Thursday, May 13, 2004

Primitive accumulation

In the Internet era I have visited the Dave's Record Collection section of the "Late Show With David Letterman" web site more times than I count. I always find something new.

I can't begin to tell you about everything on this page I love, but for starters I recommend Red Shadow's "Understanding Marx" (use your browser's search tool to find the link). I wish political economy were always so groovy. And tuneful.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Pomp and/or circumstance

It's not entirely surprising that the president and his wife will skip their daughters' commencements at Yale and the University of Texas. In a gesture of touching concern for the other families, the Bushes say they don't want their presence to be disruptive.

But I went to a commencement at which a sitting president appeared, and it wasn't much different than any other graduation I've attended. In June 1999 President Clinton spoke at the University of Chicago graduation, and I, a giant fan of His Bubbatude, knew I had to be there. Fortunately a friend was graduating and had an extra ticket, so I was in like Flynn.

It was a steamy, late spring day on Chicago's South Side, and families and friends were packed into Harper Quadrangle on the pretty neo-Gothic campus. There were extra security precautions getting in, of course, but these amounted mostly to metal detectors and scowling goons.

You might have expected protests. Clinton had just that week orchestrated NATO's intervention in Kosovo, and the topic of his speech that day was free trade (which is why he wanted to give the talk at the U of C, ground zero for supply-side economics). And he was only a few months removed from his acquittal in l'affaire Lewinsky. In short, there were plenty of reasons for people to be mad at Clinton. But the campus remained serene.

The ceremony itself was dull, like all graduation ceremonies. The U of C begins its commencements with a parade of bagpipes and drums, and this always gives me a frisson. But otherwise it was the usual: a litany of names, a procession of relieved-looking, well-scrubbed young people.

Oh yes, and the president. It was the only time I saw him in person, and let me tell you, the cat's famous charisma is real. I felt it from 30 rows back. As I say, his talk was a policy speech in favor of free trade, and you either agree with him on that or you don't. But he was so smart, and so well spoken, and so attractive. Sigh...

Before the speech he shook the hands of all the graduates as they received their diplomas. Or most of them: about one in twenty declined to shake his hand.