September 29, 2007


Note for first time visitors: It is the policy of this blog to comment on fairly serious issues during the week. Weekends, however, are reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

(We are not implying, however, that the commentaries of these animals are not worthy of serious consideration.)

This weekend, it is with some hesitation that we feature another commentary by a snapping turtle who refuses to identify himself and is known only as the Untrustworthy Reptile. We do not endorse this commentary and indeed refuse to accept liability or responsibility for those who follow his advice. It is only our deep commitment to the First Amendment, although the extent to which it applies to reptiles is not clear, that leads us to permit its publication.

It is our deepest hope that the expression of (bio)diverse viewpoints will elevate the level of public discourse and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


Hey you--with the face. C'mere.

Jeez, you look puny. No wonder everybody picks on you all the time and you don't get any respect. You're kinda like a wet kleenex.

I bet nobody pays attention to you or what you say. You probably got about as much clout as a dead earthworm.

Know what you need? I'll tell you--you need a jolt of mojo. Something that'll make people sit up and take notice. Something that will tell the world you're not going to get pushed around any more.

I know just the thing. It's this special mojo ointment made from Komodo dragon tears. You just rub on a little and you get instant respect. It's like a chemical thing. There's no defense against it.

As a matter of fact, I have a little jar on me. Let me think...where did I put it?

Oh yeah, I remember now. It's right here in my mouth. Way back there a little bit. Go ahead, help yourself. Just reach right in there and get it. Just reach in part way for a second...

Hey, where are you going? Come back here! You don't want to be a loser forever, do you?

Fine--be a doormat. See if I care. I hate you!


September 28, 2007


Caption: The Tower Hill Sundial in London. Photo by wallyg via everystockphoto.

Welcome to Albert Camus Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

My favorite work by Camus is kind of a downer, unless you really like reading about massive lethal epidemics. It's his novel The Plague and I've gone back to it over and over again through the years.

Set in the still French Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s, it chronicles the outbreak of plague that begins with dying rats and spreads through the quarantined population. It's at least in part about how people bear up in an unbearable situation, some with quiet heroism and some without.

Obviously, there was a strong metaphorical factor involved given other world events in the 1940s. We seem to be living through a metaphorical plague of our own the last few years.

The part I go back to the most involves that character Tarrou, a stranger in town. His father was a magistrate who prosecuted criminal offenses. Tarrou once attended the execution by guillotine of someone his father had convicted and was repelled by what he saw.

He rebelled and joined a radical movement (obviously the Communist Party) and worked with it for years until he realized that there too he was complicit with murder:

And thus I came to understand that I, anyhow had had plague through all those long years in which, paradoxically enough, I'd believed with all my soul that I was fighting it. I learned that I had had an indirect hand in the deaths of thousands of people; that I'd even brought about their deaths by approving of acts and principles that could only end that way...

...I only know that one must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken, and that's the only way in which we can hope for some peace or, failing that, a decent death. This, and only this, can bring relief to men and, if not save them, at least do them the least harm possible and even, sometimes, a little good. So that is why I resolved to have no truck with anything which, directly or indirectly, for good reasons or for bad, brings death to anyone or justifies others' putting him to death.

Here's the take home message:

All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, as far as possible not to join forces with the pestilences.

MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE UPDATE. Residents of Logan County, WV are calling for a positive public event in response to the kidnapping and torture of Megan Williams, an African American woman. The event, likely to be a candlelight vigil and prayer service, is planned for next week. Look for details here Monday.

HAVE NOT NATION. Here's a good column by Harold Meyerson from the Washington Post about why more Americans are identifying themselves as have-nots.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's the latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute highlighting unequal--and sometimes negative--wage growth between 1979 and 2004.

FOOTPRINT MALFUNCTIONS. Our good friends at the conservative WV State Journal appear to be taking the heroic stand that global warming is a hoax or at least a totally natural thing. Somehow they managed to fit that in between paens to Unleashing Capitalism. To clear the palate, here's an op-ed by Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic.

ROLLING OUT THE PROGRAM. It looks like Unleashing Capitalism is the new holy writ of WV Republicans.

CHIP PASSES THE SENATE by a 67-29 margin.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. There has been positive action in Congress lately dealing with the high cost of higher education.


September 27, 2007


Welcome to Albert Camus Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

El Cabrero just noticed by accident that 2007 is the 50th anniversary of Camus' Nobel Prize for literature.

Here's what he had to say about the challenges of his generation (which kinda sounds like the challenges of ours):

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death.

Sound familiar? There's more:

In a world threatened by disintegration, in which our grand inquisitors run the risk of establishing forever the kingdom of death, it knows that it should, in an insane race against the clock, restore among the nations a peace that is not servitude, reconcile anew labour and culture, and remake with all men the Ark of the Covenant.

He believed, rightly or wrongly, that some people from his generation were up for the challenge:

It is not certain that this generation will ever be able to accomplish this immense task, but already it is rising everywhere in the world to the double challenge of truth and liberty and, if necessary, knows how to die for it without hate. Wherever it is found, it deserves to be saluted and encouraged, particularly where it is sacrificing itself. In any event, certain of your complete approval, it is to this generation that I should like to pass on the honour that you have just given me.

More to the point, are we?


CHIP UPDATE. The House passed a stopgap spending measure to keep funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program at its current rate through Nov.

DOES GLOBALIZATION MAKE FOR WAR OR PEACE? According to this analysis, it depends...

BANG FOR THEIR BUCK. It looks like the folks at Blackwater are a little trigger happy even by military contractor standards.

MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. This is the latest legal news as of now. There have been rumors of outside groups coming to Logan County to protest but these have not materialized so far. Meanwhile, local residents have been discussing organizing some kind of positive community event in response to these crimes. More on that as plans develop.

TALKING SENSE. The Chicken Littles of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia are always talking about how we rank at or near the bottom in this or that (often spurious) business ranking list. This post a while back from is a good response.


September 26, 2007


Welcome to Albert Camus Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

In his work "The Myth of Sisyphus," Camus asserted that

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whet er life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

(The reader has apparently answered the question in the affirmative at the moment anyway...)

For Camus, the question of the value of life was related to his idea of the absurd, that is human life as characterized by mortality, contingency, and the lack of an inherent meaning in a universe without God. As he put it,

in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger.

His image for the human condition was derived from the mythological figure of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to perpetually roll a heavy stone up the hill only to have it roll down again.

Come to think of it, a lot of life is kinda like that. Still, Camus wound up affirming life.

Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable...."I conclude that all is well," says Oedipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted...It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.

All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing...

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. The universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

CHIP VOTE. The House passed legislation preserving and expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program 265 to 159 yesterday, not enough to override a Bush veto if it happens.

El Cabrero and his amigos held a press conference yesterday in support of the program for which we actually had press, which is a plus. High five! Great success!

CHIP AND IRAQ. The CHIP expansion mentioned above costs less than six weeks of the war in Iraq.

UNLEASHING WHATEVER UPDATE. A marriage made in heaven?

A TENTATIVE AGREEMENT between GM and the UAW has been reached. Here's hoping they got a good deal.


September 25, 2007


Caption: These guys are rebels.

Some of the wisest words ever were carved on the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi: "Nothing in excess" and "Know thyself."

(Unfortunately, the ancient Greeks weren't always that great at taking the neither come to think of it.)

The French philosopher Albert Camus, who is on the menu at Goat Rope this week, managed to do something pretty rare: combine rebellion with moderation.

Rebellion is the subject of his book The Rebel (so it isn't just a clever name). For Camus, rebellion springs from the urge for justice and freedom. It involves saying No to oppression, servitude, or degradation.

But rebellion itself must have its limits. All too easily it can and has mutated into fanaticism, totalitarianism, nihilism and terrorism:

Moderation is not the opposite of rebellion. Rebellion is in itself moderation, and it demands, defends, and re-creates it throughout history and its eternal disturbances.

He believed that it is not given to us to remake the world from scratch or to fundamentally change the human condition with all its inevitable tragedies and absurdities:

Man 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. Dimitri Karamazov's cry of "Why" will continue to resound; art and rebellion will die only with the last man.

But he argued that we can, here and there, with luck and skill and fortitude make improvements, end abuses, and reduce unnecessary suffering:

He who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest that sows its seed and sustains the world again and again.

Him did talk pretty too.

CHIP SHOWDOWN. Congress could vote today on expanding the Childrens Health Insurance Program. President Bush has threatened a veto. Here's a good critique of Bush's position from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and here's the latest from the NY Times.

El Cabrero and amigos will have a press conference in support of CHIP this afternoon. It'll show up here (assuming we get any press) tomorrow. That will be today's moderate rebellion.


DIRTY TRICKS DEPARTMENT. Here's an item on the art and science of union busting and one more reason why we need the Employee Free Choice Act.

WHAT HE SAID. WV Senator Robert C. Byrd on Iraq:

The best way to support our troops is to bring them home, and the only way to get them home may be to somehow restrict the funds for this disastrous war. ... This senator will support no more blank checks for Iraq.

BEST OF LUCK to the GM United Auto Workers members in getting a decent contract. El Cabrero is a member of that branch of the UAW that doesn't know how to change the oil.


September 24, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle is all about existentialism.

There are thinkers and philosophers hold up better than others over time. Some--say Sartre, Foucault or Derrida--might be worth a quick intellectual fling at a certain stage of life or a brief perusal. Others--my short list includes people like Aristotle, William James, and the French writer Albert Camus--seem to have more staying power.

I've been thinking about Camus again since re-reading his novel The Plague for the umpteenth time.

El Cabrero first stumbled on the Algerian/French writer and philosopher Camus (1913-1960) while prowling the stacks of my hometown public library about the time I finished high school. The work was "Reflections on the Guillotine," his classic essay against the death penalty.

My beloved state of West Virginia didn't have the death penalty then and still doesn't, but I'd never seriously thought about it before. His eloquent, passionate but rational approach made a permanent impression on me. I went on from there to read his novels, essays, plays (not his best work), and non-fiction works.

Here's a post on the subject from last year, written on the occasion of George Bush's encounter with his novel The Stranger.

Camus had credibility with me because he wasn't naive about the evils of the world--in fact he was fully engaged against them. He was active in the French Resistance and spoke in defense of human rights whether these were threatened from the right or left.

In this week's Goat Rope, I'm going to highlight some of his nuggets.

Here are a couple of sample quotes from The Rebel to start with:

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present. is those who know how to rebel, at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interests.

More to come.

WHO OWNS ADAM SMITH? Here's an op-ed of yours truly that appeared in yesterday's Gazette Mail. To my surprise, it was accepted at Common Dreams as well.

DISTURBING READING. For those following the Megan Williams torture and kidnapping case, here is a transcript of an early interview with police shortly after she was freed from captivity. Warning: this is extremely graphic.

NEW NOTES. And here's the latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from under the Fig Tree.

FEDERAL MINE INSPECTIONS CUT. What the ...? In spite of all-too-recent mine disasters in Utah and West Virginia, MSHA is behind in its safety inspections. This is from Ken Ward's story in the Gazette yesterday.