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Daily Office:
Thursday, 5 November 2009


Matins: Tim Carmody writes about Love in the Time of Twitter, a rebuttal of sorts of David Brooks's much-discussed column about, well, how texting murdered romance.

But there’s a reason why he called it the “Happy Days” era: the past he’s describing isn’t really the past, but a 70s-era TV version of the past. Not even the past’s representation of itself! For that, you’d have to see On the Waterfront or read On the Road or Giovanni’s Room. It’s memory as ideology, created (whether consciously or unconsciously) to surreptitiously win arguments about the present, especially about social mores and generational change.

At the end of his entry Mr Carmody quotes Ezra Klein of the Washington Post. Mr Klein's column, read in toto, seems to be a monster spliced together from two different streams of thought, but it ends with a firm warning from youth to age.

It is not for David Brooks to tell me those IMs lack poetry, or romance. I treasure them. Electronic mediums may look limited to him, but that is only because he has never seen his life change within them. Texting, he says, is naturally corrosive to imagination. But the failure of imagination here is on Brooks's part.

(Snarkmarket; NYT; Washington Post)

Lauds: Why did the revival of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs close a week after opening (and several weeks of previews)? Patrick Healy analyzes the changes in audience expectations that doomed the production. 

Mr. Simon’s signature has always been the well-written, straightforward punch line, but new and revived comedies have done best on Broadway lately when they have been dark, satiric and outrageously narcissistic. The recent revivals of the plays Boeing-Boeing, Speed-the-Plow and The Norman Conquests took flight because of fast-paced timing but also had frissons of fear and panic just beneath the surface humor. A mix of comedy and pain also proved potent for the original play August: Osage County, while two other new plays, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Little Dog Laughed, were sharp satires of political terrorism and Hollywood.

Mr Healy also notes (what seems to us the likeliest explanation) the absence of well-known actors in the cast. (NYT)

Prime: Felix Salmon encourages Lloyd Blankfein, and other future former heads of Goldman Sachs, to retire into quiet private life. Their predecessors' post-Goldman careers have been anything but stellar — unless we're talking asteroids that crash and burn. On Henry Paulson:

Paulson's post-Goldman career, of course, was spent as the Treasury secretary who oversaw the biggest financial meltdown since the 1929 crash. Reading Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail, which was clearly written with a lot of help from Paulson, he comes across as a man who was always at least one step behind the curve, someone who could never get ahead of the unfolding crisis, who was prone to inconsistent and ad hoc decisionmaking, and who went out of his way, even before getting a waiver allowing himself to talk to Goldman Sachs, to be as helpful to them as he possibly could.

Paulson seems to have spent a large amount of the crisis throwing up in his office bathroom, and even into Nancy Pelosi's wastebin. Of course, he couldn't simply go see a doctor, like the rest of us, because he's a Christian Scientist. Similarly, he hobbled his ability to communicate by refusing to ever touch email: instead, any time he wanted to say anything to anybody he'd have to do so over the phone or in person. No wonder he was semi-permanently hoarse, and his phone records are insane.

Tierce: Scout's fantastic follow-up to his entry on the Owls of PS 110: the principal saw it and asked Scout if he'd like to take a closer look from up on the roof. Very cool.

Sext: Muscato wishes "a happy 117th birthday to dizzy screen favorite Alice Brady," and why not?

Rising 40, with features a little too broad for movie beauty and a definite tendency toward the dithery, Brady was transformed into a character lead, often a supporting player; of course, she also found a niche that guaranteed her, whether playing a foolish mother in Our Man Godfrey or the lady whose cow burned down a metropolis In Old Chicago, a kind of immortality.

We love Godfrey, of course, but our favorite AB role may just be Matilda Prentiss, the skinflint mom in Gold Diggers of 1935. "You — male gold digger!"

Nones: BBC Commentator Paul Wood observes that the capture, by Israeli marines, of Iranian weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon, heralds hostilities to come.

Israeli military intelligence believes the "northern front" is the most likely place for the next fight. Syria denies weapons were on board - accusing Israel of an act of piracy - but the seizure is another sign of how impermanent is the peace in this part of the world; how all sides are looking ahead to, and preparing for, the next round of hostilities.

Vespers: Colm Tóibín is into villanelles lately. Here's the conclusion of one occasioned by a gay hurler's autobiography:

It is not pasta, prayer, not coke, not zen,
I’ll own what gives my game mouth-watering zest.
The hurler said: I get more out of men.
They get me going nine times out of ten.

Step by step... (London Review Blog)

Compline: Like it or not, neuroscience is going to rebuild ethics from scratch. Philosophy, moral codes — in the dumper. You only thought that you knew right from wrong; in fact, the difference between good and evil is highly contextual. Jonah Lehrer:

A new paper demonstrates, once again, that the human brain is the ultimate category buster, blurring the lines of good and bad, black and white, until everything is gray. The reason is that our behavior is deeply contextual, profoundly influenced by our surroundings and immediate situations. Whether or not we're able to resist sin, then, might depend more on the details of the sin - and whether or not it triggers our automatic urges - then on the strength of our moral fiber.

"Contextual" — would that mean relativism? (Frontal Cortex)

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