"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Birthdays Today

It's Joan of Arc's birthday.   I have somewhat of a hard time believing that we accurately know birthdays for people six hundred years ago, but apparently we do.   She's 599 years young today.

It's also Carl Sandburg's birthday, the great American poet and biographer of Lincoln.   Poetry is essentially dead now, captured by the academy, the stuff of MFA programs and wispy assistant professors churning out their unread masterpieces so they can put another line on their resumes.   But once upon a time American poets could articulate visions of the country that became part of the collective vocabulary.   Sandburg was one of those, as in this famous passage about Chicago:

 Hog Butcher for the World,
     Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
     Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
     Stormy, husky, brawling,
     City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
     have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
     luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
     is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
     kill again.
Everybody remembers the first part, but it's that last line that gets me now, particularly with William Daley coming to be Barack Obama's White House Chief of Staff.   They tell me you are wicked and I believe them.... They tell me you are crooked and I answer:  Yes.   Now, apparently, in America's most hallowed halls of government, it's the Chicago way, or the highway.  


It's also Bjorn Lomborg's birthday.  He's 45.   Lomborg's book, Cool It, is one of the more sane tracts in political economics of recent years, as it proposes cost-benefit analyses for efforts to combat global warming, and largely concludes that they aren't going to be worth it and that we have better things to spend our resources on that trying to fend off a purely speculative harm that might be hundreds of years in the future.   Good stuff.

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