Daily Office:


Matins: From The Infrastructurist, a list of 36 ways in which streetcars trump buses. Despite some internal ambiguities — streetcars are both cool (#6) and nostalgic (#12) — and a bit of padding (#20), the list will make you wish that we were already there.

Lauds: FROG schools may be as unlikely as fairy-tale princes, but these pre-fab classrooms do look good. Especially considering the nightmarish alternative…

Prime: David Carr goes to two very different media parties, and his report makes me think of the last chapters of Proust, but run backwards.

Tierce: Collateral damage from the Marshall trial: trusts and estates lawyer Henry Christensen’s nomination for membership at the Century Association has been tabled, pending the conclusion of the trial.

Sext: Forget three meals a day. Americans consume a fourth: all day snacking. In other news, Choire Sicha sees Hangover, reviews audience.

Nones: A cheering story at the Guardian, appended to an item noting that global arms spending has reached $1.47 trillian: “America a weapons supermarket for terrorists, inquiry finds.”

Vespers: Alain de botton asks a good question: why don’t more writers write about work? Considering, you know, the importance of jobs and stuff. (via The Rumpus)

Compline: At the Chronicle of Higher Education — the right place to begin asking — Joseph Marr Cronin and Howard E Horton wonder if undergraduate degrees are the new bubble. (via Arts Journal)


§ Matins. And how about this:

At one point, in the 1930s, a person could travel to Boston from Washington solely on trolleys, with only two short gaps in the routes.

Not that anybody would want to go that route (not only slow but probably, given the fact that pennies do indeed make dollars, very pricey.

Why did buses replace streetcars? Maybe Houston has the answer. And the lesson? Get rid of cars!

§ Lauds. Can you really imagine sending kids to school in a truck? What is wrong with this country?

Some 85,000 trailers—euphemistically dubbed “learning cottages” by manufacturers—pepper the state’s poorest districts. Cheaply built and designed to be towed down the highway, the trailers were originally intended to provide a temporary solution for student overflow. However, they’ve become a permanent problem, as 2 million students now attend classes in them every day. Often saturated with volatile organic compounds, the trailers leach toxins into the air. Those toxins cause asthma and respiratory infections, which beget absenteeism. Absenteeism, in turn, translates to shrinking allotments of state and federal budgets for schools.

§ Prime. Uptown:

For more than 100 years, the Century Club on 43rd Street just off Fifth Avenue has served as a Midtown hideaway for big-deal writers and artists. With its gracious doormen, free-flowing bars and ambient bonhomie, the private club is a portrait of a bygone time in publishing, when journalists pounded out copy all day and then gorged on canapés someone else paid for at night.


Downtown, the doorman at the Hotel on Rivington was far less accommodating. With a baleful stare and forearms like Hercules, he adjudicated those before him without mercy. There was a list, and if you were not on it, you joined the clump of the forlorn who were trying to text their way upstairs for a party celebrating Internet Week hosted by CollegeHumor and Guest of a Guest, a Manhattan social calendar site.

But the takeaway quote belongs to Rachelle Hruska, who sniffs memorably at the Gutenberg Galaxy:

“I would never get my company involved in a print product,” she said over a Prince song. “That is just a very expensive way of soothing your own ego and feeling important. I can’t see any value in that.”

§ Tierce. The tabling is highly irregular, and it signals the precariousness of Mr Christensen’s position.

Mr. Christensen declined to comment for this article, but it seems apparent that the trial — no matter the outcome — will have some effect on his reputation. The Century Association’s move to defer its decision on Mr. Christensen, a Herman Melville enthusiast, was surprising; five club members at the meeting, who requested anonymity, said they had never seen a prospective member’s candidacy deferred or denied once the candidate appeared on the ballot. Club officials could not be reached for comment.

Several lawyers within the trusts and estates community, some of whom know him well, say Mr. Christensen remains one of the respected leaders in the field.

It’s impossible to know how the triangle that connected Brooke Astor, her son, Anthony, and Mr Christensen (who, perhaps ill-advisedly but almost certainly not unethically, regarded both as clients) around Mrs Astor’s will operated, but Kathleen and I have found it very easy to guess, and as best we can make out, Mr Christensen was in a rather no-win situation.

§ Sext. Every once in a while — no more often than once a day — I’ll pop a bite-sized candy treat into my mouth, and lately I’ve been craving midnight snacks. But on the whole I confine my eating to lunch and dinner, eaten at table with cloth napkin and no rushing.

Instead of picking on Americans for snacking incessantly, though, doctors would do well to come up with intelligent suggestions for reducing stress and anxiety. For starters, how about giving up pretending that things are great — for life at the edge of an active volcano.

How giving young men some self-respect. Mr Sicha:

What struck me the most were their clothes. The men, in particular, seemed not even dressed, in their baggy, below-the-knee silvery gym clothing, and synthetic t-shirts and cheap flip-flops from China. These were clothes that were worn without any intention; these were the clothes they wore when they did not have to wear clothes. They were ugly and thoughtless. These are what the men wear when they are not wearing blue button-down shirts, which they are wearing today in their offices, for those who are not sitting at home, watching their button-down shirts droop and grow dusty.

§ Nones. We’re the land of the free and the home of the lunatic.

The investigation shows lax sales restrictions and export controls could allow terrorists and hostile foreign governments to buy equipment to use against US and British troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, US officials say. Foreign governments and terrorist groups have sought to purchase military technology from the US, according to officials, and in 2008 more than 145 people were charged with violating export control laws, with 43% of those attempting illegally to ship gear to Iran and China.

The private US companies that provided the equipment – in some cases from government surplus – said they were not required to check buyers’ backgrounds or obtain government licences for the sales. The US commerce department found that the companies selling the equipment had not violated any laws or regulations. The problem, investigators said, was that sensitive military equipment barred from export was often legal to sell within the US, with little restriction, and buyers need only establish a plausible front company.

§ Vespers. Mr de Botton suggests that work, as most people experience it today (and not as “farming” or “seafaring”), is not thought to be interesting. 

But there is perhaps an even greater, and more regrettable reason for the curious non-appearance of the working world in art, namely the belief that work simply isn’t an interesting subject. The workplace is thought to be merely a place for degrading and banal labor out of which no one could spin anything of value other than (at best) a satirical or nihilistic commentary. This is connected to the fact that much modern work has become white-collar work, almost totally without obvious heroism or romanticism. Farming, fighting, building – these are rich in anecdotes and color, they are the stuff of children’s tales. Less so website optimization and telephone customer management. It is hard to turn the latter into stories. We cannot easily “see” the interest. But that is not to say it doesn’t exist – no less than that it was hard for readers to see the interest of an ordinary afternoon in London until Virginia Woolf pointed it out for them, or to note the manifold richness of the act of going to sleep until Proust started to write.

If much of life’s value rests in work, and if novelists are concerned with forging a literature of meaning rather than romance or aesthetic gestures, then they should turn their eyes to material quite unlike what we imagine stories could be weaved from. It would be literature alive to new varieties of sensory deprivation, melancholy, boredom, passion, eroticism, vindictiveness, charity, triviality, and seriousness. It would be a literature, in other words, that properly wrestled with our modern condition, helping us to understand and properly inhabit it.

But why isn’t work thought to be interesting? If you ask me, it’s because employers said so, loud and clear, for decades, and even when they stopped saying it, and tried to talk about “missions” and “fun,” it was pretty clear that they were still all business about attendance and productivity.

It is only now that society in general is frontally rejecting the idea that human beings are highly complex machines that you can pay to do rote work. We’re doing so, in part, because the Industrial Revolution is nearing completion: robots make paying highly complicated human beings to perform most repetitive jobs. And all workers are now knowledge workers.  

§ Compline. Education, in theory, ought to be both inexpensive and priceless. In the United States, it is both exorbitant and worthless.

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