The Daily Blague

Daily Office Archives

Daily Office:


27 January 2010


Matins: Despite our inclination to hold up to a bright light everything that David Brooks writes in the Times, searching for telltale signs of inauthenticity, we have to admit that his analysis of "The Populist Addiction" is spot on, and nowhere more so than in the following observation.

Third, populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

The idea that the American "élite" is an undivided bloc is nothing but lazy demagoguery. Look high enough, and you find a million "teams" of one. (NYT)

Lauds: Cleveland Plain Dealer critic Steven Litt exhorts the local Museum of Art to do a better job of mounting touring exhibitions. (via Arts Journal)

In many ways, the Cleveland museum has been trapped in its own history as an institution molded by the conservative tastes of former trustees and directors.

It's time for the museum to break away from its own history by seeking exhibitions and long-term loans precisely in the areas where it has been weakest. How about a show on Cubism? Italian Futurism? Russian Constructivism or Suprematism?

Moving closer to the present, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, two masters of Pop Art, were the focus of major exhibitions in the past 15 years by the Wexner Center in Columbus. The Pop Art movement has been thinly represented by the Cleveland museum's exhibition program and permanent collection.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., recently mounted an important historical exhibition on Abstract Expressionism, something the Cleveland museum has never done.

The skepticism about 20th-century art has hurt Cleveland by sending a message that the art of our time is suspect. The result has been to make the city feel provincial and isolated -- hardly a contribution to local culture.

Prime: The $5.4 billion sale of Stuyvesant Town and adjacent Peter Cooper Village to a a consortium of investors three years ago was both stupid and wrong. Stupid because what has happened since was obviously going to happen, and wrong because the transformation of a large middle-class enclave into Manhattan into more exclusive housing would be altogether indefensible; it's bad enough that not much is being done to work transformations in the opposite direction. We can only rejoice at this news:

On Jan. 8, the owners defaulted on $4.4 billion in loans ($3 billion in senior mortgages and $1.4 billion in secondary loans). They had also raised $1.9 billion in equity. The problem was that the latest appraisal put the value of the complexes at about $1.9 billion.

“It’s the poster child for the entire housing bubble,” said Daniel Alpert, managing partner of Westwood Capital. “There’ll be some other spectacular blowups, but this will be at the top of the pecking order.”

Mr. McIlwain said it may take a decade or more for the prices to reach the levels they did in 2006.

“You’re talking about a prime deal at the top of the market when money was fast and free,” he said. “You’re not going to see money that is fast and free until bankers’ memories fade, which typically takes 10 years.”

And we can only hope that Mayor Bloomberg will regard this fiasco as his biggest fumble. (NYT)

Tierce: Yikes! Donald MacKenzie reports, at Short Sharp Science: "Introducing Botox, bioweapon of mass destruction."

There have long been fears that a bioterrorist might slip some into the food supply. Sceptics retorted that no terrorist has ever managed to produce much. Now, claims the [Washington] Post, this barrier has been breached.

Proper Botox is sold by only a few licensed firms, for steep prices. So the demand for affordable wrinkle treatment by the world's ageing population has created a lucrative black market, and labs - mainly in China, of course - have sprung up to supply it, according to the Post.

The black market part is easy to believe, because of an incident not in Chechnya, but Arizona: the toxin is also made for research and in 2004, some entrepreneurs in Arizona coolly sent off for 3000 vials of research botulinum - and got it.

Sext: This time, Dave Bry's Public Apology seems, innocently enough, to be directed more at himself than at the latest alleged victim of his general reprehensibleness.

Downright rude. No two ways about it. But you took it very well, chuckling and repeating it like it was funny. “A banker! Dave Bry the banker…” We didn’t say a lot more before Todd returned. I was quiet on the drive to his house, while you two chatted and laughed like normal people do. I moped my way through the party, smoking pot and playing pool but not talking to people much. You were your gregarious self, walking around with a beer in your hand. “Hey,” you said a few times, when we passed each other, “It’s the banker! Dave Bry the banker!” But your teasing back was warm, friendly. As if you hadn’t even heard my snarl. As if I hadn’t been so obnoxious. You were having fun. Probably wishing I would lighten up and do the same.

Of course, you were a banker. Not that I knew that. Not that I’d bothered to ask. Todd told me later and I felt like an even bigger idiot.

We're not sure that poor old Tubby was taken in. (The Awl)

Nones: George Packer writes stirringly of the dodginess of Dresden's restoration, from firebombed ruin to "Baroque fantasia." (The New Yorker)

Dresden is the Blanche DuBois of German cities — violated, complicit in its violation, desperate to recover its innocence. It has the unstable character of a place with a romantic self-image and a past that it would rather not discuss. When I visited the city this fall, signs downtown advertised the hourly screening of a film for tourists, with footage of untouched city streets shot during the Nazi years and the nostalgic title "Dresden as It Once Was." ...

The city still sees itself as an ornament of European high culture, and it has gone to great lengths to remove signs of tarnish. East Germany was too poor to rebuild more than a few historic buildings, but in the past two decades most of the city center — the great churches; the Zwinger and Albertinum museums; the Semperoper; the royal palace, known as the Schloss — has been restored. These buildings, now a major draw for (mostly German) tourists, are all within walking distance of one another, on cobblestoned streets restricted to traffic, so that the feeling of downtown Dresden is that of a baroque fantasia.

The rebuilding of the Schloss, not quite complete, breaks the norms of restoration. The palace had a sixteenth-century design that had been modified many times over the years. The restorers, instead of reconstructing the Schloss as it was when the fire bombing occurred, have gone back further in time, re-recreating long-lost elements of its Renaissance design. ... Stephan Adam, the spokesman for the state art collections of Dresden, whose offices are in the Schloss, told me, wryly, "If they could, the people here would rebuild every single building. They want to completely forget. It never happened."

Vespers: The enthusiasm in Adam Gallari's write-up of Albanian writer Ornela Vorpsi's The Country Where No One Ever Died is extremely infectious. (The Rumpus)

Unlike the work of her countryman Ismail Kadare, whose The General of the Dead Army portrays the character and landscape of the Albanian people through the watchful eyes of a foreigner, Vorpsi’s narrative is one of immediacy, rooted in the voice and experience of an imaginative young Albanian girl whose name and age change with nearly every chapter.

Whereas Kadare’s book is haunting in both its subject manner and its delivery, from the beginning Vorpsi shows her reader that she is capable of having fun. She understands the necessity of comedy, as well as sorrow, in uncovering the soul of her people—and The Country highlights their foibles with glee. Everything and nothing is sacred, and Vorpsi’s ironic wit, devoid of sarcasm and delivered with honest charm, wins repeatedly on the page.

Vorpsi’s novel is a Milan Kundera-esque critic of the totalitarian state, whose grand Party, “mother of us all,” claims to have enacted a utopian socialist society that is “the envy of the entire world.” One so advanced it requires teenage girls to train with rifles in trenches to defend it from imminent invasion, because it will soon advance to the highest phase of socialism—Communism—which means that “Mankind will have reached such an advanced stage of development that we will all be able to go shopping without any money!”

Compline: Felix Salmon is at Davos, where he despairs of hearing any long-overdo 'splainin'.

It’s not like CEOs and billionaires (and billionaire CEOs) need any more flattery and ego-stroking than they get on a daily basis, but Davos gives them more than that: it allows them to flatter and ego-stroke each other, in public. They invariably leave even more puffed-up and sure of themselves than when they arrived, when in hindsight what the world really needed was for these men (it’s still very much a boys’ club) to be shaken out of their complacency and to ask themselves some tough questions about whether in fact they were leading us off a precipice.

Now that it’s clear that many of them were leading us off that cliff, there’s still no sign of contrition, although you can be sure that a few fingers will be pointed at various past attendees who aren’t here to defend themselves. Is anybody here seriously examining the idea that Davos was institutionally responsible, at least in part, for the economic and financial catastrophe which befell the world in 2008? I’ll be on the lookout for that over the next few days. But I suspect that the preening potentates will be far too busy giving themselves the job of rebuilding the world to stop and ask where they went wrong in building the last one, and whether they might actually owe the rest of us a large collective apology.

(Not to worry: Davos is irrelevant to non-attendees.)

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