May 26, 2007


For first time visitors, this blog generally has fairly serious commentary during the week and commentary from a host of talking animals on the weekend.

This weekend, we once again welcome Ferdinand the Love Peacock, who will answer questions from romantically challenged readers.

(Note: the staff of Goat Rope assumes no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the consequences of anyone actually following his advice.)

It is our deepest hope that features such as this will promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


Dear Ferdinand,

I'm trying to get over a nasty breakup and have been wondering how long I should wait before looking for another relationship. Some friends think I should wait a few months before seeing anyone and deal with some of my own issues. What do you think?


Lonely in Logan

Dear Lonely in Logan,

Your letter makes absolutely no sense. What possible reason could there be to delay even for a moment the delights of dalliance? What possible issues do you have to work on that could possibly be more important?

You are a silly, silly, silly little human. How can there possibly be so many of you when you are all so tone deaf to the pulsating polyphony of desire?

Since you do not identify yourself by gender, allow me to offer this advice. If you are a male you have but two choices. Either cast yourself over a cliff and rid the world of yourself or else poof up your tail feathers and begin displaying immediately. Rattle them like the tambourines of temptation for all the world to see and let the goddess of love do the rest.

If you are a female, your job is even simpler. All you have to do is watch and listen for the display and cast yourself at the feet of the displayer.


Ferdinand the Love Peacock


May 25, 2007


The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope has been selections from Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Prudence," which appeared in the 1856 2nd edition of Leaves of Grass (along with stuff on current events). If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

Whitman characteristically puts his own slant on the word prudence, which comes to mean a vast view of life in which is basically endless.

I decided to fill a week with this poem while remembering the death of a close friend and co-worker with whom I frequently discussed it. As we approach Memorial Day and remember the fallen, his message that the gulf between the living and the dead is not absolute seems to fit.

Here's the rousing conclusion:

What is prudence is indivisible,
Declines to separate one part of life from every part,
Divides not the righteous from the unrighteous or the living from the dead,
Matches every thought or act by its correlative,
Knows no possible forgiveness or deputed atonement,
Knows that the young man who composedly peril'd his life and lost it
has done exceedingly well for himself without doubt,
That he who never peril'd his life, but retains it to old age in
riches and ease, has probably achiev'd nothing for himself worth
Knows that only that person has really learn'd who has learn'd to
prefer results,
Who favors body and soul the same,
Who perceives the indirect assuredly following the direct,
Who in his spirit in any emergency whatever neither hurries nor
avoids death.

VOX POPULI. This item from the NY Times shows opposition to the war to be at an all time high. some excerpts:

Six in 10 Americans surveyed say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, and more than three in four say that things are going badly there — including nearly half who say things are going very badly, the poll found....

A large majority of the public — 76 percent, including a majority of Republicans — say that the additional American troops sent to Iraq this year by Mr. Bush have either had no impact or are making things worse there. Twenty percent think the troop increase is improving the situation in Iraq.

A majority of Americans continue to support a timetable for withdrawal. Sixty-three percent say the United States should set a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq sometime in 2008.

Bush meanwhile "enjoys" a 30 percent approval/63 percent disapproval rating.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASED. After more than 10 years of neglect, Congress finally raised the minimum wage in increments to $7.25. In a bizarre twist, for the last several weeks, the wage increase was linked to the bill funding the Iraq war, a move opposed by AFSC and many members of the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Coalition from the start.

WE'RE MUTANTS. West Virginians are pretty used to being statistical oddities. Here's a good commentary on the subject by Scott Finn of WV Public Broadcasting.

FIG TREE'S FAREWELL TO FALWELL. (How was that for alliteration?) Jim Lewis' latest edition of Fig Tree Notes muses on Jerry Falwell, Christopher Hitchens, The Wizard of Oz, Christianity and other topics.


May 24, 2007


The guiding thread though this week's Goat Rope is Walt Whitman's 1856 poem "Song of Prudence, along with stuff on current events. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

As mentioned before, in this poem everything matters not just in its own time but for all time to come:

No specification is necessary, all that a male or female does, that
is vigorous, benevolent, clean, is so much profit to him or her,
In the unshakable order of the universe and through the whole scope
of it forever.

Who has been wise receives interest,
Savage, felon, President, judge, farmer, sailor, mechanic, literat,
young, old, it is the same,
The interest will come round—all will come round.

Singly, wholly, to affect now, affected their time, will forever affect,
all of the past and all of the present and all of the future,
All the brave actions of war and peace,
All help given to relatives, strangers, the poor, old, sorrowful,
young children, widows, the sick, and to shunn'd persons,
All self-denial that stood steady and aloof on wrecks, and saw
others fill the seats of the boats,
All offering of substance or life for the good old cause, or for a
friend's sake, or opinion's sake,
All pains of enthusiasts scoff'd at by their neighbors,
All the limitless sweet love and precious suffering of mothers,
All honest men baffled in strifes recorded or unrecorded,
All the grandeur and good of ancient nations whose fragments we inherit,
All the good of the dozens of ancient nations unknown to us by name,
date, location,
All that was ever manfully begun, whether it succeeded or no,
All suggestions of the divine mind of man or the divinity of his
mouth, or the shaping of his great hands,
All that is well thought or said this day on any part of the globe,
or on any of the wandering stars, or on any of the fix'd stars,
by those there as we are here,
All that is henceforth to be thought or done by you whoever you are,
or by any one,
These inure, have inured, shall inure, to the identities from which
they sprang, or shall spring.

Did you guess any thing lived only its moment?
The world does not so exist, no parts palpable or impalpable so exist,
No consummation exists without being from some long previous
consummation, and that from some other,
Without the farthest conceivable one coming a bit nearer the
beginning than any.

(Note: due to quirks in Blogger, I couldn't get the spaces in the poem right.)

Here's a question: if all that was really true, what if anything would you do differently?

A SIGN OF PROGRESS. For the last few years, lots of people in WV and around the country have tried to fight the skewed budget priorities of the Bush administration, where unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the wealthy have trumped human needs, education, and investments in infrastructure.

The last big example of this was the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (which didn't reduce the deficit). The DRA combined $40 billion in cuts to programs like Medicaid and student loans with $70 billion in tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthiest. Among WV's delegation, only Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito voted for it.

For a while there, all we could do was damage control by trying to reduce the magnitude and severity of the cuts.But here's a pleasant change--according the the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities,

On Thursday, May 17, the House and Senate passed the FY 2008 budget resolution, which provides a blueprint for annual spending bills.

The non-binding budget resolution allows for up to $50 billion in new spending over five years for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to protect current enrollees from losing their health coverage and protect more uninsured children. It also rejects the President's proposed cuts in education and training programs and allows for significant new resources for special education, No Child Left Behind Act, and Pell grants. The Agreement also allows for increased funds for Head Start and child care, and rejects President Bush's cuts to Head Start and flat funding for child care under which 150,000 children have lost child care subsidies over the past five years. The budget throws out the President's cut in the Social Services Block Grant program and many other domestic programs that aid low- and middle-income families and are important priorities for our nation that must be adequately funded.

Actual funding decisions for individual programs will now be made as part of the consideration of annual spending bills which fund vital public services.

It's not clear at this point how the administration will respond to the budget resolution now that it's a little short on rubber stamps.Congratulations to all who worked on this! That was a long, hard fight.


May 23, 2007


Caption: In this poem, Whitman takes the long view.

The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is Walt Whitman's 1856 poem "Song of Prudence." There is also lots of stuff on current events. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

To read the whole poem, distasteful section and all, click here.

The poem begins, in typical Walt fashion, with the poet strolling through Manhattan and musing on the human condition. Full disclosure: every time El Cabrero goes there, I try to do the same but with no poetic result so far.

The prudence he ponders is basically the question of how much of what we do really matters in the long run. The answer he comes up with is basically everything all the time and forever. Here's the opening:

Manhattan's streets I saunter'd pondering,
On Time, Space, Reality—on such as these, and abreast with them Prudence.

The last explanation always remains to be made about prudence,
Little and large alike drop quietly aside from the prudence that
suits immortality.

The soul is of itself,
All verges to it, all has reference to what ensues,
All that a person does, says, thinks, is of consequence,
Not a move can a man or woman make, that affects him or her in a day,
month, any part of the direct lifetime, or the hour of death,
But the same affects him or her onward afterward through the
indirect lifetime.

The indirect is just as much as the direct,
The spirit receives from the body just as much as it gives to the
body, if not more.

Then follows a Whitmanesque list (with some distasteful examples regarding onanism and veneral sores that I'll skip) and a statement that there is nothing a person does

But has results beyond death as really as before death.

In other words, we're playing a game with no end, one in which

Charity and personal force are the only investments worth any thing.

That can be today's take home message. Now on to the prose...

E COLI CONSERVATIVES. If you feel like gambling these days, you don't need to visit a casino. Just buy some food for yourself or your pets. As you may have noticed, the whole food thing is becoming riskier and riskier for animals and people. There is plenty of blame to go around, from globalization to Congress to corporate greed, but Paul Krugman blames Milton Friedman.

To be more exact, the cult of the market god of which Friedman was a prophet downplayed the role of government to protect consumer safety and argued that in a free market businesses have an incentive to sell good products. As a result, our food safety now is about where it was before Teddy Roosevelt read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle:

The economic case for having the government enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically inconvenient.

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.

O.K., I’m not saying that Mr. Friedman directly caused tainted spinach and poisonous peanut butter. But he did help to make our food less safe, by legitimizing what the historian Rick Perlstein calls “E. coli conservatives”: ideologues who won’t accept even the most compelling case for government regulation.

Maybe Voltaire was right: "Let us cultivate our garden."


May 22, 2007


Caption: Venus is a big Leaves of Grass fan.

Greetings to first time readers. Here's the Goat Rope drill: this blog generally comes out daily (once on weekends) and deals with social and economic justice issues. Usually, each weekday post has links and comments about current events and ideas and a guiding thread or theme that ties the week together.

This week, the thread is a poem of Walt Whitman's titled "Song of Prudence." If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

(I will skip over the fact that good ol' Walt wasn't always the most prudent of people. Good though.)

This poem of Whitman's appeared in the 1856 second edition of Leaves of Grass and is not one of his better known works. It is vast in spirit (but could have used some judicious editing).

I first discovered this poem not in Leaves of Grass but in an obscure and largely forgotten book of D.T. Suzuki's on Mahayana Buddhism. If memory serves, and it may not, Suzuki overheard someone discussing the poem and thought it was an exposition of Mahayana Buddhist teaching.

Actually, there were some interesting connections between early American writers like Emerson and Thoreau and Asian religion, although relatively little was known here about the topic at the time. We know that these writers influenced Whitman, who later influenced many American poets, particularly the Beats. For an entertaining survey of the history of Buddhism in American, see Rick Fields' enjoyable but "early" (1981) How the Swans Came to the Lake.

Next time, we'll break it down.

MORE ON THE U.S. CHAMBER OF GIBBERISH. A great source of information for WV current events is Lawrence Messina's Lincoln Walks at Midnight, a "just the facts" blog. Check the above link for a great summary of the bizarre jihad the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is waging against El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, which seems to be embarrassing local chambers of commerce. I don't think the US Chamber would be happy unless we abolish the whole civil justice system. As the link shows, basic fact-checking shows their propaganda to be, shall we say, factually challenged.

THE TALIBANIZATION OF IRAQ. Here's an item from Ms. Magazine about the declining status of women and the growth in violence against them in Iraq.

SPEAKING OF GRATUITOUS ANIMAL PICTURES, for a look at some really weird undersea critters, click here.


May 21, 2007


Although April has passed, and most of May, T.S. Eliot's line fron The Waste Land about April being the cruelest month still rings true. The ongoing carnage in Iraq and elsewhere and the massacre in Virginia left their mark. But I also felt something else, like an old and deep body wound.

It finally occured to me that April was the anniversary of the death of a very close comrade, friends and co-worker. We fought side by side for several years in some poverty related policy battles and had quite a winning streak for a while there, although she suffered from a debilitating illness that consumed more and more of her life force.

It was a great partnership and what I miss most are the conversations. When we weren't in predatory mode, we spent exalted timeless moments discussing literature, philosophy, science, religion, life and death. Sometimes our best discussions would be at breaks between meetings, court cases, or legislative sessions.

One area where we differed was the subject of death. She believed it was the end and I could never quite convince myself of that, although, like Hamlet, I sometimes wish I could. When her time came, she faced it like a Spartan. The last book she read was the philosophical poem of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). In that materialist vision, all that exists are atoms and the void and death is just a dissolution.

For reasons I can't fully explain or articulate, I sometimes have a sense that the difference or gulf between past and present, life and death, and the living and the dead aren't as clear or final as we often think.

The best expression I've found of this sense comes from a lesser-known poem of Walt Whitman's called "Song of Prudence," which will be the guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope.

Meanwhile, back in the world...

MORE ON THE ARACOMA FIRE. Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette had an good article yesterday featuring an interview with Minness Justice, a MSHA mine inspector who had worked at Massey's Aracoma mine in which two men died in a Jan. 2006 fire.

WHITHER EVANGELICALS? According to this item from today's NY Times, the recent death of Jerry Falwell signals a generational change in evangelical Christians. Many members of the new generation have broader priorities, such as fighting poverty and AIDS, climate change, etc.

DOWN YES, BUT OUT? From the same source, here's a look at the recent fortunes of the right.