January 22, 2011

A rooster and a gentleman

It is with heavy heart that we announce the passing of longtime Goat Rope Farm resident, bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit was a frequent contributor to Goat Rope, where he eloquently defended unrestricted capitalism.

I can honestly say the Dr. Dimwit was by far the most intelligent spokesperson for this school of thought that I have ever encountered. For real. I mean it.

By way of tribute, we republish one of his earlier commentaries which is representative of his body of work and scholarship:


For first time visitors, this blog generally covers fairly serious human issues during the week. Weekends, however are reserved for the contributions of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we welcome back bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Public Policy Foundation, a fellow at a number of conservative and libertarian think tanks, and a senior economic advisor to the Bush administration.

It is our hope that by providing (bio)diverse viewpoints, we will elevate the level of discourse, promote a climate of deep mutual respect, and reduce the tragic polarization of our times.


Crudawackadoodledoo! Jeez, this blog just keeps getting stupider. I just ate a more intelligent bug. It's about time you had somebody cool on here.

And what's all this stuff about a recession? Suck it up, crybabies! The market knows what it's doing and if it kicks you in the nads, deal with it. You don't need to extend unemployment benefits--you need to get rid of them! If people are stupid enough to lose their jobs they just need to find another one.

Besides, if you give money to poor people, they're just gonna waste it on living.

The only thing the government should do is privatize stuff. And they should contract that out too.

And all this stuff about a stimulus? I'll show you a stimulus. Check out the picture. The handsome little guy in the background is me. Now check out what's in front of me. See that BIG hen? Yeah, man! That's what I'm talking about. And she's with me! Got it?

That's all the stimulus I need to jump start my economy. That's the beauty of the market.

And that's the truth. You bet your cloaca.


January 21, 2011

The Beowulf cookbook

When pressing events don't intrude, I've been blogging about Beowulf lately. I mean, somebody's got to do it. If you aren't into that kind of thing, you can skip to the links and comments section.

After going over this first major work of English (sort of) literature several times, I think I've got the recipe down. It has four main ingredients:

1. A full cup of Tolkien. Old J.R.R. was a major medievalist and possibly the 20th century's greatest Beowulf scholar. He also got a lot of inspiration and ideas from the text for his fiction, including orcs, dragons sitting on hoards, the term Middle Earth, Rohan, and the whole ambiance thing;

2. An equal amount of the Sopranos. Each little kingdom is like a mob family, with a lord who distributes benefits (or "ring-giver") and loyal retainers. At any sign of weakness, another crew will muscle its way in. It's a culture of honor where violence can break out at any moment and feuds are common;

3. A full cup of pagan warrior ethic, in which the greatest immortality one can have is to live on in legend after death. The Greeks called this kleos; and

4. A tiny drop of Christianity, minus any references to Jesus.

Mix the first three ingredients and coat sparingly with the last one, bake for a few centuries and there you have it.

ONE MORE TIME, here's a de-bunking of several right wing lies about health care reform.

COAL KABUKI covered here. At least things remained peaceful as far as I could tell.

WAL-MART is moving to promote healthier foods. I still won't shop there, but in the spirit of fair play I'll give them 5 points.


TESTING, TESTING. It may work better than studying.


January 20, 2011

Coal kabuki

We finally got around to watching Avatar on Netflix. The story about a corporation mercilessly exploiting mineral resources sure made me glad nothing like that ever happened in Appalachia.

Meanwhile, other mining dramas are unfolding here. First on my list is yesterday's report by MSHA on the causes of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which appear to be a lethal mix of methane, failed equipment, excessive coal dust and noncompliance with safety regulations.

Second is the predictable theater that followed in the wake of the EPA's veto of Arch Coal's Spruce Mine mountaintop removal permit. Many state politicians and the coal industry are calling for a rally for coal for today.

As Ken Ward pointed out in Coal Tattoo, the Friends of Coal website actually referred to the event as "a call to arms," although that was taken off the web when word got out.

The use of such obviously incendiary language so soon in the wake of the Arizona massacre seems to be a bit....ill chosen, to say the least.

Even before the Arizona tragedy, quite a few people I know in West Virginia have been concerned that overheated rhetoric is going to lead to violence here sooner or later. I hope that won't happen today.

Meanwhile, here's what I'm pretty sure is the real deal:

1. During the Bush years, the industry could do pretty much whatever it wanted.

2. Those years are over. While the Obama administration has no intention of abolishing coal mining or even mountaintop removal, it does take the law more seriously and will push to reduce the environmental and other impacts.

3. If the permit would be revised to limit the impact, it would probably be approved. This kind of thing has already happened before. And, as Ken Ward noted here, an engineering study by Morgan Worldwide found that an alternative plan would have reduced environmental impacts while still allowing substantial mining to take place.

But, given the choice between throwing a hissy fit and problem solving, the smart money around here still seems to be on hissy fit.

At times like these, I miss the voice and vision of Senator Byrd.

January 19, 2011

Geat out of here

The theme here lately is Beowulf, although you can skip that part and scroll down to the links and comments section if this isn't your cup of mead. Beowulf is the first major work of English literature, with the English being of the Old School Anglo-Saxon variety. Whatever you may have heard about the real Anglo-Saxons, they weren't WASPish.

The work presents all kinds of problems. Although it's written in Old English, none of the action takes place in England and none of the characters are English. The first part of the story takes place in what is now Denmark. The title character is a Geat,with Geatland presumably being somewhere in southern Sweden.

The earliest manuscript seems to date from around the 10th century, but the scholarly debates about how old the story itself is gets downright nasty. I tend to think the story goes back a few centuries for political reasons.

Starting in the late 700s, England was the target of Viking raids, which continued in a big way for a couple of centuries. The Vikings were a real pain in the backsides of the Anglo-Saxons, but in the poem the Danes and Geats (proto-Vikings, if you will) are portrayed sympathetically. I don't think too many Anglo-Saxons would write a pro-Danish epic when their monasteries and villages were being raided by their descendants. This seems to me to argue for an earlier date.

Interestingly, some of the characters in the story, such as the kings Hrothgar and Hygelac, seem to have been real people whose names were mentioned in other sources and may have dated from around the early 500s. Some scholars believe the social setting was similar to that which prevailed around the North Sea in the 500s, somewhere around the time when the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded or migrated to England.

Too bad there is no historical record of cool man-eating and mead hall raiding monsters. More to come.

NOTE: I apologize to email subscribers, but you may have accidentally gotten a not ready for prime time version of this post yesterday.

JOB KILLER? Not so much.


INTERESTING TIMES. WV politics have been a little bit weirder than usual lately. Yesterday's state supreme court decision just ramped that up a notch or two.

TALKING SENSE. This NY Times editorial works for me. I'm not sure it will work for the new majority in the US House.


SO I COME BY IT HONESTLY. Ancient Celts liked their brewskis.


January 18, 2011

Fair warning

It's been a long time since I've gone on an extended literary jag at Goat Rope, but I feel one coming on. In the past, I've gone on binges of Homer, Greek tragedy, Dante, Shakespeare and such.

This time around I'm thinking....Beowulf! This first classic of (Old) English literature is often used to torture high school and college students, but I think it's worth a fresh look. It's full of those things that make life worth living, such as fighting monsters and dragons, not to mention getting ripped in mead halls.

It's a window on a long vanished world, one that was already long gone when the earliest surviving manuscript of it was written, but some of its themes and ideas are lasting and contemporary. I mean really, Angelina Jolie even got into the act in the 2007 film version, about which more later. In the book, however, Grendel's mother wasn't quite that attractive.

Stay tuned...

THE OTHER WAR, in today's politics, is the one on logic.

AN OLDER WAR is the one on poverty. Here's a call for putting that back on the agenda.

ALONG THOSE LINES, here's a call for a movement of the un- and underemployed.

ONE SNEEZE AWAY. Here's E.J. Dionne Jr. on Martin Luther King Jr.'s first brush with assassination and what would or wouldn't have happened if it had succeeded.

SPEAKING OF ASSASSINS, here's an item on a little known study of them conducted by the Secret Service.


January 17, 2011

An (unintentional) teachable moment

Ever since I started working on social justice issues for the American Friends Service Committee, I've made it a habit to study the history of various social and political movements (and even military history). I try to look as dispassionately as possible at what worked and what didn't--kind of like the way football coaches and players watch videos of old games or how athletes in combat sports study old fights.

Naturally, I've spent a good bit of time studying the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. That name, however, is misleading. It was never one unified movement, but rather several often conflicting ones. Nor was it a triumphal procession, as we tend to look back on it on a day like today. Still, in all its diversity it is an inspiring and astonishing story.

The power of that story became clear to me in the most unusual setting. Quite a few years ago, I was working at a summer camp for low income youth from two very poor and very white counties in southern West Virginia. It was free time, so I was glad to let the little heathens run free and catch a few moments of reading under a shady tree. The book was Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.

Then something really strange happened. I drew a crowd. A circle of kids formed as if I was juggling cats or performing some other feat. It took me a while to realize that many of them possibly had never seen an adult voluntarily reading a book.

"What are you doing?" I was asked.

"Uhhh, reading."

"Are you in school?"

"No, I just like to read."

"What are you reading?"

I showed them the book and told them what it was about, recounting as briefly but clearly as I could the history of racism and legal segregation in America and the epic fight to overcome it. This was news to several of the kids, for many of whom their only knowledge of African Americans came from television.

I showed them the pictures in the book, many of them showing acts of violence and cruelty as well as heroism. They seemed at first to have trouble believing that this kind of thing really happened.

I told them that the fight for human rights and justice was never over and that it might be their turn one day. There was an almost audible silence at that point--except for the wheels that seemed to be turning in some heads. After a few more minutes of thinking and talk, they drifted away to other diversions.

I didn't get a lot of reading done that day. But I'm glad I brought the book.