Daily Office:


Matins: An attempt to “urbanize” Tyson’s Corner, Virginia appears to have spooked the planners: they don’t want anything too urban!

Lauds: With Julie & Julia about to open in France, a number of critics are echoing Mme Brassart.

Prime: A word about arbitrage from Felix Salmon. Actually, two words:

  • Picking up nickels in front of a steamroller
  • Don’t try this at home.

Tierce: As if it had been waiting for rifts within the Anglican Communion to threatens its future, Canterbury Cathedral has begun to fall down in earnest. (via The Morning News)

Sext: Fast Food: The DeStyling.

Nones: Has or has not fighting broken out between China and India? Officially, not. But the media on both sides pipe a different tune. Amit Baruah reports from the BBC.

Vespers: A nice, long, faux-depressing, genuinely funny look at the publishing biz, by former Random House editor Daniel Menaker.

Compline: Paul Graham on The List of N Things: sometimes a simple list fits the case exactly, but, too often, it’s “a degenerate case of essay.” (via  Mnémoglyphes)

Bon weekend à tous!


§ Matins. Jebediah Reed reports.

The situation brings to mind a quote–the source escapes us–that creating an American-style suburb is easy, akin to driving a car. But creating a dense urban environment takes a good deal more skill, akin to flying a jet fighter.

It sounds like Fairfax County started looking at the plans for the jet fighter (or whatever the analogy demands here) and wigged out. “Make it easier!” they’ve squealed.

§ Lauds. The difference between Mrs Child’s French fans and her critics seems to be that the former either met her or spent time in the United States. But at least one food writer is giving the recipes a try.

Ms. Andrieu, the cookbook author, said that despite Ms. Child’s clichéd recipes, her style could be defined as a “combination of scientific and empirical virtues” that helped explain why Americans wrote better cookbooks than the French.

“The French think that they are natural-born cooks; they prepare a dish off the top of their heads, without testing it,” she said. “In France, we rush over explanations.”

After watching “Julie & Julia,” Ms. Andrieu said, she felt compelled to go home and make boeuf bourguignon according to Ms. Child’s recipe. “I cut the flour in half, and it turned out to be the best I had ever made,” she said.

§ Prime. The subject is dual-listed company stocks (shares that trade in two countries), “one of the purest forms of arbitrage there is.”

But it’s not surprise to learn that it comes with “a high incidence of large negative returns”: any arbitrage strategy is ultimately a game of picking up nickels in front of a steamroller. Unless you have unlimited liquidity and never need to worry about margin calls, the market is likely to move against you just until you give up, at which time it will snap back to where you would have made a huge profit. Just ask the guys at LTCM, or the stat-arb hedgies who blew up in 2007.

This is why only the biggest and most liquid companies tend to try their hands at arbitrage: it’s very much a don’t-try-this-at-home strategy. Even if you’re convinced that the trade is risk-free, it really isn’t.

§ Tierce. The only interesting thing about the cathedral’s deterioration is why it is  so severe right now. Old buildings are going to fall down. What, in the long term, do you do with a building such as Canterbury Cathedral? We don’t see any way around the Japanese solution: rebuild. Important Japanese buildings are usually wooden, and relatively easy to replace exactly. The very opposite would seem to be true of massive masonry. The temptation to “duplicate” the building in modern materials, aged for the right look, would be overwhelming, and hard not to justify in an equitable age.

But this is the interesting-interesting part:

The cathedral has been designated as a World Heritage Site and received more than one million visitors in 2008, but receives no state funding or money from the Church of England.

How is that? Is it because the Archbishop of Canterbury — symbolic head of the Anglican Communion — operates from Lambeth Palace, in London? Or could it be that the sources of the cathedral’s original funding — agricultural estates, primarily, and other rents — have not been replaced by more modern means?

§ Sext. Photographer Jon Feinstein:

“There’s this weird relationship that we as Americans have with fast food,” says Feinstein, who titled each image with the given item’s fat content, in grams. “I made a project where the food mostly looks disgusting, yet some of it is still strangely enticing—probably because the branding is so embedded in our psyches.” He adds, “I may eat it on a lower frequency now.”

§ Nones. You’d think that Heart was still running newspapers.

In the last two decades – ever since a path-breaking visit by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing in 1988 – there has been a visible effort on the part of the two governments to try to narrow their differences.

A code was agreed on how patrol parties were to act in case they encountered each other.

These encounters do take place and the two sides have a specified drill in such cases, which appears to have worked well over the years.

But now, the threat to a stable India-China relationship is coming not from the governments, but from sections within the media.

If the largely private Indian media is belligerent about China, a response is beginning to emerge from the Chinese side as well.

“India likes to brag about its sustainable development, but worries that it is being left behind by China. China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass,” the state-run Global Times wrote in June this year.

In essence, a media war, initiated by a few Indian television channels and newspapers, has now been joined from the Chinese side as the Global Times opinion piece indicates.

Briefing editors of national dailies, a senior Indian official suggested that there was no point in the press showing any “hysteria”.

Not many journalists, it would appear, want to listen to such suggestions.

Especially given the saber-rattling of  “a certain narrow, but influential, category of retired generals and diplomats, who still harbour ambitions of “giving it back to the Chinese.”

§ Vespers. Here’s the paragraph that seems to interest everybody:

Genuine literary discernment is often a liability in editors. And it should be — at least when it is unaccompanied by a broader, more popular sensibility it should be. When you are trying to acquire books that hundreds of thousands of people will buy, read, and like, you have to have some of the eclectic and demotic taste of the reading public. I have this completely unfounded theory that there are a million very good — engaged, smart, enthusiastic — generalist readers in America. There are five hundred thousand extremely good such readers. There are two hundred and fifty thousand excellent readers. There are a hundred and twenty-five thousand alert, active, demanding, well-educated (sometimes self-well-educated), and thoughtful — that is, literarily superb — readers in America. More than half of those people will happen not to have the time or taste for the book you are publishing. So, if these numbers are anything remotely like plausible, refined taste, no matter how interesting it may be, will limit your success as an acquiring editor. It’s not enough for you to be willing to publish “The Long Sad Summer of Our Hot Forsaken Love,” by Lachryma Duct, or “Nuke Anbar Province, and I Mean Now!,” by Genralissimo Macho Picchu — you have to actually like them, or somehow make yourself like them, or at least make yourself believe that you like them, in order to be able to see them through the publishing process.

Which matrushka contains you?

§ Compline. Oddly, Mr Graham doesn’t mention the “degenerate case of lists” — Power Point presentations. But he fingers what’s wrong with them.

The greatest weakness of the list of n things is that there’s so little room for new thought. The main point of essay writing, when done right, is the new ideas you have while doing it. A real essay, as the name implies, is dynamic: you don’t know what you’re going to write when you start. It will be about whatever you discover in the course of writing it.

This can only happen in a very limited way in a list of n things. You make the title first, and that’s what it’s going to be about. You can’t have more new ideas in the writing than will fit in the watertight compartments you set up initially. And your brain seems to know this: because you don’t have room for new ideas, you don’t have them.

The other kind of list that goes unmentioned is the delicious list, of which Sei Shonagon is the unsurpassed mistress.

Things That Should Be Large

  • Priests. Fruit. Provision Bags. Inksticks for inkstones.
  • Men’s eyes: when they are too narrow, they look feminine. On the other hand, if they were as large as metal bowls I should find them rather frightening.
  • Round braziers. Winter cherries. Pine trees. The petals of yellow roses.
  • Horses as well as oxen should be large.

Comments are closed.