April 14, 2007


For first time visitors, during the week this blog covers fairly serious topics. The weekends, however belong to the animals.

Each weekend, space is provided for commentaries by one of several talking animals, each of which has a particular field of interest and expertise.

This weekend, we are pleased to welcome back the boxer Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY), official Goat Rope Farm film critic.

(We must discretely remind the reader that Mr. Sege sustained a head injury some time back when he crashed into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he sometimes transposes the plots of the movies he discusses. We apologize for this regrettable shortcoming but nevertheless believe that his insights into the world of cinema are worthwhile.)

We hope that features such of this will elevate the discourse of our time and promote a greater appreciation of the humanities and the animalities.


Moomus and Doodus say this movie was made in 1931, which must be a dark place.

There's this guy, see, and he wants to discover the secret of life so he goes around and gets all these dead people and puts pieces of them together.

What did he do with the rest of them? Do you think he rolled around in them? Sometimes I like to roll around in dead things.

Anyway, then he zapped the guy he made from all the pieces, who turned out to be a flat headed big footed grunt guy.

Doodus told Moomus if he was going to make a monster he's just zap one regular dead guy instead of going through all the work of stitching one together from a bunch of dead guys. Moomus said that would probably be easier but that Doodus was still a dork.

Anyway, the monster's parents go away and leave the monster home alone. While he's there by himself, these two burglars try to break into his house and he has to outwit them.

After that, he's this woman on a big boat who breaks up with her jerk boyfriend for this other guy but the boat hits an iceberg and sinks.

I thought that whole plot was a little too predictable. I mean, who wouldn't see that coming? What else would you expect from a flat headed big footed grunt guy? Sure he's gonna be a woman on a boat.

And the whole flat head iceberg thing? That's way overused.

That's the trouble with a lot of these movies.


April 13, 2007


The guiding thread for this week's Goat Rope is fire fighting and El Cabrero's fond memories thereof, although many other topics are covered.

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

In my days as a volunteer, I was very impressed by the skill and dedication of fire fighters, many of whom are working people trying to balance jobs and family with the many unpaid hours they give to the community.

As a newcomer, I had some revolutionary ideas that didn’t go anywhere. One was just for PR and involved installing a baby on each fire and rescue truck so that we could whip it out and pretend to save it in case the media showed up.

Another was proposed legislation to the effect that, if we had to respond to a motor vehicle accident in bad weather at an ungodly hour and the passengers had the bad manners to get out of their cars themselves, we would get to play with our toys and cut up their cars anyway.

I think the failure of my innovations was due to an irrational conservatism and something about liability.

Before closing, I must address the proverbial elephant in the room. I am referring, of course, to the cat question, an issue that lingers just beneath the surface in any discussion of firefighting. To wit: do we now or have we ever rescued an old lady’s cat from the top of a tree?

The official answer I am supposed to give is probably “No,” although the real answer is that we probably would if we were bored enough. In that case, we might even put the cat up there to start with...

To my dying day I will regret not responding to a call that involved getting a cow down from the second floor of a rickety barn after it partially fell through. I still don’t know how our guys got it out unscathed, but I’m reasonably certain they didn’t plant it there.

My volunteer firefighting career came to an end due to heart problems. I miss it. There is really nothing that can take the place of riding the big red trucks.

St. Paul famously said that when I was I child I spake and acted as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things. In this instance, I must beg to differ. Every little kid knows that fire trucks and fire stations are cool.

And every little kid is right.

THE LATEST REMINDER of the risks both career and volunteer firefighters face is the recent death of Ceredo WV firefighter Christopher Jaros, who died Saturday in an auto accident in his private vehicle while responding to a call. Here's the report from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch about his funeral.

MORE ON THE REAL WALTER REED SCANDAL. The Hightower Lowdown sums up the real issues of the Walter Reed story. Here's an excerpt:

The gross mistreatment of our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is disgusting, but there also appears to be a scandal behind the scandal.

The Army Times reports that the head of the center warned last year that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure." Why? Because under George W's "competitive sourcing" directive, the Pentagon has been pushing to privatize as much of its work as possible. And in 2006, top officials awarded a $120 million contract to turn the facilities management over to IAP Worldwide Services, run by two former senior Halliburton officials. IAP, which brags that Dan Quayle is on its board, is the contractor that botched the delivery of ice to New Orleans during the Katrina fiasco.

ON A RELATED NOTE here's an item about the damage the Bush administration has inflicted on the Army itself.

TAX DAY. Here's a breakdown from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities about where tax dollars go. Here's a rant on taxes and trickles by Antipode. And here's a comment from the Coalition on Human Needs about the effects of the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy:

The federal tax cuts enacted starting in 2001 have failed both to preserve an adequate amount of revenue and to collect it fairly. The deficit for FY 2004 is estimated at $422 billion. The tax cuts have added more to the deficit than all other new federal legislation combined since 2001. If made permanent, they will cost more than $1.6 trillion over 10 years. Such massive reductions in revenue strangle the government's capacity to meet the nation's needs. Further, the tax cuts worsen the gap between the rich and everyone else. In 2004, half of the combined value of all the tax cuts passed since 2001 will go to the richest one percent. The bottom 20 percent will receive only 1.3 percent.


April 12, 2007


Caption: Admit it, you want to ride it.

The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is a fond look back at El Cabrero's short and inglorious adventures in the local volunteer fire department. Many other topics will be covered.

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

After completing various kinds of training came actual practice in the real world. I’ll never forget the first time I responded to a call that was announced over our pagers as a possible structure fire, a fortunately fairly rare animal.

The call came in the middle of the night and I was half asleep, very nervous, and very green. It was intimidating to think that some people’s lives and most beloved possessions were at risk and I could screw it up.

I remember trying to pull on the pants of my turnout gear, a process somewhat hindered by the presence of my suspenders (and, yes, they are red and they do in fact hold up our pants) between my legs. I made a quick note to self that this was not a good idea and managed not to repeat it.

The call turned out to be a downed power line instead of a house fire. This was a welcome letdown, although power line calls are about as popular with firefighters as mosquitoes or ticks.

Although I live so far out in the country that the engines usually rolled by the time I found my shoes, I was able to run a fair number of calls over the next few years, experiencing a range of situations such as, floods, brush fires, floods, auto accidents, medical calls, dangerous conditions, floods, and the occasional structure fire.

Did I mention floods? We get lots of floods.

Although I am most emphatically not God’s gift to firefighting, I learned that mechanical idiocy is not necessarily a hindrance. To paraphrase John Milton, they also serve who only have all thumbs. I found that in any emergency, there is usually stuff to carry, traffic to stop, or hoses to roll while the mechanically apt take care of other business.

Probably the most dangerous duty I did was working at some of our bingo fundraisers. People where I live take bingo pretty seriously, plus the air was smokier than most forest fires. The scariest, aside from a savage nocturnal box turtle attack on a mountain during a brush fire (which gave me my 1000 yard stare), was writing and trying to manage federal grants.

The best call of all was providing fire protection for female demolition derby drivers at our county fair. It was an honor and a privilege to be of service to the finest flower of Appalachian womanhood, although the women in question could probably have walked through fire unscathed and punched their way out of any car wreck.

At the time, I kept saying, "Take me now, Jesus! It don't get no better than this!"

BAD FIREFIGHTING. I was taking fire service classes during the Bush administration's disastrous buildup to the unnecessary war in Iraq. I remember thinking at the time that this response to the post 9/11 world was like pouring gasoline on a structure fire filled with flammable toxic and hazardous materials.

Here's what the Red Cross has to say about the situation there today. Sample:

GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) -- The situation for civilians in Iraq is "ever-worsening," even though security in some places has improved as a result of stepped-up efforts by U.S.-led multinational forces, the international Red Cross said Wednesday.

It is difficult to determine the numbers of people killed in shootings, bombings and military operations, but the overall picture of what is happening the country has been steadily deteriorating, with numbers of refugees swelling, medical staff fleeing and other problems growing, a key official said.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department yesterday extended the tours of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NEW FIG TREE NOTES. The latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree is available. This one contains reflections on illness, cancer, mortality, healing, faith and all that kind of thing.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS. Here's a good item by Max B. Sawicky in TomPaine.com about why public investments in research and infrastructure matter in helping the economy grow, a fact that seems to be lost on the Bush administration.

MEET AND CONSULT. WV Gov. Joe Manchin announced yesterday a new pilot plan to give state employees in three agencies more of a voice on the job. According to Phil Kabler in the Charleston Gazette,

Meet and consult committees will be set up in the Department of Administration’s Purchasing and General Services divisions, the Division of Highways, and the Regional Jail Authority.

Committee members will make recommendations on personnel issues and other policies to their department’s cabinet secretary, who in turn will send evaluations of the recommendations on to the governor’s office.

This is a positive step for WV's public employees.


April 11, 2007


This blog is covering lots of issues this week, but the guiding thread is a fond look back at El Cabrero's short and inglorious career as a volunteer firefighter.

Firefighting is a good metaphor for what we need a lot more of in our world today.

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

Anyhow, by far the coolest training I ever attended as a volunteer was basic auto extrication, the art and science of dealing with car wrecks and trying to get people out of them.

We studied the anatomy of vehicles and the means of opening them up like sardine cans, the hazards of airbags, and the means of removing windows—even down to the art of removing a windshield when a person’s head has gone through it. I must say that my personal use of seat belts increased markedly as a result of that weekend.

The most fun part of auto ex was getting to play with the toys. (I must say in all honesty that playing with cool toys is a major plus in firefighting). The toys in question are often called “the jaws of life.” These are pneumatic tools that can cut, spread, push, and generally dismantle vehicles.

At first, we were very proper, carefully applying the techniques we learned in class to some donated wrecked vehicles. After a little of this, however, we dropped all pretense and just starting slicing them up like butter. In an anthropologist would have walked on the scene, she or he would have thought we were a primitive tribe ritually slaughtering our sacred animal in some Dionysian revelry….which wouldn’t have been far off the mark.

In the real world, though, there are lots more car wrecks than structure fires, so this was very practical training. Our department was responsible not only for rural roads but major arteries of traffic, including several miles of interstate.

But the most memorable part of the class was the instructor, whose favorite expression was....goat rope. As in, "Boys, you know what I see here? I see a goat rope," meaning a real mess or a situation out of control. A pretty good expression for the state of the world today.

What can I say? It was love at first hearing. I'd heard the expression before, but never said as well. So now you know the rest of the story.

Speaking of goat ropes,

CREDIT CARD DEBT. America's credit card indebtedness (along with other kinds) is reaching stunning proportions. Here are plenty of links on the extent of the problem.

A CLOSELY RELATED ISSUE is growing inequality, a frequent Goat Rope theme. This is from an editorial in this week/s The Nation:

The top 1 percent of Americans are now getting the largest share of national income since 1928. And a mere 300,000 are now getting almost the same income as 150 million others on the bottom of the wage ladder.

The wage gap has nearly doubled since 1980, the dawn of the conservative era. The deterioration of equitable income in American society is not over. It continues to get much worse. The top 10 percent--the people earning roughly $100,000 a year and higher--now get 48.5 percent of total income. Not surprisingly, average incomes for the bottom 90 percent are down slightly. These numbers are from the Internal Revenue Service for 2005, and experts agree they understate the disparities.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. This week, Maryland became the first state to pass a living wage bill. Here's some info:

Companies with state service contracts would be required to pay workers a "living wage" under first-in-the-nation legislation that the General Assembly approved yesterday and sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who championed the idea on the campaign trail.

Lawmakers gave final passage to the bill on the last day of the session, less than one week after legislative leaders and O'Malley hashed out an agreement to make the proposal palatable to some opponents. The bill, as revised, sets up two pay grades for the workers - at least $11.30 an hour in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and $8.50 an hour in rural areas.

That would be a good campaign to replicate in other states.

DWIGHT! Finally, El Cabrero admits to being an addict of "The Office," although I've chose to manage my addiction by indulging it. For other fans, did you know that the character Dwight Shrute has his own blog? Too bad he doesn't update it more...


April 10, 2007

FIGHTING FIRE, CONTINUED, plus updates on coal mining and a bonus feature

Caption: Lily would be a good first responder.

This week's Goat Rope will cover all kinds of topics, but the guiding thread is El Cabrero's fond memory of his short and inglorious career as a volunteer fire fighter.

Brief summary: fighting fire is cool, metaphorically speaking (literally, it can go either way).

((Speaking of metaphors, there are a lot of fires that need to be put out in our world right now.))

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to yesterday's entry.

As I mentioned yesterday, there's a lot more to being a volunteer firefighter than just showing up and riding the big red trucks. Extensive training is required to be able to fully participate in running calls and the basic classes offered are just the beginning.

First aid and CPR training are widely available to many people outside the fire service and are required for all firefighters. The investment of a few hours here can make all the difference in a critical situation. Particularly in rural areas, volunteers may be the first people on the scene and need to know at least the basics.

The hazmat training was a real eye-opener. Learning even a little about the mountains and rivers of dangerous and toxic items all around us makes you realize how vulnerable we are.

I'm not talking primarily about dirty bombs or terrorist attacks. We are more than vulnerable enough through the ordinary hazards of production, transportation, and accident.

After completing the basic hazmat course, people can go on to the implementation stage clear up to the tech level, where you get to put on a space suit and wallow in the nasty stuff.

I decided to pass on that; I'd prefer going into a burning building any day.

Basic firefighting was as challenging as many of the college classes I’d taken. Actually, harder as I am a mechanical idiot, a fact I attribute to left-handedness and, well, being a mechanical idiot. It included some of the science of fire and the techniques and strategy of fighting it.

It also included fun stuff, like crawling through a dark, smoke-filled room while wearing turnout gear and an airpack, operating fire hoses, and climbing ladders. For a few minutes, I even relearned all the knots I’d forgotten from Boy Scouts.

At one point in the training, when we were sitting on the ground holding 2 ½ inch wide fire hoses between our legs and spraying away, the instructor asked us if we'd ever felt that much power there before.

I asked him about the psychological symbolism involved. He chose to ignore me, possibly feeling that no answer was required. I will only say in this respect that fire fighting offers endless diversion for those inclined to Freudian symbolism.

Next time: auto ex and a blog is named...

"THE REVERSE NUREMBERG DEFENSE." It looks like our dear friends at Massey Energy are still having a rough spell. I need to stop once again and compose myself. OK, I'm back. First, here's an item about the lawsuit filed by the widows who lost their husbands in the Aracoma mine fire in Logan County in 2006. Here's the lead:

The Nuremberg defense is widely known – sorry, just carrying out orders.

Now comes the reverse Nuremberg defense – sorry, just giving the orders, not carrying them out.

Lawyers for widows of two miners killed in a January 2006 West Virginia mining fire argue that Don Blankenship – the CEO of Massey Energy – is using something close to the reverse Nuremberg defense to escape personal liability for the deaths of the men.

But wait, there's more. Six miners who survived the fire have filed another lawsuit against the company.

And more. Ken Ward reported in the Charleston Gazette Friday that more mining permits may face scrutiny in federal court and Saturday that the same judge, Robert C. Chambers, refused to allow Massey to continue mining under a permit that was rescinded last month.

GOOD RESOURCE. For those interested in coal mine safety, here's a useful link.

GET YOUR iRACK. This one speaks for itself.


April 09, 2007


There is an expression out there that irks El Cabrero. It is often said by well intentioned people who mean that we should be more proactive rather than reactive, which in itself is fine most of the time.

The offending expression is "We're always fighting fires" as if that's a bad thing.

I beg to differ for two reasons. First, if you really do have a fire in a place where there isn't supposed to be one, that should be pretty important. Maybe even top priority.

Second, I can say on the basis of my short and inglorious career in my hometown volunteer fire department that fighting fires is cool. As every little kid knows. And that will be the guiding thread of this week's Goat Rope.

The idea of trying to join the local fire department came from the Spousal Unit, otherwise known as La Cabra. In retrospect, I wish I'd have done it a long time ago. Actually, my old man had been a member years before and I might have done it sooner had I realized they’d actually let me in. It wasn’t a totally strange experience. I grew up beside the station and was so used to the fire alarm I barely noticed when it went off. All that changed when I was actually in it.

Since I know that stereotypes abound about volunteer fire fighters, I want to set the record straight, or a little less crooked anyway.

One of these is that we are basically boys with toys who like to ride fire trucks and play with our gear. OK, so that one may be right, with the understanding that we aren’t all boys anymore and that some of our toys come in pretty handy in emergencies.

Women, who have traditionally been the backbone of support for volunteer departments, are now very active as fire fighters, first responders, and emergency medical service providers. One encouraging sign of this change is the presence of many women and girls attending various training sessions throughout the rural areas of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

Another stereotype pictures volunteers as a bunch of untrained clods. Some of us may in fact be clods, but nobody is untrained. There are pretty strict state standards of training that must be met before a volunteer is able to run calls. In my area, required courses include first aid/CPR, hazardous materials basic concepts, automobile extrication, and level one fire fighting. Most classes include hands on as well as textbook elements. And this is only the beginning—an endless array of more advanced trainings are continually offered in addition to regular local drills.

About which more next time.

WHAT HE SAID. Speaking of putting out fires, here's to Pope Benedict XVI. As an Episcopalian of the laid back variety, I'm not always on the same theological page, but I appreciate his "Urbi et Orbi" sermon on Easter Sunday, where he spoke of how political and religious conflicts are adding to the suffering caused by natural causes:

"Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking.” the Pope said.

“(But) I am thinking of ... terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.”

“Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability,” Benedict said. “In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, unfortunately, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”

SPEAKING OF IRAQ AND OTHER DISASTERS, an item that appeared last week in Gannett papers spoke of the effect of the war on the National Guard:

The nation's Army Guard units have roughly half or less of the equipment they need to deal with disasters, terrorist attacks and other domestic threats such as the rapidly approaching hurricane season, senior Guard officials said.

The war in Iraq as well as Guard deployments in Afghanistan have drained state units of people as well as equipment.

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum was quoted as saying "Nobody has more than 65 percent of the equipment they need. I think that condition is unacceptable...If we don't have the equipment we need, the reaction time is slow, and time equals lives lost. Those lives are American lives."

The Guard can come in pretty handy when disasters are too big for firefighters and other emergency responders to handle, such as the floods that devastated southern West Virginia in 2001.

THE BUDDHA WAS A FIREFIGHTER. In keeping with the firefighting motif, let's not forget that one of the Buddha's early discourses was the Fire Sermon, where he said that "all is aflame" with the fires of ignorance, greed, and hatred. The word Nirvana, the state of liberation from suffering (not the rock group) war literally meant something like coolness, as in a fire that has gone out. Buddhist teachings are intended to help people stop feeding the flames that cause suffering to self and others.

TO CONCLUDE, the problem is not that "we're always putting out fires." The problem is that we're not doing enough of it.