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13 April 2010


Matins: "Asian flair" — wo-men bu savons shemma. At The Bygone Bureau, Darryl Campbell writes about the persistence of a culinary phenomenon that we really thought was dead. But then we don't want television.

So the routine appearance of coconut milk, whole cardamom pods, and hoisin sauce (as long as it isn’t called “Asian barbecue sauce”) in the arsenals of non-Asian non-chefs like Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri might be a sign that Asian food of all kinds is finally edging its way onto American dinner tables, and not just in a take-out box. Even if the buzzword “Asian flair” teeters a little too close to cultural insensitivity on the one hand and plain old overuse on the other, this is still a big victory for those trying to expand the American palate. After all, only a bare majority of Americans actually cook for themselves anymore, and even then, only if the definition of “cooking” includes ingredient assembly of any kind, like making a cold-cut sandwich. If such mainstream attention is not enough to inspire pilgrimages to New York City just to eat at Momofuku Ko, at least it is prompting some people to buy fish sauce and rice noodles from their local megamart in order to give pad see ew a first, unsteady shot.

Lauds: Roberta Smith ventures a modest proposal: retain gallerist Larry Gogosian to design the (inevitable) downtown Whitney. After all, he knows how to sell the stuff. (NYT)

The success of an undertaking like this hinges not on the size but on the quality of the space, which is never thought about enough and never by the people who really know what they’re doing where museums are concerned. The idea that trustees have the final word on a museum’s design, considering all the atrocious buildings that have been erected in this country, is chilling. When will they ever learn to listen, and to people who have the right experience? They would get better spaces if they would loosen the reins.

A new downtown Whitney has to make art look good, make people feel good in it, inspire curators to do their best and give the place some kind of identity — a profile — the way Dia’s old building did. Which is to say that it doesn’t have to have tourist-attracting bells and whistles, as is the case with the Guggenheim (no disrespect intended). It just has to give people a breathtaking, vision-expanding experience of art. This is as much a matter of proportion, openness and light as square footage, as the old Dia proved repeatedly. Its spaces set a standard for display that seems to have been lost in Manhattan, and it was lost, again, because of trustee arrogance and administrative mismanagement that put too many of the Dia’s eggs in its Beacon, N.Y., basket.

Our suggestion: move all the talky conceptual stuff downtown, and leave the Breuer Bunker for Hopper and others of his ilk and for photography.

Prime: Just when we thought that Michael Lewis had made everything perfectly clear, along comes Magnetar, the very successful hedge fund that made sure that no trader's shot glass was empty. (Felix Salmon)

The real problem, with all of these synthetic CDOs, was something known as the “unfunded super-senior tranche”. (What’s a super-senior tranche? Funny you should ask!) Where Magnetar seems to have been very clever indeed was in persuading banks that it made sense to throw all manner of crap into their CDOs, while not worrying for a minute that their super-senior risk — risk that the banks never intended to sell — would end up losing them billions of dollars.

Of course, if you can get paid $4 million a year not to worry about such things, it becomes easier to ignore them.

The smelly part of what ProPublica calls the Magnetar Trade is that because Magnetar was sponsoring the deals, they had an inordinate amount of control over what went into them, and even what they were named. And they seem to have made a vast amount of money from this information asymmetry.

Tierce: It sounds like Nunsense 1.01. If you think that no one will ever know that you bought your (counterfeit) Gucci bag at a table on 86th Street, you're wrong, because you will. (Not Exactly Rocket Science; via The Morning News)

Francesca Gino from the University of North Carolina has shown that counterfeit products actually make people behave more dishonestly. They cheat more in tests and they judge others as unethical with greater abandon. Even worse, they’re completely unaware of this impact. This effect is heavily ironic. People often buy fake goods to look good to other people. But Gino’s study shows that these products can affect our moral choices precisely because they make us look worse to ourselves. As she writes, “Feeling like a fraud makes people more likely to commit fraud.”

Sext: At WSJ, Eric Felten puts conductor Leonard Slatkin's unconscionable indiscretions to good use.

There is glamour in the charade that an artist is otherworldly, and the savviest performers realize this. New York magazine recently devoted a cover story to the pop star known as Lady Gaga. When the reporter first interviewed her, she had expected the singer to drop the extravagant nonsense of her stage persona and use her given name. Not Lady Gaga, who realizes that if the unreality of her bubble world is popped, so goes her capacity to fascinate. Whatever one thinks of the Gaga oeuvre, there's no doubt she's shrewd.

One might plausibly argue that the purveyors of high art need no such contrivances. After all, their work is what matters, not some glitzy conceit. But even in the most austere and self-serious of presentations, the performer benefits from the notion that he is engaged in wonderment. In the rush to connect with audiences by talking, talking, talking about their work, artists have become like prestidigitators who make no effort to conceal the method of their magic—indeed, who explain ahead of time exactly how a given trick is performed.

So much is probably true. What is certainly true is that any conductor who dismisses Verdi as unsophisticated ("To my mind and ear, there is simply nothing that compares to the musical sophistication of a late Beethoven, Bartok, Schubert or Brahms work for minimal forces.") needs to be rusticated. Where were you, Leonard? We outgrew your dimwitted disdain when singers such like Mirella Freni and Monserrat Caballe taught us "Tu che la vanità."

Nones: What happened in Kyrgyzstan, anyway? Was Russia possibly behind the ouster of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev? David Trilling lays it out in two crisp pages. (Foreign Affairs)

Russian newspapers mockingly compared Bakiyev to Genghis Khan and the infamously despotic Saparmurad Niyazov, who christened himself “Turkmenbashi” (father of the Turkmen) and ruled over Turkmenistan until his death in 2006. Some news outlets reported -- not unrealistically -- that the Bakiyev family was siphoning off Russian aid for itself. It is highly unlikely that Russia’s state-controlled media was acting on its own; it was, most likely, following direct orders from the Kremlin. “An informational war is always a prerequisite for political decisions," Marat Tokoev, a media analyst in Bishkek, said at the time. As he explained, Kyrgyzstan has an underdeveloped press and thus has an “information dependency” on Russia, which means that stories published in the Russian media have a large impact on Kyrgyz public opinion.  

Vespers: Books don't always furnish a room; sometimes, they litter it. Maud Newton appeals to publishers to send her ebooks.

When we fled Greenpoint rents and cramped quarters and bought a co-op two years ago, we chose a building with a part-time doorman, as a concession to the galley tidal wave. (Someone has to be around to sign for books while we do the things that actually pay the bills.) Luckily this apartment is huge** by New York standards, so it would take at least a year’s worth of accumulation to impede our meals or the preparation thereof. Friends can eat sitting down and stand to put on their coats afterward even if we let the stacks grow, as we have recently, for a couple of months.

Evidently the old place is still getting slammed, too. Someone recently wrote to say: “I wanted to let you know that tons and tons and tons of packages come to our building every week, and piles of it collect.” For the sake of those who who now live at my former address — and trust me, they need our sympathy for many reasons — let it be known far and wide that I no longer reside on Dupont Street.

Compline: Thanks to Michael Idov, we now know what a hipster Hasid will look like: Baruch Herzfeld, proprietor of the Treyf Bike Gesheft. (New York Magazine; via MetaFilter)

For South Williamsburg’s Hasids, Traif Bike Gesheft functions as a semi-secret window onto the larger world and a clubhouse of mild transgressions. Herzfeld rents bikes to Hasids at no cost, just to get them to venture beyond the neighborhood. (Among Satmars, bicycles are not specifically disallowed but are considered taboo nonetheless.) Inside the shop, otherwise righteous men let down their guard. Tongues loosen. “The men, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a woman,” Herzfeld explains, talking a mile a minute. “Whenever they come to the bike shop, the first thing they ask me to find them a prostitute. I tell them, look, you’re searching for answers. You’re not going to find them in the vagina of a woman you’re paying $200 an hour. If you want to meet somebody, you need to step outside of the community, you need to get a hobby. Come over, and I’ll teach you how to fix a bike. So the bike shop is a kind of outreach program.” A friend of Herzfeld’s also uses the shop to slip Hasids traif books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.

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