July 04, 2009

Independence Day


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

--Walt Whitman

Happy 4th of July!


July 03, 2009

Up and down

El Cabrero is a big fan of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. His books have a dreamlike quality, often seamlessly blending the ordinary and the surreal. My favorite of his is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. If you haven't read it, I'd suggest dropping everything and grabbing it.

One quote from that book has stuck in my mind for several years. It's a good summary of the Taoist view of adapting to life's ups and downs. Here it is:

"It's not a question of better or worse. The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you're supposed to go up and down when you're supposed to go down. When you're supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you're supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there is no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness. 'I am he and/ He is me:/ Spring nightfall.' Abandon the self, and there you are."

It's all about water.

MASS LAYOFFS are at their highest point since the mid-1990s, according to the Economic Policy Institute's latest snapshot.

ON THAT NOTE, here is Dean Baker's analysis of the latest depressing unemployment report.

WHICH IS WHY Paul Krugman and others are calling for a second stimulus.

FOOT IN MOUTH SYNDROME. Here's an article about why it's hard to keep the former out of the latter.


July 02, 2009

The fullness of time

There seems to be an irregular but natural rhythm in working for social justice. Certain periods of time are more full of crisis, opportunity, and chances for movement than others. The ancient Greeks referred to these critical moments as kairos, in contrast with more ordinary times which were called chronos.

In the Bible, for example, the word kairos is used for important moments and in such phrases as "the fullness of time" or "the time is at hand."

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), periods of kairos don’t last forever. Many people interested in social change have been shaped by such periods but were often not able to cope well with the more common periods of relative calm. And, like a record that is stuck, they may become inflexible in terms of tactics and analysis. Recognizing the inevitable rhythm of life and change and adapting to it requires a continual need for renewal or shedding one’s skin.

West Virginia author Denise Giardina captures well what kairos feels like (and the difficulty in surviving its passing) in Storming Heaven, her novel about the mine wars:

I loved that phrase, ‘the fullness of time.’ I shivered to whisper it to myself, for I sensed I was living in it, right then. Nothing afterward would be so important…We are put on earth for the fullness of time, we spend our days reaching it, and then we pass on. Some people die right then, with the passing of the fullness, and others breathe on, grieving all their lives that time is being strangled and they are not yet dead. I didn’t fret about this last. I couldn’t imagine it for myself.

The Tao Te Ching, an ancient book of Chinese philosophy often discussed here, contains a phrase which has become a proverb in many parts of the world: “Returning is the motion of the Tao.” Everything changes. To become rigid in a changing world is to die. Or, as Dylan said, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

Periods of kairos demand all one’s attention, but probably the most important work is done during periods of chronos (when the time isn’t full, so to speak). These activities would better place one in position to take advantage of the situation when the next period of kairos rolls around.

I'd say right now is a time of kairos.

HEALTH CARE. The president of the American Medical Association said that the organization is open to a government-funded health care program for the uninsured.

LOSING YOUR JOB can be bad for your health.

PRISONS. A governor's commission in WV just released a study about prison overcrowding in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. Some of the measures called for include reduced and alternative sentencing for offenders not believed to be a danger to the public, treatment for addictions, and help with re-entry...in addition to the inevitable call to build a new prison. Meanwhile, at a public meeting sponsored by the WV Council of Churches, participants preferred other measures to prison construction.

EMPATHY ON THE BRAIN. Research suggests people feel more of it for those in the same social group.



July 01, 2009

Against purity

Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor under FDR.

One of the many things El Cabrero likes about Jesus was his general disregard for the purity codes of his day. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), he always seems to be making someone mad for transgressing this or that rule of apparent righteousness by hanging out with the wrong people, doing things at the wrong time or not doing things the "right" way.

I've found that purity codes were not limited to first century Palestine but can be found amongst almost any group. They can be particularly prevalent amongst people working for social justice.

It often happens that people will refuse to work with this or that group because they aren't pure enough or will oppose this or that reform because it doesn't go far enough--even though nothing else is on the table. Sometimes, people even oppose a positive measure because it isn't done with the "proper" motivation.

Whatever. This may be my Scotch-Irish talking, but I believe in playing the cards you're dealt, with the understanding that you try to improve your hand as much as possible. I tend to regard moral perfectionism as the unforgivable sin.

This chain of thought was triggered by reading Kirstin Downey's The Woman Behind the New Deal, a biography of Frances Perkins. Perkins served as secretary of labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and had an amazing record as an effective reformer way before that.

One of the things that contributed to her success was her ability to deal with people as they were, including corrupt old school Tammany Hall politicians. As Downey put it,

Her ability to accept human foibles, to see both failings and strengths was becoming a core personality trait, bolstering her effectiveness. She found that making deals with imperfect people and focusing on their strengths provided a pathway to actually achieving social change.

As the saying goes, "God is a potter, he works in mud."

HOT AIR. Dean Baker takes on lies about the climate change bill here.

ME TOO. Research suggests that community norms and peer pressure influence how people relate to conservation and environmental efforts.

STRANGE DAYS. The giant retailer Wal-Mart has embraced a mandate for major employers to provide health insurance for workers, a major plank in overall health care reform legislation.

AGUA...the new oil.


June 30, 2009

A matter of scale

The long view. A Hubble image of deep space by way of wikipedia.

El Cabrero is a big fan of lecture series produced by The Teaching Company (and the libraries that buy them). At the moment, I'm in the midst of one about "Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity" by Dr. David Christian.

I enjoy light subjects...

Anyhow, he had some interesting ideas about getting a handle on the age of the universe (over 13 billion according to recent estimates). To make it easier to picture, he shrinks the scale a billion times.

If the universe was 13 years old,

*earth would have been formed five years ago;

*the first multi-celled organisms showed up seven months ago;

*after a successful run of several weeks, dinosaurs would have gotten wiped out three weeks ago;

*the first hominids appeared 53 minutes ago;

*agriculture started five minutes ago;

*the first agrarian civilizations got going three minutes ago; and

*industrial societies would have been around for six seconds.

Our part of the show is just getting started....or maybe it's just a short feature.

TIME is one of the themes of the Rev. Jim Lewis' latest edition of Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

THE PRICE OF HAPPINESS. The scientific quest to understand consumer behavior continues.

A CURIOUS CONNECTION seems to exist between marriage and obesity.

NOT HIS BEST. The late writer Michael Harrington may have helped inspire the 1960s War on Poverty, but some of his ideas about the "culture of poverty" did some harm.


June 29, 2009

How's this for randomness?

Random mushroom picture.

A nearby city's newspaper has a feature whereby people can call in and vent about various topics. Many of these are mini-rants on particular topics or personal messages to some offender, as in "to the person who stole my dog, I hope you rot in hell."

Occasionally, however, there are cryptic messages of a truly transcendental character which could even serve as Zen koans upon which to meditate.

(Did you guys notice the elegant way in which I avoided ending that sentence with a preposition?)

Here's one the Spousal Unit cut out for the refrigerator which could serve either as financial advice or a means of attaining satori:

I have been playing the lottery faithfully for years in West Virginia, but I figured out there is no way to win here. You have to go to North Carolina. I have a friend in North Carolina, and I have been letting him buy my tickets for me.

GETTING IT RIGHT. Here's another item urging the Obama administration not to cave in on health care reform. And, from the same source, here's another on the climate change vote.

NONVIOLENCE. Gene Sharp, a major theorist of nonviolent action, has been getting major media attention lately.


HIGH IMPACT. From Coal Tattoo, here's a post with multiple links about the impact of mountaintop removal mining.