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Daily Office:


1 December 2009


Matins: Tyler Cowen's thoughts about Swiss minarets are appropriately complex. Referendums are deplorable, because they open the door as nothing else does to prejudice. "...knowing how and when to defuse an issue is one very large part of political wisdom.  The Swiss usually pass this test but this time they failed it." And yet:

I favor greater Muslim immigration into the United States and I think Muslim emigration to Europe is working better than most people think.  I am happy to see that Switzerland has become a more cosmopolitan society, in large part by taking in more emigrants, including Muslims.  Nonetheless, call me old-fashioned, but I don't think a Swiss town center should look like the photograph above.  I guess the Swiss don't either.

(Marginal Revolution)

Lauds: The painter Francis Bacon could write well enough, but, John Richardson informs us, he could not draw. (NYRB; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Never having attended an art school was a source of pride to Bacon. With the help of a meretricious Australian painter, Roy de Maistre, he taught himself to paint, for which he turned out to have a great flair; tragically, he failed to teach himself to draw. Painting after painting would be marred by his inability to articulate a figure or its space. Peppiatt recalls that, decades later, so embarrassed was Bacon at being asked by a Parisian restaurateur to do a drawing in his livre d'or that he doubled the tip and made for the exit.

After Bacon's death, David Sylvester, the artist's Boswell-cum-Saatchi, attempted to turn this deficiency into an advantage. In a chapter of his posthumous miscellany, entitled "Bacon's Secret Vice," he proposed an "alternative view" of this fatal flaw: "His most articulate and helpful 'sketches' took the form of the written word." The "precisely worded" examples that supposedly demonstrate the linguistic origin of Bacon's paintings turn out to be a preposterous joke: offhand notes scrawled on the endpapers of a book about monkeys: "Figure upside down on sofa"; "Two figures on sofa making love"; "Acrobat on platform in middle of room"; and so on. Sylvester's contention that this shopping list constitutes "Bacon's most articulate and helpful sketches" raises doubt about the rest of his sales pitch.

Prime: Felix Salmon, with the help of a commenter called Dan, advances a new theory of investing — one that is market- (and liquidity- !) shy.

There are lots of ways to invest well, and most of them don't involve buying securities which rise in value. I often feel that stock-picker types are missing the point, rather — especially nowadays, when the future of the capital markets has never been cloudier.

If you really want to play a game where the person with the best-performing stock portfolio wins, then fine. But other kinds of investing, like for instance Dan's idea of providing much-needed funds for a small local business, can be more rewarding in other ways. The world of securitization and capital markets turns out not to have been nearly as good at capital allocation as most of us thought it was. So maybe we should go back to making our own real-world investment decisions, rather than trusting in the markets to get it right.

Tierce: 350 years of important publications by the Royal Society, celebrated at a new site, Trailblazing. (MetaFilter)

The 26. May, it rained hard; the rain growing less, I caused some of that Rain-water, running down from the house-top, to be gather'd in a clean Glass, after it had been washed two or three times with the water. And in this I observ'd some few very little living creatures, and seeing them, I thought they might have been produced in the leaden-gutters in some water, that had remain'd before.

On the same day, the Rain continuing, I took a great Porcelain dish, and exposed it to the free Air upon a wooden vessel, about a foot and a half high, that so no earthy parts , from the falling of the Rain-water upon that place, might be spatter'd or dashed into the said dish. With the first water that fell into the dish, I washed it very clean, and then flung the water away, and receiv'd fresh into it, but could discern no living creatures therein; only I saw many irregular terrestrial parts in the same.

Always our favorite: "Observations, Communicated to the Publisher by Mr Antony van Leewenhoeck [sic], in a Dutch Letter of 9th of Octob. 1676."

Sext: In the rarefied world of dissertation-land, is one woman's prudence another man's paranoia? (Chron Higher Ed; via The Morning News)

We all know that graduate school is competitive. We also know that some faculty members play on the insecurities bred by that competition. But some don't, which is not to say that such faculty members are good souls, but they're also not fiendish devils. In other words, they are people. Yet in the "family romance" of graduate school, faculty members are seen by students as being so awesome that everything they do becomes meaningful—and strangely relevant to a graduate student's life, even if it's not relevant at all. What felt like paranoia to me was, by the final stage of her dissertation, second nature to my officemate. Graduate students are often so used to living with their paranoia that it is becomes banal—instinctual, invisible.

Nones: The Vatican continues to regard its affairs as lying beyond the writ and ken of civil authorities. "The Vatican should apologise for failing to co-operate with an inquiry into sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, a Dublin bishop has said." (BBC News)

Earlier this year, the commission again failed to receive a reply after sending the Papal Nuncio extracts from its draft report which referred to him and his office, as it was required to do.

The Vatican told the Irish Times it "was a matter for the local church involved".

A senior Vatican spokesman said diplomatic practice required that outside requests made to the governance of the Vatican pass through diplomatic channels, in this case the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and the Irish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome.

Vespers: The Clutter murder, 50 years on. (Ed Pilkington at the Guardian)

If the moral clash between Herb Clutter and his killers lies at the core of In Cold Blood, a clash of a cultural kind lay behind its writing – between Capote and the farming folk of Holcomb whom he came to live among. Capote was 5ft 4in, openly gay, with a squeaky voice and flamboyant fashion sense, as portrayed brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his Oscar-winning role in Capote, and Toby Jones in Infamous.

Holcomb men, by contrast, dressed then pretty much as they do now. When I meet Rupp he is wearing a baseball cap, blue denim shirt and jeans, and cowboy boots. "The type of person Capote was threw me off right away," Rupp says. "He wasn't the kind of person I wanted to spend time with – he was very, very strange."

Compline: Shock and Awl: Choire and Balk both driven batty by current events. Choire returns from Thanksgiving weekend viscerally alert to the Idiocracy afoot in the land. "Craziness: it's not just for wingnuts anymore."

Perhaps you learned at Thanksgiving that there are people to whom you are related by blood or by relationship—funny, kind, normal people—that also believe that Barack Obama is a liar, and a fraud, because he is probably not a citizen. Or at least cannot prove that he is a citizen. And that he also should be killed! Though you may be at first surprised that this is a topic for dinnertime conversation at all, there is a larger, lingering shock to that experience. That shock is that you intimately know people—otherwise amusing, interesting people!—who likely believe that our President is just another test of our nation and our patriotism in these End of Days.

Meanwhile, Alex has Lady Gaga issues.

As you know, I have found the success of Lady Gaga not only inexplicable but almost personally offensive. Like, they're making Lady Gaga a superstar to spite me, Alex Balk, because I cannot understand her at all. The entertainment industry is sending me a signal that I have now aged out of anything they might be interested in providing me.

Although both are nicely funny, the two pieces are salt and pepper as to coherence. Choire, slightly hysterical perhaps, nevertheless sticks to his topic. Balk, in contrast, is almost grotesquely inconsequent. But that's why we love him!

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