December 31, 2012

Be it resolved

El Cabrero is no stranger to New Year's resolutions, although they don't always fall at the same place on the calendar. Some of them work out, sort of, like trying to learn Spanish. Others not so much, like trying to learn classical Greek, although I can make out some words and sound out others.

This year I don't have any major ones on the agenda. I would like to try not to burn or damage any bridges in the coming year; win a good fight or two (more would be swell but I won't be greedy); complete a trail half marathon; read a bunch of stuff by and about Emerson and his buddies; renew my acquaintance with Shakespeare; torture my body with kettlebells; and continue practicing martial arts. Who knows?--maybe even darken the door of an ecclesiastical establishment of the Anglican variety with more frequency.

In any case, here's wishing a good 2013 to one and all,.

December 27, 2012

White out

I'm writing this on a borrowed computer in the midst of a Vermont snowstorm, and snowstorms are things Vermont does right. I'd like to include  picture of the snow but can't figure how to do it on this machine. However, if you picture a lot of white coming at you that should be close enough. It reminds me a bit of the section of Moby-Dick about the whiteness of the whale.

Another picture I'd like to include at some point is one of my sister in law's llama, who is quite cute. I didn't realize llamas had that big tooth thing going between their cloven lips. It makes me want to add a camelid to the Goat Rope Farm menagerie.

Otherwise, I have but one link to share and one comment to make about the long-awaited movie version of The Hobbit: what about the other half of the story?

HERE'S THE LINK. It's probably the best and most concise thing I've read about Washington's current conundrum over the economy and the national debt by friend and co-worker Arnie Alpert from New Hampshire.


December 23, 2012

Holiday wishes and other stuff

Sorry about irregular posts lately. The Spousal Unit and I are on the road visiting relatives, dodging storms and such. I always get a bit nervous on the road given possible calamities that can happen at or around the farm...until I recall that they can happen when we're there as well.

One such already happened when the Aged Parent had a fall and banged up her face.  Fortunately, I think she's going to be OK. I hope there's less drama on the animal front.

Re: current events, how 'bout that NRA? I kind of like a saying going around the internet that calls for putting a teacher in every gun store.

WORTH A LOOK. Here's a NY Times story on how class and inequality can play out in a college setting.

HERE IT COMES AGAIN. Meanwhile, it's that time of year again. Regular readers may recall that this is when I bring out the annual Christmas quote from Hamlet:

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.

So have I heard and do in part believe it. May it be so this time around.

December 19, 2012

Metaphorical rule of life short enough to be a tweet

Don't put on the tee shirt until after you finished the race.

JUST ONE LINK. It asks a good question, with lots of good discussion.


December 18, 2012

Good news for WV working families

From the office of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin:

  CHARLESTON, W.Va. –Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today announced the changes proposed earlier this year for the eligibility levels of child subsidy will be tabled for further review. The funding formula changes were made in an effort to compensate for shortfalls in federal funding. The Governor plans to submit a supplemental appropriation next year to help close the gap through the spring and has plans to work with all parties to find a solution for making this program successful long term. 
    “After much discussion with parents and folks in the childcare industry, I decided it’s not in the best interest of West Virginia families to move forward with the scheduled changes to our state’s childcare subsidy,” said Gov. Tomblin. “We still have work to do; these programs are not sustainable with our current level of funding, but at this point, I believe it’s best to keep hard-working families in the program and to look for other ways to address the budget shortfalls.” 
    West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources officials announced in June 2012 that the ceiling for eligibility would be reduced from 185% of federal poverty level to 150%. This change was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013. Today’s announcement means that no change will be made at this time and the entry and exit levels will remain the same, thus retaining families who are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. The changes to the copayment structures announced earlier this year will go into effect on January 1, 2013. 
Here's a heartfelt "thank you" to Governor Tomblin and his staff and a hearty "Congratulations!" to everyone who worked on this issue over the last year or so!

That's a nice Christmas present.

December 17, 2012

This and that

The most interesting tweet I've read for a long time is this one written in response to the carnage in Connecticut:

One guy tries to use a shoe bomb = everyone at the airport takes their shoes off. 31 school shootings since Columbine = nothing we can do.
The carnage was so bad that even longtime NRA supporter Joe Manchin thinks something has to give.

RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN, Holy Innocents, weapons, and nonviolence are discussed in the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.




December 16, 2012

Fish day! and other signs of life

A lot of people around the country and beyond are thinking about the carnage in Connecticut, as am I. But two events this weekend reminded me about the persistence of life as well.

Today, Dec. 16, 2012, was officially declared Fish Day at Goat Rope Farm. By way of explanation, during the winter, spring and early summer, the creek that runs by our place is teeming with minnows, crawdads and such. But the dry spells of late summer often dry the creek totally up for weeks or more at a time.

After a while, the water returns. Shortly thereafter, aquatic insects do the same. But fish usually take a while. Fish Day here as occurred in February but sometimes as late as April. For some reason (would that it was an omen of good tidings), it came early this year. This morning, I caught a glimpse of a solitary minnow but didn't trust my eyes. I thought I saw it again this afternoon but waited until seeing it again this evening before calling it.

Life goes. But it also comes back.

The other reminder was the December ritual of planting garlic, the only vegetable I seem to get along with very well in the gardening arena. In a time of year when much seems dead, putting perfectly good garlic cloves in the ground seems like a total waste. One expects them to molder and disappear, but they tend to sprout up in spring and grow to maturity in summer. Life out of death again.

I'm reminded of a Springsteen lyric from the song Atlantic City. You may well know the one.


December 14, 2012

Sad day

When I updated this blog Friday morning, I had no idea  about the carnage that had begun or would soon begin in Connecticut. Anything I could say about it would not be adequate. I can barely imagine the sorrow and suffering that the loved ones of those who were killed. It is yet another reminder, if one was needed, of how fragile life is and how much easier it is to destroy than to create.

Vitamin B

Image by way of wikipedia.

I just finished watching the new Bob Marley documentary and it made me realize how much his music has meant to me over the years. The first time I heard Redemption Song it pretty much stopped me in my tracks.

Once I "discovered" Bob, years after most people had, I devoured all his music I could find. West Virginia and Jamaica are obviously different places, but both have been colonized in their own way by Babylon.

Marley's music has a powerful combination of radicalism and spirituality that has given many people the world over the courage to get up/stand up. It's been too long since I gave Bob a serious listen but that's about to change. I highly recommend it as there's nothing better to lively up yourself.

HOW DID I MISS THIS New York Times column about zombies, apocalypses and such?

NOT AN APOCALYPSE, NECESSARILY, BUT BAD ENOUGH. I'm referring to climate change. That's the bad news. The good news is it looks like more people are starting to take it seriously.


December 13, 2012

On being blinded with science too many times

OK so I got this new used car when my Old Faithful was on its last legs. As part of the deal, I got three free months of satellite radio. My experience therewith reminds me of Bruce Springsteen's song 57 Channels (and nothing on).

I think this is a case where legislation is in order. For example, in a just and rational world, any 80s music channel should be required to play Safety Dance at least once an hour, with Sledgehammer following close behind. Instead, I've heard She Blinded Me with Science more times in the last week than in that entire decade.

And don't even get me started on the 90s. As far as I can tell, the only musical justification for that decade was Counting Crows doing Mr. Jones and I haven't heard that one yet either.

I guess I'll keep listening to recorded books.



THE CLIFF THING. Here's an interesting look at public opinion.


December 12, 2012

Double devil day?

I seem to recall that there was a bit of hype a few years back in certain tightly wrapped religious circles about the possible end of the world or some related apocalyptic event. The occasion was the arrival of June 6, 2006: 6/6/06, 666 being the "number of the beast" in the Book of Revelation.

It occurred to me that today--12/12/12--might qualify as Double Devil Day, 12 being 2 x 6 and all. Y'all be careful out there.

CLIMBING DOWN THE FISCAL CLIFF. Here is a look at how to do it.

WANT TO CUT THE DEFICIT? Here's one place to look.

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING, cheese was first made in northern Europe 7,000 years ago.


December 11, 2012

Intellectual cinema

I'm still trying to figure this one out. The Spousal Unit, aka La Cabra, has a thing about violent entertainment. She wouldn't watch Rome, The Walking Dead, or even The Sopranos. But she loved every minute of The Expendables 2. For real. I guess it's really more about the aesthetic and intellectual quality of the film.

WHAT SHOULDN'T BE FOR SALE? Here's one person's list. What would be on yours?

YUK. At least this hasn't happened in WV. Yet.

THE BIG KAHUNA in terms of real gains for social justice will be Medicaid expansion to cover low income working adults as part of the Affordable Care Act. It looks like the feds are getting a little tougher on states that are holding back from taking this step


December 10, 2012


This summer, advocates for children and working families won a small victory when their combined bad noise prompted WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to delay major cuts in child care assistance, increases in co-pays and reduced eligibility. Alas, unless something is done, all those cuts go into effect on Jan. 1, which would be quite a lump of coal in the stocking. Here's a good op-ed on the subject.

UHHHHHH maybe if we weren't giving away the store with business tax incentives we might be able to pay for child care for working people.


WORKING IT. Here are some cool pictures and videos of birds of paradise doing the courtship thing


December 09, 2012

Sober cannibals and drunken Christians

A while back, I vowed to blog about that (the) great American novel Moby-Dick and why you, Gentle Reader, should give it a try for the first or 50th time. As I've said before, one of the best reasons to read it is that it's laugh out loud funny.

Most of its humor is directed at Ishmael, its narrator, who may or may not be reliable. One great example of this occurs early in the book and involves a bit of a gender bender.

Much could be, and no doubt has been, written about homoerotic or at least sexually ambiguous themes in Melville's work. Not that there's anything wrong with that. One could argue that the first such episode in this classic occurs when Ishmael arrives in New Bedford, Massachusetts en route to a gig on a whaling ship. He learns to his dismay that he missed the boat to Nantucket and has to stay a few nights before the next one is available.

That raises just a bit of tension since our hero is a bit short of money. His tension rises more when he is told by Peter Coffin, proprietor of the Spouter Inn, that no more rooms are available and that he must share a bed with a harpooneer. I think it's fair to say that most guys would be just a bit weirded out to be told that they'd have to share a hotel room with a total stranger, much less a bed.

Ishmael gets even more weirded out the more he hears about his roommate, who is apparently out trying to sell shrunken heads--something he's even done on the sabbath! It gets worse when he hears that the stranger is a bit of a cannibal.

Ishmael then resolves not to sleep in said bed but to try to find some angle of repose on a bench in the dining room of the inn. When this doesn't work, and when it looks like the roommate may not return that night, he relents and tries to sleep. Mayhem very nearly ensues when the tattooed Queequeg returns and is startled by his bedmate.

In the end, all is well, and Ishmael claims never to have slept better in his life:
Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife.
A bit later on, Ishmael relates that after sharing a companionable smoke from Queequeg's tomahawk pipe,
he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be. 
What's really going on here, methinks, really has more to do with overcoming prejudices than with sexual ambiguity. Queequeg turns out to be far more admirable than most of the Christian characters in the book and Melville himself in other works delighted in unfavorably contrasting missionaries with cannibals.

The book is saying that the prejudices we harbor, then as now, often turn out not to be just wrong, but even comically wrong. Which is another reason you should read it.

THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING, or at least a critique of uncritical positive thinking, is discussed here.

THIS IS REALLY GROSS, but click here if you want to learn more about how maggots can heal wounds.


December 08, 2012

You must see this

This weekend treat comes by way of the Spousal Unit, aka La Cabra. When she was driving home from her belly dancing class she heard this story on Public Radio's the world, a news show that WV for some reason chooses to air at night. It involved a recent adaptation of certain catfish in France which (who?) have learned to swarm out of the water and hunt pigeons. They have been called the killer whales of the fresh water world.

Click here, ye might, and despair.

December 07, 2012


I woke up this morning (sounds like the beginning of a song) and, after completing a few rituals, began scanning the web for news. I was a bit disappointed to find this story which said that the Obama administration is considering going after the states that recently took steps towards legalizing marijuana.

I say again, really?

Full disclosure: I am not and never have been a marijuana person. When I was in junior high, I would gladly have done any drug I could find. Alas, the only drug I could find at the time was gasoline to sniff, which may explain a few billion missing brain cells. In the end, I'm OK with missing the drug train. I figure if alcohol was good enough for my old man and my Scotch-Irish ancestors, it's good enough for me.

But still...the whole war on drugs thing has proven to be about as good an idea as Prohibition. It kind of is the same idea. It has had all kinds of unintended consequences, nearly all of which are bad. It's been pointed out over and over that marijuana is not responsible for anything remotely resembling the body count racked up by alcohol and tobacco.

Let's face it: all law enforcement is selective. Shouldn't the administration have bigger fish to fry? And aren't there better uses for federal resources these days?

JUST ONE LINK, BUT ONE TOO GOOD TO IGNORE. isn't just for humans anymore. Here's a look at zombie spiders.


December 05, 2012

Child poverty

There are plenty of downers in West Virginia's political landscape. But one encouraging thing is a growing campaign to combat child poverty in the Mountain State. The effort is spearheaded by the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition but includes dozens of partners, some of whom agree on very little else besides the idea that child poverty is bad.

I guess that's a start.

Here's an op-ed on some of the issues and the campaign from my friend the Rev. Matthew Watts.

Nobody planned it this way, but through fortuitous timing, Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Bransfield released a pastoral letter on child poverty titled Setting Children Free: Loosening the Bonds of Poverty in West Virginia just as the campaign is ramping up.

It's too soon to tell how much impact this  campaign over the coming months and years will have but a huge one would be nice.

SPEAKING OF CHILDHOOD, there's a lot of evidence that negative experiences in that period can have lifelong impacts. One such study is the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which has an interesting story of its own. To find out more, check out this three part story here, here, and here.


December 04, 2012

One big onion

I have soft spots for several individuals and organizations beyond the realm of bourgeois respectability. One such group is the Industrial Workers of the World, a radial union founded in 1905 to join skilled and unskilled workers into One Big Union.

The Wobblies, as they were known, got pretty well smashed in the wake of World War I but a remnant is still around today. I was pleasantly surprised to find this article about Wobbly or Wobbly-inspired inroads to organizing in the food chain.

Some of the Wobbly approaches to organizing pioneered among mobile harvest or lumber workers just might be useful today in trying to organize workers unprotected by traditional unions.

I wish em luck.

HOLY OVERWORKED METAPHOR, BATMAN! Here's George Lakoff on why the fiscal cliff metaphor sticks and here's something local organizers did about it in WV.


December 02, 2012

Funeral for a friend

I can't say that I intellectually subscribe to the creed of animism, the idea that various things in our world have spirits. But I kind of act and feel like I do. For that reason, I am feeling a little sad at the passing from my hands of a car I've driven for around 15 years, a worthy grey Saturn sedan that I christened the Pequod, in honor of the whaling ship in Moby-Dick. My Pequod, however, had a much better run than Melville's.

I could probably have kept in on the road a bit longer, aside from the fact that it overheated when idling, had an exhaust leak that probably wasn't all that good to breathe, and had a window that would roll up or down. Oh yeah, and the brakes were shot too. Still, I feel attached to the fine old thing. I would like to think that the spirits of good cars go to a nice place like that to which good dogs ought to go when they pass and that we can all be reunited sometime in the Elysian Fields.

And, lest anyone bash the workmanship of American union members, let me point out that the Pequod had almost 322,000 miles on it, which is far enough to get to the moon and almost halfway back. Taking its place will be a 2011 American union-made car, a red Chevy Cruze, made in the neighboring state of Ohio, otherwise known as The Land of White Castle Hamburgers.

I need to think of a good name for the car. Candidates include Bucephalus, the name of Alexander the Great's favorite horse; Rocinate, the worthy steed of Don Quixote, or The Red Special, in honor of the train used by Socialist Eugene Debs in his 1908 run for president. (If Trotsky had taken the trouble to name his armored train that might have been another possibility). The car that preceded the Pequod was named Traveler, in honor of Robert E. Lee's horse, which in fact was a native of what is now West Virginia. I'm open to other suggestions if anyone has any.

COMMON SENSE about prisons can be found across the political spectrum these days. Here's an op-ed by yours truly about the growing conservative movement to address prison overcrowding.


WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? Here's an interesting Gazette story on what might have been the real motive for the firing of WV school superintendent Jorea Marple.


November 30, 2012

Stop the presses!

I think I may actually agree with Newt Gingrich on something. Or with a little bit of what he's saying anyway:

Well, I think this whole fiscal cliff language is designed to maximize a sense of fear that’s nonsense. The very same people, the Congress and the president, who invented the fiscal cliff—this is all an invention—could break it down into 12 foothills, or 15 foothills or 20 foothills. …
I think we ought to recognize this entire fiscal cliff is an artificial invention of Washington, created by people in the Congress and the presidency. And it can be broken down by them into a series of steps that can be taken without having to be rushed into one gigantic, last-minute, little understood, with no hearings, one vote up or down—I think it’s a terrible way to govern the United States.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I'm down with just about all of this.

Have a good weekend!

November 29, 2012

What was his first clue?

When asked about his political aspirations, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship told a Wall Street Journal reporter in a recent interview, "I don't think I'm electable." One wonders what chain of reasoning might have led to this conclusion. Read more about it at Coal Tattoo.

Apparently the interview was done before yesterday's news about additional criminal charges that might be going up the Massey corporate ladder.

And if you want more of Mr. B., click here.

NON SEQUITUR. If you are in need of a weird science article about immortal jellyfish, click here.


November 28, 2012

Like a dog

I've been meaning to blog about Moby-Dick here but today another literary classic is on my mind. That would be The Trial by Franz Kafka, one of his more Kafkaesque novels. In it, the protagonist, Josef K., finds himself accused of a crime but is never told what it is. He must devote a great deal of effort to his defense, although he has no idea how to do that. In the end, he is casually executed. His last words describe the killing:  "Like a dog."

That's pretty much the way the majority on the WV Board of Education treated former superintendent Jorea Marple, an amazingly capable and dedicated educator. The school board is supposed to "reconsider" her firing tomorrow, although I imagine they will only do it over again. If anyone should be fired, I'd start with them.

ON THE OTHER HAND, sometimes the American justice system works better than Mr. Kafka's. I was encouraged by this announcement of the latest development in the federal criminal investigation of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine disaster. I hope it keeps on getting better and better.


November 27, 2012

Two for a Tuesday

A while back, I planned to do a series of posts here on why everyone should drop everything and read Moby-Dick. I plan on resuming that effort any day now. In fact, I was reminded of it today while walking around in the wet and chilly weather. In chapter 1, Ishmael speaks of "a damp, drizzly November in my soul." If that doesn't fit the WV weather on a day like this, nothing does.

Anyhow here are two items of interest:

CONSERVATIVES VERSUS PRISONS? Pretty much. I need to crank out an op-ed on this.



November 26, 2012

Just what we needed

The Gentle Reader has no doubt noticed the family decals on some automobiles that show the proper combination of parents, children and beloved pets. A friend recently sent me an email about the latest development, i.e. zombie family decals, which are definitely worth a look.

According to the website,

In the zombie apocalypse, family means everything. It's not limited to blood relations, either. If you're trusting someone to watch your back and keep the walkers from eating you, they're family. If someone trusts you to double-tap them after they've been bitten, they're family.

Show your pride in your family with these Zombie Family Car Decals. They're black and white and red all over and include the whole gang: Mom, Dad, Daughter, Son, Baby, Dog, Cat, and Fish. We're not sure who is lugging their goldfish tank around during the zombie apocalypse, but who are we to judge? Maybe it's a talking goldfish like Klaus from American Dad.
This is yet another example of the unfettered market's ability to spontaneously meet human needs and desires. Or something.

THE PHANTOM MENACE. Here's Paul Krugman taking on the "deficit scolds."

CHURCH POLITICS. According to E.J. Dionne, some Catholic bishops are questioning the church hierarchy's rightward drift in recent years.
LUNAR LUNACY. Apparently, blaming the full moon doesn't hold up.


November 25, 2012

This n that

I am so not ready for the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, but I have a lot of work things in the hopper. One such item is an idea that  the WV legislature is considering, to wit work sharing, a way of dealing with cyclical downturns in the economy by reducing hours rather than jobs and allowing affected workers to collect partial unemployment insurance for lost wages. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on the subject.

GO TEAMSTERS. Lincoln County WV native Ken Hall has climbed to the height of influence in the 1.4 million member Teamsters union. Here's his take on the shameful firing of WV school superintendent Jorea Marple.

LIKE THE SAYING SAYS, you only get one chance to make a first impression.


November 22, 2012

Annual Thanksgiving possum recipe

It has become something of a holiday tradition at Goat Rope to feature a different possum recipe here each year at this beloved national holiday. We firmly believe that one can never have enough possum recipes, although we would probably demure if it came to actually eating one.

This one is from and is called Possum cream pie. It's the best possum recipe we've found so far, mainly because possum wasn't an actual ingredient.

For Old School hard core possum enthusiasts, we also include this recipe for possum or bandicoot soup even though we are not quite sure what a bandicoot is.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2012

Nothing funny about it

Arcadia S. Venus, pictured above, is another admirer of Brother Larry.

Last week I was asked to participate in the retirement roasting of Larry Matheney, a good friend who has served for years as secretary treasurer of the WV AFL-CIO. At such events, one is generally expected to say something funny about the occasion…which was precisely the challenge.

 As a rule, I can find the humor, however grim, in just about any circumstance. When my late father was full of wires and tubes in intensive care, I told him not to bother getting up when I visited him. (He marshaled the strength to perform an obscene gesture in my general direction.)

My daughter recently reminded me that when I was being wheeled away to open heart surgery, I could be heard saying “They’re not gonna get my uterus.”

I have made jokes about any number of misfortunes and disasters.

But I could find absolutely nothing funny about the retirement of Larry Matheney. He is irreplaceable. Larry is a fierce and fearless voice for social justice. Coming from the United Steelworkers, Larry is a social unionist cut from the same cloth as that other native West Virginian labor leader Walter Reuther.

 He’s the kind of person you want on your side in any serious fight for justice, whether it takes place in the streets or the halls of the legislature. He has always stood on the side of the disadvantaged, downtrodden and oppressed and he has always done whatever he could not just to make oppression bearable but to end it.

 I’m not the only person to feel this way. I know plenty of people who as irreverent as myself who view Larry as a hero.

I wish him all the best in retirement. But mostly I wish he was still in the thick of the fight.

SPEAKING OF BROTHER LARRY, here's his latest rant in the Charleston Gazette. I love the cat food bit.

ONE GOOD RANT DESERVES ANOTHER. Here's another friend, the Rev. Matthew Watts on prison overcrowding.

AND HERE'S ANOTHER from the Rev. Jim Lewis. There's a great pun in there about generals and privates.

IN THE SPIRIT OF FAIR PLAY, here are a few words in praise of parasitic worms.


November 20, 2012

Worth a look

I would wager that most Americans are aware of the fact that inequality is growing, although people look at it  in lots of different ways. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been doing a great series on this at their Off the Charts blog.

For a look at what is causing the widening gap, click here

For a state by state look, click here and here.

And for a look at four ways states can address the issue, click here.


November 19, 2012

Annals of paranoia

This item caught my eye last week when I was traveling and attests to the fact that Whackadoodleism is alive and well. As Mother Jones reports, a prominent Georgia legislator gave a presentation in October to a local group along these lines:

President Obama is using a Cold War-era mind-control technique known as "Delphi" to coerce Americans into accepting his plan for a United Nations-run communist dictatorship in which suburbanites will be forcibly relocated to cities.

 The presentation also included a comparative list showing the similarities between the agrarian policies of Stalin, Mao and the current occupant of the White House.

(Question: would a white president with similar policies provoke the same degree of Whack? I think not.)

I guess any day now the goats, turkeys, peacocks and chickens of Goat Rope Farm will be forcibly collectivized. On the bright, side that would make vacations a little simpler.

WHAT HE SAID. Here's Paul Krugman on the Twinkie era.

DIRTY DEEDS. Here's more on the negative consequences of the decision of the state school board to fire superintendent Jorea Marple.


November 17, 2012

Too pretty to kick

I always used to laugh at people who bought furniture for their homes but didn't use it because it was too nice. Ironically, I have found myself in a similar predicament with a heavy punching bag.

My old one died after absorbing millions of foot pounds of punches and kicks (and saving me from innumerable prison sentences). So I bought a new one. The problem is that the concrete floor of the garage is pretty cold this time of year and besides is strewn with all kinds of things that are unfriendly to feet. And while barefoot isn't an option, the bag is too nice to tear up with my trail running shoes. I supposed I could just punch it, but for a karate guy that is a bit like playing guitar with three strings.

Maybe I should just look at it a while longer.

November 15, 2012

A day of surprises

I have been a terribly inconsistent blogger this week mostly due to the fact that A. I forgot to take my computer on an extended road trip; and B. while I brought the Precious (aka the iPhone), I have not mastered the art of composing on thumbs.

I had all kinds of things to write about but instead was as shocked as many people in WV were to find that the state board of education voted 5-2 to fire state school superintendent Jorea Marple, who is is widely respected as an extremely dedicated and competent educator. Most people see this as a power grab by the Manchin faction (as if it needed more). All of those who voted to fire Dr. Marple were appointed by former governor and now senator Joe Manchin and one of the five is his wife. It looks like this may be the opening shot in a brewing battle over the future of education in West Virginia. Marple's husband Darrell McGraw, longtime progressive state attorney general, was defeated in the recent election by an outsider who rode to office on a tidal wave out outsider money.

Far be it from El Cabrero to wish any ill on anybody, but this was vile and I hope that those who did this gain absolutely nothing from it. For what it's worth, I'd also like to express my support for Dr. Marple and best wishes for her future. I know that many, many people here feel the same way.

ANOTHER WV BOMBSHELL went off today as well in the announcement that Patriot Coal intends to phase out mountaintop removal operations. Here are some of the reactions by way of Coal Tattoo. I'd say keep checking that blog for ongoing developments. It's not clear what this means for the future of that kind of mining. Patriot, while a major actor in this area, has been more in the news lately for its bankruptcy and this agreement isn't binding on other companies.


November 12, 2012

And the winner is...

If the throwing of ruling class hissy fits was an Olympic event, the competition would be pretty steep, especially when it comes to political posturing regarding the Obama administration's alleged war on coal. In all fairness, I'd have to say that the gold medal winner in this event would have to be Robert Murray of Murray Energy.

Murray made headlines before the election by hosting a 'pro coal' Romey rally in Ohio which miners were...shall we say...strongly encouraged to attend (to the extent of closing the mine that day). The latest stunt involved laying off miners because he was displeased by the election outcomes. The layoffs were accompanied by a prayer in which Murray lamented the American people's drift away from freedom to the Almighty.

It's too bad that miners and their families have to be pawns in his game.

(Note: El Cabrero is on the road using an expensive hotel computer which won't even let me post links. It's not too hard to find this story online however.)

November 11, 2012

On not drinking one's own poison

There has been quite a bit of commentary lately about the failures of right wing polling and intelligence in the 2012 elections. All this has reminded me of something I read years ago in Peter Berger's 1963 classic An Invitation to Sociology

Early on in the book, he talked about how good intelligence means getting accurate information, whether you like it or not, rather than simply reinforcing the propaganda of the side one happens to be on. Holy Fox News, Batman!  In Berger's words, 

“…good intelligence consists of information free of bias. If a spy does his reporting in terms of the ideology and ambitions of his superiors, his reports are useless not only to the enemy, if the latter should capture them, but also to the spy’s own side.”

Again, one should never take one's own propaganda too seriously.

MORE ON THE RAPE BOYS. In yesterday's post, I briefly discussed the political failures of right wing gynecology in the recent election. Here's Mother Jones for a more complete look at the political scoreboard.

NOTE: El Cabrero is on the road a good part of the week. Posts may be irregular. Stay tuned...


November 10, 2012

A stillborn science?

One more thought about last week's elections occurred to me. To wit, the rape boys lost. That is to say, the two candidates who spoke glibly about the political science of right wing gynecology did not fare well with voters, many of whom no doubt were of the female persuasion. This includes both those of  the "legitimate rape" and the "God's will" school of conservative thought on the issue. It would seem that on a national scale at least, right wing gynecology, legitimate or otherwise, might be a non-starter.

November 09, 2012

When bubbles bust

I've been meaning to post something for a day or so but am just getting around to it. Here are a few random postmortem election thoughts.

BUBBLELAND.  Earlier this week, the blog Daily Kos came up with an impressive list of right wing pundits who made bad predictions about the presidential election. What's up with that? Part of it might have to do with living in a bubble where all the information you take in comes from people who share your ideological biases. Two interesting articles recently came out on how the right wing noise machine blew it. The first is from Slate and the second is from the Atlantic. It's kind of like what happened with the Bush administration in Iraq: they took their own propaganda as if it was real intelligence.

DEMOGRAPHY'S UPS AND DOWNS. Shortly after the election, Politico posted this feature about the demographic trends working against the Republican Party on a nationwide basis. Ironically, those same trends are working the other way in WV, which has a bit of a surplus of grumpy old white guys. The "war on coal" hissy fit adds to the cauldron.

SPEAKING OF COAL. I had a pre-election conversation with someone who knows more about the industry than anyone I know. He wondered whether an Obama victory would mean a toning down of the rhetoric as people figured out the hissy fit wasn't working. However, the hissy fit did work at the state level, although I'm not sure how long that dog will hunt.

SPEAKING OF WEST VIRGINIA, a friend of mine observed yesterday that 2012 was WV's 2010.

MORE ABSENTEE OWNERSHIP. Outsiders have owned most of West Virginia for over a century and  are still acquiring real estate, so I guess it's no surprise that they now own the state attorney general's office.


November 07, 2012

Another slow news day

Golly, why does everybody look sleepy today?

There's a lot I could say post election but I'll just focus on one thing today: yesterday's vote means that the Affordable Care Act will survive. But it also means that the fight to expand coverage is going to take place at the state level.

One result of the US Supreme Court decision on the law was the ability of states to choose whether or not to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level in 2014. The law as passed by Congress basically required states to do it or lose all Medicaid funding.

This means that states ruled by people who hate poor people, such as West Virginia seems to be some days,  are going to be reluctant to do so. It will take a huge effort, and lots of people power, to make that happen. But it will mean health care for well over 100,000 low income working West Virginians and for millions of others around the country.

Gird up thy loins...

ONE MORE THING. I had already posted yesterday's blog when I saw these pre-election reflections on the politics of coal by Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo. I'm wondering whether the ruling class hissy fit which blames a certain black guy in the White House and the EPA for all the ills of the world will continue unabated or will they figure out it isn't working very well. I guess the smart money is on the hissy fit.


November 06, 2012

Election days

Here's a look at Goat Rope posts from previous election days, beginning with 2006, which was a big one for WV.

Here's the post from the 2008 general election.

And here's 2010.

As for this time around, all I can say is that the future of a lot of programs and policies is at stake, all the way up and down the ticket.

To quote Dylan, "Things are gonna get interesting right about now." Dammit.

November 05, 2012

Good point

We hear a whole lot in this political season about President Obama's "War on Coal," which is basically a cynical way to assign the blame for the industry's woes, many of which are due to basic market forces, on a person who just happens not to be white. The specific political subtext in all this is the assumption that if the president's opponent wins, everything will be all good here all the time.

Meanwhile, nobody around here seems to have noticed that programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which Romeny/Ryan have targeted for gutting, have an even bigger impact on the state's economy than the coal industry.

The folks at the WV Center on Budget and Policy point out here that 2011 approximately $12.7 billion or 20.5 percent of the state’s $62 billion in personal income came from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The U.S. average was 12.8 percent...

For comparison, only 5.5 percent or $3.4 billion of personal income in 2011 was derived from coal mining and natural gas extraction – two of the largest industries in the state.
I don't mean to belittle the economic hardships in the coalfields. These need to be faced in a proactive way rather than used to score dubious political points. But imagine how bad things would look in places like southern West Virginia if drastic cuts to the bedrock safety net--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid--went hand in hand with market-driven declines in mining.


A TALE OF TWO STORMS. Krugman does a heckuva job contrasting Katrina and Sandy.

IT'S ALREADY WORKING. Here's a cheer for the Affordable Care Act.


November 03, 2012

Regarding firewood, Sandy, Cheetos and the secrets of my success

Figs in the snow. Photo credit: the Spousal Unit.

Whatever else can be said about 2012 in West Virginia, it's been a good year for firewood. Between last summer's de recho storm and last weeks encounter with Hurricane Sandy, it's laying all over the place.

Speaking of Sandy, while lots of people got it worse, we had a bit of a hit, including heavy wet snow and most of a week without power, water or phone, spiced with transportation/chainsaw issues, falling trees and concerns about rising water. If the Ohio River hadn't been so low due to the late summer drought we might have had some serious flooding.

I wound up celebrating the lights coming back on by taking part in  Darkness Falls, a 7 mile nocturnal trail run. The race course is beautiful in the daylight. In the dark, it was a bit tricky, thanks to Sandy's legacy. The hills are evil by day or night. I think I actually did it a little faster in the dark than when I tried it by daylight.

Here's my secret to the crucial last week of training: lay around in the dark reading a Dylan biography with a head lamp while nursing a bad back, eating Cheetos and drinking box wine. On race day morning,in lieu of carb loading, head to the local greasy spoon for a massive hillbilly breakfast, complete with bacon, eggs, taters, biscuits and gravy. Eat until exhausted. During the race, try to stay on one's feet and not fall in the river.

That's how us elite athletes rock em.

Now you know.

October 29, 2012

No climate change here, boss!

I have a friend who has worked tirelessly for peace and justice for about as long as I've been in the world. He just keeps at it whether it is considered to be cool or not...and most of the time, it's not. He kind of reminds me of one of those toy punching bags that keep bouncing back no matter how many times it gets smacked down.

His passion these days is working on climate change, which is kind of hard in WV, the heart of denial. Our ruling class here is pretty much pledged to the idea that anything the coal industry doesn't like can't be true. Their strategy seems to be to deny it as long as possible, then say nothing could have been done about it anyway.

I think time is on his side in one respect: it's going to get harder and harder to deny it, this storm being a case in point. The only question is whether that realization will come too late.

Meanwhile, I'm watching creek levels in WV and wondering what Sandy will have in store for friends near and far.

MINI MOBY-DICK FIX. Here's a word from Ishmael to start off the week:

…as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it-would they let me-since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.

MEDICAID is on the menu this election.

IT'S A SMALL WORLD. Click here for cool pictures of very small things.


October 27, 2012

Happy trails

Despite the dry summer and fall (so far) it's a great year for fall colors. And it was a great misty morning for a seven mile trail run through some beautiful terrain. There is something about running on trails that is very different from pounding on roads. For one thing, it imposes a kind of mindfulness meditation on every step you take. For another, you forget about times and miles and enjoy the view. And it really works your core in a different way from road or track running. Next week, I'm hoping to retrace this morning's run in a night time race. Since I  managed to twist my ankle pretty badly in broad daylight on a flat part of the course, I can hardly wait to see what the damage will be next week.

NOTE: Goat Rope readers will get a brief respite from Moby-Dick.

October 25, 2012

Paying and being paid

Goat Rope these days is all about why everyone needs to read Moby-Dick for the first or umpteenth time. And I'm still on Chapter 1.

Whilst I was pondering this whale of a book this morning, it occurred to me that if one removed all the digressions and stuck to the action, our tome would shed a good several hundred pages. But a good digression is worth a discourse and a half most days and any number of plots. Besides, nobody can digress like our beloved narrator Ishmael.

I particularly appreciate the astuteness of his observation on the vast difference between receiving and doling out money:

...there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But BEING PAID,--what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

True that.

REDS AND BLUES. Here's Steven Pinker on America's political geography and why it is the way it is. (Note: I think he left out one factor, to wit, that states formerly based on slavery are more likely to sanction violence generally, where person or through things like the death penalty).

CONSERVATIVE GYNECOLOGY. I'm a little confused by recent comments from right wing male politicians regarding uteri. Specifically, how does the  recent comment about God's will fit in with the earlier one about "legitimate rape"?

APPALACHIAN COAL. Politicians around here like to blame the EPA and a certain president, but here's a look at the real engine behind coal's decline.



October 24, 2012

The universal thump

"For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials and tribulations of every kind whatsoever."--Ishmael in Moby-Dick.

Here's yet another reason why everyone should read this greatest American novel: most of us are grunts one way or another and the book basically sings the greatness of gruntdom. And even if you have a good gig, you gotta serve somebody, as Dylan sang. Ishmael takes great pride in taking to sea as a simple sailor, even though it means getting ordered about and yelled at.

In his view, the human condition is such that we are all in one way or another a grunt at the disposal of some arbitrary power, even if it is simply that of an indifferent universe:
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain't a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about-however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way-either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder blades, and be content.
I don't think I have Ishmael's confidence that things equal out over time, but I appreciate the generosity of his sentiment.

WHAT HE SAID. WV's senior senator goes off on the Ryan budget here.

GRANDMOTHERS made us what we are today. Maybe even literally.

THE DONALD HATCHES A DUD. Not much of a Trump card. (Full disclosure: the Spousal Unit and I used to dream of a 2012 Trump/Palin ticket purely for the entertainment value. You betcha.)


October 23, 2012

I felt so symbolic

We interrupt Goat Rope's regularly scheduled Moby-Dick series to celebrate a nice little victory. As noted earlier in this blog, members of Charleston WV's African American community and many white allies mobilized over the last year to add the name of Mary C. Snow, a prominent black educator, to the new West Side Elementary School.

This post from February shows what it's like when hundreds of people turn out for a school board meeting to make a stand. And this post from July celebrates the fact that community members overcame resistance and converted former opponents to support the name change.

On Tuesday night, I was back in the neighborhood and was thrilled to see that it had actually happened. A friend had previously circulated a picture, but I thought it might have been photo-shopped. Like doubting Thomas of old, I had to experience the reality for myself. And it was sweet.

Yes, it was primarily a symbolic victory. Yes, we have much bigger problems to deal with. As a general rule I prefer hard targets (as in policy wins) to symbolic victories, but it occurs to me that humans are, after all, creatures of sign and symbol. And that symbolic victories are sweet as well.

(I am reminded of the lyrics of my favorite song from the 1990s, Mr. Jones by Counting Crows: "I felt so symbolic yesterday.")

POLLS, JESUS, POLITICS AND ALL THAT are discussed in the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

THE RAW AND THE COOKED. Was cooking the trick that helped early humans develop such big brains? Maybe.

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING what was up with former Massey CEO Don Blankenship after Frodo melted the Ring he retired from the company, click here.


October 22, 2012

Water and meditation

The theme at Goat Rope these days, with some interruptions, is Moby-Dick and why everyone who hasn't should drop everything and read it. Or listen to a good recording of it. Or do either one again if one already has.

Here's another reason to do it: Melville says things in there that many of us have already thought or felt, only he says it  better. Or maybe he articulates something that was always in us, if somewhat vague and unformed.

Here's an example (and we're still in Chapter 1). Ever since I was a kid, I was drawn to water. Creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, and the occasional ocean. Even a good mud puddle will do in a pinch. The absence of water, as in a drought, feels to me like the hatred of God. There's something soothing and calming about it.  Sometimes I just want to gaze at it and do nothing.

Ishmael put it way better:

Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries- stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

COALFIELD BLUES. Here's a great AP story on hard times in the coalfields.

TALKING SENSE AGAIN on the economy is Paul Krugman.

SPEAKING OF WHITE WHALES, this one can imitate human speech.


October 21, 2012

To clear the palate

Goat Rope's ongoing series on Moby-Dick will resume tomorrow, as will relevant links on social justice issues. But for now, how about a little viral Korean hip-hop.


October 18, 2012

How not to kill yourself

Every so often I teach a college class in sociology, often on the topic of "Deviance and Social Control." One of the topics usually covered is suicide. Sometimes I bring in literary readings, including Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech (soliloquy being too difficult a word to spell); a section of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf (not to be confused with the 70s rock group); and good old Moby-Dick.

Of the three, Moby has the best practical advice for people who may have self destructive thoughts but want to avoid acting them out. He has a safety plan. Safety plans are familiar to people working in the field of domestic violence. Potential victims are encouraged to devise a plan for escape if things ever get bad enough. As I understand it, even batterers undergoing treatment in intervention and prevention programs are encouraged to use safety plans when they feel the tension level rising. It's a way of getting the hell out of a situation when before the situation gets to you.

Ishmael, the windy narrator of Melville's classic, has his own safety plan when he gets a bit too morbid:

 Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.
Maybe going off to sea on a whaling ship isn't the best option for people today when the hypos get the upper hand, but the basic idea is a good one. When things go bad, break the pattern.

We're just on the first paragraph of this greatest American novel and there's already been a potentially life saving tip. Who knows what else we'll find.

HERE'S ANOTHER GOOD IDEA: to wit, how not to give away the store and wind up with nothing when it comes to economic development incentives.

GOVERNMENT: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? Here are some ideas

SPEAKING OF READING, here's a look at how important it can be for the brain development of children. I say, make the little ones read Moby-Dick! (Actually, I think I did read a kid's version when I was young, which might explain a lot.)



RIP Seamus

We interrupt Goat Rope's regularly scheduled programming to announce with sadness the passing of Seamus McGoogle (2001-2012), whose image has oft adorned this blog. Seamus died after a long illness. Always a dour kitty, his discomforts towards the end did little to lighten his mood. He was loved nonetheless. We wish him a fortunate rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, where he could dourly work toward ultimate Enlightenment under the best of conditions.

JUST ONE LINK TODAY. It looks like some candidates for the WV House from both parties are interested in the idea of a Future Fund or mineral severance tax trust fund.


October 17, 2012

A mighty theme

It's been a long time since I've gone off on a long literary jag, but I feel one coming on now. And the topic guessed it...Moby-Dick. I have hit on that book now and then but am finally up to the challenge of really rolling in it. I was prompted by two events.

First, I found my old, beat up and highlighted copy of the book where it had been lingering in my daughter's house. Second, I listened to Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick?, which reminded me how much I love it. I think I can come up with more reasons than he did as to why the book is worth many a read.

As Melville said, "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." Perhaps the same can be said of blog posts. While I'm not sure that my series on Moby will be mighty, I can think of no mightier book to base one on.

Consider yourselves forewarned, shipmates.

INCOME INEQUALITY may be a bar to economic growth.

THE WRECKING CREW. Bad economists as WMDs?

THE TRAVAILS OF TRUE LOVE are especially hard for this ancient lizard.


October 14, 2012


I know that there are some people out there who are outraged when someone writes in a book or underlines passages. I do not subscribe to this viewpoint, which is just as well since I am one of those people who does that kind of thing. To me it's more like adding value. When I read library or otherwise used books, I'm always interested in what others have written in the margins and give underlined or highlighted passages a closer look.

Those markings can come in really handy in books you read more than once. I was delighted a few days ago to find my old beat up and marked up copy of Moby-Dick in my daughter's house. I'd been making do with another one, but this one had most the coolest passages underlined and bookmarked. Sure, it's in pretty bad shape and the binding has started to come apart, but I'd prefer it to a new one any day.

For that matter, aside from rare editions and precious manuscripts, I think books are meant to be consumed and used. If I was a real writer, I'd be more honored if my books were read, re-read, marked on, underlined, lived with and used up than if they sat in pristine condition unused on a shelf.

Speaking of Moby-Dick, I feel a long literary jag coming on.

NO LINKS today.

October 11, 2012

How soon is very soon? Not soon enough

El Cabrero has been a terribly inconsistent blogger these days. I'm out of state at a staff retreat, and staff retreats in my organization are kind of like endurance events...minus the health benefits.

However, this tantalizing bit of news can't go by uncelebrated. Ken Ward reports in the Charleston Gazette that additional federal indictments related to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which killed 29 coal miners in West Virginia in April 2010, will be forthcoming "very soon."

Previously, the federal prosecutor said that indictments were coming "soon." That was a few weeks back if memory serves.

I'm hoping the "very soon" is much sooner than "soon." It can't come soon enough for me. I feel like a little kid on a long car trip. Are we there yet?

ON THAT NOTE, here's a related story.

JUST DO IT. Here you can learn nearly 130,000 good reasons why expanding Medicaid would be good for WV


October 09, 2012

Theory and experience

I've read through many tomes and scientific treatises that dismiss the idea of free will as a fantasy. I can readily admit that human freedom is constrained by things like genetics, conditioning, experience and social situations but somehow I can't completely give up the notion. 

I thought about this again, freely or not, whilst perusing James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, in which the  latter said, "All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it." I think I'm in the experience column.

Note: I'm about to hit the road for a while so posts will be irregular.

INEQUALITY. Here's another look at why it matters.



October 05, 2012

Leveling out

El Cabrero has been a bit of a blogging slacker lately, a trend that may continue over the next several days due to road trips and such. I'm not sure whether it was a question of being tired or uninspired, but I guess the two might be related.

Anyhow, here's an interesting tidbit I came across lately from the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett:

A dramatic example of how reductions in inequality can lead to rapid improvements in health is the experience of Britain during the two world wars. Increases in life expectancy for civilians during the war decades were twice those seen throughout the rest of the twentieth century. In the decades which contain the world wars, life expectancy increased between 6 and 7 years for men and women, whereas in the decades before, between and after, life expectancy increased by between 1 and 4 years. Although the nation's nutritional status improved with rationing in the Second World War, this was not true for the First World War, and material living standards declined during both wars. However, both wartimes were characterized by full employment and considerably narrower income differences--the result of deliberate government policies to promote co-operation with the war effort. During the Second World War, for example, working-class incomes rose by 9 per cent, while incomes of the middle class fell by 7 per cent; rates of relative poverty were halved. The resulting sense of camaraderie and social cohesion not only led to better health--crime rates also fell. 
Three thoughts occur to me. One, it would be nice to get the same result minus the world war thing. Two, these days wars don't do much to reduce inequality. Instead, they only make it great in lots of areas.  Three, the Whackadoodle element would call the authors freedom haters.

NOT SO BAD. Here's economist Dean Baker on the latest jobs numbers, which are giving Whackadoodles hissy fits.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. Lots of people have wondered whether things have really changed since Massey Energy was bought out by Alpha Natural Resources. I've always said that whatever its flaws, Alpha is significantly less evil than Massey was back in the day. In fact, in the extremely unlikely event that I was in charge of Alpha, I'd make the company slogan be: "Alpha...we're less evil." Can you imagine former Massey CEO Don Blankenship talking like this?



October 03, 2012

A radical Tory

I've been making my slow way through James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, mostly to indulge my affection for 18th century English prose. Johnson was an interesting person, one for whom conversation was a game of one-up-manship.

His political views were generally very conservative. His groundbreaking dictionary of the English language included the following definitions of the two parties of his day:

Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig.
Whig: The name of a faction.
Yet on a critical issue of his day this hardcore Tory was ahead of his time. At one point, Boswell noted disapprovingly that "He had always been very  zealous against slavery in every form..." He even went so far as to drink a toast at Oxford in which he said "Here's to the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies."

Unlike Boswell, Johnson had no sympathy for the American revolutionaries of the 1770s. In fact, he put his finger precisely on a major contradiction of the period when he asked, "how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of the negroes?"

Good question.

FRAME THIS. Here's George Lakoff on what to look for in tonight's presidential debates.

COOL RANT by a good friend here.

IT'S NICE TO BE IMPORTANT, but it's more important to be nice. If you're a baboon anyway.


October 02, 2012

Stoned and unequal

Yesterday I happened to attend a meeting of WV county officials and had a great conversation with a prosecutor from the southern coalfields who spoke of the awful epidemic of prescription drug abuse in that part of the state. Low income people and low income communities are the hardest hit.

Those familiar with WV will recall that these southern counties are both the ones from which huge amounts of coal have been taken and are also those with high rates of poverty and unemployment, big inequalities in terms of power, and not a whole lot in the way of empowerment for most people.

By chance, this morning I read the following passage about an experiment with monkeys in the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett:

In a clever experiment, researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina took twenty macaque monkeys and housed them for a while in individual cages They next housed the animals in groups of four and observed the social hierarchies which developed in each group, noting which animals were dominant and which were subordinate. They scanned the monkey's brains before and after they were put into groups. Next, they taught the monkeys that they could administer cocaine to themselves by pressing a lever-they could take as much or as little as they liked.
The results of this experiment were remarkable. Monkeys that had become dominant had more dopamine activity in their brains than they had exhibited before becoming dominant, while monkeys that became subordinate when housed in groups showed no changes in their brain chemistry. The dominant monkeys took much less cocaine than the subordinate monkeys. In effect, the subordinate monkeys were medicating themselves against the impact of their low social status. 
Golly, it's a good that that never happens with people, huh?

ECONOMIC JUSTICE 101. Here's a take on the subject by yours truly.

ZOMBIE BEES? A friend of mine from upstate New York just sent me this link. Thanks, CR! The good news is that at least zombie bees don't eat other bees and turn the ones they bite into other zombies.


September 28, 2012

Good turkeys gone bad

I think the free range turkeys of Goat Rope Farm may have committed a federal crime this week by blocking the road in such a way as to prevent a mail carrier from discharging her duty. The Spousal Unit was able to intervene and chase the flock off the road before too much damage was done so I'm hoping they avoid prosecution. Previously, they did the same to an electric company truck (gas trucks are fair game). They have also chased away dogs and deer.

I'm not sure they're very smart but they have great self esteem and are living proof of the power of acting in solidarity.

September 27, 2012

The war on whatever

It is an article of faith among West Virginia's ruling class that any and all of the ills of the coal industry are solely the fault of a certain black man in the White House and his diabolical EPA. Actually, I imagine that some of the smarter ones know better but still feel obligated to pretend that this is the case.

I guess it would be too inconvenient to recognize that the gas boom in northern WV has anything to do with the coal bust in southern WV.

Many "conservatives" around the country are joining the "war on coal" chorus. The irony here is that the real driving force behind the relative decline of coal as an energy source is the market which these same people worship as a god.

Meanwhile, here's a bit of rationality about the subject from the Christian Science Monitor.

September 26, 2012

Point taken

This blog is dedicated to the cutting edge of positive social change...and like other stuff too. One example of the "other stuff" category was a link featured in yesterday's post about a scientific study of longevity records of Korean eunuchs from the 14th to early 20th century which suggested that castration might lead to a longer life.

(Which makes me think that longevity is sometimes overrated.)

I received an email yesterday from a Goat Rope reader who pointed out that such surgical measures did little to promote longevity for members of a certain religious outer space cult back in the 1990s. Duly noted.

One can only hope that anyone today who adopts such a drastic measure in search of a few more years of life is selective in his choice of religious affiliation.

REDISTRIBUTING WEALTH seems to be OK with some folks when the direction is upward.

BAD LIT, REVISITED. Here's an item dealing with the true love a certain vice presidential candidate has for a really bad writer.


September 25, 2012

Let them eat emergency rooms

It's kind of entertaining these days watching the whole political circus. Or circuses, to be more exact, there being so many to choose from. I must admit to being amused by presidential candidate Mitt Romney's latest prescription for health care for the uninsured: using the emergency room.

Ironically, this is something that another Mitt Romney not so long ago denounced as "socialism," as this Huffington Post article points out. His  Massachusetts plan, this Mitt said, was designed to put a stop to that.

On the other hand, many conservatives view the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, as socialistic, even though it was modeled largely on the Massachusetts plan associated with you know who.

Is anybody else confused yet? Would the real socialist please stand up...

Meanwhile, for all the talk about how unpopular health care reform is supposed to be, I imagine there would be hell to pay if provisions of it were actually repealed.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, WV is on the verge of making decisions about how its health care system will unfold. I wouldn't look for a lot of boldness here.

HE'S RIGHT THIS TIME. El Cabrero is not always on the same page with David Brooks, but I think he nailed with this piece on conservatism old and new. To tell the truth, I kind of like the old version.

A DRASTIC CURE. An historical study of Korean eunuchs suggest that castration could lead to longer lives. Which leads me to ask, who wants to live forever anyway?


September 24, 2012

Not to be

Here's a bit of a downer dug up by researchers at West Virginia University: suicide has now surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of deaths by injury. Further, as Science Daily reports, the number of deaths by injury have increased even while deaths by disease have decreased. The suicide mortality rate was 15 percent higher in 2009 than in 2000.

I find myself wondering to what extent this change is due to the skyrocketing increase in military suicides. My guess is that it is a significant factor.

The French sociology pioneer Emile Durkheim was probably the first to systematically study suicide. His 1897 work on the subject is still extremely influential. One major take home point from his work is the argument that this most seemingly individual of acts is a reflection of larger social facts or social currents going on within a given society.

To coin a phrase, there's something happening here.

September 21, 2012

Full house

Earlier this year, I worked with several allies on a report about prison overcrowding in West Virginia. We were hoping that the report might nudge the WV legislature into passing a pretty decent bill to begin addressing the problem.

Things looked pretty good until everything fell apart on the last day of the session. As a fallback, state leaders contacted the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments to study WV's system and make suggestions for addressing the problem. Some of those were released yesterday (and echo some of the points we made in our report).

The Justice Center has done similar work in other states, including some very conservative ones, so maybe their work can help provide political cover for state politicians to finally take action on this issue. It's all about reducing mass incarceration and saving money without compromising public safety. Here's hoping we can move this along.

On the same subject, here's an op-ed by my friend the Rev. Matthew Watts on mass incarceration and how it impacts the African-American community.

CALLING BS. Here's Media Matters for America on the whole "war on coal" thing.