December 13, 2008

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer explained

As the holiday season approaches, Goat Rope is pleased to offer some insightful discussions of some of the most beloved television Christmas specials. Our canine commentator is none other than Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor SHEGG-ay), official film critic of Goat Rope Farm.

(We must remind the reader that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury when he crashed into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy and has since been known to transpose the plots of the films he discusses. Nonetheless, we are convinced that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.)

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


OK, so like this one comes on every year and is the coolest Christmas special ever.

There's this reindeer named Rudolph, see, and he wants to help pull Santa's truck, which is really a robot in disguise. But see, he has this red nose when he comes home from college. This guy tries to tell him to get into plastics but he goes off with Mrs. Robinson instead and I got confused after that part.

Anyway, Rudolph has this little elf friend who wants to be a dentist but he gets eaten by a talking plant after being mean to his girlfriend. The other elves don't think he's very good at making toys after that.

Then there's this abominable snowman who runs around scaring people because he wants to win this disco dancing contest with his partner, who is Mrs. Claus. Santa can't do it because he's trying to get home from the Civil War. They win the contest but the mummy runs off with the prize.

It was kind of predictable if you knew the song.


December 12, 2008

One step, then another

The Andes Mountains. Not the best place to crash land. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is hard times and how to get through them, a topic to which I will return next week.

Speaking of which, if you think you've got troubles, I highly recommend Edward E. Leslie's Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls: True Stories of Castaways and Other Survivors. It is from that book that I came across the Best Advice Ever for dealing with tough times, one that I suggest committing to memory. It makes a pretty good mantra when you need it.

The words come from Henri Guillaumet, a pilot whose plane ran out of fuel in a snowstorm in the Andes. He managed (barely) to survive pain, cold and lots of other nasty stuff. Speaking from bitter experience, he gave this advice:

What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.

LESS IS MORE. Getting by with less stuff may not be a totally bad thing.

PRIMING THE PUMP. Here's economist Dean Baker on president-elect Obama's economic stimulus plan.

MISTAKES WERE MADE. In this article, economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz outlines the bad economic policies that led to the current mess.

LET THEM EAT NASTY STUFF. Some possible good news: bacteria that like to eat toxic gunk could help revive dead zones in the world's oceans.


December 11, 2008

Change we can't help believing in

Tibetan image of the wheel of life and death, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope is hard times and ways of dealing with them. My first choice is that they "come again no more," as the song says. My second choice is that people come together and make them get better ASAP. But sometimes they just come and stay a while. And whatever else people do about them, we just have to get through them.

One way of looking at the world which is all about dealing with hard times and suffering is Buddhism--and you don't have to be a card carrying Buddhist to get something out of it.

According to Buddhist teachings, everything--good, bad, or indifferent--is impermanent, coming into being and passing away depending on conditions. No matter what the situation is, it's going to change. It may not change for the better, but it will be different. The Buddha taught that "whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation."

We often screw up royally by regarding a temporary situation as permanent and acting or believing accordingly.

The Diamond Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text puts it like this:

"So I say to you -
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:

Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.

So is all conditioned existence to be seen."

Thus spoke Buddha.

The universe, in other words, is kind of like the weather in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia: if you don't like it, stick around. It'll change.

SPEAKING OF HARD TIMES, the Economic Policy Institute reports that unemployed workers outnumber job openings by more than 3 to 1.

GETTING IT RIGHT. Here's a take on what we need to do to fix the US economy.

DEATH SENTENCES AND EXECUTIONS continued to decline last year, reaching a 14 year low.



December 10, 2008

Awful grace

Aeschylus, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope these days is hard times and how to get through them, not that we're dealing with that now or anything.

I am not one of those who thinks all suffering is beneficial. Most of it is just plain suffering that leads to more of the same. My first choice is to get rid of it.

But still...

Most people who have accomplished difficult things in life have had to overcome obstacles. And for many, the struggle itself gave them strength to go on and do great things (assuming they survived, of course). Athletes and others who do difficult things go through a long and arduous period of training and preparation.

Ancient myths and folktales are full of stories of heroes, heroines and sages who had to go through a painful initiation before they could accomplish their work.

According to the Greek tragedian Aeschylus,

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our own will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

The ancient Chinese sage Mencius aka Mengzi (4th century BC) put it this way:

When Heaven is about to confer an important office upon a man, it first embitters his heart in its purpose; it causes him to exert his bones and sinews; it makes his body suffer hunger; it inflicts upon him want and poverty and confounds his undertakings. In this way it stimulates his will, steels his nature and thus makes him capable of accomplishing what he would otherwise be incapable of accomplishing.

It doesn't always work out that way, but sometimes it does--and the world is better for it.

HUMAN RIGHTS. Today is International Human Rights Day. El Cabrero and amigos will be exercising some of ours today on behalf of winning others. Here's the UN Declaration. Too bad we haven't got there yet.

GOOD FOR THEM! It looks like those union workers sitting-in in Illinois are getting somewhere.

DEATH IN THE MINES. Massey Energy has been cited for an October Boone County mine fatality.

TEASING OUT the positive side of teasing is the subject of this article.


HOARDING can be bad for your health.


December 09, 2008

The uses of adversity?

Wu prefers to sleep through hard times, which may not be a bad idea.

It is an article of faith in some circles that going through hard times brings out the best in people. In many myths, books and films, the hero or heroine must undergo an ordeal to achieve greatness. There are all kinds of popular sayings to the same effect, as in "no guts, no glory" and "no pain, no gain."

I do not entirely agree. Misery, as they also say, loves company. The world is full of unnecessary or preventable suffering, which usually only leads to more of the same. Given the choice, I'd rather get rid of it.

Then there are those who seek for some deep and perhaps cosmic purpose in human suffering and insist that it is all somehow for the best. Voltaire did a great job of skewering that viewpoint in his hilarious little novel Candide, and far be it from me to try to improve on that masterpiece.

I find that kind of cosmic optimism to be a real downer. For the record, I can't imagine a more depressing thought than the idea that this is "the best of all possible worlds."

Still there are some bullets that can't be dodged. In such cases, tenacity can be a virtue. And it really is sometimes true that going through tough periods can build a kind of endurance. Nietzsche famously said "What does not destroy me makes me stronger" (although the evidence often leans in the other direction). Sometimes telling yourself that can help a bit.

So can having some kind of goal or purpose, as Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl argued in Man's Search for Meaning (search the Goat Rope archives in the upper left hand corner for an earlier series here on his ideas). To quote Nietzsche again,

He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.

WORKS FOR ME. In the wake of the financial bailout, the union SEIU has proposed organizing bank workers.

HARD TIMES have sparked a boost of interest in WV's historic New Deal sites.

I COULD HAVE TOLD THEM THIS. Scientists have discovered that dogs have what seems to be a sense of fairness and are capable of envy. Perhaps they might have discovered this sooner if they'd have tried the novel experiment of giving food or treats to more than one at a time. My theory is that they can even do a kind of canine arithmetic in which they quantify the goodies and express disappointment if the balance doesn't add up.

I COULD HAVE TOLD THEM THIS ONE TOO. Research indicates that aging brains may be easily distracted. What was their first clue? And what were we talking about, anyway?

IN OTHER URGENT NEWS, vampires are cool again (or still).


December 08, 2008

Hard times, come again no more

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," courtesy of wikipedia.

"Hard times, come again no more," goes a line of a famous song by Stephen Foster--but it looks like they have.

(By the way, here's Dylan doing it live.)

The economic downturn and recent research El Cabrero and friends did for a study of The State of Working West Virginia over the last 30 years reminded me of the Dark Ages of the 1980s. It was a time when globalization and Reaganomics hit my state like a tsunami. As I mentioned in Friday's post, unemployment was in the double digits for most of the 1980s and early 1990s.

At the time, I had yet to finish college, was working a low wage job and had two small children. It was bad. Real bad.

Like the guy said in the Big Lebowski, some days you eat the bear and some days (decades?) the bear eats you. And help was not on the way. Hope, which the divine Ms. Emily Dickinson described at "the thing with feathers" seemed to have flown the coop.

I hope this time there might be a little help on the way, but long ago I took to heart the words of the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi:

"Pay your respects to the gods and buddhas, but never rely upon them."

So here's the question I'm going to be dealing with for the next little stretch: how does one, on a purely personal level, endure hard times when the cavalry isn't going to come and when there is no social movement to save you?

Sneak preview: tenacity helps.

FREE FALLIN'. The US economy dropped over half a million jobs in November and more than 1.2 million in the last three months according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

SITTING IN. Here's an update about a sit-in by union workers in a closed Chicago factory.

MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. All seven people accused of torturing Megan Williams in Logan County have been convicted. Here's an overview.

PAID UP. Massey Energy paid Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel $267 million after the US Supreme Court overturned a previous decision by the WV Supreme Court. Previously, the state court overturned the verdict against Massey, with Justice Brent Benjamin casting the deciding vote. Benjamin, a political unknown, was elected to the court after Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent more than $3 million to defeat his opponent.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS can make you happier.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE. The recession has taken a severe toll on recycling efforts.