Archive for 2010

Morning Snip:
Pratfall

Friday, December 17th, 2010

From Aljean Harmetz’s obituary of Blake Edwards (1922-2010).

The critic Andrew Sarris wrote in 1968 that Mr. Edwards had gotten “some of his biggest laughs out of jokes that are too gruesome for most horror films.”

[snip]

A lifelong depressive, Mr. Edwards told The New York Times in 2001 that at one point his depression was so bad that he became “seriously suicidal.” After deciding that shooting himself would be too messy and drowning too uncertain, he decided to slit his wrists on the beach at Malibu while looking at the ocean. But while he was holding a two-sided razor, his Great Dane started licking his ear, and his retriever, eager for a game of fetch, dropped a ball in his lap. Trying to get the dog to go away, Mr. Edwards threw the ball, dropped the razor and dislocated his shoulder. “So I think to myself,” he said, “this just isn’t a day to commit suicide.” Trying to retrieve the razor, he stepped on it and ended up in the emergency room.

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)

Morning Snip:
MOmertà

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The murder of a town bully, Ken Rex McElroy, thirty years ago, in Skidmore, Missouri, will probably never be avenged by the law. Outgoing prosecutor David Baird has never believed that he could make a case, given the concerted silence of the townspeople who witnessed the event. Or, in the alternative, that justice could be served by the law.

As his long tenure comes to an end questions about the lack of resolution in the murder case — perhaps the most infamous in the area since Jesse James was shot nearby a century earlier — continue to follow Mr. Baird. He was charged with wading through the sensational details and moral ambiguities of the case to ensure that, in his words, justice was served.

But justice is a loaded term in a case that challenges the usual assumptions of victim and perpetrator. And Mr. Baird, all these years later, is still unwilling to give his own view on whether justice was served even though — or because — the killer was never tried.

“You could talk to everybody in this case, and they’d give you a different answer,” he said in an interview at his office in the red brick county courthouse in nearby Maryville. “I’m never going to answer that question. It’s never going to happen.”

Moviegoing:
The Tourist

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Until I read Manohla Dargis’s snarky review of The Tourist in the Times, I had no plans to see the picture, but when I saw that the Orpheum Theatre would be showing it, a block away, at ten o’clock in the morning, I thought, why not? Why not give Ms Dargis a chance to be right for a change — to write a review that I could agree with. The tedium of sitting through a mediocre movie would be more than made up for by the world-historical excitement of seeing the world through a pair of eyes that long ago struck me as overdue for the attentions of an optician. But it was not to be. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s second feature film turned out to be huge fun, and once again I was left wondering why the Times keeps assigning movies that a ten year-old could predict she won’t like to Ms Dargis for review. That’s what bugs me. It isn’t that I never agree with her; never agreeing with her is useful and reliable. To be a little less snarky myself, I was encouraged to see The Tourist because Ms Dargis didn’t like it particularly. What bugs me, though, is that they make her sit through so many unsympathetic movies, and to what end?

The Tourist is a caper film, so I can’t say very much about its plot. It belongs to that sub-genre of caper films that I label “gambit,” in recognition of the very entertaining film of that name. The elusive Elise Ward is being followed through Paris by Scotland Yard, in hopes that she will lead the law (represented by Paul Bettany) to Alexander Pierce, a shadowy banker who is wanted by the British government for a staggering amount of back taxes. He’s wanted by a thug named Shaw (Steven Berkoff) for having stolen the even more staggering taxable sum. At the beginning, Elise is instructed by Alex to take the next train to Venice and to pick up (and make a decoy of) any guy who is more or less his size and build. So that’s what she does, more or less silently but with great panache. The measure of the director’s sense of cinematic humor can be taken when, pausing at the top of a Métro staircase, Elise consults her wristwatch and then confers a pitying smile upon her pursuers. With all the the nonchalance in the world, she descends the empty flight of stairs, but before the lieutenants can reach it a horde of exiting passengers blocks their passage as if on cue. It’s impossibly droll.

(Another instance: assault rifles are fired from a great distance. Nothing seems to happen to the targets, but suddenly the windowpanes turn to snow and three men drop to the ground, removed from the action with a dispatch that undercuts the idea that they were ever as dangerous as they seemed; Mr Henckel von Donnersmarck wants us to know that he would never dream of boring us with yet another gunfight.)

I’ve never been a fan of Angelina Jolie; I’ve seen only one or two of her pictures. But I’m a fan of her performance in The Tourist. She shakes up one part Rita Hayworth, one part Ava Gardner, two parts Christina Hendricks, and pours out the results in a low purring voice that I couldn’t get enough of. She eats up the scenery with a gusto that suggests compensation for all the real food that her diet does not permit, but her relish is brilliantly disguised as understatement. It’s as though Elise has been blasted by a vision, an actual experience of the concentrated glamour that the grand fashion models merely catalyze. Elise has been transformed, and you guess that life for her can only be a disappointment from now on — now that she has resolved to put Alexander Pierce behind her. As the hick whom she decides to exploit on the train tells her, she is the least down-to-earth of people. And yet, as if to make a little joke of her godhead, the director divides our attention between the glory of Angelina Jolie and the roach-like ubiquity of the male gaze that she excites. What a ratty little species we men are! But how she makes us ache to hear one true thing from those resplendent lips.

Johnny Depp, as the hick, plays a regular guy for a change — but of course he doesn’t, not really. Every regular-guy tic is calibrated with precision, and meant to be noticed as such. He gives us Jack Sparrow for grown-ups; he plays his part as if it were the gambit. Mr Bettany makes the perfect foil. In Public Enemy, the manic gangster played by Mr Depp was pursued by Christian Bale’s impersonation of an automaton. Here, the polarity is reversed. Mr Bettany is consumed by the righteous need to nail Alexander Pierce, no matter what the cost (and even though his superior, played by Timothy Dalton, has pulled the plug on the too-expensive investigation). You’re in no doubt that Inspector Acheson would eat one of his limbs if it would bag the renegade banker. Johnny Depp, meanwhile, is relaxed and bemused, at least when he’s not being shot at. As well he should be.

As for Venice, it has never looked more gloriously meretricious, and I do mean this as a compliment. Venice has been abused by a lot of movies, but this one treats it very sweetly. Naturally, there has to be a vaporetto chase in a canal at some point, but this one is not long and it has a few interesting wrinkles. The Hotel Danieli is made to look preposterous. There are no pigeons, and no churchbells. There is no attempt to experience Venice. It is seen as it has always wanted to be seen by outsiders: as a gigantic set. And sets, rather than bits of real Venice, are what we get for the most part. And why not have it serve as the set for two of American cinema’s most sacred monsters? The Tourist is set in a tourist’s idea of Venice. It’s perfect.

No more can be told you until you have seen The Tourist for yourself — which we do not encourage you to rush out and do right now, as that would not be cool. The movie unaccountably reminded Manohla Dargis of Hitchcock (a comparison that’s never flattering to anyone), but to me it was James Bond without the sadism and the self-importance. And the ending was happy to a degree unknown in Ian Fleming’s fantasies. (December 2010)

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)

Morning Snip:
Squanderosa

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

You can call it “self-confident,” if you like, but we have no words for the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado, designed by Chuck Jordan. We never have. Mr Jordan died last week at the age of 83. (NYT)

That Mr. Jordan, once called “the last of the Great Design Dinosaurs,” could sense trends was suggested by the 1959 Eldorado. Jack Telnack, who was Mr. Jordan’s design counterpart at Ford, told Automotive News in 1992 that that car showed a pitch-perfect feel for the self-confident America of the 1950s.

“We had the resources and the wherewithal in this country to do anything we wanted,” Mr. Telnack said. “We dressed that way, we ate that way, we drove cars that way, we just lived that way, and I think that car was a real statement of where we were in our culture at that time.”

And just look what we did with it.

Gotham Diary:
Patient

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

I spent five hours at the Hospital for Special Surgery this afternoon — that’s why I didn’t schedule a Daily Office. That, and my not feeling very well. Owing to nobody’s fault in particular, I was discovering that I can’t quite make it for fourteen weeks between Remicade infusions. Thirteen, yes; but no more. Days into the inadvertent fourteenth week, I was having to think twice before leaving the apartment, because my colon had reverted to its natural, irritable state. I’d run out of Remicade molecules! The last thing I wanted to do was languish in hospital waiting rooms, but I would only feel worse if I gave into that declension. I wanted to stay home because I needed what I’d have to go to the hospital to get.

It’s a very nice hospital, Special Surgery. I’ve certainly never been in a nicer one. That has something to do with the parts of the body that are treated there, bones and their integuments. The limbs that stretch away from the brain and the thoracic organs. No heart disease, no cancer, no emphysema. There may be unimaginable pain and crippling, but it isn’t, for the most part, potentially fatal. There is a sense in which every HSS patient is an athlete on the mend. We’re all getting better — and that’s obviously great for staff morale.

But the hospital also takes advantage of its location. The waiting room for Radiology and the visiting areas for inpatients all overlook the East River. That’s an understatement; they’re on the East River. Which regular readers know is a strait that flows in both directions, depending upon the tide, bearing ships and barges and police cruisers and sailboats and even (idiotic) jet-skis. No matter how bad you may feel, the misery of being shut away in a fluorescent hell isn’t making things worse.

So I felt better the moment I arrived at the hospital, an hour early for my appointment with the rheumatologist (a Facebook friend, by the way) who always looks me over before infusions. When I last saw him, in September, he ordered some X-rays of my cervical vertebrae, just to be sure that carrying my growing grandson around isn’t the reason why I’m suddenly capable of slight nodding: my neck really isn’t supposed to move at all at this point. It was inevitable that I would put off actually having the X-ray until my next visit to the hospital, i.e. today. What wasn’t inevitable was that I’d go to the hospital an hour early because I felt so lousy that I’d just as soon be in a hospital. It was even less foreseeable that I would start feeling better, as I say, as soon as I got there.

From 2:15 until 3, I waited for an X-ray slot. At 3, I put that wait on hold and went upstairs to see the rheumatologist. I was back downstairs by 3:25, and by 3:35 I was sitting in an X-ray room in my undershirt. (It’s cold in New York!) It took a long time to get all the X-rays, because, you see, my neck doesn’t move, and this confounds a lot of everyday technician wisdom. The guy who took my pictures was smart enough to know what he didn’t know, and a whizbang colleague was brought in at one point to kibitz. Radiologists were consulted, as well as the rheumatologist. I was feeling so much better by this point in the afternoon that, frankly, there wasn’t much to distinguish me from Norma Desmond; of course I was difficult. Or, rather, my body was. I myself couldn’t have been more obliging. I held odd positions for long stretches without a whisper of complaint. At one point, my butt was hiked up on a huge triangular ridge of foam, while my mouth roared wide open in silence. “Don’t breathe!” When it was all over, the technician thanked me for being a “good patient.” But of course, Mr De Mille! It was 4:30, time for Remicade.

The nurses at the Infusion Therapy Unit — only one of whom, Sara, was there when I paid my first visit, seven years ago next April — were Doodad’s best friend when it came to cooing over Facebook pictures of Will. Sara herself pronounced Will “one happy little boy.” Earlier, the rheumatologist, who seemed to have all the time in the world to hear about Will’s eager appetite for asparagus and mushroom soup, beamed at me and said, “I don’t know you know you, but I know you well enough not to be surprised that you’re a big softie about your grandson.” I took that as a compliment. Also as a suggestion to lose weight.

At 7:10 — I was so eager to be up and going that I wanted to offer to drink the last few milliliters of Remicade — I dashed out into the night, eager to catch Kathleen on her cell phone; she had just landed in St Louis for an overnight business trip. I got a taxi right away — and why not? New York was going my way. Every hospital stay should be as restorative as mine was today. I could swear that the Remicade is already working.

Morning Snip:
Independence

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Given our feeling that political parties are little more than power bases for unattractive people who couldn’t be elected dogcatcher, Matt Bai’s comments on Michael Bloomberg’s appearance at Sunday’s No Labels event lights up the room with spring sunshine. (NYT)

Those who think Mr. Bloomberg would want to build a similar kind of organization, be it No Labels or something else, are assuming that the growing power and disaffection of independent voters who identify with neither Democrats nor Republicans make a third party more viable than it has ever been. In fact, though, the rise of the independents represents a movement in exactly the opposite direction — away from party organizations altogether.

This isn’t so much a political phenomenon as it is a cultural one. In the last decade or so, the Web has created an increasingly decentralized and customized society, in which a new generation of voters seems less aligned, generally, with large institutions. MoveOn.org and the Tea Party groups, for instance, were born as protests against the establishments of both parties, and they empowered citizens to create their own agendas, rather than relying on any elected leadership.

What the current moment might offer, then, as Mr. Bloomberg surely knows, is an unprecedented opportunity not for a new party, but for an independent candidate who represents a break from the dictates of any party organization, mainstream or otherwise. In the current environment, the less of a party apparatus an independent candidate carries, the better his chances of success may be.

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)

Morning Snip:
State Change

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Against the background of a turbulent world economy (one in which, for example, no one takes American leadership for granted anymore), China confronts the need to change the state of its economy, from the outer-directed, export-driven model that works less and less well as its success makes China richer, to something that more closely resembles the consumer-driven Western model. The principle obstacles to change, as suggested in David Barboza’s story, will be the power blocs that control state industries and provincial governments.

But this time, Beijing is not just struggling with inflation, it is also trying to restructure its economy away from dependence on exports and toward domestic consumption in the hopes of creating more balanced and sustainable growth, analysts say.

[snip]

“The state economy and the local governments will be where the future problems occur,” Professor Chen said in an e-mail response to questions on Sunday. “They will be the sources of real troubles for the banks and the financial system.”

Weekend Open Mind:
Consciousness and Memory

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Yesterday morning, I woke up early, and almost at once found myself meditating on consciousness and memory — and self-consciousness. I’m thinking of “self-consciousness” as a consciousness that is laden with memories. Mere consciousness is harder to conceive. The moment a mass of memories pushes consciousness through the doorway of self-consciousness, there is no remembering back. You may be crazy about chocolate ice cream — meaning that you’re aware that you like chocolate ice cream a lot. This is something about yourself that you know. But I’ll bet that you had more than a few bowls of chocolate ice cream before you “realized” that you really like it. (Children often claim to be crazy about things, but what they’re usually crazy about it appearing to be like the friends whom they admire.) Learning to like chocolate ice cream for real means enjoying it in silence at least a couple of times. And you don’t just understand that you like chocolate ice cream. You understand that you’ve liked it all along. But what was that, exactly, your consciousness of chocolate ice cream — your awareness that you were eating it — before the memories piled up and you realized that you were crazy about it? What was happening in the “all along”? It was possibly something like this: a string of impressions too weak to impinge on memory. I’m using “consciousness” and “memory” very loosely here, without trying to capture the neurological activity that in fact sparks our sense of consciousness and of memory.

It seems to me that self-consciousness becomes obtrusive — as we all feel it to be — when the baggage of memories muffles direct experience. Knowing that we’re eating chocolate ice cream, we don’t bother to taste it. This leads to the nightmare of what D H Lawrence called “sex in the head.”

Beyond self-consciousness, there is self-awareness — knowing not so much that you know what you’re conscious of but that there are other things that you might be conscious of, had life worked out differently. You accept the accidental nature of your self. The accidents are all very small, nothing like the somewhat violent events that we call “accidents” in real life. Accidents of consciousness are tiny, and there are thousands of them every morning, as your self reconstitutes itself — by means of reconsolidating each memory in the act of remembrance, from your wife’s breathing to the way to the bathroom. The accidents are so densely networked that inertia preserves the illusion of uneventful continuity.

Little children — infants and toddlers — are conscious (of course), but they’re not self-conscious; they don’t generate memories of themselves. We can speculate as to why. There is too much else to remember. It may be that self-consciousness is catalyzed by hormones or other brain chemicals that don’t develop in children. Or it may be that children are so completely at the center of their own universes that there is no reason to demarcate a self. In any case, children do not remember their earliest years, much as we wish that they could.

Of course there are memories that do not reach consciousness. How to walk, for example: the coordination of many (dozens? hundreds?) of “muscle memories.” Some organic processes are so profound and invariant (and crucial) that it seems silly to speak of memory at all. Does the heart remember to beat? Is it useful to associate every repeated action with memory of some kind, or is it vacuous? If the heart beats without memory, and the lungs draw breath according to some renewing instinct, so that each breath is the first, then how far “down” does memory go? There is no point in trying to answer such questions now, given how little is known. But memory and consciousness are wonderful things to play with.

I did not go back to sleep.

Morning Snip:
Destabilized

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Whatever the pleasure and interest of watching someone play a piano from a hole in its sound box and walk the eviscerated piano through a gallery space might actually be, it is difficult to imagine how anyone not marinated in the gobbledygook of conceptual artism would be inspired to expect either pleasure or interest from Roberta Smith’s account of the latest nonsense at MoMA. (NYT)

“Stop, Repair, Prepare” destabilizes all kinds of conventions, expectations and relationships. The music is often muffled and fragmented, the players prone to error. Some resort to occasional key changes because of the difficulty of reaching the black keys. Precariousness ensues; things teeter on the brink of disintegration. Chaos, Romanticism’s energy source, threatens or titillates.

The concentrated embrace of musician and instrument is more intense and exclusive than in normal performance. This allows the viewer-listener the liberty to examine the performance as the sculpture that it also is, but not passively. On the move, the piece herds and rearranges its audience as it goes, a spontaneous choreography that is most visible from upper levels. And as the instrument changes position, so does the sound, which is most intense if you follow closely in the piano’s wake, as you might a hearse. An especially arresting detail: the pianist’s hands are completely exposed and available for viewing; they flit about the keyboard like dancers on a stage.

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)

Morning Snip:
Three Books a Month

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

From Julie Bosman’s report, “Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive.” (NYT)

Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, is courting romance readers more aggressively than ever. William Lynch, the chief executive, said in an interview that until recently Barnes & Noble was a nonplayer in the huge romance category, but that it now has captured more than 25 percent of the market in romance e-books. Sometime next year, he said, he expects the company’s e-book sales in romance to surpass its print sales.

“This is a new business for us,” Mr. Lynch said. “Romance buyers are buying, on average, three books a month. That buyer is really, really valuable.”

Going on a romance diet would be one way of cuttting down the reading list.

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)

Morning Snip:
Borrowed Plumes

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Joseph Grano, former head of Paine Webber and a producer of Jersey Boys, wants to found a museum of Italian-American heritage. We had quite forgotten how blush-making this sort of thing can be. (NYT)

So, what he has in mind for Pier A, at the northern edge of Battery Park, is a celebration, not just of Italian ingenuity and flair, but also of all elements of la dolce vita. For starters, he envisions an entrance flanked by a Roman chariot and a Ferrari — “to show the progress,” he said.

Beyond that, there would be exhibits showcasing artists like da Vinci and Michelangelo and composers like Puccini and Verdi. “You can’t argue with the contribution to the arts,” he said.

Don’t forget the Berlusconi Room!

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)

Morning Snip:
In on the Act

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Times reporter David Segal has had the pleasure of following up his hard-to-believe story about Vitaly Borker, the online eyeglass merchant who discovered that the mistreatment of customers worked SEO wonders, with evidence that his reporting has unleashed the hounds of hell upon the personally rather sheepish Russian immigrant.

For months, Ms. Rodriguez was unable to get much traction with any of the law enforcement entities she had called as she coped with Mr. Borker’s verbal and written attacks. Now, there seems to be a competition to punish him.

He has already been charged with aggravated harassment and stalking by local authorities and is scheduled to be arraigned on those charges on Dec. 22. The state attorney general’s office is conducting its own investigation and could bring additional state charges.

But federal law enforcement seemed eager to partake as well. In a statement released Monday, Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, “Vitaly Borker, an alleged cyberbully and fraudster, cheated his customers, and when they complained, tried to intimidate them with obscenity and threats of serious violence.”

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)

Morning Snip:
Speed Limits

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Felix Salmon very properly turns one argument in Roger Lowenstein’s admiring profile of JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon on its head: Mr Dimon may be a better banker than the other Wall Street chieftains, but this does not imply that his bank ought to be more lightly regulated, but precisely the opposite.

What Lowenstein doesn’t do, at this point, is talk about how all this only serves to underscore how weak the U.S. banking system’s risk-management systems are: JP Morgan Chase survived in large part thanks only because it was lucky enough to have Dimon at its helm. If Stan O’Neal had been in charge, things would have turned out very differently indeed. As a result, it becomes not only sensible but necessary to hobble JP Morgan more than Dimon feels is warranted. You don’t set speed limits on the basis of how fast the very best drivers can safely travel.

Jamie Dimon may be a better banker, but if he were the best, he would welcome regulation.