I spent yesterday afternoon in London. Disembarking at King’s Cross, I wandered over to Trefalgar Sq., and sat down on a bench to watch pigeons and smoke a cigarette. I was approached by a young man in a pink polo who asked me to “help him w/ his art project.” All I had to do was fill this little square of paper w/ anything I wanted…drawings, musings, games of tic-tac-toe….Under the heading “National Gallery,” I wrote the ee cummings quote that is also a subheading for this site, “listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.” Then in parenthesis I added “on y va. пошли. vamos.” I still had a little space left, so I sketched a little cluster of roses, w/ the caption, “It’s such a lovely day; I want to buy you flowers,” which you may recognize as being inspired by lyrics from an Emilie Simon song. Not v. original, but all I could manage extemporaneously. Anyway, he was collecting all these little paper brain children; I have no idea what he’s going to do w/ them…probably some sort of collage. If he ever becomes famous, know that I contributed! 😉 After that I wandered the National Gallery (which is good, b/c it’s free) for a while, and saw their love exhibition, which included, notably, Rossetti’s “Astarte,” the Singh sisters’ takes on different kinds of love (brilliant combinations of old-fashioned Indian lithographs w/ modern, pop-art elements, as if Andy Warhol had rewritten the Kama Sutra), and Sandys’ “Medea” (which I stared at for a small eternity, utterly captivated by small details, like the barely visible constellations etched onto the golden wall behind Medea). After that I wandered around Green Park for a little bit, before heading to Piccadilly Circus, and up Shaftsbury Ave., where most of the city’s major theatres were located. I saw Les Misérables at Queen’s Theatre. It was a wonderful show; the cast was v. talented, the costumes elaborate; the sets impressive (sections of the stage spun, sort of like built-in turn tables, lending the illusion of motion over longer distances, and really bringing dynamism to the set). I have to admit I haven’t actually read Hugo’s book, and so cannot comment about the musical’s fidelity to the story. In fact, I find Hugo to be dreadully boring; his stories are much better when briefly summarized. I tried to read The Hunckback of Notre Dame once, and found myself routed by the book’s glacial progress and stilted (though this could have been the fault of the translator) prose.
The only unpleasant part was the cold walk home from the train station, but even that was quickly forgotten once I got home, changed into my pajamas, and settled down w/ a nice cup of tea.
Then I woke up this morning to find that back home in America we were having some sort of economic meltdown.
“In the long run, we’re all dead.”–John Maynard Keynes
I first was alerted to trouble by gasps from my roommate Ellen, who was sitting in front of her computer, her mouth hanging open. “Oh my god!”
“What? What?” I asked.
“Washington Mutual has been seized by the government!” Washington Mutual–once a large and prestigious bank–had become another casualty in the American financial crisis. It apparently failed. A bank failure, if I understood Ellen’s explanation correctly, happens when the bank doesn’t have enough money to pay people back. Now, no bank has enough at any given time to give ALL their clients EVERY penny, but by law they’re required to be able to render back 5-10% of someone’s holdings. The article also said there was “a run on the bank” (which I know from the Mary Poppins movie is what happens when everyone goes and demands their money back all at once). Anyway, J.P. Morgan-Chase has absorbed all of Washington Mutual’s branches. I asked Ellen if this acquisition was the wisest thing in these precarious times, since it could easily lead to the overextension of resources. She postulated that the government probably pressured J.P. Morgan into making the move (just as it had probably leaned on the already-shaky Bank of America into taking on Merril Lynch). Otherwise, control of Washington Mutual would have been remanded to the FDIC (who insures deposits), and the $30 billion of assets that went w/ it. As Ellen pointed out, the government could hardly just send Mutual customers a check w/ a note instructing them to find a new bank. Also, the FDIC stockpile is only about $45 billion; responsibility for Washington Mutual would have consumed a good 2/3 of their fund, which would have put everyone else in an extremely dangerous position financially. So they palmed it off onto J.P. Morgan, in the hopes that they won’t have too much trouble just taking on the bank’s physical branches and applying their business model in order to keep things running smoothly.
The backdrop for all this business is, as you may know, the failure of negotiations regarding the government’s “bail-out” plan.
“Where were they planning to get $700 billion anyway?” I asked. “It’s not like we have the money!”
“They were just going to print it,” Ellen replied, pointing upwards, much like a saint in a Renaissance painting, whose gesture is meant to foreshadow Christ’s bloody doom. “You know, inflation.”
“Ooooh. That’s a bad idea,” I said, thinking of the Phillips Curve.
She was also talking about how the dollar might soon no longer be the world’s benchmark currency. If this is the case, let me just say: World, I don’t blame you for wanting something more stable. H/e, it’s the dollar that has allowed us to run on a deficit and accrue some $10 trillion in debt. If the dollar becomes obsolete, and drastically devalued, then we’ll be out of credit, like some shopaholic who has maxed out all of her credit cards. No one (and rightly) will want to give us loans, at least not on the scale we’re going to need if we plan to continue the war in Iraq AND cut taxes AND keep troops in Afghanistan AND fight terrorism….
“Wow, it really sucks to be abroad right now,” I commented, thinking w/ trepidation about the dollar plummeting even further.
“Actually, I’m kind of glad to be out of the United States right now, to be perfectly honest,” Ellen said. “The pound isn’t doing too well, either.”
“Yeah, that’s probably the only reason it’s not three to one right now.”
“The UK markets are really tied up in the American ones, so of course they’re doing poorly as well.”
“Although I noticed that the UK firms aren’t wasting any time in mopping up some of the choice assets that are being shed by the failing banks. Barclay’s, for one….”
I don’t know what’s going to happen, only that w/e it is, I’ll be powerless to stop it. This isn’t a novel; my life isn’t going to reach some sort of climax where I become an outlaw in my search for a new, more prosperous existence, while my sister nurses random members of the starving masses. No, we’re all just going to continue as best we can, the unwitting pawns of unseen forces in the political and financial arenas.
Speaking of politics, I’m v. suspicious about McCain wanting to postpone the presidential debate, and think it has less to do w/ ameliorating the economic situation than w/ deviously contriving to cancel the VP debate (by replacing it w/ the rescheduled presidential one). Obviously Sarah Palin is no orater, and would be useless if she can’t have stuff spoon-fed to her by neo-con speechwriters; she’s basically George W. Bush w/ boobs and a bouffant hairdo. She’s also clearly clueless in matters of foreign policy, which is Biden’s strong point, and therefore what he would be most likely to take up.
In my classes this past wk I’ve noticed I’ve been sort of outspoken. Strident, even, in some cases. Otherwise I get too bored, I think. Also, for some reason I have taken it upon myself to either a) try, Colbert-style, to get people to say some extreme, cray-zar things, e.g. I got one of my professors, Dr. W., to basically admit that he thought we should kill everyone being held in Guantanamo*, or b) have a real discussion. I am soooo tired of tiptoeing through the tulips of people’s so-called “beliefs.” Religion is bullshit, and I’m not going to argue w/ you about it, b/c the only “proof” you have is your own faith. Not only is that not good enough, I refuse to pretend that it is. Would you want your dr. to make decisions about your health based on what his god told him, instead of going through a scientifically sound diagnostic process? If not**, why would you mould your brain and inform your decisions based on falsehood? Lack of serious thought jeopardizes mental health just as surely as shoddy medicine endangers physical well-being. Before the real medical breakthroughs of the 19th and 20th centuries, patients survival rates (at least for surgery) were only about 50%–no better than random chance. W/ odds like that, there’s no need to run to the Bible…just flip a coin! Heads, you’re pro-choice, tails, you’re not….
*O Guantanamo, what are we going to do w/ you? What CAN we do? I have a plan, but only if I go into ruthless Evil Overlord mode. See, the prison camp is a canker that has corrupted our international reputation, perhaps beyond repair. In order to save face, this gangrenous limb of failed policy, which sends its putrid stink all the way across the Atlantic, needs to be excised. But how to do it? We can’t just admit we were wrong and let everyone go. I mean, if I were a newly released detainee, do you know what my first move would be? Damn straight, I would start plotting against the U.S., esp. those fuckers who abused me for yrs., when I hadn’t done anything in the first place. Plus, I would have made all sorts of handy contacts in prison (I am fairly certain that at least some of the prisoners have been involved in terrorist activity, but a good 3/4 have got to be bycatch), who could facilitate my really cunning plans (like an anti-American bake sale, w/ “special” opium-laced bin Laden brownies. And dirty bombs). No, the only thing for a proper Evil Overlord to do is just kill them all. Of course, you have to make it look like an accident. Personally, I would fake a natural disaster (come on, we totally have the means to do that) and just wipe everybody out. That means American soldiers too, to add credibililty. Besides, it means that they can’t go and write pesky tell-all memoirs about the atrocities they saw their comrades commit under the auspices of the current administration.
OR we could do the morally correct thing, release all the names and case files of the prisoners, grant them the rights that every defendant is supposed to get under the U.S. constitution, and try them in the U.S. courts, initiating what would certainly be a v. lengthy, v. costly, and v. humiliating process. A process that would undoubtedly ignite a firestorm of both domestic and international criticism, and lead to the impeachment, indictment, or resignation in disgrace of most of our current top officials. None of which sounds at all fun.
So they’ll do nothing. Obama will inherit the crisis, and in the name of decency and transparecy, try and pry open the Pandora’s Box it has become; or else McCain will take it and sit on it as long as he can. But if there IS a freak typhoon there or something…just remember…I said it first….
**Of course, there ARE people who do just that…you hear about them when they get slapped w/ abuse charges when they try and cure their children’s diabetes w/ the power of prayer…and then the children die. Still, you’ve got to admire them for seeing their principles through. That’s commitment.