June 20, 2009

Fowl play

It is with sadness that we announce the passing of The Little Hopper, the first baby turkey born on Goat Rope Farm. He seems to have met his end in an encounter with an owl (we deduced this from the fact that parts of him were found hanging from a tree). He apparently escaped the the safe house at dusk and tried to roost, which attracted the predator's attention.

Arpad, the canid charged with protecting the other animals (when he's not hanging out with his girlfriend up the holler) was initially chagrined. However, in his defense, his job description does not include flight.

Hopper, we hardly knew ye.


June 19, 2009

Suffering into truth

"Zeus has led us on to know,
the Helmsmen lays it down as law
that we must suffer, suffer into truth."--Aeschylus, Agamemnon

Lately the theme at Goat Rope has been Greek tragedy, with a particular focus on the work of Aeschylus, the earliest and for my money the greatest tragic poet. For the last two weeks, the focus has been on the Oresteia, the only surviving tragic trilogy.

Its theme is huge and one that I find myself returning to again and again. It's nothing less than the emergence of democracy and social justice after and in spite of generations of violence and excess. The take home message seems to me to be that no matter how awful the past has been, we can do better.

Aeschylus has a very dynamic view of the universe and of human life. For all the terrible things that have happened in the past and continue to happen, we do have the possibility of moving to a higher level of social life. History is not destiny. In his plays, even the gods are capable of evolving and learning and moving to a higher plane.

For Aeschylus--poet, democrat, and veteran of the Persian wars--we can learn from past mistakes and break they cycle of violence and tyranny. It won't be easy, but we can, as he said, suffer into truth.

SPEAKING OF MOVING TO A HIGHER LEVEL, here's a good one about the possibilities of health care reform.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY West Virginia. El Cabrero's beloved state turns 146 today. Here's a state history quiz from the Daily Mail.

MY BAD. Email subscribers to this blog may have gotten an accidental early edition. Sorry about that.


June 18, 2009

Worship the Mean

"The Remorse of Orestes" by William Adolphe Bougereau, by way of wikipedia.

Welcome to Goat Rope's series on Greek tragedy. You'll also find links and comments about current events if you scroll down. Right now we're finishing up Aeschylus with the last play of the only surviving trilogy, The Eumenides.

"Neither anarchy nor tyranny, my people.
Worship the Mean, I urge you..."--spoken by Athena

This play brings to a close the terrible saga of the house of Atreus, which has been plagued with violence, excess and outrage for five generations. For more on the back story or the preceding plays, please click on earlier posts.

Brief recap: in The Agamemnon, first play in the series, the title character who led the Greeks to Troy returns home and is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. For Clytemnestra, this was in revenge for his sacrificing of their daughter Iphigenia ten years earlier at the command of Artemis to gain fair winds for Troy. For Aegisthus, it's about avenging an outrage Agamemnon's father perpetrated on his side of the family.

In the second play, The Libation Bearers, Agamemnon's son Orestes returns from exile and kills Aegisthus and his mother to avenge his father at the command of Apollo and then is struck mad and haunted by the avenging Furies, dark underworld goddesses who punish those who kill blood relations.

In The Eumenides, Orestes seeks sanctuary at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi, who puts the Furies to sleep. He is told to go to the city of Athena and seek mercy at her shrine. Once there, the goddess determines to end the cycle once and for all by appointing a jury of 12 citizens of the city to hear the case and judge between Orestes and the Furies. When the jury reaches a tie, she casts the deciding vote and acquits Orestes, who is free to return to Argos.

The Furies are outraged and threaten to strike Athens with plague but are placated by being given a special place of honor in the city. Their name is changed to "the kindly ones," which is the English translation of the title.

The great theme is the triumph of democracy and the rule of law over generations of bloodshed and violence. The trilogy has been called The Divine Comedy of ancient Greece. Like Dante's classic, it is a journey through hell and purgatory not to an unworldly paradise but rather to a state of human justice.

As Robert Fagles and W.B. Stanford put it, "The Oresteia is our rite of passage from savagery to civilization."

GAME ON for health care reform.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, hundreds of state legislators have sent a message to Congress in support of a public option in any reform package.

ANOTHER GOOD FIGHT in the pipeline is the TRADE Act, which will be introduced in Congress any day now. It would revamp our approach to trade deals and make sure they include more protections for workers, the environment and consumers.

CLIMATE CHANGE, right here right now.

NUTS! are what this newly discovered dinosaur ate.


June 17, 2009

No arrow from a bow

The murder of Aegisthus by Orestes. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Greek tragedies are about as far removed as you can get from the standard modern fare of action movies, where good guys fight bad guys and usually win. In tragedies, the good guys are often flawed and the bad ones often have their reasons.

In tragedies, people are sometimes just overwhelmed and destroyed by circumstances or are caught up in a chain of events they don't understand or control. Sometimes, the harder protagonists try to avoid some awful outcome the more surely they bring it about.

And sometimes they are forced to do things they don't want to do or are caught up in situations where they are confronted with competing ethical and religious claims that can't possibly be reconciled.

That kind of dilemma characterizes the plays Goat Rope is looking at these days, the Orestes trilogy of Aeschylus. Agamemnon in the play of the same name has a sacred duty to lead an army to Troy to punish the sacrilege of Paris in violating xenia or hospitality by abducting Helen of Troy. All the leaders of Greece had sworn a holy oath to uphold the marriage and punish anyone who defiled it. If he doesn't fulfill this sacred duty, he and everyone else will suffer terribly.

But the goddess Artemis, protectress of defenseless things, foresees the slaughter of the innocent when Troy is destroyed. She withholds winds unless and until Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia. As Martha Nussbaum summarizes, "If Agamemnon does not fulfill Artemis's condition, everyone, including Iphigenia, will die." No easy way out. He does and seals his fate.

In the second part of the trilogy, The Libation Bearers, his son Orestes is under an oracle by the god Apollo that requires him to slay his mother and her lover Aegisthus in revenge for their murder of Agamemnon. If he refused, "no arrow from a bow could touch such peaks of agony" that he would undergo. No easy way out.

While most of us in a normal week are not required by deities to sacrifice or murder family members, that kind of tragic conflict between competing valid but irreconcilable claims--usually on a less gory scale--is all too common in public and private life.

Most of us don't like to think about that kind of thing or imagine that there's always some easy escape. The ancient Athenians had the courage to make it the cornerstone of their greatest public works of art.

WHO'DA THUNK IT? Urban farming might become a career path.

ON A SIMILAR NOTE, cooperation is growing between the labor and environmental movements.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's Dean Baker on health care reform and the return of Harry and Louise.

A NOVEL WAY TO COPE WITH THE RECESSION: professional wrestling!


June 16, 2009

No easy way out

Iphigenia by Anselm Feuerbach (1862), by way of wikipedia.

One of the things that makes Greek tragedy so compelling is its stark realism. For all the gods, heroes and mythological elements upon which it draws, its basic themes of inherent and unavoidable conflicts are all too common.

In the words of Martha Nussbaum, writing in The Fragility of Goodness,

Greek tragedy shows good people being ruined because of things that just happen to them, things that they do not control. This is certainly sad; but it is an ordinary fact of human life, and no one would deny that it happens...Tragedy also shows something more deeply disturbing: it shows good people doing bad things, things otherwise repugnant to their ethical character and commitments, because of circumstances whose origin does not lie with them.

Even more disturbing, however is the fact that tragedies

also show us, and dwell upon, another more intractable sort of case--one which has come to be called, as a result, the situation of 'tragic conflict'. In such cases we see a wrong action committed without any direct physical compulsion and in full knowledge of its nature, by a person whose ethical character or commitments would otherwise dispose him to reject the act. The constraint comes from the presence of circumstances that prevent the adequate fulfillment of two valid ethical claims. Tragedy tends, on the whole, to take such situations very seriously.

In popular parlance, it looks at situations in which you're "damned if you do and damned if you don't." If you've never been in one, may your luck hold out.

WHAT ABOUT THE ALREADY POOR? Here's an opinion piece by Barbara Ehrenreich about a group left out of much recent media coverage of the recession.

MORE FALLOUT. Here's the Boston Globe on the recent US Supreme Court decision on a judicial travesty in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

INTERESTING IDEA. High altitude wind machines could generate a lot of clean energy.

BEGINNINGS. Here's an interesting item on the origin of life.


June 15, 2009

"One sorrow for today, another for tomorrow"

The reunion of Orestes and Electra. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

"What human soul can pass through life
untouched by suffering to the end?
Oh, no, there's none.
One sorrow for today, another for tomorrow, comes."

Goat Rope's series on Greek tragedy continues. You'll also find links and comments about current events below. At this point, we're on The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus, the second part of the only surviving tragic trilogy. the theme of the trilogy is the emergence of democracy and the rule of law after a long series of violent events.

The first part of the trilogy, the Agamemnon, was discussed last week. In it, the title character who led Greek forces in the Trojan war is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus on his return. This is an act of vengeance for Agamemnon's sacrificing of his daughter Iphigenia ten years earlier at the command of Artemis to gain winds for the Trojan expedition. The couple then establish a tyranny in Argos.

The Libation Bearers is the next chapter in a long series of acts of violence. In it, Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, returns in secret after years of exile. He has come with his friend Plyades at the command of the god Apollo, who has ordered him to kill Agamemnon's murderers or face terrible punishments himself.

He places a lock of his hair on the grave of Agamemnon then hides as a group of women approaches. They are led by his sister Electra, who was ordered by her mother to offer libations at the grave placate the spirit of Agamemnon. Clytemnestra has been suffering from bad dreams and an uneasy conscience since the murder.

Electra, who has suffered mistreatment at the hands of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, is reunited with Orestes at the graveside. Together they plot revenge, with the eager support of the chorus. He pretends to be a pilgrim coming with news of his own death and knocks at the door of the palace.

Orestes asks to see Aegisthus to bring the news and quickly kills him. The climax of the play is the confrontation of Orestes and Clytemnestra, who has dreamed of giving birth to a serpent who kills her. The serpent was Orestes.

As soon as the deed is done, Orestes is haunted and driven to madness by the Furies, dark underworld goddesses who punish blood guilt. As the play closes, there seems to be no end in sight for the curse upon this family. The last words of the chorus are:

Oh, when shall it finish, when shall it sate--
lie down to sleep--this fury bound hate?

KEEP IT UP. Voices are already calling for the Obama administration to cease recovery efforts. Paul Krugman thinks that would be a very bad idea.

THEN AND NOW. Here's an op-ed/book review by yours truly from yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail.

HEALTH CARE. Here's why we need a public option.

GREEN JOBS. Here's Ken Ward in Coal Tattoo discussing green jobs for the coalfields.