a pledge to abolish the Department of Energy, and, once in office, he reduced investment in research, beginning a slide that would continue for a quarter century. “We were working on a whole slate of very innovative and interesting technologies,” Friedmann, of the Lawrence Livermore lab, said. “And, basically, when the price of oil dropped in 1986, we rolled up the carpet and said, ‘This isn’t interesting anymore.’ ” By 2006, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. government was investing $1.4 billion a year—less than one-sixth the level at its peak, in 1979, with adjustments for inflation. (Federal spending on medical research, by contrast, nearly quadrupled during that time, to more than twenty-nine billion dollars.)

As I read the article, I felt that Mr Osnos was telling me useful things that, as a voter in the world’s superpower, I ought to know. But what about my fellow Americans who thought that Ronald Reagan was made of presidential timber — when in fact he was nothing more than a shill for the outlook of property owners in the Southwest United States. And what about the people who admired the second Bush, a man who made being “a shill for the outlook of property owners in the Southwest United States” sound like something much better than the worst possible president? And what about the fans of Sarah Palin, a woman who, in her contempt for genuine politics, really, really reminds me of Adolf Hitler, and who makes George W Bush take on the air of presidential sapling. What about all these omadhauns? What’s the use of reading about China’s coal gasification project if you’re yoked to utter morons?

Many people stop there — and they stop reading articles about China in The New Yorker. Me, I should like to stop being yoked to utter morons. Sarah Palan is an idiot. Once upon a time, perhaps, she was a small-town political operative, but the temptations of William Kristol and others have inflated her brain like a pink balloon of Bazooka chewing gum. It no longer computes. Anyone who thinks that she is a viable political candidate for anything more advanced than the governorship of Alaska (can we go back to being ‘the forty-eight’ one of these days?) is a backward adolescent. This assertion is no more open to argument than the proposition that reading is a waste of time, or that reality television is “democratic.” ‘

In any philosophical systems, there are axioms, points that don’t require re-argument every time something new comes up for discussion. When a given philosophical system’s axioms do need to be re-argued, then that system is either dead or dying. To anyone who argues that Sarah Palin’s views on the environment (even if I happen to agree with them) are deserving of national debate (they’re not, because Ms Palin is a barely-educated, barely-functional housewife), my reply is that perhaps it’s the axioms of our democratic franchise that we need to debate.

Even in America, the franchise is not universasl. We don’t allow toddlers to vote. We don’t allow young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen to vote — teenagers. Once upon a time, we required voters to have a certain net worth — usually, to have property worth a certain amount of rental income. We certainly don’t want to go back to that. But we desperately need a voter-qualification criterion.

How long, though, are we going to participate in a travesty of honoring the votes of jerks with potatoes where their brains ought to be? Smart people, can we think of something, before the dummies mount one of their human-pyramid spectacles and, falling over, as in their stupidity they inevitably will, crush us?  

Nano Notes
Christmas Carols

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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Back in the days of three- and four-hundred disc caroussel CD players, our collection of Christmas albums lived in one, all the time. Come Beethoven’s birthday (that’s today), all I had to do was select a group of CDs to play (there were two, as I recall, on that machine; the other was a Standard Song Book collection) and hit “play.” The caroussel was programmed to shuffle among the discs, which meant for silences of fifteen or twenty seconds between carols. The moral of the story is that it didn’t take me very long to transfer this idea to a Nano.

Aside from much shorter spots of dead air, the Nano offered the signal enhancement of allowing me to tranche the carols. The ones that we really love — Sir David Willcocks’s collection (“Once in Royal David’s City” is given an amazing performance), Andrew Parrott’s two albums (an unforgettable “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” sung to a different tune and in a very strong North-of-England accent.), and the old Waverly Consort Christmas offering (my favorite version of “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.”) — go in the first tranche. The second group includes novelty albums — Rita Ford’s music boxes, carols re-charted in the styles of Old Master Composers. The third group, which may not be chosen at all during the season, includes the divas (Christmas with You-Name-Her, from Battle to Te Kanawa, but not including Schwarzkopf, who appears in the second group) and a colossal multi-disc set of dulcimer recordings that sounded swell at the Japanese pub across the street one snowy night, when I was deep into a martini.

There is another playlist — or was; I can’t find it anywhere. It consists of several recordings of Messiah, connected by things like Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. (Where can it have gone? How did it disappear from the computer? Was I so dumb as to compose it on the Nano itself?) I forget how many Messiahs we have, but it’s more than five, and we play ‘em all. (What a bore, though, to have to reconstitute the list! It was terrific, but I don’t recall everything that was on it. The moral of the story is: backup, people!)

Have A Look:
Loose Links

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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Piet Zwart (Design Observer)

Scout revealed (Scouting New York)

Daily Office:
Wednesday

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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Matins: John Swansburg, culture editor at Slate, used to follow sports zealously. It seems to have become something of a diet of desserts, because he’s feeling much better now that he does other things instead.

His explanation reminds us, we don’t know why, a little bit of War Games. (Slate; via Brainiac)

Lauds: Ripley, meet Shipley. Oh! You know one another already! James Cameron talks to Speakeasy about Avatar, which has received four Golden Globe nominations even though it hasn’t opened (officially).

Prime: This isn’t how it was supposed to work: microfinance, in rural India at least, seems to be giving traditional moneylending (which it was expected to replace) a real boost. Microlenders see things differently;  As always, life is a lot more complicated than theory predicts. What continues to be interesting about microfinance is its strong bond to groups of women. (WSJ; via Marginal Revolution)

Tierce: Evan Maloney finds speed-reading to be a waste of time. We knew that, but we still wish that we could get through books faster. Are books themselves the problem? (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Sext: The mercury ball stage! If you’re enough of a cook to stock All-Clad skillets and sauté pans, you will definitely want to see a hugely useful video from rouxbe.com — a site that we had not heard of. Nor had we heard of Houseboat Eats, which ran the clip. Don’t say we never taught you anything! (via The Morning News) 

Nones: As the prospect of Turkish membership in the European Union recedes to the vanishing point, silver linings glimmer ever more promisingly. Closer ties between Turkey and Syria, which Robert Worth writes about in the Times, are good for everybody (except, possibly, for Iran).

Vespers: At The Millions — actually, in Tübingen — Daniel Silliman asks Jonathan Franzen to reconcile his dislike of “experimentalism” in fiction and his admiration for (and friendship with) David Foster Wallace. The answer is not theoretical.

Compline: Ed Kilgore looks into “The Ungreening of America,” and finds that two out of three likely explanations trace back to GOP ranting. (TNR)

Dear Diary:
Size Matters

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

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It is universally acknowledged that I am an odd fellow, but the oddest thing about me, I’m convinced, is that I find MP3 recordings to be superior to CDs, just as I found CDs to be superior to LPs and tapes. I am clearly hearing something that no one else is listening for, while ignoring something else that means a lot to most other listeners.

What is so great about MP3s? Again and again, I hear new things in music that I’ve known for all of my adult life. New lines of counterpoint, rhythmic depth-charges that I’d missed. And every weekend, when I listen to operas while tidying the apartment, I understand some strange unnoticed line of Italian or German. MP3s make music clearer to me than it has ever been.

When I was young, and routinely unimpressed by the audiophile setups that I was obliged from time to time to stand before and worship, I thought that I was simply deaf, or inartistic, or missing a music receptor. This pained me only slightly, because I knew perfectly well, from more articulate exchanges, that I heard more, in the way of music, than almost everybody who wasn’t a score-reading musician. I still don’t know what all those geeky guys heard. They were certainly unable to explain it. I came to regard it as something like a sexual preference — fundamentally inexplicable.

I’m trying, at least, to express what I like about “compressed” music. It’s largely a matter of line. Think of a sketch — a few swift strokes on paper. Now think of that sketch worked into a drawing, with many, many more markings. That drawing is what I hear from my Nanos — more information, you’ll note, not less — and I’m very glad that I do. The sketch is merely vague, suggestive.

Possibly for those very reasons, the sketch is more atmospheric. Is that what’s lost in MP3 conversion? If so, I’m reminded of the old Horn & Hardart slogan: You can’t eat wallpaper. It’s nice, but it’s not the point.

If I am tired of guys repeating the lament that music downloads, while convenient, don’t sound as good as — as good as whatever superseded mode still holds their interest, it’s because they can’t be bothered to specify what’s missing. One might almost think that they’re simply missing their youth.  

When I talked this over with Kathleen, she spoke of the LP as “warm” and of the CD as “cold.” This is why I’m always inclined to put myself on the Aspie spectrum: for “warm,” I’d say “indistinct,” and, for “cold,” “crystalline.”

Have A Look:
Language Lab

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

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¶ What English sounds like to foreigners: nonsense!

¶ The Color of Gender, at Brain Pickings.

Daily Office:
Tuesday

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

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Matins: Frank Rich congratulates the makers of Up in the Air for showing us how broken our economy is.

If there was ever a market that won’t fix itself, it’s our job market. Good folk are being thrown out of work by heedless millionaires. (NYT)

Lauds: We’ll be celebrating the bicentennial of Frédéric Chopin next year. This composer of so much dreamy music wasn’t, himself, very dreamy at all. Come to think of it, his music isn’t, either. Jessica Duchen, in the Independent, conjures a portrait of the composer as Hugh Grant, way back in 1991, in James Lapine’s Impromptu. (via MetaFilter)

Prime: Chris Lehmann at The Awl and Felix Salmon agree: the financial press were perhaps the last people in the world entitled to attack Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece on Goldman Sachs & al. Indeed, we are tempted to conclude that the Megan McArdles and the Heidi Moore’s were more or less obliged to attack Mr Taibbi, simply in order to protect their Rolodexes.

Tierce: Jim Dwyer observes that our health- and environmental-conscious mayor does not practice what he preaches.

We would never scold anyone for flying on a private plane. Only a martyr would fly commercial if offered the choice. The better alternative is not to fly at all. A man as wealthy as Michael Bloomberg does not have to be anywhere in a hurry. He can sail. (NYT)

Sext: We didn’t know who James Chartrand was, but now we wonder what to call her. (Copyblogger; via The AwlJ

Nones: Juan Cole connects a few dots, between Iraqi oil, the Shi’ite control of Baghdad, and Teheran. Throw in Lebanon while you’re at it! (via LRB)

(While we’re mentioning LRB in passing, we want to note that we disagree with John Perry about Washington’s response to the Honduran coup. We sincerely doubt that any informed Latin Americans want the United States to restore Manuel Zelaya, whether by force or diplomatic blackmail.)

Vespers: Richard Crary has been writing up a storm at The Existence Machine, about feminism, socialism, and, here, a long post about Flannery O’Connor, whom he has just gotten round to reading.

Compline: Scott Sayare’s piece on the unpopularity of the Internet among French politicos makes for a fun read. As Tocqueville pointed out a while back, the French Revolution left a number of institutions intact. (NYT)

Dear Diary:
Chaillot

Monday, December 14th, 2009

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Because it is very late and I really haven’t got anything better to talk about, I’m going to go topical: the picture attached to this entry shows the lady who lives across the street. As always, when one sees her, she is positioned on the steps — the stoop, as one calls such a flight in Gotham — of what someone from the midwest might call a “town house.” As well it may be. There is no apparent way in which tenants could come and go. The stoop, as you can see, is littered with buckets and other impedimenta. These are carefully rearranged from time to time, usually in the morning. I’m sure that one of my neighbors has made a study of Our Lady of the Steps, and knows all about what she’s up to. I’ve only recently begun paying half-assed attention.

Not to be ghoulish, really, but the lady across the street reminds me of the tenant who occupied our apartment until his demise in 1983. He was an older Jewish guy with a black girlfriend — that’s what everyone said — and a number of his belongings remained in the apartment after we took possession. Some bookshelves, some strange carvings, and a lot of shag carpeting. However it worked out, it was not the sort of detail that my brain finds interesting. What I do recall is that the sliding closet doors in the master bedroom (the one with an en suite bathroom) had been removed, and the interior of the closet was painted pitch black. A sort of Turkish corner, perhaps — Sixties style. That was the feeling that the apartment still exhaled when we were given the key, about a week before we actually moved in. Middle-aged intellectual Manhattan hippie — right out of Saul Bellow, right?

I was a little older than half my current age, but not much. As for Kathleen, I do believe that she has spent more than half of her life time in this apartment.

When we took possession, of course, we thought that the previous tenant, now a dead man, had lived here forever. How could we imagine that we would occupy the premises far beyond the term of his tenancy? That’s not the sort of thing that occurs to you (unless you’re a pessimist) when you’re in your early thirties.

In those days, a lovely woman by the name of Rose was the rental agent. Rose decided who got which apartment. Kathleen was very sweet to Rose when she rented the studio on the sixteenth floor in 1980. Kathleen was even sweeter to Rose when we rented the one-bedroom on the seventh floor a year later, in 1981. Kathleen was extraordinarily sweet to Rose when we were offered the apartment that we have been in since 1983. It is not unlikely that Rose expected us to be sweetissimo. What she told us, though, was that she’d given the apartment to us because she she was “grossed out” by the tenants who called her the minute they read our precedent’s death notice in the Times. A case of faux faute de mieux, no?

Being sweet, we half believed her. We were in any case glad to get up here, and not just because the apartment was larger. Our studio had faced north — a dull view, but very quiet. Our new apartment faced east, and was back from 86th Street. The apartment in between had been in the front of building, right on top of Yorkville High Street, and early mornings were a nightmare. As a callow young man, I looked out at the view of Citibank (now blocked) all the time, but I never looked down on the streetscape. I have no idea if Our Lady of the Steps was busy then. I half think that she was. As I say, though, one of my many, many neighbors is sure to know.

Have A Look:
Playing With Food

Monday, December 14th, 2009

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¶ Our old friend Yvonne sent us a YouTube link, to a clip called “Western Spaghetti,” and that, in turn, took us to “Food Fight.” Do not expose children to these videos!

Say, we finally caught up with Lady Gaga, sort of. But we like this parody better: “Neutra Face.” You can find the original on your own.

Monday Scramble:
Three Screens

Monday, December 14th, 2009

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As you can see, we’ve discovered whiteboard.

And that is all that we can manage just now! Tis the season to be doing something else!

Not that we’ve abandoned our professional responsibilities (self-inflicted professional responsibilities) altogether. We’re just running behind — every week, it gets a little worse. We were doing so well, until, at the beginning of October, the Editor decided to set his house in order, literally. This soon led, as regular readers know, to the planning and preparation of dinner parties. After all, why have all that china if you never use it?

The Editor likes to tell people that he took up cooking in self-defense; the kitchen was his mother’s least favorite part of the house, but occasionally she got dangerously creative. (Spearmint ice cream, anyone?) In truth, however, the Editor took up cooking because it’s a handy way to appreciate porcelain without upsetting other people.

Wow. Wow!

Monday, December 14th, 2009

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From The Online Photographer.

Weekend Update:
Brunch

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

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Here’s how I knew that it was good brunch: I did not ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Instead, I was thinking of ways in which I could have managed better. A very good sign.

There were seven of us at the table, and only Kathleen and I knew everybody beforehand. I have come to see that, ideally, this would always be the case. When I was young, and reading Proust for the first time, I thought that it would be the coolest thing in the world to have a salon. On a certain day of the week, or (more realistically) the month, one’s coterie would drop by en masse. This despite Proust’s consistently unflatting portrait of Mme Verdurin and her circle. But what did I know of “entertaining”? I knew my parents’ cocktail parties, that’s what. The same people showed up at them for years, yet I still yearned for a salon of regulars. I must have thought that, by substituting tea for whiskey, my shindigs would inspire the kind of lofty conversation that would have made my parents’ friends take flight.

At the end of dessert — we would continue sitting at table for another hour — I thanked the friend to my left for having been such a lovely guinea pig. I rather regret this now; it seems an ungracious thing to say to anyone. But in almost every detail the brunch was a mission. I wanted to know how to fit giving a weekend luncheon party into the texture of regular life, more or less as I make dinner for Kathleen and myself on school nights. A lot remains to be learned, but even though I’m tired and somewhat afflicted by Sunday night blahs, I don’t look back on this afternoon’s meal as a big deal that completely disrupted the weekend.

The important thing is to try to make friends happy to be in my home. This involves good company and good food, served with as little fuss as possible. It may have seemed like fussing when I asked everyone to leave the table after the main dish, so that I could tidy it up for coffee and cake, but everybody went right on talking, which, at least among my friends, never gets in the way of eating.

The entrée was a chicken dish from Gourmet, circa 1993. I haven’t written it up at Portico but will try to change that. It’s an “oven-friend” dish — a  genre that excites skepticism as a rule — that is in fact far more suitable for a winter luncheon, at a properly-set table, than the real thing would be. It’s quite piquant; there’s a lot of cayenne pepper.

I discovered that the fish poacher is an ideal vessel for marinating two cut-up chickens.

The side dishes were seriously retro: a German potato salad, made according to a recipe from the original New York Times Cookbook (1961), and an aspic of bouillon and V-8, with minced green onions floating obscurely in the ring. We began with a fruit salad and muffins, and ended with a mocha-rum cake (I make it with Jack Daniels) that also came from an Early-Nineties issue of Gourmet. The fruit salad came from Gristedes, but in chunks too large to serve without a knife; it took ten minutes to render them bite-sized. The muffins were flavored, dimly, by the Calvados in which I plumped some raisins. I had wanted to make cinnamon rolls, but yeast bread would have taken more time than I had allotted.

There would have been more time to play with if I’d really known what I was doing, the way I know how to prepare a roast chicken dinner. I knew how to cook each dish on the menu, but not how to cook them all on the same menu, which is really the final lesson of giving dinners, including as it does knowing where to put the special plates that you want to use for dessert until it’s time to use them. All in all, I did pretty well, but I want to get better. I want to have it down to the sweet spot of habit. I know that I’ll never be bored so long as friends old and new are kind enough to venture into darkest Yorkville for a seat at my table.   

Weekend Open Thread:
Frigid

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

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Constabulary:
Shoot First, Ask — Oops!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Oklahoma, like a number of Wild West states, has a “stand your ground” law that permits homeowners (or homesteaders) to use whatever force they think necessary to defend their property against intruders — violent intruders, anyway. So Donna Jackson, 57, is not going to be charged for killing Billy Reilly, 53, after Reilly broke down a door and entered her house, while she was on the phone with a police dispatcher.

Jackson: “Oh ma’am, I shot him.”

Dispatcher: “It’s OK ma’am. It’s OK.” 

The real problem with this scenario — not a Wild West type of problem, though — is that we’ll never know why Billy Reilly broke into a house that was lit up like a Christmas tree so that he could see Ms Jackson on the phone.

Since the Oklahoma law was enacted, a number of alternatives to lethal weapons have been developed for these situations. Time for a re-think? (via  The Awl)

Daily Office:
Friday

Friday, December 11th, 2009

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Matins: “Is this just the beginning of a depression?” asks Felix Salmon, in response to the very bearish forecast of Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg. “I’m not optimistic.” (But keep reading, at Portico)

Lauds: A self-portrait by Antony van Dyck, one of the deluxiest Old Masters, sold at auction for a record-breaking price. The auction overall, however, was hardly a success. (Bloomberg; via Arts Journal)

Prime: Jeffrey Pfeffer attributes the “too big to fail” phenomenon to lax enforcement of antitrust laws.

The Editor reminds us that, of all the subjects that he studied in law school, antitrust was the most slippery, its principles easily bent to reach whatever outcome the government or the courts desired. We subscribe to Mr Pfeffer’s dislike of very large business entities (we don’t even like merely big ones), but we don’t look to antitrust law for a solution. (The Corner Office)

Tierce: New! A revised deluge hypothesis has been posited for the natural history of the Mediterranean Sea: Why, only 5.6 million years ago… Why is it that the fun stuff like dinosaurs and such happened long before we were around to take notes? Is it a mad desire to participate in geo-catastrophic events that draws us to the deluge hypothesis of Black Sea flooding? (New Scientist)

Sext: At McSweeney’s, “A Former Investment Banker Analyst Falls Back on Plan B,” by Helen Coster. Hint: that would be law school. (via Felix Salmon)

Nones: Responding to violent protests, India will divide the state of Andhra Pradesh in two, creating the new state of Telangana. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh’s capital, will probably go Telangana. The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder notes concern that the creation of Telangana will open a Pandora’s box of clamoring for further subdivisions within India. In 2000, however, three new states were carved from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar. (BBC News)

Vespers: More from Christopher Tayler, this time from a perch at LRB: a reconsideration of Paul Auster. It’s the autobiographical material that’s winning. A guest room in some vaguely hostile household would definitely be the ideal environment for appreciating early Auster.

Compline: The Awl‘s Abe Sauer went out to visit gay activist Zack P— in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and discovered that Zack is not having an easy time being out there. Overwhelmed by the unfairness of life, Mr Sauer thought of Levi Johnston with outrage.

Bon weekend à tous!

Dear Diary:
Entertaining

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

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A fellow blogger came to dinner this evening, and I only wished that it had gone on longer: a very good time was had by me. But when the dinner was over, and the coach of conversation turned into the pumpkin of pickup, all I could think of was the ever-lengthening list of things that I could have done better. This sort of post-mortem anxiety is part and parcel of entertaining anybody for the first ten times. I know all about all the corrections that fly to mind in the wake of any dinner party. They may be neurotic, in that we’re worried about things that nobody else noticed; or they may be psychopathic, completely overlooking glaring horrors that were evident to everyone else. But we do learn from them.

There was a new note this evening, however, possibly because, as I’ve already suggested, what I really wanted to enjoy was a conversation with an extraordinarily intelligent mind. Of the meal that I prepared, I hoped only that it wouldn’t be unappetizing. It followed my Degree Zero low-key menu: roast chicken with simple extras (tomato soup, roast potatoes, bought dessert). It’s true that I heated up some cheese hors d’oeuvre from Agata & Valentina. Big deal. We hardly ate them.

But I’m thinking now that to ask anyone into your home for dinner is really to dump a lot of information in a guest’s lap. Maybe the restaurant isn’t, by strict somparison, nearly as noisy. Perhaps this — and not an obsession with privacy — is what instructs people of the European persuasion to entertain only their oldest friends at home.

On top of that, I was the waiter as well as the cook. I don’t mind those jobs at all — but is what I mind important? Maybe my friend would have preferred a dinner companion who stayed put at the table. (We had soup/salad/chicken/cheese/eclairs.) When the evening was over, there lingered in my mind an awful vibration: I’d been “on,” what Fossil Darling used to call “societal.” Gawd, not that.

I remember when all I worried about was whether the chicken was overcooked. Tonight, I’m afraid, I’m worried that I was overcooked.

Have A Look:
Loose Links

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

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Dream Library (Marginal Revolution)

It’s like playing with an the peel of a clementine. (New Scientist)

¶ We must have this chair! If only to look at. (ArtCat)

Daily Office:
Thursday

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

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Matins: In his review of Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy, Austin Frakt touches on what makes our working day possible. (Incidental Economist; via Marginal Revolution)

Lauds: How Terry Gilliam completed The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus after Heath Ledger’s death. It wasn’t just technical. (Speakeasy)

Prime: David Segal’s update on the failure to reform the ratings-agency biz in any meaningful way suggests that the conflict has little to do with lobbying (for once) but reveals a clash of visions, between bold (reckless) and cautious (ineffective). (NYT)

Tierce: Bad as “fast food” is, it may be safer than the stuff that the government provides to school cafeterias. (Good)

Sext: Does Mo’Nique really want that Best-Supporting-Actress Oscar? She sure sounds new to the Industry. (And the Winner Is…; via Arts Journal)

Nones: The opera buffa in Honduras too a turn for the seriously dramatic on Tuesday, with the assassination General Julian Aristides Gonzalez, the Honduran drug czar. The crime opens a window on our view of the local economy. (BBC News)

Vespers: Christopher Tayler (of the Guardian) visits Sir Frank Kermode on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. (via The Second Pass)

Compline: They all laughed… but everybody’s looking at Roadtown now. (treehugger; via Good)

Dear Diary:
Get car!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

ddj1209

In retrospect, it was a fine day, but only in retrospect do we get to see the bottom line. For most of the afternoon, I fretted about having to go out this evening. I behaved as though seeing Lynn Redgrave’s Nightingale were a chore, which of course it was not. But I wanted to stay home and work on things. I suppose I was no better when I was nine, and thought only of my train set in the basement.

Then, at about 5:30, the bottom dropped out: the file transfer protocol program declined to function. The FTP program is the utility that transmits pages from my computer to Portico’s Web server. Even after rebooting, it declined to function. Rebooting was the problem, actually; I had rebooted the machine just before lunch. I’d promised Quatorze a copy of Barry Lyndon, and Jason (God of Tech) had cautioned me that DVDs were best copied on empty buffers. It had been over a week since the last reboot, so….

The next thing you know, checkdisk. I do hate the sight of DOS screens. And then a few of apps didn’t work quite as usual once the machine was up and running. PhotoShop, for example. I had to deselect an option that’s never checked in order to resize an image in pixels rather than inches. That was weird. When Cute FTP melted down, I wasn’t entirely surprised. But I was completely flustered anyway. The proverbial headless chicken — that was me. Jason would never give me up (I don’t think), but there are TeamViewer chat transcripts to prove it. Ned Beatty could have played the part of me.

I couldn’t be having this problem at 5:30! I had to get dressed for the theatre soon! I had to go out, and leave my wounded computer untended. Jason appeared as faithfully as the genie in Aladdin’s lamp (remotely — a bit of magic that couldn’t be managed in Sheherazade’s day), but even before he suggested that reloading the application was probably the best idea, I was wondering where, just the other day, I had put all the computer-related CDs. I had moved them for a reason — there were too many discs for the box that I’d been using — but where had I put them? Cluck, cluck!

After I got dressed, I found discs; sometimes, you have to solve a bother before you can solve the problem that it was bothering you from. By 6:45, the domestic security status was “copacetic.” My brain was recovering some of its wattage.

There had certainly been a brownout. Before making contact with Jason, I had madly attached the two pages that I’d planned to upload to Portico to emails sent from my mindspring account to my gmail account. On the laptop in the living room (where I “create”), I enjoyed a mad runaround trying to figure out whither, exactly, Firefox places downloaded attachments. Cute FTP was working fine on the laptop, so I was able to upload the pages — phew!

But here’s how crazed I was. In order to make sure that the pages looked just right, I had to go back into the blue room and interrupt Jason so that I could open Portico and see if all was well. It never ever crossed my mind that I could have conducted this examination from the laptop. My brain had self-stupiditized.

When I told Jason that, if I were rich, I’d plaster the town will billboards advertizing his services, he demurred: the phone calls would drive him crazy. But of course if I were rich, I could stake him to a receptionist. Get car! And you would, too. I’m talking about the thanks of a very grateful clientele.