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Daily Office:


24 November 2009


Matins: A Times over the weekend exhorted Goldman Sachs & al to make a genuine apology — in the form of restitution.

And a contribution might help Goldman ward off the alternative: serious calls for a windfall tax on bonuses, which would be justified since the profits they are based on are in large part the result of government efforts. One way or another, the taxpayers will demand their due, and one way or another, they just might get it.

Checks can be made out to the Bureau of the Public Debt and sent to Bureau of the Public Debt, Dept. G, P.O. Box 2188, Parkersburg, W.Va., 26106-2188.

That's tellin' 'em. Can we think of some way in which to heat up this shame campaign?

Lauds: Michael Johnston raises a very interesting question that is too often overlooked by viewers: where was the photographer standing? (The Online Photographer)

A lot of the work of photographing is getting yourself to where the picture was taken—whether that's Simon Roberts setting up his tripod on top of his strategically-parked motor home, or Jim Nachtwey wandering the scene of 9/11, or the indefatigable Robert Cameron, who died last November 10th at the age of 98, up in a helicopter above a big city in good light. But most viewers, most of the time, are perfectly happy to collude in the illusion of the omniscient camera, and simply ignore the implications of the photographer as a presence in the scene.

Lee Friedlander makes a point of this question in a series of photographs.

Prime: Jonathan Ford and Peter Thal Larsen propose three concrete measures for trimming banks down to salvageable — fail-able — size. First, proportional capital buffers. Second, restore a virtual Glass-Steagall by insulating relatively safe activities from relatively risky ones. Third, dissolve global banks into "confederacies of national subsidiaries." (Prospect)

In a crisis, governments would then be responsible for bailing out their local subsidiary. This would prevent the full costs of rescuing a large bank from falling onto the taxpayers of the bank’s home country. The idea has won support from large banks like HSBC and Santander, the latter of which already operates along these lines. António Horta-Osório, chief executive of Abbey, Santander’s subsidiary, told a London audience in November that the structure creates a “firewall” that can prevent contagion. Investment banks, which tend to operate on a global basis, are less keen.

Tierce: Mike Sachs imagines the dialogue from porn movies starring his parents. (The New Yorker)  

BO: Would you like to see my nuts and buns?

ENID: No, thank you, I have my own nuts and buns.

BO: I think you’ll like mine a whole lot better.

ENID: Do you work here in the grocery?

BO: Yes, my name is Bo. And I am in charge of the nuts and buns.

ENID: Like I said, Bo, I have my own nuts and buns. But I am curious about something: I noticed that the whole-grain hamburger rolls were listed as on sale....

Sext: Sam Kean thinks that William Safire and William F Buckley wrote too well. Was this a by-product of their conservatism? (3 Quarks Daily)

Part (though not all) of what annoyed me was their affected, almost mannered style, and there’s a kind of literary-political righty that enjoys being perversely old-fashioned. This often shades over into a urge to distress if not shock people—a desire no less potent than in those radical “artists” who work in bodily fluids or set up exhibits featuring themselves masturbating to sounds of crying children. The writer-righties transgress via regress. They’re imps in bowties, good at getting a rise out of people and pimping emotions. The prime example is of course Evelyn Waugh. Think of the elderly Waugh wearing spats long past World War II ended, or him frightening guests at dinner with a Jurassic-sized ear trumpet it wasn’t even clear he needed.

But unlike Safire or Buckley, Waugh wrote smoothly, brilliantly.

Perhaps Mr Kean agrees with us, that William Safire, in any case, did not write well enough. Here is Safire on split infinitives:

But English long ago departed from Latin to become a language in itself, and to careful writers, what works, works. To deliberately split an infinitive is stronger than deliberately to split, partly because it sounds more natural. When the novelist Raymond Chandler of the hard-boiled school was hypercorrected on this usage, he wrote back to his editor: “Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois . . . and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.”

Most of the time, I like to keep the to tight up against the verb without infixing a modifier, but occasionally I choose to “break the rule” when it helps the reader to better understand my point. ( To understand better my point? No; that sounds awkward. To understand my point better? Not bad, but not as strong as having the better ahead of the understand.

English never "departed from Latin"; it departed from a common ancestor of German, in which language the correct formulation would be "... when it helps the reader better to understand my point."

Nones: Clan strife (exacerbated by religious differences) appears to be at the back of the gruesome abduction and massacre of at least 20 lawyers and journalists in the Philippine province of Maguindanao, where the writ of Manila appears not to run very effectively. (NYT)

Election violence is more extreme in Maguindanao, where an Islamic insurgency and longstanding clan wars complicate the security situation. Access to firearms by criminal groups and political warlords has worsened the situation in this and other areas.

Vespers: Sonya Chung discovers the drawbacks of multitasking — walking the dog while listening to an audiobook. The piece is really about how dogs are a writer's best friend because they can't talk, and Revolutionary Road teaches us that talk destroys; but, hey. (The Millions)

For 15 minutes, I shouted his name, but he didn’t come.  I began climbing (sliding) down the steep embankments off the side of the road, trudging through ice-crusted snow at two-feet high, screaming his name into the bitter-cold wind, panicked.  A friend who lives on a farm in Minnesota had recently told me that the harsh winter was killing off the deer, both because of food supply and because as they made their way through the icy snow, they’d suffer severe cuts across their limbs and would bleed to death.  I remembered that there were a few ponds in the area, and I imagined him traipsing across one, then falling through the ice, limbs freezing before he could get his dog-paddle going.  After 45 minutes of this, I was breathless and sobbing, I fell to my knees in a pile.  I gathered myself, wiped the snot from my face, and walked slowly home to find him sitting on the porch, nose up, waiting.  That was when I knew—for the first time I really knew—that my attachment to my dog was something I couldn’t—shouldn’t—talk about with just anyone.

Compline: Owen Flanagan reviews an intriguing book: Reading in the Brain, by Stanislas Dehaene. If our brains haven't significantly evolved for 200,000 years (by the way: how does anyone know this?), then how have we managed to read for the past five thousand? Exaptation! (New Scientist)

Dehaene calls this the "neuronal recycling hypothesis", which he enjoys announcing to considerable fanfare as a "novel" solution to the reading puzzle, though many neuroscientists have turned to exaptations to solve such mysteries. He sees the hypothesis as staking a middle ground between tabula-rasa and hard-wired-determinist views of human nature. The neuronal recycling hypothesis is the idea that "human brain architecture obeys strong genetic constraints, but some circuits have evolved to tolerate a fringe of variability", Dehaene writes. "Part of our visual system, for instance, is not hard-wired, but remains open to changes in the environment. Within an otherwise well-structured brain, visual plasticity gave the ancient scribes the opportunity to invent reading."

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