Archive for 2010

Morning Snip:
Piece of Mind

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Damon Darlin in the Times‘s Personal Tech special section: Can This Be Love?

So it should come as little surprise that people feel lost or actually grieve when they lose a personal electronic device. “You are leaving your brain behind,” says Mark Rolston, the chief creative officer at Frog Design, a leading product design shop. He says the extension of our brain can be seen in how these products now look and feel. The devices — whether a flat-screen TV, an EVO Android smartphone, a Toshiba laptop or a Samsung Galaxy tablet — have become frames around a screen that gives us access to the amazing software that is that brain. Designers have begun to refer to that screen, in whatever device it is in, as “the window.” The frame keeps getting smaller and the window gets larger and clearer.

In other words, what we’ve become attached to is not the glass and metal and plastic, regardless of how it is beveled, but to the software running on the device. The love wasn’t there until the software got smart enough. “I doubt that people really loved their cellphones,” says Don Norman, a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, a design firm, and author of “Living With Complexity.” The software inside a smartphone changed that. He thinks people merely like their Amazon Kindle e-readers, but don’t love them because the software doesn’t function as an auxiliary brain.

Daily Office:
Thursday, 2 December 2010

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Look

Probe Field (BLDGBLOG)

Noted

¶ Nige appreciates Osbert Lancaster.

Morning Snip:
Discreet

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Long ago and far away — well, a few dozen blocks from here — Nan Talese took Jackie Onassis to lunch at Serendipity. As one of the few seasoned pros in publishing who also happened to be a woman, she was asked to give the fledgling publisher some pointers. But she learned something, too.

Mrs. Onassis, the industry novice, inadvertently gave Ms. Talese a helpful lesson in business etiquette, she remembered of their lunch. “We didn’t get a check, and I realized either she had given them her credit card or she had an account here,” she said. “I learned from that, because at that point there were not many women in publishing.”

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Look

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

Noted

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

Morning Snip:
The Polish Flintstones

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Howard Jacobson complains about the shortcomings of Hanukkah from a young person’s perspective. (NYT)

And there’s another way — for it is supposed to be a children’s festival, after all — in which Jewish children celebrating Hanukkah feel short-changed alongside their Christian friends gearing up for Christmas. The presents. Or rather, the lack of presents. No train sets or roller skates for Hanukkah, no smartphones or iPads. Just the dreidel, the four-sided spinning top with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet on each surface.
How many years did I feign excitement when this nothing of a toy was produced? The dreidel would appear and the whole family would fall into some horrible imitation of shtetl simplicity, spinning the dreidel and pretending to care which character was uppermost when it landed. Who did we think we were — the Polish equivalent of the Flintstones?

Daily Office:
Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Look

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

¶ “Crumpled City” maps. (GOOD)

Noted

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

Morning Snip:
Picture This

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Oh, dear, how keen we’d have been to be there, when George Castro was arrested in his home, in connection with a crime that’s still pretty unclear. It involves the siphoning of Columbia University millions into a bank account in the name of “IT Security Solutions” — how perfect is that — for which Mr Castro had signing authority. (NYT; via The Morning News)

Mr. Castro, 48, was charged with first-degree grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

When investigators went to Mr. Castro’s home on Wednesday to arrest him, they found him with a bag containing $200,000 in cash, the complaint said. They also seized a car, an Audi worth more than $80,000, according to the complaint.

“The money just appeared in my account,” Mr. Castro told the authorities at the time, according to the complaint. “I got greedy. I bought the car with money from the account and made other purchases.”

The picture of a man holding a bag of cash and claiming that it “just appeared” in his bank account is as delicious as wickedness gets.

Daily Office:
Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday, November 29th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Look

Ancient Madder. (Ivy Style)

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

Noted

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

Morning Snip:
Pleasing Stream of the Old Rancid

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Some holiday thoughts from Jim Quinn, at The Burning Platform (via Naked Capitalism):

Becoming educated, thinking critically, working hard, saving money to buy what you need (as opposed to what you want), developing human relationships, and questioning the motivations of government, corporate and religious leaders is hard. It is easy to coast through school and never read a book for the rest of your life. It is easy to not think about the future, your retirement, or the future of unborn generations. It is easy to coast through life at a job (until you lose it) that is unchallenging, with no desire or motivation for advancement. It is easy to make your everyday troubles disappear by whipping out your piece of plastic and acquiring everything you desire today. If your brother-in-law buys a 7,000 sq ft, 7 bedroom, 4 bath, 3 car garage, monolith to decadence for his family of 3, thirty miles from civilization, with no money down and a no doc Option ARM providing the funds, why shouldn’t you get in on the fun. It’s easy. Why sit around the kitchen table and talk with your kids, when you can easily cruise the internet downloading free porn or recording every trivial detail of your shallow life on Facebook so others can waste their time reading about your life. It is easiest to believe your elected leaders, glorified mega-corporation CEOs, and millionaire pastors preaching the word of God for a “small” contribution to their mega-churches.

Democracy is hard. Doing what’s easy doing what “everyone else” is doing — that’s not democracy.

Housekeeping Note:
Vacation

Monday, November 15th, 2010

We are on vacation! Which means, at a minimum, no cross-posting. Tag along at The Daily Blague / reader.

Morning Snip:
Beastweek

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Good luck with that, says David Carr, writing about “Beastweek” and proffering a list of people (all men) who made it possible for Tina Brown to take on a great new business challenge. (NYT)

The list of people who turned down the job of reviving Newsweek reads like the reservation list of Michael’s restaurant in Midtown on a very busy day.

The people who said no before Ms. Brown said yes are said by at least two people involved in the process to include (in no particular order): Peter Kaplan, former editor of The New York Observer and now at Women’s Wear Daily; Josh Tyrangiel, formerly of Time Inc. and now at Bloomberg Businessweek; Kurt Andersen, the founder of Spy and the former editor of New York magazine; Adam Moss, the current editor of New York; Jim Kelly, the former editor of Time magazine; Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor in chief of the Slate Group; Fareed Zakaria, a former Newsweek luminary now at Time and CNN; and Andrew Sullivan, the blogger and former editor of The New Republic.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
Room Service

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Our birthday present to Megan, a few days after the event, was brunch, served at her house but prepared at ours, using plates, forks, napkins, glasses, and even a frypan that we brought from home (and meant to bring back dirty). I packed everything in two giant Bean’s tote bags, and, if I do say so myself, it came off very nicely. The sausages were still warm when we got downtown; the fresh-baked sweet rolls slid out of their baking dish without any fuss; the pineapple corer not only handily provided Ryan with a bowl of a favorite fruit but made a nice present to leave behind; and the carafe of orange juice, squeezed minutes before leaving Yorkville, never came close to tipping over. It was really nothing but what I do every weekend at home; and, because I do it every weekend, it didn’t require much thought to make it readily portable. I scrambled the eggs on Megan’s stove — so much for cooking on arrival. As I went along, I deposted used utensils in plastic grocery store bags, and trash (eggshells!) in a Hefty bag that I’d brought along for the purpose. When the eggs were ready, Kathleen took over and served everyone. I’d meant to toss the dirty plates into shopping bags as well, but Ryan got to them first, while I was playing with Will. All I’d asked him to do was to make the coffee, which he did to perfection. Will liked the sausage, but not the pineapple. Will licked the eggs that weren’t served right away.

You’d think that breakfast would be the hardest meal to prepare and transport, but it turned out not to be, not at all. It was no big deal — because, I hasten to repeat, I do this every weekend.

Then again: beginner’s luck?

Kathleen and I took Will for a walk in the neighborhood, covering the usual route, with Dinosaur Hill, a toy shop on Ninth Street just east of Second Avenue, as our destination. Among many wonderful things, Dinosaur Hill sells real wooden blocks, and in different languages. Today, we bought Will a set of Chinese blocks. I must get another set for up here, so that I can have a good look at them. (We already have one in Nederlands.) Will has loved toppling towers of blocks for some time now, but he’s beginning to give some thought to his demolitions, instead of just reaching out to knock them down.

Walking back along Ninth Street, Will’s head pitched forward into my chest. He slept like a teenager, so dead to the world that I actually roused him for a moment just to make sure that he was still with us. He shifted heavily and fell right back to sleep. It’s the walking that tires him out — his, that is. As Megan says, we may have already seen his first steps. He took two solo strides between Kathleen and his mother. At another point, he stood for a few beats. There is no clear line, no aha! moment. The interesting thing is that he walks with his feet more flat to the ground when he’s receiving assistance on one arm only. It is very clear that he is looking forward to unassisted self-propulsion. As he is already keenly attracted to the prohibited, the coming months are likely to be frolicsome.

The sun was low in Tompkins Square Park, and it felt late in the day at two. We came home shortly after bringing Will back to his house, and took a nap ourselves. Sunday afternoons in winter are always a little bit triste. We’re looking forward. you can bet, to finding ourselves, next Sunday at two, on the patio outside our room at the Buccaneer, looking out over the Caribbean to St Thomas and St John on the horizon. We won’t mind the late sun so much then.

Morning Snip:
Niteries

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Dwight Garner, on Sam Irvin’s biography of Eloïse creator Kay Thompson:

The tra-la-la is woven into the voice that Mr. Irvin, a veteran film and television director and producer, has concocted for his book, a voice that seems to have been stolen from the trade magazine Daily Variety about 1947. In “Kay Thompson” people don’t leave jobs, they’re seen “ankling” them. They’re not fired, they’re “eighty-sixed.” They’re not tricked but “bamboozled.”

A lover is a “boudoir companion”; the record industry is the “platter biz”; piano playing is “tinkling ivories”; clubs are “niteries”; executives are either “grand poo-bahs” or “muckety-mucks.” Oh, mama. As the gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker is told in “The Sweet Smell of Success,” “You’ve got more twists than a barrel of pretzels.” Reading “Kay Thompson” is like running a cheese grater across your central nervous system.

Daily Office:
Thursday, 11 November 2010

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Matins

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

Lauds

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

Prime

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

Tierce

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

Sext

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

Nones

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

Vespers

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

Compline

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

Have A Look

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

¶ Manhattan: the underlying wilderness. (BLDGBLOB)

Noted

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

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

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

Morning Snip:
At A Glance

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The jobless recovery at a glance. (Nick Bunkley in the Times)

Three years ago, G.M. needed to sell nearly four million vehicles a year in the United States to break even, but today, it can be profitable at roughly half that sales volume, Mr. Liddell said in the video. Hourly labor costs have been cut by more than two-thirds, to $5 billion, from $16 billion in 2005, he said.

 

Reading Note:
Do Admit
Wait For Me!

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

It’s no use; I can’t tear myself away. I spent an hour poring over the Google Maps view of Edensor, trying to identify the Old Vicarage — in vain. I’m pretty sure that I located Edensor House, though. That’s where the Marchioness of Hartington lived when she received Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, in 1948 — the only photograph that I’ve ever seen in which Her Majesty the Queen looks (painfully) overdressed. Do admit: the memoirs of Deborah Mitford, dowager Duchess of Devonshire, can’t be put down. Wait For Me! is one of the most aptly titled books that I’ve ever encountered, because that’s what you’re going to do once you’ve got the book in your hands. You’re going to wait until Debo has told you everything that she has to say.

That’s what you’re going to do if, like me, The Sun King, Nancy Mitford’s book about Louis XIV, was one of the first books that you owned. (It was also, arguably, the first coffee-table book.) If, in your twenties, you found Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels to be a profoundly simpatico but life-affirmingly positive account of family dysfunction. If, in short, you’ve known about “the Mitford Sisters” for a long time, longer, even, than Charlotte Mosley has been annotating the family correspondence. (Charlotte’s mother-in-law, Diana Mitford, was the beauty who left a Guinness for Sir Oswald Mosley — almost as rich — and a wedding chez Goebbels.) You’ve forgotten more stories about these six girls and their crazy parents than most people ever know about their own families. You feel as though you must have met Nanny Blor herself in some dim childhood playroom.

What makes the Mitfords fascinating has changed over the years.

Continue reading at Daily Blague / reader.

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Matins

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

Lauds

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

Prime

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

Tierce

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

Sext

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

Nones

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

Vespers

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

Compline

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

Have A Look

The Roman Army Knife. (Wired)

Noted

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

Morning Snip:
The Buck/Back Rule

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The Kaplan College imbroglio reminds us that the management of a for-profit corporation that sets out to turn a buck on human enrichment will inevitably discover that there is more profit to be made in turning their back on it. (NYT)

But many current and former Kaplan employees and students — including those, like Mr. Wratten, not involved in the lawsuits — said in interviews that they believed the company was concerned most with getting students’ financial aid, and that Kaplan’s fast-growing revenues were based on recruiting students whose chances of succeeding were low.

They cite, for example, a training manual used by recruiters in Pittsburgh whose “profile” of Kaplan students listed markers like low self-esteem, reliance on public assistance, being fired, laid off, incarcerated, or physically or mentally abused.

Melissa Mack, a Kaplan spokeswoman, said the manual had not been used since 2006.

Daily Office:
Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Matins

¶ Memo to the aptly-named Patrick Hipp: when planning the secession of Gotham from New York State, do not leave the city’s watershed behind. Delaware, Ulster, Rockland and Orange Counties come with. (Water also explains how New York State as it is used to make sense.) What we love about Mr Hipp’s piece is the overall tone of just having had the idea of secession for the first time. (The Awl)

Lauds

¶ It’s nice to know that the top of the art market is doing well, thanks to a “new breed” of billionaires from all over the place who share a taste for the “tried and tested.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Prime

¶ From Simon Johnson’s letter to the Financial Stability Oversight Council, imploring it to make the Volcker Rule work. (The Baseline Scenario)

Tierce

¶ At Bad Astronomy, Phil Platt looks at the Nile at night from a great height, and makes the best case for space travel ever.

Sext

¶ At The Bygone Bureau, Darryl Campbell interviews Mark Bittman. Why is it so not a surprise to learn that Mr Bittman started out in community organizing?

Nones

¶ We’re disappointed by the provincial, Middle-Kingdom-y editorial in today’s Times that calls for France and Britain to devote their new program of military cooperation to manpower, not weaponry — the better to aid our misadventure in Afghanistan.

Vespers

¶ At Crawford Doyle this afternoon, we bought a copy of Wait for Me! — the memoirs of a certain dowager duchess whose doings we’ve been following for, oh, decades, ever since we read her sister’s memoir, Hons and Rebels, nearly forty years ago. Although the book has come out over here, and not just in the UK, we weren’t able to rustle up any interesting Stateside reviews. Here are two from England, the Guardian‘s surprisingly sweeter than the (still admiring) Telegraph.

Compline

¶ Justin E H Smith considers the Okies of California’s Central Valley (where he grew up) as an ethnic group. If they did the same, instead of seeing themselves, spuriously, as “Caucasian” (which means really nothing), perhaps they would have addressed their disadvantages without tumbling into Tea Party resentment. (3 Quarks Daily)

Have A Look

Antique paper theatres. (WSJ)

Portaits of the Mind. (GOOD)

Noted

Tarantula Terror Study. (80 Beats)

Morning Snip:
Chronicle of a Presidency Foretold

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Barry Obama’s childhood pals remember when. (NYT)

One time, recalled the elder son, Slamet Januadi, now 52, Mr. Obama asked a group of boys whether they wanted to grow up to be president, a soldier or a businessman. A president would own nothing while a soldier would possess weapons and a businessmen would have money, the young Obama explained.

Mr. Januadi and his younger brother, both of whom later joined the Indonesian military, said they wanted to become soldiers. Another boy, a future banker, said he would become a businessman.

“Then Barry said he would become president and order the soldier to guard him and the businessman to use his money to build him something,” Mr. Januadi said. “We told him, ‘You cheated. You didn’t give us those details.’ ”