July 10, 2010

Summer Shower

A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.--Emily Dickinson

(Here's hoping we get more of them.)

July 09, 2010

Meet it and live it

El Cabrero has been winding his way through Thoreau's Walden again and I'm just about at the end of it. Sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring and insightful and sometimes exasperating, I've never failed to get something out of it.

Here's another little gem, extracted from a passage where he talks nonsense about poverty:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.

Odd as he was, Thoreau pretty much did that. It's harder than it sounds.

DEMOCRACY. Here are some tips on making it work.

A PROGRAM THAT WORKS. A little-known program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is putting people to work.

TWO DEFICITS. Here's yet another call for addressing the jobs deficit first.

ALBION. Evidence from an archaeological dig suggests that early humans or their relatives inhabited England much earlier than previously believed.

THE POLITICS OF VIDEO GAMES is discussed here. Much seems to involve blowing up people and things and accumulating stuff.


July 08, 2010

Castles in the air

Some passages from literature seem to suffer from being quoted too often. But this one from Thoreau towards the end of Walden keeps its power for me because it rings true with at least a few of my own experiments.

Here goes:

I learned this, at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty, poverty, nor weakness, weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.

SO MUCH FOR THE WISDOM OF CROWDS. A study suggests home team performance can influence voting behavior.

A DIRECT APPROACH. From the Northwest, here's a call for direct job creation along New Deal lines.

SO MUCH FOR "CLIMATEGATE." A British investigation has exonerated scientists from falsifying climate change data.

EARLY HUMANS may have traveled to Europe earlier than previously believed.


July 06, 2010

The ruts of tradition and conformity

There are lots of reasons to like Thoreau's Walden (and some to drive the reader up the wall). Some things I've gotten from it are very practical insights that I have found to hold up well in real situations.

Here's an example: I suspect that one reason why people who want to improve conditions may fall short is the human tendency to fall into ruts or predictable patterns. Every situation, every moment, is different and may require a different response. Unfortunately, our minds, like trains, tend to run along the same tracks.

As Thoreau noted in Walden,

It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves….The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!

Rituals are great; ritualism isn't. It seems to me that the compulsion to repeat is more a symptom than a strategy.

WHAT WOULD ALINSKY SAY? Here are some guesses by someone who knew him.

JOBS FIRST, then deficits, argues John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute here.

KING CARBON. Would the founders of the USA declare independence from it?

YOUR INNER FISH. Get in touch with it here.


July 05, 2010

The fuel that heats twice

There is a room at Goat Rope Farm that was large, damp and inhospitable for much of the year until we added a wood stove. Now, in those seemingly distant days of cold, it's the best place to be on a chilly evening. I totally understand the pagan veneration of the hearth and have poured my libations to Hestia, the goddess who presides over such things.

It also provides year round opportunities for exercise and scavenging. I spent a good part of the last Christmas holiday cutting up some trees that fell from our hill to a neighbor's yard (while the Spousal Unit was kayaking in a warmer clime, incidentally). I didn't really mind though, as long as I could get the chainsaws started. I looked upon it as a kind of weight training boot camp.

The wood was removed in pieces to our yard, where I'm still chopping it up. The wood pile is getting bigger and bigger, although I can't really tell that the pile of yet to be cut wood is getting any smaller. As a martial artist, I view chopping wood as a kind of hojo undo, or supplementary exercise.

I found this passage in Walden that speaks to my condition:

Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I loved to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work....they warmed me twice, once while I was splitting them, and again when they were in the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.

Chopping wood in the summer has the added value of reminding me that change is inevitable, and that even the raging summer is destined to wane in time.

BYRD'S SHOES are likely to go unfilled, whoever occupies his seat in the Senate. Here's Ken Ward in Coal Tattoo looking at his legacy of rationality and realism in coal and climate controversies.

STALEMATE. As noted in earlier posts, efforts to help the unemployed and prevent further layoffs have been stymied in Congress.

DOUBLE DIPPING is a real possibility with the Great Recession, especially if conservatives and deficit hawks continue to block action to help the recovery.

IF THAT HAPPENS, chalk it up to a coalition of "the heartless, the clueless and the confused."


July 04, 2010

Dirty institutions

Rosa Parks, 1955. Image by way of wikipedia.

Henry David Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience didn't make much of a splash when first written, but it was destined to have a major worldwide impact. The events that led to the essay took place during his stay at Walden Pond.

Here's how he laconically describes what happened in Walden:

One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children like cattle at the door of its senate-house. I had gone into the woods for other purposes, But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run "amok" against society; but I preferred that society should run "amok" against me, it being the desperate party. However, I was released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckle-berries on Fair-Haven Hill. I was never molested by any person but those who represented the state.

Of course, people have been resisting unjust laws and governments since ancient times--the Greek tragedy Antigone is a literary example of ancient civil disobedience. The histories of Josephus provide examples of Jewish non-violent resistance against the Romans under Caligula and Pilate. But Thoreau was one of the first to articulate it clearly and his essay about an almost accidental encounter would have a much greater influence than anyone at the time might have dreamed.

It's amazing what people can do sometimes even when they're not trying.

LIVING ON EARTH devoted a program to the changing view of the late WV Senator Robert Byrd on coal issues.

BAKER'S DOZEN (minus ten). Here are two good columns by economist Dean Baker. The first is about the politics of unemployment, while the second is about the growing inequality that is at the root of the economic crisis.

ANOTHER INTERESTING TAKE on the economic crisis can be found here.

GETTING EMOTIONAL can have its benefits.

BIRD BRAINS. They are more similar to those of mammals than previously thought. Having watched the complex behavior of the feathered inhabitants of Goat Rope Farm, I can't say I'm surprised.