April 18, 2009

Weekend special: Dylan quiz

The staff at Goat Rope strives ceaselessly to make this a full service blog. We are therefore pleased to present our first Bob Dylan lyric quiz. Do your best on the questions and remember--googling is no fair.

Answers will appear in Monday's post.

1. Why don't the pump work?

2. What was Romeo moaning?

3. What must you be in order to live outside the law?

4. What does Maggie's brother hand you?

5. Who are the people who run a brick and tile company?

6. Where were the girls playing five card stud?

7. What was the doctor's advice to the hysterical bride?

8. When did the priest wear black?

9. What happens when you bite off more than you can chew?

10. What came through the line of the pay phone that just about blew the mind of the narrator of a certain song?


April 16, 2009

Theory wars

The Greek god Hermes, presumably the patron of hermeneutics. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero did not realize it at the time, but apparently a tempest raged in academic teacups in the 1980s and 1990s about literary theory of all things. It even had political overtones, as long as you strip the word "political" of most practical meanings.

And, while partisans marched on the English department, the right wing was taking over the country. Nice job, guys.

Anyhow, for a hoot I went on a jag of reading about literary theory a few years back. Aside from traditional, Marxist, and Freudian schools of interpretation, there was all kinds of wild stuff. There was structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, semiotics, deconstructionism, post-colonial criticism, identity-based theories, cultural studies, hermeneutics and more. I even tried reading a little Derrida.

It was kind of fun, as long as you treated it like science fiction.

Some "texts" were found guilty of things like logo-centrism and, God forbid, phallo-logo-centrism. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when people talk about works of literature as texts, the better part of valor is to retreat immediately.

I think it worked like this. Late at night the literary police would pound on the door of a Jane Austen novel. The suspect would be interrogated and tortured until its author was convicted of not being an anti-imperialist revolutionary.

Well, no $%*#. I don't think there were any anti-imperialist training camps open to English women circa 1815.

Anyhow, I found the world of literary theory a nice place to visit but no place to stay. The stories, however remain.

I PREFER COFFEE TO TEA, CONTINUED. Here's an analysis of the astroturf tea party tendency.

UNEMPLOYMENT. Some are hit harder than others these days.

INEXCUSABLE. Here's the latest court decision on the 2006 Aracoma mine fire which resulted in two fatalities at this Massey Energy subsidiary.

CELEBRATE (NEANDERTHAL) DIVERSITY. There may have been several sub-groups of them.


April 15, 2009

Lost in a tale

El Cabrero has been musing lately about how literature can enrich daily life (as well as working for social justice). In fact, I often feel like I'm experiencing aspects of this story or that.

To give an example I mentioned last week, watching the tide of a policy battle surge back and forth in my state legislature reminded me of a comic version of the Iliad. I've also seen things in public and private life that remind me of various comedies and tragedies.

Of course, you can run anything into the ground. It can be kind of dangerous sometimes to confuse literature with real life.

The two best examples of that come from...literature. The thing that makes Cervantes' Don Quixote both funny and sad is that he can't tell the difference between the world he lived in and the romances he read. Another example might be Flaubert's Madame Bovary, who got ramped up on another kind of romance writing and messed up the lives of several people, including her own.

There are plenty of other stories of that kind of thing. Come to think of it, it's stories all the way down.

WHILE THE ECONOMY TANKS, CEO pay is doing just fine.

CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE. Here's a Newsweek profile of Harvard law professor, author, and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren. She was way out in front on the whole debt crisis. El Cabrero strongly recommends checking out her books.

IT MUST BE HARD TIMES. Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship got a pay cut.

TAXES. Animals collect them too.

COMPASSION ON THE BRAIN. Its roots go deep.


April 14, 2009

Caught in another tale

Jacob practicing a little judo with the angel. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The official Goat Rope definition of a great story is that it is something you can find as well as lose yourself in.

(Sorry about ending that sentence with a preposition; that's a bad thing to end one with.)

The thing a about a great story, whether it's from the classics or folklore or something new is that it can sometimes illuminate situations in real life. Sometimes it's like you're not just reading literature, you're incorporating or enacting it or experiencing aspects of certain stories in real life.

After having spent several years sparring with various bureaucracies and their irrational policies, I feel like I haven't just read Kafka's work--I've lived it. In my more paranoid moments, I sometimes wonder whether the people who make up some of those rules are Kafka fans...

Similarly, when I'm trying to persuade people to work together to change something, I feel like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence and trying to get the other kids to do it. Enduring the worst of the Bush years was kind of like living in Oran during the plague in Camus' novel of the same title. Etc.

Sometimes, stories seem to bleed over into life easily and spontaneously. In other cases, we have to grapple with them like Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis. He held on for dear life as daylight approached and said "I will not let go until you bless me."

I think I just did the story thing again. Anyhow, the point is, it's often worth the struggle.

UNEMPLOYED AND UNCOVERED. Millions of unemployed workers aren't eligible for benefits under many state programs, but there are options from the stimulus package to expand and modernize coverage. This is something I've been working with folks on in WV. The state's unemployment rate went up again in March.

SPEAKING OF EMPLOYMENT, demand for green collar job training is growing.

STATE BUDGET CUTS could delay economic recovery.

RELIGION. Here's E.J. Dionne on the future of Christianity.

IMMIGRATION. The nation's two largest labor federations, the AFLCIO and Change to Win, have reached agreement on supporting comprehensive immigration reform.


April 12, 2009

On living Moby-Dick

Note: this post was intended to come out Friday, April 17, but I got the date wrong. I apologize to email subscribers for any inconvenience.

Lately the theme at Goat Rope has been literature and its role in enriching life and work. Here's a personal example:

El Cabrero has never sailed on a whaling ship, nor am I likely to do so at this point. But I love Melville's Moby-Dick. It's one I keep going back to every few years. One thing they may not have told you in English class is that quite a bit of that book is laugh out loud funny, in a dark kind of way.

Moby-Dick is a great example of my definition of a great story as something you can find as well as lose yourself it. At different points in my life, it felt like I wasn't just reading it--I was living it. I've been several different characters in turn.

Like Ishmael, I sometimes find it to be a "damp, drizzly November in my soul," the kind of mood in which I
find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet...

Like him, I've sometimes found that on such occasions,

it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off...

(Usually that's a sign that something needs to change.)

And like him, I've found water--even a little creek--to be mesmerizing, since "meditation and water are wedded forever."

Sometimes I get in Ahab mode. My leg was never bitten off or otherwise amputated by a white sperm whale, but I have been bitten by poverty and never quite got over it. It made me want to hunt the beast down whenever the opportunity occurs. There is that inscrutable something in every instance of injustice gets me going:

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?

At other times, I've played the role of first mate Starbuck by trying to talk other people down when they're ramped up to Ahab mode. Then there are the days when I feel like poor mad Pip.

And, while I officially disapprove of whaling, I do know the savage thrill of the hunt, of scanning the horizon for some kind of opening and yelling "There she blows!" when one occurs.

Bottom line: I've found that both reading and life are more fun and interesting when they are integrated.

HAVE WE HIT BOTTOM? Maybe, maybe not.

I PREFER COFFEE, CONTINUED. Here's a good blog post on some taxing issues by Greg Coleridge, an AFSC co-worker of mine in Ohio.

ON THAT NOTE, here's more on the subject by economist Dean Baker and the Economic Policy Institute.

WRITING ABOUT VALUES seemed to help some students boost their grade point averages.


Don't read it, be it

El Cabrero has long believed and often stated that humans are creatures of narrative or story. We read them, watch them, listen to them, and make them up all the time--even when we don't think we're doing it.

That's my story anyway. And, yes, I'm sticking to it.

That's one reason why I think literature is so enriching to life. While it is probably beyond the reach of a Mud River pirate such as myself to attempt to define what great literature is, I do have a working definition of a great story.

Y'all ready?

A great story is one that you cannot only lose yourself in; it's one that you can find yourself in.

You can use that if you want (with proper attribution of course).

STATES SLASH SERVICES. Programs benefiting vulnerable citizens have already been cut in 34 states so far as the recession spreads. That will probably be the next big thing to hit WV.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS when you overuse a word.

I PREFER COFFEE. Here's Krugman on tea parties.