December 31, 2010


Here it is, another New Year, and I am all out of resolutions. I'm not opposed to the idea of picking a goal and working on it, but I can't seem to think of one at the moment. There are certain possibilities, but they are non-starters.

Here are some I won't be making for 2011:

*having a neater office and car. As if.

*giving up red wine. Yes, I could, but so what? I could also drill holes in my skull.

*being a better person. Like the saying goes, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Here are some I've tried that kind of worked (even if they weren't necessarily made on New Year's Day):

*learning to play guitar. Sort of.

*learning Spanish. Un poquito.

Some I tried just haven't worked out yet, like teaching myself classical Greek.

In the meantime, be it resolved that all the critters at Goat Rope wish you and yours a happy 2011.

(We'll be back on the chain gang Monday.)

December 30, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: random items

I'm winding up Slacker Week by looking back at the year in reading. Here are some that I found to be diverting this year...

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson based on research by John Sergeant. I liked the movie, but the book was way more diverting--and weirder, especially since it's a work of nonfiction.

I also did some interesting reading about disasters and how people respond to them, including Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why and Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

On a social science note, I enjoyed Len Fisher's Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, a book which I borrowed from a friend and probably haven't returned. Also enlightening was The Invisible Gorilla: and Other Ways our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

I could go on, but if I do, my employers will realize what I slacker I am all year round. Good reading in 2011!

December 29, 2010

The Goat Rope books shelf: religion and philosophy

During Slacker Week, i.e. those days between Christmas and New Year's Day, El Cabrero is doing as little as possible other than looking back at the year in reading. I was not particularly in a religious mode this year, if you don't count karate (which actually works pretty well as one), but I did read a bit about religion.

I don't always enjoy Karen Armstrong's books on religion, although I always seem to read them. I did enjoy one of her more recent books, The Case for God: What Religion Really Means.

I'm always a sucker for a good book on Buddhism, and Perry Garfinkel's Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found Them All fit the bill.

I paid another visit to Aristotle this year, re-reading The Nichomachean Ethics and The Politics, along with Hegel's Introduction to the Philosophy of History. On the down side, I crawled through Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and still don't know what all the shouting was about. It goes without saying that I revisited my old pal Nietzsche

December 28, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: history and biography

El Cabrero is slacking this week, which means no links or comments about current events. Rather, I'm taking a look back at the year in reading. Today, the topic is history.

By far the most engrossing book of this kind for me this year was Arthur Herman's Gandhi and Churchill, an account of the decades long rivalry between two worthy opponents. People of different political tendencies idolize one or the other of these men (usually not both, however). I'll pass. Both had their moments, but both also were capable of incredible blunders, callousness, and bull headedness. If I had to choose between one or the other, I'd pick FDR or Walter Reuther.

I've always been interested in the Pacific Theater of WWII, where my father and two uncles served, but my interest was piqued after my trip to Okinawa, where I toured the Peace Memorial and two museums that had exhibits related to the terrible battle that raged there. I really learned a lot from Max Hastings' Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945. The Nazis had no monopoly on atrocities.

Finally, what is it about Western powers that makes them want to make ill-advised forays into the Middle East, anyway? They've been doing it since the Trojan War and it never seems to work out very well. Juan Cole's Napoleon's Egypt provided another case in point. It's amazing that he got to be emperor after leading that monumental goat rope.

December 27, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: fiction

I'll wait for the movie on this one.

I like to think of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day as Slacker Week--and I plan to live up to it. There will be no links this week but rather a look back at the year in reading.

I make it a point never to divulge the number of books I get through in a year lest my employer realize that I'm pretty good at slacking the rest of the year too. I did get a bit less read this year, probably due to spending more time in physical training to prepare for karate my trip to Okinawa and to try to keep the edge.

While I didn't read a huge amount of fiction this year, here are some notable books:

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I think I've read most if not all this writer (of Appalachian origins, let it be noted) has produced. Some of her fiction can be a bit preachy but her latest offering really hit the spot. It's the story of a young man who winds up hanging out with the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky and then gets chewed up by the post WWII Red Scare. I think one reason I enjoyed it so much was due to our recent trip to Mexico where we hung out in the same places.

The Fall by Albert Camus. It's been decades since I read this one (The Plague being my favorite of his) and I was curious to give it another look. It has been interpreted as the author's own confession of his shortcomings and failure.

The Kiss and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov. I've read a lot of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy but not so much of Chekhov. The Good Doctor had a great eye for human actions and emotions and life's little situations. I plan on heading back for more.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction but La Cabra recommended this post-modern novel of separate but related stories across time.

Finally, I hit the children's section to take another look at Alice in Wonderland, an adult book thinly disguised as a children's classic. Also, I've never read any of Madeline L'Engle, but was inspired to try A Wrinkle in Time after seeing my nephew devour it.

December 24, 2010

So hallow'd and so gracious is the time

There are certain annual traditions at this blog. Among these are the yearly Thanksgiving possum recipe and, more to the point, trotting out one of my favorite quotes from Hamlet.

The scene is early in the play when Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo are on the battlements waiting for Hamlet Sr.'s ghost to appear. Marcellus says

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

Horatio speaks my mind, saying, "So have I heard and do in part believe it." Here's hoping it holds true this year. Best holiday wishes to one and all from Goat Rope Farm!

December 23, 2010

Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever.

The old school analog model. The new digital ones take it to another level.

I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but I'm having trouble getting worked up about Christmas. The only enthusiasm I've felt this year came when the Spousal Unit picked out a present for a 10 year old nephew in Vermont.

It was a remote control whoopie cushion. I was overcome with jealousy as soon as I saw it. The model we got was said to have such a range of flatulent sounds that it may never make exactly the same one twice. There was an additional chip you could insert for burp sounds.

That would be just the thing to lighten up meetings, legislative committees, solemn ceremonies and religious observations. I told some Quaker F/friends that this could revolutionize Friends Meetings, both by breaking up those long periods of silence and by providing a bit of a counterpoint when someone stands up to speak.

Maybe Santa will bring me one this year. I've been pretty good. Some of the time.

Epilogue: the nephew in question got to open the gift early. I'm told he amused himself with it for two solid hours. I could do four. Easy.

LET THE SLACKING BEGIN! El Cabrero is playing hookie today so there will be no links or comments. In fact, I'm slacking so much that I scheduled this post yesterday. If anything really bad happens between now and then, please accept this blog's condolences.


December 22, 2010

In praise of literary crack

I usually fill in the blogging days between Christmas and New Year by going over the highs and lows of the year in reading. I'm jumping the gun a little bit now to say a few words in favor of literary crack.

Ordinarily, I have about five books going at any given time, often of a fairly solemn nature. I try to turn the page of each twice daily. At the moment, my pile includes Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (I'm up to Justinian), the Bhagavad Gita, Beowulf, Collapse by Jared Diamond, and a book on Tolkien.

But sometimes you've just got to blow it all out with some fun stuff. This week that meant listening to an unabridged audio of volume 2 of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's vampire trilogy The Fall. I mentioned volume 1, The Strain, here a while back.

These are not wimpy, sparkly, sexy or existential vampires. These are gross nasty viral parasites with bloodworms that do all kinds of nasty things, of which blood sucking is way down the list.

Reading something like this is kind of like gorging on burgers from White Castle or Five Guys. Not something to do every day but damn good every now and then.

I can't wait for volume 3.

END OF AN ERA. Here's an item on the departure of Don Blankenship from Massey Energy. The link includes video as well as text.

DENY THIS. Here's a profile of a pioneering climate change scientist and his work.

THE NEXT BAD DEAL? Dean Baker predicts a looming fight over the future of Social Security.

IN LIEU OF BARBIES, girl chimpanzees may play with sticks as if they were dolls.


December 21, 2010

Causes and reasons

I've frequently heard people say "everything happens for a reason." Often when people say this, they seem to imply that there is a greater purpose behind apparently unrelated events.

It would be more accurate to say that everything happens due to causes, although we are not always able to ferret out what the causes are. Still, we seem hard-wired to attribute our experiences to conscious, purposeful agents or beings that are acting in some way.

(This might explain why I attribute deliberate evil intentions to a machine when it doesn't act the way I want it to. Or why some winters--like this one so far--seem to have nasty personalities.)

Evolutionary psychologists believe that this is an adaptation that has helped us survive. Among early humans and our non-human ancestors, thinking that a predator might be behind an unexpected sound would prompt defensive actions that could save a life. This tendency is referred to as agency detection.

Often we're wrong in attributing agency to things that just happen, but in evolutionary terms the consequences of a false positive are not as bad as that of a false negative. Being mistaken in trying to escape an imagined tiger isn't as costly as not trying to escape from a real one.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that agency detection is behind belief in supernatural beings when things go bump in the night or when we have good or bad experiences. Overly active agency detection can manifest itself in paranoia or seeing conspiracies behind every that that happens.

It seems that humans are pattern seeking animals. And if we look for a pattern, we'll probably find one, whether it makes sense or not. The universe probably isn't personally out to get us and probably won't go out of its way to do us special favors either, but sometimes we see things that way.

TAXING AND SPENDING. Here is a look at the biggest right wing untruths about this perennially favorite political topic.

NOT TERRIBLY STIMULATING. Here's a pessimistic assessment of President Obama's deal with congressional Republicans on tax cuts and unemployment.

ENDING HOMELESSNESS. Here's an interesting approach that seems to be working.

OH GOOD. Forty percent of Americans believe that humans were created 10,000 or so years ago. To tell the truth, I thought it would be more.

COLD CASE. Scientists have found the remains of a 50,000 year old Neanderthal family in Spain that appears to have been the victims of cannibalism.


December 20, 2010

Of gardens, winter, death and life

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Those lines from the Gospel of John have been on my mind this weekend, as four generations of my family headed to Columbus for the funeral of my favorite aunt.

(And, yes, we did hit a White Castle on the way home.)

Only a week or so before, I planted garlic in our garden. The idea that anything put under the ground in such wicked weather could sprout, grow and thrive months later seems impossible, but it happens.

I broke up the ground with a spading fork, pushed garlic cloves into the dirt with freezing fingers and covered it liberally with old hay and goat manure. Unless something goes wrong, new life will emerge from dirt and decay.

When I try to think in a purely rational way about what happens to us after the Big Checkout, I've always found it as hard to believe that nothing comes after it as it is to believe that anything comes after it.

In the absence of knowing, I'll stick with Bruce: "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact/but maybe everything that dies some day comes back."

ZOMBIE ECONOMICS. Bad ideas are hard to kill.

LEFT BEHIND. Here's a profile from the Charleston Gazette of a miner who died in Massey's Upper Big Branch mine and the widow he left behind.

NO SHOW. WV's newest senator ducked out of controversial votes on the DREAM Act and repealing don't ask/don't tell.

NEANDERTHALS apparently used human bones as tools.


December 18, 2010

New from the Hillbilly Health Club

It is our practice here at Goat Rope, your full service blog, to highlight offerings from our Hillbilly Health Club, where we are proud to offer the latest in hi-tech exercise equipment.

Our newest equipment combines cardio with resistance training to yield a maximum benefit--and help burn off those extra holiday calories. We call it a variable load hydro-lifter (although some people refer to it as a snow shovel).

All you need to do to feel the burn is pick it up and start removing the white stuff. And since the powers that be don't believe in clearing roads around here, this equipment can even be used for extreme endurance training.

Disclaimer: This product will only be available under certain atmospheric conditions, but it looks like we're going to have a lot of them this winter.

December 17, 2010

Snow bunny

The winter of 2010-2011 hasn't even officially arrived yet and there are already ample signs that it is taking itself entirely too seriously. I think I've already had enough, although the Spousal Unit has not.

Somewhere in one of Gore Vidal's historical novels, someone observes that southerners always experience winter as an unpleasant surprise. I think that applies to many Appalachians as well.

There is, however, at least one creature at Goat Rope Farm who loves winter best of all.

DONE DEAL. After a late night vote in the House, the tax cut/unemployment bill passed and is headed towards President Obama's desk. Half empty or half full?

THE NEXT BIG FIGHT? President Obama's deal with congressional Republicans and pressure from ideologues and deficit hawks could put Social Security back in the crosshairs.

REWRITING THE NARRATIVE. So much for the financial crisis' "teachable moment."

THIS EXPLAINS MY PROBLEM. People look more attractive when they've had enough sleep.

HOWEVER, if you get up early enough to exercise before breakfast, you might avoid putting on holiday pounds.


December 16, 2010

The not so mighty hunter

Another deer season has come and gone. I made several efforts this time, but things didn't break my way.

I think part of the blame for this lies with the deer themselves. At one point, I might have had a shot at a group of them. Looking through the scope, I saw one deer licking another one.

It would have been so much easier if the deer in question would have been giving the other one the finger (although I know there are logistical problems for deer associated with performing that gesture).

Deer should be meaner. And uglier. Then everything would be perfect.

DEAL OR NO DEAL, REVISITED. Here's economist Dean Baker's take on the unemployment/tax cut deal.

FEAR OF SUCCESS. Here's a take on the right wing's fear of successful public programs.

PLUTOCRACY REVISITED. A former neo-con fesses up.

GAME CHANGER. The WV Senate will be under new management.

BLASTED MOUNTAINS AND BLOWN UP BUDDHAS. All the way from the state of Maine, this article compares the coming destruction of Blair Mountain with the blown up Buddhas of Afghanistan.


December 15, 2010

Real fear

El Cabrero just finished teaching an evening college sociology class on Deviance and Social Control. I enjoy teaching that class as it provides a chance to look at the dark side of social life, including the damage done both by those who violate social rules and the damage done by those who get to make social rules.

(In case you were wondering, the latter group has done way more harm.)

I try to make such classes as practical as possible and bring in as much good information and ideas as I can find from many sources. One book that I took another look at this time was The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which was first published in the 1990s.

De Becker is a security expert with considerable experience, personal and professional, in dealing with violence and threats. Unlike many in that trade, he does not try to drum up business by scaring the hell out of people unnecessarily. In fact, he argues that one reason we may miss out on listening to real fear from real threats is that we waste a lot of time and energy on worry and anxiety about things that are not threats.

Real fear, he suggests, is the body's intuitive response to specific real threats or danger signals. It's not something that most of us feel all that often, but when we do it's time to listen.

I had an experience of that when I was about 13 or so and I was lucky enough to listen to it. When I was in junior high, I used to think it was really cool to hitchhike. My usual destination was an unincorporated town about five miles away which seemed cool at the time.

Don't ask me why.

Anyhow, once when hitching back, a car stopped full of older teens or young men who were rough looking. I'm taking knuckles dragging out car windows. I used to do and have done all kinds of stupid things in my life, but that time something inside me screamed "NO!" and I listened. I thanked the driver and headed off on foot the other direction.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I got in the car. I'm glad I don't know.

EXTENDING UNEMPLOYMENT is the post popular part of the deal between President Obama and congressional Republicans.

HOW'S YOUR POVERTY I.Q.? Find out here.

HEALTH CARE. It's another case of YOYOs (You're on your own people) versus WITS (We're in this together people).


COOL INSECT and other small critter pictures here.


December 14, 2010

Passing from nature to eternity

A death in the family just happened, a favorite aunt who made it nearly to age 90 before coming down with pneumonia. Her husband, who served in the Navy during World War II, preceded her in death.

I always liked that side of the family and enjoyed visiting them as a kid, including all the cousins. They lived in the BIG city of Columbus three hours distant, a place of almost unimaginable magnitude to someone growing up in my part of West Virginia. I always stayed in their basement, which incidentally used to have a well-stocked bar which I may or may not have been known to raid.

Columbus also had these places called malls, unheard of in WV at the time, where, if I played my cards right, I might be able to get a karate book. It also had a certain hamburger chain famous for their small sized burgers, a kind of nutritional crack upon which I still feed whenever I can.

I have many fond memories of her and her family. I wish her well on her journey and send my best to those who remain.

I was told that one of the last things she said was that she had seen her father and mother, who passed decades ago. Her husband, a day before his death, saw his deceased brother. It makes you wonder.

ANOTHER LOSS. From Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo, here's a moving profile of one of the miners who died in Massey's Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

TWO SIDES. It looks like the US Senate moved fast on the unemployment/tax cut deal. Here are two opposing takes on the deal and the dealer. Most groups that I trust on this issue hate the high end tax cuts but support the unemployment extension and are hoping the House makes a better deal.

WELL OFF, but empathy-impaired.

MY STARS. Here's a look at America's cult of the celebrity.

ME ME ME. Here's a look at narcissism.

December 13, 2010

Bad apples and bad ideas

An interesting survey of public opinion on education found that most Americans--68 percent--bear a heavy share of the blame for problems in the nation's public school system. Only 35 percent set a great deal of blame on teachers.

That's quite a different perspective than one finds in recent efforts to promote education reform, including those coming from the Obama administration, where a "if we purge teachers, things will improve" mentality seems to prevail. Some reform initiatives from the administration encourage firing of teachers in poorly performing schools, without taking into account all the other factors involved.

Nobody I know, including people represented by teachers' unions and those who work for them, denies that there are some bad teachers out there. But problem teachers should be dealt with on a case by case basis, not by blanket purges that punish the competent along with the incompetent.

The blame-teachers-first mentality seems to view teachers as the sole or primary cause of poorly performing schools. But as I've said here before, to establish causality, one needs three things, two of which are easy and one of which is hard. First, the cause and effect need to be associated (teachers and schools, in this case). Second, the cause must come before the effect (the teachers were there before the kids were). Third--and this is the kicker--you need to be able to rule out other factors. And here is where that train derails.

There are all kinds of factors affecting poorly performing schools and students, including poverty, family, nutrition, health, community issues, distance from school and enrichment activities, parental and community involvement, etc.

A friend of mine, the Rev. Matthew Watts, actually did the math and calculated that from a child is born until he or she reaches age 19, only 9 percent of the time will have been spent in school. The other 91 percent is spent in the home or in the community. To really address these issues, we need to look at the other 91 percent as well.


KLEPTOCRACY lives. And more from Krugman here.

A DOWN PAYMENT ON HEALTH CARE REFORM. West Virginia is launching a new pilot program to provide low cost primary care to the uninsured.

VIRAL CAT VIDEO DEPARTMENT. By way of Youtube, patty cake will never be the same.


December 11, 2010

A walk in the woods

I am not the biggest fan of winter

Nor of snow

But when it first comes, there's nothing like a walk in the woods

if it's not too cold

There are always interesting things to see

and great landscapes

Besides, Arpad loves it.

December 10, 2010

Those difficult gift decisions (and a half hearted defense of peacocks)

A few days ago, Alternet ran an article about what to get for that billionaire on your Christmas list. It was pretty humorous, although I have to take issue with the first item on the list, to wit a peacock. The writer says that this gift "Provides the double benefit of being both the ultimate symbol of excessive extravagance and extremely difficult to care for."

OK, so they are extravagant, presuming we're talking about the male's tail feathers in the spring and early summer. But you can't really blame the bird for that--you'd have to blame sexual selection, which is to say, peahens. The males have big tails because having one helped their male forebears to reproduce.

And they're not that hard to take care of. They eat the same things as chickens and pretty much take care of themselves, provided you don't have more than one male and provided you don't mind listening to them scream during mating season. They're pretty quiet otherwise.

I don't even think of them as being domesticated the way chickens are. They're more like loud, romantic, decorated, seasonal dinosaurs.

DEAL OR NO DEAL. Here's a statement from the National Employment Law Project on the Obama administration's "deal" with congressional Republicans (which may or may not happen). And here's Paul Krugman's latest column on the same.

FOR SALE. A sale of Massey Energy looks more likely now that former CEO Don Blankenship has announced retirement.

MONEY AND POLITICS. There seems to be some connection.

URGENT ANCIENT INDONESIAN HOBBIT UPDATE. It looks like they had giant storks for company.


December 09, 2010

Deck the halls

Yesterday's post featured a song by my friend and co-worker Arnie Alpert, aka New Hampshire Slim. Just to show that he's not a one-trick pony, I'm featuring today another of his recent efforts.

As I mentioned yesterday, Arnie's work has appeared in the Industrial Workers of the World's Little Red Songbook. I like to think of him as a latter day Wobbly, riding the rods, booming into the hobo jungles, putting up silent agitator stickers in lumber camps, speaking to the masses on soap boxes and regaling his fellow workers with subversive songs. I like to think of him doing these things, although I don't think he does a lot of them. Maybe the regaling.

Again, you know the tune. Enjoy...

Deck the halls with fairer taxes, FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA
Put away the budget axes
Unemployment compensation
Helps the jobless, helps the nation.

Giving workers more employment
Helps restore yuletide enjoyment
Do not touch our old age pensions
We demand U-I extensions

Taxes on estates and wealthy
Makes the budget be more healthy
Organize for higher wages
Do not raise retirement ages

Cut excessive defense spending
Time for wars to all be ending
Put this on your year-end wish-list
Bring the soldiers home for Christmas

FAUST, REVISITED. Here's Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute on the Obama administration's deal with Mephis...I mean some people in Congress:

Who got what out of (Monday's deal between President Obama and Republican leaders) is clear. The Republicans got tax cuts for the best-off two percent and lower estate taxes for the very wealthiest families, neither of which will do much if anything to create jobs. President Obama won policies that will put or keep money in the pockets of the unemployed and middle and low-income families, which will increase spending and create jobs. That’s what a payroll tax holiday for workers, unemployment benefits and the various tax credits will do: create customers for business and create jobs, which is our biggest need right now.

In two years, the American people will have a clear choice about who the tax code will favor. That debate will, I hope, highlight the hypocrisy of those wanting to deepen the deficit by extending tax cuts for the rich while simultaneously cutting health care, Social Security and domestic public investments in the name of deficit reduction.

And, while we're at it, here's Paul Krugman's take on it.

MISSING THE MOMENT. This item looks at what happened with the failure of climate change legislation.

THE DREAM REVISITED. Some people are scaling back their version of the American dream.


December 08, 2010

Tidings of capital gains

I have a friend and co-worker in New England who loves to re-write old songs to bring them down to date in the manner of the Wobblies of old. Arnie Alpert, aka New Hampshire Slim, has even had his work appear in recent editions of the Industrial Workers of the World's Little Red Song Book.

In the spirit of Joe Hill, Ralph Chaplin, T-Bone Slim and Haywire Mac McClintock, here's one of his newest offerings, inspired by current events. You know the tune.

God bless you very wealthy men,
Good news I have to tell:
The market’s back, you’re making more
Each time you buy and sell.
With layoffs more, your profits soar,
You’re living rather well.
O tidings of capital gains.

God bless you very wealthy men,
Your friends are working late,
You do not have to fret that you’ll be taxed on your estate,
Your kids for sure will be secure
Their lives will all be great
O tidings of capital gains.

God bless you very wealthy men,
The richest one percent,
Collect one-fourth of all income,
We don’t know how it’s spent.
This is no joke, the systems broke
It is not merely bent.
O tidings of capital gains.

God bless you very wealthy men,
Do you repeat this song?
You owe success to your hard work, no one helped you along.
You’ve raised yourself to the top shelf;
Your bootstraps must be strong.
O tidings of capital gains.

God bless you Wall Street gamblers,
Your lifestyle’s very swank
Your taxes slashed, your check’s been cashed,
Your bail-out’s in the bank.
You do not have to worry that our
Jobs are in the tank
O tidings of capital gains

ON THE DEAL. Here's Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the unemployment/tax cut deal between President Obama and congressional Republicans.


MASSEY ENERGY stocks jumped earlier this week in reaction to the announcement of the retirement of its CEO. The AP reports that Don Blankenship will receive at least $12 million in his severance package.

CREATING THINKING discussed here.



December 07, 2010

Now what?

Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo blog post on the retirement of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has an interesting point to ponder:

...there’s no question that Blankenship’s departure from Massey also costs environmentalists and labor unions not only an easy nemesis, but steals from them some rare common ground. Without Blankenship to jointly hate, will coal miners and other coalfield residents fight more amongst themselves or perhaps find ways to more forward together?

Interesting question. While Blankenship was a polarizing force, he was also a unifying one, in the sense that he gave people who disagree on other issues something to agree about.

UNSAVORY DEAL. It looks like the Obama administration has reached a deal with congressional Republicans to extend Bush tax cuts for the rich in exchange for extending unemployment and some other measures, which has some Democrats hopping mad.

SLACK MARKET. According to this Economic Policy Institute snapshot, 17 percent of American workers (or worker wannabees) can't find the amount of work they want.

WHO'D A THUNK IT? Battlefields might be going greener.



December 06, 2010

The end of an era

Friday evening, the Spousal Unit and I attended an event supporting health care reform. While there, a friend showed me an email message from her smart phone that said that Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship announced plans to retire.

(Another friend at that moment, who happens to be a fellow Tolkien geek, said something about Frodo and Sam melting the Ring in Mount Doom...)

I didn't believe the news at first, not because I didn't trust the messenger, but I just had trouble believing was real. There had been rumors for some time about a possible sale of the company, a step that Blankenship was said to oppose. Many people believed that decades of excess had finally caught up with him, the Upper Big Branch mine disaster being one of the last straws. Many of us believed that something had to give. Still, it was just hard to believe that it finally happened.

This story is bound to unfold more over time, but it seems clear to me that Blankenship was finally overtaken by his own excesses, which eventually convinced shareholders and others involved in the industry that a change was needed. I had long believed that national media exposure was a weak point, one that would eventually convince decision makers that his kind of leadership was a liability.

Nobody knows what the future holds for the company or its former leader, but I have two initial guesses. First, whoever eventually takes over or buys that company is unlikely to be as excessive on all fronts as the former leader. Second, while Blankenship will no doubt walk away with a big severance package, I doubt that he will wield the same power in the future as he did when he ran a major company and controlled thousands of jobs.

We'll see.

DISAPPOINTING VOTES. The US Senate tried and failed this weekend to reach a deal on the Bush era tax cuts and extending unemployment insurance. A deal may be near that will grant the latter at the expense of the former.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's a look at long term unemployment, the damage it does, and alternatives to the current unemployment insurance system.

CHANGING THE CLIMATE of climate change discussions, scientists are rethinking how to get the message across.

DOH! A conservative WV group that obsesses way too much about homosexuality has links to a national organization identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

LIFE AS WE DON'T KNOW IT. New research indicates that life on earth is a little weirder than previously thought, which means life on other planets might be stranger still.


December 04, 2010

How did I miss this?

How is it that after a lifetime of being interested in snakes and other critters I am only now hearing about Asian flying snakes?

I wish we had some of these in West Virginia. And, by the way, the Pentagon has been studying them for possible military applications.

Heads up!

December 03, 2010

Of reproaches to chastity and such matters

Speaking of reading jags, a year or so ago, some friends inspired me to read the unabridged version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Don't ask me why since my only recourse would be to say "Because it's there."

Rather than a direct assault, I only try to read enough to turn the pages twice most days and then take a break when I finish a volume. At this point in my progress, the Western Empire has fallen into barbarian hands whilst the Emperor Justinian is trying to win it back.

One reason for reading is that there is something cool about 18th century English prose, not to mention that fact that his vast amount of research holds up pretty well. The real payoff, however, is to be found in the little zingers in which he treats of scandalous matters.

Here's a passage describing the marriage of the great general Belisarius and his amorously adventurous wife Antonina:

The birth of Antonina was ignoble; she descended from a family of charioteers; and her chastity has been stained with the foulest reproach. Yet she reigned with long and absolute power over the mind of her illustrious husband; and if Antonina disdained the merit of conjugal fidelity, she expressed a manly friendship to Belisarius, whom she accompanied with undaunted resolution in all the hardships and dangers of a military life.

Nobody, chaste or otherwise, writes like that any more.

TALKING SENSE. Here's an interview with a progressive deficit hawk.

UNEMPLOYMENT. Here's a good article from the Charleston Gazette about what extending unemployment insurance means to West Virginia (and other places too). And here's more on the subject from the WV News Service. And here's a call for the same from the White House Council of Economic Advisers. It may be part of an eventual deal on Bush-era tax cuts before it's all over with. Or not.

THE SPINE THING. Paul Krugman is not amused.

CHINA AND COAL. Here's an interesting look from The World.

SOME GOOD WV NEWS. West Virginia revenues are $121 million in the black while many other states are facing major shortfalls.


December 02, 2010

Just say yes

I wouldn't recommend carrying a copy of Nietzsche whilst deer hunting to everyone, but it works for me. The deer weren't in the neighborhood at the time anyway so the book was good company.

Nietzsche is sometimes called a nihilist, but that is far from the truth. His main quarrel with many kinds of religion and philosophical idealism was that they were nihilistic to his way of thinking in that they sought for some other reality beyond the one we live in.

One theme of his that shows up again and again is the challenge to say "yes" to life in spite of all its nastiness, or, to put it another way, to try to live in such a way that we can and want to say yes to the whole package. Here's how he expresses it in terms of a New Year's resolution:

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati [love of fate]: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole, some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

DENIED. A move to extend emergency unemployment insurance failed in the Senate. But the banks are doing fine.

HIGHLIGHTING HISTORY. A new map and poster highlight black history in West Virginia and the many ways events here have shaped the nation.

THE MEANING OF LIFE. Some people do just fine without worrying about it.

ANIMAL EXTINCTIONS are bad for your health.



December 01, 2010

Deer hunting with Nietzsche

Teddy Roosevelt on the hunt. He probably didn't read Nietzsche.

I am not one to seek adversity other than on a recreational basis. Given a choice, I'd prefer to avoid it or at least minimize it. Of course, we don't always have a choice.

Sometimes though, it seems like we need a bit of it to bring out some good qualities that may otherwise have never surfaced. I came across this little nugget on that subject by Nietzsche whilst unsuccessfully hunting deer last week (everybody reads Nietzsche when deer hunting, right?):

Evil.-Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible. The poison of which weaker natures perish strengthens the strong--nor do they call it poison.

NOT ON THE COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE, but in the middle of the latest issue of the magazine is a profile of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. The whole thing isn't available online, but here's a start from Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo. I ran out and bought one yesterday. You heard the Tolkien analogy first here though.

TAXING ISSUES. When it comes to promoting a healthy state economy, things like education, health and infrastructure matter more than tax cuts, according to one expert who has studied the evidence.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN CONGRESS, Robert Reich argues here that the time is now to end Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

DON'T GET MAD, get lemonade.


November 30, 2010

Nothing or interesting

Deer season in West Virginia came in last week. While I'm not exactly on the hunting varsity team, I did spend a bit of time in the woods.

Even though no deer came my way, I find there's a lot to be said for sitting quietly in the woods and just watching and listening. In my case, there were plenty of squirrels raising hell and lots of woodpecker action.

I also used the time on the hill to re-read another book of my old pal Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sometimes also known as The Joyful Wisdom. If someone asked what the book was about, I'd be hard pressed to answer except to say "all kinds of things."

Nietzsche is the master of the one liner or short epigram. Here are a few that caught my eye this time around:

After a great victory.--What is best about a great victory is that it liberates the victor from the fear of defeat. "Why not be defeated some time, too?" he says to himself; "Now I am rich enough for that.

Always in our company.--Whatever in nature and in history is of my own kind, speaks to me, spurs me on, and comforts me; the rest I do not hear or forget right away. We are always only in our own company.

Against many a defense.--The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.

Against embarassment.--If you are always profoundly occupied, you are beyond all embarassment.

I especially like this one:

Dreams.--Either we have no dreams or our dreams are interesting. We should learn to arrange our waking life in the same way: nothing or interesting.

A BETTER WAY. The Economic Policy Institute, Demos, and The Century Foundation have come up with an alternative for dealing with deficits and the recession.

GOT SPINE? Here's a call for progressive backbone in the deficit debate.

CHILD POVERTY. Also from EPI, this snapshot shows that the Great Recession pushed more children into poverty.



November 29, 2010

Back and forth

It's always a good thing on returning from a road trip to wind up with approximately the same number of domestic animals as were there when one departed. I'm happy to day that happened again. All the goats, peafowl, cats and turkeys are present and accounted for.

I'm also glad to report that Arpad (above) was there when we got back and apparently didn't eat anybody important while we were gone.

Every time I go back and forth from Vermont to West Virginia, I think about that hard-hitting work of social realism, The Lord of the Rings. As I've said before, the mountain state to the north reminds me of the Shire, whereas the one to the south is more like a threatened and embattled land on the edge of Mordor where the Dark Lord strives for absolute mastery.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's an interesting item from last week about Massey Energy.

SOS. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on the need for Congress to act to extend unemployment insurance.

DITTO. This editorial from Sunday's NY Times also highlights the need to help the unemployed--and urges political leaders to show a little backbone.

DEFICIT COMMISSION. Progressive groups are going to unveil non-draconian approaches to dealing with the deficit this week.

CATS AND DOGS. The latter may have bigger brains because they are more social.


November 27, 2010


"Yea, I have looked, and seen November there;
The changeless seal of change it seemed to be,
Fair death of things that, living once, were fair;
Bright sign of loneliness too great for me,
Strange image of the dread eternity,
In whose void patience how can these have part,
These outstretched feverish hands, this restless heart?"--William Morris

November 26, 2010

Nugget for the day

"Man, the bravest animal and the one most inured to suffering, does not repudiate suffering in itself; he wills it, he even seeks it out, provided that he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering."--Friedrich Nietzsche

November 25, 2010

Annual Thanksgiving Possum Recipe

It's Thanksgiving and that means one thing here at Goat Rope. It's time for the annual Thanksgiving possum recipe.

(It goes without saying that first one must acquire a possum, which may well not be available in the specialty section of your local grocery store.)

I found the following recipe for Allegheny Roast 'Possum at a website called

Amount Measure Ingredient Preparation Method
2 pounds 'Possum - (to 2 1/2 lbs) fat removed
Apple-Raisin Stuffing
Salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
3 Sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons Brown sugar
1/4 cup Flour - (to 1/3 cup)

Stuff with Apple-Raisin Stuffing, and truss. Dust with salt and
pepper; put on a roaster rack. Roast at 325 degrees for 1 hour to 1
1/2 hours (30 to 35 minutes per pound). For the last 30 minutes, put
peeled and parboiled sweet potatoes around the meat. Dust meat
with brown sugar mixed with 1/4 to 1/3 cup flour. Baste with
juices 3 times during the last 30 minutes.

Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

(Note: I'm sticking to turkey.)

November 24, 2010

On the bright side...

In yesterday's post, I speculated darkly on whether modern civilization is heading towards some kind of major downturn due to inaction on climate change and such. Since this is Thanksgiving week and all, I thought it only fitting to give a shout out to a look at the bright side of disasters.

Recently a friend loaned me a copy of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disasters by Rebecca Solnit. The author makes the interesting argument that sometimes when disasters happen, people respond with the courage, compassion, generosity, mutual aid and solidarity all too rarely seen in ordinary life.

I've noticed something like that in less drastic interruptions of ordinary life, such as major snowstorms, power outages and floods. As unpleasant as such things can be, people often come together in amazing ways and can have a good time doing it.

So even if things get bad, which I hope they won't, it might not be all bad all the time. I guess we can be thankful for that.

NOTE: I'm off this week. Posts will appear as usual but without the links and comments.

November 23, 2010

Cutting down trees on Easter Island

A while back, I listened to an unabridged recording of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail. It gave me a bit of a "Holy ****!" moment. For most of my adult life, I've tended to be more keyed in to fights over economic justice and policy and haven't been as attentive to environmental issues and particularly climate change.

Lately, I've gone back to Collapse in the print version and have been making my way through it. And sometimes I wonder whether we aren't headed towards a major climate catastrophe.

Such a fate is far from inevitable, given the political will. Alas, political will is the one thing that has been in short supply up to now and will probably be in even shorter supply for the next few years. And West Virgina, where the coal industry is a jealous idol, is ground zero of climate change denial.

Diamond gives examples of several societies that have undergone some kind of breakdown when the over-stressed local environments or faced other setbacks. The most compelling to me is that of Easter Island. I guess I'm not the only one. As Diamond put it,

The Easter Islanders’ isolation probably also explains why I have found that their collapse, more than the collapse of any other pre-industrial society, haunts my readers and students. The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious. Thanks to globalization, international trade, jet planes, and the Internet, all countries on Earth today share resources and affect each other, just as did Easter’s dozen clans. Polynesian Easter Island was as isolated in the Pacific Ocean as the Earth is today in space. When the Easter Islanders got into difficulties, there was nowhere to which they could flee, nor to which they could turn to help; nor shall we modern Earthlings have recourse elsewhere if our troubles increase. Those are the reasons why people see the collapse of Easter Island society as a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, for what may lie ahead for us in our own future.

NOTE: I'm taking this week off so there will be no links and comments until next week. Party on!

November 22, 2010

Fits and starts

I was at a conference recently when someone was talking about what it takes to make a difference in the movement towards social and environmental justice. They quoted someone who said something like it takes "constant pressure, constantly applied."

I appreciate the sentiment but don't quite agree with the formulation. It seems to imply that these kinds of things take place at a steady pace. It seems to me that life, history and evolution move sporadically in fits and starts--and so do struggles for social justice. A lot of them in my experience involve a lot of waiting and then sudden focused action.

Respectfully, I'd put it this way. It takes constant alertness and punctuated focused action when conditions are right.

Speaking of which, conditions are right for El Cabrero to take a few days off. Goat Rope will continue to appear most days, although without the links and comments. I have a road trip planned, not to mention an attempted rendezvous with certain four legged antlered creatures up on the hill.

November 20, 2010

No! as in ...vember

"No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -
- Thomas Hood, 1799-1845

That would be the month when yours truly arrived on this planet.

November 19, 2010

Who knew?

This one doesn't have a sign. Image by way of wikipedia.

Ordinarily, the Huntington WV Herald-Dispatch isn't all that interesting, but earlier this week a story caught my eye. It seems that two people were arrested for taking a motorized shopping scooter for a little ride on US Route 60 from a Wal-Mart to a local strip club at around 1:40 in the morning. A drink or two may have been involved.

I don't know about this one. It only seems fair to me that if Wal-Mart doesn't want you taking their scooters and tooling around on them on major roadways to strip clubs in the middle of the night after tossing down a few, they ought to have a sign telling you that straight out.

I mean, gee, without a sign like that how would you know? It could happen to anybody.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE. Here's good background on why Congress needs to act now to extend benefits.

PLEASE READ THIS. It helps to explain why extending unemployment insurance is so important.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's a cool rant about the economy by a friend of mine.


FILE 13. Economist Dean Baker thinks the deficit commission report should go there.

MASSEYLAND. The tug of war between Massey Energy and MSHA just got extended.


November 18, 2010

Vanity of the bonfires

Ours wasn't this big.

Life on Goat Rope Farm is all about what Karl Marx once called "the idiocy of rural life." One rural tradition that we observed last weekend was an annual bonfire of scrap wood and brush unsuitable for the wood stove.

There is something fascinating about watching a bonfire. It's a primal thing. It makes me wonder what the old school Celtic bonfires of my ancestors were like. I probably will never find out, however, since I've been led to understand that there may be legal difficulties associated with the whole human sacrifice/wicker thing.

Oh well...

People have often used bonfires to get rid of things considered to be undesirable. The phrase "bonfire of the vanities" was used to describe one such kindled by the inhabitants of Renaissance Florence under the influence of the puritanical monk Savonarola long before it became the title of Tom Wolfe's 1980s novel.

Watching ours reminded me of one of Nathanial Hawthorne's short stories, "Earth's Holocaust." In it, social reformers make a huge bonfire of all things associated with the evils of the old society.

Towards the end, a few remaining malefactors are despairing over the dawn of a pure new era. They are reassured, however, by a dark stranger who has been grinning through out the whole proceeding. He tells them,

"There is one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire, and without which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at all; yes- though they had burnt the earth itself to a cinder.'

'And what may that be?' eagerly demanded the last murderer.

'What but the human heart itself!' said the dark-visaged stranger, with a portentous grin. 'And unless they hit upon some method of purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery-the same old shapes, or worse ones-which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have stood by, this live-long night, and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!'

Now that's a cheery thought for the day.

A SUPERHERO FOR OUR TIMES. It's a bird! It's a plane! No--it's Unemployed Man!

CUT THE CUTS. A new poll finds that only one third of Americans supports extending Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest.

MASSEY IN THE NEWS. Mediation efforts broke down in a case involving coal slurry injections, which means a trial is in the works. Meanwhile the company is blaming natural gas for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

PARLAY VOO? Here's an interesting item on how languages shape thoughts.


November 17, 2010

About that lion

Ask this guy.

I've always loved philosophy, but there are certain schools of it that do nothing for me. Among these are logical positivism, analytical philosophy and schools that focus on things like grammar and language. Life's too short.

One person who has connections to those schools enjoys a huge international following: Ludwig Wittgenstein. I don't get the attraction.

A while back, someone loaned me a copy of what many people consider to be his masterpiece, Philosophical Investigations. I dutifully waded through it in hopes of changing my mind. It didn't happen, although there were a few good lines here and there.

I'm about to take issue with one of the most famous of those. In that book, Wittgenstein said, "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." That might be true of things like sea cucumbers, but lions are mammals and we share a lot of similarities in the brain with them, especially in those regions of the brain that have to do with emotions.

I don't think that lions particularly need to talk, although one could argue that they already do non-verbally. But if they did, I think it would be pretty clear. I also have a feeling that most of what they would say would take the form of commands and declarative statements.

They probably wouldn't ask a lot of questions. Or need to.

CUTTING ALONE WON'T DO IT. People concerned about deficits would do well to think less about across the board cuts than about promoting economic growth, according to this analysis in the NY Times.

UPPER BIG BRANCH. Here's an interesting twist in the Massey mine disaster investigation.

PREJUDICE. Scientific research suggests it may be more ingrained than we like to think, but there are ways of countering it.

WANT TO BE HAPPIER? Try focusing. Wandering minds apparently gather negative thoughts.

MORE ON THOSE NEANDERTHALS. Maybe the human edge over our Neanderthal cousins had something to do with our slow growth to maturity.


November 16, 2010

Your good deed of the day

Today's post is going to be short if not sweet. Please take a few minutes today to call your senators and congressional representatives and urge them to act now to extend unemployment insurance.

As I noted yesterday, if this doesn't happen in the lame duck session of Congress it may not happen at all, which will mean more misery for millions of Americans still stranded in the wake of the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Here's a toll-free number courtesy of the WV AFLCIO:


and here's another supplied by US Action:


THE PEOPLE SAY "AMEN!" A brand new public opinion poll shows massive support for maintaining unemployment insurance.

SPINE OR NO SPINE? Time (but not a lot of it) will tell for the lame duck congress.

ONCE UPON A TIME, political leaders used to think big about creating full employment.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, Americans believe some weird things.

DON'T DRINK THE WATER. Hundreds of residents of southern WV headed to Charleston for mediation in a lawsuit against Massey Energy over contaminated water from coal slurry injections.


November 15, 2010


Random animal picture, this one being of Little Edith Ann at Halloween, yet another reason why dogs hate that holiday.

The lame duck session of Congress that begins today has some serious business to take care of, provided it has the guts and will. Around two million Americans are going to exhaust unemployment benefits in December. In West Virginia, the number is around 11 thousand. The numbers will only get worse in 2011.

This needs to happen, given that there are around five jobless workers for every new job that opens up. And economists are expecting sluggish job growth for the next year or two, maybe longer. Ideally, the extension should last for a year.

Ever since the 1950s, Congress has acted to extend benefits when unemployment was 7.2percent or higher and we're way about that point now.

This extension has to happen in the lame duck session because the new majority in the House is not likely to do it. I'd really like to be wrong about this, but I think it's a good bet that the new majority will be hostile to anything that benefits working people, the unemployed and people in poverty. And for all their talk about fighting deficits, you can bet that they'd like nothing more than to extend Bush era tax cuts for the rich indefinitely.

There is something we can do about this. Tomorrow, Nov. 16 is a national call-in day to Congress to extend unemployment. The WV AFLCIO is urging people to participate in the call-in campaign tomorrow and has provided a toll free number: 1-877-662-2889.

Please take a minute to make the call. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, here's yours truly on the need for the WV legislature to take some action of its own on unemployment insurance modernization.

CAVING (METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING). The White House, that is. Maybe.

SPEAKING OF METAPHORS, they seem to live in certain regions of the brain.

ANOTHER FIGHT IN THE WORKS is preventing repeal of health care reform.

SOMETHING ELSE TO DENY. Melting glaciers. It might be a bit harder to deny rising sea levels in the future though.

UN-WELL BEING. West Virginia takes the lead again.


November 13, 2010


I heard this on The Writer's Almanac this week and couldn't resist including it here:

"Do you realize that all great literature — Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, A Farewell to Arms, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, The Iliad and The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible, and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" — are all about what a bummer it is to be a human being?"--Kurt Vonnegut

November 12, 2010

Babies and bullies

Scottish philosopher David Hume.

The debate about the origin of morality is an old one in philosophy. Two major strands emerged in western philosophy in the 18th century.

One of these was associated with thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment such as David Hume and Adam Smith. This tradition found the basis of morality to be in the emotions, as expressed in the title of Smith's work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. By contrast, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant attempted to base morality on reason.

Two hundred plus years later--and with lots of water under the bridge--it looks like the Scottish Enlightenment holds up pretty well in light of evolutionary biology and research on the emotions.

A major ingredient of morality is empathy, which is nothing if not putting yourself in the place of another and trying to feel what he or she feels.

Here's an interesting item about how an innovative project is combating bullying by reawakening empathy.

Note: props are required, including a live infant.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW (and more) about unemployment insurance and why Congress needs to extend it ASAP.

DEALING WITH DEBT. Paul Krugman is unimpressed with the deficit commission.

INTERESTING TAKE on the political scene here.


IF YOU EVER WONDERED JUST HOW cats drink the way they do, click here.


November 11, 2010

Drawing a line in the sand

I just got back from a policy wonk conference, a major theme of which was how the recent election will affect people with low and moderate incomes.

Yeah, it was a downer.

I would have posted regularly from there, but I was drawing a line in the sand. Can someone explain to me why it is that you can go to a motel in East Hell, West Virginia and have free internet and even a chance at an exercise room, but if you go to an expensive city hotel where a night costs the same as a week in the other place you have to pay through the nose for such amenities?

(I dare you to diagram that sentence.)

Anyhow, I decided to stand on principle. Or to be cheap anyway.

ALL HANDS ON DECK. It's going to take a huge effort to extend unemployment benefits in congress. Please pile on.

BIGGER THAN EVER. Coal, that is.

DEFICIT WARS. Get ready.


November 10, 2010

Pass it on

El Cabrero is wonking out at a policy conference today so this will be short and sweet. Short anyway.

I have come across a saying by the great French rationalist Voltaire (1694-1778) that I wish I could sky-write on every vista throughout the world. It is both timely and timeless. Here it is:

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.


November 09, 2010

A mystery to me

Image by way of wikipedia.

You wouldn't think of West Virginia as having a lot of McMansions, but we do here and there, even though the real estate bust has taken its toll.

Here's the part I don't get. Given the choice, why would anybody sink big bucks into a huge house that is closely surrounded on all sides by other McMansions? This is the hillbilly in me talking, but I'd rather have some elbow room and land in a smaller place than a huge house in what looks to me like a trailer park for rich people.

Besides, where would you keep the goats, chickens, turkeys and peacocks?

NOTE: El Cabrero is on the road this week at a polcy wonk conference so there won't be much in the way of links for a few days.

November 08, 2010

The biggest loser?

Pyrrhus of Epirus, one of many who lost by winning.

One of the things like makes life and history different from sports and games is that in the former, you can't tell right away exactly who the winners and losers are. Sometimes an apparent victor is a long term loser and vice versa.

A classic example of losing while winning is that of a Greek king named Pyrrhus who fought the Romans nearly 300 years BC. He won, but at a terrible price. As Plutarch put it,

The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.

On the other hand, one could make a good case for saying the South won the American Civil War. Yes, the cause of an independent Confederacy was lost, but after a few years of Reconstruction, old elites were able to re-establish themselves and institute a system of racial segregation and exploitation that lasted for nearly a century.

It might be too soon to say who the real winners of the 2010 election cycle were. Yes, one party lost a majority and another party gained one in the House, but it might be that the real victory of the last two years was ending the worst of a catastrophic recession, making some financial reforms, and, as this item argues, passing a historic comprehensive health care reform bill. The author argues that "The bill was more important than the election."

Time will tell. First, the new law will have to survive Republican attempts to choke off its funding.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, here's another take on the health care struggles ahead.

JOBS VS DEFICITS. This is likely to be one of the other major policy fights over the next few years.

TAKING IT TO THE STATES. New Republican majorities in many states plan major cuts to jobs and services.

UPPER BIG BRANCH UPDATE. Two federal grand juries are investigating Massey's mine disaster. Also, Massey stock prices went up Friday amidst rumors of a buy out.

TO END ON A POSITIVE NOTE, congratulations to Edison Pena, the rescued Chilean miner who completed the New York marathon yesterday!