Daily Office:


Matins: The gay divide on marriage in general and on opposition to Prop 8 in particular sharpens along the line between affluent elders and activist youngsters.

Lauds: Paul Johnson extols the work of Charles Cecil. an American whose studio in Florence trains students in the traditional craftsmanship of portraiture.

Prime: Felix Salmon continues to ponder the Summers swap. It’s intricate going, but we want Larry Summers out of the White House. Yesterday.

Tierce: At least he acknowledges that she had fun: Michael Knox Beran takes a contrarian look at Brooke Astor and her works. (via Estate of Denial)

For half a century she acted the part of Astor sultana with skill, cunning and almost indecent joie de vivre.

Sext: This ad at You Suck at Craigslist will send older folks into gales of laughter. But we remember reading that there are many young people today who have never purchased a postage stamp.  

Nones: “Boko Haram!” is the war-cry of Muhammed Ysuf’s Nigerian followers. It means, “education is prohibited.” 150 dead in two days of violence, according to a BBC report.

Vespers: John Self re-reads Franny and Zooey, and disagrees with Janet Malcolm’s claim that it is “no less rewarding than rereading The Great Gatsby.”

Compline: Although it’s a rather long read, we urge you to take the time to digest Mark Oppenheimer’s compassionate profile of two Holocaust-deniers who have fallen out — so much so that one of them no longer denies the Holocaust. (via MetaFilter)


§ Matins. As usual, progressives travel at different speeds.

John M. Cleary, president of a Los Angeles group called the Stonewall Democratic Club, said many younger activists were particularly eager to fight Proposition 8. “I find the language of some of the organizations really self-defeating,” Mr. Cleary said. “And I think we have a moral obligation to overturn this.”

He and others who support a 2010 campaign say they have a number of factors in their favor, including a newly galvanized base, a decline in advertising costs in a depressed television market and two potential Democratic candidates for governor — Attorney General Jerry Brown and Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco — who have been outspoken in support of same-sex marriage.

But some national leaders are dismissive of such arguments.

“A slapdash effort based on wishful thinking, rosy scenarios, and passion, is not enough to win on,” said Hans Johnson, a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Mention of “Stonewall” reminded me of Lucian K Truscott’s recent recollections of the famous riots, which he covered for the Village Voice.

A prominent Stonewall myth holds that the riots were an uprising by the gay community against decades of oppression. This would be true if the “gay community” consisted of Stonewall patrons. The bar’s regulars, though, were mostly teenagers from Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, with a few young drag queens and homeless youths who squatted in abandoned tenements on the Lower East Side.

I was there on the Saturday and Sunday nights when the Village’s established gay community, having heard about the incidents of Friday night, rushed back from vacation rentals on Fire Island and elsewhere. Although several older activists participated in the riots, most stood on the edges and watched.

§ Lauds. Mr Johnson’s account of “sight-size technique” make painting sound quite athletic.

Before making a stroke the painter backed away as far as the studio would allow, compared the two images, reality and art, and then dashed forward to add the next brushstroke. An eyewitness recorded:

[His] energetic approach to painting was closer to fencing. With a brush in one hand, palette gripped firmly by the other, a cigarette or cigar smouldering in his mouth, he backed away from the sitter and canvas with slow but deliberate steps, further and further. He stopped, then lunged at the canvas. Over and over again he performed this ritual dance.…By retreating he was able to make the model and canvas equal before his eye.

Sargent himself calculated that he walked four miles a day in the studio while painting, and his tracks so wore the carpet that it resembled a sheeprun through the heather. He talked to himself when difficulties arose, and had a battle cry, “Demons, demons!” before dashing at the canvas to overcome them.

§ Prime. You may have read Nina Munk’s obituary of Harvard’s endowment, in Vanity Fair; if not, don’t miss it. Mr Summers’s mismanagement at Harvard can be attributed only to demented hubris.

As Summers recently remarked to one of his colleagues, “I held out the hope that Boston would be to this century what Florence was to the 15th century.”

Harvard’s soaring endowment was the key to Summers’s blueprint for the future. Instead of promoting fiscal restraint, he argued, Harvard should loosen its purse strings. The endowment should be used for “priorities of transcendent importance,” he proclaimed to The New York Times in 2008, after resigning as Harvard’s 27th president. “There is a temptation to go for what is comfortable,” he added, “but this would be a mistake. The universities have matchless resources that demand that they seize the moment.”

§ Tierce. The more we know about the late Mrs Astor, the more obvious it is that she was something of a (lovable old) fraud.

Mrs. Astor’s regal style, which in a less adroit performer would have brought ridicule, secured her triumph. The gorgeous costumes, the glittering dinners, the flashing jewels worked their magic. She “never went out at night,” Louis Auchincloss said, “with less than a million dollars around her neck.” Her households were run on a ducal model, with a retinue of chambermaids, a butler (trained at Buckingham Palace) and a chauffeur; her son was thought to have used her cruelly when he pressed her to fill her rooms with Korean deli flowers instead of better cut ones. It scarcely mattered that the splendor was false, that behind the rococo façade lay a wizened old woman who referred to her daughter-in-law as “that bitch.” The illusion, Mrs. Astor knew, was enough.

§ Sext. Now that we’ve seen this, we believe it.

§ Nones. Mr Yusuf’ groups is “seen locally as a fringe group,” we’re told, “and [but!] has aroused suspicion for its recruitment of young men.”

The corpses of civilians are scattered around the streets of Maiduguri, after being pulled from their cars and shot, eyewitnesses say.

The police and army are patrolling, firing into the air, apparently trying to clear civilians from the area.

There are unconfirmed reports of a jailbreak in the town.

§ Vespers. The Asylum entry adds to our sense that Salinger’s reputation as a major literary artist may, if he lives a bit longer, predecease him.

What makes me uncomfortable about Franny and Zooey is that we know that this search for spiritual enlightenment also exercised Salinger at the time (and thereafter, at great length). It feels almost as though the reader is prying on Salinger’s private struggles: an ironic position given Salinger’s hard-fought protection of his privacy. Salinger is a talented writer, though I do wonder if he would be so popular now if he had continued to publish instead of attaining mythic status through his silence. One sentence in particular, addressed to the Glass children, seems particularly poignant. “I don’t know what good it is to know so much and be smart as whips and all,” Salinger has Mrs Glass tell them, “if it doesn’t make you happy.”

§ Compline. Mr Oppenheimer wants to know why two intelligent men would come to believe the things that they do — at least to the extent that such a thing can be known. Of Philip Weber, the apostate denier who wants to focus on the evils of the Jewish power-network now, he writes,

Weber thus has two problems that prevent him from being a real historian. Not only can he not put facts in their proper context, he doesn’t really want to. He dislikes Jews, and even if his dislike weren’t further complicated by his deforming need for simple answers, it’s absurd for someone who dislikes Jews to be a historian of the Jews. It’s in the nature of humanity that only someone who likes another person or group of people—likes with skepticism, of course, but still likes—can have the sympathetic imagination to really understand that person or group. At the very least, a good scholar has to seek out the company of his subjects—something that would be easy for Weber, whose Orange County is hardly Judenrein. Weber has a deep admiration for Jews—us powerful, cohesive, brilliant Jews—but it’s an admiration that could never survive actually knowing us. “I’m not friends with many Jews,” Weber admitted to me. Hardly surprising, of course. But for his research he goes to AIPAC conventions, not Sabbath services, not classes at the local JCC. He doesn’t go to coffee shops in Jewish neighborhoods to eavesdrop. He does not, in short, do his research. Like sons of the Confederacy who seem to know everything about the glorious old South but don’t really understand anything, Weber has a lot of facts, and most of them are even right. But by the standards of the true historian, Weber is a lowly fraud.

2 Responses to “Daily Office:

  1. Jones says:

    It’s pretty amusing for me, a friend of Hans Johnson’s, to read the implication that he is some sort of eminence grise.


  2. Nom de Plume says:

    Lauds: Regarding the American Spectator article by Paul Johnson about a resurgence in portrait painting, is Charles Cecil, the founder of the school in Florence, any relation to our own Devin Cecil-Wishing, himself an artist and quite an accomplished portraitist? I loved the description of John Singer Sargent’s sight-size technique. There is that modest-size painting in the American wing of the stream, water and rocks, that hangs with his large full-body portraits, where I must have walked … well, not four miles, but a lot of feet, going back and forth to see how he must have painted this to look so impressionistic up close, yet almost photographic from across the room. I love that painting.