Daily Office:


Matins: Jonah Lehrer proposes a molecular theory of curiosity: don’t worry, it’s easily grasped.

Lauds: David Denby’s unfavorable review of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds makes sense to us — which confirms our suspicion that it is an old-man view of things.

Prime: Felix Salmon reads that crazy story about the guy with the $25,000 certified check in his briefcase, and contemplates a depressing conclusion.

Tierce: Why rock stars ought to die young: “eccentric-looking old man” spooks renters, turns out to be Bob Dylan. (via The Morning News)

Sext: A “Good Food Manifesto for America”, from former basketball pro Will Allen. (via How to Cook Like Your Grandmother)

Nones: Turkey struck an interesting agreement with Iraq last week: more water (for Iraq) in exchange for tougher crackdowns on PKK rebels active near the Turkish border. (via Good)

Vespers: Not so hypothetical: what if you could teach only one novel in a literature class that would probably constitute your students’ only contact with great fiction? A reader asks the editors of The Millions.

Compline: Two former policemen argue for legalizing narcotics. (via reddit)


§ Matins. Yes, we’re curious, very curious. But no, we’re not curious about just any old thing.

The brain, as we all know, is not an indiscriminate curiosity machine. Most people don’t want to know more about quantum mechanics, or the actual details of health care reform, or what’s happening in the Afghanistan presidential campaign. In other words, our craving for news tends towards the local and the personal – our curiosity is circumscribed. Why might this be? The answer, I think, has to do with the molecular details of how information triggers rewards.

If we accept the theory that Mr Lehrer goes on to outline, then it becomes clear that the goal of education ought to be the enhancement of curiosity, probably by reducing the amount of information that, to an uneducated mind, might be unwelcome.

Among other things, the “information addiction” thesis explains why, after years of not watching television, we find doing so acutely repellent.

§ Lauds. Our concern, really is that viewers will think that they’ve had a history lesson.

The film is skillfullOur concern, really is that viewers will think that they’ve had a history lessony made, but it’s too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke. Tarantino may think that he is doing Jews a favor by launching this revenge fantasy (in the burning theatre, working-class Jewish boys get to pump Hitler and Göring full of lead), but somehow I doubt that the gesture will be appreciated. Tarantino has become an embarrassment: his virtuosity as a maker of images has been overwhelmed by his inanity as an idiot de la cinémathèque. “Inglourious Basterds” is a hundred and fifty-two minutes long, but Tarantino’s fans will wait for the director’s cut, which no doubt shows Shirley Temple arriving at Treblinka with the Glenn Miller band and performing a special rendition of “Baby Take a Bow,” from the immortal 1934 movie of the same name, before she fetchingly leads the S.S. guards to the gas chamber.

Quentin Tarantino meets Shirley Temple! Who’s Bambi?

§ Prime. What if…

A mortgage isn’t a credit card: you shouldn’t be slapped with fees and lawsuits just for missing a single payment. But maybe, for mortgages taken out at the height of the boom in mid-2006, that’s exactly where banks like WaMu thought they were going to make their money. If true, that’s utterly depressing.

§ Tierce. Did Officer Buble do the right thing?

“I asked him what his name was and he said, ‘Bob Dylan,’ Buble said. “Now, I’ve seen pictures of Bob Dylan from a long time ago and he didn’t look like Bob Dylan to me at all. He was wearing black sweatpants tucked into black rain boots, and two raincoats with the hood pulled down over his head.

“So I said, ‘OK Bob, what are you doing in Long Branch?’ He said he was touring the country with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. So now I’m really a little fishy about his story. I did not know what to believe or where he was coming from, or even who he was.

“We see a lot of people on our beat, and I wasn’t sure if he came from one of our hospitals or something,” Buble said.

She asked for identification, but Dylan said he had none. She asked where he was staying and he said his tour buses were parked at some big hotel on the ocean. Buble said she assumed that to be the nearby Ocean Place Conference Resort.

“He was acting very suspicious,” Buble said. “Not delusional, just suspicious. You know, it was pouring rain and everything.”

In our view, this story completely beats all those weedy Woodstock reminiscences.

§ Sext. If nothing else, Mr Allen’s manifesto directs our attention to things that need fixing.

We need a national nutrition plan that is not just another entitlement, that is not a matter of shipping surplus calories to schools, senior centers, and veterans’ homes. We need a plan that encourages a return to the best practices of both farming and marketing, that rewards the grower who protects the environment and his customers by nourishing his soil with compost instead of chemicals and who ships his goods the shortest distance, not the longest.

If the main purpose of government is to provide for the common security of its citizens, surely ensuring the security of their food system must be among its paramount duties. And if among our rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we are denied all those rights if our cities become prisons of poverty and malnutrition.

The problem of nutrition for low-income families is acute, and intimately related to health care. We strongly urge you to print the 9-page manifesto, read it, and hand it on to a friend.

§ Nones. The most interesting thing about the agreement is that it is not quite as quid-pro-quo as might at first appear. The headwaters of the Tigris River lie in what would almost certainly be Kurdistan if there were a Kurdistan. In order to control the water, the Turks must control the rebels. Another interesting detail:

Northern Iraq has been governed since 1991 by Iraqi Kurds as a semiautonomous territory but there is little affinity with the PKK, which has attacked soldiers and civilians, particularly as relations improve with Ankara.

And then there are the 50,000 Turks currently working in Iraq. They’re working mostly in the North, and many of them, presumably, are ethnic Kurds.  

§ Vespers. Yikes! We almost wish that we had read Cloud Atlas, just so that we could more fully assess Lydia Kiesling’s recommendation, which seems sound enough on the face of it.

This question has made my week a little less enjoyable, because every time I sat down to lounge, I remembered that I had to pick the only book that a group of people will read, maybe ever.  Their lives were in my hands.  I thought about it a lot, and I have decided that I would assign David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.  It is intensely readable, so they will actually read it.  Some things I had to read in college English classes, like the wretched Pamela, were so unfun to read that I did not, in fact, read them.  Never underestimate a college student’s unwillingness to do his or her homework, especially if it is boring.  Also, Cloud Atlas centers around a neat narrative trick, so you can talk about novels and the different ways people make them.  Since it adopts a series of voices, you can tell the students that if they liked the Frobisher part, they can try Isherwood, and Martin Amis if they liked the Cavendish part, and so on.  Ideally this will trick them into reading more novels.  Finally, Cloud Atlas even has A Message, slightly simplistic though it may be, and will provide gentle moral instruction to your flock (I think it’s “Make love not war, save the planet”).

This is a very different question from “What’s the best novel?” (Middlemarch; end of discussion.) What’s wanted here is a good novel that students will like well enough to read it with pleasure. The idea is to sow a few seeds, not to make sure that a famous title has been consumed.

So the book would have to be contemporary, and it would have to be relatively straightforward. Our hunch is that the social-questions aspect of the book (sexuality &c) had better be conventional. The book that best seems to fill the bill is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres.

§ Compline. It’s not so much what’s said as who’s saying it.

Police officers are taught about the evils of the drug trade and given the knowledge and tools to inflict as much damage as possible upon the people who constitute the drug community. Policymakers tell us to fight this unwinnable war.

Only after years of witnessing the ineffectiveness of drug policies — and the disproportionate impact the drug war has on young black men — have we and other police officers begun to question the system.

Cities and states license beer and tobacco sellers to control where, when and to whom drugs are sold. Ending Prohibition saved lives because it took gangsters out of the game. Regulated alcohol doesn’t work perfectly, but it works well enough. Prescription drugs are regulated, and while there is a huge problem with abuse, at least a system of distribution involving doctors and pharmacists works without violence and high-volume incarceration. Regulating drugs would work similarly: not a cure-all, but a vast improvement on the status quo.

Legalization would not create a drug free-for-all. In fact, regulation reins in the mess we already have.

Sadly, we must bear in mind the ineffectiveness of police advocacy reagrding strict gun control. Still, it’s hard not to hope that these arguments will reach new ears.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. David says:

    Finally, if you haven’t watched it yet, BBC’s five-part sriees Dead Set is incredible. It’s funny, and it’s bleak, and I very much loved the ending. Um . you didn’t think it was awful and a horrendous letdown?*hides*I mean, I really didn’t find it very funny and I couldn’t help but notice all the way through just how much I don’t give a s**t about Big Brother. Yes, it was very bleak, but that ending would have been far more effective if I’d been given rather more reason to care about the characters in the middle. Of course, the plot gets moved on for most of it because of a couple who have been separated by the outbreak. The thing is that, having resolved that plotline, they didn’t seem to know what do next. So then it’s like well what happens next in a zombie story? Oh I know! Maybe it’s just me .