June 28, 2013

West Virginia wants a Future Fund

Interesting news from today's Charleston Gazette:

A substantial majority of West Virginians favor a proposal to increase taxes on coal operators to create a long-term fund to help diversify the state's economy, according to a new survey conducted for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed by Lake Research Associates support the idea of using natural resources taxes for a "future fund," of the sort promoted by the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, a progressive think tank.
Read more here.

Wonky footnote: those of us who have been promoting the Future Fund think there are lots of ways of doing, some of which don't involve increasing taxes on coal or gas, although if we put more in, we'd obviously be able to get more out. One proposal would simply set aside a percentage of any increase in gas severance taxes above a given point.

Still, the numbers are exciting. I hope this gives the idea a boost.

LIKE DENYING CANCER. WV's ruling class loves to deny climate change because of money. This item suggests that may not be the best idea to ever roll down the pike.

INEQUALITY MATTERS. Here's a look at the whole one percent thing and an item on CEO pay.

A VIEW FROM UP NORTH. Here's a column by Gazette editor Dawn Miller about a public meeting in Wheeling of the WV Senate's Select Committee on Child Poverty.



June 26, 2013

The Honored Dead: Breece Pancake

This past weekend, during a work trip that involved flying, I had the chance to re-read the first and last book of someone I consider to be West Virginia's finest writer, Breece Pancake. His book is the posthumously published The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake. The book was published posthumously because he committed suicide at around the age of 27 back in 1979.

I'm prejudiced here. Breece and I are from the same town, which shows up in his book as Rock Camp. He was around the age of my older brother. His dad and my dad had an issue or two in common. And I worked with his mother Helen at the Milton library for several years, including the time from Breece's death until after his book was first published. Helen and I spent just about every Tuesday evening and every other Saturday together for several years and became very close.

We talked constantly about Breece, getting new stories published, how the book was coming together, poring over reviews, taking people on "the 10 cent tour" of Milton and the sites in the book.

I admit that I hesitated a good while before actually reading the book the first time. Then I sat and read it through in a sitting. It was painfully riveting and I felt the same feeling of awe at the end that I did when I read things like Othello or the tragedies of Aeschylus. In the years since, I have felt like the keeper of some private shrine in his honor.

This Saturday the Milton library is hosting an all day symposium on his work. Here's a bit about Breece from the Atlantic, the first major magazine to publish his work. There's only one error in it (no mining in Milton and not much timbering either). I could find no errors in this piece from the Oxford American. In fact, I found something new, a letter from the late great Kurt Vonnegut to Breece's friend and teacher John Casey, himself a winner of the National Book Award.

In the letter, Vonnegut said,

"As for Breece D'J Pancake: I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I've ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know."
I think Vonnegut was on to something. I always felt that Breece tried to make himself hard enough to say what had to be said without flinching or breaking...and didn't succeed.

As I write this, I can't get some lines from Nietzsche out of my mind: "What matter thyself, Zarathustra? Say thy word and break into pieces!" Except it did matter and the loss was even greater than the word.

June 25, 2013

A poetical Puritan

I would have been pretty useless in the English Civil War of the 1640s. Politically, I'd probably be sympathetic with some of the Roundheads. Theologically, cradle Episcopalian that I am, I'd be with the Cavaliers. And Puritanism just plain gives me the creeps.

However, I must say the Puritan poet John Milton had his moments. I just came across these lines from his Comus:

If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly pampered luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature's full blessings would be well dispensed
In unsuperfluous even proportion...
LESSONS LEARNED? Here's economist Jared Bernstein on how safety net programs performed during the Great Recession.

THIS OUGHT TO BE JUST THE THING to start another ruling class  hissy fit in West Virginia.

THIS IS SOOO GROSS. Have you watched a lamprey video lately?


June 24, 2013

Forget the Venus flytrap

While I was traveling this weekend, a friend sent me a link to one of the weirdest science stories I've ever seen. No doubt the reader is familiar with carnivorous plants, which typically gain some kind of nutrients from  insects or small critters.

How about one that "eats" sheep?

According to the BBC, this Chilean oddity

 ...uses its sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other animals, which slowly starve to death. 
The animals then decay at the base of the plant, acting as fertiliser.
(Apparently the Brits spell fertilizer with an "s". Good thing we had that revolution.)

Yeesh. I'm going to try to be nicer to plants.

IT'S ABOUT TIME. The Fair Labor Standards Act, a major piece of New Deal legislation, turns 75 this year. Among other things, that bill gave us the minimum wage. We should celebrate the anniversary by raising it.

MORE ON MEDICAID EXPANSION and who will qualify here.

IS LESS MORE? Here's a look at recent controversies in the study of exercise and its effects.