March 27, 2010

Early spring

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows' wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.-- Rainer Maria Rilke

March 26, 2010

Sweeping the Street

I haven't been following the financial reform debate as closely as health care and my opinion on that topic mostly consists of thinking that we need some. But even with the polarized political climate, Politico yesterday reported that there's a good chance for some kind of reform to pass the Senate with at least some bi-partisan support.

I do have one recommendation, not that anybody is sitting on the edge of his or her seat waiting to hear it. If and when a new agency to protect consumers is established, I hope the catbird seat goes to Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor who grew up in poverty and is now overseeing TARP. Here's an article about her from this week's NY Times.

Warren has long been an outstanding advocate for consumers, a leading expert on bankruptcy and a foe of predatory lending. I first became aware of her through her writings, starting with All Your Worth, a down to earth guide to personal finance and including The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke, both of which were co-written by her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi.

I was elated to see her take the position of overseeing TARP and think she'd be a natural to run the new agency. It's a safe bet that she wouldn't be anybody's lapdog.

ALL DONE. The final version of health care reform passed the US House yesterday.

WHAT'S IN THE BILL? Here's a fact sheet from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families about what health care reform will mean for low income and working families.

WHAT DIFFERENCE WILL IT MAKE? Here's a snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute about the expansion of health coverage that should be on the way.


SUPERSIZING THE LAST SUPPER? The portions have gotten bigger (in art, anyhow) over the last 100 years.

SPEAKING OF FOOD, here's a local look at obesity and diet and such.

THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM for another hominid.


March 25, 2010

The Platonism of the left, the wilding on the right

El Cabrero tries not to rant too much here about things that get on my last nerve, but I may indulge myself a bit today. My topic of choice is what I've come to think of as the Platonism of the left.

Plato, of course, was a great Greek philosopher and student of Socrates. He wrote brilliant and often charming dialogues that have influenced thought for 23 centuries or so--so much so that Alfred North Whitehead famously referred to Western philosophy as "a series of footnotes to Plato." I've fallen under his spell more than once myself.

But thinkers from Nietzsche to Karl Popper have pointed out the dark sides of Platonic thought. For Nietzsche, he represented pure decadence for devaluing the material world in favor of the realm of forms or ideas. For Popper, he was an advocate of a closed society.

Platonizing has become a verb or sorts, which at the broadest level means to imitate his thought. At it's worst, it can mean believing that one's own ideas or models of the world are more real than the world itself.

I think the Platonism of the Left has surfaced during the health care reform debate. Some "progressive" people would apparently prefer an imaginary perfect bill which had no chance of getting anywhere to an imperfect real one that will make a huge difference for many Americans.

I don't mind if people would prefer to live in an imaginary world--as long as they don't mess up the real one.

Meanwhile, there's also the Whackadoodleism of the right. See below...

MORE UGLY. Some representatives who voted for health care reform have received death threats. What exactly is in that tea, anyway?

IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES until somebody cuts a propane line. The FBI is investigating an incident involving a cut gas line at the home of the brother of Virginia Democratic Congressman Thomas Perriello after his address was published in a Tea Party blog which urged the faithful to visit the place and express their feelings about his vote in favor of health care reform.

AND STILL MORE. One might think that after the wave of name calling, vandalism, death threats, and other fun and games that right wing leaders would try to tone down the rhetoric. Sarah Palin appears not to have gotten the memo (if one existed) however. In a recent tweet, she wrote

Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!"

Read more here.

WHATEVER HAPPENED to the old conservatism?

FALLOUT. A group of evangelical Christians have responded to Glen Beck's assertion that the idea of social justice is communist/Nazi. (One sometimes wonders whether those who assert the Whackadoodle equation of communism and Nazism may have dozed during their history of World War II classes.)


March 24, 2010

Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

It's official. President Obama signed the health care reform bill into law yesterday.

He told those in attendance that

We have just now enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

Critics of the bill may point out that this isn't exactly the case, but there's no denying that this is a landmark piece of legislation that will extend health coverage to millions who have been doing without it. The New York Times calls it

the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

It remains to be seen whether the immediate benefits (political and otherwise) will outweigh the blowback. This item from Politico argues that the former will come before the latter, but I'm not sure I agree. It always seemed to me that a major drawback of the legislation was that the major expansion of health coverage via Medicaid and subsidies won't hit until several years down the line, meaning that the risks might hit earlier than the benefits.

Still, it probably will be hard for those who want to repeal it to win much of a crowd by saying "Bring back the donut hole" for Medicare Part D, or "let's cut those young people off their parent's insurance" or "Bring back denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions!"

The game has changed, although it's hard to guess just how or how much.

AN EARLY INDICATOR might be a USA Today poll that found 49 percent of those surveyed thought it was a good thing compared with 40 percent who thought it was a bad thing.

CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUTS. Here's more on the less than appealing actions of some tea partiers this weekend.

THIS IS RICH. JPMorganChase is blaming unemployment on unemployment insurance. Until that stunning revelation, I thought shady banking and credit practices had something to do with it.


March 23, 2010

To distant shrines

Lately these opening lines from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales have been going through my head:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.

Don't worry--I'm not about to go on a long Chaucer jag, although that could happen someday. Rather, when this April comes with his showers sweet, El Cabrero too will be going on a pilgrimage. Destination: the Holy Land, which is to say Okinawa, birthplace of karate, where I'll have the rare chance to study a bit with some of the greatest living masters of the traditional styles.

In this case it will be a pilgrimage in the old sense of the word since this has been pretty much like a religion to me for decades. I've been planning this since some time in February and have been trying to get into shape for it so that I won't be a total disgrace when I get there, but I have a feeling this one is gonna hurt real good.

WATERLOO, BUT FOR WHO? Here's an interesting take on the politics of health care reform by an influential conservative.

I PREFER COFFEE, CONTINUED. Some tea baggers acted pretty ugly this weekend in Washington, something that could cause the movement some problems.

BOX ON! In case you missed the story about WV's oldest boxer in the Sunday Gazette, it's here and worth a read. I can relate to this guy. Bill Taft, the gentleman in question, a retired professor, took up boxing as a way of dealing with mortality after a heart attack. Sample quote: "If I have another heart attack, I'm going to own it."



March 22, 2010


FDR signs the Social Security Act. Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor (and social conscience) is the short woman toward the right). They would be pretty jazzed right now.

I wish this would have been done a long time ago. At least last summer. Ideally, it would have happened before I was born during the administration of FDR.

I wish this would have been a better package. If not something like Medicare for all, then at least something with a robust public option. And I really wish that more of the benefits would kick in sooner.

But still--or still yet, to use an Appalachian expression--last night's vote on health care reform was a historic moment.

Folks I know around here put a lot of work into this over the last year and it soaked up a lot of my time and psychic energy as well, especially on the occasions when the whole thing seemed to be going down the tubes. The bizarro town hall meetings this summer, an untold number of press conferences and media events, several op-eds and street events, a bus trip to DC, and endless meetings and phone calls about it--all these seem to be a blur.

None of these may have had any effect on the final outcome, but I feel better for having hit it with everything I had.

GETTING UGLY. I don't know what people have been drinking in their tea lately, but it hasn't brought out the better angels of their nature.

BUT FOR ONCE the fear game didn't work.