June 25, 2010

Company and solitude

Solitude and loneliness are two entirely different things. It has often occurred to me that human contact and time alone are two more things that don't seem to be well distributed among the population. So many people are starving for human contact, while so many more are being driven crazy by too much of it.

Henry David Thoreau, with whom Goat Rope has been spending time, was a (kind of) social animal who loved solitude. Here's a great line from Walden:

I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls.

He tries to make a bit more serious point about how we can wear out each other's welcome:

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. We meet at the post-office, and at the sociable, and about the fireside every night; we live thick and are in each other's way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another. Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty communications...

Needless to say, Thoreau was never married.

STATE OF STATES. If congress refuses to extend some programs of the Recovery Act, many states will take a hit.

BLOCKADE. Here's a post from the AFLCIO blog that calls for breaking the blockade on unemployment benefits.

WHAT'S AT STAKE. Here's a good summary of why a Senate vote to extend Recovery Act provisions matters.

AND GUESS WHAT? Yesterday the bill failed in the Senate for the third time as Republicans once again united to oppose it.

FIGS. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree. This one's about shakeups, tipping points, Afghanistan and something strange to do with stamps.


June 24, 2010

The tonic of wildness

It's not snake oil.

El Cabrero has been listening these days to a recording of Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest: How The Largest Movement In the World Came Into Being. It's not as fun as the gross vampire novel I mentioned earlier this week, but one cannot live on popcorn.

In the book, Hawken credits Henry David Thoreau with being a founder of both the environmental and social justice movements. I think he has a point, although I don't picture Henry as much of a movement guy. He was an enthusiastic abolitionist and critic of the predatory war against Mexico.

There's no way to deny that his writings were very influential in the early environmental movement, especially in terms of consciousness raising. Here's an eloquent example of this from Walden:

We need the tonic of wildness,--to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of Nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander...

The wild, alas, has been taking some major hits lately.

PILING ON. Here's another argument about how deficit mania could actually make the recession worse.

OUR BIGGEST DEFICIT might be one of confidence.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM. The Obama administration this week unveiled and ambitious plan to end homelessness in 10 years.

FEELING PHILOSOPHICAL? Here's a long interview with Martha Nussbaum, who in my book is one of the best.


June 23, 2010

Hot dog

Whose dog is that?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for this urgent canine update from Goat Rope Farm. When I returned home yesterday, a strange dog awaited me.

Actually, it was Arpad, our Great Pyrenees. He's a long haired beast who loves cold weather--the colder the better--which means he's pretty miserable in the WV summer.

However, the Spousal Unit's sister, who has spent years working in animal hospitals, is way better at being a doggie barber than we are and she just happened to be here on a visit. Arpad got a buzz cut. Aside from a puff at the end of his tail (for a lion effect), he could be a Marine recruit.

He's tiny now. I hardly recognize him, but he seems a lot more chipper...if it really is him and not a clever Cylon impersonation (sorry, I've been watching Battlestar Galactica lately).

OK, back to the salt mines...

DAMAGE REPORT. Here's a look at how 30 years of "conservative" rule damaged the American economy.

IGNORING THE UNEMPLOYED. Here's a good editorial about the need for Congress to act to help the unemployed, a frequent subject of rants at this blog.

COUNT THE COSTS. Here's Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo on a new study by the WV Center on Budget and Policy about the impact of coal--benefits as well as costs--on the state budget. And here is his article about it for the printed paper. This ought to be good for another industry hissy fit.


NOT TOO FAR FROM WALDEN, a senior citizen from Concord is battling for a ban on bottled water.


June 22, 2010


Woody Allen said that eighty percent of success is showing up. I think that's about right. I'd say most of the other twenty percent is paying attention and being ready. The remainder consists of striking skillfully when an opportunity occurs, which itself only takes up a fraction of the overall time (although learning how to do that may take years).

One reason why I've been strip mining Thoreau's Walden these days is that I've really found some of the ideas he expresses to be of great value in trying to change things that need to be changed or preserve things that need to be preserved.

Here's a great line in a great passage. Because it's so good, I want to highlight the key line before the whole passage:

No method nor discipline can supercede the necessity of being forever on the alert.

Here's the rest of it:

What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, now matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.

By way of qualification, I don't think this means being hyper vigilant all the time, which can be a kind of mania and is impossible in any case, but at the very least tracking things the way so many animals do, watching changes, observing trends, moving when appropriate.

I never throw a scrap of food into the yard without seeing a some chickens responding right away. Our lazy cats seem to zone out most of the time but tune right in when there's something to see. The goats notice the least little change. Dogs track motion. Maybe we'd be more successful in our undertakings if we were better animals.

GOOD FOR A LAUGH about something that isn't funny: here's Jon Stewart on America's endless quest for an energy policy. Thanks to Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo for including this link.

SOMETHING ELSE THAT ISN'T FUNNY. Here's an interesting blog post from the NY Times Economix about how people think about unemployment.

A HOLE IN THE WORLD. Here's Naomi Klein on the BP Gulf oil disaster.

SLIP-SLIDING AWAY? Here's Bob Herbert from the NY Times on missed opportunities for greatness.


June 21, 2010

Of reading, classics, vampires and such

I usually keep a pile of several books going at any given time and try to turn a page or two of each per day. Usually these are pretty dense and a page or two is plenty.

At the moment, my pile consists of some stories by Chekhov, The Fall by Camus, Vol. II of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Aristotle's Politics and Eaarth, Bill McKibben's new book about climate change (which is a real downer, by the way). Oh yeah, and Thoreau's Walden.

I don't always see eye to eye with Henry, but I share his fondness for old classics:

Men sometimes speak as if the study of the classics would at length give way for more modern and practical studies; but the adventurous student will always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and however ancient they may be. For what are classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader far more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.

Still and all, sometimes you need to clear the palate and there's nothing to do just that like a vampire novel. For fun, I've been listening to Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain. These vampires aren't sexy or teenybopper heart throbs or tragic existentialists. They are totally repulsive viral parasites with totally gross appendages. Listening to it made mowing the lawn a bit more entertaining.

I have a feeling Thoreau wouldn't have been a big fan of vampire novels.

PLAYING WITH FIRE. As I've been ranting for the last week or so, deficit mania could make the recession worse. And Krugman thinks so too.

WHATEVER. This is disappointing.

THIS COULD EXPLAIN A LOT. Research on voting behavior suggests that such decisions are often made on the basis of non-verbal and superficial factors.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. Blenko Glass, a WV company that specializes in handmade glassware has fought its way back from the brink after nearly closing for good last year.

MONKEYS like TV too.