Poem: At the round earth's imagined corners

John Donne’s Sonnet #7 from the Divine Meditations:

At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, death, age, agues, tyrannies.
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For, if above all these, my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace,
When we are there; here, on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou hadst sealed my pardon, with thy blood.

[tag]John Donne[/tag] [1971]:  The Complete English Poems.  London, England: Penguin Classics. Edited by A. J. Smith. pp. 311-312.
Previous posts in this series can be found here.

Richard B. Cheney: belligerent incompetence

Andrew Sullivan, conservative:

It is very rare to get someone with the same stratospheric levels of arrogance and incompetence as you find in Dick Cheney. Let’s go to the tape: A war launched on false premises, a trillion dollar debt in a period of growth, a destruction of America’s moral standing, the loss of one major city (New Orleans) and the devastation of another (New York City), two horribly bungled military campaigns that have trapped his successors for decades, a political party decimated for a generation, his closest aide in jail for obstruction of justice, his own daughter and grand-child targeted by his own party as second-class citizens in the state they live in. And a war criminal. Did I miss anything?
Why is this man not laughed off every TV set he walks onto?”

Australian political language

Mention of former Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, today brought to mind his successor as PM, Paul Keating.  Journalist Mungo MacCallum’s great book, How to be a Megalomaniac, includes a list of the terms of abuse which Keating had used against his opponents during his time in politics (pp. 68-9):

harlots, sleazebags, frauds, immoral cheats, blackguards, pigs, mugs, clowns, boxheads, criminal intellects, criminals, stupid crooks, corporate crooks, friends of tax cheats, brain-damaged, loopy crims, stupid foul-mouthed grub, piece of criminal garbage, dullards, stupid, mindless, crazy, alley cat, bunyip aristocracy, clot, fop, gigolo, hare-brained, hillbilly, malcontent, mealy-mouthed, ninny, rustbucket, scumbag, scum, sucker, thug, dimwits, dummies, a swill, a pig sty, Liberal muck, vile constituency, fools and incompetents, rip-off merchants, perfumed gigolos, gutless spiv, glib rubbish, tripe and drivel, constitutional vandals, stunned mullets, half-baked crim, insane stupidities, champion liar, ghouls of the National Party, barnyard bullies, piece of parliamentary filth.”

As MacCallum notes, this listing is only of terms which Keating used in Federal Parliament, which of course has rules of decorum not applying in the rougher world outside.
Mungo MacCallum[2002]: How to be a Megalomaniac. Sydney, Australia: Duffy & Snellgrove.

Ol' 57 Varieties

Yesterday, in a ceremony awarding prizes to a successful US Navy football team at the White House, President Obama greeted a fellow Hawaiian with a “hang loose” sign (aka the Shaka gesture), which was of course returned. 

On the day before his Inauguration in January, an amateur video showed then-President-elect Barack Obama with his wife, greeting VIP guests at a concert held in his honour on the Mall, in Washington DC; many of these guests were black Americans, and Young Bazza spoke to them in a different accent, different tone of voice, and with different body language to his normal public persona.   As a state congressman in Illinois, he once remarked to an aide that the folks he met upstate were just like his Kansan relatives.  As is well-known, he was a big-city urban politician from Chicago, of a type that can be found throughout the North-East and in some cities elsewhere – think The Wire (Baltimore), or think larger-than-life city politicians from TR, Fiorello La Guardia, Richard Daley, John Lindsay, Ed Koch, Tip O’Neill, through to Rudy Giuliani and Cory Booker.  He was also Editor of the Harvard Law Review, putting him into the intellectual A-league alongside people like Adlai Stevenson, Henry Kissenger, Sam Nunn and both Clintons.
Perhaps the key reason for Obama’s sudden rise to national prominence  in the US is his ability to identify with people from all over the map, to make people feel that he is “one of us” in lots of different communities.   In this he takes after “Ol’ 57 Varieties” himself, Teddy Roosevelt.   Obama, of course, takes this to a new global level, with his family connections to Kenya and to Indonesia.
Two thoughts come to mind.  The first is that several successful politicians have had backgrounds or career experiences that enable them to connect with many different communities in their home countries:  [tag]Harold Wilson[/tag] for example, who traveled the length and breadth of Britain in his 20s as a researcher for [tag]William Beveridge[/tag] and for the Beveridge Commision; [tag]Eddison Zvobgo[/tag], another Harvard Law School graduate and Minister for Local Government in Robert Mugabe’s newly-independent Zimbabwe, who used the role to build a nationwide constituency; and [tag]Bob Hawke[/tag], Australian PM, who spent the main part of his career as first a researcher with and then President of the Australian Council of Trades Unions (the ACTU), a position which enabled him to travel widely, to meet people across the social spectrum, and to make connections internationally (eg, he negotiated with the USSR to allow greater Jewish emigration to Israel).
My second thought is that this provides us with another way to classify the various US Presidents.  Some Presidents, like Obama, are post-industrial nomads,  either not from one specific place or from several:  TR, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41.   Other Presidents are firmly perceived as being from one specific place:  Lincoln, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter, Clinton and Bush 43.  It is interesting that the only nomads before Obama were Republicans.

Poem: This is the violin

Another fine poem from Joe Stickney:

This is the violin. If you remember –
One afternoon late, in the early days,
One of those inconsolable December
Twilights of city haze,
You came to teach me how the hardened fingers
Must drop and nail the music down, and how
The sound then drags and nettled cries, then lingers
After the dying bow. –
For so all that could never be is given
And flutters off these piteously thin
Strings, till the night of a midsummer heaven
Quivers . . . a violin.
I struggled, and alongside of a duty,
A nagging everyday-long commonplace!
I loved this hopeless exercise of beauty
Like an allotted grace, –
The changing scales and broken chords, the trying
From sombre notes below to catch the mark,
I have it all thro’ my heart, I tell you, crying
Childishly in the dark.

Poem XXVI, page 237, of:
Trumbull Stickney [1966]: The Poems of Trumbull Stickney. Selected and edited by Amberys R. Whittle.  New York, NY, USA:  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
Previous poems by Trumbull Stickney here, and previous poetry posts here.  Another poem about a violin, by Vadim Delone, here.

In these times

You are a man of leisure, a sleepwalker, a mollusc.  The definitions vary according to the hour of the day, or the day or the week, but the meaning remains clear enough: you do not really feel cut out for living, for doing, for making; you want only to go on, to go on waiting; and to forget.
Such an outlook on life is generally not much appreciated in modern times:  all around you, all your life, you have seen the esteem in which action is held, and grand designs, and enthusiam:  man straining forward, man with his gaze fixed on the horizon, man looking straight ahead.  A clear gaze, a powerful chin, a confident swagger, stomach held in.  Staying power, initiative, strokes of brilliance, success:  all of these things map out the too transparent part of a too examplary existence, constitute the sacrosanct images of the struggle for life.  The white lies, the comforting illusions of all those who are running on the spot, sinking deeper into the mire, the lost illusions of the thousands left on society’s scrap heap, those who arrived too late, those who put their suitcase down on the pavement and sat on it to wipe their brow.  But you no longer need excuses, regrets, nostalgia.  You reject nothing, you refuse nothing. You have ceased going forward, but that is because you weren’t going forward anyway, you’re not setting off again, you have arrived, you can see no reason to go any further” (pages 142-143)

Georges Perec [1967]:  A Man Asleep.  (Translation by Andrew Leak published 1990 in London, UK by The Harvill Press.)

Poem: The Hours

This poem, The Hours, is by Australian poet Aidan Coleman, whom I thank for his permission to post this:

Evenings I get nothing done.
The late night ads hunt in packs.  I stay up.
The clack, clack, clack of the fan. The hours.
And there all the time, prayer:
the pool I sit beside,
the cool of every drink and shadow.

Aidan Coleman [2005]:  Avenues and Runways.  Australia: Brandl & Schlesinger Poetry.
Some more poems by Aidan Coleman can be found in an ABC Radio National podcast,  here.
Previous poetry posts can found be here.

White House Cosmopolitanism

Following the first seder ever held in the White House, The Guardian’s US correspondent, Michael Tomasky, has a post arguing that the Obamas “are our first cosmopolitan first couple.”  Like the widespread myth that Barack Obama is the first urban US president (he is in fact the third), this is not the case.   Before the Obamas, Presidents John F. Kennedy (mentioned briefly by Tomasky, albeit grudgingly), Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt were as cosmopolitan as the Obamas.
TR was born into a family that had already lived in Manhattan for over 200 years, and his grandfather was arguably the richest man in New York City.  Roosevelt spent his 10th birthday in Europe, as part of a year-long Grand Tour his father had organized to educate the Roosevelt children, visiting Britain, the Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.  He married his second wife in London, while staying in Brown’s Hotel, perhaps the most expensive hotel in the city.  While Governor of New York state, his dinner table included guests such as the Governor-General of Canada and a young English journalist named Winston S. Churchill.  That TR traveled west to the Dakotas to find himself after the death of his first wife, and so gained a reputation as a courageous frontiersman (a reputation fully deserved) is only evidence of a wider cosmopolitanism, not a provincialism; for instance, his western experience reinforced in him a respect for others according to their values and achievements, regardless of their social status or ethnic origin.  TR was the first US President to dine at the White House with a black American guest, Booker T. Washington in 1901, and he appointed the first Jewish-American to a Cabinet post, Oscar Strauss as Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1906.  And TR had such a tendency to claim ancestry from different ethnic groups (Dutch, German, Irish, among others), he was nick-named “Old 57 Varieties”.
Hoover, too, had traveled widely before he became President, working in the mines of Western Australia and in China, and seeking to alleviate the suffering of refugees in Europe during World War I.  His fortune may have been ill-gotten, but he declined Lloyd George’s offer of a place in the Imperial War Cabinet during WW I in order to devote his efforts to raising money for war relief.  Whatever he was  – a scheming, get-rich-quick merchant before WW I, a do-nothing President paralyzed by ideology during the Great Depression, and full of self-righteous sanctimony afterwards – Hoover was certainly no provincial.   Indeed, both Hoover and TR were geographically restless – people we’d call Post-Industrial Nomads if they had lived a century later.
And even some other recent Presidents, although perhaps not as cosmopolitan as Obama, were not as provincial as George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.  Eisenhower had seen overseas military service, in Europe during WWII, as had JFK, LBJ, Dick Nixon and George H. W. Bush,  in Australia and the Pacific.   Bush 41 had also been the US representative in China before becoming President.   Obama is certainly exceptional, but he’s not unique.

The undead

COBOL turns 50 this year, but still has the energy and enthusiasm of a someone much younger. Perhaps 50 is the new 30, or even the new 14!

But are companies really relying on a half-century-old invention to handle large chunks of their dealings? Mike Madden, development service manager with the catalogue-shopping firm JD Williams, believes so.
Better known for its online stores, such as Simply Be and Fifty Plus, Madden says JD Williams remains highly dependent on Cobol applications. “We have a huge commitment to Cobol,” he says. “About 50% of our mainframe systems use it.”
Why? “Simple – we haven’t found anything faster than Cobol for batch-processing,” Madden says. “We use other languages, such as Java, for customer-facing websites, but Cobol is for order processing. The code matches business logic, unlike other languages.”