Daily Office:


Matins: At Infrastructurist, a top-ten count-down of the nation’s road-building contractors. These organizations can be counted upon to thwart rail initiatives — unless, that is, their crystal balls advise them to make tracks.

Lauds: Yesterday, we noted Holland Cotter’s demand for history lessons. Today, Philip Kennicott complains about the fall-off in shock. What’s a museum to do?

Prime: Now that the TimeWarner/AOL breakup is official, we challenge anyone to find a sound reason for the merger nine years ago.

Tierce: In his fourth day of testimony, Henry Christensen tells us just why Tony was after his mother’s money.

Sext: Tom Scocca is rapidly becoming my favorite curmudgeon. Like curmudgeons everywhere, he has a special gimlet stare for the idea of “progress.”

Nones: Having been a less-than-fastidious reader of The Economist of late, I missed the début of Banyan, the newspaper’s Asian columnist. (There, I’m honest.) This week’s piece about the (improbable?) survival of the Communist Party in China is excellent.

Vespers: Jason Kottke lifts a very appealing idea from the introduction to The Black Swan: the concept of the “antilibrary,” made up of the books that one owns but hasn’t read.

Compline: When will finance (and its ancillaries) be reformed by women who insist — as they’ve done in the field of obstetrics — on livable hours?


§ Matins. Jebediah Reed’s comment shows an interesting new use for Twitter.

We at the Infrastructurist were pleasantly surprised over the weekend to see that the MoDOT has started following us on Twitter.

Certainly the winds in this country are blowing against auto centrism. And that’s a very good thing. The best way to speed these changes along is to have an intelligent and inclusive national conversation about the major issues we face in rethinking how the country is organized.

§ Lauds. We’d be the last to deplore the occasional upcarting of the appleset, but nothing is more tedious than routine outrage and provocation. It is quite tall enough an order to ask museums to be seriously interesting.

§ Prime. Here’s a telling detail:

Yesterday, tech analysts sounded a quietly optimistic note for the once-pioneering AOL as it gets ready to face the world again as a stand-alone company. If nothing else, they say, AOL will be much freer to pursue a wider range of business allies.

“This buys AOL more time to become more flexible and establish better partnerships and figure out what will work,” said Tim Bajarin, a principal analyst at Silicon Valley think tank Creative Strategies. “As much as they could’ve tried to do that before, they were under a lot of pressure to impact the bottom line of Time Warner.”

So, who was it good for?

§ Tierce. If you asked me, Mr Christensen budged the conversation an inch or two closer to what I fear will be Tony Marshall’s abyss: his career as a Broadway producer. Just an inch, though.

“It was to give him clout,” lawyer Henry Christensen III said at Anthony Marshall’s fraud trial. “His status in New York derived from his mother and she’d obtained a great many things for him.”

The gist of Mr Christensen’s testimony seems to be that Mr Marshall regarded him as some sort of family retainer, responsible, say, for changing the lightbulbs — it didn’t matter who did the asking. The defendant seems to have had no qualms about issuing instructions regarding his mother’s will, and the insistence with which he bombarded the lawyer with “ideas” seems to have been astonishingly impudent.

§ Sext. The awful truth is that, although “planned obsolescence” doesn’t work anymore, the concept is so deeply ingrained in marketers’ and manufacturers’ minds that they really don’t know any better than to scrap perfectly good designs in favor of the “new, improved.” The cynical has become (as it inevitably does) self-destructive.

§ Nones. This I knew:

Staying in power is the party’s only credo now that revolution has been jettisoned. It is the sole reason for revamping the mechanisms of power.

But I certainly didn’t know this:

It is a commonplace that the party’s legitimacy is built on economic growth. Yet China’s leaders have long considered that to be merely the (simplistic) half of it. After the massacre, the Communist Party set about transforming itself. It launched a vast historical investigation into how political parties fall, and how they stay in power. Everyone was scrutinised, from Saddam Hussein to Scandinavian social democrats. The conclusion: adapt or die.

The older I get, the harder I find it to talk about China without sounding like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Millions of Chinese people are pained by the prohibition of genuine democracy, but billions are permitted to lead stable lives, and for the first time since the end of peasantry.

§ Vespers. It’s almost enough to get me to pick up a copy of Nicholas Nasseem Taleb’s influential (and controversial) book.

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

§ Compline. Needless to say, financiers are scarcely more credible about their working conditions than they are about free-market magic.

The arguments from Wall Streeters and management consultants about why sharing work across partnerships would never work — why the ob/gyn model wouldn’t fly (and no partner can ever leave at 5 p.m.) — border on the risible. As Leonardt writes: “The partners claim the work is too complicated to be handed from one employee to another. In some cases, that’s no doubt true. Often, though, I bet it isn’t. ‘Why are women’s bodies less complicated than someone’s account?’ Ms. Goldin wryly asks.”

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Fossil Darling says:

    Whenever I see poor Anthony Marshall being led around by his charming wife, I think of the famous line, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”