Daily Office:
Thursday

j1001

Matins: Jebediah Reed complains about some insidiously sexy energy ads, at The Infrastructurist.

Lauds: Jon Henley considers the French tradition of treating artists as out-of-the-ordinary — à propos Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland.

Prime: Oops! Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand appears to have hidden the Prisoner’s Dilemma — from Alan Greenspan, at least. John Cassidy at The New Yorker.

Tierce: A library/staircase, in London, at Apartment Therapy. (via kottke.org)

Sext: How to make… (are you sitting down?)… Bacon Mayonnaise. And we don’t mean mayonnaise with bits of bacon broken up in it. We mean mayonnaise made with over a cup of bacon fat! (At How to Cook Like Your Grandmother.)

Nones: Honduras’ Geneeral Romeo Vasquez thinks that it’s time  to come to terms. As the man who oversaw the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, he may be listened to.

Vespers: Patrick Kurp connects two great Italian modernists, Giorgio Morandi and Eugenio Montale.

Compline: Arthur Krystal’s essay, “When Writers Speak,” reminded us that, even though we can make no properly scientific claims in our support, everything that Steven Pinker says about language seems not so much wrong as tone-deaf.  

Oremus…

§ Matins. The notion that there is anything beautiful about the extraction or combustion of coal is preposterous.

For one thing, to this day, coal mining is a very tough and very dangerous game. And while the constant flow of coal-generated electricity benefits pretty much all of us, the negative effects of coal extraction–disease, accidents, environmental devastation–tend to be concentrated in poor, sad places that most of us generally ignore. Which sucks, but as a society we’ve elected to do things that way. But, in that context, isn’t there is a lapse of taste involved in the goofy, detached glee that GE takes depicting a “better” world where the real-life people who endure these hardships are replaced by pretty plastic showbiz strivers from LA or NYC? Honestly… puke.

The ad, which is not new, has somehow come to the Internet’s attention only recently. Eveidence of a new “two cultures”?

§ Lauds. Not that we’re expecting President Obama to bestow a Genet-level pardon!

While other politicians decline to comment, the French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, says he is “dumbfounded” by Polanski’s “absolutely dreadful” detention, declaring forcibly that it made “no sense” for the director to be “thrown to the lions for an ancient story, imprisoned while travelling to an event that was intending to honour him: caught, in short, in a trap”. The film-maker, Mitterrand continued, has “had a difficult life” but has “always said how much he loves France, and he is a wonderful man”. There is, he added for good measure, “a generous America that we love, and a certain America that frightens us. It’s that America that has just shown its face.”

That certain America, with its intoxication with incarceration, frightens us, too. We’re following this case with great, if dampered, interest — and not taking sides.

Here’s what Polanksi’s victim — and Samantha Geimer was a victim — had to say about it, in 2003.

§ Prime. Ayn Rand’s boytoy proved incapable of understanding that bubbling markets cannot self-correct.

The Great Crunch wasn’t just an indictment of Wall Street; it was a failure of economic analysis. From the late nineteen-nineties onward, the Fed stubbornly refused to recognize that speculative bubbles encourage the spread of rationally irrational behavior; convinced that the market was a self-regulating mechanism, it turned away from its traditional role, which is—in the words of a former Fed chairman, William McChesney Martin—“to take away the punch bowl just when the party gets going.” A formal renunciation of the Greenspan doctrine is overdue. The Fed has a congressional mandate to insure maximum employment and stable prices. Morgan Stanley’s Stephen Roach has suggested that Congress alter that mandate to include the preservation of financial stability. The addition of a third mandate would mesh with the Obama Administration’s proposal to make the Fed the primary monitor of systemic risk, and it would also force the central bank’s governors and staff to think more critically about the financial system and its role in the broader economy.

§ Tierce. It’s very clever, and we want one. Hell, we want two. Only problem: the books in our library are no longer compact little Penguins. Even Penguins aren’t compact little Penguins anymore!

j1001a

What’s interesting is to watch the massive shift in tone and purpose in housing. Beyond the eternal food-clothing-shelter basics, houses are moving away from the ostentatious reception model set by the great English country homes (and still manifest in tract prefabs) toward a library model, in which the house becomes a storehouse of the self, designed for fast and reliable retrieval.

§ Sext. If you’ve made mayonnaise, you know that a quantity of oil is poured, in a very thin stream, and then beaten into a bowl of egg yolks. If you’re going to replace the oil with bacon fat, the recipe needs a re-think, because of course bacon fat cannot be poured at all when it is cool enough to be making mayonnaise. (Hot bacon fat > bacon custard?) So the whip and the bowl must be chilled.

We’re not sure that we have the nerve to try this. How, exactly, would it be used? The problem is that we’re not at all revolted. We ought to be disgusted by the very idea of bacon mayonnaise, but we are. No, we are not disgusted.

Our tummy is growling, in fact.

§ Nones. We suspect that General Vasquez expected better of Roberto Micheletti.

Gen Vasquez insisted it was not the idea of the armed forces to oust Mr Zelaya.

“Otherwise I would be head of state, and I am not, but rather subordinate to the civilian authorities,” he said.

That view is disputed by some Hondurans.

“Those who give orders here are the military. Nothing happens here that doesn’t go through him [Gen Vasquez],” David Romero, director of Radio Globo which has been shut down, told BBC Mundo.

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police are still surrounding the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

As the standoff persists, it becomes easier to distinguish the right outcome (Zelaya restored) from the good outcome (Zelaya “disappears”).

And you say that it couldn’t happen here?

§ Vespers. Morandi was already on our mind,  thanks to Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man (which we’re reading), but it’s refreshing to be reminded of Montale. Since we never have any idea of what Montale is talking about, we let his images — even in motion, what he sees has the stillness of a Morandi painting — pile up in Italian.

Dal treno

Le totore colore solferino
sono a Sesto Calende per la prima
volta a memoria d’uomo. Così annunziano
i giornali. Affacciata al finestrino,
invano le ho cercate. Un tuo collare,
ma d’altra tinta, sì, piegava in vetta
un ginco e si sgranava. Per me solo
balenò, cadde in uno stagno. E il suo
volo di fuoco m’accecò sull’altro.

(For a translation, scroll down from the link above.)

§ Compline. What’s more, both Mr Krystal and Mr Pinker approach writing as if it were a kind of speech. In fact, reading and writing engage other parts of the brain in a process that is considerably more complicated than speaking.

Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person. In fact, I am smarter when I’m writing. I don’t claim this merely because there is usually no one around to observe the false starts and groan-inducing sentences that make a mockery of my presumed intelligence, but because when the work is going well, I’m expressing opinions that I’ve never uttered in conversation and that otherwise might never occur to me. Nor am I the first to have this thought, which, naturally, occurred to me while composing. According to Edgar Allan Poe, writing in Graham’s Magazine, “Some Frenchman — possibly Montaigne — says: ‘People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.” I can’t find these words in my copy of Montaigne, but I agree with the thought, whoever might have formed it. And it’s not because writing helps me to organize my ideas or reveals how I feel about something, but because it actually creates thought or, at least supplies a Petri dish for its genesis.

The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, however, isn’t so sure. In an e-mail exchange, Pinker sensibly points out that thinking precedes writing and that the reason we sound smarter when writing is because we deliberately set out to be clear and precise, a luxury not usually afforded us in conversation. True, and especially true if one writes for magazines where nitpicking editors with expensive shoes are waiting to kick us around for every small mistake. When people who write for a living sit down to earn their pay they make demands on themselves that require a higher degree of skill than that summoned by conversation. Pinker likens this to mathematicians thinking differently when proving theorems than when counting change, or to quarterbacks throwing a pass during a game as opposed to tossing a ball around in their backyards. He does concede, however, that since writing allows time for reveries and ruminations, it probably engages larger swaths of the brain.

Do we really want to listen to theorizers who talk about language in terms of forward passes?