October 04, 2008

A little subaquatic monster poetry weekend special

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Alfred Tennyson, 1830

Comment: so like what was he thinking when he wrote that?


October 03, 2008

Dream weaver, Penelope, the bailout and more

Along with links and comments about current events, Goat Rope is winding down a long series on the Odyssey of Homer. Much of the series has focused on the misadventures of Odysseus' homecoming and how these shed light both on ordinary life and particularly on veterans coming home from war.

One character who has not received her due here has been the faithful wife Penelope, who in her own was was as crafty as her husband. Incidentally, Margaret Atwood wrote The Penelopiad to tell the whole story from her point of view.

With Odysseus gone and presumed dead, her status was unclear. There was little or now place in that society for an independent woman of child-bearing years. Now that her son Telemachus is coming of age, she is under enormous pressure to remarry. Over 100 suitors are basically camped out at her home and are devouring the family's estate. They even plot the murder of Telemachus.

To gain time, she says she must complete her duties by weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus' father Laertes, which she secretly unravels at night until her secret is revealed by a treacherous maid.

In the epic cycle, she is seen as the ideal wife, in direct contrast to Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon who murders her husband on his homecoming to revenge his sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia (although there are many here among us who would say Agamemnon had it coming).

My favorite scene with Penelope in the Odyssey is her discussion of the nature of dreams. As you may have noticed, some dreams make sense and some don't. Here's her explanation:

"Ah my friend," seasoned Penelope dissented,
"dreams are hard to unravel, wayward, drifting things--
not all we glimpse in them will come to pass...
Two gates there are for our evanescent dreams,
one is made of ivory, the other made of horn.
Those that pass through the ivory cleanly carved
are will-o'-the-wisps, their message bears no fruit.
The dreams that pass through the gates of polished horn
are fraught with truth, for the dreamer who can see them..."

The problem is it's kind of hard to tell true dreams and false ones apart sometimes, whether we're awake or asleep.

WELFARE FOR WALL STREET UPDATE. The House is likely to vote today on the Wall Street bailout. Here's an action alert and analysis from the American Friends Service Committee.

SCAPEGOAT. Right wingers are trying to blame the Community Reinvestment Act (and minorities) for the Wall Street meltdown. That would be another dog that don't hunt.

URBAN PLOWBOY. Here's an interesting item on the future of urban farming.

SCORE ONE FOR SIGMUND. A new medical study finds that old school psychodynamic therapy works as well as other treatments for certain mental disorders.


October 02, 2008

Man's best friend and an important action alert on the bailout

Note: The Goat Rope is nearing the end of a series of posts about the Odyssey of Homer, although you'll also find links and comments about current events. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts.

What person born with a living soul isn't a sucker for a dog story? There's a great little dog nugget towards the end of the Odyssey. Odysseus, after 10 years of war and 10 more years of wandering, has finally made it home to Ithaca. He is disguised as a beggar as he approaches his home, where over 100 insolent suitors are devouring the resources of his family.

Odysseus is generally pretty good at self-control in a dangerous situation and at hiding his emotions, but he wasn't prepared for this:

Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there
lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears...
It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus' dog
he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got
since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy.
In the old days young hunters loved to set him
coursing after the wild goats and deer and hares.
But now with his master gone he lay there, castaway,
on piles of dung from mules and cattle, heaps collecting
out before the gates till Odysseus' self-serving men
could cart it off to manure the king's estates.
Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect,
here lay the hound, old Argos.

Out of everyone Odysseus meets during his homecoming, the only critter who recognizes and greets him right away is the dog:

But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by
he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped,
though he had no strength to drag himself an inch
toward his master.

Odysseus can't run up to greet the dog, because this would reveal his identity to the murderous suitors. So he turns his head, sheds a tear, and asks the swineherd Eumaeus about him. He replies

"Here--it's all too true--here's the dog of a man
who died in foreign parts. But if he had now
the form and flair he had in his glory days--
as Odysseus left him, sailing off to Troy--
you'd be amazed to see such speed, such strength.
No quarry he chased in the deepest, darkest woods
could ever slip this hound. A champion tracker too!
Ah, but he's run out of luck now, poor fellow...
his master's dead and gone, so far from home,
and the heartless women tend him not at all....."

Odysseus never got the chance to try to make up for lost time:

...the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos' eyes
the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away.

A little dog-reality note: the point of this story is about the loyalty and love of the dog and about his neglect. However, El Cabrero can vouch for the fact that lying on a manure pile is not a sign of neglect. The dogs of my acquaintance love to lay in, roll around upon, and sometimes eat all kinds of stinky stuff, manure and dead things included. And any dog--then or now--that lived 20 years couldn't have had it all that bad. But I still fell for it.

SPEAKING OF DOGS, the Senate's bailout bill may have passed, but it don't hunt. The House may vote on it by Friday at latest word. Here's the full text of an action alert urging people to contact their representatives and ask them to fill in the blanks in the legislation:

Take Action: Let Congress Know the Bailout Solution Should not be Driven by Fear

The financial crisis in the United States today is not in the Dow Jones but in our communities, where millions of people are threatened by home foreclosures and a sluggish economy. This is a deep and wide crisis that should receive thoughtful attention, not a panicked response driven by fear.

Today the Senate will vote on a revised version of the Emergency Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which the House of Representatives rejected on Sept. 29 by a 228-205 margin. Although it is likely to pass in the Senate, this bill still fails to address the causes of the crisis or its impact on most people. The House is likely to take up the issue again on Friday.

Congress should develop and pass stronger legislation that meets the following principles:

Bankruptcy Protection - This bill must grant authority for bankruptcy judges to restructure mortgages and allow government to work with loan servicers on new mortgage terms, thereby providing stability and security for local communities and the economy as a whole.

A Strong Economic Recovery Package - Congress must adopt measures that will create jobs for workers who have lost their employment and invest in the needs of local communities.

Taxpayer Protection - The public’s massive investment in our financial institutions must be vigorously protected. Tough independent oversight, transparency, and an assurance of repayment from the financial service companies must be mandatory. The public must receive significant return for the assets we acquire.

Regulatory Framework – To address the causes of recent financial failures, the financial system should be regulated in ways that support sound lending and investment, and that also protect taxpayers and consumers. The regulatory framework should be revisited to restore good governance in our financial institutions.

Limitations on Executive Compensation - Strict limits on compensation and severance packages for senior executives must be enacted on any institution receiving taxpayer-funded assistance.

Your Voice is Needed! Call your House Representative Today.

The Congressional switchboard, fax and email systems are crashing do to volume, so the only way to reach your Representative is to call their DC office directly. Click here to enter your address and find your Representative and their direct phone number.

Ask your Representative not to act out of fear and take the time to do this right for the long-term well-being of your community.

The American Friends Service Committee is providing a toll-free number to the congressional switchboard: 1-800-473-6711.

ONE MORE THING ON THAT: Here's an opinion piece from AFSC General Secretary Mary Ellen McNish about the values that should guide a response to the crisis.


October 01, 2008

Is a court-martial in order?

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately has been the Odyssey of Homer, along with links and comments about current events. We're almost done, but there are a few loose ends.

One of which is about Odysseus' style as a leader. It's tempting to wonder how a contemporary military officer would be treated after performing as badly as he did during his homecoming (my guess is the Bush administration would probably promote him).

To recap, he lost 12 ships and 600 or so men--after the fighting was over. As Jonathan Shay sums it up in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming reminds us,

*he loses control of his troops and suffers 72 casualties in a botched and unnecessary pirate raid on the Circoneans;

*he puts himself and his men at risk needlessly and impulsively (the whole Cyclops thing);

*he protects his own ship but loses the rest when they approach the land of the Laestrygonians;

*he can't even be bothered to count his men when he leaves the island of Circe;

*he can't control his men when they violate the command not to kill and eat the sun god Helios' cattle. (Note: all of these have been the subjects of previous posts.)

As Shay puts it after looking over the evidence from the Iliad and the Odyssey,

As a staff officer, strategist, independent intelligence operative, and solo fighter, Odysseus was brilliant. As a troop leader, he was a catastrophe. Homer's great epics show him in full depth and perspective.

One thing hasn't changed from then to now in war as well as "peace," ordinary people pay the price for bad leadership.

SPEAKING OF PAYING FOR BAD LEADERSHIP, it looks like the Senate will vote today on the Wall Street bailout bill. The new version raises FDIC depositor's insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 and includes more business tax cuts--as if blowing $700 billion on corporate welfare wasn't enough.

Many groups around the country are opposing the bailout as it now stands for its lack of support for ordinary Americans. Here's an alternate vision that a number of groups have supported. Actions opposing the bailout will occur in several states today and progressive groups have been scrambling to keep up with the latest developments.


HERE'S A LITTLE REMINDER that whatever happens with the bailout, there's nothing new about corporate welfare.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT. I've said this before and I'll say it again: what if everyone's Social Security was privately invested on Wall Street? Some people, who shall remain nameless, still want to do that.


September 30, 2008

The wolf himself

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Goat Rope is in the process of winding up a long series of reflections on the Odyssey of Homer, although you'll also find links and comments about current events.

Odysseus, the eponymous main character, is a hero in the ancient Greek sense of someone who lived a larger than normal life and whose deeds are remembered after his death. The word did not imply moral superiority and some of the most famous Greek heroes did some pretty nasty things.

Such is the case with our boy. As we've seen along the way, he's a terrible commander who is directly or indirectly responsible for the death of around 600 of his men on 12 ships--and that was after the war was over. He is secretive, totally lacking in social trust, excessive in his desire for revenge, and impulsive. He lies nearly every time he speaks, even when there's no good reason to do so. What's his deal, anyway?

The VA psychiatrist and classical scholar Jonathan Shay has some interesting thoughts about this. First, while Odysseus has been through many grueling ordeals at war and on his way home, he doesn't seem to have suffered from the classic symptoms of war-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a direct result. But there are interesting clues of an earlier trauma.

In his homecoming, he is recognized by his nurse Eurycleia by a scar on his thigh that he received as a child:

Bending closer
she started to bathe her master...then,
in a flash, she knew the scar--
that old wound
made years ago by a boar's white tusk when Odysseus
went to Parnassus, out to see [his grandfather] Autolycus and his sons.
The man was his mother's noble father, one who excelled
the world at thievery, that and subtle, shifty oaths.

Autolycus means something like "wolf-like" or "the wolf himself" or even "werewolf." It was he who gave him the name Odysseus, which means something like "man of pain" or "he who gives and receives pain."

When he was a boy, he went to visit Autolycus and nearly died on that hunt. Some commentators have seen this as a turning point in his development. This may have given him a sense that those who were responsible for his well-being couldn't be trusted. As Shay put it,

I see it as a darker transformation, when Odysseus concluded that no one was to be trusted, when he concluded that unless you beat them to it or get over on them first, other people only want to hurt, exploit, or humiliate you...

Shay notes that some of his patients who had the most difficult symptoms experienced abuse and neglect in childhood and adolescence prior to their military service.

...If the expectation that other people plan only harm, exploitation, and humiliation produces a cynical "strike first" attitude, trauma can produce an active, self-starting predator. Odysseus' scar alerts us to the interconnection of childhood trauma, combat trauma, and a veteran's character.

El Cabrero is well aware of the limited practical utility of psychoanalyzing literary characters, but there you have it. Let's just say he had issues.

THE BIG NEWS of course is the failure of the Wall Street bailout bill in the House. El Cabrero has mixed feelings about that. The bill was a vast improvement over what was originally proposed but didn't go far enough in helping ordinary Americans. The best advice I've heard is for people to take a deep breath and then start advocating again for a package that provides more protection for homeowners, an ownership state in every firm that receives public assistance and increased regulation of the financial industry. Congress also needs to consider another targeted stimulus package aimed at the hardest hit Americans.

RETHINKING "FREE" TRADE. Lots of economists are.

STALEMATE. A BBC poll conducted in 23 nations found that 59 percent of respondents believed that the Bush administration's "war on terror" either hasn't weakened al-Qaeda or made it stronger. Let me guess...the decision to invade Iraq didn't help.

URGENT DEEP SEA FISH COMMUNICATION UPDATE. Stop the presses! It appears that the cusk-eel uses some form of sonic communication, which is to say it makes noises to other cusk-eels. Take that, all you cusk-eel communication skeptics out there!


September 29, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Odysseus and Telemachus open a can on the suitors. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Along with links and comments about current events, the theme at Goat Rope lately has been the Odyssey of Homer and what it has to say to us today. We're almost done. So far we've followed his wanderings from Troy to his home at Ithaca. It has involved 10 years of fighting and 10 more of various adventures and (largely self-inflicted) disasters.

Now, like many veterans returning from war, he finds himself at home but doesn't recognize the place. Disguised as a beggar, he will be abused by arrogant suitors even within his own house.

You probably remember how the story ends. In the home stretch, Odysseus will wreak terrible vengeance on the suitors who have been devouring his substance, abusing the hospitality (xenia) of his house, harassing his faithful wife Penelope, and plotting the murder of his son Telemachus. In the end the people of Ithaca are so upset by the carnage that another battle almost ensues until the gods intervene and make peace.

But first he must alternately deceive and then reveal himself to those he knew, including the swineherd Eumaeus, Telemachus, his nurse Euraycleia, Penelope herself, and his father Laertes.

He is clearly in a dangerous position. Aside from the 108 suitors, many in Ithaca are angry over the fact that not a single one of his fellow countrymen survived the journey, largely due to the mistakes of their commander. But so ingrained is his tendency to resort to lies and stratagems (Greek: metis) that he often lies even when he has no reason to do so.

Not only that, but we've seen all the way along that he is secretive to a fault, that he conceals vital information from his men, and that he has absolutely no social trust. What is his major malfunction?

Maybe a scar holds the key. More on that tomorrow.

BAILOUT. Here's the latest on the compromise version of the Wall Street bailout, which is likely to be voted on in the House today. Short version: it's a little better than that originally proposed but leaves out a lot. Holy free market, Batman!

INJUSTICE KILLS. This article reviews research on inequality and health.

THE POLITICS OF RACE is the topic of this op-ed by yours truly.

MOTHER GOOSE! 50 million years ago, giant geese-like birds with a 5 meter wingspan and bony teeth flew over England. I want one!