Daily Office:


Matins: Your weekend piece: Franklin Foer on governance by nudges: leave the market alone, but manipulate participants’ incentives.

Lauds: Which do you prefer? Richard Rogers’s modernist assemblage for the Chelsea Barracks site in London, or Quinlan Terry’s, which the Prince of Wales has explicitly preferred. (via  Things Magazine)

Prime: Another weekend piece: David’s Smashing Telly! reflections on Susan Boyle, the Great Depression, “the illusion of the benign long tail,” and Sasha Baron Chomsky.

Tierce: In record numbers, Americans are staying put. I’m not sure, though, that I agree with the drift of this headline: “Slump Creates Lack of Mobility for Americans.”

Sext: As a well-known curmudgeon, I will surprise no one by calling for a ticker-tape parade in honor of Madlyn Primoff.

Nones: Reading about the “existential” threat faced by Pakistan, as Taliban forces occupy ever more territory and eject the legitimate state apparatus, I hope that somebody somewhere is developing an efffective means of response. Conventional military reaction to the Taliban has never worked in the long run.

Vespers: Garth Risk Hallberg, at The Millions, kicks off a series of pieces about “The Future of Book Coverage: R I P, N Y T?” He goes back two years, to the closing of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s book supplement — a “disaster” that now makes sense.

Compline: Do you think that President Obama ought to meet with the Dalai Lama, considering how insulting that will be to the Chinese government?

Bon weekend à tous!


§ Matins. For anyone who hadn’t already grasped this, Mr Foer’s essay makes it clear that there is one thing that Barack Obama is not: an ideologue. He is a pragmatist who, so far, has been able to sell most of his compromises — and who has been willing to backtrack on unpopular ventures.

Let’s run it up a flagpole and see if anybody salutes. Who said that, I wonder, the first time?

§ Lauds. To me, classical or beaux-arts inflections suit the nature of human intelligence far better than any other mode of design. Sir Richard’s towers are lovely to look at, but then so is Claus Suter’s Moses: I wouldn’t want to live there.

It’s too bad that the Prince of Wales’s sense of tradition is misrepresented as reactionary. His support for the kind of architecture that he believes in does remind one of his forebear, George III.

§ Prime. (No, that was not a typo.)

Is it spring? Or has something really changed? And why does Susan Boyle feel like the lady of the hour? Not just the star of the moment — that’s easy. But what does her sudden success tell us? Not, surely, that Plain Janes can be found to have lovely voices.

Suddenly David Hepworth’s story about the death of Maxim comes to mind. A number of my reliable sources picked up this item, but the demise of a “lad’s” magazine didn’t seem to have much bearing on the conversation here. Now it does.

There’s a feeling going round that beauty has been reduced to sheer sluttery by PhotoShop; and, no matter how attractive beauty might be, healthy people (even men) don’t like sluts. When Jonathan Haidt’s book comes out in eighteen months I’ll yammer away on the whys and wherefores — more “purity and cleanliness.”

If what Mr Hepworth says is true (and it would seem to be true), then doesn’t the cultural room for the Susan Boyles of the world mushroom à la bomb?

It’s years since any of the pictures in any of these magazines had even the faintest erotic charge. All the girls have got the same straight hair, the same make-up and the same pouty lips, appear to have been photographed in the same un-specific context and, where the thighs have been slimmed, the spots excised and the eyes whitened, are eventually bathed in that same Venusian sheen that leaves them looking as alluring as a pair of cable-knit tights. It’s as if the advent of hyper-real cartoons like Tank Girl and movies like Toy Story encouraged the editors to grope towards an archetypal amazon. This seems to fly in the face of the fact that men are pathetically grateful for whatever they can get. That applies no less in their fantasies than it does in their real lives.

§ Tierce. The idea that it’s a good thing for people to move around the country in search of the right jobs betrays a massive failure of imagination in economic leadership.

Joseph S. Tracy, research director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said the lack of mobility meant less income for movers and the people they employ and less spending on renovation and on durable goods like appliances. But, Dr. Tracy said, the most troubling prospect is that people were no longer able to relocate for work.

“The thing that would be of deeper concern is if job-related moves are getting suppressed and workers are not getting re-sorted to the jobs that best use their skills,” he said. “As the labor market started to improve, if mobility stays low, you can worry about the allocation of workers.”

Workers are not “getting resorted”? What kind of talk is that?

Domestic relocation is an issue rich in ambiguities. It’s one thing — and a healthy thing, I believe — for young people to be able to move around the country in an experimental fashion before they get married and settle down. It’s not so obviously desirable for families of four or more to leave one suburb for its socio-economic clone three thousand miles away. (Our suburbs have become so intensely provincial that they function as residential equivalents of nationally-distributed branches of retail chains.)

Optimally, no one would be forced by economic pressures to move from A to B. As the Industrial Revolution slips over the horizon into ancient history, its wrenching dislocations make less and less sense, and environmental concerns among others will turn the offshoring question on its head: if you can get the job done in Mumbai, why can’t you get it done in Pittsburgh? (Many of the factors that make offshoring attractive take on, in the long view, the look of arbitrageurs’ transitory advantages.) 

On the other hand, everyone ought to be able to move; economic life ought to be completely portable. Everything from health plans to professional accreditation ought to be vested in the individual worker, not in some dispensing institution.

§ Sext. What I have in mind is dumping the entire load of paper on Mad Mom all at once.

Throwing the kids out of the car was a great idea! Letting the elder girl get back in but driving off and abandoning the younger, however, was not only off-message but no-message. (Except to the extent that the younger child now knows that her mother doesn’t love her.)

If I had been Ms Primoff, I would have pulled over, abandoned the car and the girls, taken the next train into town, and looked for a job doing pro-bono work for the Witness Protection Program.

Twitter has got to be the upscale suburbanite’s worst nightmare.

§ Nones. Freedom fighters — and that’s essentially what the Taliban are — thrive on confrontation and attack. They wage a gang war in which they have overwhelming advantages despite the military opposition’s superior firepower. Their mere presence on the ground indicates anemic civilian support for the state.

But then why am I worrying about Pakistan? Southern Italy isn’t really much better.

§ Vespers. On balance, the New York Times Book Review appears to be worth saving for its informational features (best-sellers and so forth), not for the actual reviews. And I could not agree more about the problem of assigning books to authors instead of to critics.

§ Compline. The Dalai Lama is undoubtedly as holy a man as travels the world, but the system that produced him was feudalism at its most rank. As China becomes more traditional and less ideological, its very traditional claim to Tibetan suzerainty (which it traditionally lacked the means to formalize) looks less and less like the Communist outrage that it seemed to be fifty-odd years ago.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Fossil Darling says:

    The President of the United States should talk to anyone he wants, and if he wants to sit down with the Dalai Lama, or Fidel Castro he should. To hell with the Chinese government.