Daily Office:


Matins: Why the arrangement that Niall Ferguson and others calls “Chimerica” can’t go on indefinitely: “Forget about a Shanghai stock bubble. The whole Chinese economy’s getting ready to burst.”

Lauds: Ben Davis sheds light on the “Museum Bubble,” which as any follower of ArtsJournal knows, has popped. (via The Morning News)

Prime: The news about the Sony Reader makes us glad that we didn’t get the Kindle after all.

Tierce: Roman Hans explains the real-ity of health care reform.

Sext: Name a fruit, any fruit. You’ll probably be wrong. And you probably won’t think of peas. (via kottke.org)

Nones: The burkini — banned in bikiniland.

Vespers: Julia Keller defends her growing admiration for graphic fiction; elsewhere in the Chicago Tribune, David Ulin reviews Asterios Polyp — as does C Max Magee at The Millions : “Mope Free.”

Compline: For safer streets, look at Dutch roads. “Going naked” means that drivers have to think when driving through Dutch towns.

Bon weekend à tous!


§ Matins. Remember this?


But don’t confuse fast growth with sustainable growth. Much of China’s growth over the past decade has come from lending to the United States. The country suffers from real overcapacity. And now growth comes from borrowing — and hundreds of billion-dollar decisions made on the fly don’t inspire a lot of confidence. For example, a nearly completed, 13-story building in Shanghai collapsed in June due to the poor quality of its construction.

This growth will result in a huge pile of bad debt — as forced lending is bad lending. The list of negative consequences is very long, but the bottom line is simple: There is no miracle in the Chinese miracle growth, and China will pay a price. The only question is when and how much.

§ Lauds. As smaller museums around the country swoon — when they don’t actually collapse — Mr Davis breaks the problem down into a triple-play of bad ideas and unfortunate circumstances:

1. Endowments. Cultural institutions were probably unwise to follow the so-called “Yale Model” of endowment investment.

Take the Museum of Modern Art, with its gargantuan endowment. A 2002 report in Foundation & Money Management described MoMA’s “alternative assets” portfolio as “dabs and splatters of merger arbitrage funds, distressed debt funds, and long/short equity funds, as well as private equity and real estate” (“Real estate is a great way to get some yield and also is a good inflation hedge,” MoMA’s investments director told the publication). At that time, the museum was launching a new “hedge fund strategy,” allocating an additional three percent of its assets to a new fund — and indeed, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy statistics, it seems that between 2004 and 2006, MoMA eliminated all of its cash holdings (11 percent of its endowment value before that), dramatically upping its hedge-fund exposure. “If the Museum’s alternatives portfolio were a canvas, the painting certainly would be colorful.”

2. Falling municipal subsidies and the “Bilbao effect.” The first part needs no explanation. As for the second:

Thus, the “Bilbao Effect” was sold by and to mayors in Rust Belt towns as a panacea — old centers of industry could be revitalized by turning themselves into cultural Meccas (“The so-called ‘Bilbao effect’ has come to mean a striking building that almost guarantees that its architecture could or should contribute to the revitalization of a city,” the Pritzker Prize’s Martha Thorne explained). Who could have predicted that when the chips were down the same officials who cut the ribbons would cut and run, leaving the art world alone to plead for a paltry few million extra in NEA funding before Congress?

(Mr Davis notes that he did indeed predict just that.)

3. Too much cash out there (a factor behind the sub-prime mortgage problem).

The result — as is often the case with investment driven by an overabundance of cash — was a lot of bad investment. A famously ill-starred case is that of the Denver Art Museum, which built its Daniel Libeskind museum — a shiny deconstructionist cruise ship washed up in the Mile High City — with notoriously over-ambitious projections that it could draw one million visitors a year. The result? DAM ended up operating at a loss, and began laying people off in April 2007, then eliminated its film program and curator in 2008 — all well before the general meltdown compelled it to slash its budget by an additional 12 percent early in 2009.

§ Prime. Even before the 1984 fiasco, we had our doubts. We weren’t at all keen about bypassing the computer, for one thing. It was a bit too phone-y for our taste.

Sony will also scrap its proprietary anticopying software in favor of technology from the software maker Adobe that restricts how often e-books can be shared or copied.

After the change, books bought from Sony’s online store will be readable not just on its own device but on the growing constellation of other readers that support ePub. Those include the Plastic Logic eReader, a thin device that has been in development for nearly a decade and is expected to go on sale early next year.

“There is going to be a proliferation of different reading devices, with different features and capabilities and prices for a different set of consumer requirements,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading unit. “If people are going to this e-book shopping mall, they are going to want to shop at all the stores, and not just be required to shop at one store.”

While we don’t claim to be very good at fortune-telling, we won’t be surprised if the Sony Reader turns out to be the “literary” device, while the Kindle keeps beach readers (who couldn’t have cared less about 1984) happy.

§ Tierce. Why argue about health-care reform when there’s a perfectly good business model already out there?

Those people lucky enough to get wristbands return at their allotted time, when they face the Admissions Squad. For September this will be David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne, and Piers Morgan, but this is a temporary gig ONLY. When the real thing rolls around count on a Kardashian or two to be involved.

You then have sixty seconds to describe your symptoms and/or show the judges your physical ailments. They will buzz you if they think your symptoms aren’t serious enough, and two buzzes mean you IMMEDIATELY leave the stage.

We think that this is probably the health-care system that Americans deserve.

§ Sext. We knew that tomatoes are fruits, but not that hardly anything else is. Apples and berries are a sort of “fruit plus.”

A fruit — a ‘true fruit’ — is one where all tissues are derived from the plant ovary and this alone. This includes peas. Whereas strawberries, for example, also include some of the flesh from the peg that holds the ovary, disqualifying them from fruit status. The apple gets its carpels involved as well as the ovary, leading to a kinky pome. ‘True berries’ are also ‘true fruits’, but not the other way round. Grapes, currants (red and black), elder- and gooseberries are all proper upstanding berries which will not deceive you or smuggle themselves into your house in pies before stealing your silver while you sleep.

In fact, the only ‘true’ fruit I can find that’s not a berry but is, kind of, a fruit (more so than peas anyway) is the tomato again. Maybe those cereal box authors did know what they were on about after all.

Isn’t this interesting? Just think how surprised your friends and family will be by your newfound learning. Go forth and irritate!

§ Nones. We don’t have an opinion about this just yet: the water’s pretty cloudy (not least because Carole X is a convert to Islam, thus making this an explicitly religious issue).

However, Carole insists it is due to “political reasons”. She said: “For me, it’s segregation. I’m going to continue fighting to have a choice.

“I understand that the burkini can shock, especially as we’re in France, but what disturbs me is that this is a political issue.

“I’m going to fight this problem through anti-racism groups, and if no solution is forthcoming I’ll consider leaving the country.” But Yannick Decompois, swimming pools director for the Marne-la-Vallie area, said: “This isn’t anything to do with segregation, but simply a hygiene problem. We also ban people wearing shorts in pools — it’s the same thing.

“This woman can easily wear her burka at the library. We can’t see any problem there.”

But our better half wonders what a religious woman is doing swimming in a mixed pool at all.

§ Vespers. If Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was the book that really showed what graphic literature could be, David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp gives an idea of what kind of truly engaging fiction can be “written” in graphic form only. Mr Ulin:

All of this is absolutely conscious, for Asterios Polyp is as much about ideas as it is about its characters and their lives. “In a cacophony of information,” a composer tells Asterios late in the novel, “each listener, by focusing on certain tones and phrases, can become an active participant in creating a unique, unique polyphonic experience.” That’s as good a description of what it’s like to read this book as you’re likely to come across, and it highlights Mazzucchelli’s ability to reflect the landscape we occupy. As Asterios is taken apart and reconstructed, he reexamines his relationships to the people around him: his late parents, his stillborn twin brother, his students and his wife.

Mr Magee:

A note: It took me about two hours to read this book. The book lists for $30 (Amazon has it for $20). It was a very immersive two hours, and the pages are detailed and would support repeated readings. It occurred to me that most books occupy your time for many more hours but often cost less. But its also true that few books are as engrossing and offer a visual experience on this level. A better analogy is a DVD of a favorite film, also offering two hours of immersion and bearing repeated watching, but costing more than a paperback might.

Ms Keller doesn’t mention Asterios Polyp, but she does talk about another intriguing project that we hadn’t heard about.

Indeed, I find myself wishing graphic novels weren’t so hip; their popularity has made me question my own motives. Am I just trying to sound cool? Is an affection for graphic novels by anyone over 25 simply the literary equivalent of buying a sports car or getting a face lift? if graphic novels weren’t on everybody’s hot list, even if a graphic novel weren’t as trendy an accessory as an Obama campaign button.

The new graphic version of “Fahrenheit 451” has helped sort out the contents of my soul. And I’m happy to report that I’m in the clear. I am quite certain that I’d be trumpeting the virtues of this work even

§ Compline. If you’ve been to the Netherlands, you’ve see that this really works.

A fascinating example is a major–20,000 cars a day!–intersection in the Dutch city of Drachten that used to look a lot a typical American intersection, with lots of bright paint and traffic signals and enormous signs telling you what and what not to do. Traffic planners tore that stuff out and went naked, just putting down a roundabout in the center. The sidewalks even disappeared as distinct structures. Everyone figured it out though. Fatalities at the intersection dropped markedly, as did travel times.

The rub? Speed. Overall travel times may be reduced, but nobody gets to go very fast. Doubtless the American Secretary of Transportation ought to be an endocrinologist.

(via Nigeness)

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