Daily Office:


Matins: Jonah Lehrer, cross-posting for the vacationing Andrew Sullivan, anticipates the legalization of marijuana.

Lauds: It’s not new, but we just found out about it: Thorsten Fleisch’s Gestalt.

Prime: Although slightly intemperate in tone, David Barash’s essay at Chron Higher Ed persuasively equates the “growth economy” with the “Ponzi economy”: “We Are All Madoffs.”

Tierce: We forget who it was who commented on the following report with the quip, good thing Alan Bloom is dead: “Twitter 101: DePaul University’s Social Media Prof Gives His Syllabus.” Oh! Of course! It was Christopher Shea.

Sext: V X Sterne urges respect for the typical Ian Fleming villain. “With his historic level of megalomania, his massively outsized sense of entitlement, his complete lack of perspective, his issues with impulse control, that infantile fixation on revenge, it’s a wonder he gets anything done.”

Nones: Greece reboots: Prime Minister Karamanlis calls for a “snap election.”

Vespers: At Survival of the Book, Brian picks up Christopher’s thread (Oops! We mixed them up) and considers the lost art of writing — writing real books, that is.

Compline: Tom Scocca muses on the mad appeal of Useless Facts. (via kottke.org)


§ Matins. Isolating the anti-anxiety factor in THC would make an important, and very humane, addition to our pharmacopeia.

Neuroscientists now believe that a faulty endocannabinoid system might play a part in all sorts of anxiety syndromes, from post-traumatic stress disorder to irrational phobias. The Holy Grail of Big Pharm would be a THC compound targeted to the specific parts of our brain—like the amygdala—that modulate our sense of fear. Such a pill would give us the anti-anxiety effects of pot, but without the giddiness, hunger or irrational urge to watch The Big Lebowski. While scientists still don’t know if such a site-specific pill is possible—can we just get our amygdala high?—experiments done in the next few years should help resolve the issue. If such a pill ever hits the market, of course, I think it would dramatically alter the way in which most Americans (and not just those in my liberal zip code) think about marijuana. Weed would no longer be synonymous with Cheech and Chong, or Jeff Spicoli, or Harold and Kumar. Instead, it just might be the new Prozac.

(So let’s wait until the pill comes out before we jump all over Big Pharma.)

§ Lauds. We’re so primitive that we take “fractal” and “Mandelbrot Set” to be synonyms. But of course the Mandelbrot Set is exactly that: just a set. There are  many others. But the hours that we spent generating Mandelbrot images, back in the Whenevers, when Megan wrote a Pascal program for our computer (this was before Windows! before the Internet!), make us long to see some sort of animation involving images such as this:


Indeed, we clamor regularly about the unfairness of having been deprived of an adolescence that would have provided these images to accompany our smoking pleasure.

Prime. Prof Barash’s most important point, in our view, is the linkage of capitalism and communism; he recognizes that the days in which the two belief systems were constitutional opponents are over.

Although part of my argument is, in fact, a criticism of market-based capitalism, it is not an endorsement of its traditional alternative, communism. In communist countries, production goals have typically replaced profit maximization as the “bottom line,” leading, if anything, to even-more-blinkered thinking and environmental devastation. I recall international meetings during the 1980s, attended by environmentalists from capitalist and communist countries, each naïvely expecting that the grass would be ecologically greener on the other side of the ideological fence. Under capitalism, it has been said, man exploits man, whereas under communism, it’s the reverse. Either way, the environment has been the real loser.

The Communist Manifesto can be seen not simply as an indictment of capitalism, but also as a breathless paean to its effectiveness. Marx and Engels believed that industrial capitalism had solved the problem of production, leaving only the question of fair distribution. Thus far capitalism has largely been able to regroup and find new avenues for economic growth, even following severe depressions such as those of the 1870s, 1890s, and the 1930s. This time around, however, the ecological demands of this particular Ponzi scheme may be leaving us with a dangerously depleted world.

§ Tierce. If Bloom were still at it, we’d have to read The Tweeting of the American Mind, or some-such farandole.

What topics will you address?

We’re going to talk about ethical issues, newsroom policies for social media. It’s also about teaching people how to sift through all the tweets and find the useful information. When something happens you have to be quick. In a matter of no time there will be so many tweets it’ll be impossible to sift through. But if you’re quick you can find those first tweets. You can build up a picture.

What’s the window of time?

Within an hour. After that, it’s almost meaningless to search.

G2K! (Good to know.)

§ Sext. V X may have you almost thinking of James Bond as a stodgy reactionary (which of course he is).

In these hard times, we have to acknowledge that the Bond villain excels as a much-needed jobs creator, providing many high-skilled and presumably high-paying jobs in fields for which there isn’t always high demand. As anyone who’s employed anyone can attest, it is no small task to find and retain the right person, let alone an army of the right people. You can’t just post an ad on Craigslist for jumpsuit-clad machine-gun toting goons and expect them to show up ready for work. You have to work it, recruiting worldwide, competing against other employers seeking similar skills. Not an easy task, but one our Bond villain manages quite nicely, assembling a training a hoard of employees with the talent, dedication and high degree of discipline necessary to do the job.

Most of all, though, the Bond villain is a dreamer, one of the rarest of individuals who dares to be different, who rejects the comfort of the mundane and familiar in favor of the unknown and untried, who reaches for the stars and demands the most out of life. Sure, that often requires us to lose our lives, but don’t let one wrong turn distract you from the essential lessons of his extraordinary and singular journey through life. Don’t be one of the herd – dare to live the dream!

It’s funny, how we don’t think of such things while we’re watching Goldfinger.

§ Nones. It’s nice to think that the profound Greek malaise might be alleviated by a parliamentary election — but difficult to believe.

Greece has also been dogged by social unrest since police shot a teenager dead last December.

The death sparked the country’s worst riots in decades, leading to clashes between police and protesters in the weeks that followed.

Shortly before Mr Karamanlis announced the election on Wednesday, a bomb went off outside the Athens stock exchange, slightly injuring a female passer-by and damaging the building.

The BBC’s Malcolm Brabant in Athens says the blasts may be the work of the extremist group, Revolutionary Struggle.

§ Vespers. At one point, Brian touches on a point that bothers our editor every weekend, as he copes with the Book Review.

My point is that books are not articles, they are not blogs, they need stronger ideas in place to make them worth putting between cardboard and binding. A book is not merely based on an experience – that should not be enough to qualify you as an author. It should be based on that experience processed – and readers should be willing to pay for a good execution. As a reader, I’m often perplexed on how to find a good non-fiction book amidst all this junky product published and forced into bookstores in huge numbers.

§ Compline. All trivia is not created equal.

Within the pages of a miscellany, the world is vast but also manageable, piece by piece. Such works are oddly reminiscent of the children’s books of Richard Scarry, where anthropomorphic animals move thorough busy, well-labeled spheres of existence: “At the Airport”…“At School”…“Mealtime.”

But miscellaneous information for small children shows them a road forward: Once they know pancakes from fried eggs from toast, or a bulldozer from a bucket loader, they can move on to their next questions about the world. For adult readers, the rise of miscellany is a sign of defeat. The questions multiply faster than you are ever going to answer them. The road isn’t getting you anywhere.

“Not ‘oddly,’ ” Gibson said. “I love Richard Scarry. I think Scarry was an innovator in the way he presented information for kids.”

Our editor notes: Two years ago, a friend gave me the Schott’s Miscellany desk calendar for 2008. I became addicted enough to order, online, and in plenty of time, the 2009 edition. For reasons that I can guess at, my addiction has faded, but I still look at every page, if three weeks at a time. But I’m doubting that there will be a 2010 edition on my desk.

I love small facts. I used to be able to list the English monarchs, with correct dates, as fast as my hand would carry me. But that isn’t useless information at all — not if you’re as interested in history as I am. On the contrary, it’s atremendously useful armature on which to hang truly significant dates. Mention almost any year between 1066 and today, and I can tell you who sat on the English throne. I can’t do the same for the French until 1589, but I know, more or less, who was when. Give me the right kind of coffee, and I can yoke contemporary kings. 1770? The young George III, who had recently succeeded his grandfather, and the ageing Louis XV, who succeeded his great-grandfather in 1715, and who would leave the wreck of the French monarchy to his grandson, Louis XVI, four years later.

Mr Scocca mentions Blackstone. I, for one, would pay good money for a desk calendar with a year’s worth of trivia from the Commentaries on the Laws of England. In 365 Days.

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