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Beggars and billionaires

  T he beggar and the billionaire bookend neoliberal culture. During the era of the social democratic exception, from the mid forties to roughly the eighties, homelessness – and vagabondage – fell considerably. Not that this was an unmitigated good – from the mental asylum to the housing project, coercion, violence, despair and underfunding were endemic. But the effect of state cuts to welfare and to the general withdrawal of the state from housing, mental health care, and retirement funding had effects that were seen throughout the developed economies.   In Les gens de rien: l’histoire de la grande pauvreté dans le France du XXe siecle, Andre Guesclen traces the decline of vagabondage and homelessness during the thirty glorious years and their return at the end of the century. The same story was told, in 1991, by Joel Blau in The Visible Poor. The visible poor, an excellent title. I have a media knowledge of billionaires. How could I not. They populate telenovelas, like Succession
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The Forseeable third: Albert Thibaudet and the Sybilline Prophecies

  Albert Thibaudet was a ferociously learned man, which was both his glory and his great fault. When he would travel from the towns in which he taught – Abbeville, Amiens – or from the town in which he was born – Tornus, a wine town midway between Dijon and Lyon – to Paris, he’s carry one valise with his clothes and toiletry, and a heavier valise with his books.   He was the type of man to whom nothing exactly happened: born to a wealthy landowner, he went through the university system in the late 19 th century, became enamored of Mallarme’s writing and wrote a book about it, was published by the thick magazines and ended up at the NRF under Gide, and wrote more books, articles, letters to the mandarins (Valery, Gide, Maurras, Barres, etc.), all of whom he knew. This life of nothing happening was interrupted by World War I. He was in his forties, but he enlisted and was put in a company that built roads and structures for the soldiers – and even buried a few. These were happy years

A cat must have three different names: Eliot as a young critic

  Cynthia Ozick wrote a famous reckoning with   T.S. Eliot – and his problem with the Jews – for the New Yorker in   1989. The beginning of the essay is marred by the “impression journalism”that identifies Ozick with the proto-cultural warriors, always on the lookout, then, for the decline in Western Civ. Ozick claims, without any references whatsoever, that Eliot is no longer taught in the colleges and the universities, and that he is only remembered for Prufrock. This, at the end of a decade in which the longest running musical on Broadway was called Cats. Ozick, like her soulmates on   the conservative cultural magazine of that decade, the New Criterion, dispenses with providing evidence as though that, itself, were some persnickety politically correct trick. Thus,   there is no grubby looking through actual college catalogues to prove her point, or looking at Anthologies to see if Eliot has so palpably dwindled. In this kind of journalism,   impression quickly reduces to fact and

defining hatred, deflating hatred

  Yeats is the great poet of defining hatred – the hatred that makes the self definite to itself.   He is the great poet of the moods of this hatred: he understood, as well, what sacrifice it coerces from the heart, what a burden it is to perpetually carry around an enemy’s list. Of course, being a Tory of the ultra kind, he saw hatred as being a property of the Left. Being a poet, though, he suspected it was a property of being Yeats. In the Prayer for his Daughter, there’s a marvelous, a legendary account of this: My mind, because the minds that I have loved, The sort of beauty that I have approved, Prosper but little, has dried up of late, Yet knows that to be choked with hate May well be of all evil chances chief. If there’s no hatred in a mind Assault and battery of the wind Can never tear the linnet from the leaf. An intellectual hatred is the worst, So let her think opinions are accursed. Have I not seen the loveliest woman born Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,


  I am oddly proud of the fact that I lived about a bicycle ride away from ground zero of the start of the second Drug War. That war started in a birthday party in Decatur, Georgia. in his book about the drug wars of the Reagan era – which stretched into the Clinton era, until the pharmaceutical companies got seriously into getting Americans wasted -   Dan Baum makes the claim that it all started with   Ashley Schuchard, the thirteen year old daughter of an English prof at Emory, whose invitees to her birthday party in 1976 all got stoned, shocking her mother:: “During Ashley’s birthday party, Schuchard was amazed to see twelve and thirteen year olds stumbling around red-eyed, giggling, and obviously stoned. She saw the flicker of matches in dark corners of the back yard. She could smell burning reefer.” Carter was elected president that year. As Baum puts it, drug enforcement was a low priority for the Carter administration. In general, the middle class, or the upper middle clas

The Romantic agony in a cocktail lounge lady’s room

    I searched my heart, the street, my ex-‘s habits, my family I searched them all for opportune   neuroses That I could jot down for my poetry And calm my nerves and hide the focus   Five fathoms deep in   something posy sounding. For after all, don’t I claim to be Some seashell bard, some grounding Mama, some prophet of the salty sea   Minus the albatross around my neck (come to tell you all)? -           No?   I’m here to sample wreck I’m here to smear the large and small   Until disproportion proposes That we go for a little walk, you and I, A little walk with pretty poses. A little truism, a little lie,   Logos burning a hole   in my pocket “Like her fair eyes, dude,   the day was fair”   I was going up like a rocket A perfect movement in the down and dirty   air   And heard myself gibbering like a bat while the air grew ever more blind and thick with those who   flew, shrieked and shat panting for the breath we’d left beh

What's next? A nostalgic look at 2007 bullshit, and where we are now (in the ongoing catastrophe)

  In 2007, Prospect Magazine, always looking for hits, did a survey of big thinkers. Here’s the way they phrased their question: “We asked 100 writers and thinkers to answer the following question: Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next? The pessimism of their responses is striking: almost nobody expects the world to get better in the coming decades, and many think it will get worse.”   Admittedly, the thinkers they asked seemed somewhat random. David Brooks gets his say, and Joe Boyd, a music producer, gets his, and apparently what qualifies one to have a view of the next one hundred years best is to work for a bank or business or write an opinion column. There were no H.G. Wells, that’s for sure, and few seemed to disagree with the premise of the question. Well 16 years on, the answers seem all too predicably concentrated on what the 00s held to be the most important issue since some peasant invented bread: terrorism. Nobody, oddly, questioned the premise.