March 19, 2011

Weekend ant poem

And who better to provide it than Ogden Nash?

The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

March 18, 2011

The ones that get away

Any time you try to work for social justice, you're bound to win some and lose some. And, given the forces you're up against, the odds, statistically speaking are not in your favor.

I usually tell myself not to take things personally, to focus on conditions and act in accordance with them, and if something doesn't work out, to flow into the next technique. And not to be encumbered by hope.

I'm usually pretty good about taking my advice but this week...not so much. I had been marginally hopeful that some things might make it through the WV legislature. One measure, that would have helped people who need unemployment insurance but can't get it now, made it farther than before but died due to "the rich man's frown," to quote an old labor song. I guess that's to be expected, given that the forces of organized wealth have something like an absolute veto power over anything they don't like, whether it makes sense or not.

But another one, which might have taken a step or two towards addressing the major racial disparities in the state, managed to die on the last night despite having made it through both chambers (in different forms that were not reconciled). That one was in the bag until things fell apart for reasons that had nothing to do with public policy. I won't go into the whys, although it had to do with politics in the sense of the saying that in West Virginia everything is political except politics and that's personal.

For a lot of this week, I've felt like the lyric of a John Hiatt song that refers to "throwing up ashes on the floor." Not an attractive image, but it seems to fit. And I kept thinking about those birds in the movie March of the Penguins who went through a winter of hell for an egg that didn't hatch.

Given the fact that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, it probably isn't such a big deal that one decent bill in a small state died, but this one got to me. It seemed like one little thing that could be done in a universe sliding toward entropy or Ragnarok.

I'm starting to get over it, using my preferred medicine of hard physical training. There will be plenty more struggles to come--and, no doubt, plenty of similar outcomes.


FIDDLING AROUND with a fragile recovery could be dangerous.


COAL KABUKI, CONTINUED. This ought to be good for another ruling class hissy fit.


March 17, 2011


Random animal picture. Can you spot the crawdad in the creek?

First up, here's a good analysis from the Economic Policy Institute about the deficit and proposed budget cuts.


The bottom line: reckless spending didn’t get us here. What got us here was reckless gambling on Wall Street and policymakers’ failure to rein in these excesses because it would have required confronting politically favored constituencies in the name of protecting America’s working families. Note that none of this is solved by cutting taxes even more, as many conservatives are proposing.

The issue comes down to a question of priorities. If we can afford tax cuts for the middle class and the wealthy and corporations offshoring jobs, we can afford to keep teachers in the classroom and cops on the street. Budgeting is about tradeoffs. Trading an estate tax cut for the wealthiest one-quarter of one percent of Americans—a costly provision in the tax compromise—for budget cuts in child nutrition, grants for college tuition, and food safety (all in the Republican budget) is a really bad trade for the middle class. It’s bad for jobs, bad for our kids, bad for our health, and bad for competitiveness. It’s good for inherited wealth and big donors—that’s about it.

The prevailing sense of Congress seems to believe that deficits don’t matter when it comes to tax cuts for the already privileged, but do matter when it comes to spending. This is job-killing hypocrisy, and a textbook recipe for “starving the beast” and hurting the middle class, not for creating jobs.

NOT GOOD. Things aren't looking good in Japan's post-tsunami nuclear crisis.

AN END OR A BEGINNING? Did the struggle against union busting in Wisconsin wake a sleeping giant?

CLASS WARFARE? More like a one-sided class beatdown.

SOCIAL SECURITY. Progressives in the US Senate are trying to protect this program from yet another cave-in.

PLAYING CHICKEN. Most Americans oppose a government shutdown. However, a majority of Tea Party supporters are in favor of one.



March 16, 2011

Makes me think

Somebody throw this guy a bone. This is Poseidon, the Greek god in charge of earthquakes and things like tsunamis.

A few years ago, I listened to an unabridged recording of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It was a "Holy ****!" moment for me. I had been focused for a long time on basic economic justice issues to the extent that I hadn't really paid enough attention to environmental and ecological issues and how they can impact human life.

Recently, I went back and read the book in print form, something which made even my pal Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo raise his eyebrows. I particularly enjoyed the parts about the Vikings this time around, if "enjoyed" is the right word to use in reading about societies that fall apart (this may or may not have anything to do with the ongoing series here on Beowulf). I was really struck, again, by so many examples of societies that seemed to thrive for a time only to decline.

The recent disasters in Japan are a reminder to me of just how vulnerable complex societies are from unexpected (not to mention expected but ignored) threats. If anything, Japan is much more prepared, both technically and socially, to deal with disasters than the US, and the dangers there are huge.

It makes me think.

THIS on that.

THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. Glenn Beck has suggested that God may have sent the disaster to Japan and that this could have something to do with the Ten Commandments. It occurs to me, however, that crime statistics and cultural factors suggest that the Japanese are doing better than the US these days in terms of not killing, not stealing, and honoring thy father and mother.

AFGHANISTAN. According to a new poll, nearly two thirds of Americans think the war there isn't worth the cost.

LIBYA is the theme of the latest edition of Notes from Under the Fig Tree from the Rev. Jim Lewis.

GET THE TO A DOGGERY. Here's yet another article on the health benefits of having a dog. If you walk them, that is.


March 15, 2011

A creepy place

We don't have too many monsters in this pond, aside from a snapping turtle or two.

The theme at Goat Rope lately has been Beowulf, along with links and more or less snarky comments about current events. I chose Beowulf for two reasons. One, it really is a great poem. Two, the WV legislature has been in session and I've been kind of busy watching the chaos, though with precious little so show for it.

Having an ongoing theme at such times is a chance to get down ideas about a classic--and it saves a lot of what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-blog-about time. Now that the session is over (thank God) I plan on winding it down, but not before following the tale to its conclusion.

Some of the most memorable lines occur when Danish king Hrothgar describes the haunted mere or lake where Grendel and his mother dwell. It is there that the hero must go if he is to kill Grendel's mother, who is if anything more fierce than her man-eating son. It is a great description of a REALLY CREEPY PLACE. I'm going to break up the lines to make it easier to read. Enjoy:

"They in a dark land,
Cliffs of wolves, dwell, windy nesses,
Dangerous marshes, where mountain-stream
Under clouds of the nesses flows down below,
Lake under the earth. It is not far hence
In measure by miles that the mere stands,
Over which hang the rustling groves,
Wood firm in its roots; they cover the water.

There one every night a strange wonder may see,
Fire on the flood: so wise a one lives not
Of the children of men that knows its bottom:
Although the heath-stepper pressed by the dogs,
The stag, strong in horns, may seek the grove,
Pursued from afar, his life will he give,
His life on the shore, ere in it he will
Hide there his head.

That 's no unhaunted place;
Thence the boiling of waters rises up high
Wan to the clouds, when the wind rouses,
The hateful storms, while dark grows the air,
The heavens weep. Now is ready counsel
Again in thee alone. The abode yet thou knowest not,
The terrible place, where thou mayest find
The much-sinning being: seek if thou dare.

I for the contest thee will repay
With old-time treasures, as I before did,
With twisted gold, if thou comest away."

As someone who lives around deer and dogs, you know it's a bad place when a deer would rather be torn apart by canines than jump in the water to escape.

JAPAN. This looks really bad. I hope another disaster can be averted.

A TRAGIC ANNIVERSARY. The Triangle Factory Fire, which killed 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women, occurred on March 25, 1911. Since we seem to be headed back in the direction of pre-New Deal plutocracy, it might be good to reflect on the bad old days.

THE RIGHT'S LATEST BOOGEY-WOMAN is longtime consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren.

A CASE IN POINT for what Naomi Klein called The Shock Doctrine is Wisconsin.

SOCIALIZING. Here's a look at what made early hominids human.



March 14, 2011

Alice Day

Note: we interrupt Goat Rope's regularly scheduled programming for the following breaking news:

Today, March 14, 2011, will be eternally celebrated in the annals of culture. Or maybe not. In any case, one of the idols of my junior high years will be officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I am referring, of course, to Alice Cooper, who was one of three stars in my early adolescent firmament. The other two were Bruce Lee and J.R.R. Tolkien. What can I say--I had good taste back then.

At the time, I loved the irreverence expressed in lyrics like School's Out:

Well we can't salute ya
Can't find a flag
If that don't suit ya
That's a drag

Unlike those who would follow, the father of Shock Rock didn't take himself too seriously, as can be seen in the following lines from the same song:

Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can't even think of a word that rhymes

I went to see him with a friend once when he came to Charleston. My friend, more enterprising than me, bought a poster and forged an autograph from it that he showed off all over school the next few days. And if I was ever lucky enough to get a back stage pass to one of his concerts, like Wayne and Garth did in the movie Wayne's World, I probably would have come close to hurling myself.

I haven't followed his career that closely beyond the years that I first took sustenance from them, but that was enough. Happy Rock Day, Alice!

OKINAWA DREAMING. When news came of the horrific earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, I thought at once of Okinawa and the people I had met there last spring. The island is more than 1,000 miles south of the epicenter and was spared the worst. According to a friend in touch with the situation there, there was only a tidal wave about about 12 inches and some disruption of cell phone service. My thoughts still go out to those lost in the disaster and those still at risk, both from the natural cataclysms and the danger of nuclear meltdowns and contamination.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here are some reflections on the destructive capacity of water.

WHO'S BROKE? E.J. Dionne talks sense about deficits and budgets here.

SOLIDARITY. Depending on whom you talk to, several hundred to over 1,000 people rallied at the WV State Capitol this weekend in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin. Here is coverage from the Gazette and WV Metro News. Late last week, the WV House of Delegates passed a measure supporting public employees in that state.

SPEAKING OF THE LEGISLATURE, I'd better pass, lest I say things that may come back to bite me someplace. I might, for instance, speculate about whether racism is alive and well in the state senate and it wouldn't be prudent to do that (although some recent happenings there make me go hmmmm).