Daily Office:


Matins: “20 Bold Schemes” — that’s putting it mildly — for reversing climate change, the acidulation of seawater, and even for making bigger, puffier, whiter clouds! (Who can be against that?)

Lauds: LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich objects to next year’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. (via  Arts Journal)

Prime: For an “ownership society,” we have a tax code that inordinately favors indebtedness. Felix Salmon protests.

Tierce: Today’s testimony by Astor nurse Pearline Noble generated two stories in the Post.

Sext: Christoph Niemann is a Master of the Universe!

Nones: In retrospect, it wasn’t such a good idea to bring Uighur workers to Guangdong.

Vespers: John Self, intrigued by the kerfuffle surrounding Alain de Botton’s public unhappiness with Caleb Crain’s review of his new book, sat down and read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, and he finds himself “coming down on de Botton’s side.”

Compline: Having sold the initial print run of 200 copies, the good people at Snarkmarket released the text of New Liberal Arts on line. Welcome to the new Maecenate? 


§ Matins. Futuristic ideas are useful not for their predictive value vis-à-vis the future but for their descriptive value vis-à-vis things as they are, viz, us. Sometimes, what they say is simply funny.


All kidding aside, there are two very solid ideas among the proposals. First: equip the poor world with easily-maintained, fuel-efficient cookers. Just give ’em away! (#10) Second, outgrow the yen for growth. (#13)

§ Lauds.Goodness, we thought that this sort of thing had been worked out of the system. How long is Wagner’s music going to be tainted by the inhumanity of certain fans? (That would be the Nazis.)

“To specifically honor and glorify the man whose music and racist anti-Semitic writings inspired Hitler and became the de facto soundtrack for the Holocaust in a countywide festival is an affront to those who have suffered or have been impacted by the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialistic Worker Party,” Antonovich said in a statement released today.

Sorry, but there is no affront here, and only rank self-aggrandizers could believe that there is.

§ Prime. If it weren’t for the mortgage-interest deduction… But let’s not go there. The simple truth is that corporate follies almost always involve “structuring debt” — a fancy way of describing exploitation of tax laws that enables increased borrowing.

At the moment, companies pay tax not on earnings before interest but earnings after interest — that gives them an incentive to lever up as much as possible. Last year, Steve Waldman had a great post entitled “Eliminate the business interest tax deduction“; it’s well worth (re)reading in light of what has happened since.

§ Tierce. The first, and rather touching one, concerned Mrs Astor’s favorite reading. (That’s to say that she liked Ms Noble to read aloud to her.)

Brooke Astor was so out of it during the final years of her life that she often asked her nurse to read her a page from her autobiography in order to recall “names and faces,” according to testimony today.

At the ongoing Manhattan Supreme Court trial of Astor’s son Anthony Marshall, nurse Pearline Noble testified that the frail socialite could not recall anything towards the end of her life starting in 2003.

“She called it her favorite page — trying to recall her life to remember names and faces she cannot place,” Noble said, referring to an out-of-print copy of Astor’s autobiography called, “Patchwork Child.”

And here is a snip from the Daily News’ version of the other story.

A former nurse for Brooke Astor admitted Monday she misspoke when she claimed suspicious men ran through the socialite’s home the day her son supposedly tricked her out of millions of dollars.

“So you lied to the jury?” Anthony Marshall‘s lawyer, Frederick Hafetz, boomed.

“It was not a lie,” Pearline Noble shot back, insisting that earlier questions from prosecutors came so fast she’d become confused.

“I should have collected my thoughts.”

§ Sext. Just as there are idiots who walk into my  room and ask  us if we’ve read “all these books,” so we can’t help wondering how long it took Mr Niemann to j0715bmanufacture his very witty live-stitch comic. And did this start out as a way of entertaining his little ones on rainy days?

For some reason, we never noticed the Polaroid-like framing before. I hope that the artist is able to make a bundle selling prints — and a fortune from the “soft sculptures.”

Do teenagers still spend agonized hours staring at telephones, waiting to be called by the ones they love? We don’t remember doing such a thing when we were young,  but nowadays, when Kathleen neglects to call, or we haven’t heard from her in “a while” (a flexible term),  we are minded to get down on our knees just like the fellow here.

§ Nones. We knew about the toy factory riot, but the closer look is sobering.

During a four-hour melee in a walkway between factory dormitories, Han and Uighur workers bludgeoned one another with fire extinguishers, paving stones and lengths of steel shorn from bed frames. By dawn, when the police finally intervened, two Uighur men had been fatally wounded and 120 other people were injured, most of them Uighur, according to the authorities.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has added Turkey to its little list.  

§ Vespers. Although the reasons for Caleb Crain’s hostility remain undisclosed — some sort of class resentment seems likely — it’s clear from Mr Self’s examination that Mr de Botton’s book can’t have been the cause.

The review which got de Botton’s goat accuses him of “mockery” of some of his subjects in the book. But it seems clear to me that these objections to the book were based on a misreading, in particular on the chapter on biscuit manufacture. Yes, there is a sly sense here that such attention to trivial matters is ridiculous, is unworthy – but that can be extended to any non-essential human endeavour. Close attention to the ‘unimportant’ is inherently absurd, just as brand names are inherently comic (ask Victoria Wood). In this chapter you need get no further than the end of the first paragraph to see that de Botton is viewing it all with a raised eyebrow, when he writes of visiting “the corporate home of United Biscuits, the number-one player in the British biscuit market and its second-largest producer of bagged nuts.”

That polite disrespect might itself seem offensive if it weren’t so honest. Most of us would find it hard to keep a straight face when being passionately regaled on the relative market placement of Savoury Biscuits v Crackers and Crispbread. What is key, however, is that by the end of the chapter de Botton has completed a voyage of discovery – experienced an epiphany, almost – concerning the place of such menial work in all our lives (”what may look like a childish game is in fact never far from a struggle for our very survival”), and in civilization generally:

We had the sense that Mr Crain deliberately misread Work; now this seems inarguable.  

§ Compline. In the new Maecenate, patrons who make a contribution get a slight but rare benefit — a physical book, say, or maybe just a T-shirt — in exchange for their patronage. The project that they have supported, however, is made freely available to all.

But here is the passage to ponder. Having summarized Weber’s presentation of the “problem” of East Prussian peasants in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Tim offers it as the problem’s “color negative.”

Well, the [New Liberal Arts] model is like a color negative of the noncapitalist peasant. I say a color negative because the economic conditions have actually reversed. The peasant could earn more, but he didn’t really have any place to put it. Once his physical needs were met, he had no reason to keep working. He would curtail the potential abundance of nature when the scarce physical resources were purchased.

What can do is the opposite – to unlock the potential abundance of the artificial once the scarce physical resources have been paid for. Instead of stopping work – stopping the flow of goods and closing the circuit of circulation – this opens it up. This is only natural.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Fossil Darling says:

    Lauds : There is a section in the weekly Sports Illustrated called “The Sign of the Apocalypse.” This stunt deserves to be aired there.

    I remember that about a dozen years ago, the editor of Opera News, the house organ of the Met Opera, called for cutting Hans Sachs’ paean to German art at the end of the third act of Die Meistersinger because it was written by Wagner and hence offensive. Luckily James Levine did not listen to this nonsense and performs Wagner’s works uncut, as the Met does for most if not all the works it performs.

    From reading some of the absolute drivel written about Wagner and the Nazis, one might presume Wagner was the first anti-Semite and that his work turned perfectly normal Germans into rabid Nazis who hated Jews. Regrettably, antisemitism is thousands of years old.

    One the other hand, the statement is not out of place in a state that is as dysfunctional as California is. One can only hope that he is voted out of office — along with the members of the State Senate in NY.