June 12, 2010

Fowl play

It occurs to El Cabrero that farming is a kind of game or series of games between humans and the plants or animals they deal with. Generally, the humans want things to stay in or go to certain places, while the latter want to transgress.

One popular game among our poultry population at this time of year is the hide-the-eggs game. Usually a few hens each spring manage to hide a clutch of eggs long enough to hatch them.

This spring, one chick was apparently separated from its mother and needed rescue. We tried putting it with another mother and chicks, but it got some nasty wounds after being pecked at.

(Chickens don't seem to good in the intra-species solidarity department.)

As a result, we now have an inside chick, probably a baby rooster. He thinks the Spousal Unit is his mother and is a pretty demanding brat. Because of his inordinate fondness for cheese, we've given him the name Wisconsin (Whiskey for short).

All we need is another tenant on the Island of Misfit Toys.

June 11, 2010

Repenting of goodness

There are any number of occupation hazards progressive types are susceptible to. Some of the worst in my book involve moralism and self righteousness, disorders often accompanied by the related condition of earnestness. I find it difficult to breathe in the presence of people without a sense of irony and a healthy dose of cynicism.

But it's not just a matter of taste. People who are overwhelmed by a sense of their own righteousness--or that of the cause which they profess, the two being easily confused--sometimes have zero sense of politics or tactics and are tone deaf and snow blind to even thinking about how their actions might appear to someone not already converted.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a good ethical fight, one where you try to correct this or that excess or injustice, but these days I try to think of such occasions less as a matter of righteousness than of getting my ya yas out in a socially acceptable manner. This is more a matter of moral luck than anything else; a different turn of the goddess Fortuna's wheel and I would have wound up in prison or worse.

I guess my thinking on these issues has been heavily shaped by people like William Blake, Nietzsche, Freud, Niebuhr et al who have been suspicious of our moralistic pretensions. But I'm also standing right smack dab in the biblical tradition. Jesus loved whacking self righteousness and the author of the First Epistle of John wrote that "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

For reasons like that, I love the parts of Walden where Thoreau is critical of goodness and humanitarianism. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

...if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?


There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life...

Having said that, y'all be good.

A VOTE FOR SCIENCE. Congratulations to WV Senator Robert C. Byrd for refusing to be buffaloed into a vote to block the EPA from dealing with climate change. Most state politicians seem to have adopted the position that anything which goes against the perceived interests of the coal industry is untrue by definition. Once again, WV's senior senator has stood out from the crowd.

NICE TRY. Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is trying to shift blame for its Upper Big Branch mine disaster to MSHA ventilation regulations. As the Church Lady on the old SNL would say, "Isn't that convenient?"

FELICITY. Here's another look at the politics of happiness. Thoreau might actually like this one.

BORED OR UNEMPLOYED? Here's a link to keep you busy.


June 10, 2010


I think one of the things that people have liked about Thoreau's Walden is that it challenges the reader. Throughout its pages, the author continually argues that we can all do and be so much more than we ever thought possible:

...man's capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.

One well-known passage puts it this way:

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

I've always loved that quote. It has inspired me now and then to push things a little farther than I thought I could.

(It would be downright nitpicky of me to point out that it isn't literally true and that people hit all kinds of unintended things--as in "friendly fire" and "collateral damage." Last fall, for example, when trying to sight in the old 12 gauge, I hit a strand of our electric fence while aiming at a can, which is another reason why I should probably stick to karate.)

However, I'll concede the main point.

The question is, what, exactly are we aiming at?

STATES WILL BE IN A PICKLE unless the Senate amends H.B. 4213 to extend the federal Medicaid match (FMAP) to states. Also, unemployed people will need a COBRA extension to keep benefits.

If you haven't already done so, please call your US senators and say something like:

"Please amend HB 4213 to extend COBRA benefits for jobless workers and the Medicaid FMAP aid to states.” A toll free number to the US Senate has been provided for this purpose by Families USA: 1-888-340-6521.

WHAT RETIREMENT? The recession has taken a big bite out of workers' retirement savings.



June 08, 2010

Radical minds

It would be hard to think of two people more different than Henry David Thoreau and Karl Marx, but the transcendentalist and the red exile sounded alike in their critique of early capitalism.

Particularly in his early writings, the young Marx denounced the alienation of the workers and their degradation in an industrial system that reduced the individual worker to "an appendage to the machine." The hyper-individualist Henry picked up on the same theme, noting in Walden that

lo! men have become the tools of their tools.

He also noted that

the fall from the farmer to the operative as great and memorable as that from the man to the farmer

This rant about social inequality from Walden could go toe to toe with those in the Communist Manifesto:

The luxury of one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and "silent poor." The myriads who built the pyramids to be the tombs of the Pharaohs were fed on garlic, and it may be were not decently buried themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so good as a wigwam. It is a mistake to suppose that, in a country where the usual evidences of civilization exist, the condition of a very large body of the inhabitants may not be as degraded as that of savages. I refer to the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. To know this I should not need to look farther than to the shanties which everywhere border our railroads, that last improvement in civilization; where I see in my daily walks human beings living in sties, and all winter with an open door, for the sake of light, without any visible, often imaginable, wood-pile, and the forms of both old and young are permanently contracted by the long habit of shrinking from cold and misery, and the development of all their limbs and faculties is checked. It certainly is fair to look at that class by whose labor the works which distinguish this generation are accomplished. Such too, to a greater or less extent, is the condition of the operatives of every denomination in England, which is the great workhouse of the world.

I'm not sure what he thought could be done about it, given his distaste for collective action, but at least he saw it. It's also interesting that he almost accidentally gave the world a blueprint for nonviolent action in his essay on civil disobedience.

YOUR GOOD DEED FOR THE DAY would be to call your US senators and urge them to pass HB 4213 with an amendment to extend COBRA benefits and help states avoid layoffs and cuts to services by extending the federal Medicaid match for another six months. The bill would extend key provisions of the recovery act, including jobless benefits. Families USA has provided a toll free number: 888-340-6521.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, the public supports continuing the benefits mentioned above.

MYOPIA. Economist Dean Baker takes another swipe at deficit hawks. If they win, he argues, the recession and accompanying unemployment are likely to linger.

SPIDER GIRL FIGHTS can be deadly.


Only that day dawns

Goat Rope has been spending a bit of time with Henry David Thoreau lately. His writings are full of great nuggets. If you are a fan, click on last week's posts.

Old Henry had a Buddhist soul, although his direct knowledge of the Buddha or Buddhist teachings was very limited. Not a lot was known about Buddhist teachings in the early and mid 19th century America. If memory serves, he may have read a little of a translation of the Lotus Sutra, a Mahayana text which contains little if any information about the "historical Buddha."

Some may want to chalk that up to karmic affinity...

He professed his fondness for Buddha and Christ in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, where amidst musings on various religions he wrote

I know that some will have hard thoughts of me, when they hear their Christ named beside my Buddha, yet I am sure that I am willing they should love their Christ more than my Buddha, for the love is the main thing, and I like him too.

Although he didn't have the chance to learn Buddhist meditation techniques, he seemed to have got there on his own, as this passage in Walden indicates:

Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise til noon, rapt in revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than the work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.

He also picked right up on the grand Dharma theme of wakefulness, as is shown in quotes like

Only that day dawns to which we are awake.


I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

Sorry, Kerouac, but I think he might have been America's first Dharma bum.

MISSING MATCH. Many states are going to have to make painful cuts unless Congress extends the matching Medicaid funding which is part of the Recovery Act.

WHISTLEBLOWING. The folks at Massey Energy don't take too kindly to it, according to this NPR report.

GETTING REGULATION RIGHT. Here's an interesting take from the financial page of the New Yorker.

THE BATTLE OF BLAIR MOUNTAIN, a major historic site of WV's mine wars, continues.

ZOMBIE CHIC. What's up with the popularity of zombies in pop culture?


June 07, 2010

Quiet desperation

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

A MODEST PROPOSAL. Robert Reich has a simple--and timely--idea about green jobs: put young and jobless people to work dealing with BP oil mess.

LISTEN TO THE MINERS. This editorial in the NY Times speaks approvingly of WV Senator Jay Rockefeller's call for coal mine safety reforms that protect whistleblowers and hold corporate executives more accountable for safety violations.

THIS IS REALLY WEIRD, but El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia isn't doing all that badly, at least compared with most other states, in dealing with the recession.

THIS EXPLAINS A LOT. Adolescent brains seem to be wired for risk-taking.