Daily Office:


Matins: What’s so productive about “Gross Domestic Product,” asks historian Eric Zencey? A re-think of GDP for a greener world.

Lauds: A new business plan for classical musicians: don’t seek shelter in a large and venerable organization. Andrew Druckenbrod explains musical entrepreneurship.

Prime: The economics of farmers’ markets could use a design boost. Alissa Walker reports at GOOD.

Tierce: Kate McLaughlin, 19, heads off to Northwestern — for law school. somewhat more remarkably, she graduated from the University of California at San Diego two years ago. What do you think about this kind of precocity?

Sext: Sebastian Münster’s map of Europe, upside-down, at Strange Maps.

Nones: In Sunday’s Times, a long overdue explanation of the Honduran political divide.

Vespers: Jenni Diski reflects on the art of the late Stanley Middleton, a Booker Prize winner whom we hadn’t heard of.

Compline: Andrew Sullivan, in his tenth year of Daily-Beast-ing, resumes the practice of taking August off.


§ Matins. Wouldn’t it be nice if “the developed world” meant what it said — we’re developed; we’re done with that. But, no.

Consider the 50 miles of sponge-like wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that once protected the city from storm surges. When those bayous were lost to development — sliced to death by channels to move oil rigs, mostly — gross domestic product went up, even as these “improvements” destroyed the city’s natural defenses and wiped out crucial spawning ground for the Gulf Coast shrimp fishery. The bayous were a form of natural capital, and their loss was a cost that never entered into any account — not G.D.P. or anything else.

Wise decisions depend on accurate assessments of the costs and benefits of different courses of action. If we don’t count ecosystem services as a benefit in our basic measure of well-being, their loss can’t be counted as a cost — and then economic decision-making can’t help but lead us to undesirable and perversely uneconomic outcomes.

We think that “productivity” is also a concept worthy of ditching, and we’ll have more to say about that presently.

§ Lauds. This report is every bit as interesting considered as a business piece as it is one about music.

Another alternative route was taken by a group of Chicago musicians who created a split business model. They formed two companies, a nonprofit called Fifth House Ensemble that gives concerts and education and a for-profit called Amarante Ensembles that plays parties and gatherings. Having both puts the musicians on more even financial footing and spreads out risk.

Other examples of innovative thinking abound, from the genre-bending and branding-savvy Kronos Quartet to John Cimino, a baritone who uses music-making as a metaphor for creativity and leadership in presentations to Fortune 500 corporations.

So, the problem isn’t that there is a glut of musicians, Cutler and others argue, but that there are too many seeking traditional jobs without really considering the alternatives. Colleges and conservatories traditionally have not equipped students with the right tools to prosper in a shrinking marketplace.

§ Prime. Food for thought:

Even if farmers can get their produce to a local, temporary market they’re still selling at smaller scales—farmers’ markets themselves only move about 1 percent of the food consumed in the United States—and their audience is mostly single families and chefs for smaller restaurants. Websites like Foodzie—an online farmers market where small food producers and growers can sell their product—might help, but for farmers who want to move larger quantities of produce, getting local tomatoes made into local tomato sauce, for example, is extremely difficult. “Currently the potential supply of local food is restricted by an economically monolithic system of production, processing and distribution,” says Vanessa Zajfen, program manager for The Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College in Los Angeles. So, especially for large metropolitan areas, there’s the need for a “hub,” or terminal, for local farmers to deliver, distribute and process their produce.

§ Tierce. Quite a number of commentators overlook the age issue and just lament the law-school destination. We think that everybody ought to go to law school — which would be vastly more possible if tuition reflected costs. As for going to law school at 19, we asked our better half, who declared that 22 year-olds haven’t had sufficient “life experience” to understand the curriculum.

Do read the comments, though.

Why law school? I went to one of the Top 10 law schools myself, and I’m in a reasonably intellectual corner of the profession – and believe me, law school is NOT the most rigorous intellectual challenge you will face. For most smart people, a law degree is just a way to support yourself respectably. Being good at law has more to do with maturity and experience than with raw intellectual power.

If you want to exercise your mind, go get a masters’ or a PhD from a first-rate school, put in for a Fullbright; study neuroscience or ancient languages or something. If you truly have the talent and desire to rise to judgeship or high academia, you’d be better served by waiting (and proving yourself in another grad program) to go to Yale Law. You only get to check that box on your resume once; getting a law degree from Northwestern before you’re old enough to drink is cute, but then what do you do?

§ Sext. Think twice, though, before clicking through to Martayan Lan‘s Web site: Münster’s map can be yours for $2000. Help! Tie us down! Even better: Münster’s Monsters.


Note that man-eating lobster! Veddy skeddy.

§ Nones. It has been about a month since President Manuel Zelaya was put on a plane and sent into exile by the élites that had come to regard him as a traitor. Only now, however, does our newspaper of record come out with a context for the coup.

To Ms. López Contreras, a prominent member of this country’s small upper class, Mr. Zelaya was ousted because his blossoming leftist alliance with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela had become a threat to Honduran democracy.

She is a founding member of a coalition representing some of the most powerful business and political forces in the country. And she says the coalition members are willing to do, or spend, whatever it takes to keep their country afloat in the face of mounting economic pressure resulting from the rest of the world’s condemnation of the coup.

“Zelaya was suffocating all other powers of government,” Ms. López Contreras said. “Now that he’s gone we are breathing the air of freedom. This is a conquest we are not willing to surrender.”

To Ms. Castro, who lives a solidly working-class existence, Mr. Zelaya was ousted because people like Ms. López Contreras felt threatened by his efforts to lift up the poor — most notably with a 60 percent increase in the minimum wage to about $9.60 a day from about $6 a day. An estimated 60 percent of Hondurans live in poverty.

There’s nothing surprising here, for anyone who follows Latin American affairs even cursorily. Until this story appeared, however, the dispute really made no sense.

§ Vespers. But we’re going to make up for that.

Middleton wrote books you remember decades on. I still can’t change a battery without thinking of the elderly man in (I think) An After-Dinner Sleep to whom almost nothing happened, working out how to put a new battery into the stopped electric clock in his kitchen, and his knowledge, which Middleton conveyed without stating it, that the revived clock would be ticking on after he was gone.

I think of Middleton, and a few others, who keep still and write and then write more, because they are writers and that’s what they have to do, as the real ones, the sort to aspire to. Whatever anxiety they have is not about where they are in the literary world, but about whether they are working well. Quite enough anxiety, actually. He, and the others, are, of course, patronised as ‘parochial’, faintly admired, if they are read at all, as ‘miniaturists’ by those who haven’t got a firm grasp on what reading and writing are for.

We’ve just ordered a copy of Holiday.

§ Compline. Here’s hoping that Mr Sullivan publishes his August reading list.

I’ll be checking personal emails, but I’m honestly trying not to read the web till Labor Day. God knows how successful I’ll be, but living all the time in this stream of media consciousness is something human beings haven’t much experience with. A little break is only prudent. No computer algorithm fills this blog. It all starts out somewhere and at some point is filtered through my frontal cortex, and that cortex can begin to feel like a bit in a drill after a while.

Here’s my dream: I’ll read books – books on paper, books I have been wanting to read (or re-read) for a long time and have been unable to absorb because of constant daily bloggery; and I’ll sleep and nap; and spend time with my neglected husband and beagles; and try to get a little more perspective on the last couple of years. The spiritual life also suffers from living so much in the world so constantly. A little emptiness is what I yearn for.

In our tenth year of Web siting and our fifth of blague-ing, we are still very much in our first year of having a clue.

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