Daily Office:


Matins: Davos is shaping up to be the party not to be seen at this year. Our Governor Paterson is the latest defector. The White House is sending Valerie Jarrett.

Lauds: Terry Teachout writes about the unglamorous side of being an opera librettist. Asked how he does it all, the man of letters gives the manly answer:

I’m extremely humble about whatever gifts I may have, but I am not modest about the work I do. I work extremely hard and all the time.

Prime: Now that it’s over, I can read about it: the era of Press Bush. Errol Morris asks three wire-service photographers to talk about their most illustrative photographs of the late President. (via kottke.org)

Tierce: Preserving the death camp at Auschwitz poses a peculiar problem: the installation wasn’t built to last. And parts of it were blown up by the evacuating Germans, who assuredly weren’t concerned about the difficulty of maintaining a ruin.

Sext: Clyde Haberman talks about “nontraditional ‘shaming punishments’,” but I thought that shaming punishments were traditional. It’s prison time that’s new and “improved” (not).

Nones: And here I thought that “slumdog” was a standard insult in Mumbai, applied to anyone (particularly anyone Muslim) from the city’s rather ghastly slums. Not so.

The screenplay writer, Simon Beaufoy, said people should not read too much into the title. “I just made up the word. I liked the idea. I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” he said.


Vespers: Notwithstanding his prodigious output, John Updike was too young, at 76, to leave us. The commodore of American letters, he guided a convoy of writers from the avowedly amoral shoals of modernism to a native harbor of immanence, and he set his ships a high example for polished decks.

Compline: It were churlish not to wish long lives to the eight children born tout d’un coup, in the Miracle of Kaiser Bellflower. What a Mozartstag! John Updike dead, a human octopus born!


§ Matins. If there was ever a misbegotten elitist event… Let’s just hope they cancel next year’s. Quietly.

§ Lauds. That, and “Do It Now” are really the only advice that a writing person needs. Even then, of course, industry does not imply quality. But without the industry, there’s nada, and quality doesn’t come into it.

§ Prime. He was the worst of American presidents, and totally unfit for the office. But the superhighway to his occupancy of the White House was paved by genuinely bad men, Richard M Nixon chief among them. To me, Nixon’s evil aura never faded. Mr Bush’s is already a ridiculous, rained-on, morning after Hallowe’en costume.

§ Tierce. Lest this sound ghoulish, let’s remember that Auschwitz was a death factory, a facility designed for the methodical elimination of human life and its remains. No history of the Industrial Revolution, or of early modern manufacturing processes, would be complete without mention (at least!) of the camp’s operations. And our civilization cannot permit itself to lose objective sight of what happens when “Because we can!” is a valid rationale.

§ Sext. I think that using billboards to punish disgraced financiers and corporate executives is a dandy idea — but then I don’t spend much time on the highway.

“Folks like John Thain are perfect candidates for public shaming on billboards and in the press,” Professor Calandrillo said. “Their good name is what allows them to succeed in business. Once that is stripped, they have little left.” Others in business, he added, may then think twice about their own actions.

Certainly the very worst thing that we can do with non-violent malefactors is to put them away, out of sight, out of mind. Leona Helmsley was notorious for paying her cellmate to make her bed. Instead, the witch ought to have been put to work making beds at Metropolitan Hospital.

§ Nones. Now it turns out that the title of Slumdog Millionaire — based on the novel, Q & A, by Vikas Swarup, lately marketed with the film’s title — offends poor people throughout India. Oy.

§ Vespers. Anyone who sets out to be a writer in English will be most formidably haunted by Updike’s fluent example. He could always do it better.

§ Compline. It were equally churlish to dwell on the home life that these apparently robust children and their parents will be enduring for the next couple of years. But we wish them godspeed, and plenty of throaty laughs.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Updike: writer of the show-stopper sentence. After sentence after sentence. His loss saddens me deeply.