July 17, 2010

A little weekend Jabberwocky

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe

Lewis Carroll

July 16, 2010

The old, the new

Whatever my political leanings may be, I have a really strong conservative streak--in the old sense of the word conservative, as in respecting the traditions of the past. I tend to value old things that have withstood the tests of time to new innovations.

I suspect more wisdom can be found in places like Greek tragedy, myths and old philosophies than in just about anything on the bestseller list. Science would be the major exception.

I think that's one reason why I like Confucius, whose approach to philosophy has been called (by whom I can't recall) "innovation through transmission."

A saying of his from the Analects that has influenced me is this one:

One who studies the old so as to find the new is worthy to teach others.

This doesn't imply a mindless repetition of old traditions but rather a critical evaluation of them in search of insights that apply to the current situation, a kind of dialogue between past and present. I've always suspected that the best innovators are not people who make up things out of new cloth but rather those who piece together old insights in new ways.

IF ALL GOES ACCORDING TO PLAN, WV Governor Joe Manchin will name the person who will fill the late Robert Byrd's US Senate seat (if not his shoes) today. As soon as that person is sworn in, we can probably expect yet another vote on extending unemployment benefits to the approximately 2 million people who have lost them. Lots of us hope that WV's vote will be the tipping point.

Here are three related items:

FOX NEWS TRASHES UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. I know that's a shock, but read more about it, including debunking, here.

A DOUBLE IMPACT. To clear the palate, this issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute shows that UI benefits don't just keep jobless workers going but also help create and preserve jobs:

The reasoning is simple. Those who are unemployed are experiencing a major challenge to maintain anything close to their regular standard of living, so any assistance they receive will be spent on necessities, not saved. The spending that results as the unemployed pay their rent, buy groceries, and so on saves and creates jobs throughout the economy.

ASSESSING ARRA. Here's congressional testimony on the Recovery Act and what remains to be done to deal with the impact of the Great Recession.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE CORPORATE SUITES, the Washington Post notes that:

Corporate America is hoarding a massive pile of cash. It just doesn't want to spend it hiring anyone.

Read more here.

CHICKEN HAWKS. The loudest voices on the deficit are opposed to allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire.

ONE FOR THE ROAD. Here's the Washington Post on the passage of landmark financial reform legislation.


July 15, 2010

Master Kung

I mentioned Confucius in yesterday's post, so I might as well fess up to re-reading The Analects, a collection of sayings and anecdotes by and about this ancient Chinese sage.

It has often been observed that there are two poles in traditional Chinese thought, the Taoist and the Confucian. The Taoism expressed by Lao Tzu emphasizes simplicity and living according to nature, while Confucian thought emphasizes ritual, courtesy, and social and familial responsibilities.

The former is a bit anarchic while the latter is all about social order. It has been said that in traditional Chinese society, a gentleman might be Confucian in his public life and Taoist in his private affairs.

I generally lean towards Taoism, but have a soft spot for Confucius. This may be because one of the first places I really felt at home was a traditional karate dojo, which is kind of miniature Confucian society. A good dojo is a very hierarchical and totally undemocratic place, but one where people observe strict rules of mutual respect and courtesy. It is expected that junior students should show respect to seniors and to the teacher and that seniors and teachers had a responsibility to assist the juniors, with an overall goal of the mutual benefit and improvement of all.

There are worse kinds of places to be.

Over the next few posts, I may pass on a few of his ideas that have spoken to me over the years.

UPPER BIG BRANCH MINE DISASTER. Here's an initial report from the independent investigative team appointed by WV Governor Joe Manchin on Massey's April mine disaster. And here's a new report from NPR about a possibly serious UBB safety violation.

THE OTHER DISASTER. Here are some possible lessons from the Gulf mess.

SHRINKING PAYCHECK over several years are making the recession worse, as Robert Reich argues here.

EMOTIONS are contagious.


July 14, 2010

"Tough decisions"

I have a fondness for the ancient Chinese philosopher known in the West as Confucius (aka Kong zi or K'ung-tzu). When he was asked what he would do first if given a position of influence in a government, he said he'd start with "the rectification of names," which kind of means words more into line with reality. George Orwell made the same point in the mid 20th century.

Certain words are often over-used in the realm of politics and could use a little rectification. One example of this is the expression "tough decisions," which some politicians are proud to have made. Generally, a tough decision is one that sticks it to the working class, the poor or relatively underprivileged, usually by cutting some program which puts some resources in their direction.

These days, such "tough decisions" involve things like shafting the unemployed.

As Tony Judt put it in his recent book Ill Fares the Land,

These days, we take pride in being tough enough to inflict pain on others. If an older usage were still in force, whereby being tough consisted of enduring pain rather than imposing it on others, we should perhaps think twice before so callously valuing efficiency over compassion.

The term used around here for decisions that inflict punishment on the powerless is a little different. It's a compound word, the first part of which is "chicken" and the last is best left to the Gentle Reader's imagination.

TALKING SENSE. Here's a good editorial from the Washington Post about the need for Congress to act on unemployment insurance and aid to states.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, 38 Americans have lost unemployment benefits every minute since June 2.

A MODEST PROPOSAL. Economist Dean Baker suggest we treat corporate irresponsibility the same way we do drunk driving.


July 13, 2010

Hillbilly health club, revisited

Our latest exercise equipment.

From time to time, this blog highlights offerings from the Goat Rope Hillbilly Health Club, which features such high tech exercise equipment as chain saws, sledge hammers, splitting mauls, dirty barns, pitchforks and wheel barrows.

On display now is little Edith Ann, one of our aerobic training devices. Longtime viewers of this blog will recognize her but may not realize that a dog might be better than a treadmill when it comes to exercise. A study in Great Britain found that dog-owners who regularly walk their beasts get more exercise in than the average gym-goer.

(Besides, I have a theory that it is an offense against whatever gods may be to use a treadmill on a pretty day.)

In little Edith Ann's case, it's two miles early in the morning and two more at night. At a year old, Edith is pretty high energy but we also have Arpad, a slower model for beginners:

It is not recommended for the same person to walk both at the same time as this can overstretch the arms.

"THE IDIOCY ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT" is shown no mercy here.

TAKE OUR JOBS, PLEASE! The United Farm Workers union, responding to immigrant bashing, is urging Americans to take some of these low wage, back-breaking jobs. Not too many takers have taken advantage of the opportunity.

ONE NATION. A new umbrella group hopes to counter the Tea Party.

SPEAKING OF WALKING, did bi-pedalism give early humans the edge they needed?

GOOD PARENTS/NOT SO GOOD KIDS. The author of this article suggests some unpleasant personality traits may be more a matter of genes than parenting.


July 12, 2010


I don't have a green thumb but I do my time in the garden. This year, ours is not terribly ambitious but it has been a pretty decent year so far. First came lettuce, arugula, radishes and spinach, then peas and the occasional hot pepper. Tomatoes are coming in now, along with an eggplant or two.

One crop I take a particular interest in is garlic, something I consider to be a welcome addition to almost any recipe, with the possible exceptions of breakfast cereal and deserts. We usually plant ours after the first frost but before the ground gets too hard. This time we did it on Christmas Day (the power was out so that provided our entertainment), putting the clove sections about finger deep and covering them with mulch from the goat barn.

Garlic is pretty low maintenance. In early summer, the plants develop bulbs or scapes that we cut off (they are edible). Then just wait until the leaves start turning brown and dig them up, being careful not to damage the bulbs.

This weekend I dug up our crop, which turned out pretty good. I'm hoping it will get us through most of the coming year. As for the rest of the crops, how's that rain coming?

STALLED. Two million jobless Americans have lost unemployment benefits due to congressional inaction.

ELIMINATE THE MIDDLE MAN. Here's a novel approach to global poverty.

WALTHER REUTHER. Any op-ed that favorably mentions a great West Virginian and labor leader has a place here.