December 30, 2006


El Cabrero has resolved to be a better person in the coming year and can think of no better way to do this than to reflect on the subject of ethics and morality.
However, my earnest efforts for self-improvement have been stymied by philosophical confusion.
In order to resolve that issue, it seemed necessary to me to discuss these dilemmas with someone with unassailable moral standing and a reputation for wisdom.
At Goat Rope Farm, that means alpine goat Arcadia S. Venus. What follows is a transcription of a philosophical dialogue between us.
EC: Venus, thanks for taking time for this little talk. As you know, I really want to be a better person this year and I'm not sure how to get there.
VENUS: Whatever.
EC: I've consulted the wisdom of the ages and found that philosophers disagree on how to do it. Some say that what really matters is our motivation while others think its what we really do. If I could figure that out, I'd have a better sense of which way to go.
VENUS: Are you going to talk all day or are you going to give me some alfalfa cubes?
EC: In a minute. According to the deontological school, it's all about intention. If I mean well, that's the main thing, regardless of how it turns out. But then we know from experience and psychology that all human motivations are ambiguous and we can even deceive ourselves about them.
VENUS: Cubes. Apples. Some of those things you keep in that jar.
EC: And then, sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons and vice versa. Is it better to have really bad or cynical motivations if you do things that are good or to mean well and do things that don't work out?
VENUS: Slice the apples first. And don't drop them. When you finally get around to it.
EC: But Venus, I really can't get around to being a better person until I figure this out. This is serious!
VENUS: You're still just talking.
EC: Alright, let's use an example. Suppose I intend to give you an alfalfa cube but don't. Would that be just as good as the real thing?
VENUS: That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
EC: Or suppose I didn't really mean to but left a bunch of alfalfa cubes just lying around where you could get into them?
VENUS: That's what I'm talking about!
EC: So you're saying that what we really do matters more than just intentions?
VENUS: How are those alfalfa cubes coming?
EC: Thanks, Venus, now I think I understand. It's all about what we really do! Now maybe I really can start being a better person. I feel so much better after talking to you!
VENUS: Are you still here?
(Note: Goat Rope will resume regular posts on Jan. 2. Happy New Year!)

December 27, 2006


Caption: Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd? Castor the curious peacock does! In this photo, he contemplates the meaning of being.

During the usually slack time between Christmas and New Year's Goat Rope will highlight greatest hits from El Cabrero's 2006 reading list.

Yesterday's post featured Vermont poet David Budbill. Today's is philosopher Karl Popper, whose works include The Poverty of Historicism and this year's winner, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vols. I and II.

In these books, written around the time of the nearly triumphant totalitariansm of the 1940s, Popper takes merciless aim at theoretical and practical totalitarians of the right and left.

Speaking of poets and philosophers, Popper slams the later Plato, who would have banned uncensored poets from his Republic, as an early apologist for authoritarianism. He is especially merciless to Hegel, who I still kind of like, and is respectful of but severely critical of Marx.

For Popper, people have a temptation to want to return to the closed society of tribalism which we often pretend to remember as a golden age as a way of escaping from the messiness of modern life. He argues that we can't go back (even if we think it's forward) and it would be bad if we did.

There are no laws of history or ready made utopias to save us. Our best hope is to try to preserve democracy and try to improve social ills through trial and error. Here's a sample from the rousing last paragraph:

"We can return to the beasts. But if we wish to remain human, then there is only one way, the way into the open society. We must go on into the unknown, the uncertain and insecure, using what reason we may have to plan as well as we can for both security and freedom."

He doesn't rise to the rhetorical heights of Camus, but they two are kind of on the same page.


December 26, 2006


Caption: The state of Vermont graciously agreed to pose for this picture.

El Cabrero is pretty sure most of you guys are slacking off at this time of year and is quite willing to join you.

Between now and New Year's, Goat Rope will highlight some of the best books I've read this year (although they were not generally published this year).

The hands-down winner of the Goat Rope Poet of the Year is David Budbill of Vermont, whose poetry chronicles the imaginary but real village of Judevine in that state's Northeast Kingdom.

I go to Vermont quite a bit to visit inlaws and it is a great state, even if it's not as endearingly screwed up as El Cabrero's Beloved State of West Virginia.

Though not a native of that state, Budbill has lived there for many years and has a very strong sense of place. Here are three books that I'd particularly recommend.

The first is Judevine, which is set in and around that village and captures many of the voices and stories of its residents.

Two others are in the modern iteration of the Chinese Zen/Taoist mountain poetry tradition: While We've Still Got Feet and Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse.

El Cabrero is himself aspires to be a reclusive Taoist mountain sage (of the High Church Anglican/Mahayana variety) and knows from experience that it's not easy, especially if one is not a sage and has trouble with the recluse part. One amusing theme of these poems is the contradiction between higher aspirations and our ordinary foibles.

Here's particular favorite of mine on the difficulty of maintaining equanimity (it also illustrates the difference between Taoism and strict forms of Buddhism):

Ahimsa Next Time, Maybe


The Taoist Mountain Recluse

Stands in his Summer Garden and

Says to the Deerfly About to Bite Him

Back to the undifferentiated Tao,
you son of a bitch!

And he smashes the triangular fly
into the hairs on his dirty brown arm.

(Comment: they really do have some nasty bugs up there.)


December 23, 2006


Goat Rope is pleased to offer a special Christmas edition of the canine film critic. In this holiday feature, Goat Rope Farm film critic Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY) will discuss the perennial seasonal favorite, "A Christmas Story."

Once again, we must remind our readers that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury from crashing into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he has on occasion been known to transpose the plots of the films he discusses. Nevertheless, we believe that his insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that features such as these will elevate the level of public discourse and contribute to a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

And finally, the human and animal staff of Goat Rope, with the possible exception of the goats, join in wishing a happy whatever-ticks-off-Bill-O'Reilly-day to one and all.

(Production note: regular publication of Goat Rope will resume on Dec. 26.)


OK, so this movie is awesome. Some people may not think this movie needs explaining by a film critic but there's a lot going on there that you might not get at first.

First, there's this kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas so bad it's driving him nuts. But everybody keeps telling him he'll put his eye out with it.

What they don't know is that he really needs this BB gun because this evil robot from the future who looks like some kind of muscle governor is coming back and trying to kill him.

The evil robot catches the kid and puts him in a prison down south where he makes friends with everybody by eating 50 eggs.

I could probably eat 50 eggs if Moomus and Doodus would let me...

The 50 eggs is sort of a symbol for the 12 days of Christmas.

Anyway, he escapes from New York and these Christmas ghosts show him what's going to happen to him if he doesn't straighten up. So then he trades in his BB gun and buys Christmas presents for everybody, even the evil robot whose name is Tiny Tim, who gets the girl that works at the fashion magazine.
It's awesome, especially if you eat eggs and popcorn while you watch it.

December 22, 2006


Caption: Venus volunteered to help Santa deliver toys in a car. Warning: don't try this at home. Only professionally trained goats should operate motor vehicles.

This is the fourth and final installment on the
bogus "war on Christmas," which El Cabrero stoutly maintains is a diabolically clever distraction in the merciless war of extermination on Groundhog Day.

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to earlier entries.

It was encouraging last year to read a thoughtful letter to the editor about Christmas in the Huntington West Virginia paper where it was suggested that we make it unacceptable to “use this holy day as a means of profit monetarily.”

Instead, the writer recommended that “If you want to give, give your time and talents to those who truly are in need, not greed. Give to your church and the poor, the homeless, the sick and inform, the lonely and downtrodden and all others who otherwise may be or have been forgotten.”

If people took that advice, they’d be too busy to get their undergarments in a knot over holiday greetings. We really don’t need any more jihads.

I’m already starting my wish list for next Christmas. I’m asking St. Nicholas, the 4th century bishop of Myra who somehow got morphed into Santa Claus, to help the Christmas jihad crew find something better to do next holiday season.

Or, failing that, to find them a different religion to disgrace.

And, by the way, y'all have a good one.


December 21, 2006


Caption: There's no need to bug out about the holidays.

This is the third post in a series about the bogus "War on Christmas," which in El Cabrero's mind is a diabolical conspiracy to distract the masses from the real assault on Father's Day.

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier posts

At the historical level, no one knows exactly when Jesus was born, although most scholars would put their money on any day but Dec. 25. The earliest church didn’t mark the holiday. By the year 200, the church father Clement of Alexandria found that the people who tried to mark the exact day did so “overly curiously.” Early dates from around that period set the birth in March, April or June.

The Dec. 25 date didn’t catch on in the western church until the 4th century of the Christian era. This time of year was already celebrated in pagan customs honoring Saturn, Mithras, and the return of the sun after the winter solstice. A lot of other Christmas customs, including trees, Yule logs, and the exchange of gifts were adapted from Mediterranean, Germanic or Celtic paganism. In other words, there are a lot of reasons for things done at that season.

I think the decision of the ancient church to fill the calendar with sacred days marking key events in the life of Jesus, the early church and the saints was a wise one, even if the days don’t match up exactly. Maybe one reason some people get so weird about Christmas is that they have an impoverished sense of the sacred year. Making do just on Christmas and Easter from this perspective is kind of like playing cards with just two in the deck.

When I buy gas on Jan. 1, for example, I don’t get worked up if the person says “Happy New Year” instead of “Happy Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord.” I don’t tell the people I’m taking my business elsewhere if they don’t say “Happy Epiphany” on January 6. I’m even OK if folks don’t wish me a happy Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24th.

These are things you just deal with...

December 20, 2006


Caption: Christmas or not, I'd avoid any manger these guys hang out in.
(Note: please excuse any weirdness of format and spacing. The "improved" version of blogger is turning out to be a, well, goat rope.")
This is the second post in a series on the bogus "War on Christmas," which is in El Cabrero's opinion merely a cynical diversionary movement in the long term war of attrition against Mardi Gras.
If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the previous entry.
You may have noticed that some people work themselves into a frenzy of imagined martyrdom when someone says "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
That's pretty jacked.
At a moral level, there is something pretty perverse going on when a person claiming to be a follow of Jesus walks into a big box store where the products were made by women and children in sweatshops who live in miserable conditions, is waited on by a person who probably doesn’t earn a living wage or have health insurance, and only manages to get mad if the worker says something other than “Merry Christmas.”

This is the kind of thing the real Jesus—remember him?—called “straining at gnats and allowing camels.” In fact, I don’t think any of the gospels quotes Jesus as saying “Thou shalt get royally ticked off if the occasion of my birth is not marked by everyone exactly according to your liking.”
Maybe I missed that part.

At a religious level, there is something pretty blasphemous about thinking that the current annual Saturnalia of materialism, greed, commercialism, and over-consumption in a world where billions of people are desperately poor has anything to do with the person or birth of Jesus. As I recall, when Jesus himself was exposed to the commercialization of sacred things in the Temple, he started overturning tables and raising a ruckus.

The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was probably onto something when he said that true impiety consisted of “attributing to the gods the ideas of the crowd.”

At a semantic level, there seems to be some confusion about persecution and how to deal with it. Jesus was literally persecuted to death. When he warned his followers to expect the same and told them to bless and pray for their persecutors, he probably didn’t have the greeting “Happy holidays” in mind.

Maybe a real example of persecution would help clear things up. About 25 years ago, three American nuns and a church worker went to El Salvador to stand with oppressed people. They did this because they took Jesus’ teachings about justice for the poor seriously. (Apparently these teachings have been excised from some versions of the New Testament.) They were kidnapped by the Salvadoran National Guard and were raped, tortured, shot, and buried in an unmarked grave precisely for being faithful to the Gospel.

That was persecution.

Equating a generic holiday greeting with persecution is an insult to thousands of authentic Christian martyrs from the stoning of Stephen to the present day.
Next time: history.

December 19, 2006


Caption: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills...

(Once again, please excuse the weirdness of spacing etc. as Goat Rope tries to deal with a change in software.)

One of the loonier cultural moments in the last few years--and the competition has been fierce--has been the whole "war on Christmas" jihad, (which in El Cabrero's opinion is just a distraction from the real war on Arbor Day).

I haven't heard a lot about it lately, which is probably one advantage of living too far out in the sticks to get cable.

Anyhow, the next few posts will share a version of a rant on the subject that appeared in an op-ed of mine in the Charleston Gazette last holiday season.

Here's the first installment:

I usually enjoy customs and rituals, especially when they are sanctioned by age and tradition. Some of the newer ones, however, get on my last nerve.

A case in point is the recent holiday ritual of the annual Christmas jihad, a feeding frenzy of pretended persecution and pseudo-martyrdom the coming of which is heralded not by the singing of angels but by the braying of jackasses.

The jackasses in question summon the faithful via the airwaves to a veritable hissy fit of outrage over the fact that some people have the gall to say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” This apparently is seen to be the latter day equivalent of being being fed to the lions in the Roman coliseum.

As a practicing although not entirely successful Christian who celebrates Christmas, this seems bizarre. I don’t personally care how I’m greeted at that season, having learned as a child that it’s rude to get angry when someone wishes you well, however they express it. But there is more to this than bad manners.

Which will be the subject of the next installment...


December 18, 2006


Caption: Ferdinand likes to watch the people channel. This is how it starts.

(First, an apology: Goat Rope was recently switched to a new form of software which is getting on El Cabrero's last nerve. Please excuse weirdness in spacing and format.)

El Cabrero is having more and more postmodern moments lately. These are those times when the current cultural shift from things to images of things to images of images is particularly striking.

Here are some examples:

*Two perfectly healthy kids playing a video game version of basketball on a fine day when a real basketball court is a minute away;

*The political switch from substance to soundbite and policy to photo op;

*Cyber-dating and related virtual activities;

*Movies about making movies, and movies about the breakdown of the distinction between images and "reality" like Blade Runner or The Matrix, etc.

But the one that takes the cake is the booming market in virtual reality. According to the Dec. 18th Business Week,

"In 2006 the fast-rising virtual world, Second Life, became the hottest commercial (un)real estate online. It resembles a video game, but here people create avatars, or graphic representations of themselves, and proceed to build everything from buildings to businesses. Thousands of people make at least $20,000 a year from selling virtual clothing, houses, shopping malls, games, and more."

More and more business are spending real money buying virtual real estate with real money as a way of reaching more (presumably real) customers.

It is virtually the understatement of the year to say that things are starting to get really weird.

By the way, for as good a definition of postmodernism as you are likely to get, check out this talking animal blast from the Goat Rope past.


In the same issue of Business Week, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who recently tried and failed to buy the state legislature, had the dubious distinction of being cited in an item on CEOs who offer the best and worst bang for the corporate buck. He wound up on the "Worst Value" list, "earning" $32.6 million himself while the company's return on investment was -27.1 percent.


December 16, 2006


Goat Rope is pleased to once again feature a contribution by boxer and official Goat Rope Farm film critic Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY). You can check out his previous two weekend contributions in the Goat Rope archives.

Once again, we must remind our readers that Mr. Sege sustained a head injury whilst crashing into a wall chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he sometimes transposes the plots of the films he discusses. Nevertheless, we are convinced that his insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that these weekend features will help to elevate the level of public discourse and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


OK, so this is like everybody's all time favorite Christmas movie. It's about this Jimmy Stewart guy, except he's pretending to be someone else. That's acting, which sometimes happens in movies.

After he loses a bunch of money and thinks he messed up his whole life, he thinks about killing himself. But just before he throws himself into the river, this big twister comes and picks up his house and drops it on a witch. Only her feet are sticking out. And these little people are real happy about it.

Glenda the Good Witch tells Jimmy/the other guy that he needs to go see the Wizard to figure it all out with this angel named Toto who wants to get his wings.

Toto kind of looks like a squeaky toy to me.

So anyway he takes off on the Yellow Brick Road and is joined by some hobbits, an elf and a dwarf. They have to fight off a lot of orcs and trolls, which is kind of cool.

Moomus and Doodus say I look like a cave troll...

So anyway, they finally get to the wizard and destroy the ring. And when the bell rings, Jimmy gets his wings and goes back to Kansas.

And here's the thing: he could have got there all along.

The cinematography is outstanding. This is a technical film critic thing, but it's like in these old movies they take a bunch of pictures and show them quickly so it looks like people are moving around. So it looks like there are people moving around.

They say if you play Pink Floyd's The Wall while watching this movie you get real confused and depressed.

I think that's only true if you run out of popcorn.


December 15, 2006


Caption: We apologize, but the gratuitous animal picture feature didn't work today. It would have been an adolescent peacock displaying.)

This is the fifth and final post in a series on what a just society might look like. It was written in response to a challenge from a Goat Rope reader. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

(Also, sorry for the delay in publishing this post. Goat Rope is undergoing some renovations.)

El Cabrero survived graduate statistics classes at (we are...) Marshall University by attempting to entertain his professor. Fortunately for me, the late great Dr. Bill Westbrook was easily amused.

I could at least count on getting one question right on his tests because he asked it every time. It gave sage advice on breaking down complex statistical problems (not that I ever did) and might work pretty well in terms of solving social problems.

Here it is:

Q. How do you eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

In the context of working for a better society, that would mean approaching problems through what Karl Popper called "piecemeal social reform" rather than trying to swallow the whole elephant at once. The whole elephant approach would lead to gastronomic problems in a culinary sense and a lot of carnage in the social sense if past experience is any indicator.

For one thing, many if not all human actions produce unintended consequences which could be good or bad. We don't have enough experience or knowledge of complex causal connections to anticipate all these. Nor can we predict the future or control the actions of others. A piecemeal, experimental approach gives us a chance to fiddle with things and make adjustments and corrections before too much damage is done.

Given the choice between the New Deal and the other revolutions of the 20th century, I'd take the former. It is one of the cruel features of history as I see it that during most of it revolutions are impossible and, on the rare occasions when they are, they often make things worse (admittedly, there may be some exceptions).

To quote again from Karl Popper,

In all matters, we can only learn by trial and error, by making mistakes and improvements; we can never rely on inspiration, although inspirations may be most valuable as long as they can be checked by experience. Accordingly, it is not reasonable to assume that a complete reconstruction of our social world would lead at once to a workable system. Rather we should expect that, owing to lack of experience, many mistakes would be made which could be eliminated only by a long and laborious process of small adjustments; in other words, by the rational method of piecemeal engineering whose application we advocate.

That doesn't mean we should just work on one issue at a time. We don't have that luxury when so many things are being thrown at us.

And it may be true that if we get better and better at working together to make things less bad, the world would look a lot different than it does today.

And if not, we should try something else and see how that goes.


December 14, 2006


Caption: For Seamus McGoogle, every day is utopia. Would to God that we were cats...

This is the fourth post in a series on what a just society might look like. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

The series is a result of a challenge from a Goat Rope reader to use "the vision thing" as a step on the way of trying to get there. I'm trying it even though my utopianism has been eaten by weasels over the last few years.

To recap briefly, El Cabrero would settle out of court for a messy political democracy where extremes of poverty have been eliminated and people are able to meet their basic needs and duke it out over everything else.

I agree with Aristotle that happiness in the sense of the full development of the individual's potential over a lifetime is a good goal for personal and political life. With the understanding that you can't legislate other people's happiness.

Anyway, El Cabrero sometimes thinks that people are wired for ingratitude. That is to say, we often don't notice when things are going fairly well but are keenly alert to the slightest increase in pain or discomfort.

People often have to look back to realize that certain periods of their lives were comparatively happy ones. Often we don't value or appreciate the positive things in our lives until they are threatened or gone.

Bad things are often "louder" if not stronger than good things in that we often tend to notice them more. Similarly, while we can't "make" someone happy, we can make them more or less miserable.

We do know, for example, that wealth may not make people happy although poverty generally makes people miserable and that it is well within our reach today to eliminate extreme poverty in the world and extreme relative poverty in the US. (See the link to the earlier series on happiness in Monday's post.)

Having access to medical care when you need it doesn't necessarily make anyone happy but doing without it can definitely make you miserable.

We'll all be less miserable in the future if we start taking serious action on climate change and environmental degradation.

"Making" people happy through political action is probably a doomed project although making people less miserable isn't. As Karl Popper put it in Vol. 2 of The Open Society and Its Enemies,

...the attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell. It leads to intolerance. It leads to religious wars, and to the saving of souls through the inquisition. And it is, I believe, based on a complete misunderstanding of our moral duties. It is our duty to help those who need our help; but it cannot be our duty to make others happy, since this does not depend on us, and since it would only too often mean intruding on the privacy of those towards whom we have such amiable intentions.

Pain, suffering, injustice, and their prevention, these are the eternal problems of public morals, the 'agenda' of public policy (as Bentham would have said). The 'higher' values should very largely be considered as 'non-agenda-, and should be left to the realm of laissez-faire.

In other words, the best way to (non) utopia might be to work step by step to reduce unnecessary misery. Once that's done, the patients can minister to themselves.


December 13, 2006


Caption: For Lily, utopia would be her Mom, food, and stinky dead things to roll around in. And maybe a fireplace.

This is the third post in a series about what a just society might look like. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the last two entries.

This series was inspired by a challenge from a Goat Rope reader to others to think about this as a way of starting to achieve it. The first two posts laid out very generally what some of the ingredients might be.

This one is about the limits to how far we get.

Sneak preview: El Cabrero believes the Buddhists, ancient Greeks, Christians, Walt Whitman, the existentialists, and Freud are onto something.

First, the Buddhists. Methinks life inherently involves suffering and is impermanent and insubstantial. They talk about six major kinds of suffering: birth (I've seen it happen and the little ones don't seem to be having a lot of fun); death (or at least a lot of the stuff that usually comes before or with it); sickness (especially if you are male and there are catheters involved); aging and loss of abilities (I can vouch for that); having what you don't want (self explanatory); and wanting what you can't have (ditto).

Second, the Greeks and Christians (some of them anyway). El Cabrero may not pass rigorous test of theological orthodoxy, which makes it handy to be an Episcopalian, but I'm with the program when it comes to sin or hubris (Goat Rope readers excepted, of course).

Individuals and especially groups tend to over- or under-reach, view themselves as the center of the world, and do harm to each other, themselves, nature, etc. I think that's a permanent feature of the model. And that's reason #243 why any social system needs checks and balances to limit the amount of harm we can do to each other.

Third, Walt Whitman. Like Gloria Radnor used to say on Saturday Night Live, "it's always something." That's true even when we make substantial progress on some things. Here's Walt:

Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? Yourself? Your nation? Nature?
Now understand me well--it is provided in the essence of
things that from any fruition of success, no
matter what, shall come forth something to
make a greater struggle necessary (Song of the Open Road)

Fourth, the existentialists. There is an element of absurdity and tragedy in human life. You'll just have that sometimes. And although Albert Camus disliked the label of existentialist, he's close enough for Goat Rope. In The Rebel, he said:

Man [sic] can master in himself everything that should be mastered. He should rectify in creation everything that can be rectified. And after he has done so, children will still die unjustly even in a perfect society. Even by his greatest effort man can only propose to diminish arithmetically the sufferings of the world. But the injustice and the suffering of the world will remain and, no matter how limited they are, they will not cease to be an outrage. Dmitri Karamazov's cry of "Why?" will continue to resound; art and rebellion will die only with the last man.

Fifth, Freud. Living in civilization, such as it is, involves a certain amount of frustration or discontent since we can't run around doing all the things we sometimes think about without getting in big trouble. And that is not altogether a bad thing.

Maybe the art of politics, broadly conceived, is to try to remove as much as we can of unnecessary suffering and deal with the rest the best we can.

Next time: bad and good and which we notice more.


December 12, 2006


Caption: For Denny Dimwit, bantam rooster and noted free market economist, utopia is a BIG HEN.

This is the second post in a series on what a just society might look like. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to yesterday's entry.

This series is the result of a challenge from a Goat Rope reader to think about that subject as a step on the way to getting there.

Back in the early days of Goat Rope, there was a series on the connection or lack thereof between economics, politics, and human happiness. Here's the link. Look for March 27-31. There's a little bit more in the April 3 post.

Short version: El Cabrero thinks Aristotle was onto something when he said in The Nicomachian Ethics that happiness is the goal or end (telos) of life because we want it for its own sake but want other things for the sake of happiness.

He also argued that happiness is not the same as pleasure, although pleasure would be one component of a happy life. Instead, happiness had to do with the all round development of a person's potential throughout the course of a lifetime. He also thought that politics exists for the sake of the good life.

This was what Jefferson et al were getting at when they talked about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In order to have a good chance of developing the human potential and having a happy life, you need some material basics and a decent and open society. You also need to work at it.

A political democracy with checks and balances probably provides the best framework for this for most people to achieve this. But formal democracy is not enough: people also need a good education, access to health care, a means of gaining a livelihood with an adequate standard of living, etc.

Obviously, we can't force people to be happy or to develop their potential, but we can take steps to make people less miserable and remove some of the obstacles that may keep people from fully developing.

But while it's hard to say where the fixed limits are of developing human potential or improving social life are, perfection is not an option in part because people have a really great knack for screwing things up.

Next time: the limits.


December 11, 2006


For Venus, utopia would consist of alfalfa cubes, grain, and lots of illicit flowers and ornamental shrubs to eat. And fences to jump over. And perhaps an occasional visit from a gentleman caller.

A while back, El Cabrero received a challenge from a Goat Rope reader who is by no means shy about kicking his butt when she thinks it needs it (a not altogether infrequent occurrence).

It has to do with what the first President Bush called "the vision thing." Specifically, the challenge was to try to answer the question of what a just society would look like as a way of thinking about how to get there.

I think she'd like others to take up the challenge too.

In the next few posts, I'm going to rassle with that.

For starters, I'd recommend looking at last Friday's post on Franklin Delano Roosevelt's--peace be unto him--call for a Second Bill of Rights that includes things like a good education, housing, jobs with living wages, health care, etc. Keeping the first Bill of Rights would probably be a good idea too.

Here's a disclaimer though. Somewhere a long the way, and mostly during the last five or six years, I lost all my remaining utopianism. I'd be glad if things weren't awful.

It's kind of like thinking your life bites and then getting a toothache--it puts things in a whole new perspective.

Next time: the point of human existence (if there is one).


December 09, 2006


We are pleased to feature another film review by Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY), official Goat Rope Farm film critic.

Once again, we must beg the reader's indulgence. Mr. Sege suffered a head injury whilst chasing a squeaky toy and as a result has sometimes been known to transpose the plots of movies.

Indeed, as the photo indicates, he has been known to put his foot in his mouth.

Nonetheless, we believe that his insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that these weekend features will elevate the level of public discourse and promote greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


OK so Amadeus is a movie about music. There's this guy Mozart who was a child prodigy till he grew up but then isn't a child but is still a prodigy.

Doodus says I eat a prodigious amount of popcorn...

Anyway, he goes to Vienna to make music for the emperor but his dad is mad about it.

Everything goes OK till there's a total eclipse of the sun where he finds this plant that talks, sings and eats people.

The plant eats his dad, who is also a mean dentist.

Amadeus is all torn up about it and decides to be a heavyweight boxing champ. When he trains, he runs up these stairs in Philadelphia and punches on a side of beef.

I wonder what they did with that meat?

The symbolism of the movie is complex. The music symbolizes sounds, with tones, notes, rhythm, harmony, melody, and stuff.

Amadeus' conflict with his father is what happens when you have a talking plant that eats people. Since that happens a lot, there must be a lot of plants like that.

That makes him want to be a boxer.

Hey--I'm a boxer!

So what do you think they did with that meat? That would go good with popcorn


December 08, 2006


Caption: Unlike sheep, goats neither demand nor beg for their rights. They just take them.

El Cabrero grew up in a household where strong language and irreverent jokes were tolerated if not encouraged.

We were hillbilly Episcopalians after all.

However, there were limits. Disparaging remarks about either Franklin Delano or Eleanor Roosevelt could be made only at considerable personal risk.

In retrospect, I'd say that's a pretty sound policy. In fact, I'm keeping a close eye on my three year old grandson in case he lets one slip.

FDR's New Deal laid the foundation for the American social contract, made possible the expansion of the middle class and largely created the social safety net. Although this social contract has been under sustained attack for over 25 years, it hasn't been completely destroyed. Thank God.

Towards the end of his life--and at a time when the nation was engaged in a life and death struggle against fascism-- he called for a Second Bill of Rights with a focus on economic justice issues. Here's an excerpt from his address to Congress on Jan. 11, 1944:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

(Can you imagine a president talking like that now?)

FDR's unfinished legacy is a challenge for us today.


December 07, 2006


Caption: We've been sheep long enough. (Full disclosure: these are Vermont sheep, which explains why they say "Jeezum Crow" a lot.)

Fifty eight years ago this coming Sunday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It would probably be the understatement of the century to say that we may have some compliance issues here.

But then the thing about human rights is that even if they are God-given, you have to take them.

Speaking of which, in addition to basic political and civil rights, the UN Declaration also calls for basic economic human rights for all:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…

Everyone has the right to work…and to protection against unemployment.

Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself [sic] and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of protection.

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control…

All Children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection…

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized…

El Cabrero is tempted to ask "How's that coming?" but we'd have to ask ourselves...

Next time: FDR--peace be unto him--on an Economic Bill of Rights.


December 06, 2006


Caption: Sound the alarm.

The New Republic magazine is like Forrest Gump's box of never know what you're going to find inside one.

Sometimes El Cabrero reads an issue from cover to cover and other times there just doesn't seem to be handle to with which to pick it up.

(Did you guys notice how elegantly I avoided ending a sentence with a preposition? Those are bad things to end a sentence with.)

The Dec. 4 issue is more in the former category. "Iraq: What Next?" is the theme and it's probably a measure of goat rope level in that unfortunate country that so many presumably informed people can come up with so many disparate answers.

There was a memorable comparison in an article by David Rieff which was pretty chilling. It referred the US invasion of Iraq as America's Sicilian expedition. Rieff was probably not the first to draw the comparison.

All historical analogies are inexact, but this one refers to one of the worst ideas in the nearly 30 year long Bad Idea that was the Peloponnesian War.

For those who are not ancient Greece buffs, this was a disastrous war of choice in which the Athenians invaded distant Syracuse for no compelling reason after being told it would be a cakewalk. The bad decision to invade was only made worse by subsequent bad decisions. The similarities end there but that's plenty close enough.

That's the first thought, such as it is.

The second comes from Niccolo Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy:

I claim, then, that there is no easier way of bringing disaster on a republic in which the populace has authority, than to engage it in undertakings which appear bold, for, if the populace is of any account, it is bound to be taken up; nor will those who are of a different opinion be able to do anything to stop it. But if this brings ruin to a city it brings ruin still more frequently to the particular citizens put in charge of such an enterprise. For the populace having taken victory for granted, when defeat comes, do not blame it on fortune or on the helplessness of the person in command, but on his malevolence or his ignorance.


December 05, 2006


Caption: "And behold a pale horse." (Full disclosure: the animal pictured above is not a Goat Rope Farm resident. Actually, he's a Vermont horse, which explains the accent.)

There's been a good deal of discussion recently about political divisions among evangelical Christians.

It's becoming clearer that the religious right doesn't have a lock on these voices votes.

One recent sign of the times was the resignation in late Nov. of the Rev. Joel Hunter from the leadership position of the Christian Coalition before he fully assumed his post.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Hunter said he

quit as president-elect of the group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson because he realized he would be unable to broaden the organization's agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage.

He hoped to include issues such as easing poverty and saving the environment.

"These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about," Hunter said.

Hunter's effort to raise "compassion issues" fell flat with the Christian Coalition, which stated that he resigned due to "differences in philosophy and vision."

According to the article, Hunter believes this indicates that the coalition is unwilling to part with its partisan ways. "To tell you the truth, I feel like there are literally millions of evangelical Christians that don't have a home right now," Hunter said.

These signs of a growing awareness of other issues are good for evangelicals and the country as a whole.

El Cabrero has said it before and will again: Christians would be well advised to go for less jihad and more Jesus.


December 04, 2006


Caption: Seamus McGoogle, the People's Avenger, labors on to raise the minimum wage.

Here's a dubious milestone to start the day. On Dec. 2, the US broke its previous record for going the longest time without a minimum wage increase.

The previous record, set during the Reagan-Bush I era, ran from Jan. 1, 1981 to April 1, 1990. For more, check out a good op-ed on the subject by Holly Sklar.

In case you missed it, there was also a good AP article on the minimum wage that ran on Friday. It pointed out that only

One quarter of hourly workers who make minimum wage are teenagers, but about half are older than 25, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

and that

Stagnating wages for unskilled workers coupled with increased housing costs have put more working people at risk of being homeless...

In several states, it would take more than three full time minimum wage workers t pay market rent for a two bedroom apartment.

While some have pointed out that proposed legislation to raise the minimum to $7.25 is modest, the positive effects on many people would be significant. The Nov. 27 Business Week notes that

If the minimum wage is raised to $7.25 an hour over the next two years, 6.6 million workers, or 5% of the workforce, would be directly affected. By itself that's not a very big number. But an additional 8.3 million will get "ripple effect raises," according to the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-supported Washington think tank. The ripple effect means employers tend to raise wages for workers who make above the new minimum, even though they have no legal obligation to do so. As a result, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that such a minimum wage increase would raise pay for 11% of the workforce.

Business Week also notes that many economists have challenged the free market theology which opposes an increase:

...the economics profession is far less united against the minimum wage than it was a generation ago. Since the early 1990s an influential group of economists has poked holes in the once strongly held belief that the minimum wage is a major job killer. And now there's economic research disputing the rest of the conventional wisdom. Some economists are saying that minimum-wage increases have a ripple effect, bumping up the pay of a large portion of the working poor. If they are right, that would strengthen the political appeal of a minimum wage hike by increasing the number of potential voters who are helped.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that

Over 650 economists, including 5 Nobel prize winners and 6 past presidents of the American Economic Association, believe that increasing federal and state minimum wages, with annual cost-of-living adjustments for inflation, “can significantly improve the lives of low-income workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed.

Let's do it.


In other urgent news, El Cabrero's brain is still stuck on the subject of metaphors, mixed and other wise. To use a simile, it's like having an irritating song stuck in your head. If anyone has suggestions on how to make it stop, please let me know.

We need to think outside the sum of our parts.


December 02, 2006


Goat Rope is pleased to introduce a new weekend contributor, Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Sheg-AY), a boxer and resident Goat Rope Farm film critic.

He intends to use this space to share his cinematic expertise by discussing well-known films.

(We must warn the reader, however, that Mr. Sege has suffered from a head injury whilst chasing squeaky toys and has been known to transpose the plots of movies. We ask the readers indulgence and believe that his unique insights more than compensate for this regrettable problem.)

Again, it is our hope that these weekend features will elevate the level of discourse and promote greater appreciation of the arts, humanities, and animalities.


Yeah, I'm a film critic. I got to be a film critic cause I love popcorn. Sometimes Moomus and Doodus watch movies and eat popcorn. Popcorn good. Especially with butter.

When you're a film critic, you get popcorn because it's part of the job. That's why I didn't go into dentistry.

So the first film I want to talk about is Casablanca. There's like this American guy in North Africa who runs a night club and the Nazis are taking over everything.

And then this woman walks in that he used to know and wants his help.

She's like a singing nun, except she's not a nun anymore and has all these kids. They sing too.

The other nuns got rid of her because she sang too much. And she couldn't play the reindeer games cause she had this red nose.

And when she comes, they're not in Africa anymore but somewhere in the Alps.

The social significance of this movie is about global climate change.

And then the guy and the ex-singing nun who is no longer a nun but still sings and the kids try to get away from the Nazis but first they have to go on a secret mission to Vietnam to bust out the POWs. Man, they blow up a lot of stuff.

And the thing is, they couldn't have done it without her red nose cause it was really foggy. After that, she's famous.

But what you don't get unless you are a film critic is the symbolism. For example, the guy represents a guy and the woman is sort of a symbol for all women who sing but aren't nuns AND for all nuns that sing. The kids who sing symbolize musical little humans. And the secret mission is psychological like about confronting the unconscious and blowing up stuff.

And the whole red nose thing is like sometimes you think someone can't do anything because they have a red nose but sometimes you need one so it's OK.

I want some more popcorn. Doodus!


December 01, 2006

OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, REVISITED and one final mention of metaphors

Caption: Ferdinand the peacock knows all about asset building.

It hasn't been that long ago that President Bush talked a lot about his idea of "the ownership society," which consisted of privatizing public goods like Social Security, shifting tax burdens from wealth to wages, and transferring wealth upward.

"Owner class" society might have been a more accurate term.

But the basic idea of promoting wide ownership of assets--such as homes and savings--is a good one as long as it doesn't come at the expense of the common good.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund has an interesting idea to do just this:

Congress should protect Social Security's guaranteed benefit and promote ownership with a new Universal 401(k) that offers all Americans a private retirement account on top of Social Security. The Universal 401(k) would include generous $2 to $1 government matching contributions for initial savings of low income families, and $1 to $1 matches for middle income families...Finally a Universal 401(k) system would include a single, portable account that benefits families by continuing to provide savings incentives for those between jobs or for parents who take time off to raise children.

This could help millions of families save and build assets and promote economic growth without threatening the safety net provided by Social Security.

That one might be a keeper.


El Cabrero is starting to think that thinking too much about metaphors can be a losing proposition, like robbing Peter to spite your face or going around with an albatross on your sleeve.


November 30, 2006

THE NEXT BIG STEP, A STATE RANT, and a simile on metaphors

Caption: Castor says "Take a look."

International Human Rights Day is celebrated on Dec. 10. For the past few years, the labor movement and allies have used this occasion to push for basic economic rights, including the right to organize.

That will continue to be the focus this year. In a welcome change from the past, the Employee Free Choice Act will soon face a friendlier atmosphere in Congress.

Passage of that act, which would make it easier for workers to organize and harder for companies to retaliate against and intimidate workers, would probably do as much as any realistic measure to rebuild the middle class and put the country back on the road to shared prosperity.


Recently in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, we witnessed the (fortunately unsuccessful) spectacle of a coal baron attempting to buy the state legislature and claiming to want to do this "for the sake of the kids."

The claim was even made that the totally uncontested domination of the coal industry and one company in particular would reduce or eliminate poverty.

That would make a possum laugh.

History shows abundantly that the main reason for poverty here is a colonial economy where resources like coal have been sucked away to profit absentee owners. The same counties where coal is king are usually the ones with the greatest poverty.

Don't get me started on this one. Instead, check out this Gazette op ed on the subject by El Cabrero's amigo John David.


Speaking of metaphors, which we weren't, have you ever noticed that looking for the perfect mixed metaphor is like looking for a needle up the wrong tree?

And yes, that was a simile.


November 29, 2006

APOCALYPSE DELAYED (and a brief metaphorical footnote)

Caption: Seamus McGoogle, defender of the toiling masses, continues his tireless efforts to raise the minimum wage.

More than half the states have gotten tired of waiting for the federal government to raise the minimum wage (the count is 29, according to the Economic Policy Institute).

Opponents of an increase typically predict that taking this long overdue step will cause the moon to turn to blood, the dead to rise from their graves, and lead to shameless cohabitation between dogs and cats.

Whatever may be the case about the last possibility, the apocalypse seems to be deferred.

A new study by EPI finds a significant absence of cosmic destruction in the wake of state minimum wage increases.

Specifically, the study found little effect on employment or labor supply in states with higher minimums:

Between the last time the federal minimum wage was increased, in September 1997, and the end of 2005, 17 states and the District of Columbia raised their own minimum wages a grand total of 47 times. By the end of this period, the median minimum wage of these states was $1.40 (more than 25%) higher than the federal value. Examination of several demographic groups for which wages and employment are thought to be sensitive to minimum wages found some positive effect on wages and scant effect on either employment or labor supply. The same can be said for employees working in eating and drinking establishments.

To quote Dylan, "You will not die. It's not poison."

In the wake of the elections and thanks in part to the many state campaigns, there is a good chance of a long overdue federal increase. For more on this with the latest updates, check out the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign.

BRIEF METAPHORICAL FOOTNOTE OR ACTUALLY A REAL FOOTNOTE REGARDING METAPHORS. Several people contacted me by various channels yesterday regarding mixed metaphors. I would like to reply in some detail but must make hay while the iron is hot.


November 28, 2006

A GAP WITHIN A GAP (with a bonus digression on mixed metaphors)

Caption: This man has moved from the ranks of the wealthy to those of the very wealthy.

While El Cabrero has been busy ranting about the growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else, another gap in income and wealth has emerged.

According to yesterday's New York Times, the new gap is the one between the wealthy and the very wealthy.

One out of every 825 households "earned" at least $2 million last year, double the proportion in 1989 when adjusted for inflation. In terms of wealth, one in 325 households had a net worth of $10 million or more in 2004, which is more than four times the rate in 1989.

Some of the very wealthy have turned to philanthropy, the best known examples being Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. This is commendable, although it's no substitute for economic justice.

Mark M. Zandi, founder of, whose net worth is in the eight figures (presumably without decimal points) agrees:

"Our tax policies should be redesigned through the prism that wealth is being increasingly skewed," Mr. Zandi said, arguing that higher taxes on the rich could help restore a sense of fairness to the system and blunt a backlash from a middle class that feels increasingly squeezed by the costs of health care, higher education, and a secure retirement.

Speaking of the squeeze, an article today shows some interesting trends over time.

Over all, average incomes rose 27 percent in real terms over the quarter-century from 1979 through 2004. But the gains were narrowly concentrated at the top and offset by losses for the bottom 60 percent of Americans, those making less than $38,761 in 2004.

The bottom 60 percent of Americans, on average, made less than 95 cents in 2004 for each dollar they reported in 1979, analysis of the I.R.S. data shows.

The next best-off group, the fifth of Americans on the 60th to 80th rungs of the income ladder, averaged 2 cents more income in 2004 for each dollar they earned in 1979.

One third of the whole increase went to the top one percent and more than half of that went to the top tenth of a percent. Adjusted for inflation, that group had $3.48 in 2004 for every dollar they had in 1979.

When you add in the effects of the tax cuts for the wealthy, that jumps to $3.94 in 2004 for each 1979 dollar.

A nice gig if you can get it.

BONUS FEATURE: MIXED METAPHORS. This has nothing to do with anything, but El Cabrero has been reading about and thinking about metaphors lately, especially mixed ones. A while back, I heard a friend unintentionally come up with the best one I've ever heard:

Let's not pull the trigger until the cake is baked.

Do you have any idea what I would have given to come up with something like that on purpose? I guess the shoe is on the other artichoke now...


November 27, 2006


Caption: These guys have a lot of social capital because they don't watch too much television.

Back in the summer, Goat Rope ran a series about social capital and the research of sociologist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone. You can find it in the archives for June 25-29.

Very briefly, social capital can be defined as all the formal and informal relationships and networks that individuals and groups have. Strong and diverse networks of social capital can help in solving many kinds of problems.

Unfortunately, Putnam found that social capital has been declining in the US for the last few decades. He suspected television to be a major culprit.

Some recent evidence backs him up.

According to the Nov. 20th Business Week, when Harvard economist Benjamin Oklen studied TV viewing in the Indonesian island of Java, he found less civic-mindedness in areas with good television reception. Specifically,

Olken found that the availability of one extra channel was linked to a 7% decline in the number of a village's social groups and an 11% decline in the number of school, neighborhood, or savings circle meetings the average adult attended.

The article did not state whether "Baywatch" or "Law and Order" reruns were more to blame...

On a totally different subject, I am still reeling from a recent report that compared alcohol consumption in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia to other states.

Members of the Mountain State tribe have long come to expect WV to be at or near the top or bottom of any list. This time we rank 49th in the country in--of all things--heavy drinking. Only Utah drinks less...

Dionysus is going to be ticked.

In what can only be interpreted as a blatant attack on Episcopalians, the federal government, dominated no doubt by schismatic temperance advocates, defines heavy drinking as more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women in a given month.


November 25, 2006


Seasoned Goat Rope readers will remember weekend commentator, bantam rooster, and noted free-market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit.

It has been some time since the writings of Dr. Dimwit have appeared in Goat Rope and we are pleased to welcome him back.

It is our hope that by providing regular weekend space for diverse viewpoints from talking animals, we are elevating the level of public discourse and countering the tragic polarization of our times.


Crudapatooti! You guys thought you got rid of me, didn't you? Well, guess what, baby--I'm back.

And where did you get those losers you had on here after you kicked me out? That dog talking about literary theory a while back--I got your semiotics right here!

And that goat talking about Greek tragedy--the tragedy was having to put up with that talking goat.

And then there's the crud you run during the week about economic inequality--I've picked through better stuff on the compost pile.

You guys don't appreciate the good side of inequality. Inequality is AWESOME! I can prove it scientistically.

Take a look at that picture. The handsome little guy on the left is me. And see what's next to me.

That's what I'm talking about. That is one BIG hen! And you know what--she's with me.

Talk about inequality--if she sat on me I'd be a chicken nugget. But you don't see me complaining, do you?

That's the beauty of the market.

And that's the truth. You bet your cloaca.


November 24, 2006


Caption: If El Cabrero could write like Agee, he'd even praise famous mushrooms.

Goat Rope hopes you enjoyed the Thanksgiving recipe edition. Please let El Cabrero know if you tried the recipe.

Meanwhile, today is the conclusion of a series of samples from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and photographer Walker Evans. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries (and be sure to save the possum recipe for next year).

It is interesting that a concern for the importance of education has been a major feature of the Appalachian tradition of working for social change going back to the work of the Highlander Center in the 1930s.

This call for education for liberation was also a feature of the methods of popular education as developed by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. For Freire, education was not neutral: it either served the purposes of domination or emancipation

This is also a key concern of Agee in this book. Here are some samples:

‘Education’ as it stands is tied in with every bondage I can conceive of, and is the chief cause of these bondages, including acceptance and respect, which are the worst bondages of all. ‘Education,’ if it is anything short of a crime, is a recognition of these bondages and a discovery of more and a deadly enemy of all of them; it is the whole realm of human consciousness, action, and possibility; it has above all to try to recognize and continuously to suspect and to extend its understanding of its own nature. It is all science and all conduct; it is also all religion.


…let what I have tried to suggest amount to this alone: that not only within present reach of human intelligence, but even within reach of mine as it stands today, it would be possible that young human beings should rise onto their feet a great deal less dreadfully crippled than they are, a great deal more nearly capable of living well, a great deal more nearly aware, each of them, of their own dignity in existence, a great deal better qualified, each within his limits, to live and to take part toward the creation of a world in which good living will be possible without guilt toward every neighbor: and that teaching at present, such as it is, is almost entirely either irrelevant to these possibilities or destructive of them, and is, indeed, all but entirely unsuccessful even within its own ‘scales’ of ‘value.’

Just think what he’d have to say about No Child Left Behind…

And finally, here's a rousing conclusion to this series:

I am not at all trying to lay out a thesis, far less to substantiate or to solve. I do not consider myself qualified. I know only that murder is being done, against nearly every individual in the planet, and that there are dimensions and correlations of cure which not only are not being used but appear to be scarcely considered or suspected. I know there is cure, even now available, in science and in the fear and joy of God.

At any rate, those are a few of the many nuggets in the vast resource and elegant pile that is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. If you have the time and are looking for a challenging book, you could do a lot worse.


November 23, 2006


Goat Rope interrupts its previously scheduled program for this special holiday message:

Tired of traditional turkey dinners? Dreading the endless leftover casseroles? El Cabrero has your back.

This Thanksgiving, parole the poultry and take a chance on the primeval possum, a veritable relic of mammalian antiquity.

First, of course, you have to find one in the event the possum section of your local store is understocked. I recommend looking where you keep the chicken feed and goat grain.

(I'll wait.)

OK, now that you have your possum, here's what the 1973 edition of The Joy of Cooking recommends:

If possible, trap 'possum and feed it on milk and cereals for 10 days before killing. Clean, but do not skin. Treat as for pig by immersing the unskinned animal in water just below the boiling point. Test frequently by plucking at the hair. When it slips out readily, remove the possum from the water and scrape. While scraping repeatedly, pour cool water over the surface of the animal. Remove small red glands in small of back and under each foreleg between the shoulder and rib. Parboil, page 132, 1 hour. Roast as for pork, page 407. Serve with: Turnip greens.

Obviously, if one is in a hurry, it may be necessary to skip the 10 day part, unless you just witnessed the possum crawl out of a deer carcass, in which case you may want to just proceed with the turkey.

Goat Rope...your source for better living.

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 22, 2006


Caption: If I could write like Agee, I'd praise famous hummingbirds.

This is the third post in a series on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and photographer Walker Evans. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

As mentioned before, this book was the result of an effort by Agee and Evans to live among and write about sharecroppers during the Great Depression.

The book is wildly impressionistic and hard to describe, so consider this series to be a sampler, a reminder to those who have read it before and an invitation to new readers.

Agee’s book is in large measure a protest against what poverty and oppression do to the human potential:

In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again: and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility towards human life; towards the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of error, and of God

His viewpoint ranges from the very concrete to the universal. Here are examples of both:

At one point, he imagines this monologue from a farm woman:

How did we get caught? Why is it things always seem to go against us? Why is it there can’t ever be any pleasure in living? I’m so tired it don’t seem like I ever could get rest enough. I’m as tired when I get up in the morning as I am when I lay down at night. Sometimes it seems like there wouldn’t never be no end to it, nor even a let-up. One year it’ll look like things was going to be pretty good; but you get a little bit of money saved, something always happens.

At another, the viewpoint is cosmic:

Each is intimately connected with the bottem and the extremest reach of time:

Each is composed of substances identical with the substances identical with the substance of all that surrounds him, both the common objects of his disregard, and the hot centers of stars:

All that each person is, and experiences, and shall never experience, in body and in mind, all these things are differing expressions of himself and of one root, and are identical: and not one of these things nor one of these persons is ever quite to be duplicated, nor replaced, nor has it ever quite had precedent: but each is a new and incommunicably tender life, wounded in every breath, and almost as hardly killed as easily wounded: sustaining, for a while, without defense, the enormous assaults of the universe…

Finally, this deep sense of the human potential and the damage done to it under conditions of inequality and injustice forms the basis of his politics:

believe that every human being is potentially capable, within his 'limits,' of fully 'realizing' his potentialities; that this, his being cheated and choked of it, is infinitely the ghastliest, commonest, and most inclusive of all the crimes of which the human world can accuse itself; and that the discovery and use of 'consciousness," which has always been and is our deadliest enemy and deceiver, is also the source and guide of all hope and cure, and the only one.


November 21, 2006


Caption: If I could write like Agee, I'd praise famous peacocks (or peafowl, to use inclusive language).

This is the second post in a series on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and photographer Walker Evans.

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the previous post.

This book, intended to be a description of life among impoverished Alabama sharecroppers in the 1930s, has become an impressionistic classic. This post and the next few are intended to give a little of its flavor.

It’s hard to describe this book. It’s full of quotations, biblical and liturgical reference, poetry, descriptions, political barbs, musings and random rants. Good though, as Utah Phillips would be quick to say.

To get a sense of the irony, quirkiness and outrage, try this:

‘…this is a book about “sharecroppers,” and it is written for all those who have a soft place in their hearts for the laughter and tears inherent in poverty viewed at a distance, and especially for those who can afford the retail price; in the hope that the reader will be edified, and may feel kindly disposed toward any well-thought-out liberal efforts to rectify the unpleasant situation down South, and will somewhat better and more guiltily appreciate the next good meal he eats; and in the hope, too, that he will recommend this little book to really sympathetic friends, in order that our publishers may at least cover their investment and that (just the merest perhaps) some kindly thought may be turned our way, and a little of your money fall to poor little us.’

‘Above all else: in God’s name don’t think of it as Art.

Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

(El Cabrero totally agrees about all that public acceptance stuff, provided y'all keep reading Goat Rope and helm me find fresh victims for it.)

Next time: cool Agee rants on education.


November 20, 2006


Caption: If this writer could write like James Agee, he could praise famous goats.

El Cabrero wants to be like James Agee when he grows up. Except for the self-destructive part. I've already got that covered.

To be more specific, I want to be able to write like him. If I could do that, I'd call this blog Let Us Now Praise Famous Goats instead of the Goat Rope.

Like El Cabrero, Agee was a hard drinking, left leaning, cradle Episcopalian writer born in Appalachia. Except he was really good.

It's hard to believe, but he once had a gig working for Fortune magazine under Henry Luce. I don't think the magazine people knew what to do with him. In the 1930s, he persuaded Luce to let hIm and photographer Walker Evans go to rural Alabama to stay among and write about sharecroppers.

The trip didn't make good business magazine copy but it did result in the classic book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee being Agee, the book probably does not contain a whole lot of reliable information about the sharecropper's families but it does contain the musings that adventure inspired.

Over the next few days, Goat Rope will feature a Greatest Hits selection from that book.

Oh yeah, the pictures aren't bad either.

Stay tuned.


November 18, 2006


Goat Rope is pleased to continue its series of weekend commentaries on ancient Greek culture and drama by alpine goat Cornelius Agrippa.

Cornelius is the Goat Rope Farm Dean of Classical and Alchemistical Studies. Please check out his earlier weekend commentaries in the recent Goat Rope archives.

It is our deepest hope that this feature will raise the current level of popular discourse and promote greater appreciation for both the humanities and the animalities.


OK so like Euripides was the last and latest of the big Greek tragedy dudes.

There were more but the people who came after the Greeks didn't preserve them because they were busy trying to make people stupider and less cool.

Anyway, the one I'm going to talk about today is The Bacchae, which is about what happens when you get into a war of micturation with a god.

Main idea one: that is not a good idea, especially with a cool god like Dionysus.

So Pentheus is a little dweeb who is ruler of Thebes when this new god Dionysus, god of wine, frenzy and other cool stuff comes to town disguised as a young handsome guy.

Chicks dig Dionysus. They go wacko. His female devotees like to run out in the woods and go totally bonkers.

But the dweeb can't deal with that. It's like he wants to repress the crazy unconscious side of life but you can't do that.

Anyway, he puts the god in jail, which is kind of stupid. Dio busts out and trashes the place.

Then word comes that the women, called maenads, are running around the hills putting snakes in their hair, suckling wild wolves and generally having a good time.

Those are my kind of women.

But the dweeb just can't stand that. He was like an early Protestant or something. He tries to go up in the woods to watch the sacred frenzy. Again, not a good idea.

The women grab him and tear him to pieces and his mother Agave brings his head back to town thinking it's a mountain lion.

That's what you get for being a dweeb.

Moral of the story: don't mess with the gods. And like there's this wild and crazy side of life that some people just can't stand and want to get rid of but that doesn't work.

You just need to deal with it.