Daily Office:


Matins: For my part, I’m willing to trust the president to keep his new helicopters reasonably simple and expensive-extras free. Either that, Mr Obama, or please just don’t fly in helicopters! “Roger, pay the two dollars!”

Lauds: This story might appear to have more to do with business cycles than the arts, but it’s a spectacular — and spectacularly frightening — story about Level Zero of the arts, which is: the city. Dubai is just a lot of buildings.

Prime: My good friend, Liz Tilsley Garcia, has climbed behind the wheel again. NOT REALLY! It’s just another sensational road trip story.

At the time, S. owned a very practical Honda to get back and forth to work. I had an equally practical Toyota and our commuting needs were well covered. However, the cars were a bit too practical. Thus, they were basically boring and totally unsexy. S. and I shared a love of driving too fast and somewhat recklessly. Our practical cars were just no fun for that sort of activity. But we didn’t have lots of money to throw around and our jobs weren’t particularly high paying. So practical it was.

Happily, someone says the magic word: “BMW.”

Tierce: A word to avoid during the current economic breakdown is “recovery.” We don’t want to go back to the good old days. Richard Florida tackles home-ownership, once the centerpiece of American economic democracy.

The housing bubble was the ultimate expression, and perhaps the last gasp, of an economic system some 80 years in the making, and now well past its “sell-by” date. The bubble encouraged massive, unsustainable growth in places where land was cheap and the real-estate economy dominant. It encouraged low-density sprawl, which is ill-fitted to a creative, postindustrial economy. And not least, it created a workforce too often stuck in place, anchored by houses that cannot be profitably sold, at a time when flexibility and mobility are of great importance.

Sext: Phil T Rich complains to Clyde Haberman that the new president is making things tough for the Billionaires For Bush.

“He’s difficult to satirize,” Mr. Boyd said. “He’s very self-aware. He calls himself out on stuff. He’s able to leaven his own heaviness.” Self-awareness, Mr. Boyd said, was not a conspicuous trait of the previous president.

Nones: With the onset of tough times, will Russian familiarity with same breed docility or protest? The smart money, according to The Independent, is on docility.

“However bad things get, ordinary people won’t become political,” says the editor of a newspaper based in Ekaterinburg, the nearest big city to Asbest. “The women will grow potatoes to see them through the hard times, and the men will drink more vodka, and that’s it.”

But there’s smarter money: Garry Kasparov.

“People have had a stable life and still think that things will get better again,” says Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion turned opposition politician. “I expect the first waves of protests to start in earnest in March or April.”

Vespers: Mark Greif’s essay on Reborn, the first installment of Susan Sontag’s  notebooks to be published by her son, David Rieff, has startled me like a sudden ray of sun pouring across a dark vault. Sontag’s thought has always felt familiar, but for the first time I have the sense of seeing it. 

Sontag made you acknowledge that she was more intelligent than you. That cost little enough. She then compelled you to admit that she felt more than you did. Her inner life was richer, even if she didn’t fully disclose it. She responded to art more vividly and completely. Not only her sense, but her sensibility, was grander.

That’s the familiar part.

Compline: What if the organization chart were turned upside-down — and the managers were charged with supporting the workers? That’s what good bosses have always done, or tried to do, but it flies in the face of the authoritarian bent of work. Aaron Swartz walks us through the well-run team. Approval plays a tiny, almost invisible role. In effect, you approve a worker when you hire him — subject to learning that you ought to fire him. There is no in-between. (via kottke.org)


§ Matins. Kathleen had a client who had been a military helicopter pilot — an assignment that he must not have liked very much, because his idea of a party trick, during dull hours at the financial printer, was to give a short course in the aerodynamics of such vessels. He’d take his keys out of his pocket, hold him aloft, and then let them go. When they slammed onto the table, it was clear that people don’t survive helicopter crashes.

§ Lauds. We didn’t have the no-artists problem when Manhattan was so expensive that “it costs money to breathe,” so we’re already set up to be Dubai-with-artists now that the air is free again.

§ Prime. The bad news is that the Blaupunkt was under the back seat. The good news is that the gas tank was well-insulated.

§ Tierce. In case you still think that “recovery” would be nice, give this man a listen.

§ Sext. Oops! I meant “Andrew Boyd.” Robin Eublind (Paul Bartlett) warns that “Bicycling is a gateway drug to environmentalism.” But we knew that.

§ Nones. One thing seems clear: this is no time to be envying Vladimir Putin, who last year seemed set to become the first post-Communist tsar.

§ Vespers. And this is what electrifies me:

Sontag managed to make it such that though you knew homosexuality was involved in all this, it was impossible to believe that Susan Sontag was gay. This had something to do with her exclusive focus on gay men, but much more to do with her characteristic enunciation of reservations bordering on contempt. ‘I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it.’ ‘To name a sensibility,’ she declared, ‘to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.’

Critical distance, yes – but ‘revulsion’? It was a fair caution to take, perhaps, considering the social penalties that might be incurred by an unknown defender of homosexual ‘sensibility’ who became too explicit. In real life, after all, Sontag was afraid that the wrong disclosures could lose her custody of her son.

I remember, being at the time a rather dim naïf — especially where sexuality was concerned — that it seemed odd for a woman to be writing about homosexual tastes. Almost unimaginably odd that a lady would know about such things.

“Notes on Camp” convinced me that I would never be an intellectual. Although I understood nothing of high-minded modernism, I found kitsch and its latter-day incarnation, camp, as irremediably unattractive, rather like a bad smell. That hasn’t changed. Mr Greif’s essay has me wondering, though, who was the intellectual in the room.

§ Compline. This preliminary observation is particularly suitable for modern samplers:

One incredibly popular misconception is that managers are just there to provide “leadership” — you set everyone up, get them pointed in the right direction, and then let them go while you go back to the “real” stuff, whether it’s building things yourself, meeting with funders, or going on the road and talking up your organization. Those are all perfectly valid jobs, but they are not management. You have to pick one. You cannot do both.

Right off the bat, I see that the besetting weakness of the modern university is the president’s role: he’s the head of the school, but he’s never there. He counts on deans to manage things — but he does not support the deans in the way that Mr Swartz’s inversion envisions.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Quatorze says:

    Dubai; always wondered what the attraction was and how a spit of sand could support such explosive growth; now we see it is explosive in another way. I always wondered about Palm Springs too, which may yet go the way of the dodo as water becomes a major issue, but compared to the vast aglomeration that is Dubai, Palm Springs is a mere postage stamp on the landscape.