Daily Office:


Matins: According to Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, an Indian IT services vendor, American college grads are “unemployable.” They don’t know anything (global history, languages) and they hate to be bored. (via  reddit)

Lauds: Kodachrome comes to an end. Michael Johnston develops the picture.

Prime: What email at Enron can tell us about predicting  big-company chaos/collapse.

Tierce: In what one hopes will be the resolution of a ghastly situation, Anthony Marshall collapsed again (this time from the after-effects of a fall), and his wife, Charlene, attributed his last collapse, two weeks ago, to “a stroke that has resulted in a headache and blurred vision.”

Sext: Department of Crossed Purposes: Philadelphia’s Parking Authority’s venture into reality television, Parking Wars, has complicated life for the city’s marketers.

Nones: Hats off to Tony Judt for saying what needs to be said about the West Bank “settlements,” and for speaking as someone who can remember genuine Israeli settlements. 

Vespers: Cristina Nehring rumbles the contemporary American essay, pronouncing it “middle-aged.” So that’s why you can’t be bothered to read through those worth Best American Essay anthologies!

Compline: Hands on the table! When someone else is talking to you, it’s rude (at best) to check out smartphones, Blackberries, &c, even if “the etiquette debate seems to be tilting in the favor of smartphone use.”


§ Matins. The “good news” is that it’s not just America. Graduates from all over the developed world are exhibiting the “dirty hands” phobia. Only now, of course, you get your hands dirty by doing boring, arcane work that you can’t talk to anyone about.

The official wanted to know why HCL, a $2.5 billion (revenue) company with more than 3,000 people across 21 offices in 15 states, wasn’t hiring more people in his state. Vineet’s short answer: because most American college grads are “unemployable.” (In fairness to HCL, the company recently announced plans to open a delivery center in another state, North Carolina, and invest $3.2 million and hire more than 500 employees there over the next five years under a Job Development Investment Grant.)

Many American grads looking to enter the tech field are preoccupied with getting rich, Vineet said. They’re far less inclined than students from developing countries like India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Ireland to spend their time learning the “boring” details of tech process, methodology, and tools–ITIL, Six Sigma, and the like.

As a result, Vineet said, most Americans are just too expensive to train–despite the Indian IT industry’s reputation for having the most exhaustive boot camps in the world. To some extent, he said, students from other highly developed countries fall into the same rut.

§ Lauds. Young ‘uns in the audience may not remember the Ninth Circle of Hell that was incarnate in the caroussels of slides that ordinary Americans actually believed that their friends would want to sit through! How amazing is that? But Kodachrome was gorgeous.

Kodachrome had exceptionally low contrast (a good thing in a transparency film) and an inimitably rich, beautiful color palette. For decades it was by far the best color material extant. Among other things, for many years around mid-century it relegated families to long sessions in darkened rooms with a slide projector and a screen, the best way people had of showing each other their vacation and birthday party pictures. Many leading photographers even today, including Sam Abell, William Albert Allard, and Steve McCurry, did much of their important early work on Kodachrome.

However, it is inherently slow and very difficult to manufacture, and devilishly intricate to process. Only one lab in the world is currently processing it—Dwayne’s in Kansas,

§ Prime. Ben Collingsworth and Ronaldo Menezes didn’t read the Enron emails; they just tabulated the networks revealed by the mailtos.

Menezes says he expected communication networks to change during moments of crisis. Yet the researchers found that the biggest changes actually happened around a month before. For example, the number of active email cliques, defined as groups in which every member has had direct email contact with every other member, jumped from 100 to almost 800 around a month before the December 2001 collapse. Messages were also increasingly exchanged within these groups and not shared with other employees.

Menezes thinks he and Collingsworth may have identified a characteristic change that occurs as stress builds within a company: employees start talking directly to people they feel comfortable with, and stop sharing information more widely.

It’s common sense, really. When you’re anxious, you limit your exposure. You reveal your concerns only to those people who might help to allay or explain them. You avoid going on record as having freaked about something that turned out not to be a problem. Still, it’s common sense in hindsight.

§ Tierce. Nothing would improve the tenor of this case more than the timely death (he’s 85, but still fooling around with treadmills! Darwin Awards, please!) of defendant Anthony Marshall. This would intensify the focus on the defrocked attorney, Francis Xavier Morrissey, and perhaps make the prosecution hungry enough to go after the real villain of the piece (Brooke herself could have told us!)

§ Sext. If I were Meryl Levitz, I don’t think I’d be able to get out of bed in the morning.

Meryl Levitz, president of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, said the show was giving viewers the wrong impression of the city and might encourage visitors to stay away.

Ms. Levitz said she had received about 200 letters and e-mail messages from “Parking Wars” viewers who said they would never visit Philadelphia after having watched the program.

“For the last 20 years,” Ms. Levitz said, “Philadelphia has made a concerted effort to be a place where great things happen. It’s so hurtful to have this inaccurate portrayal. This show isn’t about parking tickets; it’s about how people are treated in Philadelphia.”

The tourism corporation is planning a series of Web videos meant to restore a friendly face to Philadelphia’s parking regime by helping visitors understand signs and deal with tickets.

“When you get lemons, you make lemonade,” Ms. Levitz said.

Have you see what lemonade will do to the finish of a sedan?

§ Nones. There is not a straighter shooter among Anglophone commentators. Mr Judt writes with feeling and commitment, but very little intellectual baggage.

Thus President Obama faces a choice. He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such a pretense would buy him time and favor with Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond.

Alternatively, the president could break with two decades of American compliance, acknowledge publicly that the emperor is indeed naked, dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill. He could also remind Israelis that the illegal communities have nothing to do with Israel’s defense, much less its founding ideals of agrarian self-sufficiency and Jewish autonomy. They are nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing.

But if I am right, and there is no realistic prospect of removing Israel’s settlements, then for the American government to agree that the mere nonexpansion of “authorized” settlements is a genuine step toward peace would be the worst possible outcome of the present diplomatic dance. No one else in the world believes this fairy tale; why should we? Israel’s political elite would breathe an unmerited sigh of relief, having once again pulled the wool over the eyes of its paymaster. The United States would be humiliated in the eyes of its friends, not to speak of its foes. If America cannot stand up for its own interests in the region, at least let it not be played yet again for a patsy.

§ Vespers. For my part, I thought that the essay had been replaced by the magazine article. Until now, that is — until the advent of blogs. I always thought that the essay form never worked when there was an editor in the background.

In our own day the essay is an apologetic imitation of the short story. Like the short story, it tells a tale. Unlike the short story, it usually does not tell a very interesting tale—after all, this is nonfiction, so the bar for excitement is set lower. But speaking historically, the essay is not just a duller and tamer form of short fiction. It is in a different business altogether—and it should be. The work of the greatest essayists, past and present, is replete not with anecdotes, not with narratives, so much as with hypotheses; it is replete with bold theories, muscular maxims, portable inspiration. This is the very tradition that Montaigne himself drew upon. For much of his life Montaigne was known as “the French Seneca”—and not by accident: He modeled his essays after the thoughtful, feisty, pragmatic letters of that Roman writer and statesman. And Seneca, like Montaigne, like Francis Bacon, like Samuel Johnson, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, like Henry David Thoreau, was in the business of learning—and in the process of showing others—how to live and die. “Philosophy is good advice,” writes Seneca, before proceeding to mock the scholars of his own age who (precisely like those of ours) spend their time playing word games and toying with their navels. “I should like those subtle thinkers … to teach me this, what my duties are to a friend and to a man, rather than the number of senses in which the expression ‘friend’ is used. It makes one ashamed,” he declares, “that men of our advanced years should turn a thing as serious as this into a game.”

By all means, let us have muscular maxims! But I remain persuaded that the modern essay, however anemic, marks a stage in the journey away from the grandiose, the simplistic, and the metaphysical — hallmarks of essays by everyone except Montaigne.

§ Compline. On the one hand, Tut Tut. How rude not to sit still and listen to lectures, presentations, PowerPoint dioramas and whatnot. On the other hand, this problem tells us that there is a lot of packaged dead air in current affairs — meetings at which nothing is accomplished and that no one wishes to attend (no one.) That’s probably the test, so far as groups go: presenters ought to ask themselves (and the audience) if what they’re doing is interesting enough to invite attention.

As for one-on-one, may I please say here that Malcolm Smith is an ass? Rudeness may not get you whacked, but it can still have devastating consequences, as recent events in the Excelsior capital have shown.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Migs says:

    Re Vespers: I actually half-agree with Nehring. Tooth and nail, like those of a wildcat, are what’s missing – and not just from American essays. But I think one can be grandiose and still successfully write a modern essay, provided, of course, that the portable inspirations with which one wishes to leave his reader is indeed portable. How? By detailing a personal experience – and then letting the audience step back to figure out the “whole,” the provisional truth, if you will, that these details make up. Anyway, I hope I somewhat make sense, even though I’m not sure I made myself clear. Ha!