The Daily Blague

Daily Office Archives

Daily Office:


2 April 2010


Matins: At Oktrends — you wouldn't have believed this if we'd mentioned yesterday — some fascinating graphs (including an animated one!) demonstrate, ahem, that Democrats are never, ever going to show the kind of solidarity lately shown by Republican congressmen. Also: the Democratic Party is too big. Yes, we knew all that, but you've got to see the graphs!

The polygons I've drawn over the dots are called convex hulls; they are a geometric way to measure the spread of a set of points. In this case, the hulls tell us the size of the ideological/age base of our political party.

As you can see, the Democrat's base is much larger. And the range of political values it encompasses is vast. Here's party-to-party comparison in tablet form, for easy digestion:

Unlike in many things, size here is a liability. Yes, a political party that's this wide-open is probably a more intellectually stimulating to be a part of, and it has a lot more potential power. But bigger base is also just that many more competing viewpoints Democratic politicians must cater to and that many more different viewpoints in play among the actual elected officials themselves.

Also, well over half of the Democratic party's hull lies outside of its upper-right-hand ideological home, implying that you've got many groups of people who might tend Democratic, but who have disagreements with the party on particular issues and could defect, should the slant of the party or the country tilt the wrong way. On the other hand, the Republicans are concentrated in the lower-left-hand corner. This red cluster has multiple, apparently self-reinforcing, reasons to vote with their party, giving the Republicans both a more fervent power base and a little more ideological wiggle-room along either the social or economic axis.

Lauds: Nina Munk goes over the Metropolitan Opera's finances in the new Vanity Fair. Not a pretty picture. Will Peter Gelb's spending today save tomorrow's audiences? But what we especially liked was this snippet from opera non-person Luc Bondy, who devised last fall's fiasco production.

I visited Bondy in Paris, at his apartment across from the Luxembourg Gardens. He had hoped to get rid of the clichés in Tosca, he told me; he intended to make it less operatic and more theatrical. “The problem is, most of the time, opera is terrible,” he said. “Most of the time you don’t really have the—how you say—le plaisir et la satisfaction, to see something where everything is there: music, acting, lighting, costumes, everything. Most of the time you see an opera, you ask yourself, Why don’t they just do it on a record?”

Almost two months had passed since the debut of Tosca in New York, and there were rumors that the Met would bring back Zeffirelli’s version. Bondy was tired of the ongoing controversy. “You know,” he said casually, “it doesn’t matter, because publicity is publicity.”

Prime: The funny thing about reading Felix Salmon on Netflix is that he sounds exactly like Jonah Lehrer on Costco, which we referred to yesterday — only without the lingo. 

But the fact is that the economics of Netflix have always been unique and hard to put into old-fashioned business models, and I think they’ve done quite a good job of reinventing the whole way that we pay for consuming movies. By turning it from a cost-per-movie into a cost-per-month, they can somehow charge more money but cause less pain while doing so.

I’m aware that I’m extrapolating wildly from my personal experience here, but in the olden days I hated paying late fees on rented movies, and as a result was an eager and early adopter of Netflix. But pretty much since day one, I’ve paid more money to Netflix in any given month than I ever would have paid in movie-rental fees, including late fees. I just don’t watch that many movies, and the occasional $10 late fee is still much less than the regular $20 or so I pay Netflix. And while Netflix has done a good job of reducing its rates noticeably: my plan has dropped from $23.84 in 2004 to $18.50 now, including tax, that’s still more than I’d ever be likely to pay a video-rental store.

Tierce: More than we ever knew about Angkor Watt, the "hydraulic city." Dendrochronologists, examining ancient fir trees in nearby Vietnam, have pinpointed catastrophic droughts that finished off the already tottering Khmer empire. (Discovery; via MetaFilter)

During this time, the climate also reversed dramatically, with intense monsoons following the two droughts. These oscillating extremes of too little water following by far too much of it pounded the infrastructure of the Hydraulic City. Today’s ruins show signs of the failing structures that marked the city’s end days. Assaulted by sediment carried in floods, some canals suffered metres of erosion in a short space of time. One, which linked the capital with a nearby lake, is now filled with coarse sand and gravel, which suggests that it was rapidly filled by a single flood. That would have suddenly cut the city off from a major water source.

There are signs that the people of Angkor tried to cope with their fluctuating environment by modifying their network. However, that’s easier said than done with a criss-crossing infrastructure that spans a thousand square kilometres. The complicated lattice of waterways would have struggled to adapt.

Sext: We can't tell quite how it worked, but John Warner, of TMN's Tournament of Books ran a service that advised readers what their next book ought to be, given the past five that they'd read. The comment thread is interesting in many ways, but our favorite is the slice-of-life look at other people's choices. We've actually read a few of those! Here's Kevin Guilfoile's two cents.

Guessing which books will do that to me is part of the fun, but I’m not very good at it. As you say, I often would be better off letting someone else choose for me.

I’m reading a (very popular) book right now, a debut novel that has sold bajillions of copies and received great reviews. Technically it’s pretty much a disaster. I’m not convinced the author ever read a novel with a thought toward how one is constructed. The first hundred pages or so are nothing but a series of forced meetings between different pairs of individuals, one of whom has a really long and confusing piece of exposition to tell the other. The prose is stiff, the dialogue is often improbable or unnecessary. And yet I’m liking it, because the characters are appealing. Because the author has some instinctive storytelling ability that overcomes his/her ignorance of craft. I don’t know why. I can poison that enjoyment because I know the book isn’t perfect or I can sit back in my good chair and I can go with it. Will I call you up tomorrow and swear that you’ll enjoy this book the way I do? Probably not. Certain books just work voodoo, man. But even a good book’s voodoo doesn’t work the same on everybody.

Nones: If there's one thing that Belgium's Flemings and Walloons can agree on (and there can't be two), it's probably that the burqa ought to be illegal in public. A parliamentary committee has just passed such a prohibition, which will come to full vote in weeks. (BBC News)

The BBC's Dominic Hughes reports from Brussels that there are about 500,000 Muslims in Belgium, and the Belgian Muslim Council says only a couple of dozen wear full-face veils.

Several districts of Belgium have already banned the burka in public places under old local laws originally designed to stop people masking their faces completely at carnival time.

The wording of the draft law approved by the parliamentary committee says the ban would apply to areas accessible to the public - which would include people walking in the street or using public transport - and would be enforced by fines or even prison.

Vespers: At Maud Newton, James Hynes discusses some of the day-in-the-life novels that he read in preparation for writing his own contribution, the amazing Next.

The Rabbit novels of John Updike. These four novels were as influential to me in the writing of Next as Mrs. Dalloway was, and though none of them is set on a single day, each one focuses pretty narrowly on a few weeks or months in the life of Updike’s greatest character, the former high school basketball star, adulterous husband, indifferent father, and Toyota salesman, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. I read the first two books years ago, in my twenties, and thought, in that Oedipal way of obnoxious young writers, that they were beautifully written, that they captured both the texture of everyday life, but that they weren’t really about anything. It wasn’t until I reached the age of fifty and deliberately started reading them again while I was writing Next that I realized that they are indeed very beautifully written, they really do capture both the texture and the mystery of everyday life, and that they are actually about everything. The novels constitute one of the most comprehensive exposures of a single character in literary history, as Rabbit is portrayed as being frightened, lustful, proud, craven, petty, forgiving, insightful, ignorant, sometimes decent, and occasionally heroic, sometimes all on the same page. He’s unlikable for much of the novels, and even contemptible at times, but in the end, you can’t help but end up loving the guy, if only because in spite of everything — age, regret, betrayal, disappointment, resignation — he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. Just like the rest of us, he keeps going despite not knowing what’s coming next, until, of course, at last, in the end, he does.

Compline: What is it about the book that that beautiful woman over there is reading, that's making her look so dreamy? Well, sorry to pop your balloon, but it's not about the book. The lady is a book model.

When asked if she'd be willing to do this as a career if she wins, Kang, who still works as a hotel receptionist said, "Actually, I did once pose for a book illustration before, and it's a fun experience for a young girl. My regular job also has flexible work hours right now, so why not?"

Liu, 22, a college student who refused to reveal her full name, wore a red dress to model a new book at the China Health Book Fair held in Beijing Books Building, on February 27. "It only lasted three days," Liu said, for which she earned 300 yuan per day. "[That's] probably lower than other modeling jobs, but the chance to read new books and gain experience made me say yes when invited by my friend."

Both Liu and Kang felt uncomfortable at first when they were stared at by the crowds, an inevitable part of their new "career," but later they said they relaxed and even felt proud that they were helping draw attention to the books or magazines being promoted. "Lots of online pals have left comments to support my image and to show a positive attitude about reading on the subway. It's nice," Kang said. Though Liu agrees that at the time more people were interested in the presentation of the book than in the book itself, she still thinks this work could make a difference in leading people to read, and is about more than just making money.

Sometimes, in their rush to modernity, the Chinese get things so profoundly wrong that we can't stay mad.

Permalink  Portico

Copyright (c) 2010 Pourover Press

Write to me