Daily Office:


Matins: James Surowiecki assesses President Obama’s Health Care speech, finding it a success.

Lauds: A Portrait of a Man, bequeathed to the Museum as a Velásquez, demoted to “studio of Velésquez” by skeptical curators, is revealed to be a Velásquez again — after cleaning and conservation.

Prime: Megan McArdle explains why investment bankers make so much money. Think: drop in the bucket. Also: movie trailer. (via Felix Salmon)

Tierce: Who needs the movie? While planning your weekend getaway, you can have your fill of prison scenes at Scouting New York.

Sext: It has been a while since we were treated to a gallery of weird old LP jackets. This one, it seems, comes from Russia. (Don’t be put off by the first, rather distubring one.)

Nones: Hugo Chávez tears another page out of the Castro playbook, and sucks up to Mother Russia. And we thought that we’d won the Cold War once and for all!

Vespers: Richard Nash writes about Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print. The book, which assesses the history of publishing and bookselling in clearly commercial terms, sounds compelling, but the review is an absolute must. (Grocery stores?)

Compline: How two 75 year-old former bombshells couldn’t be more different, after all these years. Which would be your choice, stray cats or tomcats? (via Arts Journal)

Bon Weekend à tous!


§ Matins. We confess that this is the first piece of commentary on the matter that we have read. The idea of health-care reform has so many fronts that the only clear and intelligible issue right now, it seems to us, is the actual enactment of comprehensive health-care legislation. Details TK! As Mr Surowiecki notes, the President doesn’t intend to wait for the details to be worked out, or to take effect:

The small thing (well, small in the context of the speech, but not in terms of its potential impact) was Obama’s announcement that while the insurance exchanges that any reform will set up will go into effect in four years, “in the meantime, for those Americans who can’t get insurance today because they have preëxisting medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill.” He didn’t elaborate on who, exactly, would be offering Americans low-cost coverage—in other words, if it would be done through insurance companies or via the government. Regardless, this is an excellent decision. One of the big problems with many, if not most, of the various reform plans that have been floated is that they all won’t take effect for years, which seemed to mean that for large numbers of Americans it would be a long time before they could find affordable insurance. Changing that—even if it just means that people will be able to buy catastrophic coverage at reasonable rates—would make a material and immediate difference.

§ Lauds. We’ve never been very fond of Rembrandt, and we don’t really understand his popularity. Where’s the color? So we’re not surprised to read that earlier restorations of the canvas sought to make it look “old-masterish”:

Convinced that the picture was indeed by the master, he and Mr. Christiansen showed it to Jonathan Brown, this country’s leading Velázquez expert, who agreed.

“One glance was all it took,” Mr. Brown said, adding later, “The picture had been under my nose all my life. It’s a fantastic discovery. It suddenly emerges Cinderella-like.”

The painting was so dull before it was cleaned that Mr. Brown said he didn’t think it was a Velázquez. But after the varnish and the layers of paint — additions made centuries later to make the canvas look more old-masterish and entice buyers — were removed, “all the liveliness of the artist’s brushstrokes and all the subtleties that for decades had been covered over were revealed.”

The discovery, he added, is particularly significant because “Velázquez was a painter who measured out his genius in thimblefuls.” His output was so small that, depending on who’s counting, Mr. Brown estimates, there are only 110 to 120 known canvases by the artist.

If a hundred-plus paintings is “thimblefuls,” how on earth do we measure the thirty-odd pictures by Vermeer?

§ Prime. “Sure, a competent bookkeeper or legal secretary could have done most of our work. But in the banks’ fees, our salaries were a rounding error.”

That same logic explains why clients have been willing to pay investment banks lavish fees to do IPOs—and secondary offerings, and bond underwriting, and M&A, and advisory work. The mystery of investment-banking fees is often framed as a matter of banks rooking naive managers, or managers selling out their shareholders in return for a space on Merrill Lynch’s private jet. But the venture capitalists behind many of the IPOs aren’t neophytes at the mercy of big-city bankers; both they and the firm’s managers depend on a strong IPO, and a liquid aftermarket, to allow them to get some of their money back out of the company. If they’re tolerating such large fees, there must be a reason.

When the boutique firm WR Hambrecht + Co persuaded Google to use an auction process for its 2004 IPO, there was a lot of talk about the end of traditional investment banking. Five years later, however, firms like Goldman Sachs are as dominant as ever, and auctions are rare. Google could rely on its own brand to sell the stock and create a deep secondary market in which its employees could exercise their stock options. But most companies need a little more help. Although Goldman Sachs may not be a bargain, if you’re undertaking a one-shot deal, you may want to pay more to hear the one thing a hungry upstart can’t tell you: that the company knows how to handle an offering of size and complexity, because it’s done so a bunch of times before.

Of course, underwriting IPOs isn’t the only place where financial firms, or financial workers, make their money. But the logic of the one-shot deal applies to the payment of traders and many others. A moment of reckoning will come when the deal either goes well, or does not; that moment is very hard to anticipate; and if things go wrong, they can be very hard to fix. In those cases, even weak signals of ability—like, say, an M.B.A. from a top school—command huge premiums.

§ Tierce. We can’t think of a better use for jails.

I’ve scouted the jail numerous times over the past year, and the sheriff’s office has always been more than accommodating in arranging tours. The jail is an excellent, flexible, and totally unique filming location, and the revenue from productions goes to Nassau County. To help spread the word, I asked permission to post some of my pictures here for other scouts, filmmakers, and interested parties to see.

Jails are stark, lonely, claustrophobic and frightening places. This might all seem painfully obvious, but you don’t realize how true it is until you tour one on an overcast day.

We wish that all prisons were decommissioned. We don’t see the use — just the harm.

§ Sext. The grimmest covers are the most innocent: the next event can only be a bloodbath.


As for Xavier Cugat, “Bread, Love and Cha Cha Cha was not the LP that we had when we were little.

§ Nones. In a record-breakingly gratuitous gesture, Mr Chávez announces that Venezuela will recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions.

Mr. Chávez arrived in Moscow on Wednesday and, in usual form, delivered a speech at a local university railing against the United States. The Kremlin has typically tried to distance itself from Mr. Chávez’s often flamboyant jingoism, but Russia has become one of Venezuela’s key international partners in recent years.

Mr. Chávez sees Moscow as possibly playing as a counterweight to Washington’s influence in Latin America. He has visited Russia eight times as president, often seeking to procure Russian-made arms and weapons systems. Russia and Venezuela have in recent years signed agreements worth over $4 billion for deliveries of fighter jets, helicopters, automatic weapons, among other systems. In a visit last year, Mr. Chávez signed an agreement for a $1 billion loan from Russia for weapons purchases and military development.

Mind you, after our country’s track record in Latin America, we have this coming.

§ Vespers. Mr Nash’s discussion of the Oprah Book Club is particularly keen.

Another great force for accomplishing the same, which is also periodically contentious, is Oprah. In a superb chapter, Striphas performs a close reading of the choices of her book club and discerns in them a process of listening, of attention, of responsiveness to the audience. Where critics see, for example, a banal fixation with page count, and a facile notion of summer and winter books, Oprah and her producers are “keenly sensitive to how the reading of specific books matches the tempo and variable rhythms of women’s lives.” In another instance, Oprah warned her readers against reading in a car (for obvious reasons), thereby revealing that many women were choosing to read there: “In contrast to the home, automobiles seem to provide these women with something akin to a ‘room of one’s own’ and thus a measure of freedom away from — or even in the midst of — their everyday family responsibilities.”

Figuring out how read amidst child-rearing is a significant challenge; a number of readers on Oprah’s club have not read in many years. One way of accomplishing this is to find books that speak directly to those very challenges, books that contend with the challenge of navigating complex family dynamics, balancing individual and social responsibility, living for the present and for the future, and so forth:

Herein lies the book club’s dialectic with the everyday. On the one hand, the material facticity of the books themselves has provided at least some participants with much-needed time and space away from their daily obligations as partners, mothers, and professionals. On the other hand, the club has marshaled the content of the books to serve a seemingly contrary purpose, namely, that of facilitating a more intense, introspective engagement with women’s everyday realities vis-a-vis the main characters and events of the selection.

Through continuing guidance, through an “ethic of active listening” and through a range of diverse subjects that belies the stereotypical perception of an “Oprah pick” (but that “shouldn’t be mistaken for facile pluralism”), the club expands the audience for books “by sorting and classifying them assiduously, and by matching them up with appropriate readers at opportune moments in their lives.” Something publishers have frequently failed to do.

We’ve had enough of bibliophile nostalgia, and although our reservations about corporations are sharp, we think that commerce is an essential feature of civilized life — a cement, in fact.

§ Compline. Actually, as Elizabeth Day notes, the differences go way back.

Part of Bardot’s enduring influence was also attributable to the emergence of the paparazzo. “She was very, very savvy and she knew the importance of press reporters and paparazzi,” says Hyman. “It was the paparazzi who made her a star and she was complicit with that. They were not staged studio shots, but they catered for an age that wanted images of stars being more candid.”

In contrast to Bardot’s laissez-faire attitude, Loren was always careful of the image she presented of herself and, in many ways, this difference of approach is reflected in their individual attitudes towards the ageing process. Michael Winner, the restaurant critic and former film director who is a close friend of Loren, says that she is “very proud of her appearance” and “always very conscious, actually, of being photographed by members of the public, in case they got that one picture where she doesn’t look any good, which can happen to all of us.”

We just realized that we haven’t got any Loren movies in our library. And they turn out to be hard to get! One quality title, at least — Una giornata particolare — is on its way.

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