December 01, 2007


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

This weekend, we once again welcome back Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shardor Shegg-AY), our offical 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. As a result, he has sometimes been known to transpose the plots of the movies he discusses. Nevertheless, we believe that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

This weekend, Mr. Sege will discuss The Rocky Horror Picture Show.


OK, this movie is like a documentary or something. These two people named Brad and Janet have car trouble and have to walk to this castle where there's all these weird people walking around in underwear and singing.

Sometimes Moomus does that.

The weirdest person in the castle is Frankenfurter, who is like this guy from India trying to lead his country to independence. He wears robes and makes people march for salt and get beat up.

I like salt on popcorn but not as much as butter. If I was going to get beat up, I'd rather do it for butter.

Anyway, Frankenfurter wants to be all peaceful with the British until he gets kicked out of Cuba. Then he becomes like this big drug dealer guy who uses the same word over and over and has white powder all over his face.

I guess it's salt.

He goes on this big adventure to get his bicycle back after somebody steals it, does a tequila dance in a motorcycle bar, and winds up with his girlfriend Dotty after he gets his bike back. They make a movie about it but it's like a movie in a movie.

There's a lot of symbolism in this movie. The bicycle stands for liberation and you have to give up a lot of salt or something to get it.

Doodus says he likes the parts where the hot nun sings. Moomus says she's not a nun in this movie and that Doodus is a dork.


November 30, 2007


Caption: This is Poe's black cat or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Pretty scary, huh?

Welcome to the last day of Edgar Allan Poe Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts. You will also find links and comments about current events.

El Cabrero can't think of a better way to wrap up the week than with his selection of Greatest Hits from Poe's short stories.

Here goes:

*Cask of Amontillado. This tale of revenge by burial alive is a hoot. It's probably Poe at his most darkly humorous. I love the first paragraph:

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Aside from beautiful dead women, Poe had a major fixation about live burial. It was even better for him when a not quite dead beautiful woman was buried alive. Something like that happened in The Fall of The House of Usher.

*The Masque of the Red Death. A little justice is done by Death in this story, which shows that even rich folks have to pay the piper. Here are some first lines:

THE "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."

But the Red Death had the last word. I love the last line:

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

*The Pit and the Pendulum. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, much less the hapless narrator of this tale.

*The Telltale Heart. Although El Cabrero's taste for the theme of heats has diminished in the wake of his own cardio problems, this one is still a keeper. Again, some great first lines:

TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

I didn't include The Black Cat as I am a friend to the feline.

Did I miss any of your favorites?

CALLING IT A WIN. The United Mine Workers is declaring victory after an NLRB judge ruled in their favor in a dispute with Massey Energy at the Mammoth mine in Kanawha County, WV. Here's hoping it's over. Massey will appeal.

GASSING DOWN. A new study suggests the US could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent with relatively little costs.

SHINY UNHAPPY PEOPLE. El Cabrero's beloved state of WV comes within a hair of leading the nation in depression and suicide. Basic economic justice issues seem to be a major factor:

People who are college educated and have health insurance are less likely to be depressed or suicidal, the study concluded. About 245,000 of 1.8 million West Virginians are without health insurance, and roughly 16 percent have college degrees.

West Virginia also has a relatively low number of mental health professionals compared to other states. West Virginia has about eight psychiatrists and 10 psychologists per 100,000 people, compared with 22 and 83, respectively, in neighboring Maryland, one of the healthiest states in the country.

In addition, more than 17 percent of West Virginians report being unable to afford health care, about double the rate of South Dakota, which had the lowest depression rate.

CALAMITY JANE. This one from alternet suggests we move beyond the Jane Austen vogue. El Cabrero, however, is a big fan.


November 29, 2007


Caption: From a 1513 woodcut by Albrecht Duerer. Ride, boldly ride, if you seek El Dorado.

Welcome to Edgar Allan Poe Week at Goat Rope. In addition to comments and links about current events, it's all Poe all the time this week. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As mentioned yesterday, Ralph Waldo Emerson once referred to Poe as "the jingle-man." He had a point. Poe's poems were kind of obsessed with meter and can have an effect somewhere between hypnotic and irritating.

While some, like say The Conqueror Worm, are just kind of weird and gross, others hold up pretty well.

Here's El Cabrero's selection of Poe's Greatest Poetic Hits:

*The Raven. A perennial favorite. Here's the first stanza for old time's sake:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."

Once, when I was bored at a meeting, I wrote a parody of it with a little help from a friend (you know who you are, E.D.) as it might have been performed by Snoop Dogg. Alas, the manuscript has been lost. As a consolation prize, here's a cool interactive Raven website.

*Eldorado. This poem about a knight so bold was published in 1849 and was probably inspired by the California gold rush. I still like these lines:

"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"

*Annabel Lee. Poe had a major thing for beautiful dead women. This one goes out to anyone who has ever loved with a love that was more than love.

*The Bells. This is the jingle man at his most jingly. The late folk singer Phil Ochs did a really good musical version of this if you can find it.

And here's a bonus feature. In 1846, Poe wrote an essay titled "The Philosophy of Composition," which was really about how he wrote The Raven. It's unintentionally funny since he attempts to present the poem as the work of simple deductive reasoning. As he explained it, melancholy and death are the ideal subjects for poetic beauty and nothing could be more melancholy than the death of a beautiful and beloved woman. QED.

Everybody got that?

THE RACE IS ON between wages and inflation, but it looks like inflation is coming out ahead, according to the latest Economic Policy Institute snapshot.


THAT'S A RELIEF...Rush Limbaugh, international science expert, says there's nothing to climate change.

NEW NOTES. Here's the latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

PERSONALS. SS, thanks for the Poe action figure! RC from Milton, thanks for the raven--Poe forever!--and watch out for Mean the Shark!


November 28, 2007


Welcome to Edgar Allan Poe Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

In some ways, Edgar Allan Poe is the Rodney Dangerfield of American literature--he don't get no respect.

T.S. Eliot said some snarky things about him, for example, once stating that Poe "had the intellect of a highly gifted young person before puberty."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the literary eminence of the early and mid 1800s, famously referred to him in a letter as "the jingle-man." To be fair, if you do read or hear more than the proper measure of his poetry, the jingles are very audible.

But here's the deal, Ralphie and Tommy Boy: more people know The Telltale Heart and The Raven than Self Reliance or The Waste Land.

(Note: I'm not implying that this is necessarily good thing.)

John Allan, his foster father, had a pretty sharp take on Poe's genius: "His talents are of an order that can never prove a comfort to their possessor."

Here's James Russell Lowell's take in verse:

"There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge
Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge,
Who talks like a book of iambs and pentameters,
In a way to make people of common sense damn metres,
Who has written some things quite the best of their kind,
But the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by the mind."

The snooty Henry James--who was nowhere near as cool as his brother William--wrote that

With all due respect to the very original genius of the author of the Tales of Mystery, it seems to us that to take him with more than a certain degree of seriousness is to lack seriousness one's self. An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.

Walt Whitman was more charitable:

Poe’s verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty, with the rhyming art to excess, an incorrigible propensity toward nocturnal themes, a demoniac undertone behind every page—and, by final judgment, probably belong among the electric lights of imaginative literature, brilliant and dazzling, but with no heat. There is an indescribable magnetism about the poet’s life and reminiscences, as well as the poems.

(If it's any consolation, they loved him in France. But then they liked Jerry Lewis and Derrida over there too.)

But here's the deal: it doesn't really matter what the critics think. Poe has won the verdict of popularity. He was the father of the modern detective story and horror tale and a major early influence on science fiction. Those are three of the most popular literary genres (i.e. they are things people read voluntarily).

The accursed heart still beats...

AN ANNIVERSARY TO REMEMBER. Seventy five years ago this month, FDR--peace be unto him--was elected to the presidency.

THE SCIENCE OF MORALITY is the subject of this article from Time.

SPEAKING OF MORALITY AND SCIENCE, here's a good slam on economic libertarianism with a science slant.



November 27, 2007


If you'd survey a group of reading Americans and ask them to name a writer whose life was a real downer, it's a pretty safe bet that Edgar Allan Poe's name would be at or near the top of the list.

There's no way around it. The dude had a melancholy existence. But people often tend to think it was worse than it actually was by identifying the man with the narrators of his stories and poems. He was jacked but not that jacked.

(On the other hand, who else could have written stories and poems like that?)

Poe was born in 1809 to David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, both of whom were actors. The father appears to have deserted the family early on and his mother died around his second year.

He was raised although not adopted by John and Frances "Fanny" Allan of Richmond, Virginia. The relationship became frayed as Poe aged. He attended the University of Virginia but had to drop out when Allan refused to pay his debts, some of which may have been gambling related.

He eventually joined the army, where he did very well as an enlisted man, rising to the rank of sergeant major for artillery. When Fanny Allan faced her final illness at the age of 44, from her deathbed she urged the reconciliation of Poe and Allan.

(Note: another significant woman in his life died--major theme.)

With Allan's help, Poe gained an appointment to West Point. He did fine at first but lack of money and quarrels with Allan led to his eventual expulsion in 1831. In 1836 he married his teenaged cousin Virginia Clemm, his "child bride." Clemm was around 13at the time. There's all kind of speculation about the marriage and whether it was ever consummated. Along the way, he published short stories and poems and eventually worked as an editor and critic for several publications.

He lost a third significant other when Virginia died in 1847 after a long illness. During her sickness, Poe once wrote that "I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity."

No wonder his writings are full of beautiful dead women...

Poe also had a drinking problem, although it may have had to do more with quality than quantity. He apparently didn't drink a lot but couldn't handle the liquor he drank. He died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore in Oct. 1849.

Next time: Poe and the critics.

MARKET PLACE OF IDEAS. The right wing in the US has been engaged in yet another hissy fit over the presence of professors in our colleges and universities whose opinions they dislike. A group has been formed to preserve the free exchange of ideas on campuses. Many allied groups, such as the AFLCIO, have joined.

GLOOMY MOOD. Here's Paul Krugman on America's current mood of economic pessimism.

WHO'S RICH, ANYWAY? Definitions can be confusing, as this Washington Post column points out.

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT. Can you believe this story from AP?

Service members seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan after they received a $10,000 bonus for enlisting are being asked by the Pentagon to repay portions of the incentive money, says a U.S. senator who calls the practice an example of military policy gone wrong.

Sticking with the Poe theme, I call that The Telltale Heartless.

A DANIEL COME TO JUDGEMENT! A NLRB judge has ruled that Massey Energy discriminated against union workers after it bought the Horizon mine in Kanawha County.

UH-OH--THEY'VE CAUGHT ON. Gorillas have been observed using "weapons" against human invaders for the first time. If goats follow their lead, El Cabrero could be in big trouble.


November 26, 2007


Photo credit: sektordua by way of

Welcome to Poe Week at Goat Rope. Why now, you may ask? Why not?

Besides, we are approaching the bleak December and it won't be long before each separate dying ember will have wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Also, Poe was a big factor in my life. El Cabrero was a haunted child, thanks largely to the efforts of my old man.

When I was a very little kid, my dad took great delight in reading Edgar Allan Poe's stories and poems aloud to me. They scared the bejesus out of me, and I loved every minute of it.

The Telltale Heart, The Black Cat, etc., and especially The Raven, much of which I once memorized.

My brother, who was eight years older, was keenly aware of all this. He took his own great delight in picking up a phone, pretending to dial the Plutonian shores, asking to speak with the Raven, and requesting that he come get his little brother Ricky.

The Poe factor was amplified when I spent time at the ancestral farm in Tazewell, Va., just across the McDowell County line. It was an old crumbling place in an isolated hollow with a mouldering family graveyard on the hill. Nights were darker there. I spent a lot of time alone soaking up that atmosphere as a kid.

Holy fall of the house of Ussher, Batman! I'm not saying it was haunted but it definitely had hoodoo.

Normality was never an option.

Aside from link and comments about current events, there will be a Poe theme here every day this week.

Only this and nothing more...

TALK ABOUT SOMETHING SCARY. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses the nightmarish Bush legacy here.

ON THE SAME NOTE, here's a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that does a good job of mythbusting about tax cuts.

ARCHIVEGATE GOES NATIONAL. The fallout from the Manchin administration's unsportsmanlike firing of a dedicated WV state archivist continues. Here's a summary from Lincoln Walks at Midnight.

THIS IS KIND OF FREUDIAN. Old Sig could have a field day with Poe--jeez, where would you start? According to this article, Freud is alive and well in university classes, but not so much in the psychology departments.