Daily Office:


Matins: Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for Uncle Niall. This time, “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” really means what it says. A tsunami of economic disarray is barreling toward the ship of state. Unlike the pooh-bahs in Washington, Professor Ferguson believes that the ship is at present upside-down, rather like the SS Poseidon you might say, and that trying to borrow our way out of the problem à la Keynes is rather like what “climbing” for the boat deck was in that disaster.

Lauds: The 25 Random Things meme (see below) is one thing; the truly daring will be sending their Facebook portraits to Matt Held to have them painted (possibly) and exhibited in all their unflattering glory. (via ArtFagCity)

Prime: I never miss a chance to rejoice that I’ve lived into a new epistolary age; when I was younger, people didn’t answer my letters because they were “intimidated.” The 25 Random Things meme, however, is something altogether and delightfully new. Memes like it have been circulating for “ages,” but something about the Facebook tag has prompted a lot of scribbling — 35,700 pages of randomness. Douglas Quenqua reports — without saying a thing about himself!

Tierce: Learning about the Bacon Explosion in the pages of The New York Times — and not on the Internet — was bad enough. Discovering the frabjilliant Web log of Sandro Magister there is really the limit!

Sext: A fantastic slideshow: The End — or words to that effect. Repeat 189x. Brought to you by Dill Pixels.

Nones: The last thing China needs right now is a major drought, but that’s what’s afflicting the north-central, wheat-growing provinces.

Vespers: Sheila Heti interviews Mary Gaitskell for The Believer.

Compline: Something to chew on over the weekend: where both quantity and quality of work are measurable, as, say, in academia, is the childless candidate for a position intrinsicially preferably to the parent? Ingrid Robeyns kicked off the debate at Crooked Timber. (via Brainiac)


§ Matins. The good news is that the Swedish model, which Prof Ferguson recommends, really did work in Sweden. It wiped out a lot of shareholders, but, hey, what’s a “free market economy” without total losses? At least we live in the age of limited liability.

§ Lauds. I am not truly daring. Largely because I have been daring in the past — and seen where it got me. But you — you go right ahead! It’ll be fine! You’ll love it….

§ Prime. That the meme is a written sort of thing is given memorable expression by Jim Beaver (who wanted to look like John Wayne when he was a kid — it’s amazing that he survived uninstitutionalized!):

“I’ve gotten 25 random things notices from people that absolutely fascinated me,” said Mr. Beaver, the actor. “But I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a bus with them telling me these things.”

§ Tierce. It’s as though the Minister of the Left, the Duc de Richelieu, and my favorite law school professors had ganged up to create a new party game — let’s call it, with apologies to Tom Lehrer, the Vatican Rag. Sandro Magister (not his real name!) walks us through the courtly and bureaucratic machinations of Vatican toilers. Guess whose fault the Williamson scandal is! (Take a deep breath…)

Since Paul VI on, the secretariat of state has been the apex and the engine of the curia machine. It has direct access to the pope, and governs the implementation of every one of his decisions. It entrusts this to the competent offices, and coordinates their work.

So then, throughout the entire affair of the lifting of the excommunications for the Lefebvrist bishops, the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, despite his highly active and outspoken nature, distinguished himself by his absence.

His first public comment on the question came on January 28, during a conference in Rome at which he was speaking.

But more than words, what were lacking from him were actions equal to the gravity of the situation. Before, during, and after the issuing of the decree.

Benedict XVI was left practically alone, and the curia was abandoned to disorder.

The fact that Benedict XVI has given up on reforming the curia is now before the eyes of all. But it is conjectured that he compensated for this non-decision by entrusting the leadership of the offices to a tough, dynamic secretary of state, Bertone.

Now this conjecture has also been shown to be lacking. With Bertone, the curia seems even more disorganized than before, perhaps in part because he has never completely dedicated himself to fixing its problems. Bertone does most of his work not inside the walls of the Vatican, but on the outside, in an endless round of conferences, celebrations, inaugurations. His visits abroad are as frequents and as packed with meetings and speeches as those of a John Paul II in vigorous health: he was in Mexico from January 15-19, and is now visiting Spain. As a result, all of the work that the offices of the secretariat of state dedicate to his external activities leaves that much less work available for the pope. Or sometimes, it is a wasted double effort: for example, when Bertone gives a speech on the same topic and to the same audience to which the pope will speak a short time later, with journalists on the lookout for differences between the two.

Bertone’s personal devotion to Benedict XVI is beyond all doubt. Not so that of the other curia officials, who continue to have free rein. It is possible that some of them deliberately oppose this pontificate. It is certain that most of them simply do not understand it, do not measure up to it.

§ Sext. Every now and then, you’ll recognize the end of a film you know and love (The World of Henry Orient, The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek). But that’s not the point. The point is that “The End” really did used to be the end: the screen went dark and the house lights went up. None of those ever-rolling credits, which nobody looks at today because everything’s available at IMDb.

§ Nones. That’s today’s bad international news bit. The good news bit — hardly strong enough to offset the bad — is that the Zimbabwean legislature has amended the constitution to permit Morgan Tsvangirai to serve as Prime Minister while Robert Mugabe continues as President. Major uncertainty: who will control the police? 

§ Vespers. The drop-dead line for me (as well as for Kathleen, who disagrees strenuously) is the interviewer’s.

I would find it hard to be very sexually attracted to somebody who was doing everything for me.

The women are talking about wives — not being wives, but having them. You hear that a lot these days, women somewhat jocularly expressing the desire for a spouse who takes care of humdrum things. But not a male spouse, évidemment.

§ Compline. Questions like this stir up my mind in a generally unproductive manner, because the only reply that comes to mind is: what’s so valuable about the status quo at academia? What is the point of the “research” institution? Isn’t it something that vanished with the Nineteenth Century’s infatuated obsession with “science”?

I calm down a bit, and the following thoughts come to me: should a middle-aged, parent-type person be working round the clock on research? Would resources not be better utilized if the the wise professor lived a more relaxed (and thoughtful!) life, delegating arduous research projects to students too immature for parenthood?

In short, I believe that we don’t know the first thing about work. We’ve just inherited a lot of bad ideas from monks, industrialists, and emergency-room staffers.  

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