Daily Office:


Matins: First the bad news, then the worse: Bob Herbert on the ongoing evaporation of good jobs, and Adam Cohen on a Supreme Court challenge to the ban on direct corporate political contributions.

Lauds: The Chicago Tribune‘s Blair Kamin asks, “Can the public love public art to death?” Perhaps “love” is not the word, but, yes. Ben van Berkel’s temporary Burnham Plan Pavilion in Millennium Park will close for four days of repairs. (via  Arts Journal)

Prime: Two scapegraces — one of whom ended the other’s Wall Street career — don wise-old-men hats, and discuss “Who Killed Wall Street?

Tierce: Muscato muses rather eloquently on differences in ageing, then (1956) and now. “The New Math” considers two 51 year-old women…

Sext: Almost as cool as the High Line, plus they’re in Brooklyn: the alleys of Crown Heights, at Scouting NYC.

Nones: What to do about Burma? Now that Aung San Suu Kyi has been senteced to more house arrest, in a bogus move to keep her off the next year’s ballot, sovereign critics of the ruling junta can choose from three options: pouting ineffectively, imposing sanctions of doubtful impact, or “doing something,” whatever that means. In other words, bupkis.

Vespers: We haven’t read Richard Russo, but John Williams’s review of the latest novel, That Old Cape Magic, at The Second Pass, might change that.

Compline: A young teacher at a charter school quits, claiming, basically, that she was starved for respect. Her principal replies, observing that “teaching is never about the teacher.” True — but would anyone be having this conversation if teaching were properly compensated? (via Brainiac)Oremus…

§ Matins. We are committed to the idea that a healthy economy offers a wealth of good jobs to the society in which it flourishes. We are not interested so much in good investments or in any kind of “growth” not directly conducive to full employment. We thought that Mr Herbert’s column today provided a good occasion to remind readers of our position.

But for American workers peering anxiously through their family portholes, the economic ship is still sinking. You can put whatever kind of gloss you want on last week’s jobs numbers, but the truth is that while they may have been a bit better than most economists were expecting, they were still bad, bad, bad.

Some 247,000 jobs were lost in July, a number that under ordinary circumstances would send a shudder through the country. It was the smallest monthly loss of jobs since last summer. And for that reason, it was seen as a hopeful sign. The official monthly unemployment rate ticked down from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.

But behind the official numbers is a scary story that illustrates the single biggest challenge facing the United States today. The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.

As for the other matter, only the infamous Dred Scott decision is a bigger blot on the Supreme Court’s reputation than its persistent accommodation of this country’s robber barons, whose castles are so many embodiments of the American law of business organizations.

The seminal infamy is Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railway Company, 188 US 398 (1186). This decision confers “personhood” upon business corporations. Until it is reversed, conservative jurists will be quite correct in holding that corporations cannot be banned from partaking in political campaigns.

§ Lauds. It’s fun to compare the blandspeak of the pavilion’s online tag

Programmatically the pavilion invites people to gather, walk around and through and to explore and observe. The pavilion is sculptural, highly accessible, functioning as an urban activator.

with Mr Kamin’s real-world testimony: “Once sleekly sculptural, Van Berkel’s design now resembles a beaten-up jungle gym.” 

While the pavilion is undergirded with steel, it is covered in plywood, which has been unable to stand up to the beating dished out by the assorted climbers. Had the building been permanent, rather than temporary, the architects clearly would not have used it.

“It was not anticipated that visitors would be interested in climbing the structure to the extent that they have,” UNStudio’s Karen Murphy wrote in an e-mail Friday. “[W]e are very pleased that the pavilion is being visited by so many people. … We do, however, apologize that the materials are not holding up as we had anticipated.” 

Just wait: we envision a crop of more-or-less temporary structures that are designed to be beaten into (safe) ruins by “visitors.”

§ Prime. For those of you who don’t have the time to listen, Cyrus Sanati at the Times reports that, among other things, Citigroup and Phibro come up for a mention.

Among the many topics the pair discussed during their interview was J. Andrew Hall, the head of Phibro, Citigroup’s highly profitable energy trading unit. Mr. Spitzer opined that Mr. Hall should be paid the $100 million bonus called for under his contract with Citi, despite the fact that Citi had lost billions of dollars and was now one-third owned by the government after its federal bailout.

“You can’t wave a wand over contracts and say we are going to ignore them,” Mr. Spitzer said. He suggested that the whole controversy could have been avoided if the government had put Citi into bankruptcy protection, thus allowing the firm to alter its contractual agreements.

That’s what we always thought, too. “Creative destruction”!

§ Tierce. … and asks,

What do you suppose has changed? Plastic surgery, of course, and all the routine little maintenance peels and pokes and plumpings recent advances have made possible. The overall quantities of nicotine and alcohol, both factors in speeding up the aging process, are likely down for today’s average sexageneradiva. I can’t help thinking, though, that an awful lot of it is attitude. Age, in Joan’s world, was a subject for dread, for ignoring; today, we haven’t quite got around to celebrating real aging, but we’re at least entirely happy to welcome the idea that it can be almost indefinitely postponed.

§ Sext. Who’d ‘a’ thunk it?


§ Nones. There’s a fourth choice, of course, and it’s possibly the only constructive one: pretend that nothing’s wrong. Don’t reinforce injustice by triggering nationalistic humiliation. Especially when the malefactors have powerful friends:

January 2007, before the repressed uprising later that year, the US and UK sponsored a Security Council resolution urging Burma to open dialogue with the opposition. Nine countries voted in favour, three abstained and two voted against. The resolution failed because two of the negative votes were from Russia and China, both veto holders.

It is true that the council issued statements after the 2007 protests calling on the Burmese government to create conditions for a dialogue – but that was not a full resolution and did not commit the member states to anything.

An arms embargo would be a major signal and is much harder to achieve.

So there will be a lot of harsh criticism of Burma and calls for joint action, but the prospect of a formal worldwide arms embargo must be minimal.

The best that can hoped for, perhaps, is that the governments that have sold weapons to Burma will be forced to tread softly and perhaps put further Burmese requests on the back burner.

One unavoidably thinks back to the passage of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. What ought other nations ought to have done about them? And what is the precedential value of the Nazi nightmare?

§ Vespers. The review is all the stronger for not being a rave.

Trying to get back on track requires Griffin to think long and hard about his parents, his wife, his daughter, his memory, his expectations and assumptions. Russo has always made rumination a joy, and Griffin’s thinking (and overthinking) is no different. That Old Cape Magic still feels as slight as its size and its following so closely on the heels of Bridge of Sighs might suggest, and the humor it mines can be silly and toothless compared to earlier novels.

But Russo has a rare gift for conveying the genuine emotional depth of situations and language that can verge on platitudinous. If he’s avoiding the dangers of such situations more narrowly as he ages, he’s still avoiding them. The plainspoken, knowing-but-essentially-optimistic tone that’s become synonymous with his name is what keeps the hipper crowds from raving about his work, but it’s what guarantees that the work will last. The exceptional confidence of his storytelling voice is timeless.

We must confess, however, that our vital fluids curdle whenever phrases such as “conveying genuine emotional depth” turn up in book reviews. There has got to be a better way of expressing the intended praise than this lump of hopelessly melted intellectual plastic.

§ Compline. Teaching may be selfless, but teachers oughtn’t to be impecunious. “Doing something you love” is never a rationale for treating a professional as a volunteer.

There’s a good reason why teaching does not elicit respect: for generations now it has been done by intelligent people at the margin of society. Unmarried women. Gay men, or men whose personalities made white-collar office work insupportable. There is a hard truth to the maxim that “those who can’t, teach” — although the vulgar extension of this phrase, “those who can’t do something, teach it” is only rarely true.

Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.

That’s “social recognition” as in a couple of extra zeroes on the paycheck.

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