Daily Office:


Matins: Whether or not last week’s election was rigged, the behavior of the Iranian government since the results were disputed has completely discredited it. The Amahdinejad regime’s aggressive clampdown on dissent show no concern whatever for the stability that, in China, in contrast, isalways Topic A. How do we know? Because the Internet tells us so.

Lauds: The face of Penelope Tree seems to be everywhere — at An Aesthete’s Lament, at the Costume Institute’s Model as Muse show — and she’s even mentioned in Brooks Peters’ latest post (see Vespers).

Prime:  Bill Vlasic’s story about Ford family solidarity, in today’s Times, makes us hope that investment portfolios have been diversified over the years. The value of the family’s stock in the company has dropped from $2.2 billion a decade ago to $140 million. At first, the drop seems catastrophic. Then we recollect that $140 million is better than $0.

Tierce: “The man who likes hiding in my home“: Brooke Astor’s description of her son, the defendant, to her Portuguese chauffeur. How gaga is that?

Sext: Ira Lee Sorkin (who used to be a partner of Kathleen’s), has written the most astonishingly chutzpah-tatious letter to Judge Denny Chin, appealing for leniency in the sentencing of his client, Bernard Madoff. That’s the sort of amazing stuff that you pay lawyers to do — and you can see why they’re expensive.

Nones: It will be interesting, to say the least, to heed the impact of French President Sarkozy’s burka ban.

Vespers: Brooks Peters writes about the bookstore that he was inspired to open by Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop — a novel that, I rather thought, has “do not open a bookshop” written between every line. Happily, Mr Peters’s account is unlikely to mislead any bibliophiles looking to make money doing something that they love.

Compline: Joseph Clarke “Infrastructure for Souls,” at triplecanopy, considers the strong similarities between the megachurch and the office space as they evolved in the later Twentieth Century. (via The Morning News)Oremus…

§ Matins. Just as the American Civil War was immediately perceived by European powers as wearing the new face of war. so the world is learning from Iran’s attempt to squelch dissent in the age of the Internet.

Iran’s sometimes faltering attempts to come to grips with this new reality are providing a laboratory for what can and cannot be done in this new media age — and providing lessons to other governments, watching with calculated interest from afar, about what they may be able to get away with should their own citizens take to the streets.

Who would know about Neda Agha-Soltan without YouTube?

§ Lauds. But what made her cool in my eyes was being the half-sister of writer Frances Fitzgerald, one of the great American critics of America. Even though I’m getting rid of old books by the dozen, I’ve got to replace my lost copy of America Revised, one of the best histories of histories ever written — in this case, the ghastly textbook histories used in American schools.

History in these texts is a mass of problems — some of them of the most unusual sorts. In life, it is customary for problems to occur before solutions are found, but in the texts this is not always the case. In most current books, the “problem” of poverty appears only in the context of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on it, and race discrimination occurs under the heading of the civil-rights movement. Quite often, the texts will find solutions for problems they have not mentioned — for instance, such “solutions as the Pure Food and Drug Act, the child-labor laws, and the Good Neighbor policy. The texts do not, of course, reveal which solutions did not succeed, but occasionally theymention new solutions, such as the Alliance for Progress, to old non-problems.

(Taken from The New Yorker, March 12, 1979, in which the third of three installments of what would become America Revised appeared.)

§ Prime. If you’re going to do the family-business thing, the Fords show how it’s done.

The Fords have had their tense times, most recently in 2007 when a few family members tried — unsuccessfully — to hire a Wall Street firm to advise the family on possible exit strategies.

But as they have done for decades after their meeting last January, Bill Vlasic of The New York Times, the Fords rallied behind the family’s appointed leader: William C. Ford Jr., a great-grandson of the founder and chairman since 1999.

He is also the face of the company in Detroit and much of the world, given the prominent role he played in advertisements during his tenure as chief executive.

“The last thing this company needs at this point is for the family to be difficult,” Mr. Ford told The Times in an interview. “And rather than splinter, we have pulled together.”

§ Tierce. We must say that we’re wearying of the prosecution’s case. We get it! And what’s the chauffeur doing now? Couldn’t he make it earlier, and testify alongside all the other former servants?

The big joke is still yesterday’s news: Tony Marshall has a stroke, but his loving wife Charlene makes sure that he doesn’t backslide on his exercises. So he backsides off his treadmill. That’s love. Not to mention TLC.

§ Sext. We can’t imagine anything harder to write, although, once started, we suppose, it might suddenly get really easy. How can you lock up a boy scout like Bernie?

Moreover, Mr Madoff met recently for several hours with the Inspector General of the SEC to provide information and insight into Mr Madoff’s conduct and the role of the SEC in connection with its examinations of Mr Madoff’s business. The information exchanged during the meeting will no doubt shape and fortify the future of Wall Street regulation and oversight. Mr Madoff’s participation at the meeting was entirely voluntary.


§ Nones. Is the burka a “Muslim” garment? If so, why don’t all Muslim women wear it? Is the president unaware that women in the West only ceased covering their hair (notionally, at least) early in the last century? In 1900, an American woman would have worn a hat or, if she were poor, a scarf, whenever she went out in public — in the name of “decency.” This was the way we lived then, and it had no direct connection with any religious teaching.

What if French maghrébines are making a statement, not about faith, but about personal modesty?

§ Vespers. As we mentioned earlier, Penelope Tree’s name comes up, but she is one of the few non-writers who give the entry its title. When I got to the end, I felt that I’d just spent an hour in a very charming and very quiet old bookstore.

As my interest grew, I found some striking similarities within my Penelopesian war chest. First off, one has to be a British subject to hold any sway as a noted Penelope. Why this is true is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is part of the indomitable Anglo soul; that stiff upper lip thing. Penelopes by their very nature are patient, strong, unbending. One doesn’t think of them as sexpots, simply because of the quaint, almost melodic, resonance of their name. But invariably they have an innate feline appeal. Some like Penelope Neri write fashionably erotic historical romances such as Cherish the Night. Someone named Penelope Tremayne wrote Below The Tide, “the true story of a remarkably courageous woman.” Penelope Sassoon wrote Penelope in Moscow, which sounds like a pleasant romp. Penelope Dyan penned mysteries, including Caution Tape. Others like the very beautiful Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward are secret agents. Although Lady Penelope only exists in the realm of the imagination. She won’t be born until 2039.

What could be more bookish than compiling a stack of Penelopes?

§ Compline. I have never set foot in a megachurch; come to think of it, I’ve never knowingly seen one. There was a big Baptist church in Houston that I drove by all the time, but I could never distinguish it from the office buildings in the vicinity — so I was ready for Mr Clarke’s unsentimental journey. It is hard to tell which institution rests on more social half-truths, the megachurch or the office park.

THE MIDCENTURY EMBRACE of car-friendly, arcadian settings for work and worship drew on a sense of the uprightness of the rural that had been cultivated by prominent Americans from Thomas Jefferson to William Jennings Bryan. Even after Schuller’s congregation moved into a new building on the same site in 1961, it maintained its connection to the drive-in church: Richard Neutra, its architect, made the signature feature a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with panels that slid open during services, merging the sanctuary with the parking lot outside, giving worshipers in cars and pews an equal view of the pulpit.

A similar aesthetic emerged in office design. The Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, wishing to move away from downtown Hartford in order to expand its headquarters, hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design a new structure in the idyllic suburb of Bloomfield. The result was a low, crystalline block set on two hundred acres of farmland. “The magnificent mechanical efficiency and smooth flow of this building is economically important,” said one speaker at the building’s 1957 dedication, “but the lake, the swans in the lake, the green grass, the trees, and just plain space, lift the souls of the people who work here and the company for which they work. Compare it with the steel and concrete, the grim, impersonal jam which represents the city. Which is closer to God?”

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