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Daily Office:


7 April 2010


Matins: Bart Centre of New Hampshire is candid about his motivation in starting up the  service that he calls Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, which promises care for pets left behind by the Raptured. (Bloomberg; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Centre came up with the idea while working on his book, The Atheist Camel Chronicles, written under the pseudonym Dromedary Hump. In it, he says many unkind things about the devout and confesses that "I'm trying to figure out how to cash in on this hysteria to supplement my income."

Whatever motivates Centre, he has tapped into a source of genuine unease. Todd Strandberg, who founded a biblical prophecy Web site called that draws 250,000 unique visitors a month, agrees that Fido and Mittens are doomed. "Pets don't have souls, so they'll remain on Earth. I don't see how they can be taken with you," he says. "A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don't know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them."

At loose ends, are you? Maybe you have a future as a shabbos atheist...

Lauds: Our favorite baritone in the whole world, Thomas Meglioranza, is interviewed by Linda Richter, at Classical Singer. We can't give you any music here, but we can call attention to Tom's superb diction, which makes everything that he sings a story.

Your diction is so impeccable and your English diction, in particular, is pristine and perfectly understandable. How do you consistently manage that? How important is diction for a singer’s career?

I think that baritones have a built-in diction advantage over other voice types because we sing and speak in more or less the same range. Nevertheless, I’ve found that for any singer, being clearly understood is not so much a matter of enunciating everything down to the tiniest IPA squiggle, but rather giving a logical and purposeful shape to larger structures like sentences and paragraphs. I spend a lot of time analyzing texts.

Shifting vocal styles as often as you do, what vocal techniques do you employ and find to be important for that vocal transition?

I don’t consciously change my technique going from style to style. A good classical vocal technique should allow one to sing with a wide range of dynamics and colors with resonance and freedom. I think singing in different styles is more about developing an ear for the given style.

Prime: Here's hoping that Jon Meacham is cheered by Felix Salmon's good reasons to buy Newsweek from the Post Co.

As a long-term investment, the demographics of any print product look bad. Newsweek's audience is old, it's getting older, and it's hard to imagine the social-media generation having so much awe and respect for its authority that they will buy it weekly to find out what's going on in the world. And the economics of distributing a weekly news magazine are extremely painful: it costs a huge amount of money to print and distribute all that paper every week, when you don't have the luxury that monthly magazines have of long lead times at the printers.

But printing technology is advancing fast, and it's easier than ever for magazines to print relatively small runs in dozens if not hundreds of non-union locations around the world. A new and nimble network of local ad-sales teams can fashion custom versions of the product to targeted demographics, with a relatively small central publisher's office handling the big buys across the global franchise. And the editorial product will be a bit like Google search results: universally authoritative, while still looking significantly different depending on where and who you are.

Tierce: The fascinating thing about Jonah Lehrer's piece on underdogs, and why we root for them, concerns referees, who quite conspicuously don't! It appears that referees are stoked by cheering crowds.

But there is one group that seems resistant to the underdog bias: referees. In fact, it seems that referees are easily swayed by the emotions of the crowd, which is why they tend to give better calls to the team with home-field advantage. A 2002 experiment showed professional soccer referees a videotaped match and had them make officiating decisions. Half of the referees watched the game without sound, while the other half were exposed to simulated crowd noise. These cheers significantly biased the calls of the referees: On average, they called 2.3 fewer fouls against the home team when listening to the sound of the crowd.

Studies of actual soccer matches in the English Premier League support the experiment. (The English leagues are a popular subject for researchers because the matches feature animated audiences and take place within the same time zone, reducing the complicating factor of travel fatigue.) A 2007 analysis of more than 5,000 soccer matches found that, on average, home teams scored 1.5 goals while away teams scored 1.1 goals. This difference increased with crowd size, so that each additional 10,000 spectators increased the home-team advantage by 0.1 goals. The most surprising element of the research, however, was that the scoring disparity was largely the result of referees, with less experienced referees calling significantly more penalties against the visiting team. They seemed intimidated by the rowdy fans.

Sext: At The Awl, Graham Beck rather impudently compares his whiskey chocolate chili to Picasso's most recently-sold painting.

As they will, some notable art writers disagree with this sweeping assessment of an entire epoch in the career of an artist who is one of the past century’s greatest and most significant, but when it comes to the auction block or the firehouse cookout, the proof isn’t stewing in the pot or penned on the critic’s page but in the dollars paid or the stumpy little fingers of the Napoleonic chief who never calls my name no matter how much salt and cheese I spill into that bubbling pot of ground round.

Nones: The Economist puts it very well, with a starkly unflattering picture of the Greek political system that joining the Euro zone may have put to an end. (via The Morning News)

Either in fear or in hope, many Greeks detect a breakdown of a political system, over a century old, in which two political groups (notionally of the centre-left and the centre-right, but both given to patronage and graft) progressively exhaust the national exchequer by outbidding each other. After the post-party riots, it is anybody’s guess what might take its place.

Vespers: John Self not only writes about but displays the ten volumes of Penguin's Central European Classics series. What a delightful reading list to polish off all once, if only one were still in school. In particular, Mr Self has been reading Slawomir Mrozek's The Elephant.

These stories frankly lack traditional literary qualities such as characterisation, and are all the better for it.  Instead, Mrożek’s stories come on, get on with it, and get off without overstaying their welcome or oversaying their piece. However, cumulatively, richer qualities do build up: the pathos of the ordinary man against the party machine, the sadness of lives limited.  Sometimes the surreal elements are curiously touching, as in ‘Spring in Poland’, when hundreds of civil servants are overtaken by the urge to leap from their office windows and fly around the city.  In the last, and longest, story, ‘Chronicle of a Besieged City’, when the narrator offers the following exhausted plea, he is really calling for change more fundamental than his immediate surroundings.

Compline: Catherine Lutz talks about her book, Carjacked: The culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives, with Melissa Lafsky, at The Intrastructurist. One point that's hammered home nicely: there's really nothing you can do that's anywhere near as dangerous as driving around in a car.

People also have a fairly distorted view of what car safety technology can do — they feel much safer than they should, because of new safety features. The illusion of safety is created by all these devices that are so heavily marketed to consumers.

The key is giving people a sense that public transit is incredibly, statistically safe, and what’s unsafe is to be in a vehicle with other people. The OnStar system is a product that directly combats this idea. It is marketed towards the fear of a lot of people, the idea that they’re safe inside their cars as long as the car doesn’t break down. So the OnStar system becomes this presumably fail safe system, and so people say “I would never take public transit, it’s an unsafe place, and I couldn’t put my kid on a bus because someone might kidnap him, but I’m safe in my car.”

And this is just not true if you look at car crash death and disability stats. You’d have to have an incredible epidemic of kidnapping and muggings on the subway to even come close to the dangers of driving.

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