Daily Office:


Matins: A counter-intuitive HIV-prevention strategy that is gaining traction. (via Good)

Lauds: At The New Republic, Antoni Cimolino argues against “adapting” Shakespeare for modern ears. (via The Morning News)

Prime: Felix Salmon (who happened to see the eclipse in China) is not convinced that the advent of 401(k) plans was a positive financial innovation.

Tierce: Nothing really happened in the Marshall trial today, but I sense a sea change in the case.

Sext: Tom Scocca sings of time and the bed — and a kid who’s discovered “testing.”

Nones: Sudan takes an important step toward partition (between North and South) — at The Hague.

Vespers: Anglophone literature in India takes a new turn: with more Indian readers, writers can focus on local life to an extent that makes their work difficult to follow outside of India. (via Arts Journal)

Compline: The story following this headline actually lives up to it: “Laptop? Check. Student Playlist? Check. Classroom of the Future? Check,” by Jennifer Medina.


§ Matins. What’s counter-intuitive is the idea that treatment aids prevention.

And in Uganda, the US Centers for Disease Control-led Home Based AIDS Care (HBAC) study has shown that HIV transmission can be drastically reduced when HIV-positive individuals are treated, their partners undergo counselling and testing, couples receive prevention counselling and the HIV-positive partner receives adherence support to maintain an undetectable viral load. Based on viral load and transmission data from a study in Rakai, Uganda, the investigators estimated that the interventions reduced new HIV infections by approximately 90% over three years – despite a trend towards an increase in unprotected sex with casual partners.  

In July 2008 Professor Montaner and colleagues from the University of British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV published a mathematical model in the Journal of Infectious Diseases showing that two-thirds of projected HIV infections in British Columbia up to 2030 would be averted if every HIV-positive person in the province began treatment at a CD4 count of 350 cells/mm, dramatically curtailing the future financial burden that lifelong HIV treatment would pose for governments.

§ Lauds. Relax and enjoy!

Shakespeare’s genius created new words and new meanings for old words. He predated dictionaries. He wrote for the stage, and he knew that context and intuition would carry his audiences through his more difficult passages. He helps us by creating a web of words and images that reflect upon one another and develop over the course of a play.

 In the example above, the word act is part of a meta-theatrical web that extends throughout Hamlet: a constant use of allusions to the theatre and the art of acting, most famously expressed in Hamlet’s line “The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” An experienced Shakespearean actor will find these associations between key words and use them to help reveal some of the overall meanings of the play.

 But this kind of large-scale explication, which evolves during rehearsal and performance, is defeated if we start changing individual words and phrases: if we make decisions in advance about what Shakespeare did or did not mean. The fact is that Shakespeare’s singular genius enabled him to impart many meanings to the language he used, and try as we might, we cannot (to paraphrase Hamlet) pluck out the heart of his mystery.

Note that Mr Cimolino is talking about watching the plays, not reading the texts.

§ Prime. Mr Salmon is developing a theory: that financial innovation overall, during the past 25 years or so, has not been generally beneficial.

And if you look at how fast the US economy managed to grow in the 50s and 60s without the benefit of Black-Scholes or the Gaussian copula function — or, for that matter, how fast the Chinese economy has grown of late with very strict fetters on financial activities — it looks very much as though most of the financial innovation in recent decades constitutes a history of increasingly-desperate attempts to eke out returns in the context of a naturally-slowing economy.

That sounds right to us. Meanwhile, on the subject of 401(k)s:

Mike’s right that such plans aren’t an obvious improvement on what went before. In fact, looking at his arguments in favor (”it’s a plus that consumers can directly manage their retirement finances”), one in general isn’t very impressed: there’s no reason to believe that consumers are particularly good at managing their retirement finances, and quite a lot of reason to believe that they can be extremely bad at it. That said, Mike’s right that there’s an air of historical inevitability to the whole thing. You might not like it, but it was bound to happen sooner or later.

There’s also however an air of historical inevitability about individuals schooling and working longer before they have families; I don’t think that the 401(k) was an important cause of that particular trend, although the hypothesis is intriguing.

§ Tierce. Everybody seems to be a bit slow on the uptake about the duress angle, for one thing; and both the Post and the Times appear to have posted new reporters on the case — as if Laura Italiano (the Post) and John Eligon (the Times) no longer expected much glory from the assignment.

“I think, but I can’t always say it,” Astor told her night nurse, Minnette Christie, in October 2003, the nurse testified. That would be just two months before Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall, 85, allegedly started strong-arming her into signing over to him $60 million in bequests. “People talk bad about me, and I can hear them,” she added, according to the nurse, who was being cross-examined in Manhattan court by Marshall’s lawyer, Frederick Hafetz.

Marshall is hoping to convince jurors that his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother signed disputed documents during “windows of lucidity.”

What I’d be arguing is that, when those windows of lucidity were open, all Mrs Astor could see was her coercive son, showing up at her apartment and dragging her to the signature pages. In other words, either she was bonkers or she was under duress — neither a valid testamentary state of mind.

It wouldn’t be coercion as you and I know it, of course. Nobody pointed a gun. And Mrs Astor hated unpleasantness of any kind. But isn’t that what ought to redeem this massively expensive prosecution — now in its 13th week, with the case for the defence yet to begin? This case is in great part about the right of older people to be left alone.

§ Sext. Somewhat sheepishly, I read this from the perspective of the grandparents.

The sleep thing has been worse lately. We farmed him out to his grandparents for a few weeks, while my wife was abroad and I was rewriting the book manuscript. They made great strides in civilizing him in many respects, but when he got back, he was not interested in returning to his old compliant bedtime routine.

I seem to recall that historian Marc Bloch had some fascinating things to say about relations between children and their grandparents — the nub of which is that grandparents treat children as companions, rather than as inmates.

§ Nones. Contemporary Sudan is an ill-assorted rump of British Empire. Indeed, prior to granting independence, in 1956, the British ran the region as two territories. A North-South “civil” war has flared for most of Sudan’s existence. Northern Sudan is part of what we think of as the Middle East, while Southern Sudan is plainly African. Sundering the two would probably not insure peace and brotherhood, &c, but it would separate two groups that have little in common.

At issue in The Hague was the control of an oilfield near the North-South border. The province in which the oilfield is situated belongs to the South, but the North wants the oil — and it has been granted control of the oilfield by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Both sides appear to be happy with the decision.

The south’s delegate Riak Machar, vice president in southern Sudan’s semi-autonomous government, described the decision as “balanced” and said he was committed to respecting it.

“I think this is going to consolidate peace in Sudan. It is a victory for the Sudanese people and a victory for peace,” he said

§ Vespers. Heretofore, Indian writers in English have found their audiences abroad, but that seems to be changing as readership swells on home ground. English is already the Latin of the Subcontinent. Will this literary development give rise to a dialect of English that is not readily comprehensible outside of India? Or will Westerners teach us all to read it?

One change that the market has noticed is that while the expanded literary market place may have been created by economic liberalism and a more globalised India, many among the new stable of Indian writers are not looking beyond their own shores. Indeed, many of the novels and non-fiction works now being produced might be a struggle for international readers to relate to.

Industry experts point out that previously, with the exception of writers such as Shobha De and Khushwant Singh, Indian writers looking to make a literary career would have to aim for international success. That, however, is no longer the case. With the domestic Indian market now sufficiently strong, new writers can concentrate on what they want to write about rather than what they think they must write about.

“I think it is a very healthy sign that many new writers are satisfied to write for local audiences and don’t try to cater to foreign tastes,” says Mumbai-based Amit Varma, another journalist-turned -author whose first novel, My Friend, Sancho was nominated for last year’s Man Asian Literary Prize. “This is exactly as it should be, and reflects a new self-confidence in our writers. In any case, a story well told is a story well told, and knows no boundaries. The best new writing might well consist of local stories, but it travels well, as all good writing does.”

(Anyone who read Vikram Chandra’s amazing Sacred Games will not be entirely surprised by this development. Now, there was a book worth working at.)

§ Compline. Rather maddeningly, the story does not identify the people who gave middle-school education this much-need rethink.

The seating arrangements are compared to airport traffic patterns. The student schedules are called playlists. And lesson plans are generated by a complicated computer algorithm for the 80 students in the class.

This could be the school of the future, according to the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who visited Middle School 131 in Chinatown on Tuesday to promote a pilot program, the School of One.

The program, conducted in a converted library, consists mainly of students working individually or in small groups on laptop computers to complete math lessons in the form of quizzes, games and worksheets. Each student must take a quiz at the end of each day; the results are fed into a computer program to determine whether they will move on to a new topic the next day.

Mr. Klein said the program would allow learning in a way that no traditional classroom can, because it tailors each lesson to a student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the child’s interests.

How cool is that?

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