March 01, 2008


"It is impossible (fortunately) to have justice without compassion, but it is possible (unfortunately) to have compassion without justice. That sequence of justice and compassion is, therefore, significant. We are back, in fact, with the distinction between, on the one had, individual good or evil and,on the other systemic good or evil. Where there is justice without compassion, there will be anger, violence, and murder. A thirst for justice without an instinct for compassion produces killers. Sometimes they are simply believers in a Killer God. Sometimes they are assistant killers of a Killer God. But compassion without justice is equally problematic. In any unjust system, there are people needing immediate assistance. And even in an perfectly just system, there would still be those who would need compassion. But compassion, no matter how immediately necessary or profoundly human, cannot substitute for justice, for the right of all to equal dignity and integrity of life. Those who live by compassion are often canonized. Those who live by justice are often crucified."

John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity

February 29, 2008


Welcome to Goat Rope's Fun with Dante series. You will also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

El Cabrero's goal for all of this is to encourage you, Gentle Reader, to give the Divine Comedy a try, whether it's for the first or fifteenth time.

Here's how it's structured. There are three main canticles or parts (often published as separate volumes): Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, which describe the Pilgrim's guided tour of the afterlife. I heard once that all three had a total of 14,000 lines in the original, although I've never stopped to count.

Each canticle has 33 cantos, which are like chapters. Inferno has one extra one by way of introduction. In the original Italian, the canticles all rhymed and had the same meter. English translations vary.The canticles are fairly short, so it's no big deal to get through one a day.

Each of the three volumes or canticles ends with the word "stars." After going all the way through hell and coming up on the other side of the world, Inferno ends with "And we stood once more beneath the stars."

After climbing the mountain of Purgatory in that volume, the Pilgrim is "eager now to rise, ready for the stars" as he prepares to tour Heaven.

Finally, after gaining a vision of God at the highest heaven (or at least as much as he could handle), he describes himself as fully in tune with "the love that moves the sun and the other stars."

You'll probably be seeing stars as well by the time you make it through. El Cabrero sure did.

One other thing about the main characters of Dante, Virgil and Beatrice. They are themselves, but they are also more. Dante the poet is a character in his poem, but he kind of represents all of us. Virgil is the great Roman poet, but he also represents human reason and effort. As a pagan who died before Christian revelation, he lacks supernatural grace but is still pretty awesome. Beatrice, on the other hand, was a real woman in life but as a character in Heaven represents divine grace.

The point seems to be that to gain the vision of God in Paradise, we need divine grace but we also have to use our reason and make our own efforts. Reason can't get us all the way there, just as Virgil can't cross the threshold to Paradise, but it is important and can help us on the way. In fact, Virgil describes the souls in hell as "those who lost the good of intellect."

Next week: the tour continues.

MORE ON THE COST OF THE IRAQ WAR. How does $3 trillion sound?

"THE SURGE IS WORKING." Or is it? Here's a critical view.

CAPTIVE AUDIENCES. West Virginia's Worker Freedom Bill was highlighted on the national AFLCIO blog. The bill would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend meetings where management discusses unions, politics, or religion.

PRISON NATION. From the NY Times:

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. Here's the latest coverage from WV Public Radio.


February 28, 2008


The theme at Goat Rope lately is Dante's Divine Comedy. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries. You will also find links and comments about current events.

The Divine Comedy is one of a kind. In addition to telling the story of Dante's pilgrimage (and ours), it's also a kind of summary and totalization of what was widely known and believed in medieval Europe. It's a book that contains references to many other books.

The fancy word for that is "intertextuality." (Try whipping that one out at the fire station sometime, but don't blame me if you get beat up.) One example of that from American literature is the first line of Melville's Moby-Dick: "Call me Ishmael," which refers readers back to the book of Genesis. Here are some of the books "contained" in the Comedy:

*Nature. In the ancient and medieval world, nature was widely seen as God's book, which we could read if we had wisdom and grace. Dante gives a tour not just of the afterlife but of the entire physical universe as it was believed to be.

*The Bible. Y'all saw that one coming. Characters and events from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New figure prominently in it and some have speaking roles.

*The classics. Dante's guide through 2/3rds of his journey is the ancient Roman poet Virgil, author of the epic poem The Aeneid. That classic also refers to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and a host of Greek and Roman myths.

*Philosophy and theology, especially the works of Aristotle, whom Dante calls "master of all who know," and St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians.

*St. Augustine. The bishop of Hippo in Carthage (now Tunisia) was a huge influence on the medieval church. Dante's book especially refers to his Confessions.

Can you imagine someone trying to encompass so much in a book today? Me neither. But it works. You don't need to know all those texts to read the Comedy--just get one with a good set of footnotes. And don't feel bad about that: Every reader from the late middle ages on needed footnotes to get through it.

A SEA CHANGE? Here's a review of recent books on the American religious scene by E.J. Dionne and Jim Wallis by way of In These Times.

ON A RELATED NOTE, here's sociologist Alan Wolfe on the (possibly moderate) future of world religion.

TWO ON THE ECONOMY. It's beginning to look a lot like stagflation. And here's another one on the credit crunch.

"PHILANTHROPY" CONTINUED. Here's more on BB&T's promotion of Ayn Rand.

DEFINING TORTURE. Would this qualify?


February 27, 2008


The man himself, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme lately at Goat Rope is Dante's Divine Comedy and how to enjoy it. And, yes, you really can. You will also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

To understand the Divine Comedy, you need to know something about its author and protagonist, Dante Alighieri. The whole thing is in a sense autobiographical. I don't mean that Dante literally went to hell, purgatory and heaven (although most of us have made at least part of that journey at some point in our lives), but rather that Dante is the main character and much of the story refers to his real life.

Dante was born in Florence in 1265 to a respectable family. His father was a member of a guild. We don't know much about his education but he obviously had a good one. We also know that from childhood, he had a major crush on Beatrice Portinari, who was the subject of much of his poetry.

As a relationship, this one never went anywhere, but Beatrice was The One That Got Away (maybe a little like Charlie Brown's red headed girl). She was for him the essence of beauty. In the Divine Comedy, she came to represent spiritual grace. Dante wedded Gemma di Manetto Donati in a marriage that was probably arranged in childhood. They had several children together.

He was a poet, diplomat, soldier and politician. If you think our times are politically polarized, check out Italy in the late medieval period. There were huge tensions between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Guelphs tended to favor the papacy, while Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman emperor (Voltaire once pointed out that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire.)

In Florence, the Guelphs won decisively but then split into two opposing camps, the Black and White Guelphs. Dante was a member of the latter party. He fell afoul of political intrigues around 1301 and was exiled from Florence on pain of death for the rest of his life. He died in 1321.

Thus the Divine Comedy is a poem of exile, written after his banishment. He sets it the year before, on Holy Week in the year 1300. The journey related there helps prepare him for the exile to come and the work itself may have been his way of working through the trauma.

But here's the kicker. While Dante is definitely Dante, he is also us. His story is ours as he makes the trip. So don't just read it; put yourself in it.

OH GREAT. Employers in Britain are trying to take a leaf from US union busters.

BUT IT COULD BE WORSE. Here's a snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute on the murder of trade unionists in Colombia.

TALKING SENSE. Here's a good blog post from Create West Virginia about moving to a high road economy. The Gov. and Legislature in El Cabrero's beloved state are hooked on corporate tax cuts, but a lot of good data cries out for public investment in education.

WORKER FREEDOM BILL. A bill that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend meetings to listen to views on politics, religion and unions passed the WV House of Delegates earlier this week. Here are several links courtesy of Lincoln Walks at Midnight. The WV Public Radio story is worth a listen if you're wired for sound. It faces a tougher fight in the senate.

FUN ITEM. Writer Beth Lisick spent a year reading self help books and lived to tell the tale. Here's a diverting interview. Apparently some of them were pretty good.

OK, SO I'M ADDICTED. To The Wire that is. But living without cable in the sticks, we're still on season two.

SINCE WE'RE BEING KIND OF RANDOM TODAY, here's an item on C.G. Jung.


February 26, 2008


El Cabrero got launched on a Dante kick yesterday and I'm going to ride it as long as it lasts. You'll also find the usual links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

Dante's Divine Comedy is an all time masterpiece but it's a challenging read. Here are a few things to keep in mind while you do it.

*It's never over. I read somewhere that when someone told T.S. Eliot that they had read the Comedy, he corrected the person by saying "begun to read it." In other words, this is not one you read just to scratch off a list or to add a notch to your literary six shooter. It's one to keep going back to over and over through the years.

*We have a new rule. There are probably way more people who have read the first part of the Comedy, the Inferno, than the other parts. That is just wrong. It's like saying you read the first two acts of Hamlet or walked out on The Big Lebowski after half an hour. To quote from that movie, "This isn't Vietnam, Dude--there are rules."

It's a package deal--don't do the crime if you won't do the time and don't do Inferno if you're not going to do the whole thing. You really can't understand it just from the first part. Dante's insight--and yours--will grow as you proceed.

*It's kind of a loop. By that I mean that in order to really read it, you have to have already read it. That may take some unpacking. Dante is both the narrator and the protagonist of this story. Dante the character doesn't really understand what is happening to him completely until journey's end, which is the perspective of Dante the narrator.

There is probably a way easier way of saying what I just did...

Anyway, it's only after you've made the whole trip through that you can see where it's going and what it means. So once you're slogged through it the first time in all its strangeness, you're really ready to read it.

THE NEW DEAL might teach us a thing or two about dealing with the housing meltdown.

THE MESS TO COME in Iraq is the subject of this item by Chris Hedges.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS MATTER. Proponents of tinkle down economics disparage public investments in education and infrastructure and their positive impacts on the economy. Here's the deal. It matters. A recent study of the economic impact of West Virginia University (which!) found:

• Total number of jobs created was 35,700.
• Total business volume generated was $3.9 billion.
• Total output generated was $3.3 billion.
• Total employee compensation was $1.15 billion.
• Total value added created was $1.7 billion.
• Total assorted state taxes (consumer sales and use, personal income, corporate net
income, and business franchise) resulting from WVU and affiliated organizations was
$57.4 million.

TOO MANY OPTIONS can be a problem, according to this NY Times science article.

STOP THE PRESSES. Some scientists think hiccups may be a legacy from our gill-breathing ancestors.


February 25, 2008


A while back, a friend sort of dared me to blog about Dante's Divine Comedy. It is, after all, one of the most awesome works of the human imagination ever. I've been thinking about doing it for a long time, but the Wayne's World factor keeps kicking in.

What might that be? If you've seen the movie (if not, go get it--I'll wait), you may remember the part where Wayne and Garth get backstage passes to see Alice Cooper. When the reality sinks in of being in the presence of such splendor, they are overcome with awe and prostrate themselves saying "We're not worthy! We're scum! We suck!"

Here's the clip, via the nice people at You Tube.

And for the record, I'm going to go out on a limb here and boldly assert that Dante is every bit as awesome a presence as Alice Cooper, which is quite a compliment coming from me.

For that reason, I'm going to take the indirect approach and just talk about some things that might make approaching Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso a little easier.

Let me start with this plea: whoever you are, try not to die without first making the acquaintance of this classic. As T.S. Eliot once said, "take the Comedy as a whole, you can compare it to nothing but the entire dramatic work of Shakespeare.... Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third."

He left out Homer (and Alice), but you get the idea. More tomorrow.

THE COST OF THE IRAQ WAR is worse than we thought--and we already thought it was bad.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's an item about the sorry state of mental health care for veterans of this war.

RETIREMENT looking pretty grim for many workers. Here's an op-ed by your's truly on a possible part of the solution.

RELIGION WITHOUT RABIES. This item from The Atlantic suggests that evangelicalism is moving toward moderation.

THE R WORD. Here's an interesting article on why and when revolutions happen.

WHO LOVES YOU? It's the start of a week. Fortify yourself with a little entertainment: here's William Shatner and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, courtesy of the nice people at YouTube.