The Daily Blague

Daily Office Archives

Daily Office:
Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Matins: "Terrifyingly cavalier" — we expect that Elizabeth Kolbert is right to respond to SuperFreakonomics with alarm. Shooting SO2 aerosols into the atmosphere through an eighteen-mile hose does not sound like a promising solution to the problem of global warming. The Two Steves look to be in need of adult supervision! (The New Yorker)

Neither Levitt, an economist, nor Dubner, a journalist, has any training in climate science—or, for that matter, in science of any kind. It’s their contention that they don’t need it. The whole conceit behind “SuperFreakonomics” and, before that, “Freakonomics,” which sold some four million copies, is that a dispassionate, statistically minded thinker can find patterns and answers in the data that those who are emotionally invested in the material will have missed.

And now for a word about "irrational exuberance."

Lauds: In the future, will the great nudes of fine art sport fig leaves and other coverings that, as the spectator desires, may be made to fall away? Does Marcel Duchamp's rather nasty peepshow, Étant Donnés, cap a Renaissance tradition? Blake Gopnik's second blush. (Washington Post; via Arts Journal)

After well over a century of prim coverups, literal and metaphorical, of the sexual content of the greatest nudes in art, experts have been waking up to the erotic, even pornographic, potential. "I think it's essential that we understand them as objects in the context of men wanting to look at naked women," says Amelia Jones, a pioneer of feminist art history who teaches at the University of Manchester in England. Over the past decade or two, most of her colleagues have abandoned the genteel distinction Sir Kenneth Clark insisted on, in a famous lecture series in Washington in 1953, between the chaste "nude," cleansed by an artwork's aesthetic and philosophical ambitions, and pictures of the pruriently "naked," meant to get a rise out of viewers.

The new view: Flesh is flesh is flesh. Any culture that thinks "sex" when it sees naked bodies will still think "sex" when it sees pictures of them.

Prime: Steve Tobak addresses a home truth: "Don't Make Your Customers Deal With Your Problems." He's talking to business people, of course, but we substitute "readers" for "customers" and go from there. (Corner Office)

And that’s really what it comes down to. These days, customers are busier and more stressed than they used to be. And there are way more choices and competitors than there used to be. B2C, B2B, it really doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a small business, getting the job done at a reasonable price is no longer a competitive advantage; it just gets you in the game. If you want repeat business, if you want to outpace the competition, you need to focus on solving customer problems while making sure they never have to deal with yours.

We have a long way to go.

Tierce: Eric Patton writes about the trip to Rome that he took with his parents last month. (It was last month, wasn't it?) (SORE AFRAID)

I had received many recommendations for things to see in Rome.  My friend Vince, a former Jesuit, told me to "treat Rome as three different cities: Classical Rome, Catholic Rome, and Renaissance/Baroque Rome."  Another Italophile friend had given me the name of a bathhouse and told me that it was "important to go to all the bathhouses everywhere you travel, if one wants to be a dissolute in the Somerset Maugham/W.H. Auden/Christopher Isherwood tradition of elderly [non-heterosexual] men."  My friend Aaron Hamburger, a former breakout author who was awarded the Rome Prize by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy in Rome, forwarded me a guide to Rome he had written.  (It was a tad too mainstream for me, however.)

And then there was Faruq.  Just as many persons do whatever American media personality, actress, television producer, literary critic and magazine publisher Oprah Winfrey tells them to do, I pretty much do whatever Faruq tells me to do, with the exception of a few things that I thought were probably violations of federal anti-terrorism statutes.  Faruq saw my trip to Rome as an important component in fighting what he called the "Judaizing process" that I am apparently undergoing.  Seeing himself as a weird cross between John Chrysostom and Julian the Apostate, Faruq hoped that massive exposure to Classical and Christian monuments would destroy any interest I had in Israel or the Hebrew language.  He provided me with a long list of obligatory sights.

We can remember when Faruq was almost invariably referred to as "the young Faruq." Sic transit gloria mundi.

Sext: Rudolph Delson has been making his way through the library of vice-presidential memoirs. Yesterday, he reached Tricky Dick. (The Awl)

As he began work on his memoirs, Nixon had every reason to feel intimidated; the only way he could overcome his intimidation was to believe that he could somehow top Kennedy. Nothing ever motivated Nixon more than the fear of loss. And so, if John F. Kennedy had written a book of essays about admirable moments in the lives of other senators, then, by God, Richard M. Nixon was going to write a book of essays about admirable moments in the life of Richard M. Nixon. Here they are, all six of them:

We dare you not to read the whole piece.

(We remember that another big seller from about that time, Louis Nizer's My Life in Court, bore a dust jacket suggesting very similar art direction.)

Nones: It isn't very neighborly of Cambodia's Hun Sen to welcome Thai renegade (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra into his cabinet, as an economic adviser — and on the eve of a regional summit, at that! Thailand has recalled its ambassador, and its government "has expressed anger and embarrassment over the deal." (BBC News)

"Thaksin is now in Cambodia. He flew in on a special flight and just landed at the military airport," said Khieu Kanharith, Cambodian information minister and the top government spokesman.

"We are looking forward to learning from Thaksin's great economic experience and we are convinced that his experience will contribute to our country's economic development," he said.

Mr Thaksin, a former telecoms billionaire, is in self-imposed exile and spends much of his time in Dubai.

Vespers: Aleksandar Hemon fumes and steams about the posthumous publication of Nabokovian fragments. We can see why: the great writer intended for unfinished works to be destroyed at his death (in 1977). But the intentions were very naive, and possibly insincere: surely Nabokov was capable of destroying them himself after realizing that he would not live to finish his last project. (Slate; via Arts Journal)

The editing and packaging of The Original of Laura, complete with the subtitle Dying Is Fun and the obliteration list at the end, suggest a concerted effort to exploit to the hilt this possible relation to Nabokov's own disintegration: His illness and suffering are meant to enhance the weak text and fuel the industry-orchestrated drama. Otherwise, the fragments dealing with Wild's self-eradication traverse the border between plain silly and ridiculously serious—and are, at times, sloppily prolix. Here is Wild describing part of his self-erasure process: "To ensure a complete smoothness of background, care must be taken to eliminate the hypnagogic gargoyles and entopic swarms which plague tired vision after a surfeit of poring over a collection of coins or insects." If ever a sentence begged for self- or other-deletion, surely this is one.

The publication of The Original of Laura is a harmless footnote to an illustrious career that will not, pace Mr Hemon, be tarnished by it. More interesting is the tension between honor, or reputation, and every artist's exhibitionist streak.

Compline: Simon Baron-Cohen argues that the elimination of a distinct Asperger syndrome diagnosis from the next edition of the standard psychiatric handbook (the DSM) — a move under consideration by the editors — would be premature at best. (NYT)

Second, science hasn’t had a proper chance to test if there is a biological difference between Asperger syndrome and classic autism. My colleagues and I recently published the first candidate gene study of Asperger syndrome, which identified 14 genes associated with the condition.

We don’t yet know if Asperger syndrome is genetically identical or distinct from classic autism, but surely it makes scientific sense to wait until these two subgroups have been thoroughly tested before lumping them together in the diagnostic manual. I am the first to agree with the concept of an autistic spectrum, but there may be important differences between subgroups that the psychiatric association should not blur too hastily.

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