June 09, 2007


For first time visitors, it is the policy of this blog to deal with fairly serious issues during the week. Most of the time.

During the weekend, however, it is our practice to provide space for various animal commentators in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, it is with some hesitation that we present another feature by an itinerant snapping turtle who declines to give his full name and is known only as The Untrustworthy Reptile.

We do not believe that this creature has the best interests of our readers at heart. Indeed, it is only by reason of our strong commitment to the First Amendment, although the extent to which it applies to reptiles is unclear, that we allow his views to be published at all.

Above all, it is our hope that features such as this will permit the expression of (bio)diverse viewpoints and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

We must add the following disclaimer: the views expressed by animal commentators are not necessarily those of the Goat Rope staff nor do we assume liability for the consequence of anyone acting upon their advice.


Hey you! Yeah, you...with the face. C'mere.

Jeez, you look pretty seedy. You could use some new threads. And that hair! What kind of junk heap are you driving anyway?

Looks like you need some cash. No problem. I can hook you up. I got this friend who works for the lottery, see. We were in school together. He owes me one. And you know what? He told me what the next Power Ball number was going to be. I got it written down.

If you had that, you could be a millionaire and wouldn't look like such a loser. I'm feeling generous today. Tell you what, I'm gonna give you the number. Then all you gotta do is go to the Go Mart and get rich.

It's right here. In my mouth. All you gotta do is reach in there and get it. Way back. Just reach in part way for a second. That's all it'll take. Come on, do it!

Hey! Where are you going? Come back here! Loser! Candy @$$! Wuss! I hope you starve! I hate you!


June 07, 2007


Caption: The butler did it. This man is now portraying Smerdyakov, possible illegitimate son and murderer of Fyodor Karamazov. Note the leash with which he will later hang himself.

OK, this is it. I mean it. After today, I vow to go a really long time before reading by or writing anything else about Dostoevsky.

To wrap up, I cobbled together some quotes about him, courtesy of FyodorDostoevsky.com (what would he think of that?).

As you might imagine, he's been called lots of things, ranging from
"Russia's evil genius" to "...the Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum." The Russian novelist Turgenev called him "...the nastiest Christian I've ever met".

I think the Shakespeare one nailed it.

Henry Miller said "Dostoevsky was human in that 'all too human' sense of Nietzsche. He wrings our withers when he unrolls his scroll of life." and "Dostoevsky is chaos and fecundity. Humanity, with him, is but a vortex in the bubbling maelstrom."

Joseph Conrad said The Brothers Karamazov was "... an impossible lump of valuable matter. It's terrifically bad and impressive and exasperating. Moreover, I don't know what Dostoevsky stands for or reveals, but I do know that he is too Russian for me. It sounds like some fierce mouthings of prehistoric ages." Conrad knew a thing or two about impossible lumps...

According to Nietzsche, he was"...the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn." That explains a lot.

Einstein said "Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss." Holy speed of light in a vacuum, Batman!

The Russian theologian and philosopher Nikolay Berdyaev said "So great is the worth of Dostoevsky that to have produced him is by itself sufficient justification for the existence of the Russian people in the world: and he will bear witness for his country-men at the last judgement of the nations."

I think I'm done now.



Caption: Alyosha Karamazov (right) receives spiritual guidance from the saintly Father Zossima (portrayed by Seamus McGoogle).

Like a cat with a stubborn hairball, El Cabrero is still trying to get Dostoevsky out of his system.

Maybe a little medley of quotes from his works will do it:

Talking nonsense is man's only privilege that distinguishes him from all other organisms.

Man gets used to anything, the scoundrel.

"You're a gentleman," they used to say to him. "You shouldn't have gone murdering people with a hatchet; that's no occupation for a gentleman." --Crime and Punishment

"So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship."

Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete beastiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn't it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea- he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility... --Brothers Karamazov

"When . . . in the course of all these thousands of years has man ever acted in accordance with his own interests?"--Notes from the Underground

Is there suffering on this new earth? On our earth we can truly love only with suffering and through suffering! We know not how to love otherwise. We know no other love. I want suffering in order to love. --Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Whew! I feel better already...

HERMAN, OF COURSE. Who would the nearest American equivalent to a writer of Dostoevsky's weirdness and stature? Gotta be Melville. Here's an interesting item on Bush, the prophet Jonah, and Melville's Moby-Dick.

DWIGHT! I am way late in posting this, but don't miss The Office's Dwight Shrute's latest blog entry "When Ninjas Attack." As he so aptly points out, this IS the season for ninja attacks and one can never be too careful.


June 06, 2007


Caption: This man is now portraying the devil that appeared to Ivan Karamazov while the latter was a little unhinged. Is it Ivan himself, a real devil, or just his fevered imagination?

El Cabrero begs the reader's forbearance while he attempts to get Dostoevsky out of his system. The last two posts didn't quite do it...

Sigmund Freud once called The Brothers Karamazov "the most magnificent novel ever written."

This is no doubt because the theme of the book is the murder of a father by a son and Sig never met a story about parricide he didn't like. After all, according to his theory of the Oedipus complex, that was something all sons unconsciously wanted to do.

I'm not sure how Dostoevsky would feel about that. He didn't have much use for what passed for psychology in his day, once saying "I am not a psychologist. I am a realist." His version of "realism," however is pretty out there, given his menagerie of characters, which includes intellectual axe murderers, saintly prostitutes, brooding nihilists, and holy fools and elders.

As William Hubben wrote,

All of Dostoevsky's stories belong to the literature of extreme situations. An ominous restlessness broods over the men and women in his novels. Frequently their reaction to seemingly small incidents is excessive, and events take a most unexpected turn.

The author would probably agree with that anyway. He once wrote "Always and in everything I go to the extreme limit." In his view, part of the human condition is the fact that we don't know our limits:

The ant knows the formula of its anthill; the bee the formula of its beehive...but man does not.

Ironically, it is said that in his later years, Freud couldn't abide reading Dostoevsky's novels in the evening because the characters were too much like the patients he dealt with during the day.

(OK, one more thought--how come nobody gets brain fevers any more like his characters got?)

TAX SUBSIDIES FOR WAL-MART. Good Jobs First is a policy resource center that promotes accountability for corporations and governments in economic development. They recently updated their Wal-Mart subsidy report. If you go to the site, you can click on your state to see how much the giant has gotten in corporate welfare. In El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, that number is around $9.7 million. Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First executive director sums it up pretty well:

That a company with a predatory business model and a poverty-wage labor policy can even qualify for job subsidies suggests many public officials still don’t get it.


More than 4 million Iraqis have now been displaced by violence in the country, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday, warning that the figure will continue to rise.

The number of Iraqis who have fled the country as refugees has risen to 2.2 million, said Jennifer Pagonis, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. A further 2 million have been driven from their homes but remain within the country, increasingly in "impoverished shanty towns," she said.

THIS IS JUST GREAT. Remember the part about the Bush administration getting serious on global warming? Nevermind...

The Bush administration is drastically scaling back efforts to measure global warming from space, just as the president tries to convince the world the U.S. is ready to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gases.


June 04, 2007


Caption: This man is now portraying the impetuous and occasionally violent Dmitri Karamazov. The character of Snegiryov is played by the toy monkey.

El Cabrero is still on something of a Russian literature jag. There's no telling at this point how long it will last, although I do promise to try to keep it shorter than The Brothers Karamazov.

I haven't seen a lot of Woody Allen films, but did get a kick out of his spoof of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in Love and Death, both of which are, after all, their major themes.

For Dostoevsky, the two were intertwined. He was haunted by death long before it finally caught up with him. When he was still a teenager, his father died suddenly amid rumors that he had been killed by his serfs.

As a young man, he fell in with a group of radicals and was arrested and sentenced to death. As William Hubben puts it in Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka (how's that for a lineup?), after several months in prison, he was one of a group of 21 prisoners scheduled to be executed at 7:00 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 22, 1849:

They were led out into the prison yard to stand on the scaffold, and the officer in charge read to each the fatal words of the verdict, "Sentenced to be shot!" The prisoners' clothes had been taken off, and for twenty minutes they waited in the ice-cold temperature for the final moment to come. Dostoevsky embraced two of his friends in a last farewell. He wrote later of this "last" moment, "I kept staring at a church with a gilt dome reflecting the sunbeams and I suddenly felt as if these beams came from the region where I myself was going to be in a few minutes."

Suddenly an officer came galloping across the square, signalling with a handkerchief to announce that Tsar Nicholas I, "in his infinite mercy," had commuted the death sentence to prison terms in Siberia...

That ought to do it, huh?

Unbeknownst to the prisoners at the time, the "rescue" was staged, a pure example of the theater of power. Siberia probably wasn't' much of a picnic either.

It's probably no wonder that he delved the dark side like few other writers, pondering the problem of evil, guilt, and suffering. But he is also the writer of redemption, compassion, and love in the face of death.

Here's Father Zossima's advice on his deathbed in the Brothers K:

Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Alas, it's easier said than done. Good, though.

DEMOCRACY AND/OR GROWTH. Jonathan Chait in the June 4 New Republic discusses a column by an American Enterprise Institute economist who

points out that, over the last decade and a half, free-market dictatorships had faster economic growth than free-market democracies. The obvious explanation would be that dictatorships tend to be poorer countries (e.g., China) that can grow more quickly by catching up with modern technology. But Hassett offers up a different interpretation: Unlike democracies, dictatorships "are not hamstrung by the preferences of voters for, say, a pervasive welfare state." In other words, while Western democracies are held back by voters--with their pesky demands that citizens get health care and old people not be left to starve in the streets--autocracies march nobly toward a free-market paradise.

This reminds me of a passage in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment where a character says that

compassion is forbidden nowadays by science itself, and that that's what is done now in England, where there is political economy.

Back to the future indeed...

GOATS TO THE RESCUE. Finally, the title of this Times article tells it all: "In Tennessee, goats eat the vine that ate the South." The ones around here would probably refuse to eat the kudzu out of spite...



Caption: This man could be several characters of Dostoevsky's. Here he portrays the debauched Fyodor Karamazov.

It took several months and at times I didn't think I'd get there but I finally finished The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky's last major novel. I'm not sure what prompted me to return to this megatherium of a book about a cosmically messed up family after about 15 years since my last assault.

Maybe it had to do with wanting to revisit Ivan Karamazov's prose poem of the Grand Inquisitor (Goat Roped here) or his question about the price of utopia (Goat Roped here).

(I discovered that both of those could be read as brief stand alone islands in a sea of 913 pages of small print. Dude could have used more paragraphs too.)

Maybe it was wanting to visit again the saintly elder Father Zossima, the gentle Alyosha, the "fallen" Grushenka, the hell raising Dmitri or the tightly wrapped Katrina.

Or it could have just been a self-punishment thing.

In fact, one thing you get from reading just about any work of Dostoevsky is that people are a lot more complicated than calculating rational choice machines (see his Notes from the Underground). That might be one take home message.

Another might be the theme that seems to run through his work that everyone is connected to and responsible for everyone else, as in this scene where after the death of his mentor, the holy Father Zossima, Alyosha throws himself on the ground, kissing the earth and "drenching it with his tears"

It was as though the threads from all those innumerable worlds of God met all at once in his soul, and it was trembling all over 'as it came in contact with other worlds.' He wanted to forgive everyone and for everything, and to beg forgiveness--oh! not for himself, but for all men, for all and for everything, 'and others are begging for me,' it echoed in his soul again....

Or later:

Oh, my dear children, my dear friends, do not be afraid of life! How good life is when you do something that is good and just!

Speaking of which...

SICK DAYS. Campaigns are starting to ramp up in several states around the issue of paid sick leave. Here's some information from the Economic Policy Institute about the scope of the problem and who suffers the most:

On average, 57% of private-industry workers in the United States have access to paid sick leave. That means that 43% of all private-industry workers have no paid sick days. When workers get sick, they are either forced to go to work or stay home without pay and risk losing their job. What this number masks, however, is how vastly unequal access to sick leave is depending on workers’ wages. Workers at the bottom of the wage scale, those making less than $7.38 an hour, are five times less likely to have sick days than workers at the top of the scale, those making greater than $29.47 an hour.

The report concludes:

In recent months, legislation has been introduced that would level the playing field and provide much needed paid leave for workers who are sick. Such legislation—as exists in other advanced economies—would not only give workers an important benefit, but could provide valuable incentives for increased productivity in the workforce through worker loyalty, decreased turnover, and a decline in sick employees showing up to work and infecting others.

It is time for the United States to join the rest of the developed world and guarantee paid leave for its workforce.