December 31, 2013

Looking back, looking ahead

The Roman god Janus, after whom the month of January is named, had two faces, one looking ahead and one looking back. By coincidence, or not, the Romans had a tradition at the temple of Janus. When Rome was at war, the gates were open. When Rome was at peace, which at times wasn't all that often, the gates were closed.

Looking back, 2013 was an amazing year in West Virginia. A year of grace, even. Several important victories for social justice were won. Health insurance was hugely expanded--at last word, over 83,000 working West Virginians were about to gain coverage for the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

The state also acted to expand early childhood education, reduce prison overcrowding, improve school nutrition, and restore funding for child care and family violence prevention programs. Coal miners and retirees also won a huge victory with Patriot Coal.

The saying says that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. Statisticians sometimes talk about reversion to the mean, which means that hot streaks end. And sometimes in my life, it seems I've had to pay in blood for every good day.

I don't know what 2014 will hold. We may have to pay heavily for 2013's good fortune. If so, so be it. The gates of the temple of Janus are always open in the fight for social justice.

I'm grateful to all my friends and comrades in the struggle...which is about to heat up again.

December 30, 2013

Having it both ways

The Charleston Daily Mail is a newspaper with Republican editorial leanings. You can frequently find denunciations within its pages of President Obama's alleged "war on coal." Presumably, one reason they are upset about this is because of the potential of miners losing their jobs.

Yet when the US Congress adjourned for the year without extending unemployment benefits to 1.3 million Americans, the editorial page applauded. It turns out that one of the counties hardest hit by the cut is Logan County, in the heart of West Virginia's coalfields, where 544 people will lose benefits.

One might think that for the sake of consistency, at least a few crocodile tears for jobless miners might be forthcoming, but that isn't the case so far.

Times like these make me wish we had a put up or shut up rule.

SPEAKING OF WV, it looks like the Mountain State will be one of the biggest winners under the Affordable Care Act. Just before Christmas, I heard that at least 83,000 West Virginians had signed up for expanded Medicaid benefits since Oct. 1.

DEFICIT MANIA. Krugman thinks the fever has broken.

OH REALLY? In his latest column, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes that "on a longer view, 2013 could be remembered as the year when the far right began to weaken, the forces of obstruction began to recede and the country began moving toward at least the possibility of constructive government." Reckon wonder if he's right?


December 28, 2013

Annals of arrogance

This is rich. Paul Ryan, an Ayn Rand Kool-Aid imbiber who claims to be a Catholic and pretends to care about the poor, decides to lecture Pope Francis about the folly of the pontiff's economic views. I guess maybe next he should also try to teach Jesus, the Hebrew prophets, and possibly God Almighty about the folly of their ways...

December 27, 2013

All that from a toe

You can always count on Goat Rope for the latest developments in Icelandic elves, zombies, dinosaurs, Neanderthals, and such. Oh yeah, and sometimes social justice stuff.

But let's get back to Neanderthals. Another story that broke over the holidays was one about sequencing the entire Neanderthal genome from a toe bone of a female that lived around 130,000 years ago.

This specimen revealed a lot of in-breeding but also a lot of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans and another early group called Denisovans. It's not clear whether the inbreeding was common to all Neanderthals or just this batch from Siberia.

As for the can I say this? Let me just say that assuming I was younger and single, I think I'd have to be pretty anxious for a date to ask a Neanderthal out.

Now, if they'd just sequence the Icelandic elf genome...

JUST ONE OTHER LINK and, this being Friday, it's Krugman on the economy of fear.


December 26, 2013

Coolest. News. Story. Ever.

The Spousal Unit has been on this Iceland jag lately. Reading sagas, devouring Iceland books. She even has a new favorite Icelandic band, Arstidir, which wikipedia describes as an "indie-folk band with classical, progressive rock and minimalist elements."  I kind of like them too.

So anyhow, my interest perks when I run across news from Iceland. Like a story from NPR earlier this week about how people there are protesting a highway project which may harm "elf habitat" and possibly even damage an elf church.

I would like to attend an elf church of all things.

Elves are pretty big in Iceland apparently. The article cited a survey conducted a few years ago about Icelandic attitudes towards elves:

"Only 13 percent of participants in the study said it is impossible that elves exist, 19 percent found it unlikely, 37 percent said elves possible exist, 17 percent found their existence likely and eight percent definite. Five percent did not have an opinion on the existence of elves.

Apparently, some folks believe that there are 13 different types of elves. Some are only inches high while others are as big as humans.

Learn more about elf detection here.

HOW BOUT THAT POPE FRANCIS? Here's another reason to like him.

REASON 45,343 why West Virginia needs to create a Future Fund here.


December 24, 2013

Christmas wishes, Dante trivia and a bit of Shakespeare

Best holiday wishes to all from the humanoid and other animal inhabitants of Goat Rope Farm. By chance, I discovered some trivia about a Christmas Eve anniversary I'd like to share. A co-worker of mine regularly sends out emails highlighting events in monetary history.

I must confess that I don't always read them but this time I did and found something interesting. On Dec. 24, 1294, Pope Boniface VIII was consecrated. He instituted the first Christian year of Jubilee, which promised forgiveness of sins for those who confessed and made pilgrimages (which by chance or not enriched church coffers).

Boniface is best known today, however, for being the person chiefly responsible for banishing the poet Dante Alighieri from Florence. Dante calls him out in Canto 19 of the Inferno.

In the spirit of Christmas charity, I will, however, put in a good word for Boniface: if he didn't exile Dante, we might not have the Divine Comedy. And if that were the case, what would be the point of living?

SPEAKING OF LITERARY IMMORTALS, I make it a practice every Christmas to include these lines from Hamlet:

"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."
So have I heard and do in part believe it. May it be so this year!

December 23, 2013

Animal friends

It has been documented many times that animals sometimes form friendships with others of different species. Some of that is happening this holiday season at Goat Rope Farm, where two young guineas (center) have been basically adopted by TurkLurk, an adult male turkey (the big guy in the middle doing the tail feather display). TurkLurk is acting downright maternal with these guys. During a rainstorm a few days ago, he could be seen sheltering both of them under his wings. It was downright sweet.

A HOLIDAY DOWNER. Here's a great op-ed by a friend of mine about how inequality is undermining good cheer for many people this year.

SPEAKING OF INEQUALITY, Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz argues here that inequality is undermining social trust in America.

ARE THEY PAYING ATTENTION? Republicans in the US House don't want to extend unemployment insurance benefits, but a new poll shows overwhelming support for the measure. Unless something happens, around 7,000 West Virginians will lose benefits.

SPEAKING OF WEST VIRGINIA, here's another report from WV Public Broadcasting about a recent study of land ownership here.


December 21, 2013

Annals of paranoia

Here's the latest from the realm of Whack. A conservative website has found further proof that President Barack Obama is a communist. So that explains why the stock market is doing so well...

The evidence proof? The writer opines that Obama's daughter Sasha's real name is Natasha, which is obviously Russian. I guess the fact that Sasha was born 10 years after the collapse of communism in the former USSR only proves how devious these guys are. Besides, we all know that anyone named Natasha has to be a pinko.

But I'll do him one better. Sasha was actually the nickname of V. I. Lenin's brother Alexander, who was executed by the czarist government for his revolutionary activities in 1887. Some people believe the failure of Sasha's anarchist friends to unsettle the government ultimately inspired him to create the Bolshevik party.

Hmmmm....I guess now we need to decode Malia.

December 20, 2013

December 19, 2013

The better angels

One recent book that has made a huge impression on me (and to which I may devote some serious blogging at some point) is Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, which is about the world-historic decline in violence over much of human history, as hard as that may be to believe.

Pinker kicks over an idol in that book which was long overdue for smashing: the idea that we were nicer 100,000 or so years ago than we are today. That bogus myth was a mainstay of bad social science for a good while but it no longer holds up.

According to that bogus myth, early humans were peaceful and holistic (if not dietary vegans) while modern humans were warlike and violent.Short version: good then, bad now.

A closer examination of the evidence of history, archaeology, and evolutionary science suggests that Hobbes was closer to being right than those with a more optimistic view of "original" human nature. For most early humans, life probably really was "nasty, brutish, and short."

Undoubtedly many more individuals died violently in the 20th century than in ancient hunter/gatherer times. But, taken as a percentage of the population, the rate of violent deaths may actually have declined.

In other words, sad as it may seem, we may actually be getting nicer.

December 18, 2013

A moment I'm glad to have missed

El Cabrero has been devouring recorded books at an alarming rate lately. Almost anything will do. To give just one example of how desperate I am for listening material, I'm about to finish a book about the typhus epidemic in Napoleon's army during its invasion of Russia in 1812.

Hot damn!

(It's titled The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army by Stephen Talty. And it's actually a good read. Or listen, as the case may be.)

It's full of battle scenes, lice, hospitals, fevers, amputations, antiquated medical practices and all kinds of jolly stuff. But mostly what I got out of it is that I am SOOOO glad I wasn't part of any army that invaded Russia and had the misfortune not to get out of Dodge (or Moscow) before things got cold. There is no comparison between the WV winter and that of Russia, but I've got all I can handle here, even without lice and angry Russians.

So there's that anyway.

BACK TO BUSINESS. Maybe the best that can be said about the budget deal that the US Senate passed today was that it could have been worse. Here's another look. At least it didn't involve a whole lot of lice, an epidemic, being stuck in Russia in winter without food or supplies, or cannibalism.

Stay warm.

December 17, 2013

The new face of coal?

For 10 years or more, Don Blankenship was, or tried to be, the face of West Virginia's coal industry.  It looks like there may be a new contender for that gig. I was kind of hoping the vacancy would last longer.

WOULD THAT IT WERE SO. This writer predicts that 2014 will be a year of economic populism. I'm not sure I'm that optimistic.

LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR DEAD? Neanderthals didn't.


December 16, 2013

Four for the road

El Cabrero is feeling a bit overwhelmed lately. I thought things were supposed to slow down for the holidays...

Anyway, here are some items worth a look:

LOW WAGE NATION. Here's a look at how we got there.

TALKING BUT NOT WALKING. Here's E.J.Dionne on some real family values.

INEQUALITY. It matters.

WEIRD BUT COOL. Water jets seem to be spurting from one of the moons of Jupiter.

December 12, 2013

If you've been good this year...

...and we are using an honor system, you have Goat Rope's permission to reward yourself by watching this cute duck billed platypus video. And take a look at these swimming pigs while you're at it.

Thanks to a friend for forwarding those links. Now, back to the salt mines:

BUDGET DEAL. Here are two takes on the recent federal budget compromise. Economist Dean Baker is not amused, but the good folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities seem to think it could have been worse. Maybe they're both right. Still, it's a shame the deal didn't include an unemployment insurance extension.

OWNING WEST VIRGINIA. There's been a good bit of press about the release this week by the WV Center on Budget and Policy and the AFSC WV Economic Justice Project about who owns the state. Here's my favorite.


December 11, 2013

A better idea

Prison overcrowding has long been a problem in West Virginia (and elsewhere). Here, though, well over 1,000 inmates who have been sentenced to prisons remain in regional jails, which are temporary holding facilities that don't offer the kinds of programs that can help people get parole and stay out.

For the best of reasons, the WV Division of Corrections is considering voluntarily shipping such inmates to out of state private for profit prison corporations, which, aside from being expensive is a bad idea for reasons discussed here, here, and here.

Recently, a better solution has been proposed by a program official with the state regional jail authority: hire counselors in the regional jails to offer programs specifically for those inmates. I think there are plenty of other things that need to be done, like actually following through on previously agreed on plans, but we need to reject the Trojan horse of private prisons.

December 09, 2013

One for fun, three for real.

OK, I don't usually sit around watching stuff on YouTube. Really. But I recently discovered a hilarious web-based show that is tailor made for karate geeks like myself. It's called Enter the Dojo and is a great spoof of the martial arts world and especially "McDojos." If you liked The Office you just might love it.

Watch at your own risk.

OK, back to business.

WHO OWNS WEST VIRGINIA? You probably guessed it: not West Virginians. Here's info about a new study by the American Friends Service Committee and the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

SPEAKING OF WEST VIRGINIA, here's an interesting op-ed by a friend of mine on the state's political climate. The author, Perry Mann, is even generous enough to feed the trolls that lurk at the Gazette website.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT, McDowell County, historically one of the counties from which the most coal wealth has been extracted, has life expectancies at or near the lowest in the nation.


December 07, 2013

A bon mot

I'm not as fond of Winston Churchill as some neo-cons out there, but he did have his moments. One of which transpired when he came up with this line:

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

December 06, 2013

High water everywhere

As the week draws to a close, Bob Dylan's song High Water is going through my head. I like the song, but it's a bit too real at the moment. The ongoing rain has mucked up the barn, is filling up the creek, and is likely to cause the mighty Mud River to rise up in its wrath. This is one time I'm hoping for snow.

Like Dylan said, it's gettin' rough out there. High water everywhere.

 MORE ON THE MINIMUM WAGE. Here's coverage from yesterday's action in Charleston. Speaking of fast food, it looks like the article fed a couple of trolls.

GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS. The good news from the world of corrections is that WV Governor Tomblin's decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act could save the state millions in inmate health costs. It could also reduce the size of the pipeline to prison and make reconnecting to community life easier.

On the other hand, it looks like a prominent private prison profiteer is looking longingly on the WV "market."

GETTING REAL. Here's Paul Krugman on President Obama's inequality speech and why it matters.

SAIL ON.  Finally, here's a fond farewell salute to Nelson Mandela. By coincidence, today I finished listening to Joseph Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington. This passage from the end of the book seems fitting. I hope I'm getting it right:

"Unlike Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell before him, and Napoleon, Lenin, and Mao after him, he understood that the greater glory resided in posterity's judgment. If you aspire to live forever in the memory of future generations, you must demonstrate the ultimate self-confidence to leave the final judgment to them. And he did."

December 05, 2013

"The defining challenge of our time"

President Obama's recent speech on economic inequality is certainly one of the strongest statements on that subject from a major bully pulpit for a long time, although it remains to be seen whether anything will come of it in this political climate. 

Here are three takes on the subject, from the NY Times, Oxfam, and The Nation.

One issue highlighted in the speech was the need to raise the minimum wage, which the president noted "right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office."

Meanwhile, at hundreds of locations around the country today, people took to the streets to protest low wages at actions targeting fast food restaurants. The one I attended featured the song in yesterday's post, which turned out to be quite a hit. More on the minimum wage drive from WV Metro News here.

Momentum is building.

December 04, 2013

Deck the halls

El Cabrero, a true son of West Virginia, has a friend or two in New England. A Spousal Unit too, come to think of it.One of these friends, my co-worker Arnie Alpert with the  American Friends Service Committee in New Hampshire, is a true latter day Wobbly--an heir to the working class rebels of the Industrial Workers of the World. A post-modern Joe Hill.

My friend's Wobbly handle is New Hampshire Slim and he's achieved a degree of apotheosis that most of us only dream of--one of his songs made into the legendary Little Red Songbook of the IWW. Read more about his glorious songs and deeds here.

His latest masterpiece is this version of Deck the Halls. Add the fa la la la las as appropriate:

Deck the halls with higher wages,
Raise the minimum in stages,
Index pay hikes to inflation,
Workers need fair compensation.

Higher pay for low-wage labor
Is the way to aid our neighbors.
Mickey D will you be willin’?
Help your workers feed their children.

Wages less than nine an hour
Gives too little buying power
Put it on your year-end wish list
Win a wage hike by next Christmas

AND ONE TO GROW ON. In case I've been too subtle so far, here's a straight-up argument for raising the minimum wage. 

December 03, 2013

It just got more affordable

For all the problems associated with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, it looks like its cost is going to be lower than anticipated.

WHO VOTED FOR WHOM? Here's an interesting graphic that looks at how voters broke down by income in the last presidential election.

OFF THE RAILS? An influential right wing policy lobbying group seems to have lost major funding since the Trayvon Martin tragedy. The group is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and it was one of the big supporters of the Stand Your Ground law in Florida.

EXPECTATIONS IN GASLAND. A recent poll of Central Appalachian residents showed strong support for environmental safeguards when it comes to shale gas drilling.


December 02, 2013

We all could use a mind mess

El Cabrero is something of a literary snob. I mean, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Aeschylus, Melville, Dostoevsky, Austen, Bronte, name it, I'm there. You can find all of the above discussed at length if you search this blog's archives (see upper left).

Still, every so often you gotta blow things out. And for the past few days, I've done this by listening to a Stephen King book. And it stoned me.

Some of you may recall the book or movie The Shining, about a haunted resort in the Colorado Rockies. You may also recall the little kid who said "Redrum" when things went south. King's latest, Doctor Sleep, is about that kid when he grows up.

I listen to books all the time when driving, running or doing mindless tasks. No big deal. But this one crawled up my inner quarters. If your mind needs messed with, give it a try.

OK, SO THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOG. Well, for one thing, Stephen King is pretty progressive. For another, here are two great op eds by two of America's greatest columnists. Here's E.J. Dionne on Pope Francis, who is almost making me switch from the Anglican to the Roman team, and here's Paul Krugman on raising the minimum wage, which some of us are going to try to do in WV.


December 01, 2013

"Feathered primates"

Image by way of wikipedia.

Years of living on the farm where wild and semi-domesticated birds abound--and being married to a birder--have caused me to realize that the term "bird brain" isn't very apt when intended as a put-down. Quite a few of them seem pretty sharp to me and some exhibit emotions and parental behavior that reminds me of mammals.

Crows seem to be particularly intelligent. There are some extended families in our holler and they seem not only to stay busy but to have a good time as well. For some reason, they remind me of a merry band of pirates, minus the ocean and ships and all.

Recent research has shown that crows are even smarter than previously believed. In fact, their use of tools, memory and complicated social behavior has led some biologists to refer to them as "feathered primates."

I'm not sure whether crows would be flattered or insulted by that.

FROM THE WORLD OF WHACK, here are some recent right wing rants. The pope in particular seems to set them off these days.

JUST SAY NO.  The first part of this statehouse Gazette column by Phil Kabler mentions WV's current flirtation with private for-profit  prisons. El Cabrero devoutly hopes this union won't be consummated.


November 28, 2013

Annual Thanksgiving Possum Recipe

It is a custom hallowed by time at this blog to feature a possum recipe each Thanksgiving for the dining pleasure of our Gentle Readers. In fact, said readers are welcome to El Cabrero's lifetime share of possum as my culinary tastes run in other directions.

This year, in recognition of the ever-hastening pace of modern life, I have decided instead to offer a simpler approach that may save a bit of time in the kitchen. Just open and warm up, unless you are one of those hardy souls that likes their possum cold.

Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving!

November 27, 2013

One thing I'm thankful for this year... Pope Francis I! Here's a good look at his latest statement on the "new tyranny" of unfettered capitalism.

Sample quotes:

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."


 "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?"


 "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."


 "As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems."

TWO FOR THE ROAD ON THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. Here's Dean Baker stating the obvious, an important thing to do in these times! And here's a reminder that some states show it can work.


November 25, 2013

Support for a path

Not that the majority in the US House of Representatives cares or anything, but a recent poll shows that a sizable majority of Americans favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

THESE GUYS WON'T LIKE THAT. Here's a disturbing look at white rage in rural America.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, but the roll out of the Affordable Care Act is really going well in some states.



November 24, 2013

Poverty: it's not as much fun as some think

El Cabrero spent a few years in (involuntary) poverty and one thing about that I'd like the world to know is that it's not nearly as much fun as people who have never been there seem to think. Back in the 1990s the writer Earl Shorris described it well in his book New American Blues. 

To use Shorris' term, living in poverty is like living in a "surround of force." It means always being on the defensive and feeling like a hunted animal. One damn thing after another, nearly all of which are bad. Today a friend emailed a post by someone living through that now and it rings true to my experience. You can find it here.

WHO'S WINNING? Here's an interesting look at two midwestern states that have taken different political paths and what the early results seem to be.

PRISON OVERCROWDING is an issue I've been concerned about in WV for the last few years. Here's a summary of where things are with that now.

UTERUS POLICE TAKE NOTE. According to a recent poll, West Virginian's have little enthusiasm for an abortion inquisition such as that advocated by the state's attorney general (and friend to drug companies, but that's another story).


November 21, 2013

Here's a shock

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship doesn't exactly take a lot of responsibility for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners in 2010. Maybe he'll get some help in that department one of these days.

MINORITY HEALTH. The Affordable Care Act will have a big impact increasing coverage in WV's African American and Hispanic communities.

FOUNDING FATHERS AND MOTHERS. Here's some interesting DNA research about the earliest Americans.

NOTE: El Cabrero is rotating off the line for a few days. Blog posts may be erratic. Happy Thanksgiving!


November 19, 2013

What was done and what was said

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg address, a tiny speech that has become so much a part of the American historical canon that a popular book about it dubs it "the Gettysburg gospel." There are several extant versions of the speech with varying claims of authenticity. It seems that no reporter that day managed to capture the speech verbatim.

Here are several versions all in one place.

A lot of the things many of us "know" about the speech probably aren't true, as the above cited author Gabor Boritt demonstrates in his book.

One thing I thought I knew about the speech was that a windbag gave a two hour overblown oration which has long been forgotten and which contrasted poorly with Lincoln's few but eloquent words. Actually, the other Gettysburg address, by orator and former politician Edward Everett was actually pretty good, as you can see for yourself here.

Long speeches were the rage then and most audiences would have been as disappointed by a short keynote then as they would be of a short concert performance by a headline band today. (Draw your own conclusions about what this says or doesn't say about the modern American attention span.)

In one respect, Lincoln's speech was totally wrong, i.e. when he said that "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..." For the present, at least, it seems unlikely that either the words or the deeds associated with that historic battle are in any danger of being forgotten.

November 18, 2013

One liner of the day

Whenever I hear politicians talk about the need to make tough choices, what I hear is this: "It's time to really stick it to poor people." Which come to think of it isn't a tough choice at all but rather a cowardly one. Paul Krugman struck at that theme today in his op-ed about the need for demand-side economics. Here's his version:

"Economics is supposed to be about making hard choices (at other people's expense, naturally)."
SAD NEWS. Here's an op-ed by a friend of mine on sad days for public libraries.

KINDER, GENTLER? On the bright side, E.J. Dionne argues that Americans seem to be getting less punitive, partially because of dropping crime rates.

HEALTH CARE. Here's a reminder of why we needed reform to start with.

MORE FUN AND GAMES with West Virginia's drug lobbyist in chief attorney general here.


November 17, 2013

Plague days

I've been re-reading Albert Camus' novel The Plague for the umpteenth time, about an outbreak of the pestilence in the Algerian town of Oran in the 1940s. I think Camus saw it as a metaphor for the grip of fascism on Europe.

At times, I  feel like I've lived through wave after wave of outbreaks of the plague, not, thank God, in the form of 20th century fascism but of a mean-spirited, all-American robber baron mentality of bloodless greed, often backed up by bigotry, fanaticism and xenophobia.

The first wave hit with the Reagan ascendancy in the 1980s, followed by the Gingrich "revolution" in 1994, the era Bush II, and lately the Tea Party. it's hard for me to tell most days whether to count that as separate waves of plague or one long outbreak the wanes and waxes.

I think that's also why the image of zombies shows up so much in this blog, as the dead (or in this case ideas that should have long been dead) come back to devour the living. In the image of Camus' novel, the dead rats keep appearing in intervals, signifying another outbreak.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's American food policy on plague.

AND HERE'S ANOTHER CRITIQUE of the ideology of the plague.

November 15, 2013

One bright spot

There's no denying that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been, uhhh, somewhat less than stellar. The bright spot is that 400,000 people so far are eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage. The even brighter part for me is that over 1/8 of them are from West Virginia. We're trying to figure out how to raise that percentage.

Just think, if the US Supreme Court hadn't made Medicaid expansion a state option those numbers would be in the millions.

EURO-DOGS. It looks like domestication of dogs began around 18,000 years ago in Europe.

PARTY ON. Here's wishing a chill weekend to one and all.

November 14, 2013

Cute and not cute

If you just want to see something amusing today, click here. You'll never think about toy dinosaurs the same way again.

AND IF THAT DIDN'T WORK, check out this harmonica playing elephant.

OK, ENOUGH CUTE. Here's a look at the connection between zombies, international politics and 21st century anxieties.

AND YOU CAN HEAR THEM ALL THE TIME IN WV. From Bloomberg by way of Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo, here are some bad arguments from the coal industry.


November 13, 2013

A better solution to prison overcrowding

Note: the following op-ed of mine on prison overcrowding ran in Sunday's Charleston WV Gazette-Mail. For some reason, however, they didn't put it online. Here it is:

Earlier this year, the WV legislature passed a bill proposed by Gov. Tomblin aimed at reducing the state’s chronic prison overcrowding problem. It was a step in the right direction, although in the short term it will keep the problem from getting worse rather than make it a whole lot better.

As of Nov. 1, there were over 6,808 people under the supervision of the Division of Corrections (DOC), although there are only enough beds for around 5,778. This means that 1,252 were held in regional jails rather than the state’s correctional facilities.

In recent years, the backlog has been as high as 1,874. Part of the reason for the recent drop in the backlog is the transfer of some inmates to Salem, which was formerly a juvenile detention center.

This kind of overcrowding causes all kinds of problems, including a more dangerous situation for inmates, corrections officers and ultimately the community at large. Jails are meant to be temporary holding facilities. For the most part, they don’t offer the kind of programs, treatment, education and rehabilitative activities provided by the DOC.

In some cases, inmates have languished in regional jails for long periods of time after being sentenced to state prisons. Some have even been denied parole because they didn’t complete programs that weren’t even offered where they were held. It’s a pretty classic catch 22 situation.

The underlying reason for this problem is that over the last few decades, despite a fairly low crime rate, West Virginia, like much of the country, began incarcerating more people than in the past for offenses that once had been dealt with in other ways. It also began keeping them in prison longer and making less use of parole.  A 2012 study by the Pew Charitable Trust found that West Virginia’s sentences for most crimes increased dramatically between 1990 and 2009 and were often longer than the national average or those of neighboring states.

To use an overworked plumbing metaphor, the pipeline to prisons got bigger but the drain got smaller.  The end result was an expensive system that ate up more and more of the state’s budget, devastated many low income families and communities, and didn’t contribute as much to public safety as a more rational approach would have done.

Things have gotten to the point now that DOC officials are contemplating relocating around 400 prisoners to out of state, private, for-profit prisons so that they can take part in the kinds of programs not offered in jails.

While those motives are praiseworthy, there are some problems with this approach. For one thing, private prisons are expensive. For another, their track record isn’t very good. Caroline Isaacs, a co-worker of mine in Arizona, recently published a study on the subject, the punch line of which is in the title: Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem. Read more here:

Isaacs concludes that “The profit motive of privatized prisons stands in direct conflict with the purpose of corrections, which is to correct behavior—thereby reducing future crime. Unfortunately, these corporations are counting on future crime for the financial health of their business.”

Shipping inmates out of state could  weaken family and community ties that may already be frayed.

Finally, even if 400 inmates get services, that would still leave over 800 inmates stagnating back in the regional jails.

Ironically, a more promising solution was arrived at more than 10 years ago as a result of a WV Supreme Court decision which created a long-term plan for dealing with overcrowding and which was agreed to by the DOC and the Regional Jail Authority.

The Supreme Court ordered the creation of a plan in a 2000 ruling in the State ex rel Sams v. Kirby case, which at the time dealt with a much less severe jail backlog of 850. Had the plan been fully implemented, the problem would have been permanently eliminated by 2007. Instead, it has grown much worse.

Some aspects of the plan included granting extra good time for certain offenders. Specifically, it called for the DOC to “identify those prisoners who, through their work records, educational accomplishments, and good conduct qualify for recommendations of extra good time, thereby reducing the amount of time left to serve for prisoners whose conduct warrants it.”

It also called for the creation of special work or education programs to allow appropriate inmates to earn extra good time. In addition, it called for the division to identify low risk prisoners “who, through years of good conduct and successful completion of rehabilitative programs, are appropriate candidates for commutation, or shortening of their sentences.”

Other common sense elements of the plan were reviewing the sentences of older inmates who no longer constituted a threat to public safety and removing harsh and restrictive parole practices. West Virginia’s rate of granting parole to eligible inmates dropped from 65.9 percent in 1990 to 28.3 percent in 2002. Last year, the Justice Center of the Council for State Governments estimated the effective parole rate to be 33 percent.

In the years since this plan was issued, significant progress has been made in risk and needs assessments of offenders, which should simplify the implementation of the plan.

Sometimes in West Virginia we are pretty good at coming up with solutions but not so much on making them happen.

I have profound respect for the people charged with the difficult job of running West Virginia’s corrections system. In this case, however, the path laid out by the Supreme Court’s long term plan seems more promising to me than the Trojan horse of private for-profit prisons.

Wilson is director of the American Friends Service Committee WV Economic Justice Project and a Gazette contributing columnist.

November 11, 2013

Tending the wounded

On this Veteran's Day, a few lines of Walt Whitman's poem The Wound-Dresser have been going through my head. It's about a Civil War era angel of mercy tending to wounded and dying soldiers and no doubt comes from his personal experience:

Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead...

Here's the whole thing.

MINIMUM WAGE. Here's a call to raise it. And here's a poll that shows this has public support.


November 10, 2013

Canine theology

The medieval theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas famously came up with five proofs of the existence of God and any number of arguments regarding the divine attributes. Arpad, our Great Pyrenees dog and security chief of Goat Rope Farm, is something of a theologian himself. He came up with on proof of the existence and benevolence of the Deity, which goes something like this:

*This time of year, all kinds of deer carcasses appear in the woods.

*Deer carcasses are awesome.

*Therefore, God exists and is good.

November 08, 2013


Here's an interesting post from the Washington Posts's Wonkblog about why Central Appalachia's coal industry is declining. The conventional "wisdom" offered by the ruling class of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is that all problems of the industry are caused by a black guy with an African name, but this article points out other factors, including competition from gas and cheap Western coal.

To be fair, some of the proposed new regulations on energy will impact mining, and with it tax revenues and jobs. But the biggest factor by far is the market, which the same ruling class tends to worship as a god when it's convenient to do so.

It's not going to be pretty here. I do wish the federal government would step up with plans and programs to assist mining regions hard hit by these changes.

AUSTERITY BLUES. Here's Krugman on our failure to address long term unemployment.

IT'S NOT ALL BAD. Here's just one of many examples of how West Virginians are trying to promote health and wellness. For more on that, click here.


November 07, 2013

Happy 100, Albert

Today is the 100th birthday of one of my intellectual heroes, Albert Camus. Born in Algeria, he became a major force in the French literary and intellectual scene and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. Camus called them like he saw them, infuriating the left and right in the process.

I was unaware of his birthday until I saw the NPR story linked above. By coincidence, I happen to be re-reading his novel The Plague for the umpteenth time. That novel played a huge part in my political formation. This saying by Tarrou, a central character, sums up my worldview pretty well:

"All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences. That may sound simple to the point of childishness; I can't judge if it's simple, but I know it's true."

SPEAKING OF WHICH, the plague of mean-spiritedness is alive and well. Here's a look at the cuts in food stamps.

NON-VIOLENCE BY THE NUMBERS. It holds up pretty well.


November 06, 2013

Another civilized state?

One result of yesterday's election is that 400,000 low income residents of Virginia may become eligible for health coverage. The race was a close one between a strong supporter of Medicaid expansion and an ardent foe of anything associated with the Affordable Care Act. It's still a long way from happening there but the odds have definitely improved. I hope Virginia joins the civilized states.

Meanwhile, over 61,000 West Virginians have signed up for Medicaid since Oct. 1, which effectually reduced the number of the state's uninsured by 1/4 in a little over a month.

WHAT DID THEY EXPECT? State tax revenues are dropping and higher education is just one victim. Quite a few people are calling for raising revenue. Let the record show that these wounds are self inflicted. WV slashed corporate taxes a few years back and eliminated the regressive food tax without thinking about other sources of revenue.

TWO TO PONDER. Here are a couple interesting items from Alternet. The first tries to plumb the thinking of the Ayn Rand-type one percenters and the second ponders whether the ruling class needs anybody else these days.



November 05, 2013

No ordinary mind

This morning I had a conversation with the Spousal Unit as we took the canines on their morning constitutional. She related that she found the flying monkeys on the original Wizard of Oz movie to be frightening even when she was older--until she had a critical insight.

That insight was that the wingspan of said monkeys was actually way too small to support their body weight in flight. Apparently that broke the spell. But then she recalled that once you accept the premise of flying monkeys, it's kind of small potatoes to quibble about specifics.

Now that was a train of thought and a half.

I GUESS WE CAN TALK ABOUT this fossilized giant platypus tomorrow.

November 04, 2013

Who'd a thunk it?

I must admit to being a bit surprised that a bill ending workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation passed the US Senate 61-30. Not sure how it will go in the Reptile Room  US House of Representatives though. WV's junior senator Joe Manchin had one of his good days.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN on poverty.



November 03, 2013

A little justice

Last week, I blogged about recent reports by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity about how prominent law firms, universities and hospitals were devoted to cheating coal miners out of deserved black lung benefits.

I was delighted to learn that Johns Hopkins suspended a black lung program  that thrived by depriving Appalachian coal miners of benefits who were dying from that disease.

Some of the miners denied benefits were proven to have the disease when they were autopsied.

Whatever happened to Hippocrates idea of doing no harm?

Yanking the program was a welcome step, but it's just a tiny bit of what deserves to happen.

November 01, 2013

Four for the road

Paul Krugman shows up quite a bit at Goat Rope, but today's op-ed about a war on the poor is better than usual and worth a close look.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, one in five West Virginians, along with millions of people around the country, will face cuts in SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) today.

BLACK LUNG. There's an old saying that if you can't say something nice about somebody, don't say anything at all. Here's an article about a law firm that is really good at keeping sick miners from getting black lung benefits. Nuff said.

IT'S NOT ALL BAD. Workforce WV got a federal grant to provide paid training for displaced miners. It's not enough, but it's a step in the right direction.


October 31, 2013

Infernal real estate

I'm sure my beloved Dante enjoyed parceling out real estate in Hell for the first canticle of his Divine Comedy. Some days, I'd kind of like to hand out the real thing. Some of the prime lots would go to people who cheated sick coal miners out of the black lung benefits they deserved.

ROBIN HOOD. Here's  an idea that makes way more sense than austerity.

IT'S NOT ALL BAD. Here are some creative ways West Virginians are promoting wellness in their communities.


October 30, 2013

Annals of hypocrisy

The coal industry continued its 5 year long hissy fit in Washington yesterday, where it asserted that the troubles of the industry have nothing to do with cheap natural gas,cheap western coal or the very real threat of climate change but rather can be conveniently blamed on the black guy.

But a lot of the same industry voices claiming to be the protectors of miners are the same ones who cheat them out of black lung benefits. Kudos to the Center for Public Integrity for shedding light on evil.

October 29, 2013

Rock on, Lou

I was saddened to learn of the death of rock legend (those words seem kind of trite here) Lou Reed. I must admit that I missed the whole Velvet Underground scene and only became aware of it much later.

But the Lou Reed that I remember most was the angry, prophetic voice behind his 1989 theme album New York, which denounced the greed, corruption, violence and indifference to the poor that characterized the country at the end of the Reagan era. The songs from that album permanently engraved themselves into my consciousness.

Today's song, Dirty Boulevard, is one of those. His words about "your hungry, your tired, your poor" have often gone through my mind when I witnessed the many degradations that poor people are still subjected to.

BAD MOON ON THE RISE. This news doesn't bode well for union miners.

BAD TASTE ON THE DECLINE. What was this Virginia amusement park thinking, anyway?

GET DOWN, DOG. Here's a look at why yoga is good for you.


October 28, 2013

Short load

West Virginia was the subject of a long and gloomy article in the Washington Post recently. Some other reflections on changes in the state over time can be found in this Gazette editorial.

Meanwhile, here's a good one by E.J. Dionne about why Congress has been trying to fix the wrong problem for the last few years and one more by Krugman about how ideology can sabotage government services.

October 25, 2013

Shoutout to a friend

I just finished reading an entertaining book by a friend of mine, Julian Martin. Julian, a native West Virginian unto the generations, has had an interesting life. He served in the Air Force, studied engineering at WVU, and was WV's first Peace Corps volunteer who wound up teaching for two years in Nigeria.

On returning, he taught for several years at Duvall High School in Lincoln County and has taken his lumps, sometimes literally, for social justice.

The book in question is Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. More from Amazon here.

Imagonna, by the way, is a hillbilly term Julian's African students didn't understand. It means "I am going to..."

BAD IDEA. Here's why Senator Manchin should reconsider his health care reform delay idea.

FROM THE SAME FOLKS, food stamp or SNAP cuts scheduled for Nov. 1 will affect 48 million Americans and 350,000 West Virginians.

CHICKEN LITTLES are called out here by Krugman.



October 24, 2013

What melancholy Danes?

It looks like Shakespeare's Hamlet may be an exception. According to a recent study, Denmark was rated the happiest country in the world. According to this Alternet article,

The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.
The article didn't say as much, but I wonder whether a shortage of Whackadoodles might also contribute to national felicity.

MR. MOJO NOT RISIN'. West Virginia's junior senator has good days and bad days. Lately, it's more of the latter.



SOS!  Speaking of canines, the Spousal Unit has been perusing dog rescue sites again. Help!


October 23, 2013

Shorter than a blog post, longer than a haiku

Here's yet another reason why West Virginia needs to create a Future Fund from severance taxes on natural resources.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN on poverty.

URGENT GOBLIN SHARK UPDATE here. You've got to check out how this dude eats.


October 21, 2013

Full point

In another lifetime, I used to referee karate tournaments. That was before I became convinced that karate should never have been turned into a sport and way before my trip to the Holy Land, aka Okinawa.

When I did ref though, I tried to be fair and watch as closely as possible regardless of what I thought of a competitor, his/her teacher or style and call em like I saw em.

In that spirit, I hereby call "Ippon!" (that's full point in Japanese) for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who pushed through, perhaps a bit roughly, Medicaid expansion for his state despite his firm Republican credentials.

And, once again, shame and nothing but shame on the rulers of the states that refuse this basic act of humanity. As Krugman argued today, the arguments against Medicaid expansion are just plain lousy.

October 20, 2013

Different worlds

Every day I am more grateful to live in a state in which the leaders have a degree of humanity. West Virginia is one of those states that chose to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This is something for which Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin deserves a great deal of credit, even though he hasn't seemed anxious to claim any of it.

Two items made me think of this again. This New York Times article shows how the focus of attacking the ACA is moving to the states, where the forces of evil are trying to block Medicaid expansion, a measure that would save lives, ease stresses on working families and create jobs. This article from Politico shows that two states with different policies may share a border but be in different worlds.

October 17, 2013

The minimum wage: who would win from a raise

Here's a good infographic about the minimum wage from the WV Center on Budget and Policy. If you have trouble reading it, click here.

THE WRECKING CREW. Here's a look at the real costs of the government shutdown, including lost economic growth.

IT'S NOT ALL BAD. Here is the Charleston Daily Mail and WV Public Broadcasting on the farm to school movement in WV.

CONSOLATION. It's not just for humans anymore. It never was.



October 16, 2013

So like...

Street protest outside WV Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's office yesterday.

...what was the point of the whole shutdown thing again? Did the shutdown wrecking crew get what they wanted out of this?

Talk about sound and fury signifying nothing. What a waste and what an irresponsible abuse of power.

Watching this sorry spectacle, I was reminded of a saying of Napoleon's: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

(Of course, El Cabrero loves everyone and has no enemies. But the point remains...)

WHO PAYS? Here's another look at the social cost of low wages.


MORE SPITE AT WORK. This item looks at the millions left out by the refusal of some states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.


October 15, 2013

A look at what Americans love and what they don't.

From all the buzz about the series finale of Breaking Bad, you'd think Americans have a soft spot for meth cookers. Whatever the case may be with that, it looks like they love zombies even more.

As for congressional Republicans, not so much. A recent poll shows that 74 percent of Americans disapprove of the ransom/blackmail school of government.

Meanwhile, here's one interesting take on where the "American center" is politically these days. There's some good news and bad news.

October 14, 2013

What they're thinking

At this writing, there's talk of an approaching debt ceiling/shutdown deal emerging from the Senate. That kind of news makes me wonder what they caved in on this time. I guess we'll know soon. At any rate, here's an interesting look at the folks who gave us the shutdown and how they look at the world. It's worth a look.

WEIRTON STEEL TO WAL-MART. Here's an op-ed by yours truly about how WV's economy has changed over the years. Mostly not in a good way. But there is some good news in there too.

FUN AND GAMES WITH THE AG. Here's an item by a friend of mine across the state about how WV's attorney general is working hard to keep people from getting health care.

IT'S NOT ALL BAD. German scientists are trying to raise drought resistant barley so we can still drink beer in a climate changed world.


October 13, 2013

Who wins? WV for a change

It looks like West Virginia will be among the states that will most benefit from the Affordable Care Act, thanks in no small part to Gov. Tomblin's decision to expand Medicaid to low wage working people. You can compare it with other states here.

As for the states that aren't expanding Medicaid, and for the politicians who want to beat down the poor some more, an explanation might be found here.

PILLS ARE OUR FRIENDS, RIGHT? When he's not policing uteri or witch-hunting for midwives or trying to keep people from getting health care, WV's Attorney General is pretty cozy with a certain pharmaceutical company.

WHAT TO GET THE PERSON WITH EVERYTHING? Try a six foot salamander.


October 11, 2013

The generosity of the universe

Arpad (pronounced Ar-pod), our Great Pyrenees and security chief for Goat Rope Farm, loves this time of the year. As deer hunters hit the woods, they often leave behind such tasty offerings as legs and spines, sometimes both all joined together. These are sources of delight for a good month or two starting when the leaves start to turn.

The above picture shows his treasure haul for the day. And the season is still young.

For Arpad, it's proof that the universe is bountiful and generous. It's all good. The Pod abides.

HOW BOUT THOSE POLLS? It looks like the government shutdown/hostage crisis thing hasn't worked out too well for House Republicans.

A GRIEF OBSERVED. My friend the Rev. Jim Lewis recently lost his wife Judy after a long battle with cancer. Here are some of his reflections on dealing with loss.

ELEPHANTS get the point. Too bad some people don't.

ENDING THE (REAL) HUNGER GAMES. Here's a look at some recent reforms that provide free meals for all schoolchildren. We're working on that in WV.

WE KNOW FROM "OKLAHOMA" that the farmer and the cowman should be friends. Apparently, it wasn't that easy even thousands of years ago.


October 10, 2013

Who's winning?

Republican extremism in the US House is driving a wedge between Tea Party Whackadoodles and big business groups, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristoff calls out the "gang of 40" here.

It looks like the shutdown/hostage crisis isn't gaining Republicans too many popularity points, as another poll suggests. AND the threats are causing consumer confidence to sink.

Talk about a goat rope. It's another example of government by artificial crisis of the kind we've been seeing for the last couple years. Who knows how much damage will be done. It looks like the biggest losers will be the American people.

October 09, 2013

Fear of success

It's becoming increasingly clear that what lies behind the mania of the US House majority to shutdown the government and crash the economy is fear that the Affordable Care Act will succeed.

I mean think about it. If "Obamacare" was a disaster, the thing to do would be let it roll out, capitalize on how bad it is, and ride that wave to victory. As Napoleon was supposed to have said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." That isn't happening. Instead, West Virginia alone, over 50,000 people have signed up for the expanded Medicaid program since Oct. 1.

I wonder how much damage the Whackadoodles will do before it's over, but I don't think they are going to be able to put the genie back in the bottle.

AND THEN THERE'S THIS: a recent poll shows that a majority of Americans don't think the shutdown crisis should be linked to Obamacare funding.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION. Here's a look at why it matters.

BOOMS AND BUSTS. Here's a call for WV leaders to get real about the future of coal. I'm not holding my breath on this one.


October 07, 2013

Statement of intent

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was sidetracked from running for around three months with plantar fasciitis, an irritating condition which is the next best thing to having a nail in your heel. It seems to be slowly easing its grip on my foot and I've started to limp/jog again, even hitting the three mile point today (we will not discuss speed).

A while back, my daughter, La Cabrita, pointed out that there is a marathon in October in one of my favorite places, Harper's Ferry. Aptly named Freedom's Run, it coincides closely with the anniversary of John Brown's raid. And El Cabrero is all about John Brown.

It'll take me a long time to catch up to where I was this spring, running-wise, and even longer to get ready for a marathon, assuming I stay injury free. But in a year...

OK, so I've had some heart issues and two bad knees and can barely limp a few miles. Whatever. It is SOOO on.

This one's for the wild man with the beard.

THE OTHER GREAT DIVIDE. There's not only an economic gap between rich and poor. There's also an empathy gap.

SINCE I WAS ALREADY AT THE TIMES, I scooped up the latest Krugman here on the government shutdown.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. It looks like WV legislators are studying ways of promoting physical activity for kids.