Daily Office:


Matins: Second only to Flint, MI as a GM-dependent town, Anderson, IN is piecing itself together with small businesses —

Lauds: The Walker Evans postcard show at the Museum ought to be a permanent installation in the American Wing.

Prime: George Snyder reports on the anxiety of celebrity — direct from Hollywood. (There’s a rapper called “Flo Rida”?)

Tierce: Can anyone tell me what a report on the ideological intransigence of academic economists is doing buried in the Arts/Books section of the Times?

Sext: Did you know that a chunk of asteroid as big as fifty metres missed hitting Sidney by only 60,000 miles the other day? (via Morning News.)

Nones: In news that you probably thought can’t be news, the first rail link between Laos and Thailand (or anywhere) is inaugurated,  crossing the Mekong River.

Vespers: Jeremy Denk hates Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, calling the author “one of the most gifted writers of boring sentences in the last decade.”

Compline: The new railroad connecting Santa Fe and Albuquerque, unlike the Interstate Highway, will  cut through pueblo lands. Conductors have been asked to request passengers to refrain from drive-by photography.  


§ Matins. — and a casino, which is not so great. Still, the story is unexpectedly upbeat.

Advanced Magnesium Alloys Corporation, a magnesium recycling operation, now occupies G.M.’s former Plant 19. A 260,000-square-foot factory, it had been mothballed for five years when Jan A. Guy, a local entrepreneur, bought it in 2001. The company has 26 employees, and they earn an average of $14.50 an hour and benefits.

Another small business, Hy-Tech Machinery, recently bought G.M.’s former Plant No. 18. It designs, builds and repairs industrial machinery.

§ Lauds. If I were to collect anything, it would be postcards. I have never thrown one away — not even the foul pornographies that Fossil sends from the UK when he visits.

Evan’s collection also includes postcards mailed by Evans to friends, family, and colleagues that he later retrieved for his own archive, suggesting that he could not bear to part with his roadside discoveries. He even went so far as to demand the return of a postcard he sent in 1935 or 1936 to Romana Javitz, head of the renowned picture collection at the New York Public Library, where he expresses his hope that he is “making [a] superb collection [of] postcards for you-all.”

—Jeff Rosenheim, Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard (Steidl/MMA, 2009)

§ Prime. Scratch “the anxiety of celebrity.” It’s “the uselessness of literacy.” Substitute the name of any writer you can think of for “E F Benson” and you’d get the same response in La-La Land.

“I move to disqualify,” a team member announces. To my surprise, everyone in the room agrees. I object. The host demands the offending slip of paper.

“Who knows who this Benson person is?” the host inquires of his other guests I raise my hand. So does a timid fellow in the corner, the friend of a friend of a friend who shrinks visibly as eyes are turned on him. Presumably he is the individual who put the name in the bowl. We are outnumbered. I notice he leaves shortly thereafter, pleading a headache.

Speaking of Benson, a recent remark at 1904 led me to the discovery that there’s a very naughty S&M novel out there called Mr Benson. Tut, George; tut. (Is it any good?)

§ Tierce. There ought to be an Edward John Smith Underwater prize for the free-market theoretician who holds out the longest.

Unquestioning loyalty to a particular idea is what Robert J. Shiller, an economist at Yale, says is the reason the profession failed to foresee the financial collapse. He blames “groupthink,” the tendency to agree with the consensus. People don’t deviate from the conventional wisdom for fear they won’t be taken seriously, Mr. Shiller maintains. Wander too far and you find yourself on the fringe. The pattern is self-replicating. Graduate students who stray too far from the dominant theory and methods seriously reduce their chances of getting an academic job.

“I fear that there will not be much change in basic paradigms,” Mr. Shiller wrote in an e-mail message. “The rational expectations models will be tweaked to account for the current crisis. The basic curriculum will not change.”

“I hope I am wrong,” he added.

Or we could just stop paying attention. Turn off the television; turn off the economists.

§ Sext. But the real miracle — an ongoing one — takes place directly overhead (my head, anyway) every day. With activity like this, who needs asteroids to worry about?

§ Nones. The 3.5 kilometer spur (!) is part of a Trans-Asian Railway system dreamed up with UN support way back in the — 1960s.

§ Vespers. I’ve been trying to write about Netherland since I read it, when it came out last spring. I’ve read the book a second time, closely, taking plenty of notes. Unlike Mr Denk, I find the novel to be a supremely pleasurable read. But the sense of missing something has haunted me from the start, and even though I think I know what it is, it’s hard to find the words, and other projects have piled up. I’ve drafted, at best, a third of a browser page. 

§ Compline. Because of the history, I understand the desire for privacy.

Bruce Bernstein, executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which sponsors the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, said photo bans on Native American lands date to the early 1900s.

“Outsiders, beginning with Spanish settlements, have not been respectful of Native people or their culture,” Bernstein wrote in an e-mail. “Native life is life and is not a tourist attraction. … People are offended that their pictures are taken without permission and published, mis-represented, and mis-identified.”

For the most part, though, I’m against bans on photographs taken in public. By the same token, I’d be happy with the automatic lowering of blinds when the New Mexico train passed through tribal villages. I believe that a century of photography has accustomed us all to the right to record what we see. (Subject to a few obvious and well-established limitations — such as the prohibition against photographing sensitive documents.) What do you think?

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Netherland withers. Ouch!