28 April 2009

Chris Hayes wrote recently:

I'm pretty sure the Germans don't have the filibuster, but if they did, they'd have a word for the soul-wrenching misery you feel watching a press conference convened by a handful of preening, self-congratulatory "moderate" senators who have just succeeded in making a bill decidedly worse in deference to some incoherent, abstract notion of "moderateness."

Hear, hear.

24 April 2009

While doing some spring cleaning, I have unearthed some of my diaries from my time at Reed College. I am going to publish the few good bits and consign the rest to oblivion.

Proceeding in chronological order:

September 14, 2002.

Ten dollars bought me three hours of Indian classical music--meaning about 5 cents per minute. Kalakendra
is the group sponsoring, and we were put through an endless raga before the intermission. It was a little Straussian.
The final piece was a classic song for Krishna which was what I had been hoping for and expecting.

October 30.

...today a stiff blast of cold air hit Portland. As long as I stayed out of shadowed areas, it wasn't intolerable. Indeed, coming back from downtown on the bus I could see Mt. Hood, as if it were an inflatable pyramid plopped down somewhere a few miles to the east. (It was a rather sickly gray-brown, barely touched by snowdrifts still!)

November 3.

Nothing happened of import today. I had a true hangover--the headache was minor, but my body felt ten times heavier than normal and it was an extensive effort to get out of bed.

[Reading Voltaire I found this passage: ] ..."most of the boyars slept on planks on which they extended furs or a blanket. These people would have seemed like Spartans if they had been sober."

November 8.

Saw Center Stage's production of True West, by Sam Shepard....I strongly identified with the Austin character--a cautious, diligent writer who craves excitement and adventure.

A poem from November 24.

From barbarous Portland town to golden Danube's stream
Is many miles; one thing alone can mend the seam:

The orchestra--whose sound so gracefully transports
This homesick poet to Vienna's splendid courts.

22 April 2009

Happy St. George's Day! (it's tomorrow)

Read the Archbishop of York's proposal on the subject.

12 April 2009

A poem for the holiday:

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.

A. E. Housman

10 April 2009

Let me tell you where Wells Fargo's amazing first-quarter profit came from.

They halved my interest rate on savings. It is now 0.0122% per month.

03 April 2009

Consider these lines from Byron's satirical epic Don Juan:

Alas! Could she but fully, truly know
How her great name is now throughout abhorr'd;
How eager all the earth is for the blow
Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword;
How all the nations deem her their worst foe,
That worse than worst of foes, the once adored
False friend, who held out freedom to mankind,
And now would chain them, to the very mind;--

Would she be proud, or boast herself the free,
Who is but first of slaves? The nations are
In prison,--but the gaoler, what is he?
No less a victim to the bolt and bar.
Is the poor privilege to turn the key
Upon the captive, freedom? He's as far
From the enjoyment of the earth and air
Who watches o'er the chain, as they who wear.

The sentiment is familiar to any American liberal who has lived through the younger-Bush administration. Read further in Byron's poem and you will find a penetrating, withering critique of social and moral failings in the Britain of George IV (a dimwitted voluptuary who succeeded his famously mad father after holding the position of Prince Regent for three decades) . After the battle of Waterloo (1815) and twenty-odd years of war with France, the British people experienced severe economic shocks and new kinds of political upheaval. The rise of steam-powered textile mills put thousands of rural weavers out of a livelihood, and a sustained drop in food prices beggared the farm workers and squires who had immemorially been the backbone of England. Agitators such as William Cobbett railed against a government of fat-cat lords and financiers that remained oblivious to the suffering in the nation. One of Cobbett's primary aims was the abolition of “rotten boroughs,” seats in parliament representing once-important towns, now greatly reduced in size, that were bought and sold serially by aristocratic or nouveau-riche brokers. These seats included Old Sarum (prestigious for its proximity to Stonehenge, but endowed with no permanent inhabitants) and the amusingly named Looe in Cornwall. By contrast, booming cities in Northern England such as Manchester enjoyed no parliamentary representation whatever.

Of course, American democracy today is nothing like this. Every citizen has an equal voice, corruption is minimized, the District of Columbia may be getting statehood this year....

I think it's clear where I'm going with this, and if not, here are some interesting numbers: Did you know that a resident of Wyoming has 70 times as much voting power in the U.S. Senate as a resident of California? This is literally true if you consider the states' respective populations and that line in the Constitution prescribing two senators for every state. (At the time of its writing, the largest state, Virginia, had 19 times as many people as the smallest, Tennessee. We can cut the Founders some slack on the oligarchical stuff. )