Daily Office:


Matins: Edward Glaeser reviews Anthony Flint’s book about the Jacobs-Moses Wars in Midcentury New York, at TNR. (via Marginal Revolution

Lauds: The painting of Kim Cogan; detail below the fold. (via The Best Part)

Prime: Felix Salmon provides some helpful background on the most upsetting story of the past weekend. Here’s hoping that he’s right, and that “life settlements” won’t go anywhere this time around, either.

Tierce: Roman Hans has a problem with his cable bill.

Sext: Carrie Fisher admits that she USED TO BE hot.

Nones: At the LRB, Thomas Jones digs out an 1880 book about the futility of waging Western-style war in Afghanistan. Lots has changed since then, but Afghanistan hasn’t, not much.

Vespers: Gadzooks! A New England prep school with no library! No books! Instead, a “learning center,” and a $12,000 cappuccino machine. (via Survival of the Book)

Compline: Failure and free markets: is it any wonder that the inhabitants of a small island kingdom would be far more risk averse than the settlers of a resource-rich continent? Peter Goodman filters last week’s election through contrasts between Japan and the United States.


§ Matins. Mr Glaeser correctly observes that the fight between the urban fabricator and the master builder is too vital to be concluded.

Successful cities need both the human interactions of Jane Jacobs and the enabling infrastructure of Robert Moses. Anthony Flint has done a fine job describing the battles between these two great figures, but unlike the Louis-Schmeling fight, their conflict should not be resolved. An absolute victory for Moses leads to heartless cities, built to accommodate cars but not pedestrians, with high-rise buildings that are disconnected from their streets. An absolute victory for Jacobs means a city frozen in concrete with prices that are too high and buildings that are too low. New building is needed to welcome the diversity that makes urban magic. No city can survive without the personal engagements beloved by Jacobs, but no city can thrive without master builders such as Moses. Mumbai and Shanghai had better take note. 

We wonder, however, if the confrontation between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses would have occurred in the first place had it not been for the malign intrusion of the automobile. Americans — not an urban people by nature — are not alone in refusing to understand that private automobiles have no place in dense cities. The Lower Manhattan Expressway, plans for which occasioned the battle in which Moses was defeated, was intended to ease the transit of vehicles across and through Manhattan, not into it.

§ Lauds. This reminds us of a winter-time rooftop by Gustave Caillebotte that we saw at the Phillips in Washington, almost ten years ago.


§ Prime. We couln’t agree more:

The fact is that life settlements can be wonderful things for seniors who get seriously ill. At the same time, however, that’s not what life insurance was designed to do, and trying to make it perform that function has a raft of nasty potential consequences. For one thing, it could mean life insurance premiums rising substantially, since the price of life insurance currently is kept down by people who let their policies lapse. If they sell those policies instead of letting them lapse, that’s very expensive to the insurer.

But there’s another reason, too, why life settlements are potentially very bad for the insurance industry — and neither Duhigg nor Anderson mentions it. Life insurers, unlike most investors, pay no tax on their investment gains. That’s why buying a life insurance policy is generally a very tax-efficient way to invest money you want to leave to your heirs. But if these policies start being traded on the secondary market, with the benefits going not to heirs but rather to hedge funds and traders, then there’s a serious risk that the life insurance industry will lose its tax-sheltered status. The Wall Street banks looking at securitizing life settlements should be very worried about this: if they start showing signs of success, Congress could, at a stroke, kill their golden goose.

Bundled Life Settlements are a “financial product” that ought to be banned straightaway.

§ Tierce. This report, which is mistakenly labeled “a pointless whine,” belongs in a time capsule. Lest future generations wonder why civilization came to an end.

Over the next two hours I spoke to nearly everyone at Time Warner and heard Pachelbel’s Canon 1,274 times. Leticia, Paulina, and the supervisor Shahida might as well have been speaking Klingon for all the sense they made, but a few points were crystal clear: The Chase credit card people were liars, my bill was thirty days past due, and I had to do three things immediately to fix it:

1. Make a one-time payment to catch up and avoid a late charge.
2. Cancel the automatic payment on the expired card.
3. Sign up for automatic payment on a working card.

Now, one of my bad qualities is that I want things to make sense before I blindly follow along. I asked Shahida to connect me with her supervisor. She said he was busy, but he’d call back before seven. I should stay off the phone and wait for his call.

This was at noon.

Seven came and went…

§ Sext. But she IS STILL funny.

You see, I was hot when most people are hot—- in my fucking 20’s & part of my 30’s……THEN, in an effort to imitate humans, I had a child &, to further maintain my life like disguise, I took medications for about 9 thousand years, &, despite all my efforts, I continued to get older & older——inadvertently, I assure you———-I tried to arrest my development physically as WELL as emotionally, but unfortunately without as much success. I also must confess that I ate food. I’m sorry….. I realize that I promised never to eat anything but lettuce & sun flower seeds, but tragically, I was unable to keep my promise.

Yes, I realize…..I KNOW that I vowed to exercise for 3 hours a day—-aerobics, pilates AND yoga, but alas, I admit with a large quota of shame, that I failed to fulfill this other important commitment.
NO, I shouldn’t look as if 30 years have passed. I understand completely if you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me for looking like 3 decades have passed…….Of COURSE you should mock & belittle me for being so large!! What else could you POSSIBLY do?????!?  I’ve let you down by treating my body as though it were just some giant sad sack that I use to haul my personality around. You have every right to compare me to Yoda or Elton or Kirstie…….I’ve brought it on myself.

But here’s this thing that I found myself wondering………what the fuck do YOU look like??!

§ Nones. Not even in 2001 were we persuaded that an anti-Taliban offensive in Afghanistan would do any good, but then we read a lot of history.

There are two prongs to David Barbour’s pamphlet, Our Afghan Policy and the Occupation of Candahar: the occupation of Afghanistan would be both impracticable — requiring too many soldiers — and unnecessary. It is because Afghanistan hasn’t changed very much in over a century — it is still a thinly-settled, tribal country — that the impracticability argument survives. But the necessity issue is different. Barbour considers a case that resembles the one that faced the United States after 9/11:

Russia may form an alliance with Afghanistan and march an army through Afghanistan as through a friendly country in order to invade India.

But England, in 1880, could protect its interests from Russian interference a very great deal more easily than the United States could (or can) defend itself from Al-Qaida.

§ Vespers. And here we’d thought that the Boomer Generation had already done everything conceivable to make genuine education impossible.

And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.

Those who don’t have access to the electronic readers will be expected to do their research and peruse many assigned texts on their computers.

“Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books,” said Tracy, whose office shelves remain lined with books. “We see this as a model for the 21st-century school.”
Not everyone on campus is sold on Tracy’s vision.

§ Compline. And the proper response to risk-aversion may very well not be the embrace of risk, as Americans and their Japanese friends have been urging.

From the perspective of everyday Japanese life, shock treatment seemed both cruel and unnecessary. Japan had become a much darker place than in the 1980s, when the elixir of wealth seemed at hand, yet it was nothing like crisis-wracked Indonesia or Argentina, where people rioted in the streets as life savings vanished. It was a slow slide from a comfortable perch.

Tokyo never failed to shimmer with modernity. The national rail system was as efficient as any on earth. Even as ordinary Japanese gained economic anxiety and ratcheted down aspirations, most still had decent homes and cars, health care financed by the state, and a world-beating array of gadgets.

Many Japanese seemed perplexed by the dire talk that accompanied the push for reform. In Nagano, a city that had boomed with construction during the 1980s, suspicions about the reform trajectory were intense as Mr. Koizumi pushed to cleanse the banks of bad loans. Newspapers and television were full of grim talk about the corporate failures this would entail.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Fossil Darling says:

    1) Bundled Life Settlements : reminds me of how AIDS sufferers could cash out their policies and then, due to the new drugs, did not pass away. I do not see many ads for viatical insurance nowadays…..this is such a bad idea on so many levels but due to the desperation many people feel, it may take, and then there will be a host of sob stories about predators…..sometimes I feel really dirty being part of this business.

    And as for Time Warner, it is like entering one of the circles of hell. Un-pronounceable and un-spellable names allied with arrogance and a disdain for the client : perfect.