Scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh on a rolled wax seal (Montclair State University Classics Dept.)
Beginning around 12,000 – 14,000 B.C.E., animal husbandry had developed in central north Africa. By 9,000 B.C.E., agriculture had matured in Mesopotamia to the point that it allowed the construction of some of the world’s first cities. Agriculture afforded the new city states the luxury of free time. No longer did everyone have to hunt and scavenge for food each day, because there were now reserves of grain that aided people when game was scarce. No longer required to be hunters, many urban dwellers could specialize and they often constructed tools and implements that farmers could use, so there developed a symbiosis between the city and the countryside.
That symbiotic relationship figures heavily in metaphorical form in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the to key characters (both male) Gilgamesh and Enkidu represented the city (Uruk) and Enkidu the country. The Epic highlights the mutual interdependence of the city with the country by informing the reader that the two characters were surprisingly intimate (shall we say liberal?) for what we may today naïvely consider the perceived mores of the ancient Middle East. But this metaphor is representative of the founding of urban culture itself – the interdependence of roles in society, despite farmers and urbanites living very different lives.
One of the world’s oldest extant pieces of literature, the oldest cuneiform tablets with early portions of the story date to as far back as 2150 B.C.E., though the oral tradition may be far older. It also describes an account similar to the Biblical flood – though its clay tablets were enscribed before the Bibllical scrolls. Most of all, the Epic of Gilgamesh describes some beliefs and conditions (natural and supernatural) that people enscribed into clay tablets very long ago. It is worth a read simply to find out how people thought and communicated back then and to learn what things in society then are similar to today and what things are different.
VY Canis Majoris highlights this paradigm-shifting video (via blangled on YouTube)
We have heard from elementary school that the Sun is an average star. Some people may be bothered by the fact that there is very little about the Sun that is superlative, but it should not bother you too much. Other people are curious about just how large other stars can be. At the moment, a red supergiant star, VY Canish Majoris holds the record. If placed inside our Solar System, the star would extend to the orbit of Saturn! At 30-40 times the mass of the Sun, it is also a very massive star, though it has an amazingly low density, about 1/10,000th the density of air at sea level on a warm day. Click on the image to see just how large CY Canis Majoris is relative to the Sun, its planets, and other stars.
Wikipedia: VY Canis Majoris
Police Union Announces Solidarity with Occupation of State Capitol (via Understory)
Yesterday, the Police have just disobeyed orders to remove protesters who have been occupying the State Capitol for nearly two weeks now. The demonstrators were to be removed at 4pm Friday.
Hundreds of police marched into the Capitol Rotunda and announced:
“We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!”
“This is not a budget issue, this is a civil rights issue. Mr. Walker, let me tell you, we know who YOU work for! We work for all of these people!”
Scott Walker (via mymindstain)
The Wisconsin Governor’s divine aspirations to be the next conservative icon have now met with a dose of reality. It turns out that stripping people of their rights does not make you beloved and it may cause others to attempt to strip rights from you. The rumors that have been flying around Madison today have apparently been confirmed. Scott Walker was booed by the customers of a local restaurant in Madison Wisconsin and was subsequently asked to leave by the owner.
James Heintz discusses sources of state budget deficits around the country (Real News)
The current economic crisis has led to high levels of unemployment, reducing income and sales tax revenues to the states. Tax rates for the wealthy have also dropped during recent decades. State budgets are therefore hemorrhaging cash due to a drop in revenue. Making the problem even worse, the typical state response to the drop in revenue has been spending cuts without tax increases which leads to another decrease in wages in the states. The Real News has interviewed James Heintz of the Policital Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts to investigate the problems in state budgets as well as to explore possible options available to improve both the budgetary situation and the economy.
It turns out that not all solutions have been tried. Conservatives have continually made the case that ‘we must cut spending’ while completely ignoring the revenue side of the budget. This situation is currently being played out in Wisconsin, where tax rates on billionaires have been cut repeatedly during the past 40 years though it is the workers who are now expected to make up the difference in balancing the budget, both in terms of fewer government services and lower wages.
Recall that one of the problems in the current state budget crisis is the loss of wages in the first place. Forcing state employee unions to accept harsher terms only puts downward pressure on wages across the economy. The state should rather find ways to provide positive support for wages and a simple way to do that is through tax increases on the wealthy. Simply increasing taxes to 2000 levels will restore most state budgets to solvency and it will also help to prevent continued layoffs and unemployment in the states while also providing support for investment in badly needed pubic infrastructure.
Decreases in state revenue due to the economic downturn have left many states short (Real News)
Tax increases on wealthy and support for increased wages can help (Real News)
Glenn Beck talks apocalypse porn (Rachel Maddow Show, via YouTube)
In new developments regarding Wisconsin, the Koch brothers, showing no small amount of irony or chutzpah, passed on this message to the public through the National Review:
“With the Left trying to intimidate the Koch brothers to back off of their support for freedom and signaling to others that this is what happens if you oppose the administration and its allies, we have no choice but to continue to fight,” says Richard Fink, the executive vice president of Koch Industries. “We will not step back at all. We firmly believe that economic freedom has benefited the overwhelming majority of society, including workers, who earn higher wages when you have open and free markets. When government grows as it has with the Bush and Obama administrations, that is what destroys prosperity.”
That is right, freedom is slavery. And not having the ability to bargain for wages apparently increases them…somehow. It is plainly apparent what is taking place here. Don’t you see? The billionaire Koch brothers are the real victims here. Just because they have simply paid a puppet to eliminate the jobs of those fat cat teachers and nurse’s aides, redact environmental regulations and curtail public health care so that they can pay a lower marginal tax rate, they are made out to be the bad guys. Oh, and buying state power plants so that they can sell power back to the state at a higher cost and hefty personal profit would be nice, too. Can you believe the insensitivity of those liberals out there? What does a billionaire have to do these days to make a living? Work?
True to form, their fight apparently continues: Governor Walker is now attacking state health programs, including programs for the disabled. Disabled rights activists protested inside the state GOP headquarters in Madison Friday. As we reported yesterday, Walker also has his sights on the state’s currently healthy employee insurance fund. And the attack on collective bargaining continues, even if the state is about to lose $46 million in federal money specifically because it is ending collective bargaining rights for workers! Now THAT is a way to balance a budget!
What we are seeing is a natural end of unbalanced conservatism. The United States is in a race to the 19th century, when the 20th was its greatest time and while other nations are aiming for the 22nd. The conservative movement has become so rapt with its regressive economic dogma that it hires people like Glenn Beck to spew his apocalyptic violence porn because teachers and nurses are marching to retain their rights to collectively bargain for their salaries – “IT IS THE APOCALYPSE I TELL YOU!” We now live in an age where a teacher who claims that he or she has the right to earn a living wage represents the ‘mark of the beast’. That is just how unbalanced the right is and that is why it must be stopped. If enough people march, protest, right representatives and demand investigations, they can be stopped.
Lawrence Textile ("Bread and Roses") Strike, 1912 (via Wikipedia)
As hundreds of thousands of workers protest around the world and within the United States today, we should remember what the labor movement has brought to life in many places: Vacation time, benefits, increasing salaries, pensions, transparency in government and political clout for the middle class. None of these rights came easily as the image here shows and each of these rights are currently under assault. Within the United States, the battle lines are drawn through every state that is controlled by the Tea Party, who would like to undo 100 years of progress and literally return us to the world of child labor. Good luck, everyone, as your protests get underway!
Walker continues his assault on the Middle Class (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
When will the billionaires be asked to share in the burden? Hundreds are protesting outside Koch Industries’ new lobbying office that is located a block from the Capitol in Madison.
Governor Walker, not content to deprive teachers and nurses of their rights to collectively bargain for their salaries is now eager to raid the state employee insurance fund to balance the budget.
The first layoffs have been announced by Walker, including the wife of Wisconsin Democratic State Senator Scott Fitzgerald, Lisa, who is a teacher, in a fine case of political retribution.
In addition, Republican legislators will restrict access to their offices beginning pm Saturday because they are not really about free speech and democracy, unless one is talking about the “free speech” that Citizens United claimed comes in the form of corporate political donations. Vote such as the one last night come about when a political party no longer thinks it requires constituents (or when it really believes that corporations are people).
Billionaire contributions to Wisconsin state tax rolls has dropped quite a bit recently (Real News Network)
The Real News has done a great piece in which they describe the poor conditions that currently face Wisconsin billionaires. Oh sure, they have increased their wealth overall, but their rank on the Forbes 400 list has dropped on average by a couple of places. You can only imagine the difficulties! Since 2001 that the estate tax rates on billionaires has dropped by nearly half though they have found ways around them too. This occurs at the same time that state and federal governments cut back on services for the people who really need them. Did you know that the overall tax burden of billionaires has dropped as well at the same time that we are being told that we must “share the sacrifice”? Watch Real News’ Paul Jay discuss whether billionaires are putting in their fair share and watch to the end to see how simple it would be to balance state budgets across the country.
Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for the last time (Michael Berigan/Reuters)
The Space Shuttle Discovery launched into orbit for the last time Thursday, carrying a new crew to the International Space Station. There will be two more flights before the end of the Space Shuttle program. The shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to make one more trip to space in April, followed by the last shuttle flight by Atlantis in June. The shuttle program was to be superseded by the Constellation program, a series of manned and unmanned missions that were aimed toward bringing the United States back to low earth orbit, then the Moon and ultimately Mars. Citing current private companies such as SpaceX that are developing manned orbital systems, president Obama cancelled the Constellation program. At the moment, it appears United States will not be the first country to Mars.
Developments in Libya
Mu’ammar Gadhafi blamed al Qaeda today for the uprising spreading through his country, saying that Osama bin Laden had brainwashed young Libyans who had been given hypnotic drugs in their milk. Opposition groups now control most of Libya, but Gadhafi’s stronghold is in the capital, Tripoli, where his forces are exacting a heavy toll, though some troops and pilots are refusing to fire on protesters. The death toll due to the government attacks on civilians is likely higher than 1,000. Opposition groups continue to make gains despite the government’s counterattack and they are massing in the opposition-controlled eastern portion of the country. The United States, after a generation of enmity and containment, has found that it has few options regarding the situation in Libya. It has few contacts with the leadership, no aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, and is forced to rely on nations such as France and Italy that have had friendlier relations with Libya. Even worse, once the opposition forces take over there may not be such a warm and rosy relationship with the new government because President Bush sold Gadhafi weapons. Yes, once again weapons emblazoned with “Made in U.S.A.” are firing at civilians who are trying to form a new democracy. So much for shoot first and ask questions later.
Julian Assange has lost his trial for extradition to Sweden. This was expected as most extraditions within the EU are granted. Assange has promised to appeal the ruling and has seven days to do so or else he will be extradited within 10 days.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council is conducting rallies throughout Wisconsin today (Thursday) and there are more rallies already scheduled through Monday. There are also plans for a huge rally in Madison Saturday! Here are direct links to event schedules at the WEAC site and the SEIU site for details!
Also, here is a bus schedule for shuttling back and forth to Madison on the Wisconsin Legislative Councill 11 site.