Daily Office:


Matins: What is intelligence? Are there kinds of intelligence? Christopher Ferguson, at Chron Higher Ed, reminds us of the question’s politico-pedagogical nature.

Lauds: At The Best Part, some pictures by Brett Amory.

Prime: Jay Goltz poses a superbly sticky problem in business ethics that, unlike most such puzzles, has no leading dramatic edge to nudge you in the “correct” direction. Give it a think!

Tierce: “Welcome to the flip side of homophobia.”

Sext: Things to do with dead Metro cards, at Infrastructurist.

Nones: Why is it so hard to find Osama bin Laden? Just think of the money that has been spent on the manhunt. Julian Borger and Declan Walsh outline the difficulties — and the limitations of whizbang technology — at the Guardian.

Vespers: According to Martin Schneider, at Emdashes, Michael Jackson appeared three times in The New Yorker over the years. I expect that the number would have been rather higher if Tina Brown had taking over the editor’s job about ten years earlier.

Compline: Everyday depression may be a survival tactic of sorts, by reducing motivation to pursue unrealizable goals. Conversely, the American ethos’s valorzation of persistence in the face of obstacles may explain why this country leads the world for clinical depression. Oremus…

§ Matins. What ought to be a dispassionate discussion becomes tendentious when parents engage on behalf of their children.

Multiple intelligences provides a kind of cover to preserve that fable. “OK, little Jimmie may not be a rocket scientist, but he can dance real well. Shouldn’t that count equally in school and life?” No. The great dancers of the Pleistocene foxtrotted their way into the stomach of a saber-tooth tiger.

That is the root of the matter. Too many people have chosen to believe in what they wish to be true rather than in what is true. In the main, the motive is a pure one: to see every child as having equal potential, or at the very least some potential. Intelligence is a fundamentally meritocratic construct. There are winners and there are losers. A relative doofus may live a comfortable life so long as his or her parents are wealthy. However, clawing one’s own way out of abject poverty is best achieved with a healthy dose of both motivation and “g.”

The idea of innate intelligence is less and less interesting. Let’s grant that the existence of such a thing, shrung, and move on. It seems to me that intelligence — memory management — has distinct components. Some people can make lightning calculations, while others perceive obscure but useful connections. These components can be enhanced, I think, by encouragement. Utlimately, intelligence is thoroughly environmental — which is why “improving” education with a battery of tests accomplishes little if anything.

§ Lauds. Here’s a picture that I’d be happy to live with (detail):


§ Prime. What’s the right thing to do? In this problem, you are desperately seeking to replace a chief financial officer whom you have discovered to be incompetent.

You interview for three weeks. You have a complicated business that requires expertise that most candidates do not have. You are running out of cash, and the bank is getting impatient and talking about calling your loan. You finally decide on the best candidate. He does not have the exact experience you were hoping for, but he says he can figure it out. You offer him the job, and he accepts. He quits his job. He will start in two weeks.

Three days later, the bank calls. It has just found out that a C.F.O. in your industry has moved to your city. The bank knows her previous employer well, and her former boss can’t say enough about how great and how irreplaceable she is. The bank is relieved; there is a marked change in your banker’s tone. But you explain that you have just extended a job offer, and it was accepted. There is a long silence on the phone. Your banker asks you to just meet with the woman.

She comes in the next day. She takes a tour of the place and looks at your books. She spends 30 minutes going over things that you could be doing better. She is confident that she can not only resolve the crisis but “take you to the next level.” That’s exactly where you want to go!

You want to cry.

This is where legal training comes in handy: the bad-taste feeling about each of the alternative solutions might have been averted by a bit of up-front notice. The bank certainly ought to have been brought into the process at the start, and the “best candidate” ought to have been warned about the precarious state of the enterprise, so that the bank’s “invervention” would not have come as a surprise.

The real problem here, it seems to me, is the CEO’s determination to work things out with as little outside help as possible. Sometimes, playing your cards close to your vest is smart, but often it’s just a dumb habit.

§ Tierce. There seem to be two rules that govern friendship between heterosexual and homosexual men. For the straight man: watch your mouth.

The insensitivity issue does tend to crop up in the form of poorly chosen words. Justin Miller, 28, a straight mortgage broker, met Joshua Estrin, 39, a gay drama and dance teacher, at a networking party in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., about seven years ago and became close friends with him, but has had to learn to watch his mouth.

According to Mr. Estrin, “He’ll be out with me in a gay neighborhood and he’ll say something stupid like, ‘Stop being such a queer,’ and like 900 heads in the restaurant will turn. I tell him, ‘These boys are going to take you down.’ ”

For the gay man: watch your hands:

Adam Carter, 34, a straight fund-raiser from Chicago who frequently travels overseas, recalled losing a friend in Brazil after rejecting his advances.

“We were driving to a party and he put his hand on my thigh,” Mr. Carter said. “I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I just told him it wasn’t my thing. But things were never the same.”

He added: “Now I look back on all the things we did together and wonder, was it all just to get me in the sack? Now I know what girls feel like.”

When I remember how demonized the very idea of homosexuality was when I was a teenager, I’m truly impressed by the change in the comfort-level. Frank Rich, so over the old bugaboos, waxes testy that everyone isn’t as enlightened. It would be more interesting if he genuinely wondered why.

Lucian Truscott was a summer-intern at the Village Voice when the Stonewall Riots erupted. The demythologizing continues: The rioters weren’t the comfortably closeted inhabitants of Greenwich Village but a pack of scrappy kids for whom bars like the Stonewall constituted the end of the line, after which there was nowhere go to. So they fought to stay put. The sidelight on the mob and police corruption is equally fascinating.

§ Sext. The mini-skirt is kinda cool.

§ Nones. Nation-states (the United States, Great Britian, and, er, Pakistan) don’t deal well with enemies that are not themselves nation-states.

“It’s very hard to find just one person. Look, it took the Israelis 15 years to find Eichmann,” says Peter Bergen, a journalist, terrorism expert and one of the few westerners to have actually met Bin Laden – he interviewed him in 1997. His personal guess is that the Saudi construction heir turned jihadist has sought sanctuary high up in the Hindu Kush, in Chitral or the nearby Bajaur tribal agency.

The general consensus that Bin Laden is hiding along the highland border is in part based on logic and personal history. The terrain is ideal for a fugitive accustomed to deprivation, riddled with crags and caves and vertical rock walls. In satellite pictures, the region looks like silver foil that has been crumpled, then scorched. This is Bin Laden’s comfort zone, where he enjoys the protection of Pashtunwali, the honour code that makes the local tribes fiercely protective of their guests.

American and British intelligence think Bin Laden is in North Waziristan, in part because he has particularly good friends there. He has a long history with Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, a pair of formidable warriors whose militant empire stretches from Khost in Afghanistan to Miram Shah in North Waziristan. The links go back to the 80s, when the inexperienced son of a Saudi millionaire teamed up with the Haqqanis to fight the jihad against Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan. Bin Laden built his first base – the “Lion’s Den” – on Haqqani turf.

§ Vespers. At the magazine’s blog, Ben Greenman writes that even in death Michael Jackson will be different from other celebrities.

Usually, when a celebrity dies, there’s a rush of attention that inflates career and reputation, temporarily but powerfully. With Michael Jackson, who died this afternoon in Los Angeles at fifty, that’s impossible. The life he lived was so outsized, and he was in the spotlight so long, that in this case death will do in our minds what it does in fact: it will diminish him. There will be an outpouring of sorrow, of course, but the sorrow has been pouring out for years, ever since Jackson went from being America’s (and then the world’s) favorite nonthreatening pop icon to a troubled man with legal, financial, and medical troubles to, finally, a troubling man.

Michael Jackson struck me from his first solo appearances as a talented popular entertainer. His colossal, Beatles-challenging fame never made the least bit of sense to me. What made him different from, say, Neil Diamond? Bobby Darin? Even Frank Sinatra never generated the rapture with which Jackson’s star was embraced. I blame Margaret Thatcher.

§ Compline.  A new study by psychologists at two Canadian universities appears to confirm Michigan’s Randolph Nesse’s hypothesis that depression is a healthy response to serious frustration.

According to The Economist, the Canadian researchers

measured the “goal adjustment capacities” of 97 girls aged 15-19 over the course of 19 months. They asked the participants questions about their ability to disengage from unattainable goals and to re-engage with new goals. They also asked about a range of symptoms associated with depression, and tracked how these changed over the course of the study.

Their conclusion was that those who experienced mild depressive symptoms could, indeed, disengage more easily from unreachable goals. That supports Dr Nesse’s hypothesis. But the new study also found a remarkable corollary: those women who could disengage from the unattainable proved less likely to suffer more serious depression in the long run.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. George says:

    I took a run at the superbly sticky problem. Avarice seems to be factor and your idea that everyone should be sitting at the table talking much earlier and much more openly is certainly a good idea and my maxim but one not easily implemented and certainly not acceptable to most businessmen. Business still works on a “war” model and not a “community” model. I am reminded of what K said awhile back when you were discussing Jane Smiley and ambition. As I recall, K said that she and a number of her associates had decided that they just didn’t have the “stomach” to run a business from the top because of the things that had to be done to keep the business alive. Community, my friend, it’s all a community and the sooner we begin to understand that idea and respond to each other as members of our community the better it all will be. We are not at war at least not with each other though there may be a war going on it is not here with flesh and blood but rather against the forces of evil in heavenly realms, eh.