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Daily Office:


4 December 2009


Matins: In an extremely thoughtful piece that may alter the grain of your thought — or, as it our case, highlight the way in which you're already inclined to think — Tony Judt asks us to consider why it is that, in the Anglophone world, we reduce all political questions to economic equations.

For the purposes of mental emancipation this evening, I propose that we take a minute to study the history of a prejudice: the universal contemporary resort to "economism," the invocation of economics in all discussions of public affairs.

For the last thirty years, in much of the English-speaking world (though less so in continental Europe and elsewhere), when asking ourselves whether we support a proposal or initiative, we have not asked, is it good or bad? Instead we inquire: Is it efficient? Is it productive? Would it benefit gross domestic product? Will it contribute to growth? This propensity to avoid moral considerations, to restrict ourselves to issues of profit and loss—economic questions in the narrowest sense—is not an instinctive human condition. It is an acquired taste.

He proposes a very persuasive, historically-bound answer to the question. Don't miss it. (NYRB)

Lauds: Judith Jamison is looking to trade in "artistic director" for, perhaps, "Queen."

The company starts its winter season at City Center this week, and with it begins Jamison’s last full year as artistic director, a position she’s held for twenty years. The company without her is unfathomable. Jamison has been inextricably tied to Alvin Ailey since she was 22, first as Ailey’s muse—she’s widely considered his greatest dancer—and then as the successor he anointed to articulate his mission. “Alvin would have hated that word, ‘mission,’ ” Jamison says with a laugh. “It gets used because we’ve turned into an organization, so therefore we have a mission. I think vision is the word, because he was a vi-sion-ary.

Those of us who were lucky to see Ms Jamison dance Revelations know just how aptly that very popular ballet is titled. (New York; via Arts Journal)

Prime: As the giving season is upon us, Tim Ogden plans a series of blog entries about the dangers of evaluating charities by overhead alone. He will presumably enlarge upon these interesting issues:

There are plenty of reasons that overhead ratios are meaningless as a measure of effective charities:

• It tells you nothing about the impact the charity has on people it’s trying to help
• The rules for determining overhead costs are vague and every charity interprets them differently
• Accounting experts estimate that 75% of charities calculate their overhead ratio incorrectly
• It discourages charities from investing in tools and expertise that would make them more effective

(Philanthropy Action; via Felix Salmon)

Tierce: Melissa Lafsky urges us to stop trying to get more women to ride bicycles in urban areas, and focus instead upon making bking a lot safer than it is. (The Infrastructurist)

Still, while many of the above factors do contribute to the dearth of women on bikes, we’d like to offer a dominant theory: Women don’t ride bikes because biking is still incredibly dangerous. The average urban cycler navigates a complex and hazardous maze of lanes, intersections, bridges, and more, and the number of serious injuries and fatalities as a result of accidents has been rising steadily. In a town like New York City, biking can quite literally be, as the Times‘ City Room blog puts it, “like going into battle.” There are physiological facts involved as well — women have lower testosterone levels than men, and are thus less prone to risk-taking, plus on average men have better distance vision (yes, I said “on average”). Add to that the additional hurdles of inclement weather, crazy drivers, and the frequent need to transport other people (aka children) and you’ve got quite the deck stacked against taking out that bike.

Sext: The things that Choire Sicha digs up on the Internets! From a blog called firmuhment, a thoroughly wicked "imagineering" of Zac Efron's newfound, post-Orson intellectual sophistication. (via The Awl)

But now, because of deconstruction, he had an idea, a creation, a weapon. Deconstruction was like a superpower of artists, it was, it was like thought magic. In his imagining, Zac would fake Letterman out, would deconstruct his fake-out and turn it around on him, fake him out. Instead of signing the headshot Letterman gave him for the autograph, Sac would reach behind his chair, out of camera range, and then pull out a big piece of posterboard and on the posterboard there would be...

Nones: More Honduran predictability: the Congress declined, by a very large margin, to re-instate Manuel Zelaya in office for the weeks that remain to his term.

Mr. Zelaya, who has been hunkered down in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, since September, appeared to believe when he signed the deal that he had enough votes in Congress to be restored to office to complete his term.

That misjudgment leaves his future in doubt. The de facto government has said that it will arrest him on charges of corruption and abuse of power if he leaves the embassy. Mr. Lobo has refused to say whether his government would pursue those charges once he took office.

The voting, 111-14 against Mr Zelaya, suggests that the ousted president is not a character worth fighting for. (NYT)

Vespers: In a backlist assessment that has the whole town talking, Natalia Antonova convinces us that she loves Vladimir Nabokov's best-known book not in spite of her history as the victim of abuse but because of it. (The Second Pass)

In Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams once said that Lolita is a Great American Novel, because, “In the seamy little small-town trysts, in the summer camp deflowerings, in the movie magazines and cheap souvenir shops that dot the landscape, Nabokov showed us a blisteringly funny and painful portrait of our own culture.”

She was right. The book’s details are delicious. There is the morbidly entertaining secondhand embarrassment of reading about the doomed Charlotte Haze’s crush on the exotically European Humbert, who in turn desires her young daughter. There is the alternately adoring and teasing depiction of the American landscape. There is the way an event like the ugly death of Clare Quilty is related in bright colors that underscore the complete and utter ridiculousness of what is actually taking place: a pervert killing another pervert, with lots of self-righteous drama involved in the process. Nabokov even manages to make the list of Lolita’s classmates into something arresting, like the ingredients for a magic spell.

But I also keep returning to Lolita because its lovely language covers a cold and hard interior, like supple flesh over bone, and this interior is the foundation of my love. Nabokov may not have set out to console survivors of abuse, but his ability to capture the tone and pitch of a certain situation meant that he wound up doing it anyway, at least in my case, and profoundly so.

Compline: Because it's the weekend, we offer Ron Rosenbaum's long and "Mysterian" query about consciousness and other unsolved mysteries as a way of killing time in the event of any dominical longueurs. Although we agree with his assessment of the the "facts" (ie questions), we do not, so to speak, share his affect.

When I say the mystery of consciousness is a dangerous one, what I mean is that nobody wants to admit they don't have things All Figured Out, and it's particularly destabilizing not figuring yourself out. Where do my thoughts come from? Are they determined by my biochemistry? Is my reaction to this column the product of free will?

If I had the time, I would establish an international Mysterian society for those who recognize that the universe is still a profoundly mysterious place and yet don't want to be alone thinking dark thoughts about it. That's really all I want to do. It bothers me. I want it to bother others, too.

While we recognize — insist! — that the universe remains profoundly mysterious, it doesn't bother us in the least, because, really, it's much too interesting to live with the mysteries that aren't so profound. The profundity that Mr Rosenbaum highlights for us is the connection between adolescence and all forms of metaphysics. (Slate; via Arts Journal)

Bon weekend à tous!

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