I hope you burn in hell, or the art of the fond farewell

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MAURICE Saatchi's resignation letter to staff is as fine an example as we're likely to see for a while of an underrated literary genre - underrated because it calls for such a difficult-to-manage mixture of self-exculpation and grace under firing.

Saatchi's effort burns with righteous indignation (roughly translated, the first three paragraphs read: "I am the person who founded this agency, which means I have given you all jobs, and you have quite rightly been very pleased") while still communica ting the pained wisdom of one of those characters left alone on stage at the end of a Shakespeare play ("I have watched in despair . . . I have listened in dismay . . . this enforced parting grieves me deeply").

Politics rarely produces such eloquent leave-takings, probably because by the time politicians go they've denied so many mistakes that self-justification makes them sound like one of the Parkhurst Three pleading that he left prison because he didn't likethe food. Besides, it sounds graceless to attack a prime minister whom you've recently been pretending was the Complete Solution To Everything; a little local difficulty that some attempt to skirt around by lashing out at the press instead. David Mellordid this most sneakily by claiming his sacking was a trial of strength between the tabloid papers and the Prime Minister, the clear implication being that John Major didn't have a snowball's hope in hell.

Open resignation letters would add hugely to public cheerfulness - even where, like Norman Lamont, people were simply too cross to write the word "Dear" and were reduced to making some faxed crotchety announcement. Every time a company claimed a senior executive had resigned after a clash of management styles, we could have a letter describing the months of blazing rows; every time it was said someone had gone following disagreements about the future of the group, we could read his views on whether he really was as incompetent and overpromoted as they thought.

NOW we know that Bill Clinton has been consulting a New Age guru, people who have been muttering that he doesn't know how to rebuild his administration are beginning to look as though they might have a point. Mr Clinton spent part of the Christmas break with Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a book that has made its author a fortune by the simple but telling repetitive use of the words synergy, paradigm and interdependent, preferably in a single sentence, as in: "Although you cannot control the paradigms of others in an interdependent interaction of the synergistic process itself, a great deal of synergy is within your circle of influence."

Clear as mud, all 358 pages of it, fat with its flabby science. Next, no doubt, Clinton will be addressing Congress clutching a vibrating crystal, or staring into Magic Eye posters for clues as to foreign policy. Perhaps he will address the nation on synergy, with ambient music and a robotic female voice droning in the background, as Covey does on the tape through which it is also possible to absorb his Seven Habits of Highly Self-Obsessed People. There are many disturbing aspects to Clinton's enthusiasm for this New Age occultism, but its individualist quality is the most worrying: it's Self, Self, Self. And I thought presidents were there to think about the rest of us. Still, now that Nato and the UN are so confused about what they're supposed to be doing, perhaps we could do worse than Mystic Meg's mission to Bosnia.

BUT maybe we shouldn't sneer; we have our own irrationalities. The Daily Mail has devoted page after page to something it calls the Pluto Effect. According to the paper's astrologer Jonathan Cainer, the departure of the planet Pluto from the constellation Jupiter means that "few of us will end the year as we began it". (I should think not. I, for one, intend to have lost a lot of weight by next December.) Pluto turns out to be responsible for most of world history, at least since it was discovered (it clearly only bothers with world history when people are looking) - plutonium, obviously, for example. The Pluto Effect is so amazing, Cainer says, that "frankly, I am not sure what I can add", which is admirable, or would be, except that he went on addingfor a week.

So far, Pluto has been responsible for nuclear weapons, the Wall Street crash (ha! plutocracy), the end of the Cold War ("How else do we explain the end of the Cold War?") and, um, nylons, "the sexiest legwear of all time". It is possible, Dr Paul Kurtz,the American chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, has concluded, "that we're moving into the New Dark Ages". Still, with Pluto there to guide us, at least we'll have sexy legs and more yoga-based techniques in our lovemaking.

THEATRES are soon to open on Sundays - a move the Lord's Day Observers will deplore, and another blow to the great tradition of spending the sabbath in the front room with slices of Battenburg listening to Sing Something Simple on the radio and staring bleakly at your family. But unlike the Sunday opening of DIY superstores, which just commercialise Sundays and make them consumerist like all the other days of the week, theatre openings raise the prospect of a day for culture, which if we are going to stop being bored on Sundays, seems a preferable way of doing it. Rather as in those Eastern European countries where there was no television on Tuesday nights so that people could go to the ballet or write poetry, Sundays could become National Culture Day,on which everyone would concentrate on becoming a more rounded individual through the healthful pursuit of music and art, literature and conversation. Fewer people may have to look for meaning in Stephen Covey's "holist ic, integrated, principle-centredinsights", wobbly crystals, or Pluto's entry into Sagittarius.