Daily Office:


Matins: Lawrence Krauss is not joking when he suggests, on the Times Op-Ed page, that the best way to get men to Mars is to abandon the idea of bringing astronauts back home.

Lauds: Luc Sante reminisces about Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I was happy for him, but then it became obvious he was flaming out at an alarming pace.”

Prime: William Cohan profiles Chris Flowers, a financial Icarus — of sorts (he’s still worth $1.5 billion). (via Felix Salmon)

Tierce: MetaFilter Discovery Nº 1 (we made two of them, the other day): amassblog, designer James Phillips Williams’s catalogue blogué of the things that he collects.

Sext: MetaFilter Discovery Nº 2: Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Mordant and wry but not patronising.

Nones: Visiting Dansk on the 70th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denounces the Nazi-Soviet pact as “immoral,” and deplores the Russian atrocity at Katyn in 1940.

Vespers: Michelle Huneven explains the not-so-pedestrian charm of listening to books while taking a daily constitutional.

Compline: We only just finished reading “Critical Shopper,” Justin Wolfe’s magnificent essay on the pleasures of reading about exotic foodstuffs and expensive scents, neither of which he expects to sample in this lifetime. Take your time, but be sure to read it yourself!


§ Matins. The immediate practical problem appears to be solar radiation, but Mr Krauss finds long-term advantages in one-way planning.

While the idea of sending astronauts aloft never to return is jarring upon first hearing, the rationale for one-way trips into space has both historical and practical roots. Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip, usually because the places they were leaving were pretty intolerable anyway. Give us a century or two and we may turn the whole planet into a place from which many people might be happy to depart.

Moreover, one of the reasons that is sometimes given for sending humans into space is that we need to move beyond Earth if we are to improve our species’ chances of survival should something terrible happen back home. This requires people to leave, and stay away.

It’s no surprise that there are plenty of volunteers for the one way ride: “The lure of space travel remains intoxicating for a generation brought up on Star Trek and Star Wars. ” It makes us wonder, though: has the moral commitment to preserving every life, nurtured into near-absolutism over the past century, run into positive resistance?

§ Lauds. In Mr Sante’s hands, Basquiat’s story is indelibly romantic. Works of early genius were lost, unconsidered. Fame brought vertigo and death.

He moved in with my friend F. and ate all the cans of blackeyed peas her mom sent from Detroit, then he moved in with my friend A. and painted the refrigerator door (which she eventually sold to Bruno Bischofberger), sections of wall, a window shade, a golden coat, many other things. He also wrote “pendejo” in microscopic print somewhere near the building’s second-floor landing, and I always looked for it until the walls were repainted.

He was busy. His band Test Pattern, which after awhile became Gray, played often, usually at the most obscure and unattended clubs in town. There always seemed to be about fifteen people in the crowd. For some reason tapes don’t seem to have survived — the only thing I’ve come across is a bit of feedback/noise on some compilation, which doesn’t really sound like what they did, which was somewhere on the dub/jazz continuum. He made mixtapes on which the songs are all brutally cut into and out of — a painterly use of the medium. He also made so many painted T-shirts and sweatshirts none of his friends knew what to do with them. Many if not most got thrown away.

(We don’t recall seeing this Hilobrow reprint at Pinakothek, so we’re glad to see it now.)

§ Prime. Another romantic portrait (see Lauds):

How Flowers, the scion of a once-wealthy timber, banking, and baking family with roots in Alabama, became the Zelig of finance is a story of drive, intelligence, and a little serendipitous timing. Born in California, Flowers moved to Weston, Mass., a suburb of Boston, at age 6, when his father retired from the Navy and took a job as an administrator at Harvard Business School. His mother grew up in Queens, N.Y., and dropped out of Barnard College to get married. She was 18; her fiancé was 30. She eventually got a master’s degree and became a children’s librarian (and a leader in the field).

In high school Flowers was a math whiz and a chess champion. He showed at least hints of a mordant sense of humor, choosing as his yearbook tag line the quotation “The horror, the horror” from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (this was several years before the movie “Apocalypse Now” propelled the phrase into the pop culture lexicon). Flowers went off to Harvard, where he majored in applied mathematics. There, he says, “I found people at Harvard who made me look like a moron at math.” Flowers knew he wanted to go into business. His father, who died when Flowers was 21, had told him, “If there is one thing you should do,” it is to go to Harvard Business School.

Mr Flowers went to that other influential institution of higher learning, Goldman Sachs, instead. The rest, in Felix Salmon’s term, is “alpine.”

§ Tierce. Mr Williams shares our fondness for “paper ephemera.” We’ve got drawers and boxes full of it. (Well, we used to.)

i make books out of scraps. does that make them scrapbooks? i suppose they are. at the very least, it’s my way of keeping things that come across my desk, making compositions that look interesting. green is a good color, but orange is even better. numbers: what graphic designer doesn’t like numbers? is it a pattern that holds everything together, or is it the repetition? all I know is that I find it endlessly interesting to stare at a page and make relationships with color, shape and form. this page dates from 2005, but then again, the pages are never really finished. i come back to them again and again.

Be sure not to miss “from across the room.”

§ Sext. Author Stephanie’s mission statement:

Hi. This is a scientific approach to highlight and explain stuff Christians like. They are pretty predictable. I sort of consider myself an expert on Christian culture as I am a preacher’s kid and I’m also married to a preacher’s kid. Christian culture is funny because it doesn’t have much (if anything) to do with Christ himself.

When I look at Christian culture I feel glad that I’m not in the middle of it anymore but I’m still just as affected and masquerading as it is. At some point I’ve been a willing participant in almost all the things I talk about here and I’m no better or more evolved than anyone I talk about on this blog.

§ Nones. Being Vladimir Putin, however, the prime minister knows how to point fingers in the direction of thataways:

“But after all,” he added, “a year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism.”

§ Vespers. Ms Huneven argues that “simple physical activity, I believe, sharpens concentration by occupying the senses just enough to allow a purer attention to the narrative.” More piquant is her observation that stories enhance the walk:

And there is another result: the landscape becomes festooned with fictional memories.

I remember, always with a pang, exactly where, on the trail, Katherine Mansfield’s valiant, plucky fly finally succumbed after his fourth bath in ink. A series of uphill switchbacks evokes the astonishing description of a young man’s madness in Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” read sentence by perfect sentence by Mary Gaitskill:

Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees.

I don’t remember where I read the physical books I read. I must have read them somewhere—in bed, on the couch, in chairs about the yard.

On the other hand, I recall precisely how I climbed up and down a steep fire road as the Earnshaws and Lintons moved back and forth between Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. And right where the road curves behind the mountain, I became so maddened by Catherine Linton’s hysteria—today, she’d rate as borderline—that I pressed pause and stamped down the mountain in far preferable silence. (I recovered and later listened to the end, although I will always associate the book with a certain prickling of irritation—whether at the dry dusty summer heat of the hike or Nellie Dean’s meddling.)

We know exactly what she means. Only yesterday, we were reminded, as we passed a building on East 81st Street, of a rare happy episode from Dave Eggers’s What Is The What.

§ Compline. The entry might just as well have been entitled “The Joy of Reading”:

At the same time, though, I don’t think a world without poetry and art is really a world worth living in.  Yes, something like perfume criticism or even critical shopping is completely and totally unnecessary and irrelevant, but it’s kind of wonderfully unnecessary, it’s gloriously irrelevant, it’s this great privilege we’re given to watch a very clever person’s mind deal with a stupid and frivolous thing and it’s a privilege I don’t really want to live without. You can say that makes me shallow, you can say I should care about more important things in the world, more serious things, and you’re right, I can’t argue with that, but I also can’t change how I feel, I can’t change what gives me pleasure and what doesn’t, and the Critical Shopper column is one of the most pleasurable reading experiences available to me every week.

“Wonderfully unnecessary.” Mr Wolfe’s context makes that a phrase to treasure.

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