Daily Office:


Matins: At Politico, nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge writes from up close and personal about the runaway unhealthiness of life in our Capitol. (via The Morning News)

Lauds: At the London Review of Books, Michael Wood exposes the “rococo” nonsense of North By Northwest, and thereby explains why Hitchcock’s masterpiece is so gripping.

Prime: In two posts, Felix Salmon asks two good questions: Has the NYC housing market bottomed? (No.) Have we “wasted” the financial crisis? (Yes.)

Tierce: Lee Landor, deputy press secretary to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, resigns subito when some of her Facebook comments, calling Henry Louis Gates a racist and referring to “O-dumb-a,” were forwarded to her boss.

Sext: In a somewhat more serious social app boo-boo, Amanda Bonnen of Chicago has been sued by the company that managed her former apartment, for libel by tweet.

Nones: At the London Review Blog, Hugh Miles writes about a scandal in Libya — or is it a scandal on Capitol Hill?

Vespers: In The Atlantic Fiction 2009 issues, four international writers, all of them Anglophone but none American (although Joseph O’Neill has become a US citizen), discuss the tension between nation(alism) and literature.

Compline: Any story that links soldiers and information makes us happy. “In Battle, Hunches Prove to Be Valuable.” And we remember when intuition was for girls.


§ Matins. It sounds delicious, though. (Unfortunately.)

Junk food is pervasive on Capitol Hill. It’s found in abundance — from the candies, cookies and snacks given by lobbyists on everyone’s desks, to the vending machines in office hallways, to the well-stocked candy desk that has been on the Senate floor for 40 years. Who needs balanced meals? Members and staffers regularly grab free food at the continual receptions down the hall or across the street. They live on canapés, cheese and crackers, prime rib, chocolate mousse. Their waistlines expand, but they just buy new clothes, and besides, nobody notices or mentions the result. We’re doing important work here!

There is a remarkable scene in the film where the characters and the script actually confess their interest in all these theatrical displays – their own commitment, so to speak, to Hitchcock’s movie and to our nightmares. Mason, with his splendid sinuous drawl, reproaches Grant both with overacting and going in for too many parts. ‘Has anyone ever told you that you overplay your various roles rather severely, Mr Kaplan?’ Mason lists the roles and concludes: ‘Seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI and a little more from the Actors’ Studio.’ Grant, not to be left out of the metaphor or the irony, says: ‘Apparently the only performance that’s going to satisfy you is when I play dead.’ Mason replies without the least emphasis: ‘Your very next role.’ And Grant, seeming to glance at the very movie he is in, says: ‘I wonder what subtle form of manslaughter is next on the programme.’ These elaborate designs and the reference to them may seem gratuitous, but of course that appearance is precisely the point, the vivid, continuing collaboration of randomness and intricate order.

§ Prime. For the New York housing market question, Mr Salmon consults consults the Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

If housing kept track with CPI inflation, the Case-Shiller index would be at 125 now; in fact, it’s at 140. But of the 20 cities on the Case-Shiller list, just 9 have managed to outperform inflation: Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington. The big outperformers — New York and Washington — more than make up for the underperformers like Detroit, Cleveland, and Atlanta.

My gut feeling is that this means New York and Washington have significantly further to fall, in terms of housing prices; even Miami, at 144, is still looking pretty rich.

The wasted-crisis issue, in contrast, is by nature all politics and no analysis.

Are we really back to normal already, as far as the markets are concerned?

I fear the answer might be yes. Or, rather, I fear that the relatively happy state of the stock and bond markets has removed a necessary degree of urgency from the regulatory-reform debate, which vastly increases the chances that changes will be small and ineffective. I also worry about all this new debt: the deleveraging trend seems to be unwinding itself, and the chances of moving to a more sensible and less leveraged world of more equity and less debt are diminishing by the day.

It’s precisely because we agree with Mr Salmon about the decadence of recent financial innovation that we’re not disturbed by the failure to fix markets now. And there’s a far more pressing money question out there: jobs. For once, perhaps it would be a good idea to let the money markets follow structural changes.

§ Tierce. While we like to think of ourselves as tolerant of divergent viewpoints, we have a hard time with divergent viewpoints that are stupid.

Ms. Landor wrote in one post, “O-dumb-a, the situation got ‘out of hand’ because Gates is a racist, not because the officer was DOING HIS JOB!”

In response to one Facebook user who voiced disagreement, Ms. Landor referred to Professor Gates using a vulgarity and added: “And racial profiling does exist, but for good reason. Take a look at this country’s jails: who makes up the majority of inmates? Exactly.”

In another Facebook post, Ms. Landor wrote, “You know what, I am really getting SICK of hearing about how white people are evil racists.” She added: “I get it — white men have dominated for hundreds of years and there’s a lot of anger there. But HOW MUCH MORE can the white people do to correct past injustices of their ancestors?”

§ Sext. Referring to the management company, Ms Bonnen tweeted, ““Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.” Guess what else Horizon thinks.

“We’re a ‘sue first, ask questions later’ kind of an organization,” Michael said, noting that the company manages 1,500 apartments in Chicago and saying it has a good reputation that it wants to preserve.

A friendly reminder: libel is a matter of publication, not of printing.

§ Nones. Every wonder how Muammar al-Gaddafi managed his recent rehabilitation?

The documents, which are in English, were produced by two US consultancy firms, the Livingston Group and Monitor Group, and lay out strategies for securing the Libyan leader’s ‘reintroduction on Capitol Hill’.

They also include  invoices for millions of dollars in fees. Among the more lucrative schemes the Monitor Group proposes is to produce a book about Libya based on a series of conversations between Muammar Gaddafi and ‘renowned expert visitors’,  including Richard Perle and ‘Lord Anthony Giddens’ [sic].

Scientists have yet to discover the thing that experts will not do for money.

§ Vespers. Margaret Atwood tackles the very thorny problem of taxonomy.

But what if Joyce had been from India? What if he’d written a book called A Portrait of the Indian Artist as a Young Man, setting part of it in New Delhi and part in Dublin? Would this book too be classifiable as “Irish Literature”? Many books and authors now slide into and out of the old categories, and why not?

All very well, you may say; but the points at which this doubtless hoary old subject has practical consequences are those where “nationalities” intersect with university course lists and literary prize-givings. Who is eligible? This is a question far different from “What are your influences?” or “Which books do you enjoy?” Influence and enjoyment do indeed disregard national boundaries, just as they transcend gender, race, and time. But professors can’t teach everything, and judges must draw circles. They make choices, and all choices confine.

Joseph O’Neill is a cosmpolitan if there ever was one.

There is a venerable tradition of being critical of nationalism and its assumptions. Nationalism proposes that a person’s freedom is justly maximized if the obligations limiting that freedom are set by the group with which he has most in common—i.e., his nation. A Frenchwoman’s freedom is best entrusted to a French government. Cosmopolitanism, by contrast, proposes that, as an ethical and therefore political matter, a person can belong only in a global community. Therefore a person’s freedom is qualified by obligations to others arising irrespective of the nationality or proximity of the other, or—nodding to the contribution of Emmanuel Levinas—l’autre.

Monica Ali quite wonders if literary nationalism is even possible.

Can fiction build or maintain our national identity when we are in such a state of flux, when (despite the official version) no two people in my country can agree on who we are and what we stand for? In our modern, multicultural world, one that has become geographically unbound, perhaps literature too has become unanchored. It can only add a sense of rootlessness, as writers and books traverse the globe. Certainly the university departments of post-colonial literature are behind the times. We’ve moved beyond that. V. S. Naipaul has spoken of writing “from the periphery.” But there is no longer a center against which the margin can be measured. And if there were, it would have to include Naipaul himself in his Wiltshire manor house.

Finally, Anne Michaels (like Ms Atwood a Canadian) turns the telescope around, and contrasts the national with the local.

A national literature is made not only by writers, but by readers. Recently, a project was launched in Toronto to “bookmark” the country; passages of Canadian literature, set meaningfully in real locations, will be commemorated in those actual locations. We can cross an ordinary bridge or an intersection and read a passage describing a fictional event that takes place where we stand. Where we stand, there is a story. And perhaps that is the simplest, and most privileged, definition of what a national literature is.

§ Compline. We could weep for joy:

“Not long ago people thought of emotions as old stuff, as just feelings — feelings that had little to do with rational decision making, or that got in the way of it,” said Dr. Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. “Now that position has reversed. We understand emotions as practical action programs that work to solve a problem, often before we’re conscious of it. These processes are at work continually, in pilots, leaders of expeditions, parents, all of us.”

At The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer enriches the commentary.

This research has been noticed by DARPA, which is currently developing the Human-aided Optical Recognition/Notification of Elusive Threats, or HORNET. The fancy helmet will incorporate an EEG monitor, which will track the brain waves of soldiers as they scan their surroundings. The basic idea is that the prediction error signal – the brain’s own early warning radar – is detectable via EEG before it enters conscious awareness. In other words, the electronics will accelerate our own sensory system, and make sure we don’t miss any relevant threats.

Now, if we could just adapt that magic helmet for homo economicus!

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