June 02, 2007


For first time readers, this blog discusses fairly serious topics during the week. The weekends, however, are generally reserved for the contributions of various talking animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we once again welcome Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY), our official film critic.

(We must remind the reader that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury when he crashed into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy and has been known to transpose the plots of the films he reviews. Nonetheless, we believe his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.)

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


OK like this movie is so cool. There's this guy Luke Skywalker and he lives on this little dump of a planet but he gets caught up in a big adventure when he comes home from college.

They have this big party and a guy tells him "plastics" is what it's all about and then Mrs. Robinson is like all over him. I didn't really understand that part, but Doodus said it was because of something a vet did to me when I was little. He kept telling me it wasn't his fault and that it was before I came here.

Anyway, Mrs. Robinson is a private detective in Los Angeles but he/she gets caught up in this big case about water and murder.

Meanwhile Luke changes his name to Stanley and moves to New Orleans and marries Stella and when her sister Blanche comes to visit, she's kind of a whack but is also princess of the galaxy. They ride around and blow things up in a spaceship named Desire.

It's all like about the mythic quest of the hero or something.

The only bad thing about this movie is it was so predictable.


June 01, 2007


Caption: Can you find the ants in this picture? E. O. Wilson could.

This has inadvertently turned into Darwin week at Goat Rope so I may as well stay the course and recommend a good but not terribly recent book, Edward O. Wilson's 1995 autobiography Naturalist.

While El Cabrero was never a huge fan of sociobiology, one of Wilson's many brainchildren, it's hard not to like Wilson himself (no known relation). Before and after he moved into evolutionary grand theory, he was--and remains--a naturalist's naturalist, turning over rocks and logs in search of nature's wonders.

And he has become a real leader among scientists in defending the environment, recently calling for Christians to join the fight to preserve the natural world.

Wilson ignited quite a controversy in the 1970s with his suggestions that genes influence human society to a degree largely unimagined. He was attacked--sometimes unfairly--for promoting an ideology which some said could justify inequality, male dominance, xenophobia, war, etc.

In fact, he didn't believe biology was destiny and was not much of a political animal, describing himself as a "Roosevelt liberal turned pragmatic centrist." One could do worse--much worse.

The debate over the role of biology in social life is destined to go on for a long time, but his other contributions both to natural science and protecting the environment are beyond question.

Here's sample from Naturalist about his beloved ants:

They are everywhere, dark and ruddy specks that zigzag across the ground and down holes, milligram-weight inhabitants of an alien civilization who hide their daily rounds from our eyes. For over 50 million years ants have been the overwhelmingly dominant insect everywhere on land outside the polar and arctic ice fields. By my estimate, between 1 and 10 million billion individuals are alive at any moment, all of them together weighing, to the nearest order of magnitude, as much as the totality of human beings.

He left out the part about them getting in your pants and making you dance, but otherwise the book is a keeper.

DROPPING ALL PRETENCE OF SOCIAL RELEVANCE, Goat Rope is sticking to the theme of weirdness this week. In case you missed it, here's a recent item on a possible sighting of the Loch Ness monster, complete with a video clip. After more than 6 years of the Bush administration, nothing seems weird to me anymore...

WHATEVER... This is inside baseball for West Virginians. The masterful "just-the-facts" blog of all things pertaining to El Cabrero's beloved state is Lincoln Walks at Midnight, which has this item about state Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin in which he claims that he won in 2004 not because of coal baron and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's money but rather due to the mistakes of his opponent, Warren McGraw.

Far be it from El Cabrero to deny that his opponent made a mistake or two, but I find the whole Loch Ness thing MUCH easier to believe.


May 31, 2007


Caption: This man is the product of artificial selection.

Here's another item I've been sitting on for a while. An interesting rift has emerged among conservatives between the religious right's embrace of creationism and others who want the movement to avoid being cast as anti-science.

From the May 5 NY Times:

Evolution has long generated bitter fights between the left and the right about whether God or science better explains the origins of life. But now a dispute has cropped up within conservative circles, not over science, but over political ideology: Does Darwinian theory undermine conservative notions of religion and morality or does it actually support conservative philosophy?....

For some conservatives, accepting Darwin undercuts religious faith and produces an amoral, materialistic worldview that easily embraces abortion, embryonic stem cell research and other practices they abhor. As an alternative to Darwin, many advocate intelligent design, which holds that life is so intricately organized that only an intelligent power could have created it.

However, other conservatives not only want to avoid being seen as hostile to science:

Some of these thinkers have gone one step further, arguing that Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.

Darwinism has been a political football from the beginning. It's results, usually grossly distorted and misunderstood, have been claimed by economic conservatives, Marxists, Nazis, militarists, nationalists, and many others. The track record for politicizing science isn't much better than that of literalizing and legislating religion.

Here's the irony of the day: many people who embrace literal creationism embrace social Darwinism or the mis-application of ideas of natural selection and competition to society through their hostility to policies that would reduce inequalities and promote shared prosperity.

DROP EVERYTHING! and check out this AP item. It ran in the Gazette yesterday but I found the link elsewhere:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Proof that a 12-foot creature with fiery red eyes spooked Braxton County schoolchildren in 1952. Proof that aliens crashed a spaceship near Roswell, N.M., in 1947. Proof that the U.S. military engaged alien spaceships in battle over the Atlantic Ocean more than 50 years ago.

"You're going to see some hard evidence" at the Flatwoods Monster 55th Anniversary and Flying Saucer Extravaganza on Sept. 7-8 in Charleston, said promoter Larry Bailey. "That's a promise. That's not just promotional talk."

The UFO conference coincides with the 60th anniversary of an unexplained sighting of a crashed aircraft in New Mexico that is still a source of controversy and speculation of a government coverup. It's also the 55th anniversary of sightings of a noxious-odor-emitting monster in Flatwoods in Braxton County.

Full disclosure: El Cabrero may have contributed to the UFO hysteria in his jr. hi. years when he wrapped up in aluminum foil to look like a spaceman and walked on I-64 near his beloved home town along the banks of the Mud River...

SPEAKING OF ALTERNATE REALITIES, President Bush keeps manufacturing his own. This is another gem from AP:

WASHINGTON , Confronted with strong opposition to his Iraq policies, President Bush decides to interpret public opinion his own way. Actually, he says, people agree with him.

There's more that's worth reading in the full article.


May 30, 2007


Caption: The serpent in the garden?

I've been sitting on this one a while and trying to figure out what to do with it:

PETERSBURG, Ky. — The entrance gates here are topped with metallic Stegosauruses. The grounds include a giant tyrannosaur standing amid the trees, and a stone-lined lobby sports varied sauropods. It could be like any other natural history museum, luring families with the promise of immense fossils and dinosaur adventures.

But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.

It's not the Flintstones; it's a new Creation Museum which purports to show people hanging out with dinosaurs, who were apparently vegetarian in their prelapsarian condition. Here at least, the earth is only a few thousand years old, fossils and geologic formations are the result of Noah's flood, and the demon of Darwinism has been exorcised.

It's ironic that when we literalize good stories we often lose their point and when we try to blend literalistic religion with science we're not doing either any favors.

Meanwhile the real message of the Genesis story is a keeper: creation is good, but humans from the beginning have misused their freedom and in doing so have brought suffering on themselves and the rest of the world.

UPWARD MOBILITY Here's an interesting item from the AFLCIO blog about a report America's declining social mobility. What is eye-catching about this report is the fact that the report was co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two conservative think tanks not known for undue concern about inequality.

FEELING ALTRUISTIC? It may be only natural. According to this item from the Washington Post, scientists are conducting new research that suggests our concern for others is

not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

Their 2006 finding that unselfishness can feel good lends scientific support to the admonitions of spiritual leaders such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who said, "For it is in giving that we receive." But it is also a dramatic example of the way neuroscience has begun to elbow its way into discussions about morality and has opened up a new window on what it means to be good.

Recent brain imaging studies and experiments "are showing, unexpectedly, that many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, most likely the result of evolutionary processes that began in other species." If that is the case, at least some basic elements of the moral sense are not so much "handed down" by teachers as "handed up" by genes.

This is what the 18th century philosopher and political economist Adam Smith called "moral sentiment." Holy Scottish Enlightenment, Batman!


May 29, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle, defender of the toiling masses, claims exclusive credit for the minimum wage increase.

Lots of people all over the country worked hard for years to raise the minimum wage. While some of them weren't happy about the way it finally passed Congress last week (as part of the Iraq funding bill), that shouldn't overshadow the victory.

According to the Economic Policy Institute,

An estimated 13.0 million workers (10% of the workforce) would receive an increase in their hourly wage rate if the minimum wage were raised from $5.15 to $7.25 by 2009. Of these workers, 5.6 million workers (4% of the workforce) currently earn less than $7.25 and would be directly affected by an increase. The additional 7.4 million workers (6% of the workforce) earning slightly above the minimum would also be likely to benefit from an increase due to "spillover effects."

When fully in effect, the annual income of a minimum wage worker at 40 hours per will will go from around $10,700 to just over $15,000. Representative George Miller (D-California) told the Associated Press that that was enough to pay for 15 months of groceries for a family of three.

This means a lot in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. As the Charleston Gazette reported earlier this year,

If you work in West Virginia, you’re more likely to bring home minimum wage — or less — than in any other state except Oklahoma, which is tied for first.

Put it this way: If you work for an hourly wage in West Virginia, chances are better than 1 in 4 that your paycheck will get bigger if the federal government boosts the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, by one estimate.

Around 20,000 workers here will be immediately impacted as the increase is phased in but eventually 59,000 will see a raise.

But there's more:

And then there’s the “spillover effect.” Those are workers who make just above $7.25 an hour now. Research shows employers raise those wages to keep the pay structure intact, EPI says.

That means 133,000 West Virginians would feel the boost, EPI estimates. That’s more than 1 in 4 hourly West Virginia workers.

That's a pretty big deal. Congratulations to all who worked on this! So we still have a war to stop. It's always something...

SPEAKING OF WHICH, there were two items of note in the weekend NY Times. This one discusses rising disillusionment among US soldiers as they are stuck in the middle of a civil war. And this one points out that one consequence of this unnecessary war is the spread of terror from Iraq:

The Iraq war, which for years has drawn militants from around the world, is beginning to export fighters and the tactics they have honed in the insurgency to neighboring countries and beyond, according to American, European and Middle Eastern government officials and interviews with militant leaders in Lebanon, Jordan and London.


May 28, 2007


Here's to the memory of all who have fallen in war, and particularly to those who have died in Iraq, where at this writing, over 3,450 American soldiers have died in addition to unknown tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Time Magazine recently noted some somber news on this occasion:

Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling — and expected to rise in coming months.

In the period from Memorial Day 2006 through Saturday, 980 soldiers and Marines died in Iraq, compared to 807 deaths in the previous year. And with the Baghdad security operation now 3 1/2 months old, even President Bush has predicted a difficult summer for U.S. forces.