Daily Office:


 ¶ Matins: At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf brings the Twitter revolution back home: will an “information elite” shape political action even before most citizens are aware of events?

Lauds: An interesting look, written in Varietese, at the “growth” — mostly prospective, if you ask me — of musical theatre in France. The French have hardly developed a real taste for grand opera yet, if you ask me.

Prime: James Surowiecki winds up a column on the price of oil with a call for a gas tax. I’m all for it, too, but — well, read on.

Tierce: The scene of the crime, described.

Sext: Ralph Gamelli elaborates on that great New Yorker cartoon caption, “How about never? Is “never” good for you?: “Read My Body Language,” at TMN.

Nones: More bitchery-at-sea in Asian waters: as the reddit post put it, “Chinese submarine collides with US Warship towing submarine-locating device. Irony surrenders.”

Vespers: James Scott, at The Rumpus, writes so powerfully about Josh Weil’s triptych of novellas, The New Valley, that I’ve added an errand to my list: get this book.

Compline: Eric Margolis discusses four persistent myths about World War II. Watch your toes!


§ Matins. Before worrying about Twitter, the good people at The Atlantic ought to get Mr Friedersdorf’s name onto the same page as his piece — which is, in the end, typical of the magazine these days. Anxious, a little frightening, it stops short of asking all the questions.

Does this time lag matter? On the Iran story, probably not. There isn’t anything particularly significant that the average American can do to influence events. Elites spreading information for a global audience was enough. But I can’t help noticing that information elites are able to process breaking news and form political opinions about it faster than ever before (see the Feiler Faster thesis as told by Mickey Kaus); that these folks are blogging and Tweeting their policy suggestions and demands almost immediately; and that due to arguably dubious strategic political considerations, all of Congress seems to be getting on Twitter.

Are we approaching a point where political information is processed so fast that an event happens, information elites weigh in to shape the discourse surrounding it, the conventional wisdom is communicated to Congress, and elected leaders formulate reactions based on public opinion… all before most of even the formerly plugged in members of the public ever learn what on earth is going on, or have a chance to form an opinion? Is anyone who works at a company that blocks their Facebook feed going to be meaningfully disadvantaged in the political process? Egalitarian concerns aside, are the information elites going to set a course, ossify as they always do in their opinions, and influence the nation’s course too hastily? Are we on course for a kind of political singularity?

But the idea that Twitter users constitute a monolithic “information elite” is ridiculous. If anything, contesting groups will shape and clarify issues (even if this means a bit of regrettable simplification) quickly enough to present the non-Twittering public with well-defined banners, instead of boring it to death with backroom maneuvering.

§ Lauds. Yes, the French invented grand opera, and the houses to play it in, but I sense that, from the French point of the view, the rest of the world takes this spectacular art form much, much too seriously. Ought there to be more to opera  than the corps de ballet?

As for Broadway-type shows, take the pulse of the adjective “healthy”:

After acquiring two famed venues in the French capital, Les Folies Bergeres and the Mogador Theater, Stage Entertainment imported “Cabaret” and “The Lion King” to Gaul, immediately drawing healthy crowds.

“France is not yet a mature market for Broadway musicals like Spain or Germany, where we have 20 theaters, but it has a strong potential,” says Stage Entertainment topper Sandrine Mouras. “French folks are showing a real interest for musical entertainment.”

“We need to emulate Broadway shows like ‘Miss Saigon’ or even ‘Hairspray’ that can be popular and mainstream, but also raise contemporary issues,” says French stage director Olivier Benezech.

Benezech co-helmed the French-language version of “Grease,” scoring a hit with the ’50s-era tuner where its original English edition had tanked in 2002. The Gallic makeover played more than four months in Paris , and is mulling a return season later this year with a national tour.

A hit musical that runs for more than four months — wow!

§ Prime. The rise of the price of oil is as inexorable as the death of the sun: the only question is when. With this difference: the when of shocking oil prices is almost certain to come within the lifetimes of people alive today. A bit of preparatory cushioning is in order.

Mr Surowiecki observes that rising demand for oil in China and India is a completely new wrinkle in the economics of oil.

Even if we weather this increase, though, the problem won’t go away: unlike past oil spikes, which were the result of supply disruptions, today’s oil prices are driven mainly by the rise in demand from places like China and India, so, unless the economy falls back into the abyss, they’re unlikely to decrease sharply. What we’re hoping for is a Goldilocks solution, where the economy starts to boom again but the price of oil doesn’t. Perhaps we’ll get it. But, rather than leave so much of our fate to chance, we’d be better off doing what politicians always say they want to do: lessen the U.S. economy’s dependence on oil. One step toward that would be to phase in a gas tax designed to smooth out oil’s spikes and plunges by keeping the price of gasoline fixed (the tax would rise when the price of gas fell, and vice versa). Raising gas taxes is, of course, a solution that politicians—and voters—hate. But perhaps another oil shock or two will change that. 

What I want to know is whether there isn’t there some way to make affluent drivers pay a higher gas tax? A lot higher? Why can’t information technology be harnessed in the interest of levying progressive sales taxes?

§ Tierce. Meanwhile, the oddest line at the Daily News, about Warren Whitaker.

Testifying under immunity, Whitaker testified the first time he met Astor was when he showed up with the amended will that gave Marshall the $60 million.


If I’m leaning toward you and nodding with a big grin plastered on my face, it means I’m having a good time and possibly hoping we could go out and get some beers after work or something. (This example is purely hypothetical and will never in fact happen. I just wanted to put it in here in case I’m starting to sound too antisocial.)

If I should ever start to blink in Morse code, it means I’ve finally discovered a nice, safe way to express my contempt without having to openly confront you. If you’re one of the few who actually know how to read Morse code, I’m sure my impotent rage will make you smirk again. Which only proves how justified I am in loathing you. You and everyone else.

§ Nones.You don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. The Chinese submarine collided with American sonar equipment before the Americans knew that the sub was there.

No injuries were reported either aboard the sub or on the destroyer USS John S. McCain, and the extent of the damage to the towed radar was unknown.

Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher with the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy Equipment Research Center, said the American destroyer appeared to have failed to detect the submarine, while the Chinese vessel set its distance from the McCain assuming it was not towing sonar arrays, according to the paper.

The sophisticated and expensive arrays are used to remotely detect the presence of submarines, mines and other underwater objects. They are connected to ships and submarines by cables up to a few miles (kilometers) long.

Our defense spending at work!

§ Vespers. On the face of it, the stories sound frankly depressing, but it’s clear that Mr Weil’s work is a matter of literary humanism: making us more familiar with ourselves by means of creative refraction.

Weil’s keen observational eye brings the smallest details of the lives of these three men to light, and their acuity makes his other analyses gleam with truth. He writes of Osby, “It was like he wasn’t even meant to be a person. He would have been better off an animal, communicate by raising the hairs on his head or putting off some kind of smell.” This particular observation echoes a few pages later, when Osby notes as he pulls into his driveway, “It seemed perfectly possible that his father’s squashed-looking, wrinkly head might be there above the headrest, close-cropped white hair prickling on his scalp like cactus spines. Osby breathed hard out his nose.”

Despite the comparisons, the men of The New Valley aren’t animals. Nor are they machinery, the other comparison Weil often has them draw. Weil himself makes the reader all too aware of their humanity, and their emotions and heartbreak give this book a quiet heaviness, like the Blue Ridge Mountains that loom in the background.

§ Compline. One of the biggest causes of upsets with friends is my virulent hostility to pieties about the past. I loathe sentimentalized history as much as anything on earth. I’ll grant that it has its uses during the healing, post-conflict process. But then, give it the heave! ho!

Mr Margolis’s list of “annoying” myths:

  • What Marc Bloch called “l’étrange défaite“: the “collapse” of the French army in 1940.
  • The Maginot line failed. (This myth feeds the idea that you can’t plan ahead.)
  • The military (as distinct from political) importance of the Normandy invasion.
  • The war was a struggle between good and evil.

Of these, the last two carry an incendiary sting, especially for Americans — many of whom still believe that the Union launched the Civil War in order to free the slaves.

Speaking of Normandy, Clyde Haberman, the Times columnist, shares his mordant thoughts upon returning from the D-Day commemoration only to discover that State Assemblyman Hiram Monserrate, who never served in the American military outside of the United States, describes himself as a “Persian Gulf veteran.”

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