February 28, 2009

This whole Experiment of Green

On the subject of spring, Luna the clown says "Bring it on!"

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!

--the divine Miss Emily Dickinson

February 27, 2009

Regarding that upon which even kings must sit

Franklin loved to pretend to adoring Parisians that he was a backwoods sage. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero has been thumbing through Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac lately in search of bloggable nuggets. The ever busy Franklin began publishing it as a young man in 1733 and kept it up for around 25 years.

Even when he ceased writing for it in 1758, his career as a revolutionary was still a good way off. However, you can find some healthy skepticism about monarchy and the pride of the powerful in the Almanac.

Here are some samples, beginning with my favorite:

The greatest monarch on the proudest throne
is oblig'd to sit upon his own arse.

In the 1930s, the late great Woody Guthrie reminded us that some will rob us with a six gun and some with a fountain pen and in the 1980s Bob Dylan sang that "steal a little and they throw you in jail/steal a lot and they make you king." Poor Richard got there first:

Robbers must exalted be,
Small ones on the Gallow-Tree,
While greater ones ascend to thrones,
But what is that to thee or me?

And here are some more:

In rivers and bad Governments
The lightest things swim at the top.

Many princes sin with David
but few repent with him.

You may give a man an Office
but you cannot give him discretion.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BUDGET BATTLE. President Obama's proposed budget represents a dramatic break with the Reagan legacy (it's about time). Here's Krugman's take.

OUCH. The latest unemployment numbers are worse than many expected.

CLEAN COAL? Not so much.

THE HUMANITIES are up against it in the wake of the recession.



February 26, 2009

Poor Richard on piety

Ben Franklin's amigo Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778). Image courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero has been combing through Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac lately in search of bloggable nuggets. I found a few items on the subject of religion that seemed worth a look.

Franklin, like many people in his generation, tended towards Deism, a rationalist outlook that believed that God figuratively speaking wound up the world's clock and then got out of the way (although he tried not to antagonize those with more traditional beliefs).

Most Deists rejected miracles and any revelation other than reason, although they tended to support rational moral virtues and many believed in some kind of afterlife. They tended to believe that God did not intervene in the world's affairs, other than by giving people the use of reason. As Voltaire put it,

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.

Deism can be seen in part as a rejection of the dogmatism and fanaticism that led to so many of the wars and religious persecutions in European history. This quote from the Almanac pretty well expresses that:

Many have quarreled about Religion
That never practiced it.

Ain't that the truth?

Here are some more:

A good example is the best sermon.

None preaches better than the ant,
and she says nothing.

(Ben had the Protestant work ethic out the wazoo...)

Here's one for the road:

Don't judge of men's wealth or piety
by their Sunday appearances.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BUDGET BATTLE from those waged during the Bush administration looms. The NY Times reports that President Obama's proposed budget will call for closing tax breaks for the wealthy to expand health coverage and a serious approach to climate change.

ECONOMISTS TALKING SENSE. Thirty-nine prominent economists have signed on to a statement in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. They also took out a full page ad to that effect in the Washington Post.

BANK ON IT. El Cabrero is a fan of the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Here's his take on the banking mess. And here are his words of wisdom:

Indeed, the incentive system put in place by financial companies has produced the worst possible economic system mankind can imagine: capitalism for the profits and socialism for the losses...

No incentive without disincentive. And never trust with your money anyone making a potential bonus.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. The economy may be tanking, but shark attacks are down.


February 25, 2009

A toast to Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian penitential season of Lent, which occurs during the 40 days before Easter. Actually, there are 46 days, but the Sundays don't technically count.

The traditional religious ceremonies for this day involve the imposition of ashes on the foreheads while the priest intones "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." Some would say it's kind of a downer as religious holidays go, but it works for me. Whenever I have the chance, I try to attend services on that day.

In the old days, Lent was a time of fasting. Even today, many people will either do something extra or give something up for this period.

During my more religiously observant periods, I've actually done crazy things, like giving up all consumption of alcoholic beverages for the whole season. (This was partly for religious reasons, but mostly to make sure I could.)

I found I could do it without much problem--in fact the practice helped me understand why "lento" is a Spanish word for slow--but it had the curious side effect of making me lose all interest in religion.

Since my interest in religious matters is at a scandalously low level at present, I have decided not to imperil my immortal soul by abstention. So tonight, I plan to raise a glass to my old friend Lent.


FIRESIDE CHAT? Here's the text of President Obama's speech and one reaction to it.

THE EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES (OR THE LACK THEREOF). Here's an item on rethinking the meaning of wealth.

BAD JOB. This article discusses the right wing war against unions.

ALMOST THERE. Here's the latest on the Massey Energy/Don Blankenship/Brent Benjamin case now before the US Supreme Court.

COOPERATION WORKS, at least in (game) theory. If you're interested in this topic search "game theory" in this blog's archives for an earlier series.

URGENT LIZARD TAIL UPDATE here. Sneak preview: some can somersault.


February 24, 2009

Fish and visitors

This week El Cabrero is combing through Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac in search of wisdom, wit and entertainment. As is the case with the work of many of the founders, quite a bit of his work holds up pretty well. Enjoy. And for less witty links and comments about current events, scroll on down.

Here's one for anybody who has had company overstay their welcome:

Fish and visitors stink in three days.

(I'm not sure that's always the case, but sometimes it doesn't take three days for either.)

But Poor Richard often pointed out that our biggest problems weren't caused by others but by ourselves:

He that composes himself
is wiser than he that composes books.

Who has deceiv'd thee as oft as thy self?

He that won't be counsell'd, can't be help'd.

TRUTH SQUAD. Media Matters is exposing misinformation about unions, workers, and the Employee Free Choice Act.

INDULGENCES (of the religious variety) are making a comeback.

HEALTH CARE COSTS now exceed $8,100 per person in the US.

DON'T FORGET RECESS. Play and nature time is important for children's learning.


February 23, 2009

Poor Richard, old Ben

You know who. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Many of the founders of the United States were brilliant and colorful people, but few had as interesting and varied a life as Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). Author, revolutionary, entrepreneur, scientist, diplomat, citizen, innovator...the list could go on and on.

Before he was an actor on the world stage, Franklin published the popular Poor Richard's Almanac between 1732 and 1758 under the pseudonym Poor Richard or Richard Saunders. It contained all the usual calendar and weather stuff we associate with almanacs, but is best remembered today for Poor Richard's wit and wisdom, which ranged in subject from religion and politics to marriage, love, money, and lots more.

Along with the usual links and comments about current events, we'll be sampling a little of Poor Richard's fare this week at Goat Rope.

Why don't we start with the subject of foolishness?

The World is full of fools and faint hearts, and yet every one has courage enough to bear the misfortunes and wisdom enough to manage the affairs of his neighbor.

Some things never change. But wait, there's more:

He's a Fool that cannot conceal his Wisdom

That reminds me of what a friend said about a certain politician, to wit "He's usually the smartest person in the room but isn't smart enough not to show it."

Poor Richard particularly enjoyed poking fun at educated fools:

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

The most exquisite Folly is made of Wisdom spun too fine.

It's unlikely that we'll ever be rid of fools or our own foolishness, which leads to a dilemma:

It is Ill-Manners to silence a Fool
and cruelty to let him go on.

BANK ON IT. Paul Krugman discusses nationalization here.

WHITHER CAPITALISM? In this op-ed, Benjamin Barber muses on the future of capitalism.

NICKNAMES, MESSIAHS AND MORE are discussed in the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

MORE SUPREME FUN. El Cabrero missed this one last week. Here's a cover story from USA Today on the Don Blankenship/Massey Energy/WV Supreme Court saga.