August 08, 2009

Weekend special from Goat Rope's Commissar of Public Safety

It has long been the practice of this blog to provide occasional weekend space for the animals in and around Goat Rope Farm. This week, we intended to feature the deep thoughts of Arpad, our official Commissar of Public Safety.

Arpad, right, has been a resident at the farm for over a year (when not hanging out down the holler with his Platonic girlfriend Smiley, also pictured).

Commissar Arpad has been a devoted protector of all life forms on the farm against all enemies, with the exception of said girlfriend, who has run through a string of chickens in her time. Any other predator, however, would be toast.

Smiley is currently in chicken-killing rehab and has managed to stay clean for several weeks.

We regret to say that we must delay sharing Arpad's deep thoughts until he has any.

August 07, 2009

The song, the sigh of the weary

Stephen Foster, 1826-1864.

Stephen Foster was something like the Bruce Springsteen of the generation leading up to the Civil War. His songs were treasured North and South alike. One of them, Hard Times, seems particularly appropriate for today.

The chorus goes:

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Here’s a live version by Dylan by way of YouTube.

I’m not a big fan of motivational speakers and writers who offer cheap pep talks to people who are down. Such people often minimize misery or promote the fantasy that all wrongs will be righted. That won’t happen in this world, which is the only one we have direct knowledge of.

(Sorry about the preposition thing.)

Suffering of one kind or another is a part of life. Ancient Buddhists counted six major forms of it: birth, death, sickness, old age, having what you don’t want, and wanting what you don’t have. If you think about, that covers a pretty good bit.

Much of the suffering in the world today is unnecessary and could be vastly reduced or eliminated with more just social arrangements. Getting rid of that should be a top priority in public as well as private life.

But as Albert Camus wrote in a quote you may have seen here before,

“Man can master in himself everything that should be mastered. He should rectify in creation everything that can be rectified. And after he has done so, children will still die unjustly even in a perfect society. Even by his greatest effort man can only propose to diminish arithmetically the sufferings of the world. But the injustice and the suffering of the world will remain and, no matter how limited they are, they will not cease to be an outrage. Dmitri Karamazov’s cry of “Why?” will continue to resound…”

Still, that's no reason not to do what could be done.

GOOD NEWS FOR WV. Governor Manchin is calling a special session of the legislature to extend unemployment insurance by 20 weeks for those who have exhausted them. By acting now, the entire cost will be paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This will bring over $30 million to the state's economy and help those who need it most.

ASTROTHUGS. If you have high speed Internet and about 10 minutes, here's Rachel Maddow on the "grassroots" movement to kill health care reform. And here's more on the same from the Center for American Progress. And, while we're at it, here's more from the AFLCIO blog and yet more from Paul Krugman's blog and latest column.

A GOOD SUMMARY of what's at stake for health care can be found here.

IF YOU'RE FEELING AS IF YOU'RE CAUGHT UP IN A VAST LEFT WING CONSPIRACY, you can generate a Kenyan birth certificate for anyone you like here.

LOOKING BACK AT VIETNAM. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes From Under the Fig Tree, with a not so nostalgic look back at the 1960s.

META, El Cabrero is going to be furloughed for the next two weeks. Goat Rope will continue to appear on a regular basis but posts will have been prepared in advance and won't have links, comments or anything reflecting current events.


August 06, 2009

Putting Descartes before the horse


The horse.

El Cabrero just finished reading (more accurately, listening to) a fun book, Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto.

I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate (does it show?) and remember having to do a report on ole Rene in my first class on modern philosophy. I was a bit surprised at the time that the 1600s counted as modern, but could see even then why Descartes was a new departure.

In an effort to gain certain knowledge, he practiced a method of systematic doubt in which he rejected anything that couldn't be seen as certain in the light of reason. Clear and distinct ideas and all that. As most people who've ever flirted with philosophy know, the bedrock on which he started was the cogito, as in "I think, therefore I am."

(Buddhists and others would be quick to point out that the fact of thinking does not necessarily imply a permanent "I" who is doing the thinking, but that's neither here nor there.)

One legacy that Descartes partly created and partly inherited was mind/body dualism. He tended to view the human body and animals generally as operating under natural and more or less mechanical laws. The human mind/soul however was believed to be somehow immaterial.

For some strange reason, he thought the soul connected with the body via the pineal gland, which raises the obvious question, what need would an immaterial soul have of that?

One unfortunate legacy of his thought was the tendency to view animals as essentially complex machines (which tells me among other things that he was a city boy) devoid of real feelings. In fact, most complex animals probably feel things as intensely as we do, although they don't talk or think about it as much. The parts of the brain associated with human emotions are those we share with other mammals.

Forget about the inner child and the ghost in the machine. I say embrace your inner animal!

HEALTH CARE. Here's a toolkit on health care reform for aimed at religious groups.

JUNK FOOD NATION. Here's another helping.

SPEAKING OF FOOD, WV Governor Joe Manchin declared yesterday to be "Eat Local Day." El Cabrero, a patriotic son of the Mountain State, did his part by eating garlic, tomatoes, eggplant and an egg from the farm.

CASH FOR CLUNKERS. Here's a look at this popular program by the Economic Policy Institute.


August 05, 2009

Got chickens?

El Cabrero for once was on the cutting edge of a hot new trend. From the New York Times:

As Americans struggle through a dismal recession, many are trying to safeguard themselves from what they fear will be even worse times ahead. They eat out less often. They take vacations closer to home. They put off buying new cars.

And some raise chickens...

I think we're looking at the convergence of virtue and necessity. Lots of people are understandably squeamish about our industrialized food system, which isn't sustainable in lots of senses. Many have been inspired or at least made aware through books like Barbara Kingsolver and family's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. And then there are the folks who doing things like this just to make ends meet.

El Cabrero became a footsoldier in the local food revolution the honest way. I got married. Things happen when you do that. My sister-in-law even wrote a book about chickens.

There are all kinds of benefits from having chickens around. One of the biggest for me has been the insight that roosters offer into much of the behavior of the human male.

UNEMPLOYMENT ACTION. Yesterday's post talked about how WV take advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to extend unemployment benefits to those who have exhausted them. To qualify, the state needs to pass enabling legislation by the end of the year. To make it reach the people who need it, the legislation should be made retroactive through June of this year. Here's more info about the option from the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

TOO MUCH TEA? This article from The Nation discusses the increasingly shrill and racist noises coming from the far right and its connection to the health care debate.

THUG LIFE. On that note, hard right groups are using thug tactics to disrupt public forums on health care reform. (Have they been talking to some people round here?)

SMALL BUSINESS. Here's Dean Baker taking a comparative look at the status of small business in the US and...horrors!...Europe in the context of the health care reform debate.

TRUE GRIT or what my maternal unit called stick-to-itiveness could be a major key to success according to recent research. I know from 36 years in the martial arts that one major secret of getting better is to keep coming back. There is much to be said for taking one's lumps.


August 04, 2009

A big problem and a partial solution

Random goat picture.

There's been a good bit of talk lately in the media that the recession seems to be bottoming out. But even if the economy begins to expand again in the near future, we're going to be looking at serious unemployment problems for the foreseeable future.

The New York Times reported this weekend that 1.5 million Americans are about to exhaust unemployment benefits. Obviously, another emergency extension of benefits is in order.

But some states, including El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, have yet to take advantage of all the options for dealing with unemployment that are available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Charleston Daily Mail reported yesterday that over 2,000 WV workers who have exhausted benefits could be eligible for another 20 weeks of benefits if the state changes the trigger mechanism for receiving extended benefits. If we make the change by Dec. 31, this extension will be fully funded by the federal government.

Making the change would require legislation, which means it needs to go on the agenda of a special session.

This makes sense for all kinds of reasons--but we'll probably have to push to make that happen.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL. Income loss can persist for years after a layoff.

THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS will probably be critical for the future of health care reform.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's a ticker showing how many Americans have lost and are losing health care since 1/1/08.


APOLOGY TO EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS. Something weird happened with the Blogger program yesterday and you accidentally received two blank posts. Sorry about filling your mailbox with nada.


August 03, 2009

This is what it's going to take

There was an old fashioned labor rally yesterday at the capitol of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, complete with speeches, music and the obligatory hot dogs. Several hundred people attended. Speakers included state labor officials, WV governor Joe Manchin and AFLCIO Secretary Treasurer Rich Trumka. Trumka, former president of the United Mine Workers, is currently running for president of the national AFLCIO.

The aim of the rally was to highlight a progressive agenda which includes health care reform, the Employee Free Choice Act and trade reform, all of which are among the American Friends Service Committees economic policy priorities. Health care got top billing for obvious reasons.

As the NY Times reports, that fight is now taking place outside of Washington as Congress adjourns for the summer recess. Opponents of reform are loud and shrill, even though 47 million or so Americans lack health care and more are losing it every day.

If you want to do something about that, the time to make noise is now.

HERE'S WHAT TO EXPECT from opponents of reform.

SILVER LINING. This item looks at the positive aspects of being unemployed.

URGENT ANIMAL UPDATE. It is our pleasure to introduce Edith, a rescue puppy and new addition to the Goat Rope staff.