October 27, 2007


For first time visitors, this blog generally covers fairly serious human issues during the week. Weekends, however, are reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we once more with some hesitation feature a commentary by a snapping turtle who refuses to identify himself and who is known simply as The Untrustworthy Reptile. We do not endorse his message nor do we assume any liability for those who act upon his suggestions. Indeed, it is only by virtue of our deep commitment to the First Amendment (although the extent to which it applies to reptiles is unclear) that we agreed, however reluctantly, to run this feature.

It is our deepest hope that by providing space for the expression of (bio) diverse viewpoints that we can elevate the level of discourse and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


Hey you...yeah, you...the fat one. C'mere. Man, I feel the earth shake when you walk.

You are one porkerino--I bet you got your own zip code! A little bit more of dragging that carcass around and you're gonna be buzzard chow. No wonder you can't get any dates...

You know what you need? You need to lose some weight--fast. And I got just the thing for you. It's a special recipe made from centipede mucus. All you gotta do is rub a little bit of it on your bloated self. Then you can just sit back and watch the pounds melt away. And the best part is you can eat and drink anything you want! Guzzle down all the beer and pizza you can hold.

Did I mention it lowers cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, shark attack, and parking tickets? Well, it does!

I tell you what--since you are so pathetic looking I'm gonna give it to you free. I keep some in the back of my mouth in a little vial at all times. One little dose and you're set for life.

All you gotta do is reach in and help yourself. Just stick your hand part way in there for a second. Just for a second and then it'll all be good...

Hey! Where are you going? Come back here, you stupid blimp! OK, fine, pop open and rot! See if I care! I hate you!


October 26, 2007


Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

This is the final day of Pirate Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

As you have probably noticed, there is always a party pooper or two around to spoil the fun in life. The Golden Age of Piracy (1715-1725) as described by Colin Woodard in The Republic of Pirates, was brought to an end largely through the actions of one man, Woodes Rogers.

Rogers was a slave trader, sometime privateer, and eventual agent of the British crown who applied a combination of carrots and sticks in and around the Bahamas and made the world save for slave traders, plantation owners, oppressive merchants, despotic monarchs and other respectable people.

However, El Cabrero is convinced we can learn a thing or two from the pirates that can help us out today as we battle the powers that be. I call it "the power of piratical thinking" or Vitamin P for short.

Here's an example. I have a friend who has been fighting the good fight for decades. Lately he seems grim, discouraged, and worn down about the state of the world and the state of the war.

He needs a little Vitamin P...

A good pirate does not become overly distraught at the state of the world. He or she knows the world is pretty much totally jacked anyway. That's why we became pirates to start with, right?

Rather, a good pirate, when not engaged in the honorable pursuits of debauchery and Dionysian revelry, continually scans the horizon for suitable prey...I mean opportunities for positive action.

And when you see a ship you can take, take it!

Don't waste time worrying about the ones you can't. We'll get em later. In other words, focus on the things you can actually affect. The key to mental health is to think less like a purist and more like a pirate.


SCOTT RITTER, former UN arms inspector, spoke about war and peace at WV State last night.

HISSY FITS have become a conservative art form. Read more here.

ARE YOU A TERRORIST? If you have concerns about unrestricted mountaintop removal mining, you just might be according to the WV Coal Association.

THE LATEST on the Megan Williams case is here.

EUROPE'S economic system was once the target of scorn in the US. This column from The Cincinnati Post suggests we take a second look.

HEALTH CARE. One hard-headed reason to push for universal health care is the high cost of providing emergency room service to the uninsured.


October 25, 2007


Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Welcome to Pirate Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

As mentioned previously, compared to the miserable lot of sailors on Royal Navy or merchant vessels, pirates of the Golden Age (1715-1725) did pretty good. They elected their leaders democratically, made decisions in councils, shared their loot fairly and even provided benefits for those injured in the line of...well, piracy. They were often viewed as folk heroes among the lower classes.

By contrast, "legitimate" sailors, military or commercial were typically viewed as little better than common criminals. Samuel Johnson once said that their lot was similar to that of a prisoner, with the added possibility of drowning.

The work was extremely dangerous. Falling from masts or sails, getting swept overboard, hernias or other injuries from straining with cargo were only a few of the possibilities. And don't forget constant exposure to the elements, overcrowding, filthy conditions, bad food, widespread diseases and floggings or beatings from tyrannical captains, and disappearing wages.

Colin Woodard, author of The Republic of Pirates describes conditions for sailors in merchant vessels thus:

They slept in densely packed rows of hammocks in this dark and poorly ventilated space, which reeked of bilge water and unwashed flesh. Lice, rats, and cockroaches swarmed the vessel, spreading diseases like typhus, typhoid, and the plague. Gottleib Mittleberger, who crossed the Atlantic in 1750, reported that the cabins were a place of "stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, consumption, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth rot and the like, all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably."

You can see why the Jolly Roger looked pretty good.

A SMALLER ARK. According to this estimate, global climate change could result in mass extinctions.

MEANWHILE BACK AT THE STRIP MINE... Bush administration rule changes for mountaintop removal mining caused some controversy at a public hearing yesterday.

THE PLOT THICKENS. Out of state groups have plans for a protest regarding the Megan Williams case, a move some local organizations, such as the WV NAACP and the Logan County Improvement League, do not support. Things are already heating up.

MAUREEN DOWD ROCKS ON. Here's one of my favorite columnists on the Bush administration's race for yet another war. I love the lead:

Dick Cheney’s craziness used to influence foreign policy.

Now it is foreign policy.

HERE'S A SWITCH. Don Blankenship is dropping lawsuit against political opponents.


October 24, 2007


Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

This is Pirate Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

As mentioned yesterday, pirates of the Golden Age (1715-1725) were folk heroes to many members of the lower classes--including sailors in the Royal Navy and in merchant vessels, many of whom would voluntarily join them given the chance. According to Colin Woodard, author of The Republic of Pirates,

They were sailors, indentured servants, and runaway slaves rebelling against their oppressors: captains, ship owners, and the autocrats of the great slave plantations of America and the West Indies.

Consider the lot of a sailor on a merchant vessel. In Woodard's words,

Merchants were compelled to adopt aggressive tactics to fill their crews. Some hired "spirits," or men who, in the words of sailor Edward Barlow, went about inns and taverns looking to "entice any who they think are country people or strangers...or any who they think are out of place and cannot get work and are walking idly about the streets."

The spirits promised good wages and cash in advance but wound up keeping several months of the sailor's wages as a commission. Some captains relied on "crimps" who took advantage of drunkards or indebted people or resorted to outright kidnapping. Once on board, the sailors were legally obliged to serve until the end of a voyage that could last for months or years.

The Royal Navy offered worse pay and harsher punishments and often resorted to press gangs that would round up any seaman or unfortunate soul they could find to meet the quote of men.

As we'll see tomorrow, the conditions aboard ship were pretty terrible.

I don't know about y'all, but I'm about ready to take the pirate oath...

MEGAN WILLIAMS SPEAKS. Here's an interview by AP with Megan Williams.

KANT WOULD CALL THIS "HETERONOMY." It appears some folks at the (WV) State Journal, a business paper sometimes more ideological than commercial, have adopted the position that because the coal industry might be inconvenienced if the human contribution to global warming was acknowledged it therefore isn't happening. Meanwhile, check this out.

IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN according to this Business Week article.

BAD MEDICINE. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the decline in family incomes will have serious health impacts in this country.

ALONG THOSE LINES, here's a briefing paper by the Economic Policy Institute on the impact of globalization in its current form on wages for US workers.

MORE ON BOOK BANNING. According to this Gazette piece, author Pat Conroy has responded to efforts to ban his books from AP classes in Kanawha County. Here's his letter to the editor.


October 23, 2007


Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Welcome to Pirate Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

Many people have been entertained in recent years by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, although for El Cabrero's money Errol Flynn's Captain Blood is still the pick of the litter.

For a good look at what real pirates were like in "the Golden Age of piracy," check out Colin Woodard's book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man who Brought Them Down.

The Golden Age lasted for around 10 years between 1715 and 1725 and was based in the Bahamas. Many pirates got their start in "legitimate" ways, as sailors or privateers in the European dynastic wars in the early 1700s.

Although the ruling classes did their best to stoke up anti-pirate hysteria in those years, they were actually folk heroes to many ordinary sailors and subjects. And for at least some good reason--compared with the rapacity of the ruling classes of the period, the pirates were pretty mild and pretty appealing. Here's Woodward:

They ran their ships democratically, electing and deposing their captains by popular vote, sharing plunder equally, and making important decisions in open council--all in sharp contrast to the dictatorial regimes in place aboard other ships. At a time when ordinary sailors received no social protections of any kind, the Bahamian pirates provided disability benefits for their crews.

Back in the day, they were a multinational and multiracial band and there were even some prominent women pirates.

Aaarrgghh indeed!

SPEAKING OF PIRATES... this op-ed by Holly Sklar is worth a look. Here's the lead:

When it comes to producing billionaires, America is doing great.

And here's the punchline:

Inequality has roared back to 1920s levels. It was bad for our nation then. It's bad for our nation now.

The middle is worth checking out too.

BAD MOON RISING. Former Marine and UN arms inspector Scott Ritter will be visiting El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia this week. Here's his latest piece preventing war with Iran.

YOUNGER EVANGELICALS have some different priorities, according to this item from the Dallas Morning News:

For many conservative evangelical Christians younger than 30, family values mean more than the issues of gay marriage, abortion and prayer in school. Poverty, health care and the environment are also matters of faith.

CENSORING CONROY. It's deja vu all over again in the case of the efforts to ban the use of Pat Conroy's novels in AP English classes.

FIREFIGHTERS are cool. Alas, El Cabrero never got to revive a cat during his short and inglorious career as a volunteer firefighter.

SLEEP ON IT. As this science item from the NY Times suggests, it'll probably help.

PERCHANCE TO DREAM. This accompanying piece suggests that a possible function for bad dreams is to help the brain process fear.


October 22, 2007


Photo credit: WPA poster from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Welcome to Pirate Week at Goat Rope. So hoist the Jolly Roger, stock up on grog and plan to stop by this week.

El Cabrero is not always in sync with popular culture, but I'll give it this one. Old school pirates can be entertaining.

I first started thinking about piracy as an adult while reading Patrick O'Brian's novels about the Napoleonic Wars, the series that inspired Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The main characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, were funny and fascinating. It was kind of like Jane Austen with naval battles.

One thing the Royal Navy at the time had in common with piracy was the prize system, whereby every sailor got a share of the value of an enemy ship captured or sunk. O'Brian would frequently speak of the "piratical gleam" in Aubrey's eyes while he pursued a prize. Of course, those with more rank got most of the prize money; as we'll see later, real pirates got a better deal.

It occurred to me at the time that people who try to work for social justice could use a piratical streak.

A little bit closer to real pirates were privateers, which you can think of as an early form of military contractors. The captain of a privateer would be issued a Letter of Marque allowing him to pursue legitimate targets and keep the rewards.

Real pirates were total freelancers, where loyalty was often reserved to the pirate band, which was surprisingly democratic and egalitarian. When you look at the Powers That Were in those days--despotic monarchies, slaveholders and slave-traders, greedy merchantmen--it makes you wonder who the real pirates were.

More on that tomorrow...

HARD TIMES. The news from this AP story probably won't come as much of a surprise to anyone: it's getter harder for lots of people to make ends meet:

What used to last four days might last half that long now. Pay the gas bill, but skip breakfast. Eat less for lunch so the kids can have a healthy dinner.

Across the nation, Americans are increasingly unable to stretch their dollars to the next payday as they juggle higher rent, food and energy bills. It's starting to affect middle-income working families as well as the poor, and has reached the point of affecting day-to-day calculations of merchants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7-Eleven Inc. and Family Dollar Stores Inc.

Food pantries, which distribute foodstuffs to the needy, are reporting severe shortages and reduced government funding at the very time that they are seeing a surge of new people seeking their help.

NEW FIG TREE NOTES OFF THE "PRESSES." Jim Lewis muses about Minnesota, mortality and more in his latest Notes from Under the Fig Tree. Here's a nugget from there that I had missed:

Just recently, the Pentagon airdropped soccer balls into Afghanistan in an effort to win the “hearts and minds” of the people. The balls had verses of the Koran printed on them. The people were furious. It’s insulting to put Koranic verses on the ground and then kick them around. An apology from the Pentagon was forthcoming. That’s fact, not fiction.


TO MARKET, TO MARKET. This op-ed of El Cabrero's about the Nobel Prize in economics ran in yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail. It also got picked up by Common Dreams.

PROBLEM CHILDREN. I'm a big fan of fellow Gazette op-ed writer Perry Mann. Here's his latest on the simplistic take on the problems of children and families these days.

PRIVATIZATION. Here's Naomi Klein on the outsourcing of government services.

WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? The University of California, Riverside has come up with a novel recruiting method:

UC Riverside is using a cockroach petting zoo to attract students and parents to an upcoming recruitment fair. The zoo will include several species, including cockroaches that emit a foul, ammonia-like scent and the famous, palm-sized Madagascar hissing cockroach.

I bet the competition between the stinking and hissing cockroaches is fierce...