Daily Office:


Matins: As the twentieth anniversary of “Tiananmen” approaches, it appears that most younger Chinese don’t have any idea that there’s an anniversary to mark. (via Brainiac)

Lauds: I’m pretty sure that I don’t really want to see Steven Soderbergh’s new film, The Girlfriend Experience, but I’m fascinated by the wildly divergent responses that it has elicited at The Rumpus, from Stephen Elliott (pro) and Andrew Altschul (con).

Prime: A story from last week that I missed: “A Vibrant US Train Industry Would Emply More People than Car Makers Do Now,” at Infrastructurist.

Tierce: The testimony of Henry Christensen, the Sullivan & Cromwell attorney who served as Brooke Astor’s trusts and estates lawyer from 1991 to 2003, may have its greatest impact upon his own career. 

Update: Imagine what it must be like to read the following bit of news about yourself: “Though Mr Christensen is not charged with a crime...”

Sext: Something fun from — “Down Under”? (Maybe that was the problem.) Balk balks.

Nones: Little Elise André has been put in the position of a human ping-pong ball, as her parents — Russian mother, French father — secure conflicting custody awards from their respective home courts.

Vespers: Dwight Garner gives Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human a very enthusiastic review; not the least of the book’s attractions is its brevity (207 pages!).

Compline: Here’s an item to add to the checklist: bring the guys (and gals) who actually build/make things into the Green conversation. (How can I see Greening Southie?)

Bon weekend à tous!


§ Matins. Mara Hvistendahl writes,

But outside of labor camps and Western democratic havens, the memory of what happened dulled. For a few years following 1989, videos about June Fourth — known in Mandarin simply as liu si, or “6/4” — circulated on the black market. Then the government began a campaign of forgetting, first spinning the event and then erasing it. The popular Chinese search engine Baidu now blocks at least 19 derivations of “six four,” including Chinese character homophones, the abbreviation “sf,” and “63+1.”

Such controls are far from total, but they can be very effective. On June 4, 2007, a newspaper in Chengdu published a small advertisement recognizing the mothers of the 1989 victims. Online, chat-room users speculated about how such a message could have gotten past the paper’s editors — until it was revealed that the young clerk who took the ad didn’t recognize the event. What might have been a quiet act of resistance was instead a measure of a nation’s forgetting.

“My students don’t know what it is,” says a professor at a city university in Shanghai who witnessed the protests as a teenager. “You say June Fourth and they say, ‘What, my birthday’?”

§ Lauds. Mr Altschul’s piece is too angry to be persuasive; it reminds me, rather, of the sophomoric creative writing that he lambastes before he settles down to the movie.

This raises a problem for aspiring artists who happen to be untalented, unimaginative, bigoted, immature, or just generally lazy, those writers—and any undergraduate creative writing instructor knows they are legion—who rely on stereotypes and use narrative to express deeply cherished but deeply false views of the world, whose preferred response from their audience is a solemn nod of agreement, rather than a brow furrowed in thought. Oversimplification goes hand in hand with the moralizing urge that is so strong in adolescents, and these writers can count on approval from equally naïve and intolerant readers: “This character is so mean to his wife, I’m glad that North Korean missile hit his car!” or “She knows she shouldn’t do drugs, so she totally deserved to get date raped!” That literary journals, film festivals, and publishing houses still attached to Realism discriminate against such crap has always seemed cruelly unfair to its creators—like Republicans, they insist on their right to be judged right, even when they are flagrantly, stupidly wrong.

Mr Elliott’s review is not only more engaged (and far more nuanced), but also full of very surprising personal history.

But Chelsea has a delusion shared by so many sex workers. Or maybe it’s not a delusion, just a wish, often unfulfilled. There is this belief that a client is going to come along, that magical client who will take you onto something better, that will open a door for you, break the glass ceiling and let you into their club. And that is often the scam, the birth of disappointed hopes. I was a stripper for a year a long time ago, and I’ve done nude fetish modeling and I’ve been in adult films. I remember the men at the clubs I was stripping at in Chicago: The Lucky Horseshoe, Berlin, The Manhole. If you were a writer they were an agent; if you wanted to act they knew a director. They were so full of all the things they could do for you. I remember a man arriving at my show in a limo, his chauffeur waiting by the open door. He had big ideas for the things we would do together, but he didn’t tip enough for me to believe him.

And isn’t that like everything? Haven’t most of us been tricked by our own dreams? That’s not unique to sex work at all. If anything, it’s a parable for the entire publishing industry.

The drama, the narrative of the film as much as there is one, exists between Chelsea and Chris, her boyfriend, and the question is if their relationship can survive. But it’s not the sex work that strains their relationship as much as Chelsea’s ambition, her willingness to believe her clients promises and all the things her clients can do for her.

§ Prime. The jobs increase comes not from train production but from train operation. Ideally, you fire many unpaid drivers of automobiles and replace them with relatively few salaried railroad workers.

France’s TGV high-speed trains, which criss-cross that country, carried 100 million people in 2008, and the national rail company employs about 200,000 people (that number includes people working on commuter trains). France is 1/5th the size of the U.S. in population.

One can extrapolate: an equivalent American rail network could transport 500 million passengers a year on fast rail and provide jobs for one million people operating trains, maintaining track, and serving customers. There are about as many people working in motor vehicle and part manufacturing in the U.S. today. A vibrant rail industry would mostly be a service-oriented one, rather than a manufacturing one.

One of the morals of this story that Americans seem to have a hard time hearing is that, in order to maintain an economic lead, you have to find new things to do. American automobile production has been an old thing to do for at least thirty years. And the problem with old things (I don’t say, old people!) is that they become ossified by the relatively uncreative, less intelligent workers who are happy to do the same old things.

§ Tierce. By titling the December 2003 amendment to Mrs Astor’s will “First and Final  Codicil,” Mr Christensen clearly signalled his doubts about her competency to execute testamentary documents. If he had doubts about the soundness of her mind, just how did he calculate that, although they were still sound enough, they would never been sound again?

(Note that the “Final” part has no legal significance, and would not have prevented Mrs Astor from executing further valid wills, had she regained her faculties. Mr Christensen’s title was really like one of those sophisticated bids in bridge, meant not literally but as a signal — in this case directed at Mr Marshall — of something else; namely, Mr Christensen’s refusal to participate in further amendments at Mr Marshall’s bidding.) 

The validity of the “First and Final” is not disputed by the prosecution. Why not, the defense is sure to ask, if it claims that Mrs Astor was not competent to execute a codicil — this one drafted by Tony Marshall’s co-defendant, Francis X Morrissey — three months later?

§ Sext. I always thought that “premature ejaculation” precludes penetration, but what do I know?

§ Nones. We need an international protocol governing the domicile of the children of parents of different nationalities. At birth, the parents would agree on a home base for the child, and the agreement could be changed only by a subsequent agreement between the parents. The agreement would be given full faith and credit by the jurisdictions of all parties to the protocol.

§ Vespers. The neat thing about Mr Wrangman’s take on his theory is that, while he understands the indispensability of cooked food to human advance, he sees that it also put the cooks — women — at a disadvantage, making them dependent on others — men — for protection from marauders, now that there was something to steal besides a pile of nuts.

“Cooking,” he writes, “created and perpetuated a novel system of male cultural superiority. It is not a pretty picture.” As a student, Mr. Wrangham studied with the primatologist Jane Goodall in Gombe, Tanzania, and he is the author, with Dale Peterson, of a previous book called Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. In Catching Fire he has delivered a rare thing: a slim book — the text itself is a mere 207 pages — that contains serious science yet is related in direct, no-nonsense prose. It is toothsome, skillfully prepared brain food.

§ Compline. If we’re to have a viable technological future, we have to prevent the split that crippled Europe in the Middle Ages, between theoreticians who knew nothing about the material world and laborers who lacked overview and were condemned to reinventing the wheel — repeatedly.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Sext (pun intended): If the esteemed Daily Blague was going THERE, I owed it to myself to click on the link at least. The comment after the post was worth the price of clicking through: “Well, at least it’s a boners-behaving-badly commercial that demonstrates a couple having sex. Unlike over here where cialis ads show couples sitting in separate claw-foot tubs. Hey you two knuckleheads, maybe he can’t get it up because YOU’RE IN SEPARATE BATHTUBS!”

    So I’ve always thought!