July 18, 2009

Weekend dog poem

The Dog by Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I've also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.


July 17, 2009

The pale cast of thought

Seamus McGoogle thinks too much. Such cats are dangerous.

Lately I've been thinking about not thinking.

The related sciences of psychology and behavioral economics have pointed out that most of the time, we run on automatic pilot, without really thinking about what we're doing. We seem to have two related cognitive systems, one that doesn't require a lot of thought and another that is reflective and self-conscious.

The former is pretty fast and effortless, while the latter is slower and more deliberative.

It's probably a good thing that we have the autopilot function. It would be pretty hard to get things done if we had to consciously reflect how to tie shoes, wash dishes or mow the lawn.

The automatic system seems to have evolved to help animals (including us) deal with routine events. The reflective system may have developed to help us deal with novel situations.

It strikes me as a paradox that in education we sometimes seem to value the reflective questioning part, although the automatic one delivers most of the goods most of the time.

People nowadays, especially "progressives," tend to disparage rote learning and drill. But if you think about it, we learn some of our most important skills that way. Think of multiplication tables, spelling, reading, keyboarding, riding a bicycle, or tons of other things.

When I first tried to learn how to play the guitar, it took what seemed like ages to make a chord and even longer to change one. After a while, I could play and change basic chords without thinking about it. Martial artists and other athletes basically train so they won't have to think. So do most emergency responders--and that's a good thing most of the time.

Thinking and self-consciousness have their place but sometimes they're overrated. Think about it. Or not.

HEALTH CARE RESOURCE. Here's some useful information on the current health care reform debate from West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

LOOKING BACK A VIETNAM is the theme of the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

NO CARDS. It looks like "moderates" in the US Senate have scrapped a key provision of the Employee Free Choice Act.

WV ITEMS. It was a surprise for me yesterday to see that there will be a change in leadership at the Department of Health and Human Resources, but no surprise to see that problems persist in the state's in-home Medicaid program for the elderly and disabled. On a different topic, Kanawha County schools dropped the words "sexual orientation" from policy intended to discourage bullying and harassment. Holy abject caving, Batman!

WHY DO DOGS BARK? Here's one possibility.


July 16, 2009

"It's all about the kids"

Pious platitudes about children are a mainstay of American politics, although in this as well as other things there's generally way more to the talk than the walk. This is especially true when it comes to children in poverty, which can have lifelong affects.

This item comes from Wired Science:

The biological legacy of childhood poverty may linger for decades, leaving adults who grew up poor more likely to get sick.

Genome scans of 103 adults found altered patterns of stress-related gene activity in those from low-income backgrounds. The patterns persisted even when poverty was left behind.

The findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could explain why heart disease, cancer and other diseases of aging appear to be unusually common in adults who grew up poor, regardless of their current income or lifestyles.

The best response, however, isn't pity. As William Blake put it,

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor...

A BOOST. The Economic Policy Institute argues that the coming increase in the federal minimum wage will provide a real stimulus to the economy.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities corrects misconceptions about the stimulus.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. Here's a personal reaction to President Obama's pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons by a survivor of Hiroshima.

FORECLOSURES are still increasing.


July 15, 2009

"...even more than in the past"

WV workers rally at state capitol for the Employee Free Choice Act. I think this picture is about three years old.

It is one of my rituals after returning from a trip to comb through newspapers and other sources to catch up and see what I might have missed.

One story that I found to be particularly interesting was the release of Pope Benedict's encyclical, CARITAS IN VERITATE.

The encyclical is a very strong statement in support of economic justice and a strong critique of "unleashed" capitalism. Among other things, it contains a strong endorsement of labor unions and strongly supports the rights of workers to organize:

Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

And that's not all. In the words of Thomas Reese, S.J., writing for the Washington Post,

Although Benedict's emphasis in the encyclical is on the theological foundations of Catholic social teaching, amid the dense prose there are indications, as shown above, that he is to the left of almost every politician in America. What politician would casually refer to "redistribution of wealth" or talk of international governing bodies to regulate the economy? Who would call for increasing the percentage of GDP devoted to foreign aid? Who would call for the adoption of "new life-styles 'in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments'"?

What would Joe the Plumber say?

Some other items that struck my eye included:

*this overview of health care systems in different countries;

*this piece that reminds us that even people with health insurance can go broke in a medical crisis; and

*this news story that reports lower rates of bankruptcies in states that don't seize wages.


July 14, 2009

Crazy as a loon

When it comes to religion, El Cabrero is a cradle Episcopalian of the Mahayana variety who happens to work for a Quaker organization.

But the older I get, the more I find the religion of my birth being unceremoniously elbowed out of the way from time to time by older traditions. Mostly it's Taoism. Sometimes it's Buddhism. And some days Greek mythology seems more reasonable and less bloodthirsty than monotheism.

This happens pretty much involuntarily. I'm not proud of it and try to keep it under control.

Sometimes a shamanistic streak emerges. I have several totem animals that speak to my condition. One is any variety of cat (surely a higher form of life). Others include the praying mantis (for martial arts reasons), great blue herons (because they are cool), and snakes (overdetermined).

Thanks to spending last week on Lake Champlain in Vermont, I've added a new sacred animal to my repertoire: the loon. This was the first time I ever saw one in action since they don't live this far south.

For other latitudinally challenged hillbillies such as my self, a loon is kind of a big-assed duck on steroids. They make a really cool sound and can swim under water for considerable distances looking for food.

One minute, you see them floating along. Then they suddenly dive and disappear, only to emerge a good ways off. From what I've read, they can dive as deep as 250 feet and stay under as long as five minutes.

I think what I like about them is their liminality, which is a fancy word for their ability to cross thresholds, like water, air and land (the last of which is not their favorite element). I've always found the boundaries between different states and kinds of things to be interesting. In mythological terms, I think that would put them under the jurisdiction of Hermes, god of boundaries and borders.

I'd better get to a church pretty soon...

UNEMPLOYMENT jumped again in my beloved state of West Virginia, but is still a tad below the national average. My guess is it will hit hardest here later and last longer.

MY EX-GRANDMOTHER-IN-LAW subscribed to the theory that the moon landing never happened. She had other strange beliefs as well which I wish I'd written down before she died. Anyhow, she's not alone.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. A new study found that violence continues after the breakup for those with children and that witnessing it has a strong negative affect on children even if they are not themselves the targets. A lot of this won't be news to those familiar with the subject, but more hard data is always welcome.

TALKING SENSE. I can't recommend enough Ken Ward Jr.'s Coal Tattoo blog. Here are links to three recent posts. The first debunks the hysterical response to climate change legislation by WV's ruling class. The second debunks a debunking of a study of the cost of coal by a WVU researcher. And the third points to an under-used way of bringing green jobs to the coalfields.


July 13, 2009

Curse of the zebra mussels

Well, El Cabrero is back in Paradise (he said, with irony) after over a week beside a lake in Vermont. Sometimes I get a little nervous on leaving my beloved state of West Virginia because I'm afraid of missing something, but I was able to monitor conditions here by means of the Precious (aka, the iPhone).

One big insight came my way last week: the wheels of karma may turn slowly but they do turn. Sometimes anyway. Pity me not but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold...

Several years ago on another visit to the in laws up there, we stopped and splashed around in Lake Champlain. At one point, my mother in law attempted to dissuade her grandson from venturing further into the lake by warning him about zebra mussels.

I must admit that this struck me as hilarious, a typical grown up way of scaring a kid into not doing something, as in "if you go one step further into the lake, a savage pack of carnivorous zebra mussels will tear you limb from limb."

I've laughed about that ever since, most recently last week when I decided to take a swim in the selfsame lake. But no sooner had I ventured out to where it was neck deep than my own toe was seriously sliced open by...you guessed it...a zebra mussel shell.

I was hoisted on my own petar...this is what happens when you mess with my mother in law.


SPEAKING OF WHICH, a number of economists are talking about the need for a second stimulus.

SIMPLE LIVING, by itself, may not cut it, according to this item.