30 March 2011

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been pondering Tennyson's poetry, and writes:

I'd like to ask some of our gay commenters to weigh in here. On Tennyson particularly, and more broadly on the realm of artists beautifully expressing affection for humans of the same gender,

I hear Tennyson and, for me, there is that long tradition of young black males mourning the death of fallen soldiers, through hip-hop. Mobb Deep made a career out of mugging for the camera, and yet in "Cradle To The Grave," Havoc could confess that at the sight of his dying friend "he felt like crying." And he does this in sub genre which holds strong prohibitions against saying such things about women.

For me, Tennyson was just one of hundreds(?) of British male poets who felt affection for other men, and In Memoriam one link in the centuries-long chain. Considering that "buggery" was a capital crime in England until 1861 (when Tennyson was 52 years old), any homosexual content in his poetry would have had to be thickly veiled.

It is interesting to compare Tennyson with A.E. Housman, who was contemporary to Oscar Wilde and died in 1936. To my gay man's mind, Housman's Shropshire Lad poems are some of the most erotically charged in existence. This is Shropshire Lad 38:

The winds out of the west land blow,
My friends have breathed them there;
Warm with the blood of lads I know
Comes east the sighing air.

It fanned their temples, filled their lungs,
Scattered their forelocks free;
My friends made words of it with tongues
That talk no more to me.

Their voices, dying as they fly,
Loose on the wind are sown;
The names of men blow soundless by,
My fellows' and my own.

Oh lads, at home I heard you plain,
But here your speech is still,
And down the sighing wind in vain
You hollo from the hill.

The wind and I, we both were there,
But neither long abode;
Now through the friendless world we fare
And sigh upon the road.

25 March 2011

Now that the "free world's" attention has been diverted to Libya, state-sponsored violence in Syria will probably get worse:

Security forces opened fire on hundreds of youths in the outskirts of Deraa on Wednesday, witnesses said, after nearly a week of protests in which seven civilians had already died. The main hospital in Deraa, near the Jordanian border, had received the bodies of at least 37 protesters killed on Wednesday, a hospital official said. That brings the number killed to at least 44 in a week of protests.

Deraa was known in the Old Testament as Edrei. See Numbers 22:32-33: "And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, and they took the villages thereof, and drove out the Amorites that were there. / And they turned and went up by the way of Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he, and all his people, to the battle at Edrei."

24 March 2011

I know it's impolite to compare Tea Party politicians to Nazis, but when they start ordering the destruction of paintings they don't like, it's hard to stifle one's urge to make the comparison.

22 March 2011

Andrew Sullivan writes--

Perhaps, as so often, Obama's unsatisfying compromise is the best he can do given the expectations that still attach themselves to the "leader of the free world" (can we retire that hoary old phrase at this point?).

Retire the phrase, or use it properly. India is the world's largest democracy. And what did India think of this?

"This resolution calls for far-reaching measures but we never got answers to very basic questions," Indian envoy to UN Hardeep Singh Puri said. "This entire exercise has been based on less than complete information."

21 March 2011

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be her [America's] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

John Quincy Adams

18 March 2011

I have severe misgivings about today's UN Security Council resolution against Libya. Andrew Sullivan has asked all the right questions; I can't but help thinking of 1588, when Phillip II of Spain was absolutely convinced that Queen Elizabeth had to be removed from power in England. Spanish troops were already heavily committed in the Netherlands, fighting a Protestant insurgency, and the imperial budget had fallen deeply into deficit. But Phillip and his courtiers allowed themselves the belief that God would deliver victory, and a speedy regime change in favor of good Catholic government in England.

This is in no way a defense of Gaddafi's conduct towards his own people recently. (Elizabeth I enjoys an illustrious reputation crafted by English historians, but she would have found 'human rights' a laughable idea, and was quite willing to crush without mercy any rebellions against her.) The best hope for making Libya a better place is not bombing, but a nonviolent resistance movement that is Islamic in character. Millions of Egyptians just showed us how it was done.

Edit: I also find it interesting that Angela Merkel, who grew up in totalitarian East Germany, is the most skeptical among Western leaders about military intervention.

14 March 2011

A sign at Saturday's Capitol Square protest read, "Scott, can you spell 'pyrrhic'?" And since etymology will undoubtedly be sent to the chopping block in Wisconsin's latest cuts to education, here is the origin of the word.

Pyrrhus, a third-century BC king of Epirus (which covers today's Albania and northwestern Greece), wanted to save the Greek colony of Tarentum in southern Italy from being absorbed by the Roman Republic. Presenting himself as a defender of Greek liberty, he invaded Italy with at least 25,000 men.

....near Heraclea a Greek and Roman army met for the first time. The Roman legion was a more flexible weapon than the cumbersome phalanx, but the tactics of Pyrrhus and his elephants won him the victory--but a costly one....During this time the Tarentines had grown weary of the military obligations imposed on them by the king, to whom they had accorded full powers for the duration of the war*.

At length the Carthaginians grew alarmed at Pyrrhus' rampages, and cooperated with the Romans (!) to drive his forces out of Sicily and Southern Italy.

*Jean Hatzfeld, History of Ancient Greece, Chapter 30

05 March 2011

Arizona Republicans want to secede from the United States

This is not an Onion headline, or taken from any satirical website. This is the import of an actual bill being debated in the Arizona state legislature. 150 years after South Carolina rebelled against the national government, some Arizonans are itching to try it again.

01 March 2011

Looks like we have to invade Ireland now: a extreme party with ties to terrorism has won almost 10 percent of the first-preference vote!