June 16, 2007


For first time visitors, this blog generally features fairly serious commentary during the week. Most days, anyway. The weekends are reserved for guest features by animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend we are pleased to introduce a new commentator, Castor the Adolescent Science Nerd Peacock. When not being chased by an older male of the same species or trying to impress the peahens with his immature display (the latter may or may not be related to the former), Castor is Goat Rope's official paleontologist in residence.

The subject of his commentary is the discovery of a new species of feathered dinosaur in China, which has been compared with peacocks.

We hope that features such as this will encourage the expression of (bio)diverse viewpoints and promote a greater appreciation of the humanities and the animalities.


Wanna see a dinosaur, baby? Well, you're looking at one. That's me--Terrible Lizardus Maximus.

In China, they found a bunch of dinosaurs with feathers including one that was 30 feet tall. And check out this picture too! It looks kinda like me!

And what do they compare it to? A Komodo dragon? No way! A crocodile? As if! They compare it to a peacock!

Which means not only were these guys cool and good looking--they were loud!

Check it out:

"Dinosaurs were clearly animals that liked to display to each other; that's why they had crests, horns and bumps," said Philip J. Currie, professor of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Alberta. "Feathers almost certainly developed first as insulation in small species, but other dinosaurs surely started using them as display. A species might have crown feathers at the top of its head or feathers at the end of its tail."

Whether Gigantoraptor truly used feathers in this peacock-like way and why such a large animal retained its bird-like features remain mysteries.

Well, those guys are stupid. Sure they used them in a peacock-like way--displaying is cool!

But man, I would love to be 30 feet tall. Or even 60... First, I'd kick all the other peacocks' butts. Then I'd go on a rampage. Maybe eat some of the goats they have around here or that stupid looking dog or that cat. And like those people around here--I'd just poke my head through a second story and give em a good old peck or two. Maybe pick em up and shake em around a little. They look kinda tasty.

You could call me Peazilla! That would be awesome...


June 15, 2007


This public domain image comes courtesy of www.moviewallpapers.net.

El Cabrero hopes you have enjoyed Frankenstein Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries, which discuss current events in addition to Mary Shelley's novel.

To wrap it up,this story is a gold mine of themes and inter-related stories which literary scholars refer to as “intertextuality.” Here are some examples:

*The story echoes the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a key influence on the French Revolution and the later Romantic movement. For Rousseau, people are good by nature but are corrupted by society.

*The subtitle of the book is “The Modern Prometheus,” referring to the myth which was the subject of an ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus and a verse drama by Percy Shelley himself. In the myth, the titan Prometheus fashions humanity and gives it the gift of fire. In the book, Victor dreams that "A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me." It didn't quite work out that way. Victor had plenty of troubles and Prometheus was chained to a rock by Zeus. An eagle or vulture would tear out his liver each day. At night, the wounds would heal only to be reopened.

*The creature is also compared to Adam in the Biblical narrative and resembles Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is one of the books the creature read. (See yesterday's discussion of a monster's reading list.) Like Milton's Satan, he reached a point where he said, in effect,

So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse; all good to me is lost.
Evil, be thou my good.

Here are a few of the lasting human themes of this story I came up with:

*The tragic tendency of people to overreach their proper limits, cross forbidden boundaries, and bring about their own destruction (a common theme in myths, literature, history, and... uhhh...politics);

*The dangers of scientific and technological research unchecked by ethical considerations;

*The danger of bringing a being into the world without caring for it;

*The unintended consequences of human action;

*The relationship between emotion and intellect and the dangers of the unchecked will to knowledge (another mythic theme);

*Today, the book reminds me of the increasingly blurry line between the living and the non-living.

Official Goat Rope verdict: Mary did pretty good.

EFCA GOES TO THE SENATE. The Employee Free Choice Act, which passed the U.S. House in March 241-185, is moving to the Senate, where it may come up for a vote as soon as June 20--WV Day. EFCA would effectively restore the right of US workers to form unions by recognizing representation when a majority of workers sign cards indicated their willingness to join. It would also increase penalties on companies that harass, intimidate, or retaliate against workers who try to organize. Among WV's delegation, only Shelley Moore Capito opposed it.

JR. JET SET. According to The Week Magazine,

Wealthy New York City parents are hiring private jets to take their children to summer camp, says The New York Post. Charter company Revolution Air has set aside more than 20 jets for the service, which charges $8,000 per child and offers a special menu of ice cream, chicken fingers, and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches...

THE PENTAGON'S latest assessment of President Bush's Iraq strategy paints a grim picture that tells us what we already knew: the "surge" isn't helping matters.

NEW NOTES. For the Rev. Jim Lewis' latest "Notes from under the Fig Tree," click here.


June 14, 2007


Public domain image courtesy of moviewallpapers.net.

This is Frankenstein Week at Goat Rope. In addition to links to and comments about current events, each day has a post with a theme from Mary Shelley's classic weird novel. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

To recap, Monday's post introduced the topic and told how the book came to be written; Tuesday's had information about Mary Shelley, and Wednesday's summarized the book's plot. Today's is about thoughts, life lessons, and questions that occurred to El Cabrero after reflection on the book.

QUESTION: If you're trying to bring a dead body back to life, wouldn't it be a lot simpler to try it with one single intact body than try a patchwork quilt?


1. Making a monster is probably not a good idea even if you can.

2. Making a monster and then abandoning it is an even worse idea.

3. Promising to make a monster a mate and then backing down is likely to upset the monster.

4. If a monster threatens to screw up your wedding, he might not be just after you.

THOUGHTS ON THE EDUCATION OF A MONSTER. There are a couple of funny and odd digressions in the Frankenstein book. One of my favorites is about how the monster learned to talk and read by observing a family in a cottage. The other has to do with selecting a monster's reading list. In the book, after learning how to read, the monster's library consisted of John Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, and Plutarch's Lives.

That had to be part of the problem. Plutarch was a good choice, but after slogging through Paradise Lost I felt like going on a monstrous rampage and I'm usually pretty laid back.

And Werther--jeez!--for unknown reasons that story of a self absorbed twit who fell in love with a married woman and then took way to long to off himself was a huge hit in late 1700s and early 1800s. It was said to be Napoleon's favorite book. It made melancholy a fashion and even spawned a number of copycat suicides in its heyday.

FINAL QUESTION: What do you think should have been on an early 19th century monster's reading list? El Cabrero's picks: Plutarch can stay, but add Fielding's Tom Jones and Sterne's Tristram Shandy. A laughing monster is a less homicidal monster.

BIG BIRD. Scientists in China have found the remains of a 70 million year old birdlike dinosaur that stood 25 feet tall and weighed around 3,000 pounds. It wasn't fully grown yet either...

RUBY PAINS This week's NY Times Magazine has an article about Ruby Payne, who has made a virtual industry out of her Framework for Understanding Poverty. Payne has become something of an institution in the education and social services field for her workshops and publications on how to deal with people in poverty.

El Cabrero is trying to be nice here. Some of my best friends really like the training. And while I don't deny that many people have found it useful, I have some serious problems with her book. Some of those have to do with basic social science: give an intelligent high school student or college freshman a basic understanding of science methods and he or she could punch any number of holes in this approach.

I've talked to several people who have been through the training and the take-home message they have is "The poor are different." As in they belong to a different and possibly sub-human species. Having spent more years that I'd care to south of the poverty line without conforming to her stereotypes, I have a problem with that.

My main problem with her approach is with what isn't there (at least in the version of her book that I read): changes in U.S. politics, policies and the global economy that have eroded the middle class and shifted income and wealth upward. For Payne, it's all about culture rather than structural social changes.

I think a much better framework for (really) understanding poverty was articulated by Earl Shorris in his 1997 book New American Blues: A Journey through Poverty to Democracy. Shorris describes life in poverty as a "surround of force" which keeps people on the defensive. Too bad that approach didn't have a wider influence.


June 13, 2007


Public domain poster courtesy of moviewallpapers.net.

Welcome to Frankenstein Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts. As mentioned previously, one reason Mary Shelley's story keeps on trucking is because its themes still speak to people.

If your idea of the plot of Frankenstein is taken from most movie versions or take-offs, you might be surprised by the book version.

The story begins when explorer Robert Walton, seeking a northwest passage by sea to the New World, sees a sled driven over the ice. Later, he finds another man on a sled on the ice in a very weakened condition. The man is Victor Frankenstein, who proceeds to tell his story, which goes something like this:

The eldest son of a loving family in Geneva, Victor loves his adoptive sister Elizabeth and younger brother William. Fascinated by the secrets of nature, Victor studies the writings of early alchemists and natural philosophers such as Cornelius Agrippa (after whom one of Goat Rope's goats was named), Paracelcus, and Albertus Magnus. He eventually enters the university at Ingolstadt, where he excels in natural science and begins to ponder the secrets of life and death.

After discovering the secrets of reanimation (conveniently not described by the author), he begins the experiment which will lead to the destruction of all he holds dear.

Assembling parts from various cadavers, he succeeds in bringing his creature to life only to abandon it in horror. The creature is frightened away. Victor succumbs to brain fever and is nursed back to health by childhood friend Henry Clerval, from whom he hides his secret.

On returning home, he discovers that his younger brother has been killed and a trusted household servant Justine has been charged with the murder after an item of his was found on her. She is executed for the crime. We soon learn that the creature is responsible both for killing William and leaving the evidence with the sleeping Justine.

Later, Victor encounters the creature on a mountain, where the latter recounts his sad story of hiding, loneliness, and rejection. He tells of how he learned to speak and write by secretly watching a family living in a humble cabin. The creature demands that Victor prepare a mate for him and promises to leave him and the world in peace if he does so.

Victor eventually journeys to England and prepares to make the “bride of Frankenstein” on a remote Orkney island. Eventually recoiling from the task, he destroys his work. The creature promises a terrible revenge on his wedding night.

Incredibly obtuse for a genius, Victor interprets this as a threat only to himself. Instead, his wife, the companion of his childhood, is strangled. At this point the hunted becomes the hunter as Victor pursues the creature into the Arctic wastes where he is found by Walton.

Victor dies after telling his tale and warning Walton of the danger of excessive ambition. The creature makes a final appearance on the ship, where he tells Walton that his “heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy” and that his abandonment by his creator and resulting isolation led to this tragic chain of events. The monster is last seen traveling across the ice towards his self-destruction.

Walton eventually gives up his quest, perhaps taking to heart part of Victor’s ambiguous warning to “Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in my hopes, yet another may succeed.”

No big electrical scene, no bolts from the neck, more talking, and a rehash of the ancient theme that the sin of hubris invites the retribution of Nemesis. Good though.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Terry Jones, an original member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, had this item in the UK's Guardian about Blackwater and the privatization of war. Thanks to El Ermitano for the heads up!

ACCESS TO EDUCATION. Post secondary education is crucial for economic well-being these days, even while funding for financial aid has been slashed in recent years. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed a plan to make community college education free to state residents by 2015.


June 12, 2007


Poster courtesy of moviewallpapers.net.

Welcome to Goat Rope's official Frankenstein Week. That story of hubris and of a creature destroying its creator is a lasting theme. Good thing it never happens in real life, huh?

If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post. Today's is about both current events and the creator of the story of the creator-destroying creature. We proceed...

Some kids are born with a pretty much zero chance of having a normal life. Whether that's good or bad is a different question.

Mary Shelley, wife and widow of the poet Percy Shelley and author of Frankenstein (see yesterday's post), was a case in point.

She was the daughter of rebel and pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical philosophical anarchist William Godwin. Her mother was said to be the inspiration of William Blake's poem "Mary" of which here is a stanza:

'O, why was I born with a different face?
Why was I not born like this envious race?
Why did Heaven adorn me with bountiful hand,
And then set me down in an envious land?...

Her mother died of the complications of childbirth. Her relationship with her father was complex and that with her stepmother was pretty much right out of the story books. She fell in love with the poet Shelley, who was a fixture in her father's home. Godwin, although a philosophical supporter of the idea of free love, disapproved. The couple eloped but did not immediately wed due Shelley's inconvenient marriage to his first wife Harriet.

Far be it from El Cabrero to over-generalize, but marriages between revolutionary intellectual women and high-strung, indebted, and self-destructive romantic poets are not always the smoothest, although they are seldom the dullest. Their own marriage didn't happen until after Harriet drowned herself and it, like most of her life, could have been the subject of a melodrama.

Speaking of drowning, Percy himself did the same in 1822, leaving Mary a rough road to travel as she struggled to raise their children, promote Percy's legacy as a poet, and continue to write. None of her other works (or Percy's for that matter) came close to the eventual popularity of Frankenstein, which was completed in 1817.

SPEAKING OF CREATURES ON THE LOOSE, economic globalization is having a lot of unanticipated consequences. A recent article from Business Week finds the costs to the US of offshoring jobs is higher than previously believed:

...new evidence suggests that shifting production overseas has inflicted worse damage on the U.S. economy than the numbers show. BusinessWeek has learned of a gaping flaw in the way statistics treat offshoring, with serious economic and political implications. Top government statisticians now acknowledge that the problem exists, and say it could prove to be significant.

The argument is almost as complicated as Mary's life, so I suggest reading the whole thing.

WORTH CHECKING. Inequality, poverty and other economic issues are the focus of this week's NY Times Magazine.


June 11, 2007


Public domain image courtesy of www.moviewallpapers.net.

One dark and story night in Switzerland in 1816, the story goes, a bunch of high strung artsy types decided to write a ghost story. If you were making odds at the time, the smart money would have been on the poetic host, Lord Byron, or his best known guest, the romantic poet Percy Shelley.

Score one for girl power instead. The hands down winner in the eyes of the ages was the work of Percy's young wife Mary, who gave us Frankenstein, which has become the source of many movies, cartoons, comic books, songs, toys, spoofs, etc.

According to Mary, the inspiration came from a waking dream:

I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some power engine shows signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful it must be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

Maybe one reason why the story of Frankenstein's monster has such (anonymously "donated") legs is that it was a prescient metaphor for modern life, when our own creations and actions sometimes get away from us and do a lot of unintended damage.

At the very least, it ought to help fill up a week's worth of blogging...

SPEAKING OF UNLEASHED MONSTERS, if you haven't already seen Newsweek's "After Bush" item, here is a little sampling:

Today, by almost all objective measures, the United States sits on top of the world. But the atmosphere in Washington could not be more different from 1982. We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed. While the Bush administration has contributed mightily to this state of affairs, at this point it has reversed itself on many of its most egregious policies—from global warming to North Korea to Iraq.

In any event, it is time to stop bashing George W. Bush. We must begin to think about life after Bush—a cheering prospect for his foes, a dismaying one for his fans (however few there may be at the moment). In 19 months he will be a private citizen, giving speeches to insurance executives. America, however, will have to move on and restore its place in the world. To do this we must first tackle the consequences of our foreign policy of fear. Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face.

HIGH ROAD OR LOW ROAD? There's been a lot of talk among WV's anti-labor right wing about "unleashing capitalism." I think they are at least 100 years late. Also, I'm not aware of too many people here who advocate for state ownership of the means of production or the collectivization of agriculture (although the possibility of having the goats around here confiscated sounds pretty good at times). The real question is, how can we promote high quality economic development for West Virginia in a way that benefits its people?

The economic royalists want a war on labor, starting with pushing for so-called "right to work" laws, which are more like right to work for less, as I argue here. That would be the low road.

There is a better way, one which might actually work:

West Virginia’s future economy is dependent primarily on one thing — investment in people, said Tom Witt, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University.

“We need to keep an eye on this ball,” he told the Charleston Rotary Club on Friday. “This is going to affect our long-term economic development.”

Investing in people means more education, on-the-job training and health care, so people can become productive in the labor market, Witt said. People must also be encouraged to take part in the economy by actively seeking jobs and/or education, he said.

That would be the high road.