Daily Office:


Matins: Matt Taibbi lays it all out for you, in no uncertain terms. “It’s over — we’re officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock…” (via Mike O’Neill)

Lauds: Listen, it’s disgusting that female actors “age” so much faster than their male colleagues that they find themselves playing the mothers of characters played by men hardly any younger than themselves. But maybe there’s a good reason that has nothing whatever to do with crow’s feet.

Prime: Confucius say, a picture is worth a thousand words. (Citation, anyone?) RJ say, a thousand words is not too many. This week’s Economist cover gets a handy explication at Strange Maps.

Tierce: GM’s goal of recapturing 29% of the American auto market, set at the beginning of this decade, probably contributed to the company’s distress. (And it’s not the “29.”) (via Morning News)

Sext: “You’d better take the highway, because my way is for me only”: memos from Edward Mike Davis, proprietor of the Tiger Oil family of companies, make hilarious reading now. (Via Things Magazine)

Nones: It’s hard to read the BBC’s story about increased surveillance on the Mexican border without feeling that received morality makes people really, really stupid.

Vespers: Is the recession/depression stomping out ambition? Choire Sicha thinks so, and he’s going to write a book about it.

Compline: What impresses me about President Obama’s press conference this evening is his ability to address issues substantively but in terms that almost everyone can understand.


§ Matins. I shake my head ruefully at my evident naïveté: I thought it would end when the Bushies left Washington. But the project that I attributed to them — the systematic transfer of public wealth into private pockets — appears not only to predate their halcyon days but to proceed undisturbed today.

In essence, Paulson and his cronies turned the federal government into one gigantic, half-opaque holding company, one whose balance sheet includes the world’s most appallingly large and risky hedge fund, a controlling stake in a dying insurance giant, huge investments in a group of teetering megabanks, and shares here and there in various auto-finance companies, student loans, and other failing businesses. Like AIG, this new federal holding company is a firm that has no mechanism for auditing itself and is run by leaders who have very little grasp of the daily operations of its disparate subsidiary operations.

I’m not sure that I agree with this entirely, but that I agree with it even in part is seriously upsetting.

§ Lauds. To be a hero, an actor must convince an audience of his ability to gull a woman into believing preposterous things about himself. Right off, this means that smart-sounding women can’t be heroines.

Alfred Hitchcock immortalized the problem in not one but two movies. In To Catch a Thief, and then in North By Northwest, Jessie Royce Landis, who was eight years old when Cary Grant was born, played a mother figure — first a mother-in-law, and then, even less flatteringly, the mother of Roger “Rot” Thornhill. But we treasure her wisdom: “Roger, pay the two dollars.” (Only two dollars to beat a drunk-driving rap? That’s another story about the passage of time.)

§ Prime. You can’t appreciate the audacity of China’s claim to the Spratlys until you’ve seen how far away from China the islands are.  

A westward view would have been almost as interesting. I look forward to seeing how India, the stans of the old USSR, Sudan, and the South Asian tributaries (Vietnam, Thailand) —not to mention “Tibet!” — might be handled.

§ Tierce. Drake Bennett’s report in the Globe takes issue with the bedrock American idea that setting goals is a always a good thing.

Although simple numerical goals can lead to bursts of intense effort in the short term, they can also subvert the longer-term interests of a person or a company – whether it’s a pharmaceutical firm that overlooks safety in the rush to get a drug approved, or a dieter who resumes smoking to help lose 20 pounds. In work requiring a certain amount of creativity and judgment, the greatest risk appears to lie in overly simplified goals. Reducing complex activities to a bundle of numbers can end up rewarding the wrong behavior – with engineers concentrating on less promising but more straightforward research, for example, to rack up more patents.

And behind all of this is the old macho problem of avoiding the appearance of weakness when adjusting or fine-tuning goals to suit changing circumstances. We have a hard time accommodating our ideas of “leadership” with the concepts of “flexibility” and “compromise.”

§ Sext. “Do what I say, not what I do” was definitely the prevailing precept at Tiger.

There is one thing that differentiates me from my employees. I am a known son-of-a-bitch, and I care to remain that way. I have the privilege of swearing publicly, in front of anyone, or doing anything I want because I pay the bills. When you work for me, you don’t have that privilege.


Do not speak to me when you see me. If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don’t want to ruin it by saying hello to all you sons-of-bitches.


Per Edward Mike Davis’s orders, there will be no more birthday celebrations, birthday cakes, levity, or celebrations of any kind within the office. This is a business office.


Therefore, the fullest cooperation from everyone will be had.


I do not appreciate people coming into my office and helping themselves to my candy, cigars, medicine, and other personal items.

That anyone at Tiger Oil would dream of penetrating Mr Davis’s office uninvited, much less actually do so, suggests a certain blustery subtext to these priceless memos.  

Is there a name for Mr Davis’s obsession with the work/play “dichotomy”? Either you’re working for him “100%,” or you’re on your own time. No mixing! All I can think of is my favorite poem from A Child’s Garden of Verses:

When I am grown to man’s estate
I shall be very proud and great,
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys.

§ Nones. “Received morality” is what you get from your parents and your community, but do not bother to think through for yourself. (I cannot imagine an intelligent mind’s spontaneously espousing the prohibition of recreational drugs. Perhaps I refuse to do so.)

We might take heart, I suppose, that, this time, the border action is not so much about illegal immigration.

§ Vespers. Leon Neyfakh’s report at the Observer reads like something between a high-school rag and the Onion.

Asked how he plans to avoid the pitfalls he described in a 2008 Observer column about how contemporary male writers had grown too enchanted with their own inner lives, Mr. Sicha said he probably wouldn’t, and that in the end his book would “just be a series of unreported personal essays about my feelings.”

But, no, seriously, he said: “I am going to try to avoid looking at people’s lives through ‘the lens of the self,’ as they say. I am going to try to do this crazy thing that people used to and sometimes still do which is to write about actual other people!”

§ Compline. My sister would probably accuse me of being patronizing, and it’s that I don’t really know what would make the average intelligent American believe that the financial crisis is being addressed in a constructive manner. But this answer to a question about bailing out AIG sticks to things that are generally familiar, such as FDIC.

Well, keep in mind that it is precisely because of the lack of this authority that the AIG situation has gotten worse. Now, understand that AIG’s not a bank, it’s an insurance company. If it were a bank and it had effectively collapsed, then the FDIC could step in, as it does with a whole host of banks — as it did with IndyMac — and in a structured way renegotiate contracts, get rid of bad assets, strengthen capital requirements, resell it on the private marketplace.

So we’ve got a regular mechanism whereby we deal with FDIC-insured banks. We don’t have that same capacity with an institution like AIG, and that’s part of the reason why it has proved so problematic. I think a lot of people understandably say: Well, if we’re putting all this money in there, and if it’s such a big systemic risk to allow AIG to liquidate, why is it that we can’t restructure some of these contracts? Why can’t we do some of the things that need to be done in a more orderly way? And the reason is — is because we have not obtained this authority.

We should have obtained it much earlier, so that any institution that poses a systemic risk that could bring down the financial system we can handle, and we can do it in an orderly fashion that quarantines it from other institutions. We don’t have that power right now. That’s what Secretary Geithner was talking about.

And I think that there’s going to be strong support from the American people and from Congress to provide that authority so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we’ve got to choose between either allowing an enormous institution like AIG, which is not just insuring other banks but is also insuring pension funds and potentially putting people’s 401(k)s at risk if it goes under — that’s one choice — and then the other choice is just to allow them to take taxpayer money without the kind of conditions that we’d like to see on it. So that’s why I think the authority’s so important.

Of course the president could have gone into greater detail. But it’s more important that the people whom he is trying to lead can follow him. (Try to imagine summarizing everything important in Matt Taibbi’s excoriation of AIG, linked to at Matins, above.) So he makes AIG out to be the wildcat that it was, and promises that in future such antic will be regulated, if not prevented by regulation.

Americans are very lucky to have this man in the White House.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. JR says:

    À propos Nones : there was a similar story in the NY Times yesterday but with a better infography of the Mexican cartels: