March 01, 2013

God's foot upon the treadle of the loom

I've been blogging off and on lately about the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, with an initial focus on his seminal essay Nature. As I've said before, parts of it seem memorable while others are a bit cloying. That's especially true for me of his overly optimistic view of the universe and his belief that everything in nature corresponds to the soul in some kind of dreamy and positive way.

A good antidote to Emersonian optimism is good old Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In that work, a deep encounter with nature doesn't necessarily lead to transcendental bliss, although it sometimes does. It can also lead to madness and destruction.

This comes out loud and clear in the story of Pip, the black child who sails on the Pequod and is briefly abandoned at sea during a whale chase. Pip's encounter with nature pretty much fries his brain:

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyless, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects  that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's food upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at least to the celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

Next week: The American Scholar.

SEQUESTRATION. Here's a look at what it means. And, by the way, I'm getting sick of government by artificially manufactured crisis.

AND THE "SEQUESTERS" are dissected here by Robert Reich.




February 28, 2013

A very palpable hit

There's an interesting story in today's Charleston Gazette regarding the federal prosecutions of Massey Energy officials in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster which killed 29 West Virginia miners in April 2010. Ken Ward reports:

A former Massey Energy official pleaded guilty this morning to taking part in a decade-long conspiracy to violate mine safety laws and cover up the resulting hazards, and told a federal judge that the company's "chief executive officer" was part of the plot.

An attorney for Blankenship claimed that he was guilty of no wrongdoing. That was a shock.

Apparently, Blankenship has been diverting himself these days with a website,, wherein he touts himself as a "Native of Appalachia," "Job Creator," and "Capitalist and Entrepreneur." Other attributes may come to mind.

HOLY RACIST ART, BATMAN. I used to subscribe to Business Week and learned a good bit there. Occasionally I think about re-subscribing. But not any more.

OF RATS, BRAINS AND HUMANS. A friend sent me a link to this science story, with a comment that things like this worry him about the human race.


February 27, 2013

You deserve a really good blog post today

Unfortunately, you're not going to get one here. I'm too tired.

In lieu of that, here's a story about a scary looking sea monster found in the savage waters of New Jersey.

(Actually, it's just a lamprey that isn't as big as it looks in the picture. Still it's kind of entertainingly gross.)

February 26, 2013

One more governor...why not West Virginia's?

New Jersey's governor Chris Christie became the 8th Republican governor to support expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. According to Politico, Christie said that “Accepting these federal resources will provide health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans, help keep our hospitals financially healthy and actually save money for New Jersey taxpayers,” he said, estimating it would save state residents $227 million in the next fiscal year."

Meanwhile, Families USA and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care released a report earlier today that stated that expanding Medicaid coverage here would create more than 6,000 jobs.

WV Governor Tomblin will no doubt have to make some tough decisions while in office...but this is an easy one. I hope he makes that decision soon.

February 25, 2013

A mute gospel?

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the  work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a preeminent 19th century figure in American life and letters. The focus at the moment is his essay Nature (see last week's posts).

One thing that struck me the first time I read Nature (and every other time) is how totally pre-Darwinian are many of the ideas discussed. This is only to be expected, since Nature came out around 1836 and The Origin of Species more than 20 years later. Still, the gap between Emerson's universe and the modern scientific view of the same is vast.

Emerson believed that there was a deep correspondence between nature and the soul and that natural facts corresponded to moral facts, a far cry from the amoral universe of relentless natural selection.

Consider this passage:

...every natural process is a version of a moral sentence. The moral law lies at the centre of nature and radiates to the circumference. It is the pith and marrow of every substance, every relation, and every process. All things with which we deal preach to us.

Nature is beautiful and all but it is pretty red in tooth and claw. In a living world of prey, predators and parasites, I'm not sure how edifying the sermon would be. It is beyond good and evil.

Then he really steps in it:

What is a far but a mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects, sun,--it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of spring to the last stack which the snow of winter overtakes the fields.

Let me just say that if Goat Rope Farm is a mute gospel, it is one that didn't make the New Testament cut. Also, if you think about it farming is kind of the opposite of nature--that's why it's so hard. Creatures want to do their own thing, not the thing of the farmer. They also want to do it where they want, which often isn't where the farmer wants. All cultivated species, whether plant or animal, are a far cry from their original natural state, having been bred over many generations through artificial selection. If that were not the case, there would be no need to farm them.

There's something touching about such a cozy view of our relationship with the natural world but it seems to me to be clearly a relic of another time.

SPEAKING OF DARWIN, here's E.O. Wilson on human nature.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT. Here's a look at the facts about the minimum wage.

REASON 238128 TO EXPAND MEDICAID. It would help a lot of veterans.


February 24, 2013

The shadows of life

As West Virginia's Democratic governor mulls over expanding Medicaid to over 100,000 working West Virginians, I hope he might give some thought to some things his Republican counterpart in Ohio had to say: this case, extending Medicaid benefits will help us on many levels, including the positive impact this decision can have on the mentally ill and the addicted. Some of them live under bridges, some of them live on streets, some of them are in our jails tonight. One of the sheriffs that I was with the other day told a story of a man whose life had gone really perfectly. He got sick, started living in the woods. He's now in jail. He wraps scriptures around his fingers to ward off evil. The sheriff told me, he doesn't belong in our jails. It's a chance to rebuild the safety net that we've all wanted to since we have released people from, from these mental hospitals. 
My personal faith in the lessons I learned from the good book, they're like, run my life. I mean, I'm serious they're very important to me. Not just on Sunday, but just about every day. I gotta tell you, I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them.
For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored. We can  help them. And I want all of you to think about this.