Daily Office:


Matins: We hear a lot of oppositional talk about capitalism versus socialism these days, but as a rule it’s utterly misinformed. There is no conflict, for example, between capitalist markets and socialist redistributions of wealth (ie, taxes).

Here’s one to puzzle out: the Tulfan Terrace development in Riverdale. Neighbors objected when developers wanted to put up a high-rise. The developers made promises out the proverbial wazoo that, had the building been completed, city government problem would probably have held them to. But they went broke — leaving the shell of a building. What now?

Prime: Reading David Carr’s “Media Equation” column this morning, “Stoking Fear Everywhere You Look,” inspired an impish thought: what if the privileging of “diversity” has undermined genuine diversity? Consider:

Every modern recession includes a media séance about how horrible things are and how much worse they will be, but there have never been so many ways for the fear to leak in. The same digital dynamics that drove the irrational exuberance — and marketed the loans to help it happen — are now driving the downside in unprecedented ways.

The recession was actually not officially declared until last week, but the psychology that drives it had already been e-mailed, blogged and broadcast for months. I used to worry that my TiVo thought I was gay — doesn’t everyone enjoy a little “Project Runway” at the end of a long, hard week? Now I worry that my browser knows I am about to lose my job.

Compline: Here’s a book that I don’t think I’ll be reading: Mrs Astor Regrets. I’m still digesting the revelations of The Last Mrs Astor. Frances Kiernan’s book used up all of my Schadenfreude. Rich, dysfunctional families are always interesting, because the dysfunction usually stems from inattentiveness, and people do overlook the most obvious things. But it was unpleasant to see the nimbus of grande-damitude tarnish. Oremus…

§ Matins. Since I don’t believe in government-operated businesses, either, I think that City Hall ought to auction off some favors on condition that the winners finish Tulfan Terrace. To put it another way, I’m a big believer in positive gatekeeping: making sure that the right guys get in — and that they always get in, easily.

§ Prime. If everyone is brought in on the same public conversation, and if that conversation is simplified for maximum comprehensibility, then do we not risk a “madness of crowds” climate that, first, having recklessly talked up novelties (remember “the new economy“? “Dow 36,000“?), just as recklessly despairs of solutions. Depending on the polarity, either optimists or pessimists cannot be heard. That’s not just bad for the marketplace of ideas — it shuts it down.

My word for today: “Wanted: Contrarians!”

§ Compline. Mrs Astor, anyway, has been laid to rest. What I’m in the market for is a really juicy article about Charlene Marshall, who certainly seems to be the wicked witch in the case. Anybody who remembers the scene in which Fanny Dashwood talks her husband out of being generous to his father’s second family (Sense and Sensibility) can easily imagine how Tony Marshall got involved in producing Broadway shows and taking a handsome commission on the sale of his mother’s Childe Hassam &c &c.

Janet Maslin does give Meryl Gordon’s book a fairly smashing review….

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. It seems to me like some part of the responsibility for a failed development like Tulfan Terrace must be shared by the City officials who approved the plans and issued the permits.

    I am curious to hear comments about this. I have been writing some very critical (though rather light-hearted) posts on my own blog since April, 2008, when a similar situation occurred in Kensington, Brooklyn.

    What I am thinking is, there is not much to be gained from asking a developer who no longer has funds to help sort things out, but there may be a way to at least reduce the risk upfront, by working with the City officials who “accidentally” approved a plan which turned out to not be workable.