March 20, 2010

Trailing clouds of glory (and a weekend action alert)

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Excerpt from Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood --William Wordsworth's.

(I can't say I remember my childhood that way but this sounds good anyhow.)

NOW PLEASE DO THIS: click here and contact your representative this weekend in support of health care reform.

March 19, 2010

Are we there yet?

Step by step...

As a kid I used to torment adult drivers with that question on long trips. As a parent, I used to torment my kids when they were little by telling them that our still distant destination was just around the next bend.

I keep asking that question myself lately about health care reform. It has been a long strange trip, from unknown years of talking about it in the abstract to a long hard year of pushing for it in the concrete.

I guess we'll know what's up by the end of the weekend, but this item from the Washington Monthly website puts it in context:

THREADING AN IMPOSSIBLE NEEDLE.... It's probably an esoteric point, but it's worth pausing to appreciate just how ridiculously challenging it was to craft this health care reform proposal. There's a very good reason this legislation has never passed up until now, and why presidents who've tried have failed, and it goes beyond just right-wing hysterics and corporate pushback.

Think about the scope of the task -- Democrats were told they needed a health care reform bill that spends a lot of money on covering the uninsured, lowers the deficit, strengthens Medicare, helps businesses, eases government budgets, protects consumers, and controls costs, all at the same time. It would also need to earn the blessing of Congressional Budget Office, the American Medical Association, the AARP, and the nation's largest labor unions.

Democrats were also told they needed to do all of this in the face of unanimous and apoplectic Republican opposition, far-right manipulation of gullible conservative activists, and media coverage that largely ignores the substance of the bill while pretending every right-wing attack deserves attention.

Oh well...I'd hate to think we spent all this time and effort trying to do something easy.


SPEAKING OF HEALTH, this is no surprise, but the coalfield counties of southern WV have the worst in the state.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. The budget for El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia included some additional Medicaid funding for in home care for elderly people with disabilities.

YOU GO, JOE. Congratulations to Governor Manchin, who is considering vetoing a bill that would create a gun sales tax holiday during a time of serious budget problems. Manchin was quoted as saying,

I can't look at children in the eye, and struggling families in the eye, and all these people in the eye and say, "I'm sorry we couldn't help you, but, by God, if you want to buy a gun, we can really take care of you.

Don't get me wrong. There are fire sticks in the closet at Goat Rope Farm and I have been known to hunt (without a great deal of success lately, let it be noted) but this was a silly bill.

PRISONS. The population warehoused in state prisons nationwide declined in 2009 for the first time since 1972.


March 18, 2010

Git r done

It's still too soon to tell whether there will be enough support to move health care reform forward in the US House, but a vote could happen by Sunday.

Here's more on one of yesterday's surprise switches from no to yes.

One drawback of the current bill is that the perceived political risks are immediate, but most of the benefits--such as the expansion of Medicaid and subsidies to help people buy insurance--will take a few years to reach people. However, here are some positive features that would take effect within the first year of passage.

For a full breakdown of how many people will benefit from the fully enacted program by congressional district, click here.

Meanwhile, this cartoon says it all.

URBAN HARVESTERS. This idea makes as much sense in good economic times as bad ones.

COAL. From Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo, here is a post on a recent study of mountaintop removal mining's effects.



March 17, 2010

Some vicious mole of nature?

Image by way of wikipedia.

One disadvantage of growing up in the scenic Mud River valley of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is that there's not a whole lot of live Shakespeare going on. I've seen several on stage but for Hamlet have had to rely mostly on the printed page and the screen.

My favorite film version has to be Kenneth Branagh's mammoth movie, which pretty much sticks to the original play. I mean no disrespect to the dead, but I wasn't that crazy about Olivier's version, which he both directed and starred in (sorry about the preposition thing).

In his version, "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." I'm not sure that's entirely fair. Admittedly, the whole thing might have gone smoother if he would have just whacked Claudius in the beginning, but that wouldn't have been much of a play. I've always thought part of Hamlet's charm was that he recognized that he could just be wrong or plain crazy.

The literary critic and philosopher Rene Girard once pointed out that you'd want anybody sitting with his finger on the nuclear button not to be too trigger happy. And as I've said before, our erstwhile President W could have used a bit more Hamlet in him in the buildup to the Iraq War.

Jacques Barzun has some interesting observations on this topic. As he put it in his monumental and delightful book Dawn to Decadence, his character should be seen in the context of the political hardball of the Renaissance:

...The common notion of Hamlet is that he vacillates. In Olivier's film, the play is called "the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." That the play is first and foremost political is ignored. Everybody since Coleridge has concentrated on Hamlet's character and forgotten his situation. It is true that his character is finer than that of his entourage; he has a conscience and does not kill first and think afterward. Killing a king accepted by the populace is not a bagatelle. Laertes is the impetuous boy, put in to make the contrast clear. Hamlet has to think and watch, because from the outset he is in danger, a threat to the usurper and his aides; all conspire against him, including, unwittingly, his betrothed. And he has his mother to consider. His soliloquies show him superior to his barbaric times, but what he thinks must not be taken for what he does. He wipes out the hired killers sent with him to England; he comes back resolved by wary and fails only by treachery.

I'll leave the last quote to Fortinbras, who spoke highly of him at the end of the play,

Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.

Good night indeed, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


AND HERE'S ANOTHER CALL FOR REFORM from a Kanawha County labor leader.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, younger Americans are likely to have more health issues.

RESULTS ONLY WORK ENVIRONMENT? Here's an interesting item from yesterday's Morning Edition about some welcome changes in the workplace.

WORKERS WALKING WOUNDED? Sorry about the alliteration thing, but this article looks at the aftershocks of the recession on America's workforce.



March 16, 2010

Absent thee from felicity awhile

Goat Rope is winding down a long series on Hamlet. We're now at the dead-bodies-all-over-the-floor part, which in Shakespeare is a pretty good sign the end is near.

Hamlet has been poisoned and is shuffling off this mortal coil, but he still manages to get in some great lines. One that I've always wondered about was this:

You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act,
Had I but time--as this fell sergeant, death,
Is strict in his arrest--O, I could tell you--
But let it be.

What would he have said that he hadn't said already?

His last request is that Horatio to "report me and my cause aright/ to the unsatisfied." Horatio, claiming to be "more antique Roman than Dane" reaches for the cup of poison. Hamlet stops him with lines that have always struck me for their beauty:

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

Horatio agrees and as the curtain closes prepares to tell the tale to those who have stumbled onto the scene of carnage. It's kind of a circular ending, with the story we're just seen or read about to be told. And so it rolls on through the centuries.

GIT R DONE. Here's the latest twist on health care reform. I say get it over with.

THE OTHER WARM BEVERAGE. Here's an item from the UK Guardian on the Coffee Party.


TENDER SUBJECT. El Cabrero was surprised this morning to find this article on Alternet that suggest goats are the new cows. It starts like this:

Goat is a great way for people to eat locally grown, humanely raised, tasty foods. And unlike the cattle industries, there aren't any massive, industrialized goat farms.

That's probably because if goats ever became a class of urban proletarians, there would be no way of containing their revolutionary militancy.


March 15, 2010

A hit, a very palpable hit

Some of Goat Rope's regular readers will be glad to know that this is just about the end of a long jag on Hamlet. If you've already had your limit, scroll down to the links and comments section.

We're now at the climax of the play, when Hamlet and Laertes are about to engage in a fencing match. The king, who has conspired with Laertes to poison Hamlet, pretends to have made a fine bet on his victory. As the courtier Osric puts it,

The king, sir, hath wagered with him six Barbary
horses: against the which he has imponed, as I take
it, six French rapiers and poniards, with their
assigns, as girdle, hangers, and so: three of the
carriages, in faith, are very dear to fancy, very
responsive to the hilts, most delicate carriages,
and of very liberal conceit.

Hamlet asks Laertes for his pardon, blaming his madness for the death of Polonius:

Give me your pardon, sir: I've done you wrong;
But pardon't, as you are a gentleman.
This presence knows,
And you must needs have heard, how I am punish'd
With sore distraction. What I have done,
That might your nature, honour and exception
Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.
Was't Hamlet wrong'd Laertes? Never Hamlet:
If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away,
And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.
Who does it, then? His madness: if't be so,
Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong'd;
His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy.
Sir, in this audience,
Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot mine arrow o'er the house,
And hurt my brother.

I'm not sure I'd buy it if I was Laertes, but with all the twists and turns of plot it's hard to tell just how mad or sane Hamlet was. Laertes is not reconciled but pretends to agree to a truce.

I am satisfied in nature,
Whose motive, in this case, should stir me most
To my revenge: but in my terms of honour
I stand aloof; and will no reconcilement,
Till by some elder masters, of known honour,
I have a voice and precedent of peace,
To keep my name ungored. But till that time,
I do receive your offer'd love like love,
And will not wrong it.

You know how it turns out. They fight, exchange wounds and blades in the mixup and wind up poisoning each other. Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine intended for Hamlet. Laertes confesses all and says "The king's to blame." Hamlet finally revenges his father's murder by killing Claudius.

The thrill of seeing it live was of course the fight scene, something audiences were as crazy about in Shakespeare's time as our own.

But there are still a few great lines left, which will keep until tomorrow.

MEMORY LANE. Has it been 20 years since WV's great teacher's strike? I guess so. I remember it fondly. After the UMWA/Pittston coal strike ended in early 1990, I was going through labor dispute withdrawal when state teachers were kind enough to oblige me. The strike spread like wildfire from southern WV and won major gains for teachers. It was a short wild ride.

RETURNING VETERANS from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face higher unemployment rates than civilians.

A NEW POVERTY TRAP. Private for-profit schools often lure students into heavy student loan debt without delivering on the promise of good paying jobs.

TALKING SENSE ON PRISONS. Here's an op-ed on prison overcrowding by my friend the Rev. Matthew Watts.

DID I MENTION that I hate the day after daylight savings time goes into effect?