September 06, 2008


A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more
than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green
stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see
and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic...

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself


September 05, 2008


Odysseus and his men blinding the cyclops Polyphemus, courtesy of wikipedia.

The Goat Rope series on the Odyssey of Homer continues. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

Things aren't looking good for Odysseus and his men at this stage of the game. By day, they are locked in the cave of the cyclops Polyphemus while he grazes his goats and sheep. By night, the one-eyed wonder chomps down on Odysseus' men. The good news is that Polyphemus is feeling generous and gave Odysseus a gift: he'll be the last one to get eaten.

I prefer gift certificates...

The classical scholar Peter Meineck has argued that the story of Odysseus in the cave can be seen as an initiation story. He is separated from the ordinary world and put in a situation where he has to undergo an ordeal and learn something to make it out. His eventual emergence from the cave can be seen as a kind of rebirth. That may be true, but Odysseus doesn't seem to gain a whole lot of insight.

At any rate, he's in a situation where mere force and violence won't help much. If he and his men kill the cyclops, they're doomed to die in the cave, which is sealed by a huge stone.

You probably remember this part of the story. Odysseus gets the Big Boy drunk one night with some super-powered wine he just happened to bring. They have a conversation in which he identifies himself as Nobody. After the cyclops passes out from the wine, he and his remaining crew blind the cyclops with a sharpened pole that has been heated in the fire.

I will spare the Gentle Reader the details. Suffice it to say that Odysseus and his men don't just put it part way in for a second. They plunge it in deep and grind it over and over. The physiological details are excruciating.

When Polyphemus screams, other cyclops gather around and ask what is the problem. Polyphemus screams "Nobody hurt me!"--so they go home.

The rest of the story is also well known. Odysseus and his men sneak out the next morning hanging beneath the Cyclops's sheep and hightail it for the ship to make their escape. Everything might have gone OK had not the hero of this story opened his big mouth. Instead of just getting out of Dodge, when he's at a safe distance, Odysseus announces his real name:

if any man on the face of the earth should ask you
who blinded you, shamed you so--say Odysseus,
raider of cities, he gouged out your eye,
Laertes' son who makes his home in Ithaca!'

Bad move! You might as well give him your home address, phone number, Social Security number and credit cards.

The cyclops, son of the god Poseidon, prays thus:

...Hear me,
Poseidon, god of the sea-blue mane who rocks the earth!
If I really am your son and you claim to be my father--
come, grant that Odysseus, raider of cities,
Laertes' son who makes his home in Ithaca,
never reaches home. Or if he's fated to see
his people once again and reach his well-built house
and his own native country, let him come home late
and come a broken man--all shipmates lost,
alone in a stranger's ship--
and let him find a world of pain at home!'

That prayer is granted. By his own lack of self control, Odysseus condemns himself to years of further suffering and his men to certain death.

He has issues...

WHERE'S THE BEEF? The US economy doesn't manufacture much and is short of ideas, says Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT. The EFCA, which would make it easier--and safer--for workers to organize into unions, received support in the Wall Street Journal, of all places.

BIG WIND. A new study shows that hurricanes and typhoons are getting stronger, apparently as a result of climate change.

LIFE IS SHORT and getting shorter for residents in some WV counties, especially women.


September 04, 2008


Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is the Odyssey of Homer, along with links and comments about current events. We're in the middle of the encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus right now. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if one is attempting to make the acquaintance of a possibly cannibalistic one-eyed giant, then breaking into his house uninvited and eating most of his cheese is not the best way to start. For that matter, one would be well-advised not to visit the island of the cyclopes at all unless driven by dire necessity.

As Dylan once sang,

The moral of this story, the moral of this song, is simply that one should never be where one does not belong.

Odysseus, alas, was a little impulse-driven and not given to taking such sage advice. When he and his men are busted in the act, he begs for hospitality:

...we're at your knees,
in hopes of a warm welcome, even a guest-gift,
the sort that hosts give strangers. That's the custom.
Respect the gods, my friend. We're suppliants--at your mercy!
Zeus of the Strangers guards all guests and suppliants:
strangers are sacred--Zeus will avenge their rights!'

Polyphemus is unimpressed and not particularly religious:

'Stranger,' he grumbled back from his brutal heart,
'you must be a fool, stranger, or come from nowhere,
telling me to fear the gods or avoid their wrath?
We Cyclops never blink at Zeus and Zeus's shield
of storm and thunder, or any other blessed god--
we've got more force by far.
I'd never spare you in fear of Zeus's hatred,
you or your comrades here, unless I had the urge...'

And by the way, he doesn't have the urge.

Lurching up, he lunged out with his hands toward my men
and snatching two at once, rapping them on the ground
he knocked them dead like pups--
their brains gushed out all over, soaked the floor-
and ripping them limb from limb to fix his meal
he bolted them down like a mountain-lion, left no scrap
devoured entrails, flesh and bones, marrow and all!

Not only is he a cannibal--he's got bad table manners! At one point, as his culinary adventures continue, he even gets drunk, passes out and vomits up the remains of his supper. Odysseus and his men would like to kill the monster--but they are locked up in his cave by a massive stone so large that

no twenty-two wagons, rugged and four-wheeled
could budget that boulder off the ground...

This could be a setback... More tomorrow.

NO DIRECT CONNECTION TO THE TOPIC AT HAND, but Massey Energy has been ordered by a federal judge to rehire 85 union workers who lost their jobs in 2004 after the company acquired a formerly union mine.

HOMECOMINGS. One theme of the ongoing series on the Odyssey is the difficulty combat veterans face in going home. The health care injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan isn't helping.

ALL IN THE MIND...or at least some of it. Here's an interesting item on the connection between mental attitudes and health.

MACHIAVELLI made the Wall Street Journal recently.


September 03, 2008


The Odyssey series continues, along with links and comments about current events. We're just now at the part where he meets the cyclops.

Speaking of which, sometimes El Cabrero's Spousal Unit reminds me of a cyclops. I'm not saying that she's a one-eyed giant cannibalistic monster, necessarily. Let's just say they have common interests. He's got goats (and sheep) and is a cheese maker.

When Odysseus and his men visit the cyclops Polyphemus cave, he is still out with his herd. It sounds a bit like Goat Rope Farm, only on a much larger scale. As Odysseus puts it,

'So we explored his den, gazing wide-eyed at it all,
the large flack racks loaded with drying cheeses,
the folds crowded with young lambs and kids...
And all his vessels, pails and hammered buckets
he used for milking, where brimming full with whey.'

We get a glimpse of the giant at work:

Back he came from the pasture, late in the day,
herding his flocks home...
Then down he squatted to milk his sheep and bleating goats,
each in order, and put a suckling underneath each dam.
And half of the fresh white mile he curdled quickly,
set it aside in wicker racks to press for cheese,
the other half let stand in pails and buckets,
ready at hand to wash his supper down...

It sounds kinda like home to me...

But I digress. As mentioned earlier, a major theme in Homer's epics is that of xenia, the sacred guest host relationship. Odyseus and his men get off on a bad foot, entering his cave without asking or being invited. They build a fire and started chowing down on the cheese before he even gets home. Didn't these guys ever hear of Miss Manners?

Polyphemus doesn't like surprises:

'Strangers!' he thundered out, 'now who are you?
Where did you sail from, over the running sea-lanes?
Out on a raiding spree or roving the waves like pirates,
sea-wolves raiding at will, who risk their lives
to plunder other men?'

Based on their past behavior, that's pretty much exactly what Odysseus and his men are. It's just about supper time...

More tomorrow.

NOT SO GOOD. A Rutgers University scorecard on the state of American workers found some disturbing--but not surprising--trends.

REDISCOVERING AN OLD FRIEND. AP reports that more Americans are using public libraries in hard economic times. I can't imagine how people could do without them in the best of times. At any given moment, El Cabrero is abusing the borrowing privileges of about four different library systems.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here is an item on books that changed history.



September 02, 2008


The Goat Rope series on the Odyssey of Homer resumes today. You will also find links and comments about current events. If you like this kind of thing, check back on earlier weekday posts.

If people remember any episode in the Odyssey, it's generally the one where Odysseus visits the island of the cyclopes and has a run-in with the one-eyed giant Polphemus. It is pretty memorable.

To briefly recap, after the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus and his men (around 600 to start with in several ships) make a gratuitous raid on the Circoneans, which ends badly. Then they land at home of the Lotus Eaters, who are blissed-out stoners who offer his men the addictive drug that makes them forget all about going home. He forces them, "with streaming tears," back to their ships.

From there we sailed on, our spirits now at a low ebb,
and reached the land of the high and might Cyclops,
lawless brutes, who trust so to the everlasting gods
they never plant with their own hands or plow the soil.
Unsown, unplowed, the earth teems with all they need,
wheat, barley and vines, swelled by the rains of Zeus
to yield a big full-bodied wine from clustered grapes.
They have no meeting place for council, no laws either,
no, up on the mountain peaks they live in arching caverns--
each a law to himself, ruling his wives and children,
not a care for any neighbor.

They land first at a nearby island, teeming incidentally with wild goats. They could easily stock up on game and head on home to Ithaca. Odysseus, however, can't leave things well enough alone. Gazing across to the island, he says,

'The rest of you stay here, my friends-in-arms.
I'll go across with my own ship and crew
and probe the natives living over there.
What are they--violent, savage, lawless?
or friendly to strangers, god-fearing men?'

It might be rational to do a rapid recon and get the hell out, but our boy is addicted to adventure--or terrified of boredom. Oddly, he decides to take along a large skin of super strong wine. As John Prine might say, he's "wishin' for bad luck and knockin' on wood."

In the end, his curiosity will mean a gruesome death for six of his men. About which more tomorrow.

THE NEXT BIG THING. Here's an op-ed by Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier and safer for workers to join unions. In El Cabrero's humble opinion, this would be the most significant legislation in decades and could help reduce poverty and rebuild the nation's battered middle class.

ON A SIMILAR NOTE, here are Labor Day reflections from Larry Matheney of the WV AFLCIO.

SICK KIDS. West Virginia ranks second in the nation in the percentage of children with chronic illnesses. From the Charleston Gazette,

About 18 percent of West Virginia children - 69,500 kids - have special health needs or chronic illnesses, such as asthma and diabetes. Only Kentucky has a higher percentage - 18.5 percent.

WEALTH, WORK AND INEQUALITY is the subject of this interesting op-ed.

BEACHFRONT PROPERTY? Climate change-induced increases in sea level over the next century could be higher than predicted, according to some scientists.

ANIMALS AND DEATH. How do they deal with it?


September 01, 2008


The Farmington Mine Disaster in Marion County, West Virginia, November 1968. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

We have fed you all for a thousand years
And you hail us still unfed,
Though there's never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the workers' dead.
We have yielded our best to give you rest
And you lie on crimson wool.
Then if blood be the price of all your wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in full!

There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we're buried alive for you.
There's never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew.
Go reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin.
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in!

We have fed you all a thousand years-
For that was our doom, you know,
From the days when you chained us in your fields
To the strike a week ago.
You have taken our lives, and our babies and wives,
And we're told it's your legal share,
But if blood be the price of your lawful wealth,
Good God! We bought it fair!

Written by "an unknown proletarian" in 1908.