December 29, 2011

Garlic day

A major seasonal ritual at Goat Rope Farm this time of year is the planting of the garlic, which is the one plant for which I have any gardening affinity. The custom here is to pick a day after the first frosts of winter but before the ground is hard; break up the soil, add compost (thanks, goats), dig rows; plant and cover cloves then and cover the rows with straw for mulch. That's pretty much it until mid summer.  It's nice to think that during the bleak midwinter and chilly days of early spring the year's first crop is doing its thing.

THE LINK MAKER IS STILL ON STRIKE. Links about serious issues to resume next week.

IN LIEU OF WHICH, here's a superficial rural thought for the day: I wish someone would invent a chainsaw with a battery and key starter...I nearly wore my arm out yesterday yanking fruitlessly on the cord.


December 28, 2011

Pagan goats

You usually don't see goats in nativity scenes, live or otherwise. This NY Times item even reports of a goat escaping from a live nativity scene. For that matter, goats don't usually show up in Christian iconography except in Last Judgement scenes, in which they represent the damned.

Having lived around them, I'd have to say that they don't seem to have much of an affinity for Christianity either.  In fact, I detect a certain fondness for classical Greco-Roman paganism among them. Zeus, father of gods and men, was after all nursed by a goat as an infant on the island of Crete and they were also associated with Dionysus.

As I've mentioned here before, the word tragedy probably originally meant goat song, i.e. something performed at the festival of Dionysus.

Maybe that explains why our goats seem more into Saturnalia than Christmas at this time of year.

December 27, 2011

And the winner is...

An occasional holiday practice around these parts is the search for spectacularly tacky Christmas presents. This year, the Spousal Unit received a real winner from her Parental Units. It was a clock. Or rather, a tiny bit of it was a clock. The rest of it was a peacock with filaments coming up behind the tail which light up and change colors when plugged in.

What better gift for a woman with real peafowl?

The Parental Units-in-law found this one at a clock repairers shop, where apparently it had been abandoned (perhaps like the infant Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). At any rate, the store owner sold it very cheaply, even joking about taking money to get rid of it.

(Still, it's kind of cool to look at.)

NEWS OF THE WORLD. The serious link makers are still on strike this week, although a frivolous one or two might show up.


December 26, 2011

Think of the possibilities

If anyone ever wondered if there are any practical reasons for blogging, I have an answer. A few days before Christmas, I mentioned here that I wanted to read Tony Horowitz's new book on John Brown, Midnight Rising.

It so happened that a friend and Goat Rope reader had it and was done with it. She put it in the mail and it came on Christmas Eve.

That's what I'm talking about. Thanks, YSF!

(Note to self: need to figure out whether that works year round or only near holidays. Oh yeah, and next time mention need for new car.)

LINKS. There are none. The linkmaking elves are on vacation this week.


December 22, 2011

Last zombie word...for a while

It seems vaguely inappropriate to mention zombies in yet another blog post this close to Christmas, but I received some important correspondence after yesterday's tongue in cheek post (which is here).

A friend of mine wrote to tell me that, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, more than one website recommends the khukuri knife as a means of neutralizing the walking dead and thus staying off their menu.

If you don't believe me, click here and here.

I filed this knowledge away for future reference in the event of a mass zombie outbreak. (It turns out that said friend actually gave me a khukuri a while back, before I got on the whole zombie thing.)

However, this raises a professional dilemma for me. El Cabrero works for a Quaker organization and it is well known that Quakers have a testimony against violence. However, it is not clear whether this would apply to zombies, since they technically are not alive. Until I get a ruling from the central office, I shall devoutly hope that no zombie apocalypse ensues and, if one does, I will attempt to confine the dispatching of said zombies to non working hours.

Here's wishing you and yours, Gentle Reader, a happy and zombie-free holiday season.

SCROOGED by Congress.

A PERFECT STORM. White Castle, the chain that makes the little burgers which I crave, is contemplating selling alcohol as well. If that goes through, I think I've gotta move to Ohio.

I WANNA READ this new book about John Brown's raid.


December 21, 2011

More on the whole zombie thing

I have mentioned more than once that my over-educated daughter has an inordinate fascination with zombies. Prompted by her repeated expressions of concern, I have undertaken extensive research and watched one episode of The Walking Dead.

 On the basis of this scientific research, I have developed what I call the Cabrero Theorem of Zombie Apocalypses, which should be worth a Nobel Prize. It goes like this: the survivability of a zombie outbreak is inversely proportional to their intelligence. Or, conversely, it is directly proportionate to their stupidity.

(In other words, if they are smart, communicative and can use tools, we're gonna get eaten.)

((But then if they were, would they really be zombies?))

 You can quote me on this, but please use a footnote.

NO DIRECT CONNECTION, but how about that US House of Representatives?

STIRRING UP A HORNET'S NEST. A local controversy with racial overtones is brewing in Charleston, where Kanawha County school officials are resisting a community-led effort to name the new West Side Elementary School after Mary Snow, a great African American educator.



December 19, 2011

Getting the band together?

El Cabrero has been a negligent blogger lately due to crazy days. I'll try to do better this week, although I sense there's a bit of slacking going on out there.

First up, here's a possible sneak preview. Things might be about to get interesting with the Occupy movement in West Virginia. Rumor has it that the mostly young Occupy activist may link up with union retirees fighting to regain promised benefits. More on that to come if it takes off. This could be fun.

(Disclosure: one of my all time favorite social justice fights was supporting workers at this aluminum plant during a long and bitter lockout around 20 years ago. This could be like getting the band together again. A good fight is a great Christmas present.)

IN THE SPIRIT OF FAIR PLAY. I was encouraged to see this story break last week about Alpha Natural Resources reaching a contract deal with the United Mine Workers at five coal preparation plants. Alpha, you will recall, bought out the notoriously anti-union (anti-human?) Massey Energy and they really seem to be trying to make a fresh start.

 This is just gossip, but I heard through a relative who spends time in the eastern Kentucky coalfields that former Massey miners are finding the transition from the old company to the new like going from night to day. The record will show that there is absolutely no evidence to convict me of either optimism or coal company fandom, but Alpha does seem to be way less evil than Massey and I hope that this apparent trend is real and that it will continue.

  CHRISTMAS REFLECTIONS are the theme of the Rev. Jim Lewis' latest Notes from Under the Fig Tree.


December 15, 2011

This and that

It's disappointing but not surprising that the WV legislature passed a gutted version of its Marcellus Shale bill aimed a regulating the new natural gas boom at the behest of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

Holy "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," Batman!

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, the WV Board of Education passed an anti-bullying policy that explicitly protects gay and lesbian students. That ought to give a couple religious right groups something to howl at the moon about.

WINDOWS AND MIRRORS. If you are in the Charleston area today and tomorrow (that would be Thursday Dec. 15 and Friday Dec. 16) come check out "Windows and Mirrors," a traveling art exhibit about the war in Afghanistan. It will be shown at Mountaineer Good News Garage, 221 Hale Street, from 5-8 tonight and from 10-2 on Friday. Here's coverage about it from the Gazette and the West Virginia News Service. Or you can read all about it here.


December 12, 2011

Of haikus, public hearings, rhetoric and zombie brains

Sometimes, working within a restricted format promotes creativity. Think of haiku for example. There rules are pretty strict--5, 7, 5--but you can come up with all kinds of things.

Sometimes I think testifying at public hearings in the WV legislature is similar. You don't get a lot of time to make your point; sometimes you just have a minute. Some speakers barely get through trying to establish their bona fides or street cred before time runs out.

Public hearings are weird things in WV politics. Sometimes they are like consolation prizes for bills that are going to die. At least they give supporters a chance to rant. Always, they are political theater.

The latest example came Monday during a public hearing about the Marcellus Shale natural gas bill. By way of background, a joint committee of the legislature came up with a pretty good compromise bill. However, Gov. Tomblin announced that he wanted to "tweak" the bill and bring it before a special session of the legislature. To a lot of people concerned with surface owners' rights, the environment and such, Tomblin's idea of tweaking was more like gutting.

Hence the pubic hearing. The oil and gas industry brought in people from all over the state, but in the end critics of the "tweaked" version outnumbered industry supporters.

I attended the public hearing but didn't plan to testify until I was told that numbers mattered this time. I agreed to do it, but only because I was able to come up with a one minute metaphor. It went something like this:

A good Marcellus Shale bill is like a four legged chair. One leg should promote local jobs for local workers. Another should protect surface owners. The third should protect the environment and especially water, which will probably be the oil of the 21st century. The last and perhaps most important leg should protect the people of West Virginia by ensuring that this won't be another time when the social costs get passed on to citizens and taxpayers while the profits leave the state.

I don't know whether that made sense to anybody else but I value the practice of trying to cook a message down to the shortest, stickiest and most memorable form (whether I get there or not). I guess that's why I'm a sucker for public hearings these days.

ZOMBIES ON THE BRAIN. So my daughter (yes, the one with the advanced degree) is still mulling over the possibilities and prospects of a zombie apocalypse. She sent me a link to this CNN item on zombie brains today.

Again, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Or threaten to eat her brains...


Have knee will travel

After spending the summer with a blown out knee and part of the fall with one recovering from surgery, it is so nice to have a leg back. I can kick again, although I'm still not at 100 percent in that department.

The best part is the ability to run again. But first let's clarify the meaning of that word as there seems to be some confusion there. Often people have told me that they've seen me out there walking. I try to explain that what looks like walking to them is running to me. I maintain that running is subjective: if you think you're running and it feels like you're running, then you are regardless of speed.

I'm hoping now to build up speed to the point where I can hold and maintain a respectable pace for several miles. Yesterday I met a pace goal at a 5K. I hope to keep that pace at a 5 miler in January and then a 10K in February, although that will mean a lot of interval training between then and now. If that happens, who knows? Maybe a half marathon or the Charleston 15 mile distance run in the summer.

It's not that I enjoy such events at the time. I hate them. But it feels pretty good to have just finished one.

THE D-WORD discussed here.

RATS have empathy; why doesn't the 1 percent?


BANKING ON COAL. Here's a connection between Wall Street and a warming planet.


December 09, 2011

Of fat cats and three for the road

2011 is a pretty good year for fat cats. Here's a picture of a rally held yesterday in Charleston calling on congress to extend unemployment insurance. The rally was supported by union members, the usual suspects, and people from Occupy Charleston, some of whom just got back from rampaging around Washington DC.

"JOB CREATORS." Here's Krugman on the real life Gordon Gekkos.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A LITTLE SAFER TO GO UNDERGROUND. Here's the latest on former Massey CEO Don Blankenship's latest coal maneuvers. (It occurred to me that the last few days may have been a bit of a PR setback.)

FRACKED UP. I am shocked, shocked at this report suggesting that hydraulic fracking may not be good for water supplies and human health. I'm glad that WV politicians and industry hacks are already at work denying this.


December 08, 2011

Lies, damn lies and more of the same

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, "War is the father of all things." I think strife was more what he was getting at in that famous statement but you get the idea. According to Darwin, all life is a ceaseless struggle for existence. And according to Sun Tzu, "All warfare is based on deception."

All of which points to the fact that the living world of nature isn't just all about strife; it's also all about deception. Animals and even plants have evolved elaborate methods of camouflage. Natural examples of deception abound when it comes to eating and being eaten as well as in mating rituals and dealing with others of the same species. In strictly Darwinian terms--which aren't very nice--the ability to deceive rivals, prey and even potential mates had an adaptive value.

No wonder we're so good at it. I recently read a book about evolutionary psychology that suggested that the well known ability of humans to deceive themselves may have been adaptive as well. That would explain a lot...

Lies and cheating are a major subject of contemporary psychological research, as this item from NPR about cheating reports.

I think you'll find it worth a look. Honestly.

UPPER BIG BRANCH JUSTICE? Here's Coal Tattoo on possible future criminal charges for Massey officials. And here's an editorial on unfinished justice from the NY Times.

BEACHFRONT PROPERTY could be coming to you. Not in a good way.


December 07, 2011

Mining the news

Here's some of the latest coverage on the settlement of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster from the Charleston Gazette (special focus on the reactions of the families), the New York Times, the Washington Post; and NPR.

As always, the best place to go for all things coal is Ken Ward's uber-blog Coal Tattoo.

December 06, 2011

One to watch

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, "Things are going to get interesting right about now." The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will release its report today on Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine disaster which killed 29 miners. More interestingly, federal prosecutors will be briefing family members about the state of their ongoing investigations. Let's hope there's way more to come. Here's what we know now by way of Ken Ward in the Charleston Gazette.

More to come.

December 05, 2011

Regarding daughters, doctorates and zombies

So my daughter (that would be the one with the advanced degree) announced this weekend, without a trace of apparent irony, that the television series The Walking Dead actually reassured her that a zombie apocalypse could be managed, thanks in part to the stupidity of said zombies. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

SPEAKING OF ZOMBIES, this item takes on right wing zombie ideas.

ON A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT NOTE, here are two takes on the current state of American politics by Dionne and Krugman.

DOWN UNDER. Urgent undersea tubeworm update here.


December 02, 2011

Back in paradise, again

El Cabrero is back in WV for the first full day in a few. I had been in Philadelphia for a training for trainers on nonviolent action. Many of the people who attended were co-workers with the American Friends Service Committee around the country who had been involved to one degree or another with the Occupy movement.

It so happened that on the night after our first training, police evicted the Philly encampment, which added a certain something to the experience. I came home to find that police were going to evict Occupy Huntington WV last night.

I've always had mixed feelings about the movement. Personally, I value mobility and unpredictability so much that I would have trouble distinguishing between occupying a place and being incarcerated in it. I guess my hillbilly genes predispose me to raiding rather than occupying. The martial artist in me cannot fathom a movement without goals or specific points of focus for action; it's like swinging wildly at an opponent rather than striking vital points when openings occur.

Still, the occupiers of the world really changed the national conversation and drew attention to issues of corporate power and inequality in a way that nothing else has for a while and nobody can take that away from them.

The big question is: what's next? As winter moves on and police move in, will occupiers fade away? Will the more prosaic skills of organizing, education and action seem appealing in comparison with encamping? Who knows? It already went farther that I ever thought it would and it might have a few more surprises to come.

In any case, the struggle will continue.

TWO MORE TAKES ON THE MOVEMENT. Here's the New Yorker on the history and possible future of the movment. And here's a more critical take on it from Philly itself.

OH GOOD. Here's the latest in fun and games from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.


November 29, 2011

Hard travelin'

El Cabrero is about to hit the road for a few days, so posts will be irregular for the next stretch. The good news is that this should be an interesting road trip that involves attending a nonviolence training for trainers intended for people working with the Occupy movement. I've had my share of training and being trained, but never this exact thing before.

The bad news is that air travel from and to my beloved state of West Virginia is a bit of a pain in the tuchis. On Tuesday, for example, I have to get up at 3:00 a.m. to catch a 5:30 flight. Not that I'm complaining or anything.

Meanwhile, here are a few items that caught my eye...


TAXING IDEAS. Here's Paul Krugman's latest op-ed on (real) deficit reduction.





November 27, 2011

My true calling

According to the Steve Martin movie The Jerk, everyone has a special purpose. Who am I to dispute with such a treasured social artifact?

Every time I visit Vermont, I think I receive a glimpse of my special purpose, the talent for which I was permitted to exist on this earth.

It consists of shoveling manure out of a barn that has housed sheep for the winter. The job is a perfect one for me, one which I frequently find myself daydreaming about. It consists of vigorous exercise and unskilled, socially useful labor which requires absolutely no thought on my part. You just shovel, wheel out, dump and repeat. Over and over.

My day job, alas, requires a lot of thought and not nearly as much physical activity as I would like (although some might say there are similarities between my real and ideal profession).

FEEDING THE TROLLS. Here's an op-ed by a friend of mine on the balanced budget amendment which fortunately failed to pass in the US House.



November 25, 2011

A dog's Thanksgiving

Humans aren't the only ones who enjoy the holiday season. Arpad looks forward to this time of year as one to celebrate the bounty of nature and the generosity of the universe. Here he is with the latest gift, courtesy of nearby deer hunters.

November 23, 2011

Annual Thanksgiving Possum Recipe

Yes, it's that time of the year. Holidays are all about tradition and it has long been a custom at Goat Rope to feature a possum recipe at this special time of year. We do this in the hopes that others will partake of this creature so that we do not have to.

This year's selection is one called "Opossum Pie." It looks better than recipes we have featured on previous Thanksgivings (perhaps because there is no possum in it).

Click here to enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2011

Some days no deal is a good deal

I was glad to see that the [not very] super committee in Congress did not reach an agreement on deficit reduction. Such a "compromise" with the current crew would consist of throwing seniors, working people, the poor and children under the bus. Now we live to fight another day.

Here's a useful item from the National Women's Law Center on the non-deal.

And, in the unlikely event people are serious about rational deficit reduction, here's a great graphic on the costs of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.


November 21, 2011

Loud silence

Compared to happenings in other places, the Occupy movement in West Virginia so far has been pretty tame. Not that I'm complaining. In case you missed it, here's a news story plus two videos from Occupy UC Davis. The first video shows sitting protesters being pepper sprayed point blank a by campus police officer.

The second video is even more dramatic. It features the silent protest of UC Davis chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi as she walked by students after defending the spraying. As a friend of mine put it in an email, this would be an example of "nonviolence done right."

UNLIKELY MESSENGER DEPARTMENT. Here's an item from Business Week, a periodical not generally known for its Marxist leanings, about how inequality hurts the economy.

MORE ON "creative protest" here.

A WOMAN'S PLACE is in the union. Another friend who sent me this link observed that "Among the most progressive union leaders I have worked with over the years, the women, by in large, have held out a great deal of hope for the future."


November 19, 2011

Oh really?

If you have been in or around West Virginia any over the last couple of years, you will have heard a lot about the Obama administration's "war on coal." If you drive anywhere in the state, chances are you've passed a billboard with a picture of several Appalachian states with words that reads "Obama's no jobs zone."

West Virginia's ruling class has long mastered the art of the hissy fit and they have been throwing one ever since W left the White House.

But as Ken Ward notes in Saturday's Charleston Gazette, coal employment in Appalachia is actually at a 14 year high.

So if there is a "war on coal" being waged by the administration, I guess you could say it's not going very well. Or you could just call BS.


November 17, 2011

Gratuitous animal picture

We interrupt today's programming to share this picture taken by the Spousal Unit of Arpad drinking from our pond. I suppose I could come up with some metaphor about how things ripple out but mostly I wanted to give people the chance to look at my Sweet Little Angel Baby from Jesus in Heaven.

OK, so he barks all night, still smells like a skunk a month after his last encounter, and drags in random body parts of slain animals in hunting season. But other than that he's just perfect.

NINE DEMANDS OF THE 99 PERCENT. Here's the first eight. You can add your own.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's an op-ed by the WV AFLCIO's Larry Matheney.



November 16, 2011

Perfect. Not.

Today, as I was driving my car in the rain, fiddling with my iPhone, working a crossword puzzle, repairing a chain saw and playing my guitar (not really--I can't repair chain saws), a friend sent me a sadly funny series of text messages.

The first one read thus:

I just got asked if I read [Ayn] Rand.

The second read thus:

They went on to say they pick up the audio books at the library.

The third one read thus:

I said, "You do see the irony in that, right?"

(Rand didn't believe in public libraries...or pretty much public anything.)

According to my friend, the Randite in question "didn't even understand when I pointed it out." He went on to say "There is a huge disconnect in this world." Amen to that.

"OCCUPYING OUR DEMOCRACY." Here's Robert Reich on the first amendment rights of corporations and the lack thereof for some people.




November 15, 2011

Moving towards motion

The one undeniable achievement of the Occupy movement is the fact that it has changed the national conversation and drawn major attention to economic inequality and the growing power of organized wealth.

All along, though, a nagging question has bothered me. It's kind of the same one that bothered me when US troops were sent to Afghanistan: what's the exit strategy? At what point does one declare victory? When and how do we move on to the next phase of the struggle? It's like the old joke of the dog that chased the car; what does it do when it gets it? Here are some thoughts about this from some people who helped start the movement.

This possible move towards mobility doesn't necessarily mean giving up all encampments, but it might entail recognition that one does not gain points just by camping out. It might be good to move at some point towards a more mobile phase, where different places are targeted for nonviolent action depending on unfolding events. Time could also be spent building stronger alliances between the upstart movement and older social justice institutions.

My reservations about static occupation are not intended as a criticism; it may be largely a matter of temperament. I value mobility above almost anything else so the idea of being tied to one spot makes me feel claustrophobic. Plus, as a person of Scotch Irish descent, I have a hereditary disposition to prefer raiding to occupying.

In any case, the challenge now is how to keep the movement fresh and let it evolve in new and exciting directions.

November 14, 2011

Napoleon again

Watching the WV legislature is an occasionally enjoyable spectator sport. Earlier today, which is almost yesterday at this point, I watched an interim committee meeting in which the staff person for an anti-gay "religious" group dug himself in deeper and deeper in a rambling speech.

A line from Napoleon which may well have appeared here before came to mind: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

(Of course El Cabrero has no enemies. He may, however, have any number of euphemisms.)

THIS IS GOING TO BE INTERESTING. The Supremes vs health care reform, that is.

EXTREME INEQUALITY makes for bad economics.

THE WHOLE REGULATIONS KILLING JOBS THING isn't all it's cracked up to be.


This and that

Ready or not, here comes the week. Here are a few items that caught my eye.


A NEW PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT? Economist Jeffrey Sachs thinks so. I'm not so sure yet.

ZOMBIE "PHILOSOPHY" here's NPR being unnecessarily nice to bad ideas.


November 11, 2011

The time has come, the walrus said

I have several things on my mind heading into the weekend. First off, I'd like to acknowledge the sacrifices made by this country's veterans past and present and to express my hope that in the future fewer will have to go through the ordeal of armed conflict.

Second, one thing that really gets my goat, no pun intended, is the stupid war waged by government agencies against small farms and real food. It's ironic that laws and bureaucracies impede the local food movement while tolerating an industrial "food" system that tortures animals, exploits labor and ruins the environment.

Here's a pretty horrific example of fascism against farm and food from the state of Nevada.

Regular readers of this blog know that I often defend the role that government can play in regulating capitalism and countering its excesses--but this kind of thing doesn't really help in that department. It is this kind of outrage that turns otherwise normal people into libertarians.

Finally, I'm off this weekend to attend an intensive yoga seminar. I have a feeling it will be tougher than the karate training I did in Okinawa a while back. I did, however, have this insight on the difference between ju jitsu and yoga:

In ju jitsu, you apply painful joint techniques to your opponent; in yoga you do it to yourself.


November 10, 2011

This is what happens when boxer dogs watch The Godfather

Sometime this past summer, when the Spousal Unit was away, I watched the Godfather movies. Apparently Edith, our boxer, was paying attention. As said Spousal Unit put it in her Facebook page yesterday,

Dogs don't get that playing Godfather isn't for everyone. (ok so it's not a horse head but stepping out of the shower to this was pretty shocking).

However, it probably had less to do with mob vendettas than with the abundance of "gifts" that hunters leave in the woods this time of year, of which this deer leg is but one example.

OCCUPYING THE HOMELESS. Here's a look at the developing and sometimes bumpy relationship between the Occupy protests and homeless people around the country.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Here's a look at progressive victories in this week's elections and what they may mean going forward.

SHELLACKING ON THE RIGHT. Here's E.J. Dionne on the same.


November 09, 2011


A hearty congratulations to voters in Ohio, who delivered a stunning rebuke to union busters and others who wished to declare open war on the middle class. CNN projects that voters defeated attacks on collective bargaining by a measure of 62 to 38 percent.

That should be a major setback to the plutocratic agenda (and, I hope, the tripartite alliance of greed, ignorance and hatred on which it depends for political success). It would be nice to think that some kind of change is in the air.

Here's the NY Times on yesterday's elections. Aside from the victory in Ohio, I think it's interesting that voters in Mississippi rejected a strict anti-abortion measure.

The whole thing of what constitutes a person is a bit murky these days. I modestly propose that we focus instead on distinguishing between real people and corporations. Sorry, Mitt.


November 07, 2011

Better than Christmas

Arpad, shown here with booty from a past hunting season, is a firm believer in the generosity of the universe.

It's getting to be the favorite season of Arpad, Great Pyrenees and chief of security at Goat Rope Farm. From his perspective, it's way better than Christmas.

Instead of just one Santa Claus, the woods this time of year are full of gift bearers armed with hunting rifles, shotguns, and bows who seem to come for the express purpose of leaving offerings for the lucky canine.

At this time of year (and through the winter) he is apt to disappear on foraging runs and emerge from the woods with any number of hides, bones, or internal organs of dead deer.

I noticed the official opening of his blessed season this weekend when he showed up with a dirty snout and no interest in his regular food. I can hardly wait to see what he drags home next.

STIGLITZ ON THE GLOBAL PROTESTS. Here's a Nobel laureate on the protest movements that have swept the world this year.

Sneak preview:

...unfettered markets lead to economic and political crises. Markets work the way they should only when they operate within a framework of appropriate government regulations; and that framework can be erected only in a democracy that reflects the general interest – not the interests of the 1%. The best government that money can buy is no longer good enough.

MAD MEN AND NOSTALGIA discussed here.

THIS IS THE BRAIN on cooperation.


November 06, 2011

To start off the week

Here's some disturbing news about the state of the economy: most of today's unemployed aren't eligible for unemployment insurance anymore. And before anybody opens a can of libertarian dreck, here's a reality check: there are four unemployed Americans for every one new job.

OCCUPATIONS. Here's Bill Moyers on the Occupy movement.


THAT "WAR ON COAL," assuming it exists, isn't going too well, hissy fits of the industry and its lackeys to the contrary.



November 03, 2011

Just a thought

I'd like to be wrong about this, but the congressional "super committee" in charge of slashing the deficit seems to be composed of a mixture of bullies and appeasers in equal numbers. This means they are likely to spare the wealthy (the 1 percenters in the parlance of our times) and tax dodging corporations from any increased taxes while slashing the programs that help sustain the other 99 percent.

If that is the case, I think it would be a very good thing if the Occupy movement took up the cause and started kicking up some national dust, with a little help from unions and other friends. To paraphrase Che Guevara, "create two, three, many Oaklands!" (Nonviolently, of course.)

ONE NATION, DIVIDED. Here's Jim Hightower on the 99/1 thing.

VETERANS OCCUPY. This story is a day or so old but worth a look. Around the country, quite a few veterans are stepping up their involvement in the Occupy movement in the wake of the injuring of Iraq war vet Scott Olsen by police in Oakland, which helped spark that city's general strike.

THE R WORD. Here's another one on the future of the Occupy movement.


November 02, 2011

Regarding marriage and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Here come the Magyars! A painting of Prince Arpad and his followers crossing the Carpathians by way of wikipedia.

For several years, I've been making my way, a little at a time, through the unabridged version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I'm not sure why, exactly, but it might have something to do with the ability of the author to turn a phrase. They knew a thing or two about that in the 18th century.

I've gotten through most of it and only have a scant 500-600 pages to go. Some parts are a slow slog, but my interest picks up here and there.

Recently, I've stumbled upon a section directly relevant to my marriage. Some years a go, I committed matrimony, as my late father used to say, with a female of Hungarian extraction. A Magyar if you will.

A few days back, I got to Gibbon's discussion of the migration of the Hungarians into Europe and took great delight in reading them aloud to the Spousal Unit. Here are a few sample passages that I rushed to share:

When the black swarm of Hungarians first hung over Europe, about nine hundred years after the Christian era, they were mistaken by fear and superstition for the Gog and Magog of the Scriptures, the signs and forerunners of the end of the world.


Except the merit and fame of military prowess, all that is valued by mankind appeared vile and contemptible to these barbarians, whose native fierceness was stimulated by the consciousness of numbers and freedom....Their simplicity has been praised; yet they abstained only from the luxury they had never known: whatever they saw they coveted; their desires were insatiate, and their sole industry was the hand of violence and rapine.


...mercy they rarely asked, and more rarely bestowed: both sexes were accused as equally inaccessible to pity; and their appetite for raw flesh might countenance the popular tale that they drank the blood and feasted on the hearts of the slain.

I thought she would be pleased by this affirmation of her heritage and my efforts of cultural competence, but it didn't seem to work.

I guess you just can't be nice to some people.

THE STATE OF THE YOUNG. Here's an interesting report on how young Americans are doing.

OBSERVATIONS TO OCCUPIERS. Here's a well known linguist talking to young activists.

A CERTAIN DISGRACEFUL CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE is meeting to see how much damage it can inflict on the American people...if we let it.


November 01, 2011

Mandatory jokes

There are certain jokes, not particularly funny, which have become mandatory in and around Goat Rope Farm. Many though not all have their origin in movies. Over time, these have acquired an almost ritualistic significance and are triggered by certain conversational cues.

I am passing them on in case people out there are running short of ways of messing with and otherwise irritating the people they encounter.

Here's a sample:

*When someone comes up with a steaming pot and says "Coffee?," the obligatory reply is "Yes, I know." (Source: Airplane and the Naked Gun movies)

*When someone says "Can I ask you a question?," the obligatory reply is "You just did."

*When someone says "I'm going to go change," the obligatory reply is "Don't you go changing."

*Finally, anytime someone asks what to do with something or where to put it, the obligatory response (from Five Easy Pieces) is "Hold it between your knees."

TAXING FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS sounds like a winner, but it faces an uphill climb in the US.




October 31, 2011

Silly is the new serious

I have always had a distaste for the strident, which can be an occupational hazard (no pun intended) among people who work for social justice. That's why I find the levity in recent Occupy Wall Street protests refreshing, one example of which involves people parading around dressed as zombies. As this article, titled "Gandhi Meets Monty Python" suggests, there's a lot of that kind of humor going on these days all over the place.

Regular readers of Goat Rope will perhaps recall similar silly actions with a point in West Virginia. A few years back, when the then governor was messing with Medicaid, several of us held a bake sale for Medicaid that made around $100 bucks. That was silly enough, but then we got a big check printed and arranged a ceremony, with media in attendance of course, in which we presented the proceeds of the sale to the state treasurer's office.

This summer, on the anniversary of the Bush tax cuts, we held a Bake Sale for the Really Rich, complete with street theater. The state AFLCIO liked the idea and held hot dog sales around the state on the anniversary of the creation of Social Security. Dogs were sold at 1935 prices to raise federal revenue in order to spare the very wealthy from having to pay their fair share. After that, another event was held in which the hot dog proceeds were delivered to the Bureau of the Public Debt in Parkersburg.

You can't be silly all the time, alas, but it is good to break things up and act in unpredictable ways.

JOBS, BRIDGES AND BOMBS discussed here.





October 30, 2011

Scaring dogs with decorations

This year's buildup to Halloween featured a first in my experience: dogs fooled by seasonal decorations.

It happened one evening during the routine dog walk, in which boxer Edith and Great Pyrenees Arpad are usually joined by mut Smiley from down the road. As we were making our way to the end of the road and back for the usual two mile stroll, Edith and Smiley stopped in their tracks, hackles raised, and they growled across the field.

It took a while to figure out what they were growling at, but it turned out to be something on the order of scarecrows. I wasn't surprised that Edith would freak about some new sight--she has been known to bark and growl for 20 minutes at an ironing board--but Smiley is more street smart.

Eventually they got over it. But it occurred to me that many of the things we are afraid of in life turn out to be pretty much the same when all is said and done.

Happy Halloween!

YET ANOTHER TAKE on the Occupy movement here. Oh yeah and here too.

WANNA EAT SOME BUGS? Some people are proposing insects as a cheap food source. I am less than enthused about the idea, but I figure we've all done it at some point unconsciously. I did deliberately try eating one spiced grasshopper in Mexico however.

SPEAKING OF BUGS, AND IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING, yes, bugs are scared of fish.


October 28, 2011

Angels and memory

I just finished making my way through Dante's Divine Comedy for the umpteenth time. Every time I read it I come across something I'd missed before. This time I was struck and mildly amused by the discussions between the Pilgrim and his beloved Beatrice in Paradise.

When she's not chewing the poet out, she sometimes sounds like the host of Mr. Wizard's 14th Century Science World as she discusses the fine points of late medieval cosmology. At other times she enters upon long theological digressions and the occasional rant.

I particularly enjoyed her detailed discussion of angelology in Canto 29. According to her, and she was in a position to know in the context of the poem, angels possess will and intellect but--contrary to popular opinion on earth--they have no memory and no need of it because they are always gazing at the mind of God:

From the first moment these beings found their bliss
within God's face in which all is revealed,
they never turned their eyes away from It;

hence, no new object interrupts their sight
and hence, they have no need of memory
since they do not possess divided thought.

So there you have it. She didn't discuss the whole how many on the head of a pin thing however.

AT THE OTHER END OF THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING, Massey officials may face more criminal charges in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster which killed 29 miners in April 2010.

OCCUPATIONS. The future of the Occupy Wall Street movement is considered here.



October 27, 2011

Windy city indeed

One of my favorite WV authors is Breece Pancake (1952-1979) who wrote short stories about my hometown under the fictional name of Rock Camp.

In the only remotely humorous story in his posthumous collection, "The Salvation of Me," a character dreams of escaping our corner of Appalachia and striking out for the big town of Chicago. He keeps saving up money to make the getaway but winds up blowing it on shooting pool.

Going to Chicago became an inside joke with some friends who knew and loved Pancake's work. It meant blowing this popsicle stand and hitting the big time.

I thought of Breece this week when I actually made it to Chicago for a few days of meetings. Generally, when I go on these things, the only part of the city I see is the inside of a meeting room.

This time I was a bit luckier and got to run a few miles along the lake, which helped me realized that "windy city" isn't just a clever nickname. It would be really easy one way and like jogging the wrong way through a wind tunnel on the way back.

It occurred to me that WV could use a great lake or some such massive body of water. Who knows, maybe with climate change it'll get one.


TAXING MILLIONAIRES is something most millionaires support.

A WAR IS WINDING DOWN. How come people who opposed it aren't claiming success?

UPPER BIG BRANCH. Here's the latest fallout from criminal investigations of Massey's mine disaster.


October 25, 2011

"Industrial homicide"

The United Mine Workers of America released its report today on Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine disaster of April 5, 2010 which killed 29 miners. Previously, reports on the disaster have been released by the WV Governor's Independent Investigation Panel and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The title of the report sums up the union's position: "Industrial Homicide." According to the union:

Massey Energy must be held accountable for the death of each of the 29 miners. Theirs is not a guilt of omission, but rather, based on the facts publicly available, the union believes that Massey Energy and its management were on notice of and recklessly tolerated mining conditions that were so egregious that the resulting disaster constituted a massive slaughter in the nature of an industrial homicide.

The union calls on federal prosecutors to pursue this case all the way up the corporate ladder, which leads to former CEO Don Blankenship.

Read more here from Ken Ward's uber-blog Coal Tattoo.

THE WHOLE 1 PERCENT THING. Uhhh, there might be something to it.

NOTE: Still on the road. Regular posts will resume in a day or so.


October 24, 2011

Rendezvous with destiny...and a skunk

We knew that it was written into the very fabric of the universe. We knew the day would come. We knew it was only a matter of time before Arpad, our Great Pyrenees and the official security chief of Goat Rope Farm, would have a run-in with a skunk.

He stays pretty busy at night keeping an eye out for unwelcome visitors. Possums and raccoons have fallen to his wrath. Coyotes keep their distance. But last night he picked a quarrel with a member of the striped tail tribe and he had the odor to prove it.

Of course, under ordinary circumstances I would have rushed to de-skunkify him but this morning I left the house before 4 am to catch a flight.

As Dylan said, "I can't help it if I'm lucky."

NOTE: the link truck is broke down again. Well may the world go.


October 23, 2011

Too bad...

...about autumn views in West Virginia. My seasonal good deed for the day was rescuing a torporous snake on the road today after the sun began to go down. I can't be sure but I think it was a copperhead.

El Cabrero is about to hit the road for a bit so posts may be irregular. Here are a few items that occupied my attention:



POLITICS ON THE BRAIN discussed here.


October 21, 2011

Gratitude for bad things that didn't happen

Methinks the human race is kid of wired for ingratitude. We notice when things are bad more than when they're not. How many times does a typical person recognize when he or she doesn't have a toothache and be thankful?

El Cabrero is trying to do better in that department. Last week, for example, my foot suddenly swelled up like a balloon. It was hot and it hurt. I couldn't put a shoe on it. Until then, I was excited about having that knee surgery that allowed me to jog again. But I could barely limp with this.

After looking around on the web, I was convinced I had gout, which apparently isn't just for 18th century aristocrats anymore.

I was not happy.

Then it just went away. I'm jogging again. And gingerly kicking a heavy bag.

I'm grateful today for not having gout. And all the other bad things that aren't happening at the moment.

POLLUTION. The right wing jobs program.

INEQUALITY. Here's a quick look at why it matters.

SO NOW YOU KNOW. Some millipedes sing.

THAT WHOLE END OF THE WORLD THING apparently didn't happen.


October 20, 2011

Social media: rethinking the limits

About a year ago, popular New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell published an article in that magazine about the limits of social media like Facebook and Twitter in movements for social change.

I was pretty impressed with his argument at the time. If memory serves, he talked about how weak ties such as those from an online community could help in accomplishing some things, these would not be enough when push came to shove. The US Civil Rights movement, for example, relied on strong ties based on trust and commitment.

Then came the events of the "Arab spring" earlier this year and the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement in which social media played a major role. It might be time to rethink Gladwell's argument. Obviously, it's not a case of either/or but social media has turned out to be more of a game changer that I would have expected.

Here's a little anecdote about the impact of social media from the Occupy efforts in Charleston, WV. Yesterday, a wet and miserable day for occupying anything, an official connected with the city apparently came by the Occupy site and told people they'd need to take down their tarps and signs.

Word got out via Facebook right away. People jumped in, made calls, contacted the media, etc. In the end, a compromise was achieved. That's not exactly a case of turning back the tanks but it was interesting.

FRAMING THE OCCUPATION. Here are some suggestions from George Lakoff on messaging for the movement.

THE END OF THE WORLD, AGAIN. Oct. 21 is the latest predicted date for the end of the world. Here's a look a predicted apocalypses of the past. There seems to be a common theme...something about not happening.

OCCUPYING THOUGHTS. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

URGENT ZOMBIE WASP UPDATE here. And it's really creepy. This would make one hell of a gross out horror movie if it happened to people.


October 19, 2011

Goats announce farm occupation

We should have expected this given the worldwide outbreak of protests inspired by Occupy Wall Street. The goats here have announced their official occupation of Goat Rope Farm after meeting in a general assembly to prepare their demands.

According to Arcadia S. Venus, duly elected spokesperson, who stressed that she was not the leader of the group, "We want grain at least twice a day, plus beet pulp, alfalfa cubes and decent hay. And we demand clean drinking water and a formal acknowledgement that whenever we poop in it it's your fault."

Since these demands have basically all been met, aside from the formal acknowledgement, we anticipate that the occupation will continue indefinitely.

SENSE IS TALKED HERE about the American Jobs Act.

ANOTHER TRILLION. Outstanding student loan debt has hit the magic number.

IN CASE THERE'S A BABY IN YOUR LIFE, they learn more from playing than from watching screens.


October 18, 2011

Coolest. Science. Story. Ever.

OK, nevermind what is going on in the world today. Check this out: some scientists believe that giant intelligent kraken-like octopi used to eat dinosaurs in prehistoric oceans and then deliberately arrange their bones.

Since nothing I could write or link could possibly be cooler than that, I'm going to stop right.

(Thanks, J.A.!)

October 17, 2011

Signs of the times

Some interesting signs were on display at Occupy Charleston WV this weekend.

This one asks a good question.

This one is pretty factual.

A novel idea!

This was one of my favorites.

Yes we might.

Interesting times, anyhow.





October 16, 2011

The kids are alright: occupying Charleston

Charleston, WV was one of many cities around the country and the world that held Occupy Wall Street solidarity actions. I attended it for several hours on Saturday. The nicest thing about it was the fact that here was a decent crowd of people gathered together to confront economic injustice--and I didn't know 90 percent of them.

While it was a diverse group, many of the people who participated were young in years, in activism or both. That was good thing. Many members of the initial group that called for the action were young adults, most of whom had never done this kind of thing before. Overall, I'd say that around 200 people were there for some or all of the action.

I wasn't able to attend the preliminary planning meetings, but the group made some smart decisions early on to focus on the main message of Occupy Wall Street: the power of corporations and growing economic inequality, rather than getting sidetracked on issues such as mountaintop removal. Issues like that need to be dealt with, but this wasn't the time and place.

After gathering for a time at a small park on Kanawha Boulevard, the group marched through the city to assemble outside Chase Bank, a protest magnet these days, then marched to the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse.

A number of protesters had arranged with the city to camp at Haddad Riverfront Park for the occupation itself and I think plans are in the works for a series of events in the days to come.

The people who pulled this together very quickly did a great job. It was interesting to watch the interactions. Public response was overwhelmingly positive from people driving by. Similar events were held at other places in West Virginia. All told, a pretty impressive day of action, not just here, but all over the place. The challenge in the days ahead will be to find ways of keeping up momentum while also reaching out to more allies and developing a greater variety of actions and strategies.

If you go to facebook, you can follow charleston events at

And, by the way, check out the American Friends Service Committee WV Ecnomic Justice Project's Facebook page here.

October 14, 2011

A mean spirit walks abroad

Here's a bit of weekend reading matter that is well worth your time from my friend Elizabeth Gaucher's Esse Diem blog. It's about many things, including parenthood, "the baby tunnel" (I love that concept), and the fact that there is a mean spirited-ness in the land that typically manifests itself in taking potshots at disadvantaged people.

The technical term for such attitudes and the people who hold them, at Goat Rope Farm anyway, is chicken****. And believe me, we here at Goat Rope Farm know chicken*** when we see it. See also people who pick on others whom they think can't fight back.

The title of her post is Waking Up with a Stranger. And, yes, it is a metaphor.

Click here and enjoy!

P.S. Watch the news this weekend, laddies and lassies! Occupy Wall Street solidarity actions are going to break out all over the country and at several places in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

October 13, 2011

Something's happening

I'm not sure what's causing it, but some things are starting to change. First there was the Occupy Wall Street movement, an ad hoc event that kept on happening. Then similar actions spread around the country.

Occupy Huntington in WV has been going on for nearly a week. Related events are planned for Saturday in Charleston and other WV towns, in addition to dozens and maybe hundreds around the nation and world.

Labor unions have not only expressed support for the Occupy movement but have also initiated numerous actions of their own around the country, including a jobs rally last night in Charleston.

Another ad hoc crew assembled in Charleston Thursday on a rainy lunch our to hold signs calling for job creation. Among those who attended were members of the Laborers union, MoveOn supporters, and representatives of the National Association of Social Workers, WV Citizen Action, the American Friends Service Committee and other labor friendly organizations. Mary Hill and Diane Parker, both members of the Laborers International Union of North America, took the lead in organizing the event.

I'm still not sure whether this is a flash in the pan or the start of something big, but it would be nice to think that people were losing the inclination for servility and the habit of groveling at the feet of a plutocracy.

ANOTHER TAKE. Here's economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute on the Occupy Wall Street protests and the issues driving them.

CORPORATIONS AND PEOPLE. Sorry, Mitt, but not everyone is convinced they are one and the same.


October 12, 2011

Nice kitty

Image by way of wikipedia.

The holler in which Goat Rope Farm is situated is pretty rich in living things. Yesterday's post featured a giant puffball, just one representative of its happy fungus population.

When we first moved here 8 years ago, there were no squirrels. Now they're all over the place. Deer are plentiful--so plentiful I'm hopeful that Artemis, goddess of wild things and the hunt, will spare one for me this fall. Wild turkeys are everywhere too. Coyotes often howl at night, which puts Arpad, our Great Pyrenees on high alert. Blue and green herons show up from time to time when the creek is full of minnows. The other day we saw a red fox on a walk.

But this weekend, we had a special treat when we spotted a bobcat. From various signs, we thought there were some around here, but it was quite a thrill to get a look at one. Of course, bobcats are masterful predators and we have chickens and such. I hope it finds other food but would somehow begrudge a big kitty less for a chicken or two than a neighbor's dog or a possom or raccoon.

Next up: maybe a bear?

DOING THE NUMBERS. This series of charts shows what the Wall Street occupiers are so upset about. If you click on the link, you will find a picture of a protester with a sign containing profanity, but the bulk of the article is about statistics on economic inequality.



October 11, 2011

Puff daddy

Say what you want about 2011--it's a great year for puffballs. The spousal unit photographed this fungal monstrosity this weekend. The boots provide perspective if you can make them out. We're talking bigger than a basketball. Luckily, it hasn't started talking and eating people yet.

MESSY BUT GOOD. Here's Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson on the Occupy Wall Street movement.




October 10, 2011


We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a personal announcement: my daughter earned her shodan (first degree black belt) in karate this weekend. It occurred to me that I got mine the same year she was born.

She's been around it her whole life but for some reason got seriously into it a few years back. A lot of people approach it as a sport or fitness activity, but I recommended she approach it in a traditional way, as a serious fighting art and classical budo or martial way. She did, applying fiercely the admonition of Shotokan karate master Gichin Funakoshi, who had this to say about practice:

Be deadly serious in your training. Your opponent must always be present in your mind, whether you sit or stand or walk or raise your arms. Should you in combat strike a karate blow, you must have no doubt whatsoever that the one blow decides everything. If you have made an error, you will be the one who falls. You must always be prepared for such an eventuality.

She brought that serious attitude to her form or kata practice, prearranged solo exercises in which one executes techniques in multiple directions against imagined opponents. She also proved to be quite a predator in kumite or sparring. In practice, she would only spar with toughest and best she could find, duking it out with black belt men who outweighed her by half or more.

When she did compete, she generally dominated the ring, often kicking her opponents out of it. She once said that I seemed prouder of her when she did that than when she got her doctorate. For the record, that isn't necessarily true. But it might be.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's Paul Krugman on the ruling class hissy fit over the Occupy Wall Street movement.

THE POLITICS OF OCCUPATION. Here's Robert Reich on the Wall Street protesters and the Democratic party.



October 09, 2011

Occupied territory

The Occupy Wall Street solidarity movement officially hit West Virginia this weekend in Huntington. Organizers, many of whom were connected in some way with Marshall University, planned to begin rallying outside Chase Bank on Friday evening, stay there until Sunday, and finish with a march.

I stopped by for a couple of hours on Friday and there might have been as many as 100 people, if you count comings and goings, which in my experience is a good number for Huntington. I'm sure the number of hardy souls who camped out on the street was smaller, but it seems like they had a good support system organized and I'm not aware of any conflicts with the police.

There seemed to be a wide variety of people with many viewpoints, united by a concern for growing inequality. The event also seemed to provide an opportunity for people who have never engaged in this kind of activity before. I'd never seen most of the people who participated before and I've done a thing or two in Huntington over the years. It's hard to say how many more events will happen in WV or around the country but this is something I didn't see coming.

I think the movement will be stronger if it sticks more closely with the 99 percent message rather than covering the map of issues. A populist economic message could really resonate in southern West Virginia--if people can avoid getting sidetracked with coal controversies. Those issues need to be dealt with, but this probably isn't the best venue. Just saying.

LOOKING AHEAD. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on economic policy options for WV.

AFGHANISTAN. Here's a statement from WV Senator Joe Manchin on the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Sample quote:

"As I have said before, we must choose between rebuilding Afghanistan and rebuilding America because we can’t afford to do both. And I choose to rebuild America.”