Daily Office:


Matins: Tear down that highway! Four cases (two of them in San Francisco) where getting rid of a highway improved congestion, by taking the Braess Paradox seriously.

Lauds: Fr-eye-day Candy: Vlad Artazov’s witty and beautiful sinkers.

Prime: At The Corner Office, Jeffrey Pfeffer shows how a misguided belief in efficient markets enables laziness and perpetuates errors.

Tierce: The poor jury — they haven’t been able to do a thing all week except show up and leave. Today, the lawyers argued about evidence again: the admissability of Pearline Noble’s diary. (Don’t ask.)

Sext: We can’t tell you how wet we think this iPhone app is. What’s more infurtiating than some guy strolling through a subway station as if he actually knew where he was going — instead of following Exit Strategy.

Nones: Russell Lee Moses counsels against reading too much into the Urumqi riots; that is, interpreting the unrest as a genuine threat to the Communist Party’s lock on power.

Vespers: It has been so long now that we’ve misplaced the lead that took us to The Neglected Book Page, where, as you can imagine, one thing leads to another. Pretty soon, we were perusing a list of 100 unread novels.

Compline: Villa Trianon was a dump in 1906, when Elsie de Wolfe and Elizabeth Marbury bought it for $16,000 and turned it into a showplace. After World War II, Elsie turned it into a showplace all over again. Now it’s a dump. My good friend, George Snyder, is looking for a willing millionaire to save it. Do you know one?

Bon weekend à tous!


§ Matins. There is nothing really paradoxical about the Braess Paradox. If you make driving more convenient, more people will avail themselves of the convenience — until the convenience disappears (a “tragedy of the commons” paid in time rather than resources). This might be expected to lead to a cutback in driving, but we’re not talking about Sunday afternoon pleasure trips. People count on the convenience of a new road to plan their commutes.

§ Lauds. It comes as no surprise to us to learn that Mr Artazov is Czech. We think that the best animation has always come from his part of the world.


§ Prime. If everybody’s doing it, it must be the right thing to do, right?

Efficient market thinking presumes that not only are crowds wise — if everyone is doing something it must be optimal — but that, by inference, doing what everyone else does is the path to success or at least to avoiding calamity.

We should know better. In fact, we do: Numerous behavioral scientists ranging from Duke University social psychologist Dan Ariely to University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler, have shown that cognitive biases and irrational behavior are pervasive, crowds can be foolish as well as wise, and neither asset prices nor management practices necessarily make sense.

§ Tierce. Adding to the intensifying surreality of the proceedings, “Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Kirke Bartley instructed both parties to ‘behave’.”

The pace has been glacial as of late, but the sense of an impending avalanche grows accordingly. What will the defense have to offer? It’s my secret belief (so to speak) that the defense case will make things worse for at least one of the defendants. Surprising testimony on cross will open up a boulevard to hell, possibly even giving rise to the indictment of the woman whom Pearline Noble (and every single watcher of this case) calls “Miss Piggy.”

§ Sext. Exit Strategy reminds me of old folks who used to complain that hand-held calculators would deprive kids of the ability to do elementary math — only this is more dangerous: we think that you should know your way around the subway because you have actually explored it.

§ Nones. Mr Moses corrects the tendency to see what we want to see. We ought to see China as local Chinese leaders see it.

Party cadres know that Beijing’s leadership is largely composed of officials who have not been shy about using force when protests emerged. For example, the crushing of dissent that took place in Beijing and Tibet in 1989 is seen by Chinese decision-makers and the cadres they sponsor as creating the conditions for economic reform. Party members seem to be keenly aware that that those who supported the crackdowns were quickly helicoptered into high-level positions.

Many Chinese officials are quite sophisticated in their responses to threats to their governance, and they are not tone-deaf to technology. Cellphone service and Internet access were both blocked within a few hours of the first demonstrations in Xinjiang. When word of the unrest cascaded out, much of the news was artfully managed by officials. Friends of mine in Beijing received unsolicited messages on their cellphones that provided the government version of the unrest. Government representatives handed out discs with pictures taken by state news organizations.

(Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants, although set decades ago, dramatizes what increasingly looks like a textbook case of Beijing spin.)

§ Vespers. As we ran down the list, we began to think that we’d draw a complete blank, but then we reached the Ms: William Maxwell and Mary McCarthy, all of whose fiction we have read and trumpeted to our friends.

We did have Vera Caspary’s Laura for many years, but we never got round to reading it, and, because the rather cheap edition was incredibly bulky, we gave it away.

§ Compline. As I wrote to George this afternoon, we need a Web log that scouts the world for buildings that are important for reasons other than the architectural, but especially homes that thinking people did their thinking in. Nancy Mitford had a house at Versailles — what kind of shape is that in? (It was certainly more modest than Elsie de Wolfe’s rahthah vulgar stadtpalais.

In case you’re looking for a weekend Web project, why don’t you try to find out when (in what year) the little town of Musikton — Salzburg — discovered that Mozart was its favorite son and a very bankable star. Hint: it wasn’t 1792, the year after the composer’s death. There were still Salzburgers in 1792, I’ve no doubt, who were only too pleased that the local potentate (an archbishop) had fired Mozart back in 1781 — with ein Tritt in den Hintern.  

At some point, however, the city fathers woke up. The first Salzburg Festival was founded in 1877. The one that we know was revived in 1920. The Villa Trianon, had Mozart grown up there, would have been long gone.

Small world note: Mozart might well have wound up at Versailles. He had played with Marie Antoinette (his senior by two months) at Schönnbrunn as a child, and perhaps that had something to do with his being offered (said he) the post of organist at the château, on his speculative but ultimately unsuccessful trip to Paris in 1777-1778.

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