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Daily Office:


5 May 2010


Matins: At the National Journal, Jonathan Rauch writes about a phenomenon that we highlight every time it comes up: Red state families make adults; blue state adults make families. (via MetaFilter)

A further twist makes the story more interesting, and more sobering. Cahn and Carbone find an asymmetry. Blue norms are well adapted to the Information Age. They encourage late family formation and advanced education. They produce prosperous parents with graduate degrees, low divorce rates, and one or two over-protected children.

Red norms, on the other hand, create a quandary. They shun abortion (which is blue America's ultimate weapon against premature parenthood) and emphasize abstinence over contraception. But deferring sex in today's cultural environment, with its wide acceptance of premarital sex, is hard. Deferring sex and marriage until you get a college or graduate degree -- until age 23 or 25 or beyond -- is harder still. "Even the most devout overwhelmingly do not abstain until marriage," Cahn and Carbone write.

Lauds: Andrew Alpern has donated his collection of 700 works by Edward Gorey to Columbia University — which had better mount a show! (via NYT, Arts Journal)

Andrew Alpern is a noted architectural historian and attorney who has been active in historic preservation for a long time. The author of nine books and scores of articles, Alpern recently donated to the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia his superb collection of drawing instruments from the early eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. The Columbia University Libraries has just published a catalogue of that collection, The Andrew Alpern Collection of Drawing Instruments (2010). Mr. Alpern’s interest in Gorey goes back to the many occasions he would see the illustrator at the Gotham Book Mart, whose owner, Andreas Brown, had taken an early interest in Gorey and helped promote his work through the Gotham. In 1980, Mr. Alpern published a collection of ephemera by Gorey.

Prime: Andrew Ross Sorkin wonders if Warren Buffett has it right about the SEC action against Goldman Sachs. (NYT)

On Sunday, Mr. Buffett said that the case against Goldman seemed to be based only on hindsight.

“It’s very strange to say, at the end of the transaction, that if the other guy is smarter than you, that you have been defrauded,” he said. “It seems to me that that’s what they are saying.”

Indeed, many securities lawyers have said from the start that the case against Goldman might be hard for the S.E.C. to win, for many of the reasons spelled out by Mr. Buffett in his defense of Goldman.

Our guess is that the SEC suit was brought to force a change in this kind of thinking. There is a difference between being smarter than the other guy and exploiting his stupidity to his detriment, particularly in an environment that, in retrospect, ought, for everyone's benefit, to have been ventilated by the sort of "suitability" rule that would have made it illegal for Goldman to sell the Abacus deal to an ordinary bloke with a 401(k).

Tierce: Inevitably, "auties" argue that they are different, not damaged. Who wants to be a dumb old neurotypical, anyway? (New Scientist)

Over the past decade or so, a growing autistic pride movement has been pushing the idea that people with autism aren't disabled, they just think differently to "neurotypicals". Now, research by Dawson and others has carried this concept a step further. They say that auties, as some people with autism call themselves, don't merely think differently: in certain ways they think better. Call it the autie advantage.

How can a group of people who are generally seen as disabled actually have cognitive advantages? For a start, research is challenging the original studies that apparently demonstrated the low IQ of people with autism. Other studies are revealing the breadth of their cognitive strengths, ranging from attention to detail and sensitivity to musical pitch to better memory.

Sext: Fashion marketers are slow to grasp the New iPad Order: their Web sites, dependent on Adobe Flash, don't play on the Apple screen. We take this as proof positive that the iPad is indeed the device with which most people will connect to the Internet. (PSFK; via, The Morning News)

Apple has sold an estimated 1 million iPads in the first month. The world’s luxury brands seem to be failing to keep up with a gadget loving shopper who will spend between $500 and $1,000 on what may consider as a supplemental device for a user. Later this month Apple will start taking orders for the iPad from key luxury markets like Japan. Apple has already cornered 46% of the smartphone market in Japan and the world’s most mobile web savvy audience are bound to lap up Apple’s new tablet.

When viewed through the iPad, many of the luxury brands’ websites simply fail to load and instead ask the user to download Flash – a request which is not an option for the device’s owner. Three brands of the top 10 offer a store locator but the Chanel’s offering is so poorly designed (read: not even contemplated) that it looks like it was created for the worldwide web of 1993.

Brands need to realize that the iPad offers a different experience. While some have invested in Apps to overcome the iPhone’s limitation – the fairly light iPad with its 9 inch screen brings some focus back to the browser driven web. Several commentators have suggested that the change the way people will consume entertainment in the home but research that the PSFK consultancy team has conducted for leading corporations has shown that the device will fuel online retail too.

Nones: The polluted northern Chinese city of Datong, remembering that it was briefly the Ming capital, is rebuilding its city walls, complete with watchtowers every 200 meters. (BBC News)

This new section stretches for about 2km (1.2 miles) with watchtowers placed every 200m or so.

Workers are using modern equipment and modern materials: the old wall is simply being encased in the new one.

Datong's city government is also rebuilding temples, restoring old shop fronts and cleaning up the streets in a project that aims to be finished by 2012.

Tourism expert Wei Xiaoan said the city was not the only one in China looking to freshen up its industrial image.

"In the past mayors wanted big buildings, big roads and big squares. They thought this was the only way to show a city's development," said Mr Wei, who has written a book about the restoration of historic sites.

But he added that many local leaders now wanted to emphasise a city's uniqueness - and that sometimes meant sprucing up the past.

Vespers: At The Millions, Colin Marshall explores the strange but magisterial fiction of Kobo Abe (1924-1993).

I’m no academic, but my approximation of an academic definition of the Abean sensibility would be “the realistic, rational observation of banal settings and banal personalities gradually drained of logic and thus dissolved into absurd decadence.” The Typical Abe Protagonist (TAP), perhaps a shoe salesman or a schoolteacher, gets swept up, by little fault of his own, into potentially alarming circumstances. Maybe he’s importuned to find an unusual missing person; maybe he misses the last bus home; maybe leaves begin growing from his flesh. Unflustered, and indeed unflusterable, he calmly formulates hypotheses meant to solve his problem.

As the TAP methodically tests, rejects and reforumulates these hypotheses, the problem worsens, grows less comprehensible and forks off into a bouquet of new obstacles. By the end, he’s made peace with his situation, become too psychologically fragmented and untethered to respond, found himself in a world that’s lost its own bearings or experienced some combination thereof. This crude boiling-down admits exceptions — some specific Abe protagonists get themselves into trouble, for instance, or fail to take the obvious action to circumvent the whole mess — but its broad strokes align with the actual work.

I can’t overstate the Scientific Method rigidity of the TAP’s thought process. Whether laconic hired investigator, obese survivalist or the cardboard-clad bum, Abe’s narrators all possess a quasi-Aspergian attention to detail and unshakable faith in causality. Yet the mechanisms of causation in Abe’s world don’t merit the kind of trust we’ve given those in ours, though the TAP offers it, generously. “Even in the world of the absurd,” David Keffer writes in his study of Abe, “the scientist persists. He attempts to make sense of his surroundings using logic and scientific reasoning. Of course, it is hopeless to think that the irrational can be described in terms of the rational, but this thought never dawns on the protagonist.”

We have never quite recovered from the sticky nightmarishness of The Ruined Map.

Compline: Chris Lehmann skewers Nancy Hass for boo-hooing about the death of couture. Plus ça change, baby! (The Awl)

Once you’ve digested the real Veblen stuff, Hass’s admiring descriptions of the actual content of the couture world takes on a strikingly different cast—as in her opening vignette, which asks its reader to savor the alleged disjunction between a vulgar scenemaking Russian actress and the refined display of “John Galliano’s floor-sweeping dresses inspired by 19th-century riding costumes” that she’s checking out in Paris’s couture-week Dior show. In lieu of the piece’s organizing fable of conspicuous-consumption declension, Hass might well have opted for Oscar Wilde’s terser description of the horsey fox hunt: “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.”

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