Daily Office:
Tuesday

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Matins: David Carr writes about The Party. You know the one! The Talk launch, which happened ten years ago last Sunday. Remember? When the Web was a “niche”?

Lauds: Alex Ross’s New Yorker column on the wealth of interesting music available through Internet portals, “Infinite Playlist,” hits a lot of bases, but keeps running.

Prime: Thinking of “investing in art”? Felix Salmon: Don’t be daft.

Tierce: Compare and contrast these contemporary fines: $675,000 for file sharing in Massachusetts; $1300 for second DUI arrest. Get your dose of righteous anger at World Class Stupid — it’ll make you laugh before you can rant.

Sext: Here’s something useful to fight about while we ponder Michael Pollan on cooking and couches: the (Scottish or English) origins of haggis.

Nones: Sometimes, ceremony matters. A lot of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s former cronies stayed away from his “endorsement.”

Vespers: Here’s a wonderful new literary game from LRB: take the title of a famous book and attach it to the name of an author who (a) couldn’t possibly have written it or (b) would have turned in a very different text.

Compline: David Bromwich writes about “America’s Serial Warriors,” captured at Tomgram. (via The Morning News)

Oremus…

§ Matins. Whenever we come across stories like this one, we feel like Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo, looking down into a telescoping nightmare. Was it as long ago as that? Was it only ten years ago?

Most of us who covered media did not fully understand the implications of the new technology that could publish and distribute information at zero marginal cost. The Web was viewed as a niche, as a way to supplement and enhance the printed product, certainly not a threat that would make many of those publications obsolete.

“Most of the talk at the Talk party was about the party itself,” said Kurt Andersen, a novelist, radio host and founder of Spy magazine. “It was weird and interesting because you were sort of wandering around in the dark out there and bumping into people. There was a meta quality to the thing, a self-consciousness, that in retrospect was probably telling.”

Tina Brown herself says it best:

“It seems like that happened in the 18th century,” said Ms. Brown by phone last Friday.

§ Lauds. And stops right where serious music listeners are still likely to do: with a stack of CDs.

But these meandering journeys across the Internet soundscape can be taxing. The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes. Putting on an old-fashioned disk and letting it play to the end restores a measure of sanity. This may explain why the archaic LP is enjoying an odd surge of popularity among younger listeners: it’s a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access.

Despite the fact that I now have forty days and eighteen hours of music on my computer, enough to outlast the Flood, I keep returning to a stack of favorite disks that I keep next to my stereo.

Click through to see what Mr Ross is listening to.

§ Prime. As a rule, the phrase, “… and it’s also an investment!” indicates delusional thinking.

n reality, art — especially contemporary art — is never “a sound investment”. There are some driven collectors who buy it because they can’t help themselves; there are also some very succesful dealers who are extremely good at moving inventory and driving prices upwards. There’s even a tiny number of artists who saw their prices fall, only to then participate in a rebound during the 2000s art boom. But in general, once prices for a given artist start falling, they never recover. And the overwhelming majority of paintings by artists born after 1945 can’t be sold for any sum, let alone anything approaching the initial amount paid for them.

The same goes for houses.

§ Tierce. RomanHans’s arguments are pretty watertight.

n America, we’d rather have a drunk man hurtling down Pacific Coast Highway than an unlicensed copy of “Don’t Stop Believin’” up for grabs on Pirate Bay. Because while the drunk man can certainly cause property damage or bodily injury, at least he won’t prompt some prepubescent Korean to sing along with “My Heart Will Go On.”

Trees can be replaced. Fenders can be pounded out. Bones heal. But bad karaoke can burn its way into your brain and stay there even after memories of your boyfriend or your parents are gone.

§ Sext. This is one of those stories that, depending on the weather, sinks without a trace or generates a mass obsession.

Historian Catherine Brown said she found references to the dish inside a 1615 book called The English Hus-Wife.

The title would pre-date Robert Burns’ poem “To A Haggis,” which brought fame to the delicacy, by at least 171 years.

But former world champion haggis maker Robert Patrick insisted: “Nobody’s going to believe it.”  

“Delicacy”? Here’s what: We’d  like to have tasted haggis. Without knowing what it was. We already eat all sorts of disgusting things, but there are still limits.

As for “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” we found ourselves asking how much Mr Pollan knows about the history of cooks. Not culinary history (what people eat) but cook‘s history: who did the cooking? Until the Industrial Revolution, there appear to have been only two kinds of cooks: professionals and peasants. People who were not peasants did not cook. Operating a kitchen in urban settings was complicated and expensive. Urban lower classes bought almost all of their food ready-to-eat.

This isn’t to quarrel with the lesson with which Mr Pollan leaves us, which is that to be healthy you ought to cook your own food. (Unless, that is, you can afford to live at a spa.) We only question the air of lost virtue that hangs over the essay. If American homemakers used to do a better job of feeding their families, they hadn’t been doing it for more than three generations.

§ Nones. It must have taken a certain kind of nerve to stay away.

News reports said that several leading opponents of Mr. Ahmadinejad stayed away from the ceremony Monday, including the main opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, his ally Mehdi Karroubi and Hasan Khomeini, a reformist and the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Opposition leaders have hinted that they will stay away from the inauguration later in the week.

Two former presidents who have criticized the election, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, also boycotted Monday’s event, news reports said.

§ Vespers. Some favorites:

  • Bleak House by Anna Wintour
  • Indecision by Leon Wieseltier
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by Diana Cooper
  • All The President’s Men by Jacqueline Susann

Like a shot, Jenni Diski supplies

  • The Colour Purple, by John Milton
  • The Man Without Qualities, co-authored by George W. Bush and Tony Blair, translated into Italian by Berlusconi

Try it! It’s easy!

  • Portnoy’s Complaint, by George Eliot

§ Compline. Mr Bromwich’s essay interests me mostly for what it leaves out.

For more than a generation now, two illusions have dominated American thinking about Vietnam. On the right, there has been the idea that we “fought with one hand tied behind our back.” (In fact the only weapons the U.S. did not use in Indochina were nuclear.) Within the liberal establishment, on the other hand, a lone-assassin theory is preferred: as with the Iraq War, where the blame is placed on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, so with Vietnam the culprit of choice has become Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Nowhere in his piece, however, does the concept of “policing” appear. He doesn’t mention the widely-held notion that the United States goes to war on behalf, not of peace — that’s a Sixties daydream now — but of order.

State use of force — policing, war-making, imprisoning, and other sanctions against disorder — is no longer exercised according to a coherent program. Modern armies preserve five-hundred year-old ranking systems; effective urban policing is not yet two centuries old. Fashions in civil punishment — from probation to execution — change with millinery speed.

Characterizing the United States as a serial warrior strikes me as a panicked misunderstanding that can only obscure the need for rethinking powerful but decadent institututions.

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