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Daily Office:
17 November, 2009


Matins: Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals is eaten alive by John Williams, at The Second Pass, in a piece that begins with the surprised observation that Mr Foer does not mention Peter Singer in his book.

After years of on-again, off-again vegetarianism, something happened to Foer, something that, from his breathless account, you would think had never happened to another human being: He became an expectant father. This caused him to take stock in all the ways one normally might. Then, of his son’s birth, he writes, “The world itself had another chance.” Many times in Foer’s life, he just “ate what was available or tasty,” but “the kind of parenthood I always imagined practicing abhors such forgetfulness.”

“Forgetfulness” is a favorite word of Foer’s. He’s also fond of “matters,” the verb. Feeding his child “matters because food matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters) . . .” But his affection for those words pales next to his torrid love for “story.” Just a few samples:

But then we decided to have a child, and that was a different story that would necessitate a different story.

…the stories that are served with food matter.

While this book . . . is as objective as any work of journalism can be . . . I think of it as a story.

We are not only the tellers of our stories, we are the stories themselves.

You see, Jonathan Safran Foer isn’t here just to expose terrible industry practices, or to raise philosophical issues that have been in the air for generations: he is here to apply for the position of Shaman Laureate.

Now, that's funny.

Lauds: Michael Williams writes about the amazing Zildjian family, and shares some terrific clips. (A Continuous Lean)

The Zildjian company is the oldest family owned business in the United States, tracing its origin back to Turkey in the year 1623. The company was established in America in Quincy, Mass. in 1929 by Aram Zildjian who perfected the art of cymbal manufacturing. Now after many years of making some of the finest cymbals in the world, company is coming up on its 400th birthday. The 14th generation of the Zildjian continue to operate the famous percussion supplier at their headquarters and factory in Norwell, Massachusetts.

Leon Chiappini has been testing Zildjian cymbals for over forty years. Now, that's a job. Don't miss the 3:39 minute-long battle between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, both Zildjian customers.

Prime: James Surowiecki addresses the debt bias in this week's New Yorker, and in a background piece at the magazine's blog. From the former:

If it’s frustrating that the government is footing the bill to clean up the mess, it’s even worse that the government helped pay for the debt binge that created the mess in the first place, thanks to a tax system that actually subsidizes borrowing. Debt didn’t get dangerously out of scale because the system was broken. It got out of scale, in part, because the system worked.

From the latter:

Given that too much debt was at the core of the recent financial crisis (as it’s been at the core of most, if not all, major financial crises), you might think that the fact that the tax system is biased in favor of debt—allowing individuals to write off all of the interest on mortgages up to a million dollars, and allowing companies to write off all interest on their debt, while not allowing them, among other things, to write off dividend payments (which you can think of as a kind of payment for equity)—would be a subject of considerable interest among policymakers. But for the most part, it hasn’t been. One important exception was this recent I.M.F. study (pdf), which looks in detail at the interaction between tax policy and debt (not just in the U.S., but across the globe), and argues, as I do, that the general bias in favor of debt likely “encouraged excessive leveraging and other financial market problems evident in the crisis.” A recent Wall Street Journal article also suggested that an Obama Administration tax-reform panel led by Paul Volcker is looking into the possibility of “curbing” the debt bias. It’s not clear whether this means the Administration might seriously consider a proposal to change the tax rules, but it’s good news that they’re at least aware there’s a problem.

Tierce: While Choire Sicha rails against the "Swiss Drug Pushers" who run the United States government (at The Awl), Jonah Lehrer (at The Frontal Cortex) reminds us how L-Dopa really works.

As I've noted before, the popular caricature of dopamine - it's the hedonistic molecule in the brain, activated by sex, drugs and rock and roll - is slightly misleading. Dopamine neurons, it turns out, don't care about pleasure per se - they're much more interested in predicting pleasure, and then comparing our predictions to the actual event. The transactions of dopamine are largely about learning - finding a way to maximize our rewards - and not about mere decadence.

Sext: Unknown to Downing Street or the Palace, Margaret Thatcher dies. Meanwhile, Thatcher scholar Claire Berlinksi writes an article for Penthouse.

The article looked great. Penthouse's photographers are absolutely top-notch. But I'd forgotten just how pornographic Penthouse really is. I was sort of torn between pride in my work and a desire to make sure than no one sees these things in my apartment, ever.

Not Egemen, he wasn't torn at all. He knew exactly where he stood. I offered him a copy as a souvenir, but he refused to take it. He was, he said, well past the age where he was willing to hide this stuff from his parents.

I'm not sure what to do with them. I'm not sure if even my mom loves me enough to display the "SPECIAL 7-GIRL PILEUP" issue proudly on her coffee table.

Nones: Joshua Kurlantzick discusses President Obama's trip to Asia, regretting that Indonesia was left off the itinerary and noting the dispiriting realism of Asian diplomacy today. (London Review Blog)

But across Asia, that common ground will be hard to find. The region is locked in old-fashioned power rivalries...

When you talk to Asian policy-makers, they usually sound more like Henry Kissinger or Otto von Bismarck than like Obama: such co-operation as there is – trade ties, business and cultural links – is nice, but it doesn’t overwhelm suspicion of the neighbours.

Vespers: Grant Risk Hallberg's long piece on myth and backlash in Bolaño studies serves as a toolkit to bring you completely up-to-date on a writer who, from beyond the grave, has excited a pungent array of macho responses.

This is the nature of the hype cycle: if the Bolaño backlash augured by The New Yorker’s “Book Bench” materializes, it will not be because readers have revolted against the novel (though there are readers whom the book leaves cold) but because they have revolted against a particular narrative being told about it. And Castellanos Moya, with his impeccable credentials and his tendentious but seductive account of the experience The Savage Detectives offers U.S. readers, provides the perfect cover story for those who can’t be bothered to do the reading. That is, “Bolaño Inc.” offers readers the very same enticements that the Bolaño Myth did: the chance to be Ahead of the Curve, to have an opinion that Says Something About You. Both myth and backlash pivot on a notion of authenticity that is at once an escape from commodification and the ultimate commodity. Bolaño had it, the myth insists. His fans don’t, says “Bolaño Inc.” But what if this authenticity itself is a construction? From what solid ground can we render judgment?

Compline: A story that we never thought we'd see: "Money Trickles North as Mexicans Help Relatives." (NYT)

With nearly half its population living in poverty, Mexico is not well placed to prop up struggling citizens abroad. Mexico could lose as many as 735,000 jobs this year and its economy may decline 7.5 percent, government economists predict, making the country one of the worst affected by the global recession.

Still, poverty is a relative concept. It is easier to get by on little in Mexico, especially in rural areas, allowing the poor to help the even more precarious.

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