Daily Office:


Matins: In the current issue of The Econimist, Lexington outlines some embarrassing figures about the hours that American children don’t put in at school.

Lauds: Jazz since 1959 — the year of Kind of Blue, Giant Steps, and Time Out — recordings that I hope you have in your collection, whether you’re an aficionado or not! (via Arts Journal)

Prime: A story about the rivalry between Comptroller of the Currency John C Dugan and FDIC chair Sheila Bair illustrates the biggest problem in regulation: updating/upgrading it in the middle of a turf war. (How medieval is “comptroller”?)

Tierce: When I saw the headline of this story about Ruth Madoff, “The Loneliest Woman in New York,” I asked myself how she gets her hair colored these days. Not where she used to!

Sext: Will the Fiat-ization of Chrysler deflate the American male’s libido? Gary Kamiya’s tongue-in-cheek reports ends with a truly dandy suggestion.

Nones: How the United States ought to respond to the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: stay the course already set by President Obama.

Vespers: Michael Dirda writes about Patricia Highsmith in The New York Review of Books: “This Woman Is Dangerous.”

Compline: Barbara Ehrenreich writes about the plight of the genuinely poor in this country, and finds that, just as it is in most places, decent (and legitimate) shelter is the big problem.


§ Matins. While their parents work themselves to death, kids spend their free time forgetting what they’ve learned

American children have it easier than most other children in the world, including the supposedly lazy Europeans. They have one of the shortest school years anywhere, a mere 180 days compared with an average of 195 for OECD countries and more than 200 for East Asian countries. German children spend 20 more days in school than American ones, and South Koreans over a month more. Over 12 years, a 15-day deficit means American children lose out on 180 days of school, equivalent to an entire year.

American children also have one of the shortest school days, six-and-a-half hours, adding up to 32 hours a week. By contrast, the school week is 37 hours in Luxembourg, 44 in Belgium, 53 in Denmark and 60 in Sweden. On top of that, American children do only about an hour’s-worth of homework a day, a figure that stuns the Japanese and Chinese.

Americans also divide up their school time oddly. They cram the school day into the morning and early afternoon, and close their schools for three months in the summer. The country that tut-tuts at Europe’s mega-holidays thinks nothing of giving its children such a lazy summer. But the long summer vacation acts like a mental eraser, with the average child reportedly forgetting about a month’s-worth of instruction in many subjects and almost three times that in mathematics. American academics have even invented a term for this phenomenon, “summer learning loss”.

I suspect that American parents are not as heedless or improvident as these figures suggest. American education is so academically pointless that most adults can forget their school-learning impunity.

§ Lauds. As J D Considine notes, the big change since 1959 is the appearance of that strange fantasm, “popular culture.” At least at its more accessible edge, jazz itself hasn’t changed all that much.

On the other hand, what the major jazz specialty labels were cranking out back then wasn’t all that different from what they’re doing today. Today, Verve Records’ biggest star is singer/pianist Diana Krall, and much of what the label releases are pop-oriented albums by vocalists such as Ledisi, Kenny Lattimore and Teddy Thompson. In 1959, Verve’s biggest stars were singer Ella Fitzgerald and pianist Oscar Peterson, and the company courted the pop end of the market with a slew of vocal albums by the likes of Mel Tormé, Mitzi Gaynor, Arthur Prysock and the Fraternity Brothers.

§ Prime. Reporters Stephen Labaton and Edmund Andrews have unearthed an omadhaun daft enough to hymn the free market in regulation.

“It’s healthy that the regulators disagree,” said Camden R. Fine, head of the Independent Community Bankers of America. “Out of their tension comes good, balanced policy.”

But the fractured nature of regulation also makes it easier for financial institutions to shop for the friendliest regulator or pit agencies against one another, lawmakers say. To reduce that risk, the administration is expected to propose eliminating one of the weakest agencies, the Office of Thrift Supervision. The agency was faulted for missing problems at some of the largest savings associations, like Washington Mutual and IndyMac, as well as at the American International Group, which it regulated because the company owns a thrift.

§ Tierce. Kathleen was surprised to learn that Ms Madoff has been shunned all around the Upper East Side and at the tip of Long Island. Lest you take this unofficial social action as the sign of a heightened moral backbone, bear in mind that Ms Madoff’s husband violated the most basic law of hygeine.

§ Sext. What if?

At this dark moment in American history, with millions of people out of work, Fiat’s lubricious legacy could resonate with American men and women alike. Moreover, while Americans may have their doubts about the sexiness of Italian cars (leaving aside the Alfa and the Ferrari), they have no such misgivings about the sexiness of Italians themselves. Properly marketed, Fiat could appeal to the latent desires of American men to be Marcello Mastroianni and American women to be Monica Vitti. I can see a glossy full-pager of two shapely Italian legs sticking out a newspaper-covered Fiat 500 window at an improbable angle, with the slogan below: “Fiat: Fun Inside All the Time!”

In short, being a sexy human being is a much better idea than driving a “sexy” hunk of metal.

§ Nones. Above all, Shirin Sadeghi counsels: no scolding.

First off, America must distance itself from discussions of sham elections – the American government’s legitimacy to condemn stolen votes has not yet recovered from its own sham presidential elections of recent. It is actually not the place of the United States government to question the domestic elections of any nation – this is internal interference and it doesn’t look good on the diplomatic or impartiality scales. It also further validates Ahmadinejad’s insistent claims of US plans for regime change.

It must cease talk of new sanctions and gradually see out current sanctions.

It must not underestimate the shrewd capability and organizational strength of the clerical system – a network that is centuries in the making and has successfully guided Iranian leaders of all stripes long before the ulema first established themselves as purveyors of the state religion of Iran some 500 years ago.

It must cease talk of war against Iran and condemn fanatic rhetoric of that kind from any nation. This talk is aggressive posturing which only elevates Iran’s credibility amongst the millions upon millions of Islamists, Muslims, and non-Muslim third-worlders who have turned to Iran as the strongest voice of opposition to American hegemony.

It must engage in face-to-face dialogue with Iran. Distant criticism and transoceanic discourse make both sides lose credibility, fashioning a wild west stand-off out of what should be diplomatic talks.

Overall, the United States must give the Republic less excuse for legitimacy in anyone’s eyes.

In a word, American leaders must recognize that Iranian politics are still determined by the legacy of American interference.

§ Vespers. WW Norton has just reissued all five “Ripley” novels in a $100 boxed set. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to resist.

Yet despite all its suspensefulness, The Talented Mr. Ripley when viewed from a slightly different angle approaches the comic: Tom must switch from one persona to another like a vaudeville quick-change artist, even as the plot complications start to recall classic farces about the mixups resulting from mistaken identities. In the later Ripley novels Highsmith will play up this mordant gallows humor. Thus it’s oddly pleasing to remember that when she worked at Yaddo (on Strangers on a Train ), two of the other young artists in residence there would become famous for a similar kind of grotesque comedy—the anarchic crime novelist Chester Himes and the Southern Gothicist Flannery O’Connor.

Not long before she died, Patricia Highsmith showed up at an Upper East Side Bookshop to sign copies of Ripley Under Water, which had just come out. I showed up, too, making four in the store (including staff). When I told her how much I liked Edith’s Diary, she smiled, but then a cloud crossed her brow. “I wrote that at a very difficult time,” she said. I’ve always wondered if she meant it, or if she had discovered that this was the perfect thing for her to say to admiring readers.

§ Compline. Health care is a social problem because it’s a fairly recent feature of civilized life. Housing is the oldest problem in the book.

In Los Angeles, Prof. Peter Dreier, a housing policy expert at Occidental College, says that “people who’ve lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying 50 or 60 or even 70 percent of

emergency shelter in St. Louis report they had been living with relatives “but the place was too small.” When I asked Peg what it was like to share her trailer with her daughter’s family, she said bleakly, “I just stay in my bedroom.”

After she gave a talk on her great, eye-opening book, Nickeled and Dimed, I asked Ms Ehrenreich what I could do. She didn’t blink: she asked me to contribute to the National Coalition for Low Income Housing. So I did, and do.

2 Responses to “Daily Office:

  1. Fossil Darling says:

    I feel not one iota of sympathy for Mrs. Madoff, not one.

    But the real happy making news of the week for me was the story that the Supremes rejected Dennis Kozlowski’s appeal and he will remain in jail. No $6k shower curtains for him.

  2. Karsen says:

    yeah, unfortunately, the tower is REALLY intnsee. basically…any lies that you’ve convinced yourself to be true, or things you think are true, will be proven to be false. and these are not small things either, these are major thoughts that will shake your world. in the end, yes, good does come from it. but it’s gonna feel like hell.think of it like a brush fire. the flames wash through the forest burning up whatever’s in its path. but when the blaze is quenched, all that land is fresh and fertile for new growth.the picture on the tower card is a tall tower being struck by lightning. sometimes people are falling out of it, sometimes it’s beginning to crumble. which is really the essence of the card, it’s very literal. “strong” towers you’ve built will be brought down in a sudden flash of revelation and realization.which now i realize sounds rather ominous. don’t be scared though. sometimes things just come to an end, some things just more violently than others.