November 03, 2007


For first time visitors: this blog generally discusses fairly serious human issues during the week. Weekend, however, are reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we once again welcome Mr. Sandor Sege (pronouced Shandor Shegg-AY), our official film critic. We must remind readers that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury when he crashed into a wall whilst shaking a squeaky toy. As a result, he has been known, on occasion, to transpose the plots of the films he discusses. Nevertheless, we believe that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our deepest hope that features such as this will elevate the level of popular discourse and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


OK, Moomus and Doodus say this is a classic 70s movie. I don't know what a 70s is, but it must be pretty cool.

There's this guy, see. His name is Tony and he has this family and this job in some kind of paint or hardware store. But his favorite thing is to go to discos and dance.

He meets this woman there he wants to dance with, but the woman is a man who is a general in World War II and he/she gets in trouble for smacking around a soldier with combat fatigue.

When the Battle of the Bulge comes, it snows and they can't make it to the dance contest, so Tony decides to leave his fancy music school to learn how to play blues guitar from this guy who went down to the crossroads.

The old guy's name is Mr. Miyagi and he shows him how to paint the fence and wax the car. That was a good thing, because that's how he learned to fight off all flesh eating zombies in the mall.

Finally, they make it back to the dance concert and Amadeus beats Salieri in a karate tournament with a crane technique on a slide guitar.

It was awesome.

It's like really complex symbolism. The zombies symbolize bad music and the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge represent bad dancing. The wax on the car is like the search for meaning or something.


November 02, 2007


Today is the last day of Haint Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

Haint, by the way, is Appalachian for that which haunts. In addition to comments on current events, posts this week have deal with the belief in ghosts, the allure of "haunted" or sacred places, the feeling of weirdness, and the Day of the Dead. It seemed a fitting theme for Halloween.

El Cabrero has refrained from taking a position on the existence or non-existence of such things but I will tell about something that happened to me.

A dear friend and co-worker of mine died a little over two years ago. We fought a lot of battles together and did pretty good for a while there. But what I most miss were our conversations. When not in predatory mode, we talked about all kinds of things: life, literature, philosophy, religion, science, you name it.

One thing we disagreed about was death and everything after. She tended to think it was the end and I was never able to convince myself that was the case. Not that I was particularly happy about that; at times, total extinction sounds pretty good to me.

A while after her death from a debilitating and cruel disease, I had a strange experience. I was not asleep but not completely awake, in a kind of liminal state between the two. I had the clear and unmistakable experience of her passing right through my core. It was like a very warm greeting. There was nothing visual or auditory about it, but as far as I'm concerned it was her and it was good.

Was it a sleeping or waking dream or an example of wish fulfillment? My official statement is the same as Hamlet's:

"O good Horatio, I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound."

DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THE WEATHER. A powerful coalition of religious groups, including evangelicals, is pressing congress to take action on climate change.

HEALTH CARE. Here's a NY Times editorial stating the obvious: we need universal health care. Note: stating the obvious is a virtue these days.

MEGAN WILLIAMS MARCH UPDATE. The Student Government Association at WV State University plans an anti-hate rally for Nov. 17. The student group joined the NAACP, Black Ministerial Alliance, West Virginians United for Social and Economic Justice, the Logan County Improvement League and others in not endorsing a Nov. 3 march organized by out of state groups. Here's more.

Meanwhile, the Logan County prosecutor has urged Williams to refrain from making public statements as it may damage the case, as the AP reports.

Here's the latest on the march. And here's background on hate crimes law from the AP.


November 01, 2007


Welcome to Goat Rope's official Haint Week. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

"Haint" is Appalachian for that which haunts, which is a pretty good theme for Halloween week.

A Mexican custom of which El Cabrero is a big fan of is the Day of the Dead, which corresponds with All Saints Day in the Church calendar. Halloween, you recall, is All-Hallows-Eve or the day before. Similar customs are observed elsewhere, but it is the official Goat Rope verdict that this is the coolest.

The celebration likely has pre-Christian roots. During the Aztec month of Miccailhuitonli (say that 10 times while spinning around), there was a festival presided over by the "Lady of the Dead" which was dedicated both to children and the dead. Originally, this was celebrated in the summer, but there was an understandable post-colonial shift.

Now the festivities usually continue for the first two days of November and include acts that symbolically welcome the dead back into their homes and visiting family graves. There's special food including "pan de muerto" or bread of the dead. Family altars and gravesides are decorated with religious objects and symbolic offerings of food flowers and even alcohol and cigarettes.

I think the basic idea is right on, i.e. that the living and the dead are connected. That idea is enshrined in the ancient creeds of Christianity, which speak of "the communion of saints."

Maybe that's because the dead aren't quite as dead as we tend to think or the living aren't as alive as we tend to think. I'll leave that to the reader's discretion...

YOU DON'T NEED A WEATHERMAN... Here's a sobering item on climate change and global warming.

NO FEAR? Consider reconsidering.

A FAIR DAY'S WORK FOR--WHAT? Here's a call for decent wages and conditions for all.

BOOK BATTLES. The recent efforts by some Kanawha County parents to ban Pat Conroy's novels from AP English classes reminds some folks of an epic book battle that took place more than 30 years ago.

MINE SAFETY LEGISLATION MOVES IN US HOUSE. A House panel approved stronger mine safety measures, a step that the industry and Bush administration will oppose.

MEGAN WILLIAMS MARCH UPDATE. Here's the Daily Mail interviewing the Rev. Matthew Watts, a member of the Charleston Ministerial Alliance, about a march planned for this Sunday by out of state groups. Several WV groups have declined to support the event.


October 31, 2007


Caption: This man has been overcome with it.

This is Haint Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

(For the un-hillbilly, haint is Appalachian for that which haunts.)

Whatever haints may or may not be, one reason many people have believed in them over the ages is no doubt the feeling of fear or awe that sometimes strikes us in the apparent absence of an ordinary cause.

The 20th century German theologian Rudolph Otto referred to this feeling as the "mysterium tremendum." In his classic book The Idea of the Holy, he suggests that this feeling of awe lies at the basis of both religion and many superstitions:

The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at least it dies away and the soul resumes its 'profane', non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy.

This feeling can take many forms:

It has wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of--whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.

The biblical Book of Job has a great description of this unbidden feeling of awe or dread:

“Now a word was brought to me stealthily, And my ear received a whisper of it. Amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, When deep sleep falls on men, Dread came upon me, and trembling, And made all my bones shake." (4:12-14)

Otto believed that earlier, more "primitive" manifestations of this feeling had a dark side and generated belief in ghosts and demons:

Its antecedent stage is 'daemonic dread' (cf. the horror of Pan) with its queer perversion, a sort of abortive offshoot, the 'dread of ghosts'. It first begins to stir in the feeling of 'something uncanny', 'eerie', or 'weird'. It is the feeling which, emerging in the mind of primeval man, forms the start-point for the entire religious development of history. 'Daemons' and 'gods' alike spring from this root, and all the products of 'mythological apperception' or 'fantasy' are nothing but different modes in which it has been objectified.

From a purely psychological point of view, these unbidden feelings of awe and dread are the stuff of which haints are made.

POVERTY AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT is the theme of the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. One item of interest deals with the possibilities of micro-loan programs to alleviate poverty and improve health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

CHANGE TO WHAT? It's been two years or so since some unions split from the AFLCIO to form Change to Win. Here's an item from In These Times about what's changed, what hasn't and what might.

DEATH PENALTY. Yesterday's Supreme Court decision could mean a temporary moratorium on executions.

LATEST PRESS ON MEGAN WILLIAMS MARCH includes this item from the Daily Mail about Malik Shabazz,one of the march's organizers, and this item from the Charleston Gazette about the decision of the Charleston NAACP not to support the march, a decision shared by several other predominantly African American groups in WV.


October 30, 2007


Caption: Hills have hoodoo.

Welcome to Haint Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit please click on yesterday's post.

For flatlanders, haint is Appalachian for things that haunt.

El Cabrero takes no position on the existence or nonexistence of haints. However, I am prepared to assert that some places have hoodoo, which is just as good.

They say that Appalachians have a strong sense of place, although we obviously don't have a corner on the market. But when I think of hauntedness, I think less about spectral beings than about places.

It seems to me that some places just seem to have hoodoo and others don't. Hoodoo, like the Oceanic term "mana" means some kind of weird immaterial force or quality that has been called "the stuff of which magic is formed."

Some places seem to have hoodoo because of things that happened there. Harpers Ferry is a prime example, almost as if events have left some kind of scar or imprint. So do the nearby battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg.

Other places, like the sacred New River, seem to have it naturally, although the history probably helps. I tend to doubt whether flatland has any hoodoo, but I'll try to keep my mind open on that point. Maybe if there's water around...

Hoodoo is hard to define but who feels it knows it.

BLOWING UP THE BUDDHAS. Here's an op-ed from yesterday's NY Times about the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban. This is pretty un-Buddhist, but El Cabrero is still mad about that.

DEATH PENALTY NEWS. This Reuters story is interesting:

The American Bar Association said on Monday it was renewing its call for a nationwide moratorium on executions, based on a three-year study of death penalty systems in eight states that found unfairness and other flaws.

The lawyers' group said its study identified key problems, such as major racial disparities, incompetent defense services for poor defendants and irregular clemency review processes, making those death penalty systems operate unfairly.

UPDATE ON MEGAN WILLIAMS MARCH. Here's the Daily Mail on the controversy caused by a march planned by outside groups. And here's the latest from the Gazette.

POVERTY AND CLIMATE CHANGE. Low income Americans are likely to suffer most from the effects of climate change and from higher energy costs. Here are suggestions about dealing with this from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING, the world's oldest living animal as far as anyone can tell is a 400 year old clam.


October 29, 2007


Welcome to Haint Week at Goat Rope. Now some flatland readers--and maybe even some fellow hillbillies that ain't been raised right--may want to ask what, exactly is a haint?

Well, let's see. According to the Reflexive Property of Haintness, a haint is a haint, so if you see one, that's what it is. More precisely, a haint is that which haunts so if it's haunted, you got a haint.

It seems like an appropriate theme for Halloween Week.

El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia has more than its share of haints. There are some pretty good collections of local haint lore. One of the best is the late folklorist Ruth Ann Musick's The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales, which I devoured in elementary school.

I'm not sure what I'd say if asked point blank if I believe in haints. Some days, I don't even believe in the multiplication tables. But basically I think we live in a wild, open universe and that Hamlet was right about there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies, Horatio.

I will venture this much: I think the quality of hauntedness or even sacredness has more to do with places than with spectral beings. More about that tomorrow...

CHECK THIS OUT. It's a very interesting article from the NY Times Magazine about the current state of the religious right.

US LABOR MAKES INTERNATIONAL APPEAL. The AFLCIO has filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization over the anti-union bias of Bush's NLRB.

KISS THOSE POLAR BEARS GOODBYE. Here's a good but grim one on the future of coal.

MEDIA MADNESS. Here's an interview with Paul Krugman about the right wing media.

THE RACIST MIND. Is it different? Maybe. Note: Spinoza came up with basically the same answer in the 1600s.

UPDATE ON MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. The Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance is the latest group which has decided not to support a march planned by out of state groups. Others include the state NAACP and the Logan County Improvement League.