February 06, 2010

Lines for a winter storm

"King Lear and the Fool in the Storm" by William Dyce (1806–1864), by way of wikipedia.

These lines from King Lear have shown up here before, but they seem to fit for more than one reason during a winter storm in a bad recession:

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Best wishes for staying warm and dry!

February 05, 2010

Carnal, bloody and unnatural acts

Edwin Booth as you know who, circa 1870.

The theme here lately is Hamlet, although you’ll also find links and comments about current events. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts. Today’s will provide a ridiculously brief summary of the play itself.

Old Hamlet’s ghost is seen on the battlements of Elsinore and those who see it decide tell young Hamlet. Meanwhile, Laertes, son of Polonious, counselor to king Claudius prepares to return to his studies in France after visiting Denmark for the funeral of Old Hamlet and the hasty wedding of his widow Gertrude to Claudius after only two months. Ophelia, Laertes sister, is warned against Hamlet’s affections and forbidden to see him by her father.

Hamlet sees his father’s ghost on the battlements and learns that we was poisoned by his brother Claudius. He is urged to avenge the murder but spare his mother, leaving her to Heaven. Hamlet swears his friends to secrecy and starts to act strange. His madness is feigned, but he is clearly depressed by what he learned and by Ophelia’s distance.

Ophelia reports Hamlet’s strange behavior to her father, who thinks he is mad for love. Claudius and Gertrude send for Hamlet’s old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to pick his brain and report what they learn to the king.

Hamlet is torn by doubts about the veracity of his vision. When a troupe of players arrive, he decides to put on a play resembling the real murder and to watch Claudius’ reaction. The play hits close to home and Hamlet is convinced of Claudius’ guilt. He almost murders him, but hesitates since Claudius is at prayer (he would prefer to send him to hell rather than heaven). Hamlet then confronts his mother with is revelations and kills Polonius who is spying as usual (he thought it was Claudius).

Hamlet is ordered by Claudius to go to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Unbeknownst to them, they carry a letter demanding that the king of England kill Hamlet.

While Hamlet is away, the grieving Ophelia goes mad and drowns herself. Her brother Laertes wants revenge for her death and that of his father. Claudius assures him Hamlet is to blame.

Meanwhile, Hamlet turns up in Denmark again, having been captured and ransomed by pirates. While at sea, he read the secret letter and changes it, sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths instead. Claudius and Laertes agree to a plot to kill Hamlet in a fencing bout with poison.

Hamlet shows up at graveside which turns out to be that of Ophelia. He and Laertes nearly come to blows.

In the final fencing bout, Hamlet and Laertes poison each other but reconcile. Claudius accidently poisons Gertrude. Hamlet kills Claudius before dying himself. At the end, young Fortinbras comes in from his campaign against the Poles to find the carnage. Horatio lives to tell the tale.

That’s the outline, but in this play the words outweigh the action.

STANDING UP FOR SENIORS. The WV House of Delegates unanimously passed a resolution in support of in-home care for elderly people with disabilities. The state has recently cut back on the number of elderly people eligible for the program despite the fact that it saves money in the long run. As Gazette reporter Kate Long wrote:

It costs $20,000 to keep one person on in-home care for a year, with hospitalization, according to DHHR, compared with $60,000 to $70,000 for nursing home care. The state share for in-home care, under the stimulus, is now about $4,000 a year.

DEFICIT HYSTERIA could delay real economic recovery.

THE UNION DIFFERENCE is pretty big. A new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that

Across all the states, however, unionization is strongly associated with increases in overall compensation, measured here by hourly wages and health and pension benefit coverage. In the typical state, unionization is associated with about a 15 percent increase in hourly wages (roughly $2.50 per hour), a 19-percentage-point increase in the likelihood of having employer-provided health insurance, and a 24-percentage-point increase in the likelihood of having employer-sponsored retirement plans.



February 04, 2010

A positive step

The old WV State Penitentiary in Moundsville. If those walls could talk...

For many years, a trend in West Virginia and around the country was to build more prisons and lock up more people, often for non-violent offenses. The predictable result was prison overcrowding, excessive costs, problems with re-entry, etc.

It's gotten to the point where we can't build our way out of this. Even if construction on massive new prisons began today, the overcrowding rate wouldn't change by the time they were built unless other things changed as well.

There are welcome signs that this is starting to change. Here's an excerpt from an AP item that ran in last Sunday's Gazette-Mail:

An average of three new inmates a day entering the state's correctional system has left West Virginia with a stark choice: build new prisons or change the way it thinks about crime and punishment.

The first option is unattractive in a time when state agencies are trimming their budgets and revenue is drying up. A new prison would cost up to $200 million, according to Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein.

That leaves the second choice, which politicians have long feared will expose them to the charge of being "soft on crime,'' a tag no one wants during an election year in a conservative state.

Gov. Joe Manchin, though, is willing to risk political backlash by proposing policies he says will save the state hundreds of millions in the long run and do a better job of rehabilitating prisoners with the best chance at being productive members of society.

In the last few years, the state began a major day reporting effort as an alternative to incarceration in regional jails. Now on the agenda may be accelerated parole for non-violent, low risk offenders and increased attention to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.

This makes sense since most people who go in are going to come out sooner or later and prisons are not generally known as places that improve behavior. A saying that has been heard more than once in statehouse circles is “We need to lock up the people we’re afraid of, not the ones we're mad at.”

(Hamlet will return tomorrow.)

MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED. President Obama is urging Congress to "finish the job" on health care reform.

REALITY CHECK. For all the whackadoodle paranoia about a government takeover of health care, a new study shows that the government will pay more than half of all health care costs by 2012 as things now stand.

ROOTS OF THE RECESSION. Here's part of an interview with economist Dean Baker on the bubble that burst all over us.

WHISPERING CANINES. De-barking dogs is something of a controversial subject these days.


February 03, 2010

Before the curtain rises

Kronborg Castle in Helsingoer, Denmark, aka Elsinore.

Goat Rope is in the throes of a long jag on Shakespeare's Hamlet lately, although you'll also find links and comments about current events. If you are a fan of the melancholy Dane, please click on earlier posts.

A lot of the important actions in Hamlet take place before the actions portrayed in the play. Hamlet’s father, known hereafter as Old Hamlet ruled Denmark with success and was apparently happily married to Gertude (although one wonders whether she might have trodden the primrose path of dalliance with Old Hamlet’s brother Claudius while her husband was smiting his foes). Their son Hamlet was born about 30 years before the play, although he seems younger.

Old Hamlet was as warlike as you’d want a king to be. At one point, he accepted a challenge from the king of Norway, aka King Fortinbras, to single combat over contested land and won on the same day young Hamlet was born. Fortinbras’ brother, Old Norway, became king of the diminished Norwegian lands, but his nephew young Fortinbras would seethe to regain lost glory.

Young Hamlet was entertained as a child by the jester Yorick and later went to study at the university of Wittenberg, incidentally and anachronistically home to reformer Martin Luther (and to Doctor Faustus in the tragedy of Shakespeare’s sometime rival Christopher Marlowe).

While Hamlet was away, Claudius, apparently long jealous of his brother for more than one reason, made his move. He poisoned Old Hamlet while the later slept and married Gertrude within two months of his brother’s death.

Claudius gained the throne, in effect usurping it from young Hamlet, who was clearly old enough to succeed his father. Young Hamlet was shocked and bitterly disappointed to find the wedding follow so closely upon the funeral. He took comfort in the love of Ophelia, daughter of Claudius’ counselor Polonius and brother of Laertes.

Something was rotten in the state of Denmark and it was only going to get worse.

THE BOOGEY MAN. Here's another column by the prolific Dean Baker about dealing with the recession.

A NEW POLL shows significant support for public spending aimed a getting the economy moving again.

MOVE OVER, SPIDERMAN. A new gadget may make it possible for people to walk up walls.

EAT IT. Food rules for our time.


February 02, 2010

Taking over

From an 1884 production.

It sometimes happens that a creative work takes on a life of its own and escapes the control of its creator. That was the plot in Frankenstein, but it happens sometimes in real life.

Moby-Dick is a classic example of this. Herman Melville may have begun with the intention of writing another popular travelogue but wound up trying to reel in a devilish metaphysical white whale of a novel that basically destroyed his career as a successful author. It was only in the devilish 20th century that it came to be appreciated.

Sometimes the plot itself runs away from the author; sometimes the characters do. El Cabrero was a big fan of the HBO series Deadwood before its demise. One of the things that made it interesting was that the characters seemed to take on a life of their own and run away with the show.

The same thing seems to have happened with a vengeance in Hamlet. At some early point in its composition, the Prince of Denmark seems to have rudely elbowed the Bard of Stratford out of the way and taken the wheel.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Here's AFLCIO president Rich Trumka and Bill Moyers on the need for action to address unemployment.

BUDGET. Here's Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on President Obama's proposed federal budget.

ONE WAY OUT of the foreclosure mess is the "right to rent" idea as proposed by economist Dean Baker.


February 01, 2010

So much for the unities

The Greek philosopher Aristotle had enormous influence on Western thought since his works were rediscovered (thanks in part to Muslim scholars) around the 12th century. His thought provided the framework for St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica as well as for Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Parts of his Ethics and Politics hold up well to this day.

His theories on art as expounded in the Poetics continued to be influential long after his metaphysical influence had waned and were going strong during Shakespeare’s time (search this blog in the upper left hand corner for more on that).

Many dramatists of that time and beyond adhered to Aristotle’s theory of “the unities” in tragic art, meaning that a work should take place at one time and in one place with one overriding theme. The best example of this is probably Sophocles’ Oedipus.

That would be yet another convention Shakespeare threw out the window. I could be wrong, but I can’t think of a single tragedy of his that fits that model. As Samuel Johnson put it:

Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and useless to inquire. We may reasonably suppose, that, when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and critics, and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice, which he might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential to the fable, but unity of action, and as the unities of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, by circumscribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot think it much to be lamented, that they were not known by him, or not observed: Nor, if such another poet could arise, should I very vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely positive, become the comprehensive genius of Shakespeare…

It is true that most of the action in Hamlet happens around the castle in Elsinore, although there is also the famous graveyard scene. But that’s as close to the unities as it gets. The action is stretched out over a period of weeks or months, at least long enough for Hamlet to see the ghost, put on an antic disposition, set up a play within a play, whack Polonius, get sent to England, get captured and ransomed by pirates, and return to Elsinore.

The plot is hardly unified either. Shakespeare took the template for a simple revenge play and broke that mold as well. There are several subplots (involving Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz/Guildenstern, etc).

The main plot of the play isn’t in fact revenge; instead it is the title character himself who hijacked the whole thing. More on that tomorrow.

THE COSTS OF INEQUALITY are the subject of this item from the Financial Times.

LABOR LAW REFORM goes back to the drawing board in the wake of recent political developments.

THE FUTURE OF COAL under the Obama administration is discussed here.

WHEN IT COMES TO BANKS, boring may be good.