Daily Office:


Matins: In one of those hard cases that the vagaries of editorial wording can decide, an Army contractor, who in what I should certainly call the heat of passion “revenge-killed” a prisoner, was finally sentenced. The prisoner had doused the contrator’s partner, a woman, in flammable liquid and set her on fire. (She later died of burns.) Read the judgment below. (via The Morning News)

Lauds: Nicolai Ouroussoff decries the latest design for a transportation hub at the World Center site as a “monument to the creative ego that celebrates [Santiago] Calatrava’s engineering prowess but little else.” 

Prime: Act today? “The 99 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music” are on sale, as a set of MP3 downloads, for $7.99. I’m not sure that I can recommend starting a classical library this way. (via kottke.org)

Tierce: For the first time in my life, I bought the New York Post yesterday. How could I not, given this screaming headline: “DISS ASTOR.” Never mind that what it refers to doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. What, though, can Charlene Marshall have been thinking, when she allowed a Post reporter into her apartment?

Sext: Ian Frazier, longtime New Yorker humorist, must have started out in his playpen, seeing that he’s celebrating his fortieth birthday.

Nones: Page A11 of yesterday’s Times was entirely taken up by a call to journalists to recognize the body of water that you probably know as the “Sea of Japan” as the “East Sea.”

Vespers: Joseph O’Neill’s three boys didn’t understand why they couldn’t drop in on President Obama during a recent trip to Washington. Did they know that he was reading daddy’s book? Vintage Books certainly did. (via  Arts Journal)

Compline: In the current issue of NYRB, Sue Halpern goes after a couple of the anecdotes upon which Malcolm Gladwell argues his case in Outliers.


§ Matins. This story is an excellent film project that might inspire an excellent film. Both Don Ayala, the contractor, and Abdul Salam, the man with the match, had righteousness on their side, and a filmmaker who could illustrate that parity might force us to recognize that we usually decide hard cases by resorting to prejudice.

Mr Ayala was tried, of course, by Federal prosecutors in the United States, and not in Afghan courts. His sentence: no jail time, but five years’ probation and a $12,500 fine. If he sells his story to Hollywood, would Mr Salam’s family have a right to some of the proceeds?  

§ Lauds. You won’t find me complaining that it’s taking forever to rebuild at the World Trade Center site. As Mr Ouroussoff notes,

Mr. Calatrava’s design also embodies a deeper, more troubling history: the toxic climate of those first years after the Sept. 11 attacks. While the city grieved, politicians were vowing to rebuild as fast as possible, as if that would somehow accelerate the healing process. Practical considerations were set aside. Jingoism ruled. Egotism dominated over softer, gentler voices.

Whether the new plans will ever be executed, no one, of course, can say. It’s a pity, though, that such a soaring structure will be visible only at close range.

§ Prime. Sure, the collection includes pieces that everybody who knows music knows, and a cursory glance suggests that it’s schlock-free. But the famous jewels glitter rather blankly in the absence of the context from which they’ve been extracted. Yes, you’ll have all the classical hit tunes at your fingertips. But, no, you won’t learn a thing about what makes this music “classical” in the first place.  

Question: how does Dubrovka Tomsic (a great if underappreciated pianist) stretch fifteen minutes’ playing time out of the “Quasi una fantasia” movement of the Moonlight Sonata? Three takes, perhaps?

§ Tierce. That’s not all! In prose that was clearly scratched onto paper with sharp, Jungle Red-painted fingernails, Post columnist Andrea Peyser hyperventilates her way through “Team Marshall Stars to Lose It”:

Stick a fork in this turkey of a case, which pits the memory of a glorious, generous blueblood against her shark of a son. It’s over. Finished. Except for the whining.

D’you find that unkind? How about this:

In the courtroom, Charlene, 63, planted an inappropriate, sloppy wet one on the kisser of the 84-year-old Marshall. Ew.

Ew, indeed.

§ Sext. As I was opening my copy, on the way back upstairs from the mailbox, I came across the following rather discouraging review of two dishes at a “jokey homage to the old Jewish deli”:

One such twist comes in cheeseburger spring rolls, a dish that sounds so misconveived you feel you have to try it. Without the tangy vegetable component of regular spring rolls, there is nothing to relieve the fatty blandness of wrapper, meat, and cheese. When you bite into one end, grease spills out of the other. One would have to be very drunk to enjoy this dish, and, to that purpose, the cocktails here are excellent. Similarly, the mac and cheese appears to be exactly that: pasta soused in melted cheese with no evidence of any attempt to create a sauce.

§ Nones. The ad, or notice, blaring “Error in NYT,” was paid for by nearly a hundred thousand users of the Korean portal, Daum.net.

I can’t say that this makes any more sense than “Sea of Japan,” as the body of water in question lies to the west of Japan. It’s probably too much to hope for to wonder if cultures on both sides of the sea share a common god or goddess — the world would be a better place with a “Sea of Poseidon” by any name.

The Koreans have taken the matter to the UN’s Ninth Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. If you’re having a slow day, you may enjoy a peek at the Conference’s Web site.

§ Vespers. And here I’d hoped to complete my page on Netherland before the paperback appeared. I’ve got a very long drafts, and I’ve read the novel three times — and it has taken three readings to cut through the jungle of misreadings that sprang up around the book when it appeared last year. So say I.

§ Compline. Picking at Mr Gladwell’s has been a popular indoor sport ever since the book appeared. Michiko Kakutani, surprise surprise, lobbed one of the first volleys.

The book, which purports to explain the real reason some people — like Bill Gates and the Beatles — are successful, is peppy, brightly written and provocative in a buzzy sort of way. It is also glib, poorly reasoned and thoroughly unconvincing.

Ms Halpern’s objections are a tad more measured. It is also easier to take issue with. She writes of one example that it

goes to the heart of his main thesis about success—that it cannot be explained by understanding what a person is like but only by where he or she is from. It’s not clear, precisely, why Gladwell considers this is a revelation, not a tautology, but he does.

In fact, Mr Gladwell’s really subject is the enormous personal impact that highly arbitrary distinctions (such as Canadian hockey’s calendar year) have on raw talent. (I do agree somewhat with Ms Halpern about the Chris Langan “genius” anecdote, which seems to stem more from the dysfunctions of a particular family than from any broader socio-economic forces.)

I’m waiting, in any case, for the backlash against Mr Gladwell’s recent essay on the full-court press. It certainly made sense to me: one of the first uses to which people put their gifts is reducing the need for raw effort.

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