Archive for the ‘Ever So Humble’ Category

Daily Office:

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009


Matins: Just what we all need: China produces and sells more than 12,000,000 cars in a single year.

In a sidebar, Jorn Madslien reports that Shanghai Automotive Industries owns a majority share of Shanghai General Motors’s venture in India, leaving (American) General Motors to take “a back seat.” (BBC News)

Lauds: A very interesting comment from Felix Salmon, writing about productivity/price differentials between the fine-arts and photography markets. The former has split in two, with mass-marketed items buoying a “an elite circle of valuable works.” The dynamic hasn’t been tried in photography.

Prime: Alex Tabarrok writes about Project Cybersyn, an economic regulator waaaaay ahead of its time. (Marginal Revolution)

Tierce: How to account for same-sex liaisons in terms of natural selection? The investigation promises to be complex and counterintuitive. Also: resistant to cross-species generalizations!

Gore Vidal has always insisted that there is really no such thing as homosexuality; perhaps he’s right after all. (New Scientist)

Sext: What you need to know in order to navigate the tricky holiday shopping season: it will cost $395. (The Onion; via The Morning News)

Nones: New, and with more than T-shirts: Ottomaniacs!  One thing seems clear: Turkey is finally emerging from Atatürk’s secular tutelage, a nation with imperial memories. (NYT)

Vespers: At HuffPo, Alexander Nazaryan proposes Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland as the American novel of the passing decade. We heartily concur, and we nominate Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End as runner-up.  

Compline: Witold Rybczynski reports that academic architects still don’t like Christopher Alexander’s patterns. (Slate; via Arts Journal)

Daily Office:

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009


Matins: May I say that I support President Obama’s decision not to prosecute CIA agents for torture perpetrated in reliance upon Bush Administration legal advice.

Lauds: What a nice year it would be if Susan Boyle turned out to  be the woman of it. The very president of it. For her, that is. For the rest of us, a bit of a lesson is in order, as Colette Douglas Home reminds us. (via A Commonplace Blog)

Prime: A psychopathological breakdown of royals stalkers. (Not to be confused with “royal stalkers,” eg Jack the Ripper.) It made me wonder: how many of Trollope’s bad girls suffer from de Clérambault’s Syndrome? (via  The Morning News)

Tierce: Here’s a little story that, properly followed, will chart the health/malaise of the Italian state — which seems to have less and less to do with “Italy”: “Italy fears mafia quake fund grab.” 

Sext: A sizzling story from the Telegraph: Separate bedrooms keeps the romance alive.” [sic]

Nones: Spain leads the way in new high-speed rail transport. Not everybody’s pleased. (via  The Morning News)

Vespers: Geoff Dyer discusses his new book(s), Jeff in Venice/Death in Varanasi, with Asylum’s John Self.

Compline: On the occasion of QE2’s eighty-third birthday (the real one, not the “official” one in June), we turn to for instructions on writing a letter to Her Majesty.


Holiday Note:
Hodie natus est

Thursday, December 25th, 2008


That’s better! Decorating a wreath is not at all like decorating a tree! For one thing, you can’t count on the support of lower, longer branches. For another, the boughs on the right-hand side of the wreath all face down, ruling out the little natural niches that make it so easy to stick an ornament somewhere on the opposite side. And don’t get me started about the lighting! There is much to be learned about treating a wreath — even if, like this one, it seems to be as big as something for a truck — like a small Christmas tree.

The figures on the wreath are cloth mice decked out, we’re told, in Cambridge drag. Three or four of the seven are safety-pinned to the wreath. (This works.) On the mantel itself is our lineup of Gladys Boalt Alice-in-Wonderland ornaments.


Alice, standing up above the Mad Hatter and the Fish Footman, is the most boring of the lot, so we see her from the hem down only. My favorites are the White Rabbit and the Duchess.


Housekeeping Note:
The Problem

Thursday, December 11th, 2008


If I seem to have been shirking my duties lately, it’s for a very good reason — but also a very boring one. Perhaps the most boring one. I’ve been getting my house in order, literally.

Don’t ask me why it took this look to see the light, but, talking things over with Kathleen in St Croix, I realized that I could no longer coexist with miscellaneous piles, bags, and other accretions of stuff in an already overfurnished apartment. It was clear that I need to live in a world where “catching up” is as uncommon as a triple bypass.

Not just catching up, then, but trying to obviate future catchings-up is what I’ve been up to. The going is very slow. (And the side effects! My mind set to Drudge, I’ve read little and written less.) But my working principle is to deal with each item on the list until it no longer exists. Until the contents of the bag or pile have either found a permanent home in one of my smallish rooms or been discarded.

That is so much easier said than done!

For example: there’s a quaint basket that’s full of photo albums. Not all the photo albums, mind you. Our wedding pictures are kept separately, and two albums of my favorite law school photographs (one black-and-white, one color) may be found, side by side, in the interstice between a bookshelf and a structural element in the bedroom — where they just fit. And the vast bulk of our photographs are housed in “shoeboxes” (actually pricier storage boxes from Exposures) and stacked in a purpose-built unit (also from Exposures) that reaches almost to the ceiling. The albums in the basket are truly miscellaneous. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them — especially the ones that I just inherited from my late stepmother. My inclination is to digitize the lot and toss the prints. But I don’t have one of those neat scanners yet.

And that’s just one problem. Two items on the list are heaps of magazines. Thinking about them makes me break out in the moral equivalent of hives. This afternoon, I went through a pile of Saveurs. I clipped very little, and what I clipped I put in a manila folder that I will purge in a couple of months.  The recipes that I haven’t used will go down the dumper.  That’s the theory, anyway. Mind you, the Saveurs weren’t even on my list, because the magazines weren’t in a bag. They formed a stack on the sofa, shown above. (The sofa, that is; I took the picture after the culling.)

By now, regular readers will by shaking their heads slowly: I sound just like someone who has sworn off drink — for the umpteenth time. And what arrests me is not that I’m promising yet again to keep up with the influx of printed matter. It’s that I believe, in some rock-ribbed way, that I owe you an explanation for what I’ve been doing, instead of writing up books and concerts and whatnot.

Or perhaps it’s just that I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve been out having fun. One thing is clear, though: I blog about The Problem in good faith. It may be boring, but I don’t know a soul who doesn’t face the same Collyer-esque nightmare. There’s something about the way we live now, some side-effect of our best intentions, that generates unmanageable middens of information. We live in The Information Age, after all! No one has ever had to cope with such pressures. It seems almost ungracious, if one is at all historically-minded, to complain about a vexation that does not involve death or dismemberment. Hey, I’m not complaining!

I’m just wondering if LXIV was right, this afternoon, when he saw Hedge Funds for Dummies in one of my book piles. He said that I can throw it away now.

Housekeeping Note:

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008


Ever since I was in the sixth grade, I’ve seen psychotherapists on and off — mostly on. Two questions: what’s wrong with me? And: isn’t it late in the day for repairs?

Hopeless questions — and beside the point. These days, I want a therapist more than ever. Not a psychotherapist, though. What I want is a delotherapist. (I have just made up the term, using a handy Internet Greek dictionary that is undoubtedly a dangerous thing for ignorant minds like mine.) In English: a clear doctor. Someone who would help me to navigate my day.

I don’t mean one of those organizers who come in and tell you to throw everything out. I can do that on my own. Well, not entirely on my own. LXIV has been a great help at getting me to cart stuff that I can live without to Housing Works. We made a couple of trips yesterday, in fact. First we took about twenty books. Then we lugged in some inherited items: two large wooden urns and a pair of gilt candlesticks.

No, I mean an Information Therapist. Someone to whom I could pour out my troubles with email, RSS feeds, Flickr, Facebook and The New York Times (print and digital). The weedy tendencies of these utilities seems at times to choke off more valuable growths. By habit, I am not a procrastinator. But I have a hard time switching focus between the long and the short view of things. I think that almost everyone does. A lot of time gets wasted in the shift from mastering some new technological widget to placing the Mumbai massacre in an intelligent perspective.

On Sunday, in the middle of a massive and really very successful reorganization of our apartment’s closets — I can’t believe that I got so much done! — my vocabulary and reading-comprehension skills dropped below kindergarten levels. With my mind locked into solving spatial problems, I was reduced, in my infrequent and somewhat subhuman exchanges with Kathleen, to grunting and pointing.

A session on the couch would be so helpful! First I’d have to clear it off, though. It’s completely covered with piles of books and papers.

Daily Office:

Thursday, October 30th, 2008


Matins: You know the drill: first you read the hard stuff, and, then, if you’re really good, there’s a fun picture below the jump. Let me thank, preliminarily, JMG and Wonkette — but don’t touch those links! First, the hard part. First, you must know that

In early August in her prayer time Cindy heard the Lord say, “There will be no more business as usual.”

No, I didn’t know who Cindy Jacobs was, either. It turns out that she’s one of those astute Jahwists who don’t know dingo about Scripture. (Now you may jump.)

Tierce: Howard Schultz and Arthur Rubinfeld, two men who thought that they had retired from the ardors of selling that old black magic at Starbucks, are back at work, hoping to save the baby. (Actually, Mr Schultz has been back since January. Here is Mr Rubinfeld’s rejuvenation plan in one sentence.

Now that he is again leading Starbucks’s real estate team, Mr. Rubinfeld says he will focus on adding stores to urban areas — where there is already a near-saturation of the coffee market, but also a preponderance of affluent young professionals who subsist on fancy coffee drinks.

I hate to say it, but this sounds like Richard Fuld’s insistence that all was well at Lehman Bros. All those affluent young professionals have turned into Ugly Bettys.

Vespers: There’s a career here for me — or there would be if I were a twentysomething: “Does This Song Match My Sofa?” I would specialize in classy sounds for the classically unsure.


Daily Office:

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008


Matins: Among all the dumb things that Wall Street has been up to in the past 25 years, James Surowiecki reminds us of one that I’d forgotten: the folly of going public.

Lauds: Andy Borowitz nails it:

Given that Internet porn is the only fundamentally sound engine of the American economy…

Prime: My friend, George Snyder, author of 1904, has been tinkering with a new blog, No Talking Cure. Yesterday’s imposing entry has stuck with me.

Tierce: Barbara Ehrenreich has said it before, but maybe now people will listen: positive thinking is for dopes.

Nones: Given the size of my — CD collection, I am often asked, “What’s a great disc for a first date?” The question invariably arouses a great blush, because I am so madly tempted to give very bad advice. The “48”. Charles Ives singing “Over There.” (Heard that one, have you?) Dorian Lynskey at the Guardian can’t believe that Debrett’s recommends Sexual Healing.


Housekeeping Note :

Thursday, July 24th, 2008


In twenty-three years of personal computing, I have never encountered a truly useful To-Do list facility. Every tool that I’ve picked up has quickly turned out to be ineffective for one reason or another, usually by failing to realize the dreams of hyperproductivity that automated To-Do lists by nature inspire. After all, if your To-do list can take care of itself, then why can’t it actually do the work that it outlines?

In twenty-three years &c — until today. Today, I read Chapter 5 of Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy , “Managing Todos.” Given my long experience with frustration, I wondered what the guru was going to come up with. When what he came up with turned out to be an online service that his outfit, Good Experience, Inc, provides for a small monthly fee, you may be sure that I blinked. In his opening pages, Mr Hurst is eloquent about the flimflammery of most “productivity solutions”:

Although we need hardware and software to work with bits, no technology company has the solution to bit overload. It’s far too rarely stated that the technology industry is not in the business of making people productive. It is only in the business of selling more technology. Granted, some companies make better tools than others, and users can be productive with some of today’s tools. But in the technology business, users’ productivity is secondary to profitability. No matter what a company claims, feature lists and upgrades are designed for the company’s success, not the users’. This isn’t a judgment against technology companies; to the contrary, they are a vital part of the economy and do the world a service by creating new and useful innovations. The point is merely that users should not look to the technology industry to deliver the solution to their overload. Doing so cedes control to companies that, whenever they have the choice, would rather have paying customers than productive customers.

([Gnash!] No wonder I was invariably disappointed.)

Now here was Mr Hurst, turning around and presenting himself as a “technology company” in search of paying customers! I blinked, as I say, but then I forged on. The faith that I had already placed in Mr Hurst’s advice had earned me, within an hour or so, a totally empty inbox, with all the email that I chose to save stashed in handy folders that I already had the wit to set up according to the way my mind works. By the time I read about, I was fairly sure that the $18 investment (for six months) would not be a waste of money. The secret of Mr Hurst’s To-Do list lies in a blend of its simplicity and its interaction with email: to add a To-Do item that’s due next Wednesday, for example, you write an email addressed “,” summarize the task in the subject line, and add any details in the body of the email. Done! (Assuming, of course, that you have set up a account, and that you are writing from the email address that the service recognizes as yours — in case you have several [and who doesn’t?]. And don’t forget to hit “Send.”) You can work with the service from outside its interface. Pretty cool.

Mark Hurst has apparently been a computer person since childhood, and he has two degrees from MIT. More importantly, perhaps, he is a shrewd psychologist. He prescribes that computer users read personal mail first, not that they wait to get their work done before hearing from friends and family. The only people who will abuse this liberty at work probably don’t merit their jobs for other reasons. About To-Do lists, Mr Hurst’s eye is gimlet:

The truth is that many users just don’t want to do their work. Given a choice between completing a todo or spending several minutes deciding what color it should be, lots of people — especially techies, who love playing with software — would choose the latter. Color are fun, and don’t require much thought. Doing the actual work in the todo requires time and energy, risks railure, and might not be any fun. Users are best served by a tool that encourages the discipline of actually getting the work done, rather than endlessly tweaking the system.

Let’s hear a bit “GOTCHA!” for Mark Hurst! After all, instead of getting round to my first To-Do item — organizing my in-box — I’ve been merrily blogging away!

Housekeeping Note :
Bit Literacy

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008


For a Tuesday, I had a big day. I got through all the important jobs — reviewing the Book Review, writing up the One Day University program for my second note on the subject, lunching alone at Café d’Al  — and most of the small ones as well. On top of all that, though, I took what I had read in Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy to heart, and purged the bulk of my email in my inbox.

It feels, shatteringly, like my own private Protestant Reformation. (But enough about Les Huguenots, which I’ve been watching in the furtherance of my understanding of Verdi’s immensely more important grand operas. The DVD of Joan Sutherland’s farewell performance at the Sydney Opera is a lot cheaper than the Decca CDs. It may be wildly off-topic to point out, in the middle of this discussion of computer hygiene, that Dame Joan drifts through Lotfi Mansouri’s staging as if she were Dame Edna’s older, dafter sister, but I write under the protection of the Geneva Convention’s Droit de la Parenthèse.) Piff Paff! No more nasty email!

Of course most of what I didn’t delete was simply transferred to folders that I set up on the spot. That’s okay with Mr Hurst. You may ask, what difference does it make where you stash your email? but I know better, or at least enough to commit to the Bit Literacy credo of the Daily Emptied Inbox. 

Tomorrow (or whenever), I’ll bone up on “todos.” No point in quibbling: the younger people are comfortable, for the time being, with this brutalist appropriation of the Spanish plural for “all.” Which, to them, means, “to-do lists.” If you’re going to hold out against “hopefully,” you really need to know how to pick your fights.

For two or three years, I’ve had a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done on my desk. Literally, right next to Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths. It would be difficult to say which book has impressed itself more palpably upon my daily life. It is true that I grasped Mr Allen’s “two-minute rule” right away (it’s recommended, without credit, by Mr Hurst), but the fate of King Pentheus has had a much greater impact upon my behavior both in public and at my sites. In other words, Getting Things Done has left my stables pretty much in their Augean originality.

Whereas one night alone with Mr Hurst was all it took for me to light virtual bonfires of the vanities — the vanities of thinking that I would ever progress in a leisurely way through the bilgy backup of my unclassified email. Not that the inbox is empty. I saved the headaches for tomorrow. I know that I wasn’t supposed to; I ought to have gotten rid of everything in one fell swoop. My consolation, which I hope is not fatal, is that I didn’t plan to do anything today.

Seriously, folks: Bit Literacy. May I live to hail the fifth edition!

Daily Office:

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Mars attacks!


AntErnauts: It looks fussy, with the capital ‘E’ and all, but it’s easy to say: anternauts. It’s my coinage to describe people who don’t know enough about the Internet to be able deal with it intelligently. Combine such ignorance with police power and watch out!

Librarian William Hallowell, sadly for him, knows a thing or two about the type. He was held for thirty hours, among other affronts, because police officers lacked the basic Internet competence to know that they had picked up the wrong man. Benjamin Weiser reports.


Cool: I just bought one of these. Now I wonder if I needed it.  


Patience: How did flounder evolve, with both eyes on one side of their head? Slowly but surely, that’s how.


Daily Office:

Thursday, June 12th, 2008



Cosmopolitan: It is difficult to know what to expect of people who genuinely lack cosmopolitan aspirations.

Tracking: My very peachy son-in-law has let me in on a way of following my daughter’s flight from Amsterdam to New York. I must be the last guy on the block to know how to know about


Satrap: All morning, I’ve been thinking about James A Johnson, the Obama campaign aide who just resigned in mild disgrace. What is it with the Democrats? Republicans do the same thing, but that’s their religion…


Flippi: Does anyone have one of these Vornado Flippi fans yet? They are the  coolest! (more…)

Daily Office:

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008



Brooks: As sermons go, David Brooks’s column on the evils of encouraging consumer debt is tidily effective: it’s both frightening and obviously correct.

Kakutani: One might well ask why Janet Maslin didn’t review David Sedaris’s new book for “Books of the Times.” Ms Maslin writes very creditably about crowd-pleasers; she knows that prospective readers are looking for a good time. Michiko Kakutani’s idea of a good time, however…


Sex and the Lightbulbs: I still can’t believe it! Yesterday, in view of the extreme heat and a consequent overloading of the power grid, Con Ed called Yorkvillians to ask us to turn off our “energy-intensive” appliances — everything except the refrigerator. Well, this afternoon, they called back! To say that, whatever the problem was, they’d fixed it! This takes us to an entirely new level of civic cooperation — and at least three bunny hops away from Idiocracy. If I’d known about the call sooner, I’d have stayed home and cranked up the a/c — and I wouldn’t have gone to see Sex and the City. But I’m sure glad I did!


Remains: Reading Cara Buckley’s story about the return of Native American remains from the American Museum of Natural History to the appropriate tribal area in British Columbia, it occurred to me (not for the first time) that, if I had to identify one collection from the omnium gatherum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that does not, to my mind, belong there, it would be the immensely popular Egyptian art — most of which centers on human remains. (more…)

Daily Office:

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008



Suddenly, It’s Summer: The window unit in the blue room, necessary because the HVAC service is always sluggish there, is keeping the room with the most books cool and dry, which is good for them and good for me, too. But I’m sitting in the living room, with the balcony door open, keeping comfortable with a Vornado fan.

Heather Does Not Have Two Mommies: RomanHans slays me with his parody of political correctness. Part I, Part II. We must all pester our favorite booksellers for the other titles in Roman’s “Heather” series, thus creating demand, and, perhaps, the books.


Crackdown in Dujiangyan: A demonstration by grieving parents, protesting the shoddy construction that killed their children in classrooms, was more or less peaceably broken up by a swarm of intimidating policemen. Edward Wong reports.

Under Construction: Ha ha ha, that’s what most of the pages say at the Web site of New York Crane and Equipment.


Clinch: You’ve got to love the headline: no Dewey Beats Truman! this time!

Prima la musica: Listening to Mr Mozart (as Florence Foster Jenkins appropriatingly called him, making him one of us), K 516. Music one has known better (much better) than the back of one’s hand for over forty years. And tonight it sounds as though I’d never heard it before. The amazing Mr Mozart.

Daily Office:

Monday, June 2nd, 2008



Quiet: The calendar is blank. Nothing on for the entire week. No excuses, in other words, for not attending to the prosaic domesticalities that have been piling up for weeks.


Eco: At Varieties of Unreligious Experience, the Web site that he revived not too long ago (how quickly I lose track, though!), Conrad Roth lays into the historical fiction of Umberto Eco, which he used to like but now finds emptily pretentious.


Parade: Make nice, sez hizzoner. Don’t board up the borders because the [epithet deleted] are coming.


Housekeeping Note :

Sunday, June 1st, 2008


This summer, I tell myself. This summer, I’m making some big changes!

In my mind, two completely distinct but not incompatible ideas of summer overlap, and yet the combination, if my track record is any indication, proves to be inert. When fall rolls around, I haven’t made any big changes. A few salutary fixes, perhaps. Perhaps even an entirely new blog platform: that’s what happened last August. But I didn’t do any of the work on that. In fact, I don’t know what I did last summer.


Daily Office:

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008


Matins: If it’s as nice a day as predicted, I might just walk up Second Avenue to Dmitri’s.

Prime: A look at this week’s Book Review, at Portico.

Tierce: Maureen Dowd says that Americans don’t like elitists. I’ll tell you who dislikes elitists: journalists, among other entertainers.

Sext: JR writes, with an anticipation of nostalgia for bygone days that are not, in fact, quite bygone yet, about the significance of hard copy: don’t bury the CD!


Housekeeping Note :

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008


As of today, I’ve been keeping the Daily Office — I think that that’s the right verb — for a month. It seems that I’ve been keeping it for a lot longer than that; and it also seems as though I just took it up last week. Although the entry’s broader outlines seem set, the internal feedback loops, by which I learn from doing something every day, have begun to pulse, and I’m ready to instigate a few external feedback loops as well, with a few Housekeeping Notes on various matters. (Today, Comments and Notifications.) Feel free to comment below or to write to me at the usual address. (more…)