Daily Office:


Matins: Is President Obama going too far on the economy, or not far enough? Both, says The Economist, in a piece that explicitly opposes voters’ interests (“rage”) and “market confidence.”

Lauds: Steve Martin will “produce” a high school performance of Picasso at the Lapin Agile. That is, he’ll contribute (mightily) toward the costs, after parents banned the play from the high school itself.

Prime: What to do when a much-loved blogger dies? That’s what Robert Guskind’s executor will have to decide, vis-à-vis Gowanus Lounge.

Tierce: Louis Uchitelle’s report on using the railway bailout of the 1970s as a template for saving Detroit reminds me of the importance of taxonomy.

Sext: “How to Write Like an Architect,” Doug Patt’s brisk clip at YouTube, is more than a primer on stylish block printing. Like the most seductive advertising, it holds out the promise of a life well-lived. (via Kottke.org)

Nones: You know things are bad if the best thing the Irish can think up at the moment is how to repatriate Irish-Americans.

Vespers: Lance Mannion won’t be reading Blake Bailey’s new biography of John Cheever.

Compline: They’re looking for qualified workers in the Auvergne (“backwater” is a serious understatement) — and beginning to find them.


§ Matins. It almost looks as though whatever was wrong with Kansas has been fixed.

William Galston, a former aide to Bill Clinton, this week advanced two “equally depressing” theories for why Mr Obama’s team has not more forcefully addressed the crisis: “Either they do not know what to do, or they do not believe they can muster the political support to do what they know needs to be done.”

My vote is for Explanation Nº 2. I may be crazy, but I sense that Barack Obama is a great sailor — so to speak. He does not defy the winds.

During the second Bush Administration, The Economist preached common sense in issue after issue. Now, however, it has reverted to its natural, pro-business slant, as if to say, “Not that kind of common sense, Mr Obama!”

§ Lauds.An interesting case.

Martin said he could understand how some parents might object to their 16- or 17-year-olds delivering some lines, and he said whether the play should be presented at the high school itself “remains something to be determined by the community.”

He said, though, that he believed young people could be inspired by seeing the play or, if permitted by parents, by performing in it, and that the La Grande student actors seemed to understand that the “questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed.”

§ Prime. Do you keep it going, or do you maintain it “as is,” as a memorial?

The moment I read the story, I knew that what I’d like for my sites is for Portico to grow (and grow and grow), but for The Daily Blague to stop.

§ Tierce. When I was a  boy, Dow Jones features three daily yardsticks: Industrials, Utilities, and Railroads. They still do, with a few name changes — and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is still the benchmark. Utilities and railways were pulled out of the Industrial Average in the 1920s and 1890s respectively, in recognition of the fact that both were regarded more as elements of the infrastructure — “utilities” — than as speculative enterprises.

Interestingly, for all the fabled American “love affair” with the automobile — or perhaps because of it — we don’t, somehow, see Detroit as purveying something that we need.

Despite the cost cutting, the American auto companies may need federal loans for many months to stay afloat. Faced with that same situation in the 1970s, Congress created Conrail to run bankrupt freight lines in the Northeast and Midwest.

Five years later, the government-run company earned its first profit. In time Conrail disappeared, its operations sold to commercial railroads that dominate freight traffic today across the country and do so profitably.

But there is a difference. Railroads, regulated for decades, had come to be viewed as public utilities, and federal ownership was not unimaginable, said John McArthur, dean emeritus of the Harvard Business School and a Penn Central bankruptcy trustee.

“Discussions about the American railroad system and its shortcomings went on all through the first half of the 20th century,” he said, “and when the crisis came, there was a consensus how to proceed. Today, our society has yet to decide whether we want government-owned auto companies.”

In the Seventies, government-assisted radical surgery allowed the railways to continue doing what they did best (long-distance bulk transport). This time, maybe, the government will have to decide what Detroit ought to do best.

§ Sext. Is the use of an Ames lettering guide all it takes to lead a clear and sensible existence? Even as I’m laughing at myself, I take note of Mr Patt’s reminder: doing any useful thing well is pre-emptively satisfying.

§ Nones. What on earth does Ireland need with more people?

Mr. Cowen, who took office last May, has been grappling with a slate of problems that will seem familiar to Americans. Ireland is suffering through the worst housing bust in Europe. The unemployment rate now exceeds 10 percent. The government has grabbed billions from pension funds to prop up failing banks. Public servants have seen their paychecks slashed. Bankers and architects are applying for jobs at McDonald’s. As a result, popular support for his government has plummeted.

But Mr. Cowen was cheered Sunday, at least in some quarters, for his proposal to ease naturalization by allowing Americans whose nearest Irish ancestor is a great-grandparent to qualify for citizenship, provided that they have spent considerable time studying or working in Ireland. Under current law, the most distant forebear an American could claim and still qualify for Irish citizenship is a grandparent.

If I’d have been a single man when my father died, I’d probably have taken off for Ireland, rented a cottage overlooking the sea, and pickled my liver by the age of forty-five.

§ Vespers. The exciting thing about the Cheever Moment (can we call it that? we’re certainly a long way from a “revival”) is the the divide that it suggests between those who think that artefacts speak for themselves and those who think otherwise — whose opinion can be altered by knowing things about the artist.

I think that the distinction is a trumpery one. If you like the stories of John Cheever, then learning about how unattractive he could be “in person” may shade the way certain scenes and themes come across. If the new knowledge makes you change your mind about the stories, however, you have probably not yet acquired the foundation for literary judgment. The more I learn about Henry James, the more grateful I am that there is no danger of his showing up for a Barnes & Noble signing, but his writing continues to delight me as much as any writer’s you can think of.

§ Compline. Something intriguing lurks just below the surface of this story:

Vincent was invited to visit for two days, all expenses paid, and offered the job.

He, his wife and two children are swapping their Parisian flat for a large house with a huge garden – only too happy to leave the big smoke.

“We didn’t need to have 100 restaurants and 600 cinemas and 1,200 McDonalds,” he says. “If we could have the same number of birds and cows and bees that would be great. So that’s why we moved.”

Meanwhile, of course, the local kids are all flocking to France’s cities. Vincent’s children may well do the same. And think of the good sense that it makes: Young families raise their children in relatively underpopulated areas. The children go to university and spend their youth in cities. Eventually, the parents retire to the cities as well (nother other environment accommodates the elderly nearly so well). Each of the first three cycles takes between fifteen and twenty years.

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