May 03, 2008


"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'" --Friedrich Nietzsche

May 02, 2008


The theme at Goat Rope lately has been writing about social change. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find news and links about current events.

Some of the most effective writing to make good things happen or keep bad things from happening--or, failing both, to make bad behavior hurt some--isn't the writing you and I might do, Gentle Reader, as important as that might be...It's the writing we try to get other people to do.

In my experience, alerting the public or raising the noise level is hugely important in campaigns for social justice. On several occasions in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, I've seen change happen when the Bad Noise gets too loud.

Often, this may involve knowing what would make a legitimate news story and alerting reporters about it, especially if you stumble upon a juicy tidbit of reliable information. Surfacing an issue can send ripples out all over as the story gets picked up by more and more media outlets. It's kind of fun to line up a string of dominoes and watch them fall down. I've seen it happen several times at the state level and on more than one occasion I've pitched stories to national publications to draw outside attention to events here.

At other times, meeting with the editorial boards of newspapers or contacting columnists can help--provided that you offer reliable information. Encouraging people to write letters to the editor or op-eds on a given topic at the right time can help.

Bloggers also have a role to play in raising awareness among their readers. There have also been many occasions where an issue that wasn't being covered in the regular media finally got covered after bloggers raised the noise level. My advice to bloggers would be 1. encourage others to do the same when the time is right and 2. don't just blog. There's all kind of other media out there. Don't assume that all other doors are locked if there's an important issue to raise.

Bottom line: If you're really interesting in making a difference, don't think of writing as something a solitary individual does...think of it as a group effort. One dog may start the barking, but you can really raise the roof when they all chime in.

Just try not to bark unless there's something really there.

A DREAM DEFERRED. Forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., racial disparities in wealth and income persist.

BEFORE THE BUBBLE BURST. A new study by the Economic Policy Institute argues that the economic recovery of 2001-2007 wasn't anything to write home about.


CULT CLASSICS. We've all heard of cult film classics. From the UK Telegraph, here's a list of cult book classics. Are any of your favorites there?


May 01, 2008


Lady Fortuna and her wheel (in pre-game show days), courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately has been writing for positive social change, although you'll also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

How you approach writing for social change depends on where the accent is. If your main interest is on writing, you might approach it one way. But if you're mostly after results, another approach might work better. For me, the latter has more appeal.

As Bob Dylan put it,

Up on Housing Project Hill
It's either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim

Both would be nice, but I guess I'd prefer fortune.

The main difference between fortune and fame is that people who want fame like to be front and center, whether with bullhorns or bylines. The problem with this is that the message sometimes gets all mixed up with the messenger. If it's fortune you're after, while there may be times when you'll be visible if that would help move things along, that's not the main goal. Some of the most important and effective work takes place behind the scenes.

This is also true when it comes to writing. Some of the most useful kinds are the alphanumeric equivalent of grunt work: alerts, talking points, reports, letters to the editor or officials, issue briefs. In fact, some of the most important kinds of writing involve getting other people to write.

More on that tomorrow, but first...


You-know-who-you-know-when, once again courtesy of wikipedia.

Senator Byrd had this to say about that.

NEXT STOP: IRAN? Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, thinks the Bush administration may try to make a bad situation much worse. One can hardly wait for the next aircraft carrier photo op. McGovern spoke Tuesday at WV State University at an event sponsored by Seneca 2. I meant to blog that yesterday. My bad.

BIG PAYOFFS. Investments in our crumbling infrastructure make sense for all kinds of reasons.

URGENT COLOSSAL SQUID UPDATE. They have eyes 11 inches wide, bigger than a dinner plate. Check out the picture.


April 30, 2008


Eos chasing Tithonus in happier times. Urn courtesy of wikipedia.

It is pretty well established that one should be careful in what one asks for when petitioning the gods for a favor. One should also be specific.

Take the case of Tithonus in Greek mythology. He was the lover of Eos or Dawn. Eos asked Zeus to grant him immortality, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. He kept getting older and older but wasn't able to die. According to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite,

... when the first strands of gray hair started growing
from his beautiful head and his noble chin,
then the Lady Eos stopped coming to his bed.
But she nourished him, keeping him in her palace,
with grain and ambrosia. And she gave him beautiful clothes.
But when hateful old age was pressing hard on him, with all its might,
and he couldn’t move his limbs, much less lift them up,
then...she thought up this plan, a very good one indeed:
she put him in her chamber, and she closed the shining doors over him.
From there his voice pours out—it seems never to end—and he has no strength at all, the kind he used to have in his limbs when they could still bend.

In another version, he shrivels up and turns into a cicada who constantly begs for death.

Doh! I hate it when that happens.

When El Cabrero was younger, I petitioned the gods to let me be a writer. The petition was granted, sort of. I've written a lot of stuff, some of which may have been marginally useful in a few smallish campaigns but none of which is particularly memorable.

I should have been more specific....something like "Let me be as good a writer as Melville in his prime but more commercially successful and with a much less miserable personal and family life than he had...Oh, yeah, and let some of it make a difference."

That would have been awesome.

YOU SOO ALREADY KNEW THIS. The economy is like bad or something.

VENGEANCE IS WHOSE? Jared Diamond, author of Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel reflects on the drive for revenge in this New Yorker article.

FALLEN IDOL. The International Monetary Fund, which Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls a "creditors cartel," has seen better days...which might not be such a bad thing. Economist Jeffrey Sachs is quoted in this piece as saying that "the IMF has become the Typhoid Mary of emerging markets, spreading recessions in country after country."

HUNGRY PLANET. This item from The Nation discusses the global food crisis.

GET MOVING. Exercise, dammit.



April 29, 2008


Karate master, calligrapher and poet Gichin Funakoshi, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope this week is writing for social change. You'll also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

For me, writing and fighting (mostly metaphorically) have always been entwined. The idea that I should try to learn to write came to me at the same time in early adolescence that I aspired to learn traditional Okinawan/Japanese martial arts.

In that tradition, the two are connected. There is an old saying among samurai that goes something like "Ken Zen ichi," which means that the sword (or fist) and Zen are one. As a idiom, it also implies that mind and body and sword and pen are one. A basic idea of traditional martial arts is that one should develop one's full potential in all areas. (It took awhile, but I eventually found that Aristotle said pretty much the same thing in ancient Greece.)

Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), widely regarded as the founder of modern karate, put it this way in one of his early works:

Deep within the shadows of human culture lurk seeds of destruction, just as rain and thunder follow in the wake of fair weather. History is the story of the rise and fall of nations. Change is the order of heaven and earth; the sword and pen are as inseparable as the two wheels of a cart. Thus, a man must encompass both fields if he is to be considered a man of accomplishment. If he is overly complacent, trusting that the fair weather will last forever, he will one day be caught off guard by terrible floods and storms. So it is essential for all of us to prepare each day for any unexpected emergency.

It was also from that tradition that I acquired my one abiding political idea: to wit, it is dishonorable and disgusting when people with power try to kick around people who can't kick back. And since much of our political and economic world seems to run on precisely that, I tend to find myself going against the current.

I don't know if this is exactly what Funakoshi had in mind with the sword/pen thing, but to a martial artist good fighting (in the sense of the merging of techniques, tactics, and timing) can be as aesthetically pleasing as good writing, music etc. And in the context of social change, good writing--broadly conceived--can a powerful force in the fight to make things less bad or a little better.

For that matter, a good campaign or fight, metaphorically speaking, can be aesthetically pleasing and even elegant if it blends timing and technique and strategy.

They don't call them arts for nothing.

BUSHONOMICS. For many Americans, the recession of 2001 never ended.

JOBS AND HEALTH CARE. A new study suggests that rising unemployment will strain public health care programs like Medicaid.

BIOBIGOTRY. Here's an article about the human tendency to project moral categories onto animals.

WHO'D HAVE THUNK IT? Scientists are using bats to promote reforestation.


April 28, 2008


A friend of El Cabrero's recently asked me to help out in a workshop on the topic of writing for social change. The invitation prompted many thoughts and this is as good a place as any to unload them.

First up, over the last 20 years, I've been involved in several campaigns aimed at improving conditions or making things less bad for workers, children, and low income people and some of them have been successful. And some kind of writing by some people has played a part in just about every one of them.

It does seem that those who are able to craft and convey messages effectively, which at some point means writing, have a big advantage over those who aren't, all things being equal. However, all things usually aren't equal and writing by itself usually isn't enough to make something good happen or keep something bad from happening. That usually involves coalitions, social capital and networking, strategy, research, civic engagement, etc.

Writing won't get you all the way there, but you probably won't get there without it.

More tomorrow.

ONCE UPON A TIME, one income was enough to raise a family. What happened? Here are economist Jared Bernstein's reflections.

BELT TIGHTENING. From changing habits to meal planning, the recession is hitting home all over.

SUPPLY SIDE SNAKE OIL. Here's another nail in the coffin of the idea that tax cuts "pay for themselves."

DE COLORES. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree. It's pretty colorful.

DIAL A BUG WITH A PLANT. I'm not sure what relevance this item has to the topic at hand, whatever that may be, but recent studies by ecologists suggest that above ground and underground insects communicate with each other using plants "like telephones."