The Daily Blague

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Daily Office:


12 March 2010


Matins: Once you have clicked through and read today's link, Harvard Magazine article, entitled "Nonstop," about pathological overachievers among Crimson undergrads, we strongly urge you to re-read last Friday's Matins. Together, these pieces convey a sense of the disservice being done to our default elite by the nation's top schools. As "Nonstop" makes clear, however, the universities are merely responding to a problem that originates with seriously bad parenting — worse, again, among the elite.

Home life has changed in ways that would seem to undercut children’s development of autonomy. There was a time when children did their own homework. Now parents routinely “help” them with assignments, making teachers wonder whose work they are really grading. Youngsters formerly played sports and games with other children on a sandlot or pickup basis, not in leagues organized, coached, and officiated by adults; kids had to learn to settle disputes over rules and calls among themselves, not by referring them to grownup zebras. Once, college applicants typically wrote their own applications, including the essays; today, an army of high-paid consultants, coaches, and editors is available to orchestrate and massage the admissions effort. 

Adults have taken charge even of recreation, as in play dates. “When birthdays come along, kids have been entertained by magicians,” says Dingman. “Or taken out to Chuck E. Cheese. They are the ‘Chuck E. Cheese generation.’” Having had their parents organize play and social activities, many young people now arrive at college expecting the institution to operate similarly, in loco parentis. “It’s very upsetting to read on [year-end freshman] surveys that people have been spending Friday and Saturday nights doing problem sets, finding it hard to escape from what they characterize as the ‘intense pressure’ of this place,” Dingman adds. “When they identify what they think is lacking, they say, ‘You haven’t organized other things for us’—things like ‘trips to bowling alleys.’ When I was in college, it never occurred to me that it was Harvard’s responsibility to entertain me.” Kidd, too, recalls “complaints from parents that we weren’t providing enough social activity.”

It's as crazy as the Roman patriciate's passion for eating food cooked in lead pots.

Lauds: Simon Russell Beale — a brilliant man who just happens to be a brilliant actor. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

Much is always made, in interviews, of Beale's intelligence: of his first in English from Cambridge and his abandoned plans for a PhD on the Victorian cult of death. (At Cambridge, he was a choral scholar and a contemporary of Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry – though, again, daily evensong meant he did little acting.) But these things, while impressive, do not quite convey the ongoing engagement that is a different thing altogether: there is the holiday where he taught himself ancient Greek; the lessons he is currently taking from an Oxford don in harmony and counterpoint (working out how Brahms, for instance, achieves particular emotional states); and then there is the way he treats each character he plays as a living, breathing puzzle.

Prime: Sad to say, this is truly a Must Read: Just when you thought that it couldn't be done, the Epicurian Dealmaker defends investment bankers as purveyors of financial advice! And they said it couldn't be done.

So, Mr. Aggrieved Shareholder, don't coming crying to me the next time your company's investment banker steers it into a ditch with a lousy acquisition or failed financing. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he only did what your goddamned company management wanted him to do. After all, they were the bastards who hired him.

The next time you get a chance, take a gander in the proxy or other corporate filing at the engagement letter your friendly local investment banker signed when he did the deal you're complaining about. You'll notice in the disclaimer that he abjures any and all fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders or any other stakeholders of his client. It's there for a reason, buddy: your CEO and Board of Directors hired him, not you. He doesn't work for you. Given that, why would you ever expect him to look out for your interests?

If you want a cold-blooded shark on your side, looking out for your interests (and only yours), I suggest you get off your fat ass, pry that dusty wallet open, and hire your own goddamn adviser. In fact, if you can get shareholders of at least 75% of the S&P 500 to do the same, I would be more than happy to offer my own modest services at a very attractive bulk rate. Epicurean Dealmaker LLC would be delighted to comprehensively, exhaustively, and expertly second guess any and all transactions, strategic, financial, or otherwise, your companies' management propose to undertake for the modest fee of $5 million per company per calendar year.

Make it $10 million, and I personally guarantee I will reach across the negotiating table, grab Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, or Vikram Pandit by the throat, and kick him sharply and precisely in the balls, twice.

(Now that we read the fine print, maybe it's that the EP forgives investment bankers for giving lousy advice.)

Tierce: As a rule, we steer clear of touting pie-in-the-sky announcements at The Daily Office. We know that our faithful readers want results, not hot air! But we were so busy burping today that the charm of a healthy baby on our knee encouraged us to hope that he will grow up in a world with a herpes vaccine. Even though the New Scientist piece is startlingly self-deflating.

A vaccine would initially be offered to the sexual partners of people who carry genital herpes, says Coffin. Wider vaccination may also be a possibility, he says.

Marian Nicholson, director of the Herpes Viruses Association in the UK, which monitors worldwide research into herpes, is hopeful. "BioVex says they are building on the information gained from previous trials, and it seems reasonable that at some point a breakthrough will be made."

Sext: We're still burping. Joe Jervis breaks the news, and we just click right through.

Joining the Golden Girl for the special Mother's Day episode are six former SNL players, most of whom are moms: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch. At 88, White will be the show's oldest host ever, and the gig will also mark her first time as host — a debut that was a long time coming. SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels tells USA Today that he has "always wanted" the beloved comedienne to host, but White turned him down three times. "It's so New York, and I'm not New York at all," she says. "But my agent said he'd divorce me if I didn't do it, and I love my agent."

(We may have come down with a shambolism, but we are second-to-none at forgiving Sandra Bullock for winning an award for that other movie.)

Nones: Karl Rove continues to be an Ugly American. (BBC News)

"I'm proud that we used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists and gave us valuable information that allowed us to foil plots such as flying aeroplanes into Heathrow and into London, bringing down aircraft over the Pacific, flying an aeroplane into the tallest building in Los Angeles and other plots," Mr Rove told the BBC.

"Yes, I'm proud that we kept the world safer than it was, by the use of these techniques. They're appropriate, they're in conformity with our international requirements and with US law."

When, oh when will this Texan be expatriated?

Vespers: The Second Pass celebrates its first anniversary with an omnibus of contributors' paeans to out-of-print books. Here's Sarah Douglas about her choice, Inside the Art World: Conversations with Barbaralee Diamonstein.

Reader, I hesitate to inform you about this book. Part of me hopes it stays out of print—sorry, Barbaralee Diamonstein—because no one who gets his or her paws on it can fail to become a better art journalist. And in truth, I don’t want better art journalists out there. The industry is already glutted. Who needs the competition?

Compline: Tony Judt's sketches in The New York Review have been must-reads, but we've resisted linking to them for want of a decent introduction to the man (and to his dread affliction!), which everyone who knows something about him is far too conceited to admit to needing. New York to the rescue.

Ever since his friend Edward Said died in 2003, Judt has been assigned, not without his own participation, the mantle of the most visible intellectual dissident from the American consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The subject of Israel’s fate upsets him greatly. “It’s true I feel something between a kind of sorrow and anger that that country is going in that direction,” he says. “I feel I want to stamp hard on the toes of my fellow Jews and ask them: Have you any idea what kind of a place this is that you blindly defend?” He holds in greatest disdain those American Jews who have come down hard on his stance on Israel while declining to live there themselves. “The people whose necks hurt when I write about the Middle East tend to live in Brooklyn or Boca Raton: the kind of Zionist who pays another man to live in Israel for him. I have nothing but contempt for such people.”

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