March 04, 2011

A little dip

The Goat Rope Beowulf jag continues, although you'll also find links and comments about current events below. It occurs to me that it's about time to get down to some monster-killing.

The first such episode that occurs in the poem is related by the hero himself and happens during a whacked-out swimming match with one of his buddies, Breca.

Imagine that you and a pal are walking beside the ocean (with swords and full armor, of course) and one of you suggests a contest that involves plunging into the sea--which is probably cold, it being Scandanavia and all--and swimming for days to see who will be first to reach land.

If it was me, I'd say, "Knock yourself out, dude. I'm heading to the mead hall." Not so Beowulf. He jumped right in and and the two were neck and neck for five days and nights until Beowulf is attacked by a sea monster:

Together we twain on the tides abode
five nights full till the flood divided us,
churning waves and chillest weather,
darkling night, and the northern wind
ruthless rushed on us: rough was the surge.
Now the wrath of the sea-fish rose apace;
yet me 'gainst the monsters my mailed coat,
hard and hand-linked, help afforded, -
battle-sark braided my breast to ward,
garnished with gold. There grasped me firm
and haled me to bottom the hated foe,
with grimmest gripe. 'Twas granted me, though,
to pierce the monster with point of sword,
with blade of battle: huge beast of the sea
was whelmed by the hurly through hand of mine.

As if that wasn't enough, he manages to kill another eight aggressive sea-beasts before washing up on the shores of Finland, after which the waters of the area were singularly monster-free.

Too bad ultra-marathon armored swimming isn't an Olympic event, even without monsters.

DOUBLE WHAMMY. Paul Krugman argues here that federal spending cuts proposed by House Republicans could undermine the nation's future and damage a fragile recovery.

KOCHED RED HANDED. Here's a look at corporate life in Billionaire Union Buster Land.

ONE DAY LONGER (AGAIN). Retirees at Century Aluminum in Ravenswood rallied at the WV capitol yesterday protesting the company's elimination of retiree health benefits. Nearly 20 years ago, these workers won an epic struggle after being locked out for nearly two years by then owner Ravenswood Aluminum.

DROPPING THE BALL? A new study found serious coal mine safety enforcement lapses by the federal mine safety agency prior to the Upper Big Branch disaster.



March 03, 2011

Of roosters, monkeys, sea monsters and guys

I have probably noted more than once that living amongst roosters has helped me understand more about human behavior. Especially male human behavior.

Roosters, like their very distant primate cousins, compete and sometimes fight over status and access to the good things of life (which would perhaps include hens). Many male animals scramble for status and dominance.

Sgt. Rory Miller, author of Meditations on Violence, calls it the Monkey Dance. Among young human males, it usually starts with hard stares, moves on to verbal challenges, and then proceeds to closing the distance, shoving and quite often a swinging punch with the dominant hand. When it stops short of physical conflict, this is sometimes referred to around here as a, pardon the expression, pissing battle.

There is a bit of such a match in the early part of Beowulf, after he arrives amongst the Spear Danes and announces his intention to kill Grendel. His character foil is a Dane named Unferth, whose name may have meant something like "not-peace."

In the poem, Beowulf is pretty much the perfect hero, mighty in deed in youth and age, but courteous and not arrogant. Unferth comes across at first as a jealous and insecure person intent on knocking Beowulf down to size. He's obviously trying to compensate for something, including the fact the Beowulf is there to take on a job he couldn't handle. On meeting Beowulf, he immediately begins ragging on him about supposedly losing a days-long swimming match (in full armor, of course) with the warrior Breca:

Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca
in a swimming match on the open sea,
risking the water just to prove that you could win?
It was sheer vanity made you venture out
on the main deep...

He asserts that after a week's worth of swimming in the open sea Beowulf lost to Breca, just as he would lose to the monster Grendel.

Beowulf is too polite to hand Unferth his hind quarters,although he does dismiss him as a fratricide destined for damnation. Mostly though, he sets the record straight with the poem's first monster killing story of his epic battle with sea-beasts. The Monkey Dance was narrowly averted and the sea battle story was pretty awesome...about which more tomorrow.

RIGHT TO WORK (FOR LESS) explained here.

SPEAKING OF UNION BUSTING, Ohio's state senate got its hands dirty.

FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS. The latest poll shows strong public unease over cuts to programs that affect peoples' lives.

FOR MICE ANYWAY, exercise is the fountain of youth. It doesn't hurt people either.

URGENT HAGFISH UPDATE here. Jeez, are those things ugly.


March 02, 2011

How it's done

Arpad has been known to formally boast all night.

The Goat Rope Beowulf jag continues. I've been amusing myself lately with something that occurs more than once in that Anglo-Saxon poem, to wit, formal boasting. Click on the last two days for background and how-to.

Before any self-respecting monster slayer gets down to business, he or she should make such a boast in the form of a public announcement in a mead hall (a beer joint may do in a pinch). A good formal boast should have information about the boaster and his family, all the badass stuff he or she as done, and exactly what mayhem he plans on inflicting upon whom.

There is more than one in the poem, but here's a pretty good example from Seamus Heaney's translation. This one comes when Beowulf first arrives in the kingdom of the Spear-Danes and announces his plan to kill the man-eating monster Grendel.

First an intro:

...I am Hygelac's kinsman,
one of his hall-troop. When I was younger,
I had great triumphs.

Then the business:

...Then news of Grendel,
hard to ignore, reached me at home:
sailors brought stories of the plight you suffer
in this legendary hall, how it lies deserted,
empty and useless once the evening light
hides itself under heaven's dome.

Then why he's the man for the job:

So every elder and experienced councilman
among my people supported my resolve
to come her to you, King Hrothgar,
because all knew of my awesome strength.
They had seen me boltered in the blood of enemies
when I battled and bound five bests,
raided a troll-nest and in the night-sea
slaughtered sea-brutes. I have suffered extremes
and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it
upon themselves, I devastated them).

Then the plan:

Now I mean to be a match for Grendel,
settle the outcome in single combat.

And, just to make it interesting, he boast that he will do it unarmed:

...I have hard moreover that the monster scorns
in his reckless way to use weapons;
therefore, to heighten Hygelac's fame
and gladden his heart, I hearby renounce
sword and shelter of the broad shield...
...hand to hand is how it will be, a life-and-death
fight with the fiend. Whichever one death fells
must deem it a just judgement by God.

He seals the deal with a few references to blood and gore but you get the idea. Next time you plan on laying into a monster, make sure you set it up with a good boast like that.

CUTTING INVESTMENTS in the federal budget is a bad idea, according to over 300 economists.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, a number of progressive Christians are asking "What would Jesus cut?"

WISCONSIN. Has a certain governor overplayed his hand?



HOW ABOUT A WALKING CACTUS? Here's an article about a weird ancient animal that once lived in China.


March 01, 2011


Back in the day, this dog was a master of the formal boast.

The theme at Goat Rope these days is Beowulf, although there also links and comments about current events below. One thing that I find amusing about the poem is the art of formal boasting. In browsing the web, I've learned that several creative English teachers teaching Beowulf give their students the assignment of making a formal boast about themselves.

This kind of boast, usually done in the mead hall, wasn't considered to be impolite. It was more like a formal statement of intent to wreak havoc on some deserving person or monster. Beowulf issues his in advance of his fight with the man-eating Grendel.

You find something like that in the battle scenes of the Iliad, but those usually took place when Greek and Trojan enemies faced each other. One or the other (or both), would name himself and his family lineage and state his plan to slay the other, strip him of his armor as a trophy, and leave the body as food for the birds and dogs. In Beowulf, the boast happens before the fight and usually amongst friends.

We didn't have formal boasts when I was growing up. The closest thing to it happened when I was in junior high and someone would announce that he was "after" someone else. That was usually just a matter of talk, however. The art of formal boasting has declined, although the informal kind survives.

In the event that you, Gentle Reader, feel the need to issue one before doing battle with some monster or other, I've developed a simplified fill-in-the-blank form. It works best after you've pounded down some mead. Here goes:

I, _______, son (or daughter) of _________, who have done many mighty deeds, including ___________, hereby affirm in front of God and everybody that I intend to open a can upon ______________, and thereby to win lasting fame and glory or else die in the process.

Is this a full service blog or what?

WISCONSIN BLUES. It's not just collective bargaining.

AND THEN THERE'S THIS. A new poll shows that most Americans oppose the latest attack on unions and public employees.

FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS proposed by House Republicans could kill 700,000 jobs, according to a study by Mark Zandi, chief economist and Moody's

INDICTED. Massey Energy's security chief has been indicted on two felony charges related to the Upper Big Branch disaster.

IN OUR GENES? Love of music may have a biological basis.


February 28, 2011

The art of the formal boast

Wu is a master of the formal boast.

When current events allow, I've been amusing myself here lately by taking a look at the old Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, which holds up better than one might think. You'll also find links and comments about current events below.

Here's one thing I've gotten out of several recent readings: if you want to be a hero like Beowulf, there are certain things you have to be able to do. Having the strength of 30 men is a big help, as is experience in slaying monsters of the land and sea variety.

But those traits, as worthy as they no doubt are, are not enough. To do things right from the beginning, one has to be the master of the art of the formal boast. This isn't exactly bragging, which is often just a matter of words. It has to be backed up by previous glorious deeds, a serious intent to carry out the matter boasted about, and (one would hope) a successful outcome.

To do it right, you must (not necessarily in the following order):

*State who you are, including your glorious family lineage (note: it helps to have one);

*Refer at some length to the mighty deeds you have already done (it helps to have some); and

*State, as specifically and in as much detail as possible, exactly what you intend to do and to whom you intend to do it.

It's a lot cooler than the modern practice of sending in a resume or writing a proposal.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM when it comes to federal spending is discussed here.

CUTTING KIDS. Paul Krugman argues that children will bear the brunt of cuts in public spending.

NOT GOING QUIETLY. Labor protests against union busting continued in Wisconsin and around the country over the weekend.

WV HISTORY. Here's a review of an interesting book by a friend of mine on post-WWII WV history.