August 10, 2013

Down in Jungleland

Image by way of wikipedia.

I feel like I've been living in Bruce Springsteen-land for the last few weeks. And not in a good way.

Point of clarification: I love his music and I even torture several of his songs on guitar (including Thunder Road, The Ghost of Tom Goad, and Youngstown).

What I'm trying to say is that I've been reliving the kinds of stories he has often sung about. About working people who once had a shot at a decent life in this country before being sold down the river by the Judas economy and our Judas ruling class.

Specifically, I'be been working on what I hope will eventually be a report on The State of Working West Virginia. I've worked on a similar report for the last 6 years, but this one is a little different. It looks back on a period of time in West Virginia when at least those lucky enough to have a job had a pretty decent chance.

Around 35 years ago, believe it or not, WV had a higher median wage than the USA. Its workers also had a greater chance of being union members and were more likely than most workers in this country  to have health insurance and pension benefits.

That didn't last long. Employment in coal mining collapsed in the 1980s, when the REAL war on coal miners happened--and the coal miners lost. That was also the decade of the Reagan (counter) revolution, when manufacturing tanked and we entered the period of globalization. It was also the period of rising conservatism, when the social contract was shredded and the priorities of the US government focused exclusively on making the rich richer.

This was the period in which WV's largest employer switched from Weirton Steel to Wal-Mart. Need I say more?

It's been painful for me to look down that road because I lived through it and hated and fought against every minute of it.I keep hoping it will end but it never does. Even when we win victories for poor and working people, which we have, they all seem threatened by a never ending onslaught.

Maybe that's why when I watch things like the series The Walking Dead, about a zombie apocalypse, it just reminds me of today's political world. It's not a horror film--it's just a statement of the facts: the dead (capital) devours the living (labor).

JUST ONE LINK. Here's a good one from the New Yorker about the need to raise the minimum wage--and change this Judas economy.

August 08, 2013

The (feather) harvest is heavy, but laborers are few

Sometimes people use the word "harvest" as if it was a once a year thing. I suppose that may be true of monocultures, but at Goat Rope Farm, harvests of one type or another go on throughout a good chunk of the year.

Thanks to a cold frame engineered by the Spousal Unit, we've harvested lettuce and spinach for a good chunk of late winter and early spring. Garlic is midsummer. Now we have a scary invasion of summer squash.

But the agricultural product of the moment is....peacock feathers.

Our guy, Woodstock, is shedding them at this time, leaving them all over the vicinity. It is one of my tasks to go on walkabouts to retrieve as many as possible. Their eventual destination is the classroom, where said Spousal Unit gives them out as favors. Most popular, of course, are the ones with eyes. The more drab ones, however, make excellent cat toys. Such is life on the cutting edge of post-modern farming.

JUST ONE LINK, BUT IT'S A GOOD ONE. Here's an exciting article about how WV's new Feed to Achieve is being implemented. The long term goal is to ensure that all WV school children enjoy at least two free meals per day (and, we hope, more), but already progress is being made. This article is about innovative ways of offering school breakfasts that should increase participation.

And let me just say that the WV Office of Child Nutrition, which operates under the WV Department of Education, rocks. They are doing a wonderful job every day of trying to ensure and improve access to good food for all the children of this state and they have a passion for it.


August 06, 2013

Samurai snoozer

Image by way of wikipedia.

One might think that a film like Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai film Yojimbo would be right up my alley. And it kind of is.

But I have to admit that it put me to sleep three nights in a row--and I'm not proud of that fact. After major efforts, I finally finished it tonight.

I can't figure out why it put me out like a light. After all, as a martial artist, I must fess up to the fact that I have derived a great deal of  my politics and ethics from my idiosyncratic interpretation of the samurai code.

And I've been interested in Japanese culture for many years.

And the time period in which the film was set--the 1860s--was a fascinating time in Japanese history. The Tokugawa Shogunate was coming to an end. Rule by samurai types was pretty much over. Rule by capitalists was on the way. Money was taking the place of honor. Imperialism was soon to follow. This was the period in time the ruined the lives of many teachers in my lineage of Okinawan karate.

The film is about the breakdown of traditional restraints on behavior, something that has happened over and over again in place after place as the shoddy rule of mammon takes hold. One of the bad guys (whose hair looks Western) carries a gun. Say what you want about samurai, they had a distaste for firearms, considering them to be vulgar and dishonorable for a true bushi or warrior, a sentiment I kind of inherited as a karate-ka.

And I've always been fascinated by the somewhat romantic Japanese fascination with ronin, i.e. masterless samurai who wandered the land and were the subject of many exciting stories.

All of which is to say that I should have been glued to the screen but obviously wasn't. Which leads me to two possible conclusions: either I'm not getting enough sleep or I need to watch some zombie flicks. The jury is still out.

SPEAKING OF THE SHODDY RULE OF MAMMON, here's more climate change stuff for WV's ruling class to deny.


IT'S NOT ALL BAD NEWS. Childhood obesity is starting to go down in several states.


August 05, 2013

What the peahen saw

I hadn't planned on blogging so much about the animals on Goat Rope Farm this week, but then I ran into an interesting article about what female peahens look at when a peacock is displaying. For some time, people thought it was the eyelike features on their tails, but that doesn't seem to be much of a factor, at least when the peahen is fairly close to the male. 

Based on this clever experiment that involves using little cameras to trace eye motion on the female, it may be the case that they pay attention to the size or width of the display. (Let it be noted that I resisted the temptation of making an adolescent remark that would have occurred to some immature minds after reading that sentence.)

As I write this, our peacock, Woodstock (he really looked like the Peanuts character when he was a baby) has started to lose his feathers. In a week or so, he will look like faded glory indeed. Meanwhile, it's my job to gather up the feathers so that the Spousal Unit can give them out as favors to her students this coming school year.

Darwin had a hard time with peacocks. The  males seem to put a huge amount of effort into growing and regrowing feathers, an annual event. But the feathers are so huge that they can get in the way of the survival of the animal, which could seem to go against the grain of natural selection.

I think peacocks keep score differently. My suspicion is that they prefer...shall we say...romantic success to longevity. And there are no doubt many who feel the same way.

CRUMBLING DREAMS. Here's a great essay by influential sociologist Robert Putnam on what happens when the economy leaves communities behind. Putnam, you may recall, helped put the idea of social capital front and center. Too bad it tends to fall apart when inequality grows and opportunity shrinks.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND VIOLENCE. There appears to be a link. Of course, WV's ruling class would tell us not to worry since there is no such thing, as is demonstrated by the fact that they get money from coal.


August 04, 2013

Arpad's aristeia

"Aristeia" is a great Greek word that often comes up when talking about heroic epics like the Iliad. It comes from the work aristos as in aristocrat and means the best. In the context of epic, it refers to a hero's best fight or most glorious day on the battlefield.

In the Iliad several characters had aristeias, including Diomedes, Patroclus, Hector and Achilles. A full scene begins with the hero strapping on his greeves or leg protection and his cuirass or upper body armor, grabbing his shield and sword and various accouterments of war and proceeding to open up a can on the enemy. Often, this can opening is preceded by a lengthy boast about the hero's lineage and deeds.

Arpad, our recently shaven Great Pyrenees (above) had his aristeia last night. Or really this morning.

Around 4 a.m., we were awakened by the unmistakable sound of chickens in distress. The Spousal Unit ran out with a flashlight and I followed with the 12 gauge. Arpad was already in the chicken house. The flashlight soon revealed that a possum had climbed the walls of the chicken coup to where they roost. It was not the best place for me to deploy my artillery.

Arpad only barked once for a change but tried his mightiest to climb the walls. He is a genial goof most of the time but is fiercely protective of the other animals on the farm.

I dislodged the possum from his perch with a hoe and Arpad swooped in like the angel of death. It was over in a flash. When it's my time to go, I hope I die as quickly as that possum.

He killed it a couple more times for good measure. If he had a chariot, he may well have dragged its body around Goat Rope Farm the way Achilles dragged Hector around Troy.

Sic semper possumus may well be his motto.

He's a good boy. I think of him as My Sweet Little Angel Baby From Jesus In Heaven. Possums, however, may have a different opinion.