January 15, 2011

A shoe that fits

This poem by Ogden Nash, "Everybody Tells Me Everything," seems to fit pretty well these days:

I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

January 14, 2011

This could happen to anybody

Goats could drive anybody to drink.

Okay. Every so often a news story will catch the eye. This week I ran across one from Poland about a farmer who was arrested for drunk driving while taking his lonely goat out on a date.

Lest there be any confusion, he was not dating the goat himself, but rather escorting it on a visit to a female companion. Apparently the goat was riding in the back seat. It is a truth universally acknowledged that goats dislike riding shotgun.

Apparently, when he got to the farm of his friend, whereat the female goat resided, the humans pounded back some vodka while the goats engaged in that delicate form of courtship for which they are so famed.

Actually, I've been in similar situations, minus the vodka. We don't have a buck (an un-neutered male for you goat civilians) so whenever our lady goats are in the mood to enjoy the converse of a caprine gentleman we put them in the back of the Spousal Unit's Matrix and haul them off.

Perhaps one reason we haven't indulged in vodka on these quadrupedal booty calls is because they don't take that long...

(For some reason, our lady goats tend to crave male companionship at awkward times and are often particularly demanding about such visits on or about Christmas Day, which kind of puts a damper on the whole manger story for me.)
While El Cabrero is officially opposed to drunk driving, the thing that really stuck in my mind is the idea of putting a randy male goat in one's car. They are odoriferous beasts and the odor clings to anything they come into contact with for a long time to come. Whatever happens to the driver, I hope there's a good stockpile of car air fresheners in the European Union. And, it goes without saying, I hope that the date was a felicitous one.

THE GREAT DIVIDE. Here's another call for debate without destruction.

THE LEGACY OF NONVIOLENCE. From the WV News Service, here's a story featuring a friend of mine and an associate of the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sr. on violent and nonviolent communication.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. Conservative activist Grover Norquist wants public debate on the costs of the war in Afghanistan.

DENIED. In a move sure to generate coalfield controversy, the EPA vetoed Arch Coal's Spruce Mine permit, which would have been the largest mountaintop removal mine in WV history.



January 13, 2011

Funeral for a friend

I spent part of the last weekend at another funeral, which is something I hope does not become a habit. This time, the memorial was for a remarkable woman who was my one time boss and long time friend.

Elizabeth Ann "Toney" Reese, grew up in the coalfields of Boone County, where her father died in the coal mines. For most of my childhood and a good chunk of my adulthood, she was the librarian in my small town.

(She even broke up a fistfight of mine in the alley beside the old library when I was in junior high.)

I hung out there a lot as a kid and got a job there while going to college as a part time janitor. It was a calling I pursued with lackadaisical diligence. It was while I should have been running the vacuum cleaner that I discovered such things as the poetry of Langston Hughes and the radical beliefs of American icon Mark Twain on issues of race, religion, empire and politics. After a while I started doing other things there and a summer job turned into a 10 year detour.

She had the amazing gift of turning that small library into the kind of place where everyone felt welcome. People sometimes have to go to schools, courthouses, social service agencies, and the department of motor vehicles, but nobody has to go to a public library. You have to make it the kind of place where people want to go. And she did.

I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the work. I loved bantering with all kinds of people, trying to come up with creative programs, and finding the answers to challenging questions patrons had in those days before Google. And I learned a lot about my hometown along the way.

I'm glad that I had the chance to tell her more than once before she died that I learned everything I knew about how to deal with people and work in the community from her.

She turned that little library into a liberated area. While it may well be a utopian dream to think the whole world could be like that, I learned from her that here and there it can be done.

CREATING "THE OTHER." Here's an interesting take on violent rhetoric and dehumanizing political opponents and the consequences thereof.

I THINK I REFUDIATE THIS. In Sarah Palin's denial that political rhetoric can lead to violence, she used the term "blood libel," which is an example of exactly the kind of rhetoric that led to a great deal of violence. The term refers to the old anti-Semitic accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their rituals. Such accusations frequently led to murders and pogroms in Jewish communities. Not surprisingly, a number of Jewish groups are not amused.

REVISITING THE SOCIAL SECURITY FIGHT. Here are some words of sanity on the subject from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

PUBLIC EMPLOYEES are the latest object of attack on the right, which maintains that these are overpaid in comparison with private sector workers. Here's a little reality check.

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT: the WV state senate. Meanwhile, acting Governor Tomblin's first state of the state seems to indicate continuity with Manchin-era policies.

TALK ABOUT OLD WINE. People were brewing it in Armenia over 6,000 years ago.


January 12, 2011


We interrupt Goat Rope's regularly scheduled program for this animal update.

Everybody has a favorite time of the year. If you are anything like me, that would be one of the warmer ones. But Arpad, Goat Rope Farm's trusty chief of security, loves this time of the year. Not only is it cold enough (he likes it under 30), but thanks to dear season, there are all kinds of tasty treats to be found in the woods.

Just yesterday, he showed up with this rancid deer hide. Judging from the sheer rankness of the trophy, I'd date it from bow season. As you can see, things couldn't get much better for him.

Some days, I like to give my little 150+ pound angel baby a big hug. But I think I'll pass for a day or two.

TALKING VIOLENCE. Here's more on overheated political rhetoric.

DEAD SKUNKS AND MORE are among the themes of the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.


GOT CULTURE? Lemurs do.


January 11, 2011

Perfectly legal

Back in the 1990s, when militias were making headlines and the Oklahoma City bombing shocked the nation, I did a lot of reading about extremist groups and how they operate. I was particularly interested because the home base of white supremacist William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, which inspired Timothy McVeigh's terrorist attack, was located in West Virginia.

The Pierce/McVeigh case provides an example of how such things could happen. The elders of the movement, i.e. people like Pierce, would put out ideas but never get their hands dirty with any specific act of violence. Instead, individuals and small groups, often composed of disturbed, angry and aggrieved people, would act on the hate message without leaving any trail traceable back to movement leaders. This approach was called "leaderless resistance."

From what I can gather, a lot of terrorist groups around the world, including those based on religious fanaticism, operate in a similar way. Ideas, images and techniques are put out on the web and via other means and autonomous groups and individuals do the killing. Again, the leaders who inspire such actions are often not directly involved in carrying them out.

One thing that has changed between the 1990s and today is that inflammatory speech and rhetoric has gone pretty much mainstream and conspiracy theories are telecast, tweeted, and otherwise communicated to millions of Americans every day. And when some angry, disturbed and aggrieved person acts out, those who fanned the flames can claim no involvement.

As the saying goes, for the leaders at least, it's perfectly legal.

I'm not saying anyone intended the recent eruption of violence to happen. Nor am I trying to shut down anyone's First Amendment rights. Obviously, the shooter has mental issues and there are plenty of holes in our mental health system. But people have been playing with fire and when that happens somebody is likely to get burned.


HERE TOO. Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo makes a good point in this post about the need to tone down the rhetoric in coalfield controversies as well.

CLIMATE CHANGE. The CIA is concerned about it. Too bad congress isn't.

THE NOT SO SECRET WORD. When my kids were little, we used to enjoy watching Pee-wee's Playhouse. (For that matter, I still think his movie was a classic.) One regular feature of the show was the secret word. Whenever it came up, everybody was supposed to scream real loud. The not so secret word at the WV legislature is OPEB, which stand for "other post-employment benefits." Some politicians think it's the Big Bad Wolf, but a recent report by the WV Center on Budget and Policy suggests it might not be too big a threat. We'll see if the screaming continues.



January 10, 2011

Anger, hatred, bigotry

Just one example.

There is an ugly spirit loose on the land, one fed by over-heated political rhetoric, the hate media, paranoia, conspiracy mongering, racism and xenophobia. The massacre in Arizona is the latest example of this, but it wasn't the first. I'm sad to say that I'd be pleasantly surprised if it is the last.

I found these remarks from the Washington Post's coverage of the story to be particularly interesting:

In an emotional news conference late Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik (D) denounced the nation's vitriolic political climate and noted Arizona's part in the rancor after a controversial crackdown on illegal immigration.

"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital," Dupnik said. "We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

The fiery rhetoric that has taken hold in politics, Dupnik said, "may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."

No state, however, has a monopoly on anger, hatred and bigotry. There is plenty of it everywhere and it is fed daily by a well-funded media noise machine that feeds on anger and fear in uncertain and difficult times. To quote Sheriff Dupnik again,

...I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol... When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government.

It makes me wonder where it will show up again and how many more lives will be lost.