March 06, 2010

Deep questions and transcendental wisdom

Arpad thinks deep thoughts.

The ancient Greeks sought for wisdom and counsel from the oracle of the god Apollo at Delphi. Here at Goat Rope Farm, we go to the vent section of the newspaper. There were some real howlers this week.

Here's one from last Wednesday:

After the Northeast voted for Obama, God really sent the snow for punishment.

God must have been mad at Dallas, Texas about something else when a record storm hit there last month.

There were some keepers in Thursday's paper as well. Here's a question to ponder:

Could someone tell me where in the Bible it says that a pastor can tell the ladies of the church not to participate in an exercise class based on dance moves?

I'm thinking maybe Leviticus or Numbers...

I've saved the best, however, for last:

It seems like everything has been cut down in size, even our toilet paper. That's not working out.

Now that's one to meditate on.

March 05, 2010

Like thieves of mercy (and an action alert)

There are some unlikely plot devices in Hamlet, but I guess you'll have that in a play that opens with a ghost.

One of these occurs when the prince is sent to England in the company of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are carrying a letter to the king of England ordering Hamlet's death. Hamlet opens and reads the letters and changes it to order the death of his former friends. He was just lucky enough to be carrying with him the official seal of Denmark.

OK, I can buy that part, but then the ship is attacked by pirates (!) who wind up taking Hamlet with them and eventually dropping him off in Denmark. As he wrote in a letter to Horatio,

Ere we were two days old
at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us
chase. Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on
a compelled valour, and in the grapple I boarded
them: on the instant they got clear of our ship; so
I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with
me like thieves of mercy: but they knew what they
did; I am to do a good turn for them.

(I think I'm gonna use the captured-by-pirates story next time I'm caught playing hookie. )

Another unlikely device is the plan Claudius and Laertes come up with to deal with Hamlet when they find out he's alive after all. They will contrive a fencing match at which Laertes will use poisoned blades and Claudius a poisoned drink. They could have used "more matter with less art" themselves.

It occurs to me that several characters in this play could have used some lessons in The Art of Whack from Tony Soprano...

ACTION ITEM. If you live in West Virginia, please click here to support a bill that would create an office of minority affairs to address racial disparities. The bill passed the House but is in danger of dying in the Senate Finance Committee, which such things often happen.

TWO WEEKS? The White House is pushing for quick votes on its health care reform bill.

ON A RELATED NOTE, Senator Byrd has indicated he might support reconciliation as a way to pass health care reform.

WORLDS APART. Schisms in the US Senate reflect different political and moral universes.

SURVIVAL OF THE NICEST? Some researchers suggest that kindness and generosity may convey some evolutionary advances.

ON THE OTHER HAND, hate groups seem to be doing pretty good these days.


March 04, 2010

There is a willow grows aslant a brook

Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1852), by way of wikipedia.

Goat Rope's long jag on Hamlet continues, although you can skip the Shakespeare if that isn't your thing and scroll on down to the links and comments section.

I have referred to the character of Polonius as a twit several times. I must now add that twitness of one kind or another seems to run in the male line of that family. After Polonius is killed by Hamlet, his son Laertes returns from France eager for revenge. Once there, he finds that his sister Ophelia has gone mad.

One would have hoped that he would have taken a little time to take care of her and covered some basic bases--like maybe keeping her from drowning herself, for example. But he couldn't be bothered over this small detail.

Here's how Gertrude, the queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet describes her end:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

All the men in her life were useless at best, and deadly cruel at worst.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE? That is the question for health care reform and it may be answered fairly soon.

SHARE THE WORK. One of the links in yesterday's post was about the policy of work sharing, which could be a very effective way of helping people get through the Great Recession. Economist Dean Baker has written an op-ed on the subject that is worth a look. Here it is

A RISING TIDE, it is said, lifts all boats. But to benefit from that, first you need a boat. Here's an item from the Washington Post about how the recession and the Recovery Act are affecting minority communities.

YOU'VE HEARD OF THE TEA PARTY. Here's the Coffee Party. I've always preferred that beverage.



March 03, 2010

We know what we are, but know not what we may be

Ophelia, but John William Waterhouse, 1894, by way of wikipedia.

(Goat Rope is still winding through Hamlet, but you can scroll down for links and comments about current events.)

I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but for me the most disturbing part of Hamlet is the madness of Ophelia, especially when I watch a performance. It's always upsetting when someone loses it, but by this point in the play, the viewer or reader should have some sympathy for her character.

In the 1990s, if memory serves, Ophelia became an emblem for the problems many young women were said to experience in adolescence and early adulthood and her name was featured on the title of at least a couple of books.

In the play, however, she isn't just suffering from general malaise. Apparently motherless, she was the daughter of the twit Polonius, who could be cruel with her. Her brother Laertes seems pretty self absorbed. An obedient daughter, she breaks off her relationship with Hamlet at her father's command and is further wounded by Hamlet's later actions and attitudes. That was bad enough, but then her father is killed and her only known relative is off studying or partying in France.

She has taken to wandering the palace and its surrounds, singing and speaking in ways that seem both meaningful and nonsensical. A gentleman at court describes her symptoms thus:

She speaks much of her father; says she hears
There's tricks i' the world; and hems, and beats her heart;
Spurns enviously at straws; speaks things in doubt,
That carry but half sense: her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collection; they aim at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts;
Which, as her winks, and nods, and gestures
yield them,
Indeed would make one think there might be thought,
Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily.

When not speaking of her father, she often sings sexually suggestive songs, like this one:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

(I have an idiosyncratic theory about Ophelia's madness bugs me so much. It's a guy thing and goes like this: most guys at some level may be aware that they often push the women in their life close to the edge of insanity. Ophelia is troubling as an example of one who actually goes over the edge.)

UNEMPLOYMENT. WV's unemployment insurance fund is in trouble and so far efforts to modernize and improve it have been blocked.

AN ALTERNATIVE TO LAYOFFS. Here's an article about an interesting policy option some companies and state governments are using to avoid layoffs.

A SAD SIGN OF THE TIMES. Here's an article from USA Today about how a plant closing has hit Ravenswood, WV hard. Back in the proverbial day, El Cabrero and friends tried to support union workers during a lockout. It was a great fight, and the workers won their jobs back after nearly two years of struggle back in 1992. Then came the Great Recession...

WORKING WV. Here's an op-ed by my friend the Rev. Matthew Watts on West Virginia's workforce woes.


March 02, 2010

How all occasions do inform against me

The theme here lately is Hamlet, although you can scroll down to links and comments about current events if Shakespeare doesn't do it for you.

After Hamlet whacks Polonius, he is ordered to be sent to England under the company of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who unbeknownst to themselves carry with them an order for Hamlet's death at his uncle Claudius' command.

On their way to the ship, they pass the army led by young Fortinbras of Norway en route to fight with the Poles over a worthless piece of land. Fortinbras doesn't show up much in the play, but he serves as an anti-Hamlet, someone who is all action with little forethought.

Hamlet questions the soldiers about their mission and is shocked and shamed to find that they are about to sacrifice many lives for some worthless real estate while he can't even manage to avenge his own father's murder by Claudius.

Here's some of the dialogue:

HAMLET Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,
Or for some frontier?

CAPTAIN Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.

HAMLET Why, then the Polack never will defend it.

CAPTAIN Yes, it is already garrison'd.

HAMLET Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats
Will not debate the question of this straw:
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies. I humbly thank you, sir.

CAPTAIN God be wi' you, sir.

Hamlet is shamed by the contrast between their action and his own inaction:

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! ...
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. The Economic Policy Institute and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation don't agree on much, but EPI's Lawrence Mishel and Peterson CEO David Walker have published a joint op-ed arguing that job creation needs to take precedence over concerns about the deficit until we get out of this recession.

INEQUALITY MATTERS. Here's another item on how inequality and social status affect health and longevity. The wonky term for this is the social determinants of health.

UNEMPLOYMENT. The unemployment insurance fund of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is heading south despite legislative action last year aimed at ensuring its solvency.


CULTURE AND EVOLUTION. It looks like the former has affected the latter.

COOL FOSSIL. One has been found of a snake eating baby dinosaurs.


March 01, 2010

A king may progress through the guts of a beggar

Goat Rope is meandering through Hamlet these days, although you'll also find links and comments about current events below if Shakespeare isn't your thing.

Things really start falling apart at the end of act 3. The play did indeed catch the conscience of the king but Hamlet bungled his attempt to whack him. Then follows a highly charged and kind of Freudian confrontation between Hamlet and his mother Gertrude, during which the former kills Polonius as he hid behind a tapestry, thinking him to be the king.

By this point, Hamlet seems to be beyond ordinary human empathy, merely telling his mother at the end of their meeting that he'll "lug the guts" to a neighbor room.

There follows an amazing exchange between Hamlet and his uncle Claudius about the murder of Polonius which is full of dark humor:

KING CLAUDIUS Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?

HAMLET At supper.

KING CLAUDIUS At supper! where?

HAMLET Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your
worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
that's the end.


HAMLET A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

KING CLAUDIUS What dost you mean by this?

HAMLET Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.

KING CLAUDIUS Where is Polonius?

HAMLET In heaven; send hither to see: if your messenger
find him not there, seek him i' the other place
yourself. But indeed, if you find him not within
this month, you shall nose him as you go up the
stairs into the lobby.

KING CLAUDIUS Go seek him there.

(To some Attendants)

HAMLET He will stay till ye come.

By now, Hamlet's feigned madness is getting kind of close to the real thing.

BUBBLES. Here's Paul Krugman on the need for real financial reform.

ARE THE VOTES THERE for comprehensive health care reform? Maybe.


SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF. Exercise helps reduce anxiety among the chronically ill by 20 percent.

IF SPRINGTIME EVER COMES, here are several reasons to consider growing some of your own food.