Daily Office:


Matins: The Economics Department at Notre Dame plans to dissolve its humanist, “heterodox” wing, and focus exclusively on “sophisticated training in quantitative methods in addition to a liberal-arts emphasis.” (via Marginal Revolution)

Lauds: Michael Johnston ogles a book of “camera porn” from the George Eastman House. SFW!

Prime: James Surowiecki calls for detaching the ratings agencies from official securities regulation.

Tierce: Tom Scocca, Dad with a pen, goofs again: “It was a mistake to get on the Metro train with the kid riding on my shoulders.”

Sext: Of the lower 48 states, 5 birds are 26 states’ official avian: Cardinal (7), Mockingbird (6), Meadowlark (6), Bluebird (4), and Goldfinch (3).

Nones: Wake-up call from New Delhi to Indian state governments: “Leak reveals India Maoist threat.”

Vespers: Emily Gould’s report on a panel discussion about the future of fiction is the sort of document that we don’t want to lose sight of: this is how published authors regarded the Internet/marketing/branding in September 2009: still in the old-fashioned way. (via The Rumpus)

Compline: “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres”: Project Gaydar at MIT. (via The Morning News)


§ Matins. This academic crisis suggests to us that the field of economics is about to be divided, more or less formally, into two sub-fields of other disciplines. We wouldn’t be surprised to find that humanistically-inclined economists find shelter withing the larger fold of sociologists, while quantitative economists drift toward physics.

Alli deJong, a 2007 graduate who now works for a nonprofit organization in New Orleans, echoes that view. “The major taught me to question my assumptions and to question the logic of social systems,” she says. “I could only have gotten that in a department with a strong heterodox component.” Orthodox economic models of human behavior, she says, would never have allowed her to make sense of post-Katrina New Orleans.

But another recent alumnus says that the university’s turn toward econometrics and the neoclassical model has been the right move. The economics program as a whole “is in a far better place than it was 10 years ago before the split,” says Matt Gunden, a 2004 graduate who is now a doctoral student in economics at Northwestern University, in an e-mail message. “I feel that had I graduated even three or four years earlier than I did, that I would not have had the opportunities I now have to pursue graduate study.”

Mr. Gunden is exactly the kind of student that the founders of the econometrics department wanted to cultivate: mathematically inclined students who could win admission into highly-ranked doctoral programs. Mr. McGreevy, the dean, says that this development has been a great success. “Economics is our fastest-growing major,” he says. “And we’ve had several students move into top-20 departments.”

In academia, it’s not the money; it’s the prestige.

§ Lauds. Our editor feels that he has to have this book, as an aid to his renewed determiantion to take better photographs.

§ Prime. And, with characteristic economy, Mr Surowiecki shows that resistance to reform is motivated by the very problem that ought to be reformed.

Given how rarely real reform happens in Washington, that may sound like a hopeless goal. But last summer the S.E.C. seriously considered enacting a series of proposals that would have gone some way toward uncoupling the rating agencies from the regulatory system. The plan fizzled, however, thanks in part to pressure from a surprising source: big investors. Oddly, the ratings system, broken as it is, remains attractive to many investors who have been burned by it. For one thing, it provides an easily comprehensible standard: without it, we’d need to come up with new ways of measuring risk. More insidiously, the ratings system provides a ready-made excuse for failure: as long as you’re buying AAA-rated assets, you can say you’re being responsible. After the housing crash, though, we know how illusory those AAA ratings can be. It’s time for investors to face reality: working with a fake safety net is more dangerous than working without any net at all. 

§ Tierce. With only two hands — one to brace his son, one to hold onto the handrail — Mr Scocca had to let go of the stroller,

and the clumsily half-set foot brake came off, sending the stroller wobbling away from us, bumping through the crowd. Sorry, excuse me, sorry!

Genuinely, genuinely sorry, if you were on that train. I need to pause and emphasize this. It should not even need saying how much I—like you—despise the stroller-bullies who go banging through public spaces, using their precious cargo as a snowplow, then give a pained look of fake sympathy to the people who have been unlucky enough to get in the way of their baby-pushing. They are sorry, but they know that God knows that they are in the right, because babies are worth more than other people.

Not me. I made a bad call and it led to me getting on your train with a poorly secured child-and-stroller combo, and the fact that I then allowed the stroller to roll amok does not mean that your comfort and safety are less important than my child’s, except in the narrow sense that my choice (a choice, again, created by my idiocy) was either to let the stroller bump into you or to drop the child from a height of six feet. If, through some presently unimaginable set of circumstances, I instead had to choose between bumping my child with a stroller or letting a stranger plunge six feet headfirst to the floor of a subway car—I promise you, I would bang the stroller right into the kid. At that point, it’s basic ethics.

Knowing that you can write it all up when you get home must be some relief.

§ Sext. We want a list of the State Toys!

§ Nones. The Maoist (or “Naxalite”) hegemony across a broad swath of Southern India is nothing new, but it jars discordantly with India’s world-power ambitions.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the insurgency is the single biggest threat to India’s security. Maoist violence affects a third of all districts.

Last week, Mr Singh said India was losing the battle against the rebels.

The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of the poor. They operate in a large swathe of territory across central India, and in some areas have almost replaced the local government.

More than 6,000 people have been killed during their 20-year fight for a communist state.

§ Vespers. Both T Cooper and Elizabeth Nunez, in Ms Gould’s account appear to believe in a version of Gresham’s Law according to which the cascades of unedited drivel that appear on the Internet are making crafted literature too difficult to read.

Conversations about The Internet tend to dog any conversation about the future of book-reading and book-publishing.  This one was especially interesting because it took on not only the question of whether The Internet — meaning not only e-book-to-iPhone downloading and other methods of book-reading that don’t involve books as physical objects, but also online marketing and the idea of self-branding — will Change Everything, but also whether the reams of internet-writing that many of us spend our days consuming and creating are changing our ability or desire to read non-online, process-oriented fiction and nonfiction.  And this is actually an interesting question, one that I don’t know the answer to.  I like reading and writing both kinds of writing, so I hope they will both continue to exist. I understand why people think they are opposed, but to examine the reasons why people think they are opposed gets us into a long and messy conversation about, among other things: Do people have a right to expect to get paid or to get attention for doing what they love?  I think that artists who aren’t getting the money or the eyeballs they think their work deserves often blame these deficiencies on the Internet in a way that earlier generations might have scapegoated another new technology: the television, the radio, etc.  But actually, being able to make a living and/or command a wide audience by writing literary fiction or nonfiction has always,  in every generation, been a privilege accorded a motley — and maybe kind of arbitrary! — few.  File under “life’s not fair.”   Please believe me that I’m just as upset about this as Cooper, Nunez, and you are.  But: life is not fair.

T Cooper fears that unedited, ill-thought-out online reading and writing is crowding out the curated, edited writing that appears on the printed page.  He doesn’t, he says, want to see a review of Keith’s book next to a picture of your cat.  He is uninterested in kitty pix in general.  The idea of a Twitter novel makes him want to “kill himself.”   He said that he didn’t understand why people thought other people wanted to hear about what they ate for breakfast, clearly expecting a laugh from the audience that only sort of came.  (That was when I started to cringe and think of Angie Tempura.)  Nunez nodded vehemently:  “I always tell my writing students that your first draft is like vomit — it doesn’t smell good and no one should see it but you!” she said.   Both authors shook their heads in saddened disbelief about why anyone wants to spew their vomity rough drafts all over the internet for the world to see.  They complained about being encouraged by their publishers to blog, to Tweet.  They resisted the undignified idea that they would be forced to be available to their readers via online presences that they themselves would have to participate in creating.  At this point, an audience member asked all the panelists how involved they had been in their books’ marketing campaigns.  I don’t remember exactly what Cooper said  but he seemed to regret that he’d had to be involved at all.  In general the idea seemed to be that book marketing ought to be something that an omniscient, dogged employee of one’s publisher does while the author remains behind the scenes, unsullied by hustling.

Ms Gould waxes mordant on the almost unconscious arrogance displayed by these writers toward their audiences.

§ Compline. We’re not sure whether to nod sagely or to giggle.

Computer scientists are identifying the ways in which anyone from a potential employer to an advertiser might be able to make informed guesses about a person. But there are limits to online privacy, and ultimately, say some experts, people will simply have to weigh the costs and benefits of living online.

“You can do damage to your reputation with social networking data, and other people can do damage to you. I do think that there’s been a very fast learning curve – people are quickly learning the dos and don’ts of Internet behavior,” said Jason Kaufman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University who is studying a set of Facebook data. “Potentially everything you ever do on the Internet will live forever. I like to think we’ll all learn to give each other a little more slack for our indiscretions and idiosyncrasies.”

Indeed, so do we. The interesting thing about this story is that it marks the end of the era in which, according to the well-known New Yorker cartoon, no one knows you’re a dog on the Internet.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Fossil Darling says:

    Compline : Thought the Boston.com article fascinating. Apparently dogs of a certain kind like to run together!!