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Daily Office:


9 April 2010


Matins: Martin Schneider's account of a conversation between New Yorker editor David Remnick and Ta-Nehisi Coates is interesting all round, not least for its extended peroration on the question (raised in the conversation) whether Barack Obama's political career would have been more difficult if he had married a white woman. (Emdashes)

Racially, Obama is whatever he is. In addition, he's thoughtful, careful, eloquent, whip-smart, not prone to verbal gaffes ... this is the man we are saying who could never have overcome his choice decades earlier to wed a white woman? I see the dynamic involved clearly enough ... I just don't think we can rule any outcome out so easily.

Predictions and hypothetical questions are bedeviled by recourse to average, typical exemplars...

Barack Obama married a remarkable woman. It's safe to assume that if his chosen bride had been white, she would have been a pretty remarkable woman too. Her race might have complicated Obama's political life. But alongside that, there are two other things one might venture as well: Obama excels at overcoming circumstances that would hold other people back, and this woman would have brought something to the project (I almost wrote "ticket") in her own right.

Lauds: Jonathan Glancey visits the new Pompidou Metz museum. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

So does the new gallery pull it off? Beneath that hat, the building at first feels all over the place, its galleries, cafes and intervening public spaces rushing off in all directions. Fishier and fishier. Yet some sort of logic does start to emerge. You enter a lobby, with the usual cafe, bookshop and so on, before entering the forum, a soaring space for displaying large-scale installations (since the advent of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, every gallery needs one). Above and through this vast space, three huge concrete tubes crisscross, with windows at either end. These are the three principal galleries, reached by stairs or lift in the central 77-metre tall tower, which stands like the mast on a ship, skewering your attention. Each space has been carefully crafted to offer framed views of the city's monuments, including Kröger's fairytale station.

Prime: Simon Johnson puts his finger on exactly why we must not allow the development of banks that are "too big to fail." (The Baseline Scenario; via Abnormal Returns)

There is no evidence for economies of scale or scope – or other social benefits – from banks with assets above $100 bn.  Yet our largest banks have balance sheets around $2 trillion and Mr. Dimon defiantly affirmed last week – in his letter to shareholders – that JP Morgan Chase should be allowed to grow bigger, if it so pleases.  But any such growth would not be outcome of any fair or normal market process.  Rather it would reflect the Too Big To Fail implicit subsidy on which Mr. Dimon can now draw, manifest in the form of lower funding costs.

Mr. Dimon may or may not be a good manager of risk, but he will not run JP Morgan Chase for all time.  Sooner or later, one or more our biggest banks will run into serious trouble.

Tierce: We wrap up our week of hymns to the iPad with John Gruber's exhaustive (and enthusiastic) review. (via Felix Salmon)

Apple has made other significantly different tradeoffs as well. Battery life on the iPad is simply stunning. Reviewers across the board are getting real-life results that beat Apple’s promise of 10 hours of battery life. This is a function both of software (which does less and works hard to keep the CPU from drawing power while the iPad is being used) and hardware — iFixit’s teardown shows that, internally, the iPad looks more like a battery with a computer than a computer with a battery.

The iPad, so far, never gets warm. Browse a bunch of web sites. Play some video. Play a game. It still feels as cool to the touch as when it’s turned off. It is also dead quiet — no fan, no humming, nada. This is the future of computing.

The iPad was designed with an entirely different set of priorities than Macs or PCs. Someone may well produce a worthy iPad rival in the next year, but it’s not going to be something like HP’s Slate that runs Windows 7, an operating system that epitomizes the traditional set of computer design priorities.

At The Corner Office, Steve Toback declares that the iPad will do to today's computers what the first PC did to mainframes.

Sext: The Editor, who is known as "Doodad" to his grandson, was delighted to find that Will's mother is a devoted follower of Free-Range Kids, a blog kept by author (and Mom) Lenore Skenazy.

About a year ago, I let my 9-year-old ride the subway by himself. He’d been asking us — my husband and me — to please take him someplace and let him find his way home by himself. So my husband and I discussed this. Our boy knows how to read a map, he speaks the language and we’re New Yorkers. We’re on the subway all the time.

That’s how it came to be that one sunny Sunday, after lunch at McDonald’s, I took him to Bloomingdales…and left him in the handbag department.

I didn’t leave him unprepared, of course! I gave him a map, a MetroCard, quarters for the phone and $20 for emergencies. Bloomingdale’s sits on top of a subway station on our local line, and it’s always crowded with shoppers. I believed he’d be safe. I believed he could figure out his way. And if he needed to ask someone for directions — which it turns out he did — I even believed the person would not think, “Gee, I was about to go home with my nice, new Bloomingdale’s shirt. But now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”

Long story short: He got home about 45 minutes later, ecstatic with independence. I wrote a little column about his adventure and two days later I was on the Today Show, NPR, MSNBC and Fox News defending myself as NOT “America’s Worst Mom.”

Nones: A report from Moscow on events occurring very far away, in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. Distance may explain why Clifford Levy's account of the revolution is long on press releases.  (NYT)

Ms. Otunbayeva took the stage first, calling a news conference with her opposition colleagues to issue a series of directives that she said would calm the country after Wednesday’s violence, which left 68 people dead and more than 400 wounded...

Like her colleagues, she called for Mr. Bakiyev to acknowledge that he was through and resign. Mr. Bakiyev fled the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday after thousands of opposition protesters, infuriated by rising utility costs and a government they saw as repressive and corrupt, seized control of important government buildings, including the television stations.

But a few hours later, Mr. Bakiyev made clear that he would do no such thing.

First he issued a statement deriding the opposition and blaming it for provoking the violence on Wednesday. Then he gave an interview to a radio station in Moscow in which he repeatedly insisted that he had widespread support.

Vespers: A sample of Ian McEwan's "British deadpan," sparked by the publication of his new novel, Solar. (Speakeasy)

He also said that studying English literature is possibly a complete waste of time – amusing the elderly members of the audience and no doubt worrying the Columbia and NYU majors in attendance. “I’ve met a lot of scientists who are deeply literary and can talk about the stories and poems that I like, but I can’t talk to them about the science they like. When I went to school the science students had to think about the most difficult things that have ever been thought…what were we doing? Lying in ’till noon and maybe attending a 2 p.m. tutorial.”

He finished the discussion by touching on the importance of character development fused with literary modernism. Disdaining the postmodern approach whereby a nameless narrator “wakes up in a nameless hotel in a city whose name they don’t know,” McEwan championed the second half of the 20th century, when authors like Toni Morrison, Saul Bellows and Tobias Wolff re-anointed the character as a major component of the novel and threaded realistic elements throughout.

“I try to avoid knots being tied and glib optimism,” he said. “By habit I’m an empiricist, I believe in realities we all attest to. I don’t go for each person having their own truths.”

Still, he was eager to impart one before the evening ended. Referencing his dark novel “The Comfort of Strangers” he told the audience, “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”

Compline: A long, long read from New York magazine about the diva that 91st Street alum (who knew?) Stefani Joanne Germanotta has grown up to become. Vanessa Grigoriadis figures that you can make your own artistic assessment of Lady Gaga's oeuvre; she supplies the bildung. (via

But that’s the genius of Gaga: her willingness to be a mutant, a cartoon. She’s got an awesome sense of humor, beaming tiny surreal moments across the world for our pleasure every day—like the gigantic bow made of hair she popped on her head last year. “One day, I said to my creative team, ‘Gaultier did bows, let’s do it in a new way,’ ” she says. “We were going back and forth with ideas, and then I said”—snaps finger—“hair-bow.” She giggles. “We all fucking died, we died. It never cost a penny, and it looked so brilliant. It’s just one of those things. I’m very arrogant about it.” Her videos are global epiphenomena, like the Tarantino-flavored “Telephone,” with its lesbian prison themes and Beyoncé guest appearance. “Gaga doesn’t care so much about the technical part, but she’s involved in every creative aspect,” says Ĺkerlund. “We just allow ourselves to be very stupid with each other, and then you get ideas like sunglasses made of cigarettes.”

Gaga also throws in our face something we’ve known all along but numbly decided to ignore: American celebrities have become very, very boring. (The fact that she has done this at the same time that much of the actual music she makes herself is somewhat boring is another feat.) One of her essential points is that celebrity should be the province of weirdos, like Grace Jones circa Jean-Paul Goude and her pet idol, eighties opera–meets–New Wave cult figure Klaus Nomi, who died of AIDS at 39. To Gaga, our video-game-playing, social-networking, cell-phone-obsessed culture has made all of us smaller, more normal, less interesting—and, except for odd lightning strikes like the Jersey Shore cast and Conan O’Brien’s anointment of one Twitter fan—famous to no one, after all. “Kudos on MySpace? What is that?” she says, spitting out the words. “That’s not emblematic about what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creating a genuine, memorable space for yourself in the world.”

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