August 18, 2007


For first time readers, this blog usually comes out six days per week and generally covers semi serious issues on weekdays. Weekends, however, are reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

It is with some trepidation that we once again feature the comments of a snapping turtle who refuses to give his name and is known only as the Untrustworthy Reptile.

Committed as we are to the principles of free speech, although the extent to which it applies to animals is not clear, we feel we have no choice but to publish his comments. However, the views expressed by the Untrustworthy Reptile or any other talking animal are not necessarily those of the Goat Rope staff and we assume no liability or responsibility for those who choose to act upon their advice.


You know why you're such a flop? Why your self esteem is in the sceptic tank? I do. You look like hell!

I've crawled over better looking dead carp.

Know what you need to be a success? You need a makeover. A simple skin cream that you can just rub on your face. It's made from secret ingredients, all natural. One little treatment and you'll look like a brand new person. People will go nuts about you. You'll get a big fat promotion. All kinds of hot people will start throwing themselves at you.

It'll be awesome...

Want some? No problem! Today is your lucky day. It just so happens that I have some on me right now. It's right here in my mouth. Way back there.

All you gotta to do is just reach right in there and get it. Go ahead. Just part way for a second is all it'll take. I'll say ahhhhhh....

Hey, where are you going? Come on back here! Do you want to be a loser forever? Fine, be that way! Go ahead and look like a dead carp forever--see if I care!

I hate you!


August 17, 2007


In case you hadn't noticed, a guiding thread in this week's Goat Rope has been the American obsession with pets and its economic impact. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

While it's kinda hard to dispute the fact that lots of people go overboard on their lover for our furry, feathered, and/or scaly friends, evidently we get something out of it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pets can help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. They can also increase opportunities for socialization, exercise and outdoor activities.

(El Cabrero assumes that all the above does not apply to cases of goat infestation.)

In 1987, the National Institutes of Health looked in to the topic and found promising signs of health benefits. They also noted the long use of pets in therapeutic settings:

The use of horseback riding for people with serious disabilities has been reported for centuries. In 1792, animals were incorporated into the treatment for mental patients at the York Retreat, England, as part of an enlightened approach attempting to reduce the use of harsh drugs and restraints. The first suggested use of animals in a therapeutic setting in the United States was in 1919 at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D. C., when Superintendent Dr. W.A. White received a letter from Secretary of the Interior F.K. Lane suggesting the use of dogs as companions for the psychiatric hospital's resident patients. Following this, the earliest extensive use of companion animals in the United States occurred from 1944 to 1945 at an Army Air Corps Convalescent Hospital at Pawling, New York. Patients recovering from war experiences were encouraged to work at the hospital's farm with hogs, cattle, horses, and poultry. After the war, modest efforts began in using animals in outpatient psychotherapy. During the 1970s, numerous case studies of animals facilitating therapy with children and senior citizens were reported.

There's been plenty more of that since that report came out.

Business Week notes that dogs in particular seem to have nailed the art of charming people and shares some of the reasons why they are so successful:

Ever since humans domesticated dogs centuries ago, scientists have been trying to explain the intense love people feel for their animals. Some believe our pets experience the same emotions we do, so we bond with them as though they were humans. At the other extreme are those who say that animals trained us to become attached to them. But there's one point everyone agrees on: The more disconnected we become from each other because of e-mail, iPods, and work-at-home lifestyles, the deeper the bonds we form with our pets.

At the root of the human-animal love connection is the childlike charm of pets. Take dogs. Judging from various behaviors, such as their ability to understand 160 or so words and gestures, scientists have determined that an adult dog is roughly equivalent mentally to a 2-year-old toddler. Because humans are hardwired to nurture children, we automatically feel an affinity for dogs. But canines never grow up, nor do they bring the hassles or heartbreaks children do. "There's no deception, no subterfuge, no criticism," says James A. Serpell, section chief of behavior and human-animal interactions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. "Animals don't do that stuff."

Humans find such loyalty irresistible. Dogs are descended from wolves. Even when removed from the wild, they retain an instinctive need to travel in packs. So we have become their new pack, some experts say. That's why dogs whine when we leave for work, making us feel guilty, then wag their tails and slobber all over us when we walk in the door. "You've left the pack, and when you return, they're saying: Thank God you're back,'" says Jeffrey M. Masson, author of several books on animal behavior.

As is the case with cats, it's not clear exactly who domesticated (or is conning) whom...

SAD NEWS. From the AP:

Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military report shows.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press before its scheduled release today, found that there were 99 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest since the 102 suicides in 1991.

"Iraq was the most common deployment location for both (suicides) and attempts," the Army report said.

MORE SAD NEWS. Three rescue workers in Utah were killed yesterday and six were injured in another seismic jolt.

WHAT THEY SAID. This editoral from the NY Times works for me:

It is beyond belief that in this Information Age, when new technologies can eavesdrop on any conversation and track people around the globe, rescue teams have no way to communicate with the six miners trapped underground in the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah. Instead they are drilling holes in the ground to where they guess the miners might be.

It needn’t be so. For too long, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress allowed mine operators to put off making needed investments to ensure their workers’ safety. And last year when a string of coal-mining disasters — that killed 48 miners — forced Congress to enact new safety legislation, it still gave companies far too much time to install communications systems that might have helped find the Utah miners.

WORST OF BOTH WORLDS. James Surowiecki of the New Yorker recently wrote a good piece about the student loan crisis that pokes holes in the privatization as panacea theory. He writes that

Outsourcing tasks to private companies is supposed to let government reap the benefits of the free market. But sometimes it just ends up uniting the worst of government and the worst of the private sector into one expensive mess.


August 16, 2007


Caption: The new ruling class? They might be better than the old one...

According to Business Week, around 63% of U.S. households, or 71 million homes, own least one pet, a number that has climbed from 64 million five years ago.

And they're not just for kids anymore. In fact, a lot of pets get more money spent on them than a lot of children:

There are now $430 indoor potties, $30-an-ounce perfume, and $225 trench coats aimed solely at four-footed consumers and their wallet-toting companions. Even those who shun animal couture are increasingly willing to spend thousands on drugs for depression or anxiety in pets, as well as psychotherapy, high-tech cancer surgery, cosmetic procedures, and end-of-life care. About 77% of dogs and 52% of cats have been medicated in the past year, according to APPMA, an increase of about 20 percentage points from 1996.

And speaking of dogs,

It wasn't so very long ago that the phrase "a dog's life" meant sleeping outside, enduring the elements, living with aches, and sitting by the dinner table, waiting for a few scraps to land on the floor. Today's dog has it much better. APPMA reports that 42% of dogs now sleep in the same bed as their owners, up from 34% in 1998. Their menu reflects every fad in human food—from locally sourced organic meat and vegan snacks to gourmet meals bolstered by, say, glucosamine to ward off stiff joints. Half of all dog owners say they consider their pet's comfort when buying a car, and almost a third buy gifts for their dogs' birthdays...

A STEP ON THE HIGH ROAD. El Cabrero has ranted a lot about a high road vs. low road approach to economic development for WV. Here's a story about a step on the high road from the Charleston Daily Mail:

Gov. Joe Manchin wants all West Virginians have access to fast Internet service by 2010, and Verizon West Virginia is hustling to remain a major player.

Manchin, Verizon West Virginia President Stan Cavendish and Sen. Jay Rockefeller were to be in Danville today to announce two initiatives aimed at delivering broadband services to rural West Virginians.

Cavendish was to announce that under an agreement with Verizon, a nonprofit organization, Connected Nation Inc., will produce detailed county-by-county maps of the state's broadband availability and service gaps.

The maps will be used to help develop plans to expand broadband. In addition, Verizon has pledged to speed up its efforts to make it available to more rural areas.

STRESSING THE TROOPS. This is no shock, but here's an item from The Observer UK about how stress and combat fatigue are wearing down U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

COUNTING THE COST. Yesterday El Cabrero and amigos held a press conference about the rising cost, human and otherwise, of the unnecessary war in Iraq. Here's the coverage from the Charleston Gazette.

SPEAKING OF GOAT ROPES, the big news in the capitol city of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virgnia has been an agonizingly close vote on table games. I live out of the county and have no perros in that fight (other than my desire to tease certain friends about it). The election was held August 11 and initial results showed the measure passing by just over 30 votes. But more and more uncounted or over-counted or challenged ballots keep showing up. For a blow by blow summary, check out the masterful blog of all WV news, Lincoln Walks at Midnight. Nobody knows when we'll know.

Full disclosure: El Cabrero does not gamble if you don't count driving, eating, and generally buying things but I have nothing against those who do. However, a bet on how this will turn out might be interesting...

THOSE LOVABLE COAL OPERATORS. This is a few days old, but here's a profile from WV Public Radio of Bob Murray, CEO of the Utah coal mine where six men have been trapped for over a week. As you can see, he's no big fan of MSHA, safety regulations and advocates, or the United Mine Workers union.


August 15, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle thinks he's worth it.

The political economy of pets in the US today is staggering (see also yesterday's post). According to Business Week,

Americans now spend $41 billion a year on their pets—more than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world. That's double the amount shelled out on pets a decade ago, with annual spending expected to hit $52 billion in the next two years, according to Packaged Facts, a consumer research company based in Rockville, Md. That puts the yearly cost of buying, feeding, and caring for pets in excess of what Americans spend on the movies ($10.8 billion), playing video games ($11.6 billion), and listening to recorded music ($10.6 billion) combined...

It's starting to get kind of weird.

"People are no longer satisfied to reward their pet in pet terms," argues Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. (APPMA). "They want to reward their pet in human terms." That means hotels instead of kennels, braces to fix crooked teeth, and frilly canine ball gowns. Pet owners are becoming increasingly demanding consumers who won't put up with substandard products, unstimulating environments, or shoddy service for their animals. But the escalating volume and cost of services, especially in the realm of animal medicine, raises ethical issues about how far all this loving should go.

I need to talk to the goats about this...when they get back from the spa.

SQUIRREL STYLE KUNG FU. I've heard of tiger, crane, leopard and other styles, but here's a new one on the fuzzy tailed art of self defense:

University of California, Davis researchers used an infrared camera to film squirrels as they confronted predatory rattlesnakes.

The squirrels, they saw, actually heated up their tails, then waved them at the snakes... The rattlers, which rely on infrared sensors to detect their prey, were ostensibly confused by the animal equivalent of having a flaming torch waved in your face.

Why didn't I think of that?

A researcher was quoted as saying about the research that "It taught us to focus on the perceptual world of the animal we’re studying” rather than on how it looks to human observers.

Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese author of The Art of War, would not be surprised. He said "All warfare is based upon deception."

WHO REALLY GETS WELFARE? Here's economist Dean Baker on corporate welfare and other public subsidies for the well-to-do:

In the days before welfare reform, single mothers could collect five or six hundred dollars a month without working. That was what welfare looked like before 1996. In the Internet Age, welfare is about having the government do everything it can to make the rich absolutely as rich as possible. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said many years ago, the rich are not like you or me: They need the government’s assistance to get by. There are all sorts of ways in which the government helps those who have the most.

COSTS OF WAR. El Cabrero will be joining some companeros today for a press conference on the costs of the war in Iraq. Here's a good one on the huge private army of contractors waging war for a profit.

WARNING SIGNS of serious safety concerns at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah have been around for some time, according to this source.


August 13, 2007


Caption: This man just ordered his...

El Cabrero was originally inspired to write about animals this week for two reasons.

First we had a week on the road away from the menagerie here, aside from dogs. The weird thing is, I kind of missed the little buggers. Even the goats...

Then, catching up on accumulated magazines, I came across a really good article in Business Week about "The Pet Economy."

Unsolicited product endorsement: of all the magazines I peruse, I'd have to put BW at the top of my list. It has no particular axes to grind and is often full of useful and cool stuff.

The basic point of the article is that Americans are nuts about pets. In fact, we spend around $41 billion per year on them.

How crazy can it get? Check out the lead paragraph:

If there's still any doubt whether the pampering of pets is getting out of hand, the debate should be settled once and for all by Neuticles, a patented testicular implant that sells for up to $919 a pair. The idea, says inventor Gregg A. Miller, is to "let people restore their pets to anatomical preciseness" after neutering, thereby allowing them to retain their natural look and self-esteem. "People thought I was crazy when I started 13 years ago," says the Oak Grove (Mo.) entrepreneur. But he has since sold more than 240,000 pairs (a few of which went on prairie dogs, water buffalo, and monkeys). "Neutering is creepy. But with Neuticles, it's like nothing has changed." Nothing, except there's a fake body part where a real one used to be.

THE MATRIX REVISITED. In The Coolest Book Ever Written (Moby-Dick, of course), Ishmael muses that

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.

According to this NY Times article, some people are apparently seriously speculating that we may not be so much the objects of a practical joke as simulations in somebody's computer game. It quotes one Oxford philosopher as saying

“My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.”

That would explain a lot...

A BRIDGE TO WHAT? Here's a good item from The Nation about the price we're paying for neglecting our infrastructure. This is something the market god won't provide.

IRAQ. It was recently brought to El Cabrero's attention that the U.S. has been involved in the unnecessary war in Iraq for a longer period of time than it was actively engaged in fighting WWII.

WHO GETS WHAT. The Economic Policy Institute reported in an August 1 Snapshot that:

Economic growth in the current recovery has been very unbalanced, with all of the income growth from 2001 to 2005 (the latest available data) accruing to the upper 5% and, in particular, the upper 1% of households. In fact, the bottom 90% of households experienced a 4.2% decline in their market-based incomes... representing a loss of $1,293 per household on average from 2001 to 2005 (the latest year data is available). Had income growth been shared equally during this recovery, the bottom 90% would have been $2,071 better off than they actually were in 2005 (with a $778 income gain, instead of a loss).

To borrow an expression from Goat Rope visitor Brecht (see yesterday's post), this is an example of "tinkle down economics." But they're telling us it's raining.


August 12, 2007


Caption: Does Venus look placid to you?

First, I'd like to apologize about the irregular posts last week. These were due to a combination of a phone/internet crash at Goat Rope Farm followed by a week on the road. El Cabrero can usually get around one or the other but both at the same time are a problem.

Now we're back to the regular schedule of six days per week (more if something really bad or really good happens). Thanks for your patience.

This week, El Cabrero is thinking about animals and the roles they play in our lives (aside from consumption). How do they fit in yours?

Walt Whitman had somewhat exalted ideas about our animal friends:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.

It is obvious from this passage that Walt was a city boy and idealized critters. While it is true that they spend relatively little time on theological and other reflections (as far as we can tell), they are anything but placid and self contain'd.

UNLEASHING INEQUALITY. Here's an op-ed from Sunday's Gazette by Ross Eisenbrey on the proposals offered by the recent book Unleashing Capitalism, which has garnered quite a fan club among the WV's right wing media. He particularly takes issue with the idea that wages automatically increase with productivity. Would that it were so...

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE DARK. The agonizing wait for news about the trapped miners in Utah continues. Here's a good item by Ken Ward about the dangerous practice of mining the pillars that hold up earlier excavations.

On a related subject, the CEO of the company, Robert Murray, is long known as a foe of new safety regulations, the United Mine Workers union, and environmentalists. Here's an item about his opposition to post-Sago reforms.

On yet another related front, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has filed suit against the WV Democratic Party for allegedly defaming his character during the 2006 campaigns when he spent several million dollars of his own money in an unsuccessful bid to change the composition of the state legislature.

I don't know where to start with that one. Except maybe this comment: where's tort reform when you really need it?


Americans are living longer than ever, but not as long as people in 41 other countries.

For decades, the United States has been slipping in international rankings of life expectancy, as other countries improve health care, nutrition and lifestyles.

Countries that surpass the U.S. include Japan and most of Europe, as well as Jordan, Guam and the Cayman Islands.