June 13, 2009

Joy as it flies

He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies,
Lives in eternity's sunrise.--William Blake

June 12, 2009

A stroke of the wet sponge

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan, courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero has any number of superstitions, none of which are rationally justifiable but all of which persist nonetheless. One of these has to do with lucky and unlucky names. There is a part of me that believes that it is bad luck to name someone after a person or character who had extraordinarily bad luck.

One name that I really like but would never name a child is Cassandra, who is a major character in Aeschylus' tragedy Agamemnon, which has been the theme this week. To recap, she was a daughter of King Priam of Troy. Apollo fell in love with her and promised the gift of prophecy in return for intimacy. When she refused consent at the last moment, she was cursed by the god to have a accurate vision of the future but one that no one would believe.

I hate it when that happens.

Anyhow, she returned with King Agamemnon after the fall of Troy as a trophy and a slave. She knew that death awaited both of them at the hands of Clytemnestra but was powerless to avert it.

She gets the last word this week. Her last works speak volumes about a key theme of tragedy and express what Martha Nussbaum called "the fragility of goodness." Here goes (from the translation of Robert Fagles):

Oh men, your destiny.
When all is well a shadow can overturn it.
When trouble comes a stroke of the wet sponge,
and the picture's blotted out. And that,
I think that breaks the heart.

THE FUTURE OF CAPITALISM, American style, is the subject of this article by Joseph Stiglitz.

HATE is alive and well. Here is Paul Krugman on the right wing media's role in stoking it

TOUGH TIMES FOR RECENT GRADUATES. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows how tough it is for many to find jobs. I guess "Plastics" isn't quite getting it these days.

GREEN JOBS are here. According to Wired Science, 770,000 Americans already have one.

NOT SO GREEN JOBS. The Obama administration reveal more of its approach to mountaintop removal mining yesterday.

SLEEP ON IT. Research suggests that deep sleep with REM (not the band, although they are pretty cool) enhances creative problem solving.

THIS IS WEIRD, but the economy of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia actually grew by 2.5 percent in 2008, way outpacing the national economy.


June 11, 2009

"A jangled symphony of ill"

Clytemnestra emerges after murdering Agamemnon in this 1882 painting by artist John Collier. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Goat Rope's ongoing series on Greek tragedy continues, with the focus at the moment on Aeschylus' Agamemnon. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts. If you don't, you can scroll down for links and comments about current events.

"There arises from these halls in a single voice
A perpetual choir,
A jangled symphony of ill,
With ill its theme."-Spoken by Cassandra

This play is the first in the only surviving Greek tragic trilogy. Its great theme is the emergence of democracy and the rule of law after a long and horrendous series of crimes and outrages. This play, though, is all about crimes and outrages.

The Agamemnon begins with the complaints of a watchman whose duty it is to gaze from the roof of the palace at Argos for a signal fire that will announce the fall of Troy. The event is expected due to oracles that say this will happen in the tenth year of the war. At last, the flame is spotted.

Meanwhile, a chorus of the old men of Argos ponder past events about the war with a growing sense of foreboding. They recall King Agamemnon sacrificing his own daughter Iphigenia at the command of Artemis to gain fair winds for Troy and appease her wrath as well as the family's long violent history. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, emerges from the palace to announce the event, which is also confirmed by a messenger.

Agamemnon arrives with Cassandra, daughter of Priam of Troy. Cassandra was a prophetess cursed by the god Apollo for refusing his advances. Her punishment is that she will have true knowledge of the future but would not be believed. She was Agamemnon's prize and is now his slave.

Clytemnestra pretends to welcome him and urges him to walk on a fabulously expensive carpet of purple or scarlet. This may have been the original red carpet treatment. He initially refuses because to do so would be an act of hubris, but she harasses him until he does. Cassandra stays outside briefly, speaking incoherently to the chorus of past crimes and impending doom, then she goes within.

The chorus outside hears the dying screams of Agamemnon, who is trapped in a net and murdered by Clytemnestra. Cassandra soon suffers the same fate. When the doors of the place open, Clytemnestra emerges, triumphant in avenging the death of her daughter. She is joined by her illicit lover Aegisthus, whose brothers were killed and served to their unknowing father by Agamemnon's father Atreus. For him too this is an act of vengeance.

The chorus is horrified and makes noise of resistance, but troops loyal to the bloodstained couple disperse the crowd. A new tyranny rules over Argos. So ends the first part of the trilogy.

The violence of a foreign war spills over into violence at home. Golly, it's a good thing that doesn't happen any more...

SUPREME COURT. Here's a Washington Post editorial on the recent US Supreme Court decision about justice for sale in WV. And here is a NY Times article on its legal implications. This is a take from the McClatchy papers. And, while we're at it, this AP article interviews Massey CEO Don Blankenship about the decision.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, Massey won a different round on the WV Supreme Court in a decision about a controversial coal processing facility near an elementary school. Here's a summary with multiple links from Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo.

NOT COOL. The American Medical Association has come out opposing a public health care option, preferring to allow "the market" to do the job. How's that coming?

RUST BELT BLUES. Here's a postcard from Detroit about work and hard times.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, in which case we may be in trouble, according to a new film on the food industry.


June 10, 2009

Bastions of wealth

The Murder of Agamemnon, painting by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Bastions of wealth
are no defence for the man
who treads the grand altar of Justice
down and out of sight.--Spoken by the chorus in Aeschylus' Agamemnon.

Goat Rope’s ongoing series on Greek tragedy continues. You’ll also find links and comments about current events below. Right now we’re on Aeschylus Orestes trilogy. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts.

According to Paul Roche,

“The Oresteia is the story of an aristocratic house in the process of destroying itself under a hereditary curse, which is both a destiny and a free expression of love and hate. The blood feud can end only by total self-destruction, or by giving way to a divinely established justice which is itself evolving—evolving from primitive concepts of retribution into a higher order of compassion, enlightenment, and peace."

Agamemnon, leader of the Greek expedition to Troy, gives the title to the first part of the trilogy. He was a prominent character in Homer’s Iliad (where he always seemed like a jerk to me) and his ghost appears in the Odyssey.

In the Odyssey, an epic of homecoming, Agamemnon’s return contrasts with that of Odysseus. Like all the Greeks who committed outrages and excesses in their sack of Troy, they are destined to suffer. But while Odysseus lives and is reconciled with the virtuous Penelope after many sorrows and a long and dangerous journey, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra in revenge for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia for fair winds to Troy ten years earlier at the command of the goddess Artemis.

In Homer, Penelope is the archetypal good wife while Clytemnestra is the archetypal bad wife (although I always thought Agamemnon had it coming).

While Greek tragic writers almost always used mythic themes, they were free to adapt them to current circumstances. Aeschylus went way beyond Homer in his version of the story, even carving out a special place for his hometown of Athens in its resolution.

More tomorrow.

SPEAKING OF BASTIONS OF WEALTH BEING NO DEFENSE, here's a NY Times editorial about the recent US Supreme Court decision regarding hijinks on the WV Supreme Court.

A PLUG FOR PAINE. This item suggests that Thomas Paine is a founder worth another look today.

PLAIN ENGLISH. The language is projected to add its millionth word today. I recommend "glarnox." No definition yet, though some of our best people are working on it.


June 09, 2009

A history of violence

The punishment of Tantalus.

"I know this house's ancestry--
it's pedigree of sin."

Violence seems to run through families, generations, countries and even entire regions of the world, with outrage breeding outrage. Sadly, sometimes those who were its victims become its perpetrators.

Ending that seemingly endless cycle and establishing a higher social order is the theme of the Oresteia by Aeschylus. Although its message is profoundly political, the dramatic trilogy focuses on how violence played out in one family...and what a family it was.

Here's a short summary of the backstory of the drama:

1. Tantalus served up his son Pelops (literally) at a banquet for the gods. They were not amused and he was one of the few ancients to qualify for personalized eternal damnation by being "tantalized" with food and drink but forever unable to get it. The gods reconstructed Pelops physically but not morally.

2. Pelops sabotaged the chariot of his father-in-law to be, which led to his death. Then he double crossed and murdered they guy who helped him do it. The guy not surprisingly cursed the house with his last breath.

3. Pelops sons Atreus and Thyestes set a new standard for nastiness. First, they contested for power. Then Thyestes seduced the wife of Atreus. Then, after a family meeting for "reconciliation," Atreus kills Thyestes children and serves them for dinner to their unknowing father. One, Aegisthus, got away.

Nice guys, huh?

In the play proper, the merry dance goes on:

4. Agamemnon, son of Atreus, sacrifices his own daughter Iphigenia in order to get fair winds to sail for Troy at the beginning of that war.

5. On his return, Clytemnestra with the help of her lover Aegisthus (remember him?) kills Agamemnon.

6. Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, kills his own mother at the order of Apollo.

Then it really gets messy.

While all that sounds like an incredible downer, the plays are actually optimistic about the possibility of people, with the help of divine wisdom, to rise above all that and break the endless cycle.

More to come.

GO, SUPREMES! The big news around here is the US Supreme Court's decision regarding Massey Energy and whether a state justice elected with money from CEO Don Blankenship should recuse himself form cases involving the company. The court said he should. Here's the NY Times on it. Here's the Washington Post. And here's the Charleston Gazette.

A "WARRIOR GENE?" Some scientists think they've found one that is associated with violence. Hmmm...maybe that explains the whole Atreus thing.

ON THAT NOTE, global spending on weapons is through the roof.

BULLY FOR YOU. The research is in, and some strategies seem to work in confronting bullying.


June 08, 2009

Out of the darkness

The theme at Goat Rope these days has been Greek tragedy but you'll find links and comments about current events below. Today we start on the Oresteia by Aeschylus, one of the greatest dramatic works ever written. Its great theme is the human journey from violence and barbarism to democracy and the rule of law. Too bad the journey isn't over yet

According to Robert Fagles and W.B. Stanford,

Aeschylus was forty five in 480 B.C. when the Persians sacked Athens and destroyed the shrines of the gods on the Acropolis. Soon afterwards he fought in the forces which defeated the Persians at Salamis and Plataea, as he had fought in the Greek victory at Marathon ten years before. The Greeks in general, and the Athenians in particular, because they had played the major part in the triumph of Hellas, saw these victories as a triumph of right over might, courage over fear, freedom over servitude, moderation over arrogance.

In the optimistic climate that prevailed after that great victory, it was hoped that a new era of harmony, rationality, and justice would prevail. Aeschylus' trilogy about the violence-ridden family of Atreus developed these themes.

More to come.

CEO PAY. The Obama administration is proposing that firms that have received two rounds of bailout money must submit changes in executive pay to government oversight.

GROSSED OUT. Some scientists suggest a link between the emotion of disgust and conservative political attitudes.

HEALTH CARE. Millions of Americans want a public option to be included in health care reform, but it's going to be a struggle to get one.