Daily Office:


Matins: (Note: this item is not about classical music.) In her WaPo piece about classical-music CDs, Anne Midgette labors under the impression that serious music recordings require the brokerage of a healthy “industry.” We agree with Henry Fogel: leaving industry behind is what’s healthy. (via Arts Journal)

Lauds: Why is Britain’s National Trust spat taking us back to the 1640s? Surely not just the coincidence of princes called “Charles”?

Prime: Robert Cringely thinks out loud about the ethics of technology. He used to think that Google’s motto was silly, but not anymore.

Tierce: Is it possible? The Marshall Trial’s case for the prosecution was slated to end yesterday— two days into the trial’s 17th week. On Friday, the jury and the court will take a two-week vacation.

Sext: At The Onion: “Film Adaptation Of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ Ends Where Most People Stop Reading Book.” And where is that? 

The 83-minute film, which is based on the first 142 or so pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s acclaimed work, has already garnered attention for its stunning climax, in which the end credits suddenly appear midway through Katerina’s tearful speech about an unpaid debt.

(via The Morning News)

¶ Nones: China is upset with Australia, about Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer’s visit. When will China learn that foreign public opinion can be controlled no better by overt interference than by armed occupation?

Vespers: Amazing news! Six million subscribers take Reader’s Digest. Still! So don’t over-interpret news of the publication’s bankruptcy filing.

Compline: Natalie Angier writes lucidly about a murky subject: stress. Bottom line: it’s up to you to break out of the stress feedback loop.


§ Matins. As long as not-for-profits can get the recordings out there, we don’t see a problem. Mr Fogel:

Call it a tale of Fifth Symphonies if you wish, but when I started collecting and broadcasting classical-music recordings in the 1960s–the so-called heyday of the recording company giants–I did not have anywhere near the kind of mind-boggling choice I do today. Those who have sounded the death knell for recordings, including critic Norman Lebrecht, simply do not know what they’re talking about. They do not understand that a major change in a business model doesn’t mean its death. It actually means a revitalization of an industry.

§ Lauds. Meddling with the arts isn’t the same thing as meddling with Parliament, but we have to take our excitement where we find it.

The alleged intervention is fresh evidence of the Prince of Wales’s hands-on involvement in architecture and planning in Britain and follows news of his attempt to have the French architect Jean Nouvelremoved from a £500m project beside St Paul’s Cathedral. Nouvel said yesterday the prince had no right to try to persuade his client to adopt a different kind of architecture and said Charles’s preferred “pastiche design” was worse.

Republic, the campaign for an elected head of state, called for Clarence House to open to public scrutiny its files of correspondence from the prince.

§ Prime. What’s really interesting is the outright elitism at the bottom of the page. (NB: We approve of élites, as long as they act up to their responsibilities.)

Ethics?  What does ethics have to do with Boyle’s Law?

Maybe nothing, maybe plenty, but the overall problem is that those who claim to understand ethics aren’t so good at the technology parts, and vice versa.  We saw that with Enron, which was technology gaming the market, and we evidently haven’t learned much since.

Google’s corporate motto is “Don’t be Evil.” I thought that was silly when I heard it first.  But now I think it is the height of wisdom.  Because the techiest of techie companies probably knows better than most the power of tweaking systems to death.

It’s possible.  We CAN kill our own culture trying to preserve or defend it.  Understanding that and helping to make change as painless as possible comes down to the best efforts of those few people who really understand the complexity of our society — many of whom are readers of this column.

Everything is interconnected in this era where technology drives society yet few really understand technology.  If someone can take down Twitter because of a petty grudge then ANY information system is vulnerable.  Sometime neglect is all it takes.

Keep your eyes on “those few.”

§Tierce. While it seems likely now that the prosecution over-egged its pudding, by starting off with a raft of notable witnesses who could only testify that Brooke Astor was, as she herself put it, “gaga,” there was no road-map at the start for building a record in what will undoubtedly turn out to be a landmark case in elder-care abuse.

The two men face a total of 22 charges of conspiracy, scheming to defraud, larceny and forgery, with the prosecution trying to prove she was not legally competent to make decisions including changing her will and consenting to the sale of a prized painting. It is the type of case more frequently seen in a civil court, where the standard of proof is lower.

“This is not a smoking-gun case, this is not an eyewitness case. This is a circumstantial case,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. “The challenge is enormous to show a woman’s state of mind five and a half years ago when she’s no longer here.”

§ Sext.

“I’ve been picking up and putting down The Brothers Karamazov since college, so this was a dream project for me,” Caruso said. “I can still remember the first time I ever tried to read it. The obscure, often archaic prose, the overwhelming cast of characters, the frustration of reading 10 whole pages and then realizing that I didn’t understand a thing—it all had such a profound effect on me.”

“I didn’t want to lose any of that when I made the movie,” he added.

To that end, the film makes extensive use of a new state-of-the-art “skim-over” technology, which allows the more tedious depictions of existential inquiry to be played at double or even triple speed.

§ Nones. The real clinker in the BBC story, though, occurs at the end.

It has been a troublesome spell for relations between Beijing and Canberra – which is somewhat ironic since most thought that Australia’s Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would bring the countries closer together.

And what did Mr Rudd do with his fluency? He wrote a dissertation on democracy activist Wei Jinsheng. He also studied extensively in Taiwan. There is no reason in the world to suppose that he would be welcome in Beijing.

§ Vespers. We East-Coast intellectual snobs sniff at the very idea of “condensed” literature, but it isn’t so much the digesting as the material that’s digested.

From the beginning, there was a stock formula to what got into the Digest: something about your health, something about dieting, a real-life adventure story, a short bio of some great man or woman. A little of it was commissioned by the Digest rather than reprinted there. The overall tone was hopeful, uplifting and generally conservative, both socially and politically (the Digest was staunchly, even rabidly, anti-communist during the Cold War years).

Is the sheer persistence of Reader’s Digest trying to tell us something? Why are we imagining a transfigured version, edited by the late David Foster Wallace?

§ Compline. The body deals with stress allostatically: it makes changes in various systems order to stabilize overall control. Some of these changes occur in the brain. The human mind, which responds to a great deal more than raw sensory input, can all too easily remain stressed-out even when external stressors have subsided.

In humans, though, the brain can think too much, extracting phantom threats from every staff meeting or high school dance, and over time the constant hyperactivation of the stress response can unbalance the entire feedback loop. Reactions that are desirable in limited, targeted quantities become hazardous in promiscuous excess. You need a spike in blood pressure if you’re going to run, to speedily deliver oxygen to your muscles. But chronically elevated blood pressure is a source of multiple medical miseries.

Why should the stressed brain be prone to habit formation? Perhaps to help shunt as many behaviors as possible over to automatic pilot, the better to focus on the crisis at hand. Yet habits can become ruts, and as the novelist Ellen Glasgow observed, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Donte says:

    Mighty useful. Make no mistake, I appaicerte it.