Daily Office:


Matins: Jonah Lehrer meditates, briefly but beautifully, on a connection between the recent findings about social networks (the viral spread of obesity, &c) and free will.

Lauds: Barbra Streisand sings some great songs  (for a change) at a great venue — how like “the good old days” is that? (via Speakeasy)

Prime: A disturbing report finds that the profession of journalism is no longer open to the children of working-class families. (via MetaFilter)

Tierce: In the ancient port of Muscat, a photograph stabs an expatriate with nostalgic longing.

Sext: The McFarthest Map, at Strange Maps.

Nones: The decision to shut down two media outlets, already regretted by the Micheletti government, makes the fairness of the 29 November elections even less likely.

Vespers: James Wood aims his gimlet glance at the novels of Richard Powers. A bit of ouch, what?

Compline: Arthur Krystal’s essay, “When Writers Speak,” reminded us of a Bloomsbury anecdote.


§ Matins. We hope that everyone will not just read but contemplate this passage:

Sure, our social network is important (although not so important that our will is irrelevant). What we all too easily forget, however, is that we’re also part of a social network, which means that if we lose weight then it’s easier for our neighbors to lose weight, and that if we quit smoking then everyone we know is also more likely to quit smoking. Being socially connected, in other words, makes us more responsible for our actions, not less.

Setting a good example doesn’t mean what it used to mean; there’s very little wiggle room for hypocrisy. In fact, setting an example isn’t the best way to put it. You want to be a good example.

§ Lauds. While you’re listening for a second time, you might want to look over Anthony Tommasini’s mash note/interview.

The sound of her voice, at 67, is remarkably fresh. Back in the “My Name Is Barbra” days, from the mid-’60s, her singing was already mature and rich, never girlish. Her voice remains, as the pianist Glenn Gould, a self-confessed “Streisand freak,” put it in a 1976 review of the “Classical Barbra” album, one of the “natural wonders of the age, an instrument of infinite diversity and timbral resource.”

As I pressed Ms. Streisand on the subject, she revealed herself as a vocal artist with powerful, if innate, insights into phrasing, legato, vibrato, interpretive nuances and, most important, the art of singing as an expression of words. She kept emphasizing, however, that from the time she was 7 she wanted to be an actress, not a singer, and that singing came as an extension of that passion, “a means to an end,” she said. Still, her exceptional voice emerged early and, from her perspective, on its own.

We always thought that Ms Streisand’s way with Schumann’s “Mondnacht” was transcendent. Not the only way we’d want to hear the song, but amazing.

§ Prime. The pre-requisite of unpaid internships seems to be the obstacle.

A cursory glance at available internships here in the US reveals that of 50 intern opportunities listed on journalismjobs.com, only 15 offer pay. Of the 50 internships posted, another 15 offer no pay but college credit, which at many universities, ours included, means that doing an internship actually costs a student tuition money.  Here at YSU, students can earn six hours maximum for internships, but at many universities, 12 to 16 are allowed, paving the way for students to spend several thousand dollars (at least) to get an entire academic semester of work experience.  .

If the student can afford this luxury and the cost of living in the city in which he or she interns, s/he in theory gains the passkey to an entry-level position somewhere upon graduation. Of course, many of the most prestigious internships are located in the media hubs of New York and Washington D.C. where the costs of living are beyond the reach of a student from an average, let alone below average wage earning household.

Of the 15 internships listed that offer pay, the average salary is just under $250 per week for an average of 35 hours, before taxes. If a student is working to pay his or her tuition and rent and also, in many cases, supporting a family while going to school, even the paid internship is an impossibility.

This means, of course, that only students who can afford to work for free for several months are gaining the credentials to access their chosen profession.

Our bright-idea response to this problem is to propose residential “colleges” where scholarship “students” can board at no expense while undertaking a variety of urban jobs. Urban settings and strict means-testing would make it possible for working-class children to percolate into professional environments that are closed to them now.

§ Tierce. (Happily, Cavafy provides the antidote.)

But then you see a picture like that, and it all comes rushing back, fierce and strong, washing away, if only for a moment, Africa and Egypt, sailing up the Nile and driving across Burkina Faso, meeting Mr. M., all the good and bad and really quite amazing that’s happened, all of it paling in the memory of walking up Seventh Avenue late some weekend night, mischief afoot and the lights reflected in wet pavement and the gleaming shop windows.

We always say that the most pressing reason for living in New York is that these inevitable waves of nostalgia can be dealt with briskly, simply by going outside for a walk.

§ Sext. Stephen von Worley’s map of McDonald’s US locations has been popping up all over the Internet lately, so we’ve had plenty of time to mull over the East-West divider that runs right down the middle of the country.


Also interesting: the five central cities on the eastern side of that dividing line, all of them over a hundred miles distant from large bodies of water as well as from each other: Minneapolis/St Paul, Kansas City, St Louis, Dallas and Atlanta.

§ Nones. According to New York Times writers Elisabeth Malkin and Ginger Thompson, the United States response is a matter of “mixed signals.” We don’t agree. Refusing to take sides is not “equivocation.”

The American response to the decree on Monday was somewhat equivocal. The State Department condemned the government’s actions. “I think it’s time for the de facto regime to put down the shovel,” said a spokesman, Philip J. Crowley. “With every action, they keep on making the hole deeper.”

But at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, where diplomats met in an emergency session to discuss the Micheletti government’s expulsion of four of its diplomats on Sunday, the American envoy reserved his strongest condemnation for Mr. Zelaya.

W. Lewis Amselem, the acting American representative, called Mr. Zelaya “irresponsible and foolish” for returning to Honduras before a negotiated settlement was reached.

“The president should stop acting as though he were starring in an old movie,” Mr. Amselem said.

Mr Zelaya’s bravado grandstanding would be funny if it were inconsequential.

§ Vespers. While we have no patience with bad reviews, we can only wish that someone with Mr Wood’s authority had addressed the problems in Mr Powers’s fiction a decade ago, after Galatea 2.2, the once-is-enough novel read by our editor.

Powers is never more repetitive than when he is describing love or lust as a species of determinism. As Ressler bends to kiss Koss, “every program in his body, every enzyme, every gemule collaborates on synthesizing a single biophor: take this woman and kiss her.” When the Richard Powers character first gets close to the graduate student who consumes his thoughts, he recalls, “My skin went conductive. In the time it took me to drop another step, a bouillabaisse of chemical semaphores seeped up through my pores and spilled out to wet the air.” As Weber kisses Barbara for the first time, “he surges on the dopamine, the spikes of endorphins, his chest jerking. . . . He slips down into limbic back alleys. . . . They flood each other, waves of oxytocin and a savage bonding.”

This kiss passage from The Gold Bug Variations is doubly bogus: either you are kissing someone or you are taking notes; you can’t do both. (You can remember what the kiss was like, but the passage is about consciousness.) Second, even the most strained attentiveness cannot taste that “bouillabaisse of chemical semaphors.” Think about it for a minute, and what becomes interesting about consciousness is all the stuff that never makes it into our awareness.

Indeed, many if not all human institutions — the body of learning especially — are designed to compensate for the shortcomings of consciousness.

§ Compline. In her introduction to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Molly Hite writes,

In all these respects, Bernard resembles a close friend of the Woolfs, the critic and editor Desmond MacCarthy, who was always about to write a novel, and whom Virginia described as someone “the younger generation” would say “was the most gifted of us all. But why did he never do anything? they will ask” … As MacCarthy and his friends grew older, it became clearer and clearer that although he talked enthrallingly and wrote intelligent reviews, he never would “do anything” in the field of fiction writing. At one point in 1919, members of the Bloomsbury Group hired a stenographer to sit with them and transcribe his conversation in shorthand, with the idea that if MacCarthy produced nothing else, a literary work might be made out of his talk.  But Virginia wrote to Vanessa that the stenographer reported, “It is the dullest thing you can imagine to read,” and the project was abandoned.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Matins: I join you in hoping everyone will read Jonah Lehrer’s essay and take the passage you highlighted to heart. Be the example. Be the change.

    It’s difficult, though. I just posted on my Fb page a link to a Salon article about Mad Men that speaks to the tendency to think we are all independent actors on the world stage, when mostly we are beholden to trends. Our individual acts of free will are strongly, often blindly, embedded in the values, habits, and mores of the day.