Daily Office:


Matins: Max Fisher calls it semitarianism, and Peter Smith likes it. Now, eat your vegetables.

Lauds: The evolving aesthetic of public monuments finds interesting expression in a new 7/7 memorial, soon to be unveiled in Hyde Park.

Prime: The death of Robert McNamara reminds Philip Delves Broughton, author of Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, of what he calls “The McNamara Syndrome.” (via Felix Salmon)

Tierce: Ya gotta admit: the trial as eveything: Gurneys! Oxygen! A men’s room shut down for an hour, while Charlene comforts her traviato.

Sext: Henry Alford files a report about leftovers: “chunks of some sort of appalling turgid brownish oozing cake.”

Nones: In the bad old days, utter nincompoops could inherit thrones. Now, they get elected. But the problem is the same: how do you get rid of them? The kid-glove approach taken by the Honduran élite seems not to have worked.

Vespers: Chalk another win up for NYRB Books: they’ve reissued L J Davis’s A Meaningful Life — now, 29 years after hardcover publication, in cloth. John Self enthuses.

Compline: John Lancaster, a Washington-based journalist, did not finish out his term at Atchison College, Pakistan’s top prep school (boys only, natch), but he did gather enough material for a must-read report. (via  The Morning News)Oremus…

§ Matins. And so do we. This gradualist approach to an improved diet — better for the planet, better for us — recommends itself by its very lack of radical change. Mr Fisher:

But meat remains bad for the environment, bad for your health, and really bad for the animals who die to produce it. What to do? In a culinary landscape marked by an increasingly sophisticated love of food (including meat) and by a rising awareness of environmental and dietary concerns surrounding food (especially meat), a compromise is emerging. It looks a lot like vegetarianism without being actual vegetarianism, that controversial ideology that has come to be as much political as dietary. You get all the benefits–be healthier, help animals, save the environment–with none of the sacrifices. You can still have bacon. You can still enjoy Pennsylvania hunting trips and Greek slaughtering celebrations and turkey at Thanksgiving.

This new movement is taking a few different forms, but the constant tenet is to set a schedule for yourself with your dietary life divided into two different categories: times when you eat meat and times when you don’t.

Mr Smith:

In this environment, a new trend towards moderate meat-free living could change the stereotypes about conscious eating and make the movement more palatable to the mainstream. The idea is part-time veganism, or vegetarianism. It seems less militant than its forebears and less concerned with abstract conceptions of animal rights. While hard-core vegans who forgo honey may reject any compromise (one PETA spokesperson said “being a flexitarian is like smoking two packs of cigarettes instead of ten”), semi-vegetarianism is catching on.

Both writers mention Mark Bittman’s “VB6”: vegetarian before 6 PM. We might be able to give that a try one day a week.

§ Lauds. 52 stainless steel columns, arrayed in four groups (corresponding to the sites of the four bombings), stand before a blackened steel slab bearing the names of the 52 victims.

Among the many inspired decisions that are reflected by this monument (which we look forward to visiting, one fine day) is the placing of victims’ names on the separate slab, set into the ground, thus making each column stand for a real life but not for a particular life. It is as though the victims themselves are decently shrouded.

§ Prime. It is fatally easy for trained experts to believe that critics without that training don’t know what they’re talking about. Having yielded to the urge to dismiss, the expert’s next step is to stop listening altogether. Mr Broughton proposes a simple test for diagnosiing McNamara Syndrome.

One way of diagnosing an individual or institution suffering from the McNamara Syndrome is to observe how they respond to criticism. Do they accept it and try to make use of it? Or do they lash out contemptuously, sneering at those who dare criticize them? It’s a good test at which many businesses, individuals and even educational institutions do poorly.

This may not, unfortunately, get you very far.

§ Tierce. I hope for his sake (and his sake only, not for the sake of “justice”) that Anthony Marshall’s body just quietly gives way one of these nights. I expect that, like everyone else, he thought he’d be presenting his own side of the story by now.

§ Sext. Is there a bug in our cognition that converts wads of uneaten food into culinary bullion?

At a party she held at her house in Portland, Ore., in 2001 to celebrate her marriage, two of her neighbors brought her a gift: a Mason jar with a jaunty red bow on it. “It seemed to contain chunks of some sort of appalling turgid brownish oozing cake,” Ms. Abu-Jaber said. It came with a note of explanation that read: “This half loaf of zucchini chocolate bread was a (failed) experiment. But maybe you will like it. Happy marriage!”

“To this day, we marvel at whatever might have possessed them to pass that on to us,” Ms. Abu-Jaber said.

The worst thing about the category mistake that persuades us to wrap up and store “stuff that no one wanted the first time around” is that it turns our refrigerators into morgues — rest stops on the way to the compost heap.

It’s a struggle, but we try not to save leftovers without a very clear idea of what we are going to do with them and when we are going to do it.

§ Nones. Ousted president Manuel Zelaya seems to have been struck by a gamma ray of jerkitude in the middle of his term. Will his ten-gallon hat make a Cesar Chávez out of him?

Mr Zelaya told Honduran radio that his reinstatement as president was “non-negotiable”.

“What this is is not a negotiation, this is the planning of the exit of the coup leaders,” he said of the talks.

In Honduras itself, Roberto Micheletti said: “We are open to dialogue. We want to be heard.”

But the interim government insists that the return of Mr Zelaya to power is an impossibility.

§ Vespers. Mr Self compares A Meaningful Life to a clutch of other books about dead-ended guys with “creative” ambitions.

Here we are then, in the territory previously occupied by any number of dissatisfied suburban workers: Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road; Sinclair Lewis’s George Babbitt; Bob Slocum in Something Happened; Tom Rath in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. The ease with which I can recall examples indicates how much I’ve enjoyed these books; but do we need another? Did we in 1971?

Well, it didn’t hurt. Davis executes his tale with much more open wit than the others: Something Happened is a very funny novel but is “black humour … with the humour removed”, in Kurt Vonnegut’s words, as the author “cripples his own jokes intentionally.” A Meaningful Life is more straightforward, more seductive than that, and in that sense all the more impressive for allowing no light at the end of the tunnel for its ‘hero’. It is different from Something Happened in that there, the narrator makes his own miserable comedy; here, the jokes are all on Lowell Lake. But like Heller’s book – like the best comic writing – it comes unsweetened, tempered by an undertow – an overflow – of despair.

The hero, Lowell Lake, has found his niche — as the managing editor of a “plumbing-trade weekly.” This is not the niche he had in mind.

§ Compline. The arguably unsalvageable decadence of Pakistan’s landed/ruling class glitters repulsively in the attitude taken by the students to their teachers.

Part of the problem was that the teachers were treated like serfs. They were poorly paid and could not leave campus during the day without securing the equivalent of a hall pass from an administrator. Until shortly before my arrival they had not been permitted a teakettle in their lounge, on the grounds that it would encourage slacking.

Moreover, the boys were keenly aware of their superior social status, which meant that the normal classroom power relationship was sometimes turned on its head. One day I watched in amazement as a fellow English teacher, a pleasant, well-meaning young woman in a headscarf, roamed the corridor for 10 minutes after the bell literally begging her students to come to class. She eventually rounded up most them, except for a tall, unshaven youth who looked a lot like Ben Affleck and insisted on giving her a hard time. She argued with him for several minutes more before he finally slouched into class with an insolent look. A geography teacher down the corridor transferred to the middle school after someone drew a penis on her chalkboard.

This shocked us, partly because looking down on teachers because they earned less than my father never occurred to us, or to anyone that we know. The story gets worse.

I once asked an administrator why teachers seemed so reluctant to stand up to their students. He explained that many of them moonlighted at cram schools called “tuition academies.” Day students, in particular, relied on these schools to fill the gaps in their Aitchison education, and teachers didn’t want to lose business by offending them or their parents. He rubbed his thumb and his fingertips in the universal gesture for money. Another longtime Aitchison official blamed the school’s disciplinary problems on students from “feudal” families whose large landholdings often dated to colonial times or even earlier.  “Their parents never worked for a living and they know they won’t have to either,” he sighed. “It is difficult to bring them to the books.” He estimated that about 25 percent of Aitchison students came from feudal backgrounds.

When students need a “cram school” to plug the gaps in top-dollar educations that were undermined by an inverted power structure, the rot seems fatal.

Comments are closed.