December 06, 2008

Holiday reruns with the canine film critic

The holiday season once again approaches and that means Christmas reruns. Goat Rope is pleased to offer a special repeat edition of one of the canine film critic's finest reviews. In this holiday feature, Goat Rope Farm film critic Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY) will discuss the perennial seasonal favorite, "A Christmas Story."

Once again, we must remind our readers that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury from crashing into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he has on occasion been known to transpose the plots of the films he discusses. Nevertheless, we believe that his insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that features such as these will elevate the level of public discourse and contribute to a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


OK, so this movie is awesome. Some people may not think this movie needs explaining by a film critic but there's a lot going on there that you might not get at first.

First, there's this kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas so bad it's driving him nuts. But everybody keeps telling him he'll put his eye out with it.

What they don't know is that he really needs this BB gun because this evil robot from the future who looks like some kind of muscle governor is coming back and trying to kill him.

The evil robot catches the kid and puts him in a prison down south where he makes friends with everybody by eating 50 eggs.

I could probably eat 50 eggs if Moomus and Doodus would let me...

The 50 eggs is sort of a symbol for the 12 days of Christmas. Fifty is like the square root of twelve.

Anyway, he escapes from New York and these Christmas ghosts show him what's going to happen to him if he doesn't straighten up. So then he trades in his BB gun and buys Christmas presents for everybody, even the evil robot whose name is Tiny Tim, who gets the girl that works at the fashion magazine.

It's awesome, especially if you eat eggs and popcorn while you watch it.


December 05, 2008

Dreadful memories

Here's hoping a car isn't coming.

El Cabrero spent a good chunk of the last few months working with a couple of partners on a fairly substantial report about the state of working people in West Virginia. Here's a link to a press release and the full report.

We wanted to look both at how things stand now and at how they've changed over a 30 year period, starting in 1979. It brought back a lot of painful memories of hard times.

Here's the short version. Once upon a time in West Virginia, a typical young person had a decent chance of finding a job with good wages and benefits without too much trouble. Then the ladder got yanked away.

In 1979, before the economic tsunami hit, WV was higher than the national average in hourly wages, pension, and health care coverage. The decade of the 1980s was an unmitigated economic disaster here. Unemployment through most of the 1980s and early 1990s was in the double digits. In 1983, the official unemployment rate was an incredible 17.3 percent. That didn't count discouraged or underemployed workers.

Those are just numbers. I remember plant closing after plant closing, massive layoffs in mines and manufacturing--and that was before the NAFTA wave crashed over us. It was grim.

It took us literally decades to dig our way out from under and begin making progress again. And now that we're getting back on track, we're threatened once again by the international economic meltdown.

It's always something, isn't it?

FILLING IN THE STREAMS. Here's more on the Bush administration's last minute maneuvers to ease restrictions on mountaintop removal mining.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Bank of America announced it will stop issuing loans to companies that engage in mountaintop removal.

WEATHERING THE STORM. Do personality traits make some people more adaptable in hard times?

Here's a link to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.


December 04, 2008

Howling ghosts

It is the official position of Goat Rope that the coolest album of the 1990s was Counting Crows' "August and Everything After." And one of the coolest songs was "Mr. Jones."

One line from that song expresses a wish of mine: "I wanna be Bob Dylan..." Or at least I'd like to be able to use words as well or as wildly as he can. As I heard Arlo Guthrie say in a concert once, Dylan seems to fish for songs upstream from everybody else, which is why he catches so many of them.

Here's a random sample of a Dylan line, from "Visions of Johanna:"

The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face.

I have no idea what that means but I wish that just once in my life I could come up with a sentence that cool.

ANOTHER CASUALTY of the recession for many Americans may be access to higher education.


MORE PARTING SHOTS FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: easing rules on mountaintop removal mining.

GOING GREEN. The stimulus package being developed for next year includes a green component.



December 03, 2008

I saw a sign there

El Cabrero has been musing lately about how sometimes I've been deeply influenced by brief and random conversations. It kind of makes me wonder how much more I might have learned if I'd been paying attention...

When I was in junior high, there was an art teacher who was the master of random comments. Come to think of it, the making of random comments is one reason why we keep art teachers around.

Somehow, when the topic or Arlo or Woody Guthrie came up, he told me that there were some verses of "This Land is Your Land" that didn't make into the school music books. I was curious and looked them up and have since been a big fan of musical subversion.

These are the ones he was talking about:

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tresspassin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

HARD TIMES FOR COLLEGES and for people trying to go.

WHERE'S JOE THE PLUMBER WHEN YOU NEED HIM? Here's economist Dean Baker on the bailout, which is spreading the wealth around to those who don't need it.

HERE WE SIT, BROKEN HEARTED. The U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal from Massey Energy to overturn a $260 million verdict won by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.

WORKING WEST VIRGINIA. El Cabrero was one of the co-authors of a new report from the WV Center on Budget and Policy looking at the state of working people in West Virginia over the last 30 years. Here's the press release with a link to the full report.


December 02, 2008

A bridge of silver

This picture has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

You can get good advice in brief and even random conversations sometimes. As I mentioned yesterday, I got some very good advice about dealing with people when I began working in the public library of one of my state's major cities over 20 years ago.

The advice was, in essence, never corner a crazy person. Since then, I've added the following: we're all crazy sometimes. Pushing someone into a literal or metaphorical corner where there's no way out but through you can cause a situation to escalate out of control. I've tried to avoid doing that over the years and it's been pretty useful.

Conversely, providing people with a graceful and face-saving way out of a bad situation can smooth the waters. Possibly one reason the American Civil War ended as civilly as it did (and didn't turn into a decades-long guerrilla war) was the courteous and generous terms offered to Robert E. Lee's army by Grant.

Years after that conversation in a library, I stumbled upon a similar thought in--of all places--Francois Rabelais' (1494-1553) hilarious and bawdy novel Gargantua and Pantagruel. (The book also offers an interesting and amusing menu of toilet paper substitutes, but I'll leave that to the Gentle Reader to discover.)

In that book, the genial giant Gargantua puts it like this:

...according to the true military practice you must never drive your enemy into the straits of despair, because such a plight multiplies his strength and increases his courage; which was cast down and failing before. There is no better aid to safety for men who are beaten and dismayed than to have no hope of safety whatever. How many victories have the conquered wrested from the hands of the victors when the latter have not been satisfied with moderation, but have attempted to make a complete massacre and totally to destroy their enemy, without leaving so much as one alive to convey the news! Always leave every door and road open to your enemies. Make them a bridge of silver, in fact, to help them get away.

LUXURY SHAME. Newsweek reports that some very rich folks are trying to make their consumption a bit less conspicuous in hard times.

STRESSED OUT. The number of Americans feeling that way has increased in recent times according to a psychological survey.

CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO less severe moral judgments, recent psychological experiments suggest.

ZZZZ. Here's another plug for taking a nap.


December 01, 2008

Good advice

Don't corner this guy.

It recently occurred to me that I have sometimes been profoundly influenced by brief and seemingly random conversations with people. What follows is one example.

In another lifetime, El Cabrero had a happy but impoverished career working in public libraries in my beloved state of West Virginia. I started out as a janitor at the branch in my small town and started working with the public when they figured out I could read and write.

A big change came when I was transferred, not entirely voluntarily, from that small place to the main library in one of the state's biggest cities. The clientele was a little more...interesting, and sometimes kind of unpredictable.

Someone who worked there a long time gave me what turned out to be very good advice: "Never back a crazy person into a corner."

The person meant it literally at the time. If a patron was emotionally disturbed, they could become dangerous if they were backed into an aisle with no way out. But if you think about it, even a small animal will fight back fiercely if driven into a corner with no way out. That's even more true of people.

I have since modified that rule with a corollary: we're all crazy sometimes. I still try to adhere to the practice of not putting another person in a situation in which his or her only way out is to tear a hole through me. Taken together, those are pretty useful things to keep in mind in de-escalating potentially dangerous situations and defusing conflict.

SUBURBS. Lots of people moved there over the last few decades. Now poverty is moving in too.

SPEAKING OF POVERTY, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a new report that warns

the current downturn is likely to cause significant increases both in the number of Americans who are poor and the number living in “deep poverty,” with incomes below half of the poverty line. Because this recession is likely to be deep and the government safety net for very poor families who lack jobs has weakened significantly in recent years, increases in deep poverty in this recession are likely to be severe.

CBPP recommends several steps to soften the blow, including expanding access to food stamps, expanding and extending unemployment benefits and contingency TANF funding, and providing fiscal aid to states so that these won't have to cut vital programs.

ELEMENTS OF A STIMULUS PACKAGE are discussed here. And Paul Krugman argues here that this isn't the time to be a deficit hawk.

WORTH A LOOK. Dollars, debt, dealing with crises, and even Dickens are the subject of the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.