October 10, 2009

The moon in autumn

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.--Wu-Men, 1183-1260

October 09, 2009

Civilization and all that

Long time visitors to this blog will recall that El Cabrero has a soft spot for ole Sigmund Freud. I don't buy the whole package, but he did have his moments. It occurs to me that one can reinterpret at least some of Freud's ideas in terms of evolutionary theory.

Here's one example: his classic little book Civilization and Its Discontents is pretty much what it sounds like. The main idea I remember after all these years is that living in modern, bureaucratic civilizations requires the repression of a lot of drives. He believed that since we can't get rid of the things that civilization provides without a lot of people dying AND since we can't get rid of our instinctual drives either, we're kinda out of luck.

I agree with the main idea any way. Our minds and bodies evolved under vastly different conditions that those we're living under now and this causes lots of stresses and strains and all kinds of problems. If we assume that humans have been around in their current form for 250,000 years (it could have been more or less), for all but the last 10,000 or so years they all lived by foraging in small groups. My my calculator, that amounts to 96 percent of our history.

In a hunter-gatherer society, there's may be a division of labor based on age and sex and some differences in status, but there's no permanent class system or built-in stratification (not to mention no alarm clocks). If we estimate that state societies first began to emerge 5,000 years ago, that's only two percent of human history. "Modern" societies with bureaucratic and capitalist features began to emerge 500 years ago, which is only .2 percent of human history (assuming I did the math right).

No wonder the shoe doesn't fit sometimes.

NEGLECTED. Paul Krugman's latest is about education.

SAVING CHIP. Here's a Gazette editorial on WV Senator Jay Rockefeller's proposal to preserve the Childrens Health Insuarance Program.

THIS IS STARTING TO GET GOOD. Rockefeller and WV Congressman Nick Rahall have joined with Senator Byrd in calling on Massey Energy to help fund the relocation of an elementary school near a huge coal silo and slurry impoundment.

MONKEY MOMS love their babies.


October 08, 2009

...so let it be done

From John Brown's last speech:

Had I interfered in the manner which I admit...in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, — either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, — and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all thing whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further, to “remember them that are in bonds as bound with them.” I endeavored to act upon that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done — as I have always freely admitted I have done — in behalf of his despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, — I submit; so let it be done!

Two major anniversaries for the US and for West Virginia is coming up this year. Oct. 16 marks the 150th year after Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry (then in Virginia) and Dec. 2 is the date of his execution. I've always been fascinated with Brown, who seems to me like a meteor hurled into a guilty land by God or karma. He seemed to have failed at every particular thing he attempted in life except the biggest and even that didn't turn out as planned.

At any rate, the Charleston Gazette reported yesterday about an online exhibit about Brown's life and death. A real one can be seen at the state capitol's cultural center. Here's a link to the web version, which is pretty substantial.

COUNTING COSTS. Here's the latest on the health care struggle in Congress, including a report on a cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

WHO'S THE REAL PREDATOR? Here's an item on the current rhetoric of the health care reform debate.

A GOOD SCOLDING. WV Senator Robert Byrd opened a can on Massey Energy after the company said it would not contribute money to relocate Marsh Fork Elementary School which is near its massive coal silo and slurry impoundment.

VIOLENCE. According to a new study, American children are exposed to more of it than previously believed.


SPEAKING OF FOOD, Here's Michael Pollan on rules to eat by (or should that be rules by which to eat?).


October 07, 2009

Short rations again

A couple of very long days have left El Cabrero's well of sparkling prose a bit dry. However, I did have a conversation yesterday with a friend about all time favorite Dylan lyrics. My choice varies with time, but I'd have to say that these lines from "Silvio" seem to sum up the human condition pretty well:

I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain
You give something up for everything you gain
Since every pleasure's got an edge of pain
Pay for your ticket and don't complain

Does the Gentle Reader have other suggestions?

THIS AIN'T EXACTLY THE WPA OR CCC, but it looks like support is growing in Washington for tax credits to promote job creation. I kind of like the Old School approach better.

COAL FIRED HISSY FIT. Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo tries to shed some light on the EPA's decision to review mountaintop removal permits.

SUPPORTING A CHAMPION. Some of us usual suspects types held an event yesterday to express appreciation for WV Senator Jay Rockefeller's leadership in the fight for health care reform. As mentioned here before, Rockefeller not only has been fighting for the public option but has successfully amended the Baucus bill to protect the Childrens Health Insurance Program.

IMPROVING THE BIBLE. Some conservatives are working to remove "liberal bias" from the Bible. I can't wait to see what they did with the camel/eye of a needle part.


October 06, 2009

All shook up

Engraving of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

Goat Rope has been running an occasional series lately about how things like inequality and social status affect health and mortality. Brief recap: they do; a lot; all across the board.

Some factors already examined include things like money and material conditions, while others have more to do with one's relative position within a given society. Another key factor is power, as in one's ability to have some control over what life throws at us.

Michael Marmot uses an interesting analogy in The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity,

Imagine that if you were caught in an earthquake you could simply turn it off. Earthquakes might, then, be part of life's rich tapestry instead of being an uncontrollable stress. Imagine further that your ability to turn it off depended on your place in the social hierarchy. High-status people could turn it off at will; low-status people could not affect it at all; and there were gradations of power over earthquakes from top to bottom of the social ladder. If stress led to illness, such differences in power could have a profound affect on the health gradient. Stress does, and differences in power do.

We've recently been reminded of the terrible power that real earthquakes have over people in areas prone to them. But metaphorical earthquakes, in the form of shocks over which we have little control and which we can't predict, happen all the time and people at the lower end of the money/status/power spectrum are the hardest hit.

More on this to come.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Here are two items highlighting the need for action to create employment and here is something on the Obama administration's likely response.

PUBLIC OPTION. The administration has been quietly trying to build support for it, according to this McClatchy report.

SCORE A POINT FOR ZEN. Sometimes nonsense or things that defy rational expectations can jog creative thinking. El Cabrero feels vindicated.



October 05, 2009

Wonky but important (with a Homeric digression)

"The Rage of Achilles" by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Aristeia is a great Greek work that I'd like to see enter the English lexicon. It's usually associated with the Homeric tradition and refers to a hero's best moment.

In the Iliad, an aristeia scene might begin with the hero putting on his armor and speaking words of encouragement to his men before going out to open a major can of whoop-ass on his opponents. He might not always prevail in the end, but people knew he was there. If the Gentle Reader has ever been involved in major struggles, metaphorical or otherwise, he or she will know that sometimes you're on and sometimes you're not. An aristeia is one of those rare times when you're really on a roll.

I'd say that the current struggle over health care is WV Senator Jay Rockefeller's aristeia. He's been a champion of health care issues all along, but I'd say this has been his best fight. Lately, he made national headlines for his (so far unsuccessful) fight to include a public option in the Senate bill.

His latest effort was more successful and deserves recognition. In most versions of health care reform proposed so far by Congress, the Childrens Health Insurance Program would have been phased out. The idea was that the need for it would diminish as more families gain access to other health care plans.

Plenty of people, including me, were not happy about this and wanted the program extended. After all, it was only this year that the program was reauthorized by Congress and the bill that passed included several improvements to the program. We wanted to make sure the program survived intact long enough for states to improve their plans and to make sure that all the bugs had been worked out of whatever reform bill finally passed.

Also, it would have been hard to persuade state leaders to make improvements in CHIP if they thought it wasn't going to be around much longer. Among the changes now possible under the reauthorized program are extending benefits to families earning up to 300 percent of the poverty level; reducing waiting periods for enrollment; expanding oral health benefits; and eliminating the five year waiting period for children of legal immigrants.

Late last week, the Senate Finance Committee voted in favor of one of Rockefeller's amendments which would extend CHIP until at least 2019. As the Charleston Gazette points out, CHIP covers around 14 million children nationwide and at least 25,000 in West Virginia. The issue isn't resolved yet, since this version of the bill will have to be reconciled with others, but my guess is that this amendment has a good chance of surviving.

CHIP is a popular program that benefits working families and it needs to be around as long as there's a need for it.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. This editorial from the Sunday NY Times about the job situation speaks my mind. No doubt the stimulus has kept things from getting worse, but more action is needed to address the still deteriorating employment situation. As the Times puts it,

Congress and the administration also have not done enough to directly create jobs. That could be done with more stimulus to spur job creation, or a large federal jobs program, or tax credits for hiring, or all three. Or surprise us. Just don’t pretend that the deteriorating jobs picture will self-correct, or act as if it is tolerable.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN on religion.