Archive for the ‘Our Crazy Planet’ Category

Daily Office:

Thursday, August 27th, 2009


Matins: At Survival of the Book, Brian considers David Ulin’s widely-read LA Times piece, “The Lost Art of Reading.”

Lauds: Prince Charles takes his (architectural) case to the public. (via Arts Journal)

Prime: Robert Cringley poses the Emperor’s-New-Clothes question about American corporations that we’ve been asking for ages — only with greater élan: when did profits become more important than pensions and health benefits?

Tierce: What happens in Oman at iftar, the call to evening prayer? One thing seems to be clear: the orgy is not traditional. (via  Café Muscato)

Sext: Vacationing on Cape Cod, Scout looks at the hostelries along Route 6A between Truro and Provincetown, and finds a romantically abandoned motel.

Nones: In the eyes of the developed world, Muammar el-Qaddafi hovers unstably between dictator and thug. Dictators, while not approved, are accepted; thugs, like terrorists, are not permitted to negotiate. Negotiating the release of the Lockerbie bomber, the colonel may have kicked himself away from the table.

Vespers: While we’re getting all weepy about the end of The Book, maybe we ought to feel a little hopeful about the end of Books Like This, which never ought to be published in the first place.

Compline: Edward Moore Kennedy: a princeling who had a U S Senate seat handed to him (repeatedly)? Or a little prince who had to overcome the allure of accidental advantages in order to find real strengths? We take the latter view, along with the Times, the Journal, and even the Post.  


Daily Office:

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009


Matins: What’s so productive about “Gross Domestic Product,” asks historian Eric Zencey? A re-think of GDP for a greener world.

Lauds: A new business plan for classical musicians: don’t seek shelter in a large and venerable organization. Andrew Druckenbrod explains musical entrepreneurship.

Prime: The economics of farmers’ markets could use a design boost. Alissa Walker reports at GOOD.

Tierce: Kate McLaughlin, 19, heads off to Northwestern — for law school. somewhat more remarkably, she graduated from the University of California at San Diego two years ago. What do you think about this kind of precocity?

Sext: Sebastian Münster’s map of Europe, upside-down, at Strange Maps.

Nones: In Sunday’s Times, a long overdue explanation of the Honduran political divide.

Vespers: Jenni Diski reflects on the art of the late Stanley Middleton, a Booker Prize winner whom we hadn’t heard of.

Compline: Andrew Sullivan, in his tenth year of Daily-Beast-ing, resumes the practice of taking August off.


Daily Office:

Monday, July 6th, 2009


Matins: Another way of looking at Earthly inequality: 50% of the world’s population inhabits nations that, in sum, produce only 5% of the world’s GDP.

Lauds: Elliot Goldenthal discusses his beautifully moody score for Public Enemies with Jim Fusilli, at Speakeasy.

Prime: Matt Thompson, at Snarkmarket, writes about the long overdue concept of “too big to succeed.”

Tierce: Just when we thought that the prosecution had exhausted its witnesses hostile to defendant Anthony Marshall, in walks the accountant.

Sext: So, we’ll bet you thought that a 50-pound ball of Silly Putty, if dropped from a 10-storey building, would do some awesomly rampaging bouncing. Not so.

Nones: Ethnic riots in Urumqi probably don’t threaten the stability of the Communist Party’s regime in China, but they do suggest that Uighur “aliens” don’t cotton to Shake-‘n’-Bake Han colonization.

Vespers: At The Millions, C Max Magee looks forward to books forthcoming in the second half of 2009. It’s better than Christmas — even if all you want to read is the new Joshua Ferris and a genuine novel by Nicholson Baker.

Compline: A phrase that’s altogether new to us: (to) gay marry. Friendship with (abstract?) benefits.


Daily Office:

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


Matins: Read the terrorist prototype composite storyline and then give us a call if it describes anybody you know. (via The Morning News)

Lauds: While I agree with Anne Midgette and Jackie Fuchs about the Teen Spirit of grand opera, I’m afraid that they’re overlooking one important detail about teen life. 

Prime: James Surowiecki takes a look at the Argentinian coin shortage (who knew?) and makes a connection with financial problems in the United States: it’s what puts the “con” in “economy.” 

Tierce: Tony Marshall’s defense strategy continues to bewilder me. Unless, that is, a case is being built (without the defendant’s knowledge, to be sure) to cut Charlene loose.

Sext: I couldn’t make up my mind about this story, until I mooted it by saying: Improv Everywhere got the right couple.

Nones: In a very sensible first step toward restoring sanity after the Cold War (yes! it’s really over!), the Organization of American States voted today to re-admit Cuba.

Vespers: For maximum effect, you must read Elizabeth Benedict’s review of Christopher Buckley’s Losing Mom and Pup all the way to the end:  The Not So Discreet Charm of the Haute Goyim.

Compline: Although I have no idea of the provenance of this YouTube clip of retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong (incontournable!), I can vouch that it is indeed the bishop. Although this saint of liberal Christendom never mentions Augustine’s name, he drives stakes through core Augustinian inventions.

Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office:

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


Matins: The two items have little overtly in common, and yet they seem related (if “opposed”): President Obama has settled on Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the Supreme Court nominee to take David Souter’s place, and Prop 8 was upheld by the California Supreme Court.

Lauds: This week’s New Yorker cover was created on an iPhone. Jorge Colombo (published in the magazine since 1994), drew it with Brushes. (via  Emdashes)

Prime: John Lanchester’s review of three current whahappen? books about the “economic downturn” musn’t be missed.

Tierce: In the Marshall trial, Mrs Astor’s last white-shoe lawyer, Henry Christensen, takes the stand. Meanwhile, defendant Tony Marshall is asking $17 million less for his late mother’s Park Avenue apartment.

Sext: Oh, no! “Texting May Be Taking a Toll on Teenagers.”

Nones: Is the Sri Lankan civil war really over? Whether it is or not, Christopher Hitchens (at Slate) has the piece that you want to read. (via reddit)

Vespers: Very different (but equally fond) appreciations of John Updike, by Julian Barnes and Alex Beam.

Compline: Alan Beattie writes about Argentina’s failure to become a great power, at FT. (via  The Morning News)


Daily Office:

Monday, April 27th, 2009


Matins: Robert Pear’s story about the latest squabble in health care reform is well worth thinking about. “Doctor Shortage Proves Obstacle to Obama Goals” is the title of his story, but I’m afraid that the editor who came up with it was having a senior moment, even if he’s only twenty-six.

Lauds: Norman Lebrecht inveighs against artists who collaborate with nasty regimes — creative types who go along to get along. I couldn’t disagree more with his conclusion, but I recognize that he has, by far, the easier argument.

Prime: Manfred Ertel’s Spiegel story about the recknoning in Reykjavik will make deeply satisfying reading to anyone who, like me, believes that the past fifteen years’ free market follies betray a pre-adolescent want of perspicuity. Having the gals take over so that they can fix things seems only right. But what about the reaction?

Tierce: For some reason, I thought that Texas could subdivide into six entities, not five — but I do remember (from my Houstonian captivity) that subdivision was a standard plank in gubernatorial platforms until 1920.  

Sext: In his search for bizarre LP album covers, Muscato unearths the even more bizarre optimism of LP consumers back in the days when new technologies promised to deliver information not only more palatably but more effectively than conventional media (ie books).

Nones: Two stories about Hungary at risk in the ongoing slump. First, and very predicatable, violence aimed at Roma (gypsies). Second, and more impressionistic, Budapest’s fragile prosperity, considered by someone just old enough to remember the city in 1989.

Vespers: A faux-anxious story, nominally about Kazuo Ishiguro’s having only so many more book projects in his quiver, alerts us to the impending arrival (in the UK, anyway) of a new book — not a novel.

Compline: Erik Hare’s essay on seizing opportunity, on being ready to take advantage of favorable winds when they blow — and on the tendency of liberals to dismiss such a skill as “opportunism” — makes for thought-provoking reading. “Eyes on the Prize,” at Barataria.


Daily Office:

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009


Matins: President Obama’s address to small business owners is good so far as it goes, but I’d like to see the Small Business Administration elevated to Cabinet status, with the bigger SBA overseeing tax policies for small employers.

Lauds: Good for them: “Rose family denounces plan to close Brandeis museum.”

Prime: How did I miss this story? “The city without a memory: treasures lost under collapsed Cologne archives.” What an inexcusable catastrophe.

Tierce: David Brooks notes that we are, anomalously, in an “astonishingly non-commercial” moment. But we’ll snap out of it, he reassures us, because it’s in our DNA to do so. But is it?

Sext: I’m beginning to understand that San Francisco writer (and computer geek) Lance Arthur has a magnificent curmudgeonly side. He suavely demonstrates that his hometown’s inferiority makes it a better place to live than New York.

Nones: Sounds like something Evelyn Waugh might dream up: “Followers of Madagascar’s opposition leader have been carrying out an exorcism at a presidential palace in Antananarivo that was seized by troops overnight.”

Vespers: Now that cabin fever is driving New Yorkers outdoors, regardless of whether spring has actually checked in for the day, here’s a handy independent bookstore walking tour from The Millions.

Compline: Quaint old Amsterdam will be re-fitted with a smart electric grid by 2016. (via The Infrastructurist)


Reading Note:
Laugh or Cry?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009


Very late last night, I was seized by a fit of giggles. I’d finally gotten round to Michael Lewis’s Vanity Fair piece on Iceland.

The investigators produced a chart detailing a byzantine web of interlinked entities that boiled down to this: A handful of guys in Iceland, who had no experience of finance, were taking out tens of billions of dollars in short-term loans from abroad. They were then re-lending this money to themselves and their friends to buy assets—the banks, soccer teams, etc. Since the entire world’s assets were rising—thanks in part to people like these Icelandic lunatics paying crazy prices for them—they appeared to be making money. Yet another hedge-fund manager explained Icelandic banking to me this way: You have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that they are each worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners, but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets.

What’s amazing is that so much of the piece could have been written last year, or even earlier. Tony Shearer resigned his post at a venerable City firm in 2005, when it was acquired by one of the Icelandic banks. He quit “out of fear of what might happen to his reputation if he stayed.” Last October, Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander (Mr Shearer’s old firm) collapsed — just as Mr Shearer feared, three years earlier.

Is it possible that kids are growing up so fast today that even they don’t see what the emperor’s new clothes are made of?

Daily Office:

Thursday, February 12th, 2009


Matins: Good news on the international justice front:

Judges at the International Criminal Court have decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, brushing aside diplomatic requests to allow more time for peace negotiations in the conflict-riddled Darfur region of his country, according to court lawyers and diplomats.

Lauds: What do you think? Does support from dodgy, possibly criminal corporations corrupt the arts that they subsidize? Tom Service, at the Guardian, certainly thinks so.

How can the art made at festivals sponsored by these bankrupt individuals and companies do the job that classical music should do, and have a necessary, critical voice in contemporary culture, if it continues to be supported by the dead hand of big banking?

Prime: Eric Patton celebrates the Darwin bicentennial by turning to The Pillow Book — not Peter Greenaway’s film so much as Sei Shonagon’s book — at SORE AFRAID. What on earth has the one got to do with the other? Having scrolled through Eric’s photographic lists, one will find Darwin’s conclusion all the more immanently enlightened.

I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

Tierce: Personality clash or whistleblowing? “You decide.” Either way, Sir James Crosby, who fired an evident whistleblower when he ran the now-ailing HBOS, has had to resign as Britain’s deputy chairman of the Financial Services Authority.

Sext: We take you now from the buttoned-down elitism of The Daily Blague to Belfast, Maine, where a trust fund baby from California who collected Hitler’s silverware was found, after having been shot dead by his wife, Amber, to have been stockpiling the raw materials for a dirty nuclear bomb! (Thanks Alexander Chee!)

Nones: Isn’t it amazing? In a mere half-century, we have cluttered inner space with tons and tons of junk. Two items crashed on Tuesday.

But experts now see another potential threat. Richard Crowther explained: “Unique to the Iridium system is that all the remaining 65 satellites in the constellation pass through the same region of space – at the poles.

“So the debris cloud that is forming as a result of the Iridium satellite breakup will present a debris torus of high (spatial) density at 90 degrees to the equator that all the surviving Iridium satellites will need to pass through.”

Intact satellites share Earth’s orbit with everything from spent rocket stages and spacecraft wreckage to paint flakes and dust.

The diffuse mist of junk around our planet is the legacy of 51 years of human activity in space.

Vespers: Valerie Martin has a little list: six great novels about doomed marriages. Before peeking, make your own list. Okay, now you can look.

Compline: An amusingly ambiguous map from newgeography: American states that people don’t leave? Or states that they don’t move to? (via Brainiac)


Daily Office:

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008


Matins: Is English really the indispensable tongue of the Internet? Maybe not anymore.

Sext: Don’t ask me where he finds the time, but our Joe gets around.

I had pondered actually going to Times Square tonight, until a dozen or so of my friends collectively threatened to have me committed.


Daily Office:

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008


Matins: The Nation, Thailand’s English-language newspaper, runs a Web site that holds its own as a contemporary news site. Here, for example, is the page of business leaders. It’s better than what one might expect of a South Asian kingdom where English is not really the second language that it is in, say, India.

And here is its capsule report of the king’s exhortation to the newly sworn-in government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Did I say “capsule”? It’s the entire story. No comment, no color, no links to related stories. Just the royal admonition. I give it entire:

In his speech given before Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cabinet, HM the King said: “If you work well, the country will be in good order and it will be a blessing. If you can ensure happiness and public order, the country will go ahead as wished by all Thais.”

Tierce: The shooting death of a police officer is always a hot-button crime, so it’s especially heartening to see juries pulling back from felony murder convictions in connection with the deaths of Daniel Enchautegui and Russel Timoshenko, two policemen who were shot last year while trying to deter criminal activity. The doctrine of felony murder, which holds individuals to be guilty of any murder committed in the course of a crime to which they are accessories, is a blot on our system of justice.

Sext: Read about the Ultimate Paper Airplane, at Brainiac. It is rocket science!


Daily Office:

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008


Matins: I wish I were still in law school! I wish I were that young. Then, the idea that Bush v Gore is a precedent-laden decision would have intrigued me.

Sext: How could they do it? That’s what everybody I know is talking about. How could they give all their money to Bernie Madoff? They begged him to invest it for them, dazzled partly, it’s true, by the fantastic returns that he boasted; but dazzled to the point of blindness by his reluctance to take their money. (His initial reluctance, that is…) 

Natalie Angier explains it all to you: “A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit.”


Daily Office:

Thursday, December 18th, 2008


Matins: Wouldn’t it be nice if Arianna Huffington’s wish comes true, and the Madoff Affair puts an end to the faux-cluelessness of modern management?

Tierce: Today’s verse of the Madoff chapter: New York’s commercial real estate developers. This mess begins to look like one of Stanley Milgram’s disturbing behavioral experiments. While there’s no doubt that the SEC blew this one, it’s hard to feel sorry for investors who overrode commonsense basics in the stampede to “invest.” Especially when Mr Madoff appears to have mirrored their own way of doing business.

The outsize impact on the industry may have resulted largely because Mr. Madoff (pronounced MAY-doff) managed his funds much the way that real estate leaders have operated successfully for decades: He provided little information and demanded a lot of trust.

Nones: Thailand seems to have turned a corner, as defectors from the People’s Power Party in support of a coalition government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva.  

Vespers: In 1618, the Defenestration of Prague launched the Thirty Years’ War. (Catholics threw some Protestants out the window.) In 2008, the ? of Baghdad ended the American Misadventure in Iraq. (Wouldn’t that be nice!)

Compline: Something I’d written myself: Lee Stranahan’s plea for large-mindedness from folks unhappy with President-Elect Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to deliver the invocation on 20 January.


Daily Office:

Monday, December 15th, 2008


Matins: Even though it’s Christmas and everything, and we’re in between presidents who get shoes thrown at them and who won’t, let’s take a moment to wish Thailand well. It’s hard for an outsider to tell, at this point, whether the choice of Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva is a good thing, but the fact that a coalition is now in charge seems like a step forward.

Tierce: The curious thing about trickle-down economics is that, while it doesn’t work so well when times are good — hmm, wonder why? — it kicks in nastily when there’s a slump. New York’s doormen are here to tell you about it.

Sext: The Minimalist Chef, Mark Bittman, writes about the size of his kitchen, which is not unusually small for a New York City apartment but, at six feet by seven, tiny by American standards.


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:

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008


Matins: Far be it from me to natter on about the Kurds — the largest ethnic group in the world without a country of its own. Farther still to crow, “I told you so,” as Kathleen reminds me every day that I could. I’m simply relieved to read this (accent on the third paragraph):

The Kurds are resisting, underscoring yet again the depth of ethnic and sectarian divisions here and the difficulty of creating a united Iraq even when overall violence is down. Tension has risen to the point that last week American commanders held a series of emergency meetings with the Iraqi government and Kurdish officials, seeking to head off violence essentially between factions of the Iraqi government.

“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region.

Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

Tierce: Two pieces about decision-making — on the OpEd page! Let me know if the piece about “Undecideds” by Sam Wang and Joshua Gold, of Princeton and Penn, tells you something you didn’t know. But don’t miss David Brooks on what he calls “the coming-out party for behavioral economists.”

Sext: Do I really need two computers?* Yes, and Lance Arthur reminds me why.

You can always remove yourself from it by choice, for sure. Go on computer vacation and never check e-mail (unless you have an iPhone) and never get WiFi access in your hotel room and never worry about what’s going on the world at or or the blogs you regularly check or the friends who live — at least partially — online. Frankly, I’ve tried it and it sucks. It’s too much a part of my life now, rather than a peripheral of it. I rely on my computer and the web to be part of my life, and when the familiarity of my own computer is taken away from me, even when it’s replaced by another one, I am left lost and forlorn.

* Two computers that I use every day, with most apps loaded on both.


Books on Monday:
Chinese Lessons

Monday, October 20th, 2008


Before Mao Zedong, China swarmed with largely unsupervised American missionaries. When John Pomfret studied history at Nanjing University in the early Eighties, he was one of a highly-scrutinized handful of Yanks. In Chinese Lessons, he combines a measure of his own experiences with the lives of his classmates, most of whom suffered terribly in the Cultural Revolution. A great deal of insight is packed into this engaging account.

Daily Office:

Friday, September 19th, 2008


Matins: John McCain has delivered himself over to the Republican Party handlers whose only objective is a victory for the Party. They’re not taking a chance on Senator McCain (whom they’ve never cared for anyway). No more Mr Nice Guy.

Lauds: Crayons!

Tierce: A while back — at Sext on 10 March, to be exact — I took one of my occasional fliers, and accused today’s right-leaning Federal judiciary of seeking to overturn progressive commercial-law decisions from the early Twentieth Century that underpin our consumer economy. I was teeny-tinily overstating, and if anybody had called me on it, I’d have been obliged to temporize.

No longer. Adam Liptak reports on the so-called “pre-emption doctrine,” a wildly pro-business, anti-consumer principle that is wholly consonant with what we know about Republican Party objectives.

Sext: For seventeen years, Dan Hanna took two self-snaps a day, making one full turn every year. The Time of My Life is stop-action animation with a vengeance! From 31 to 48, Mr Hanna ages very well, but still….  (via

Vespers: Hats off to Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, who is halfway to opening a bookstore in Fort Greene with strong support from the business community, from a $15,000 first prize in a Citibank competition to her business partner, a Random House sales rep.


Daily Office:

Thursday, August 28th, 2008



“G” is for Goltz: For the true skinny on what’s been going on in Georgia, visit Michael J Totten’s Middle East Journal, where reporter extraordinaire Tom Goltz — the go-to guy for what’s going on in the Caucasus — backs up Georgian government spokesman Patrick Worms, making only a few small corrections in the official account.


Creative Contradiction: Lance Arthur warns that you do not want the creative director job — especially if you’re creative.


Bloatware: When I went back over this story, about how Best Buy is handling bloatware (the come-ons for software that are loaded by manufacturers onto new computers), I thought that there was something about customers telling a representative what they wanted; but, no: that was in this story, about camera phones.