Daily Office:


Matins: Frank Rich insists that singer John Rich is mistaken:  Detroit is no more “the real world” than Wall Street is.”

Lauds: Rachel Morarjee conducts a Monocle tour of the “narcotecture” of Herat. For more than half of the clip’s five minutes, the richest city in Afghanistan looks like any old place after a scattershot disaster, but at the three-minute market, brace yourself for “wedding-cake monstrosities.” (via  Things Magazine)

Prime: While critic Tom Service laments the decline in British music education, &c and so forth, Jeremy Denk illustrates what a top-drawer education can do for an artistically-inclined youth…

Tierce: Here’s a surprise: “Wanted” posters put out by the Environmental Protection Agency. But why a surprise?

Sext: Ian Frazier’s lampoon of the Rosetta Stone ads that have been running in the backs of brainy magazines —

He was a hardworking farm boy. She was an Italian supermodel. He knew he would have just one chance to impress her.

 — is a brilliant scream. Why didn’t I write it?

Nones: Michael Tomasky’s appraisal of President Obama’s week in Europe, in the Guardian, is warmly favorable — its party-pooping title notwithstanding. “With a rocket, Obama’s hope is shot back down to earth.”

Vespers: A O Scott considers the formerly unmarketable short story: will short fiction benefit from the collapse of publishing as we know it?

Compline:  Jim Holt recommends memorizing poetry. All I want is the Table of Contents to Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, selected by Robert Pinsky.


§ Matins. Just because GM turned out SUVs instead of CDSs doesn’t mean that it was any less delusional.

But in the unsatisfying aftermath of Rick Wagoner’s demise, we must rid ourselves of the illusion that there’s a rigid separation between Wall Street and what John Rich calls “the real world.” Any citizen or business that overspent or overborrowed in the bubble subscribed to its reckless culture. That culture has crumbled everywhere now, and a new economic order will have to rise from its ruins.

§ Lauds. The good news is that the construction is so shoddy that the palaces will soon be tumbling — unless an earthquake takes them down sooner. Yet another reason, friends, for rethinking our smug drug policies, which just make the wrong people rich.

§ Prime. Mr Denk, whom I have heard perform here in New York several times, and with whom I have even chatted, briefly, in the aisles of Carnegie Hall, is quite fantastically more prepossessing in person than he is in this clip, which he appears to have made, on an impulse that is hard to characterize as anything but ill-advised, while waking up in Geneva. Will he live it down, I wonder? Will colleagues rib him mercilessly about his wardrobe management system, from now until the end, hopefully distant, of a distinguished career?

§ Tierce. I have no doubt that at some point within the next fifty years crimes against the environment will be the most serious offenses, and that people who commit them will be regarded as more depraved than serial murders (because they won’t, in most cases, have mental illness to blame).

Fifty years ago, however, polluting the air or the water was little more than a naughty kind of mess-making. Even that late in this country’s economic development as an industrial powerhouse, a  certain amount of environmental degradation was thought to be an unavoidable byproduct of prosperity.

The EPA’s “Wanted” posters are not a joke; they seek alleged offenders (or, as in the case of Albania Deleon, who ran an asbestos-removal school that was a joke, convicted offenders) who are at large. Observe caution! Suspects may be armed with ammonia-loaded squirt guns.

§ Sext. Because I’m a sentimental sap about the power of learning languages, I always root for the kid whenever I see the ad. (Did I confess, in the previous Daily Blague entry, to being particularly susceptible to the blandishments of Readers’ Porn? No, I did not.)

§ Nones. But who cares what the pundits have to say, given the president’s own remarks in Ankara:

I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them.

§ Vespers. Mr Scott’s essay appears to be occasioned by the arrival of three new biographies of short-fiction masters (O’Connor, Cheever, and Barthelme). Their work has the advantage of canonical status. What about new writers? Not to mention readers who don’t give a fig about canons?

And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.

§ Compline. Reading poetry aloud when there’s nobody there to listen might feel foolish at first, but, as with most things, it becomes natural with repetition. I’ve come to the conclusion that the right way to read poetry is the way that you want to read it: how does it feel?

I’m not sure I’d care much for the poetry of Wallace Stevens if I couldn’t read it out loud. “Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramón…”

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