February 21, 2009

Tell it slant

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind -- The divine Miss Emily Dickinson


February 20, 2009

Moment to moment

Random picture of a Vermont llama.

El Cabrero has often expressed a fondness for the Stoics, an ancient Greco-Roman school of philosophy the leading exponents of which included a slave, Epictetus, and an emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

This isn't the first time this classic line by Epictetus shows up here, but I think it's worth repeating and committing to memory:

Some things are in our control and others not.

The clear implication is that we would do better to focus on the former rather than the latter. Among other things, doing so might help keep people from feeling overwhelmed and needlessly wasting energy.

Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, shares a soft spot for the Stoics and notes that many people who have endured extreme situations took a leaf from their notebook:

They deal with what is within their power from moment to moment, hour to hour, day by day. They leave the rest behind.

HOW LOW WILL IT GO? Here's Krugman on the depth of the recession.

THAT'S WHERE THE MONEY IS. Here's another call for cutting over the top Pentagon spending.

BEATING A DEAD HORSE. A group representing what El Cabrero thinks of as the Taliban/wahabi/jihad version of Christianity is attempting to ignite a culture war in WV, but the so far the results have been underwhelming.



February 19, 2009

States of mind

Random picture.

El Cabrero has been giving a shout out this week to Laurence Gonzales' book, Deep Survival: Who Live, Who Dies, and Why, which looks at how people do (or don't) make it through extreme situations.

It seems to me that some of what he has to say applies to ordinary situations as well. Here's today's sample:

Al Siebert, a psychologist, writes in The Survivor Personality that the survivor (a category including people who avoid accidents) "does not impose pre-existing patterns on new information, but rather allows new information to reshape [his mental models]. The person who has the best chance of handling a situation well is usually the one with the best...mental pictures or images of what is occurring outside of the body."

The map really doesn't necessarily correspond to the territory.

IF IT'S ANY CONSOLATION, IT AIN'T JUST US. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the economies of the world's major developed countries will shrink in 2009.

THE UNION PREMIUM. Unions provide better wages and conditions for workers in every state. Check out your own state data here.

FORECLOSURES. Here's a first look at President Obama's proposal to deal with the housing crisis.



February 18, 2009

Alive or dead?

Photo credit: La Cabra.

El Cabrero tries not to have too many pet peeves. But some just keep peeving away.

One of my biggest has to do with the subject of planning, especially in the context of working on social justice issues. I'm not opposed to the idea of planning or even the practice of it. It's just that life is full of random and unexpected events that we can't predict in advance.

As I've ranted here before, we are not all that great at knowing the future (ditto the present and the past) and we don't control other people and institutions (and have some self-control issues as well).

In the martial arts, a good practitioner often has no idea what he or she will do 30 seconds into a fight. You may have some general ideas or preliminary plans but in practice what you do should be a function of what your opponent does.

The best chance we have of winning at many things is to pay attention and act in accordance with the situation in the moment. This means we being flexible. As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching:

A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

In yesterday's post I mentioned Laurence Gonzales' book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. In the context of making it through extreme situations, he writes that:

...Rigid people are dangerous people. Survival is adaptation, and adaptation is change, but it is change based on a true reading of the environment...

Those who avoid accidents are those who see the world clearly, see it changing, and change their behavior accordingly. This will not save everyone from everything. Nothing will. But it will hep a great deal in most situations.

WILL IT WORK? The Energy Department is trying to bury carbon. It's not the whole answer but it would be kind of nice if it worked.

GOOD GREEN JOBS? At some point, maybe.

THE WHEEL TURNS. The EPA may be considering reversing some of Bush's coal policies, which essentially involved letting coal companies do whatever they wanted to.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY. The young and uninsured do just that.

BABOONS MAYBE, BUT PIGEONS? Some research suggest they may be smarter than we thought.


February 17, 2009

Stayin' alive

Photo by La Cabra. I'm not sure it has anything to do with the topics discussed today.

Every so often, it's kind of fun to read a book about survival in extreme situations. One recent book along those lines that I'd recommend is Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales.

Gonzales came about his interest in the subject honestly. During World War II, his father, a B-17 bomber pilot, miraculously managed to survive a 27,000 foot crash without a parachute, not to mention captivity in a German prisoner of war camp. He's pushed the envelope a time or two on his own as well.

One thing that makes his book a little different from plain narratives is that he attempts to look at the scientific data involved and draw some general conclusions that can be useful in all kinds of situations.

I was pleased, but not surprised, to find his book peppered with mentions of Zen Buddhism, Lao Tzu and the Taoist tradition.

He hit on some of my favorite themes (and pet peeves) in his discussion of the role of planning and how it can sometimes get in the way of dealing with things as they are.

Planning is fine, as long as you don't get stuck in it:

In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important; the plan is not. It's a Zen thing. We must plan. But we must be able to let go of the plan, too.

THE MAIN EVENT. Here's a look at the coming battle over the Employee Free Choice Act.

MORE FUN WITH THE WV SUPREMES. I missed this one Sunday. Here's the NY Times on Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, and the WV Supreme Court, all of which are entwined in a case before the US Supreme Court.

MICROLENDING. In the wake of the recession, interest in this kind of financing is growing.




February 16, 2009

Caveat emptor

The local paper has a ventline feature whereby people can anonymously call in and rant with a reasonable expectation of said rant appearing in print.

This past Saturday's post included this item, which wound up on the refrigerator at Goat Rope Farm:

To the man that sold me the F-150 in the Wal-Mart parking lot: Stop calling yourself a Christian. You're giving Christ a bad name.

Note to self: henceforth no longer make vehicle purchases from random individuals in the parking lots of big box retail stores, regardless of professed religious affiliation.

THE FUTURE OF COAL doesn't look too bright, according to this NY Times article. Articles like this have been known to cause ruling class hissy fits in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. But whatever happens, folks here need to start thinking ahead.

ON A RELATED NOTE, climate change could be nastier than predicted.

FRIENDS? Here's the latest on the ongoing saga of Massey Energy, CEO Don Blankenship, and WV Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, who was elected in 2004 with millions of dollars of help from Blankenship. A case regarding all this is now pending before the US Supreme Court.

PONZI NATION, or Madoff as metaphor.

BAD FEELINGS. Experiments suggest that expressing them in words makes it easier to control them.