Daily Office:


Matins: Wei Jingsheng, twice-imprisoned Chinese dissident and winner of the Sakharov and Kennedy prizes, sees nothing less than collapse in his country’s future, if it does not offer ordinary Chinese a version of the New Deal.

Lauds: Google Earth presents Fine Art: a dozen-odd masterpieces from the Prado in thread-count detail.

Prime: To avoid the worst of post-holiday slump, I’ve been repairing to Café Muscato for refreshment. For witty ribaldry (glossing over-the-top images), Muscato can’t be beat.

Tierce: Living in Manhattan means encountering neighborhood bulletins from Times to Times. This morning, in an article by Alex Tarquino that I almost skipped, “More Manhattan Shop Windows Are Expected to Be Empty This Year” — this is news? — I read that the Barnes & Noble branch that’s catercorner from my house is going to “move around the corner,” presumably into the new Brompton apartment building (the one designed by Robert A M Stern).

Sext: As Alexander Pope demonstrated a while back (with Peri Bathos, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry), the quickest recipe for a fun read is to parody a how-to book by replacing the exemplary extracts with total trash. Jason Roeder revisits a much-loved usage manual with The Elements of Spam, at McSweeney’s.

Nones: In Riga, a peaceful demonstration against the government’s economic policies got riotous, when a bunch of drunk young men attacked the parliament building.

Vespers: For some time now, Jason Epstein has looked like the only book person out there who knows (a) what’s wrong with publishing and (b) how to fix it. His latest exhortation — elegant and brief as always — appears at The Daily Beast.

Compline: From Joan Didion, an acerbic reminder to those who, in their excitement about an inauguration that is ripe with historical momentousness, have forgotten (as I am sure that Barack Obama himself has not) our absurd expectations of dancing in the streets in Baghdad, nearly six years ago…


§ Matins. It is often remarked that the Chinese “Communists” are merely the latest in a line of dynasties that last for two to three centuries. We’re about to see if the Party really commands anything like that sort of imperial prestige. “Sudden incidents” — protests — were on the rise even before the recession dealt China an economic body blow.

§ Lauds. The credentialistas will argue that Google’s images are no substitute for the real thing, but in some ways they’re better; certainly no one without credentials of some kind or other will be permitted to pore over Old Masters at anything like such close range. As for informative reproductions — know your masterpieces before you confront them in the museum — these digital copies can’t be beat.

§ Prime. I will ask, however, that you join in my write-in campaign to protest the current Automat marquee. I have reason to believe that Muscato is — worldly enough to know that there was nothing café about Horn & Hardart coffee. Of course we thought the Automat was neat when we were six. We probably would have thought that  Betty Staples was neat when we were six, or at least the balloons.

§ Tierce. Ever since that branch of B & N opened, I’ve been waiting for the “original” Yorkville branch, on Lexington Avenue between 86th and 87th, to close. Maybe now it will. It’s still the better bookstore of the two; the one closer to me is too gifty — not quite so bad as giftig, but close.

§ Sext. Probably NSFW, but very, very funny.

§ Nones. In Latvia at this time of year, a block of ice is as good as a brick or a stone, so why not throw it, especially if you have 4425’ved yourself?

§ Vespers. The original sin, it will come as no surprise, was the flight to the suburbs, which destroyed the strong, and reliably stocked, independent bookstore.

§ Compline. Having lived through one Camelot, what I really hope for is that we’re not on the threshold of another. That President-Elect Obama is the first black &c &c is duly noted. That’s not what makes him admirable. When he starts showing his admirable side, it will probably sting a bit.

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