December 31, 2007

RESOLUTIONS


Caption: This man has resolved to cut back on the brewskis.

At this time of year, lots of Americans make New Year's resolutions, many of which last about as long as a WV snowstorm.

El Cabrero is actually pretty big on making resolutions, although they don't necessarily correspond with the New Year. I think there's something cool about picking some fairly distant goal and then putting in the time and effort to get there. Some take way longer than planned. My BA, for example, was acquired on the 10 year plan.

Some of the kinds of resolutions that I've enjoyed the most were of the physical type, like studying martial arts or training for a marathon or triathlon.

To me a marathon is a classical kind of goal. Most people (in their right mind anyway) can't or won't run 26.2 miles at a go. Even if you don't injure yourself trying, the body runs out of gas after 20 miles or so and most of the rest is run on some combination of guts or stupidity (the latter in my case). The secret, if there is one, is paying for it with training and focusing on one mile at a time.

Training for one usually involves months of methodical work, such as intense long runs, intervals, and tempo runs at least three times a week. I've probably run my last, as in spite of all that my heart is probably in worse shape than Dick Cheney's.

Triathlons are good ones too. The combination of swimming, biking, and running is easier on the joints than a marathon but just as intense. This is all the more so if one swims like a stone like me.

One year I went on a tear and resolved to learn a little trigonometry, having gotten off the math train with geometry in high school. That one didn't last too long, although I amused myself for a while with sine, cosine and whatever the other thingie is problems.

Several years ago, I resolved to learn Spanish. The secret in this case is marrying a teacher of the same, although I wouldn't recommend that to everybody. I can read some, babble a bit, and comprehend some if spoken slowly but I know enough to bring a native speaker to tears in a matter of minutes. I'm working on ancient Greek now, but the jury is still out on that one.

Sometimes, I resolve to do kind of random things, like read Thomas Mann's eternal novel The Magic Mountain, which is kind of like the Seinfeld show of German literature. When I got done, I wasn't sure why it seemed so important at the time.

Occasionally, I resolve to do the truly impossible, like keep my desk cleaned off and eliminate piles of paper, but that never happens. As Dirty Harry said, a man should know his limitations.

Happy New Year!

QUESTIONING THE MARKET GOD. Here's an item from the NY Times about second thoughts on an idol with feet of clay.

ON A RELATED NOTE, here's a good Gazette editorial on growing economic inequality. And here's another one all the way from Minnesota along the same lines.

HOW GOOD AND HOW PLEASANT IT IS WHEN THE BRETHREN DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY. Except maybe in Bethlehem at Christmas time.

THINKING DIFFERENTLY. Here's an interesting item on innovation.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 29, 2007

WEEKEND SPECIAL: CAT DENIES RUMORS



GOAT ROPE FARM-- Wu, orange kitten and all-round athletic supporter, has denied rumors that he has been tapped to coach football at WVU in the wake of the departure of Rich Rodriguez.

Wu did not return phone calls, although he issued a statement through his publicist that he is "more interested in chasing balls around than in telling other people how to do it."

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 28, 2007

THE GOAT ROPE BOOK SHELF


Image courtesy of fromoldbooks.org

"Unto my Books—so good to turn—
Far ends of tired Days..."-- Emily Dickinson

One way of wrapping up the year is to look back on the year's reading. Here are some of El Cabrero's greatest hits of 2007 (meaning books read but probably not written then).

CLASSICS. I was in a Greco-Roman mood this year and spent an inordinate amount of reading time plowing through quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. For reasons that now escape me, I revisited Herodotus' Histories and Thucydides' Peloponnesian War, some of Plutarch's Greek and Roman Lives, the Oresteia of Aeschylus,and topped it off with Suetonius' Twelve Caesars. I wanted to write here about Suetonius, but the sexual habits of the Caesars seemed a bit out there for a family blog.

POETRY didn't get as much attention as I would have liked, but I did give Billy Collins' Nine Horses and Sailing Alone Around the Room a go.

FICTION. For some reason, I thought I might be a better person if I went back to Brothers Karamazov, but that didn't seem to happen as far as I can tell. A Separate Peace was good. I know most people read that one in jr. high or high school, but I didn't get the memo. Cooper's Last of the Mohicans was kind of fun. And to clear the palate, I gave Kenzaburo Oe's Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness a go (thanks SS and sorry it took me 9 years to finally read it). This was about my fourth time through Heart of Darkness, but I think I finally got it.

PHILOSOPHY. What can I say? It was a Nietzsche year (but then aren't they all?). I hit Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals. This year I had to finally go out and get my own copy of Birth of Tragedy. The Wagner parts are kind of loopy but I like the talk about Apollo and Dionysus and art redeeming life and making it bearable. El Cabrero leans to the Apollonian in most things except liquid refreshments.

RELIGION. Anne Lamott's Grace Eventually was a hoot. I'm afraid I can't say the same about Karl Barth's Credo. Elaine Pagels' and Karen L. King's Reading Judas was an interesting take on a recently discovered apocryphal gospel.

BIOGRAPHY. Craig Nelson's Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations was one of this year's best. Antony Everitt's Augustus wasn't bad either. Another good one was Walter Isaacson's Einstein, although I zoned out on the physics parts.

About 10 of the above were in audio. If you have any favorites, I'm all ears.

ASSASSINATION. Here's NY Times coverage.

WAR. Don't blame our genes.

PROSPERITY "THEOLOGY" of the give-us-lots-of-money-and-God-will-make-you-rich variety is coming under greater scrutiny.

RETIREMENT WOES. Retirement security--or the lack thereof--is a huge and growing issue. Here are some possible solutions from the Economic Policy Institute.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 27, 2007

HOW TO GET MORE READING DONE


Image courtesy of fromoldbooks.org.

During the fairly slack week between Christmas and New Year's, El Cabrero has decided to reveal some trade secrets. I've run across several people recently who say they'd like to read more books. And, since this is New Year's resolution time for many people, that might be a goal for some in the coming year.

I have stumbled upon a method that allows me to go through quite a few books. (Note: I can't reveal how many lest my employers realize what a slacker I am.) My method involves two strategies, one hard and one easy.

First the hard one: try to get up early enough to spend 45 minutes to an hour reading. I usually have a pile of about five going at any one time on different enough subjects to keep them separate. I try to turn the page of each one twice, then move on to the next one. Then, when you get close to the end of one, concentrate on finishing it.

Then there's the easy way: listen up! Many public libraries have good collections of recorded books on CDs, audio tapes, or even these new little recorded book thingies, the exact name of which eludes me at the moment. Even though I live kind of out there, there are three public libraries with decent collections of unabridged books within an hour's travel and I am usually abusing borrowing privileges of at least two of them at any given time.

With those gizmos, any time spent driving, jogging, chopping wood, mowing the lawn, chasing goats, or doing mindless tasks is reading time.

Here are some advantages of listening. First, some books, particularly the classics, were originally meant to be heard. That's especially true for things like The Iliad and the Odyssey. And how long has it been since someone read aloud to you anything you wanted to hear?

Historical note: the idea of an individual reading silently to him- or herself is an innovation of recent centuries. Traditionally, books were read aloud to more than one person.

Then there's the boredom factor. There are some books I'd probably never get through in print version. But if I'm out jogging for an hour, it ain't like I can switch channels. I have found that one can run, drive, or mow one's way through almost any book.

Try it--you might like it.

THE DARK SIDE OF MICRO LENDING. Micro-lending is often held up as a panacea for solving world poverty. However, a recent article from Business Week shows the dark side as many for-profit institutions charge outrageous interest to poor people in developing countries where there is little regulation.

One corporation cashing in is--you guessed it--Wal-Mart:


In Mexico, it charges interest rates that might set off popular and political revolts back home, although Wal-Mart describes its terms as appropriate to the Mexican market. At one store west of Mexico City, a 32-inch LG plasma TV with a price tag of $957 can ultimately cost as much as $1,474, thanks to a 52-week payment plan that carries an annual percentage rate (APR) of 86%.


DARK AS A DUNGEON. Here's an item from the Boston Globe about how conflicts over mountaintop removal mining are raging in West Virginia.

THE BEETLES. The British scientist J.B.S. Haldane supposedly said that the Creator, if he exists, has "an inordinate fondness for beetles." Here's an item on why they have done so well.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 26, 2007

WEST VIRGINIA CHAINSAW MASSACRE (WITH THE FOUR PART HARMONY)


Caption: That's what I'm talking about.

El Cabrero was prepared to write a scathing critique of the commercialism and materialism of the Christmas holiday and how sad it is that we seek fulfillment in the accumulation of toys and gadgets--but I've been forced to cancel previously scheduled blogging to make the following urgent announcement:

Me got BIG chainsaw for Christmas! Yeah, man...

It was from La Cabra.

I had a little one before but this one puts the power in power tool. I feel much better about myself as a person as a result.

But it's not all Freudian symbolism. I live far enough out in the sticks where a chainsaw is a basic accessory to transportation and sometimes a necessary precondition thereto. Then there's the whole wood stove thing, which is a plus this time of year, not to mention any number of other activities which Marx referred to under the rubric "the idiocy of rural life."

But you know, in fairness to President Bush, who has been criticized here with something like clockwork regularity, there's something to be said for spending a weekend every now and then cutting brush at the ranch.

But this Christmas wasn't all about materialism. There was also time for infantile humor. La Cabra and I attended services at a local Episcopal church where we were delighted to hear no less than two hymns sung that included the word "ass." That was awesome.

Oh yeah, then there was family stuff.

All in all, it wasn't a bad Christmas. I hope yours was OK too.

SPEAKING OF CHRISTMAS, here's the latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes From Under the Fig Tree, which includes reflections about the same as well as a new word for our vocabularies: pronoia. Check it out.

ANIMAL STEROID SCANDAL. It's not just baseball players--this NY Times article shows that birds and bugs are using chemicals to enhance performance too:

Frown though we may on steroid-style supplementation as cheating, or as competitiveness taken to unsporting and unnatural extremes, in nature such pious niceties do not apply. In nature, as the saying has it, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you win — and animals will do or ingest the most outrageous, dangerous, blechy things in their quest for victory.

Egyptian vultures consume large amounts of cow and goat dung to extract traces of plant pigments that will turn the birds’ pasty faces a sexually alluring shade of mustard. A male goat will demonstrate his ardor for a nanny by drinking her urine and soaking his beard and belly in his own. Hedgehogs, according to the new “Book of Animal Ignorance,” will gnaw on the skin of poisonous toads to incorporate the amphibian toxin into its saliva, which it spits up and down its spiny frame until it is virtually immune to predation. Hedgehogs are so eager to coat themselves in foul chemicals, it seems, that they’ve been known to start salivating and self-anointing at the merest whiff of odiferous items like cigar butts, furniture polish, boiled fish and, I’m sorry to report, coffee beans.


Why don't they just get a BIG chainsaw?

EDUCATION, INCOME, EARNINGS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. Here's my suggestion as presented in a Gazette-Mail op-ed this past Sunday.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 24, 2007

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS



Caption: Wu, the newest addition to the Goat Rope Farm menagerie, joins with the rest (with the possible exception of the goats) in wishing all a Merry Christmas. He's already trying to get a leg up on the New Year.

By way of a Christmas Greeting, here's a little selection from Act I, Scene i of Hamlet as spoken by Marcellus:

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 Hallowed, and so gracious, is that time.


Here's hoping that holds up this holiday season.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: SUSPENDED

December 22, 2007

WEEKEND SPECIAL: THE CANINE FILM CRITIC ON "CHRISTMAS STORY"


Goat Rope is pleased to offer a special repeat Christmas edition of one of the canine film critic's finest reviews. In this holiday feature, Goat Rope Farm film critic Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY) will discuss the perennial seasonal favorite, "A Christmas Story."

Once again, we must remind our readers that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury from crashing into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he has on occasion been known to transpose the plots of the films he discusses. Nevertheless, we believe that his insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that features such as these will elevate the level of public discourse and contribute to a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

And finally, the human and animal staff of Goat Rope, with the possible exception of the goats, join in wishing you and yours a happy holiday season.

THE CANINE FILM CRITIC EXPLAINS "A CHRISTMAS STORY"

OK, so this movie is awesome. Some people may not think this movie needs explaining by a film critic but there's a lot going on there that you might not get at first.

First, there's this kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas so bad it's driving him nuts. But everybody keeps telling him he'll put his eye out with it.

What they don't know is that he really needs this BB gun because this evil robot from the future who looks like some kind of muscle governor is coming back and trying to kill him.

The evil robot catches the kid and puts him in a prison down south where he makes friends with everybody by eating 50 eggs.

I could probably eat 50 eggs if Moomus and Doodus would let me...

The 50 eggs is sort of a symbol for the 12 days of Christmas. Fifty is like the square root of twelve.

Anyway, he escapes from New York and these Christmas ghosts show him what's going to happen to him if he doesn't straighten up. So then he trades in his BB gun and buys Christmas presents for everybody, even the evil robot whose name is Tiny Tim, who gets the girl that works at the fashion magazine.

It's awesome, especially if you eat eggs and popcorn while you watch it.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: SUBLIME

December 21, 2007

CHRISTIANS AND LIONS



Caption: The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio, courtesy of wikipedia.

Aside from links and comments about current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is the early history of Christianity. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

Most people are aware that persecution of Christians by Romans was a prominent feature of early Christian life until the early 4th century. However, it wasn't all lions all the time. With some exceptions, persecutions tended to be sporadic and local and were often instigated by angry citizens or mobs rather than the Roman state.

The first major Roman persecution was that of Nero around the year 64. The emperor, who was nuts by even Roman imperial standards, blamed Christians for a fire of which he was the likely cause. This is what the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about the incident in book 15 of his Annals:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.


Although this would be cold comfort to the persecuted, including possibly Peter and Paul, Christians under Nero were not persecuted for their beliefs but rather for the bogus claim of arson.

Often, local persecutions were initiated by angry pagan citizens who pressured the state to take action against believers. Roman provincial governors had two main priorities: keep the peace and collect taxes (not necessarily in that order), and might yield to such pressures. Some early Christian martyrologies portray them as reluctant persecutors.

Given that early Christians were a pretty inoffensive group, what was behind the persecutions? In some cases, Christians would be blamed for various natural disasters, diseases, or other misfortunes, presumably because the gods were angry that their worship was neglected.

In other cases, Christians were believed to routinely engage in orgies, incest, and even ritual cannibalism. This came about through misinformation about basic Christian beliefs and practices. For example, it was known that Christianity was supposed to be a religion of love, that believers called each other brother and sister and exchanged a holy kiss, and that their most sacred ritual, the Eucharist, involved partaking of the flesh and blood of the Son of God. Some people evidently heard a few of those key words and drew their own conclusions.

More often, particularly in the systematic and empire-wide persecutions, which got worse in the third and early fourth centuries, Christians were persecuted for refusing to honor the divine genius of the emperor, a simple ritual that might involve burning a piece of incense or participating in a public sacrifice. Christians who did so were usually released, while those who refused could suffer horrible martyrdom.

In general, Rome didn't really care what people believed, as long as they participated in such public demonstrations of loyalty, which was probably viewed in much the same way that many Americans regard the Pledge of Allegiance. Sad to say, not too many years have passed since groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses were mistreated in this country for refusing to say the pledge.

One of the many sad ironies of history is the alacrity with which the persecuted become persecutors themselves.

IT'S NOT JUST THE UNINSURED. The scope of America's health care crisis goes beyond the more than 45 million uninsured Americans. According to Families USA,

While much national attention has focused on the uninsured, there is an almost invisible but growing crisis among insured families, as rising health care costs devour an ever-growing portion of their pre-tax income. In the United States, 61.6 million people under the age of 65, 82.4 percent of which are insured, are in families that will spend more than 10 percent of their pre-tax family income on health care costs in 2008, according to a report issued today by the consumer health organization Families USA.

In addition, there are 17.8 million people in families that will spend more than 25 percent of their pre-tax income on health care costs in 2008.


Here's a summary of their new study with a link to the full report.

WORK AND HEALTH. A new study finds that "Employees who have more control over their daily activities and do challenging work they enjoy are likely to be in better health..."

TAX CUTS OR INVESTMENTS? Here's an item by Robert Borosage about alternatives for moving the economy out of the doldrums.

TO READ OR NOT TO READ? The correct answer is the former. Unfortunately, that's not happening as much as it used to. Here's a New Yorker article on that lamentable trend. Here's a sample:

In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.


"OH DEER," HE WHALED. According to this science item, whales may have descended from tiny deer-like creatures. Check out the picture.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 20, 2007

CHRISTIANS AND JEWS


Caption: The western wall of the Jerusalem Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme for this week's Goat Rope is early Christian history. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

One of the most tragic features of Christian history is its role in the rise of anti-Semitism, which has had horrible consequences over the centuries.

It's important to remember that Jesus was a Jew who spent virtually his entire ministry among Jews, with perhaps a few exceptional encounters such as those related in the gospels. All of his earliest followers were Jewish. The whole New Testament, with the exception of Luke, Acts and possibly some minor epistles, was written by Jewish believers in Jesus. Likewise, many early converts were either Jewish or were Gentile "God fearers" sympathetic to Judaism.

However, controversies soon arose between the new religion and the old, reflecting Christian anger over the failure of more Jews to convert. While many Jews of the time expected some kind of Messiah, for the overwhelming majority, Jesus did not fit the bill. He was, after all, a peasant who was executed in the most degrading way and many recalled a passage in Deuteronomy that said that anyone hanged on a tree was accursed by God (21:23).

Early Christians engaged in a series of polemics in which they attempted to present themselves as the legitimate heirs of the Hebrew Bible and Jews as those who rejected their redeemer and ultimately God. The Jewish connections were further frayed as more and more Gentiles joined the movement.

Also, as early Christians attempted to survive in a Roman world, they began to shift the blame for his crucifixion from Rome to the Jewish leaders and even to the entire Jewish people. At the same time, Roman anti-Judaism increased after the Jewish revolts of the first and second centuries which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the disperal of Jews throughout the empire.

Finally, when the church became the official religion of the empire, the state was fully set for centuries of bloody persecution.

IRAQ. Despite the Bush administration's efforts to put a triumphal spin on events in Iraq, the Washington Post reported the following:

Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.


A GOOD RESOURCE for current information about the need for "An Economy that Works for All" is here.

MORE ON THE JUDICIAL HELLHOLE CLAPTRAP can be found here and here.

NEW DRUGS could change the nature of death, according to this Wired Science item. The post speculates that with new anti-aging drugs, people would still die, but without a lot of the distasteful preliminaries.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 19, 2007

PAGANS AND CHRISTIANS


Caption: Zeus, courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero is musing this week about the history of early Christianity. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

The religious climate in the Mediterranean world in the first century of this era was a lot different from anything we're used to. Most people these days, for example, believe in one God (sometimes less).

In the Roman empire, atheism was virtually nonexistent and monotheism was a minority viewpoint. Jews, the main monotheists of the time, made up maybe seven percent of the Roman empire--and many of them weren't too happy about being part of it.

Polytheism was the rule and it seemed as natural then as it does weird today. In fact, worshipping one god to the exclusion of all others was considered a kind of impiety. In classical Greek religion, the gods were like a deck of playing cards--one only made sense within a system of relationships with other ones.

There were gods and gods. Some pagans imagined one very remote supreme god, with other major gods and goddesses below that level and a host of lesser ones. Kind of like a divine pyramid. There was a divine division of labor whereby you turned to one or the other god to deal with this or that problem.

There were many views about what happens after death (ranging from nothing to a lot), but the main focus of pagan religion was on meeting temporal needs. Pagan worship consisted mainly of prayers, sacrifices and festivals designed to keep the gods happy or at least placated. They didn't require a whole lot of attention.

Here are some things about pagan religion that seem strange today. First, it didn't really matter what you believed about the gods. There was no pagan Bible or creed. The gods didn't care much what you thought about them as long as you didn't tick them off or neglect their sacrifices.

Second, ethics weren't a big part of pagan religion. It wasn't that pagans were less moral than non-pagans. Rather, questions of ethics were considered important in their own right and were more a part of philosophy or wisdom.

Third, pagan religions were pretty tolerant. Becoming a devotee of, say, Isis, didn't mean you had to neglect Zeus or couldn't be initiated in the Mysteries of Demeter.

Christianity stood out from all the other contenders as being everything paganism was not.

El Cabrero is no pagan, although I do admit to a soft spot for the Olympians. But there is something kind of nice about a pluralistic approach to the universe in an era of all too common fanaticism.

EMOTIONS AND HEALTH. There's a big connection.

SPEAKING OF HEALTH, here's an item on health care as market failure.

HELL HOLES, JUDICIAL AND OTHERWISE. Social scientists at WVU took a close look at WV's legal system and found the claims of the Chamber of Commerce about our "hellhole" status don't hold up. Here's the full report and here's a link to a report by Scott Finn from WV Public Radio. You may have to scroll down.

MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. Here's Gazette coverage for a rally held last night in Charleston.

GIANT RAT UPDATE. They found some in Indonesia five times the size of a city rat.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 18, 2007

CHRISTIANITIES


Caption: It started here but took a lot of twists and turns. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.

One of the things that is most striking and interesting about early Christianity is its diversity. Often we tend to think of "the early church" as a unified body, but that was far from the case.

Many New Testament writings attest to controversies within Christian communities within the first century (keep in mind though that the canon of the New Testament was not finally set until almost 350 years after the crucifixion of Jesus).

The writings of Paul, the earliest surviving Christian documents, attest to tensions between Paul, Peter and James, as well as others farther removed from the historical person of Jesus.

That diversity grew in the second century and was only definitely closed when the orthodox or catholic tendency received imperial support in the 4th century and unorthodox versions were suppressed or driven underground.

The version that won out, and to which El Cabrero belongs, may not have been the earliest or most popular in many places.

Not surprisingly, many controversies centered around the person of Jesus. To start with, peasants in Galilee who responded to Jesus' ministry there may have continued that tradition with little knowledge of or contact with the later church.

For some communities, such as those that circulated the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Jesus was primarily a wisdom teacher.

Christians known as Ebionites continued to observe Jewish law and regarded Jesus as a man who was "adopted" by God. At another extreme were the Docetists who believed that Jesus was a divine being who only seemed to suffer (the term Docetism is derived from the Greek word meaning "to seem").

Followers of the second century leader Marcion believed that the God of the Hebrew Bible was a lesser deity and not the loving father proclaimed by Jesus.

Some people classify Docetism and Marcionism as early forms of a much larger gnostic movement, which has Christian and non-Christian forms. Gnostics tended to regard the material world as evil and claimed to offer a path to liberation for a small spiritual elite.

The whole field of studying diverse Christian traditions exploded with the discovery of several gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945.

It makes you wonder what else is still out there somewhere.

NATURAL LAWS? Does nature have laws or just habits? Here's an interesting item on this scientific controversy.

UNIONS AND CLIMATE CHANGE. A growing number of people in the labor movement are taking the climate change issue seriously. Here's a post from the AFLCIO blog about the recent climate conference in Bali.

HELL HOLES AND HOOEY. Here's a good reality check on the state of WV's legal system. The Chamber of Whatever and allies continually issue reports about the abominable state of our courts but the data isn't there to back them up. Perhaps they will only be happy when workers and citizens no longer have access to the legal system. Thanks to the WV uber blog Lincoln Walks at Midnight for posting this.

URGENT DINOSAUR UPDATE. They found another one. This time it's a huge meat eater from the Republic of Niger:

The new species is one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs ever to have lived. Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis was probably 13-14 metres long, making it taller than a double-decker bus. It had a skull about 1.75 metres long and its teeth were the size of bananas.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 17, 2007

FROM JESUS TO CONSTANTINE


Caption: It's a long way from Jesus to Constantine. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

While lots of people are gearing up for the traditional holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, El Cabrero has been musing about the birth of Christianity, a topic I find endlessly interesting.

Historians often distinguish between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus. According to the earliest sources, the religion of Jesus consisted of his proclaiming and to a degree enacting enacting the Kingdom of God. The religion about Jesus arose in the time immediately after his crucifixion in Jerusalem around the year 30. I'm not saying the two were incompatible or inconsistent with each other, just different.

Whatever really happened, it is historically indisputable that some of his early followers claimed to experience him as a living reality after the death on the cross. Initially, the community of believers was tiny, although it grew steadily throughout the Mediterranean world despite sporadic persecutions.

Historian Bart Ehrman, who produced From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity for The Teaching Company, estimates that the number of believers grew from 20-100 people in the year 30 to 5-7 percent of the total population of the Roman Empire--around 3 to 4 million out of a total of 56 million--by the time of Constantine (circa 272-337).

Massive conversions are not necessary to account for this growth. The increase described above could have happened if Christians increased their membership by 40 percent per decade or 4 percent a year, about the rate that the Mormon church has grown. This could have simply involved the slow conversion of friends, family members, and social networks.

Major conversions did not occur until the Emperor Constantine's conversion around the year 312 (although he did not undergo baptism until he was on his deathbed). Around 313, he and co-emperor Licinius agreed to a policy of toleration for all religions, including Christianity. Once the religion gained imperial favor, many more conversions followed. By the end of the fourth century, around half of the empire's residents were Christians.

Under Emperor Theodosius I, orthodox or catholic Christianity became the state religion and pagan practices were banned.

It seems to me that the alliance of church with empire was a major and unfortunate turning point. When religion and state merge, the result usually isn't better government--it's worse religion.

FORESTS AND TREES will play a major role in any successful effort to address climate change, according to this Time article.

VETERANS' ISSUES. Here's a link to the Washington Post's ongoing series on returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

RECONCILIATION? It looks like a truce is in effect between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and WV Governor Joe Manchin. I think I liked it better the other way.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CONSERVATISM is the theme of this op-ed of mine from yesterday's Gazette-Mail.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 15, 2007

WEEKEND SPECIAL: "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE"


Goat Rope is pleased to once again feature a contribution by our official film critic Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY). And, since the holiday season is fast upon us, we have decided to reprint from last year his review of the perenially popular Christmas film "It's a Wonderful Life."

Once again, we must remind our readers that Mr. Sege sustained a head injury whilst crashing into a wall chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he sometimes transposes the plots of the films he discusses. Nevertheless, we are convinced that his insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that these weekend features will help to elevate the level of public discourse and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

A BOXER EXPLAINS "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE"

OK, so this is like everybody's all time favorite Christmas movie. It's about this Jimmy Stewart guy, except he's pretending to be someone else. That's acting, which sometimes happens in movies.

After he loses a bunch of money and thinks he messed up his whole life, he thinks about killing himself. But just before he throws himself into the river, this big twister comes and picks up his house and drops it on a witch. Only her feet are sticking out. And these little people are real happy about it.

Glenda the Good Witch tells Jimmy/the other guy that he needs to go see the Wizard to figure it all out with this angel named Toto who wants to get his wings. Toto kind of looks like a squeaky toy to me.

So anyway he takes off on the Yellow Brick Road and is joined by some hobbits, an elf and a dwarf. They have to fight off a lot of orcs and trolls, which is kind of cool.

Moomus and Doodus say I look like a cave troll...So anyway, they finally get to the wizard and destroy the ring. And when the bell rings, Jimmy gets his wings and goes back to Kansas.

And here's the thing: he could have got there all along.

The cinematography is outstanding. This is a technical film critic thing, but it's like in these old movies they take a bunch of pictures and show them quickly so it looks like people are moving around. So it looks like there are people moving around.

They say if you play Pink Floyd's The Wall while watching this movie you get real confused and depressed. I think that's only true if you run out of popcorn.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 14, 2007

THE BUDDHA IN THE BOAT


Welcome to the final day of Heart of Darkness Week at Goat Rope. What can I say? It seemed like a cheery holiday theme and I happened to be in Washington DC. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

As mentioned previously, Conrad's novel is recounted by the seaman Marlow to friends sitting at twilight on a boat. Marlow is described more than once as sitting like a Buddha.

I'm not sure how well-versed Conrad was in Buddhism, but that image really fits for this story. Particularly in the Mahayana tradition, it is the essence of a Buddha to overcome the delusions of dualistic thinking, which is the all-to-human tendency to classify the world through binary opposites like self/other, good/bad, us/them.

Dualistic thinking is also at the root of imperialist ideologies, with such pairs as civilized/barbarous, white/black, progress/primitivism, etc. Like Guatama, Marlow has gone beyond these dualities. As much as anything else, this story seems to me to be about setting up many polarities and then relativizing or demolishing them.

Two prominent examples would be colonizer/colonized and light/dark.

When the book was published (1902), Britain was near the apparent summit of its imperial power. It was a place where "the sun never set" and where a popular poet wrote of "the white man's burden."

But as the group gazes at the lights around the Thames, the recounting of the tale of the journey to the Congo begins thus:

"And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the dark places of the earth...

"I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago--the other day..."


He imagines what this "dark" country seemed like to a Roman colonizer intent on extracting tribute

Imagine him here--the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke...going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages,--precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falerian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in the wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay--cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death--death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush...


Land in a swamp, march through the wood, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him--all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination--you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.

...They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force--nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind--as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness.


Light and dark are relative and power an accident of history.

A little later, Marlow describes the European city which rules the Congo as "a whited sepulchre," borrowing an image from Jesus' attacks on the Pharisees. The "whiteness" of the imperial city is a superficial layer, concealing darkness, decay and rot within--and we haven't even made it to Africa yet.

Final comment. In a week's worth of writing about this book there's been scarcely a mention of the mad and enigmatic Kurtz who becomes the object of Marlow's quest. The Gentle Reader knows where to find him. He's up the river. Waiting.

WHAT RETIREMENT? Millions of workers, particularly younger ones, have no retirement savings:

More than one out of every three American workers born in 1990 will have zero dollars in a 401(k)-style plan at retirement, a government report said Tuesday, an ominous sign considering many businesses are dumping pension plans.


One step towards a solution would be the creation of universal voluntary accounts that workers could take from job to job and which could help them build the needed savings. Some folks in WV are working to establish such a system at the state level.

SHOUTING HEADS. A new study tells us what we kinda suspected:

Television can encourage awareness of political perspectives among Americans, but the incivility and close-up camera angles that characterize much of today’s “in your face” televised political debate also causes audiences to react more emotionally and think of opposing views as less legitimate.


COUNTING THE COST of the Iraq war is the theme of this op-ed from Madison, WI.

MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. Here's the latest on the planned rally in Charleston.

DEATH PENALTY. New Jersey became the first state in over 40 years to abolish the death penalty, a step that foes of capital punishment hope will signal a larger trend. It is interesting that something seems to be happening at the cultural level. Even in the Bush era, the number of executions has declined dramatically.

URGENT DINOSAUR UPDATE. They found a new one in Antarctica.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 13, 2007

A TAINT OF DEATH


Caption: The truth behind the lie. Native workers during King Leopold of Belgium's reign of terror in the Congo who failed to meet production quotas were punished by mutilation. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.

Reading Joseph Conrad is always challenging for me. (If this is your first visit, please click on this week's earlier posts for background on the writer and his short novel Heart of Darkness.)

Part of the reason for that may be that Polish rather than English was his first language. On the other hand, I'm not sure he'd be a cakewalk in the original either. But part of the difficulty comes from the truths he related through his fiction.

Heart of Darkness has an odd narrative device. It is told by an unnamed narrator who presumably recounts the story verbatim as told by the well-travelled and world weary Marlow, who is like an Odysseus without a home to strive for.

The setting for the storytelling is liminal. It takes place among a group of old acquaintances on a boat at twilight on the Thames near enough to the sea to feel the tides. Many of the listeners are now landsmen, though all had been to sea in the past. As the silence settles in, Marlow, who is sitting "in the pose of a meditating Buddha," begins the tale of his journey to the "Belgian" Congo which was the site of almost unimaginable colonial brutality 100 years ago (see Monday's post).

There's way too much to the story to do more than indicate here, but here are some choice nuggets from Marlow about imperialism and the ideology that tries to justify it:

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves,is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but and idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea--something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to...."


At the bottom, though, the idea/idol is a lie:

You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies--which is exactly what I hate and detest of the world--what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose...


The lie and the taint of death that accompanies it are still with us.

EXPORTING JOBS. The US has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2001, with no end in sight, according to EPI's latest snapshot.

CALL UP THE RESERVES. Cognitive reserves, that is. They may be the key to maintaining mental abilities as we age.

ANOTHER VETO on CHIP yesterday.

MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. Here's the latest, from yesterday's Gazette. It seems that publicity is more important for some people than the outcome of the trial.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 12, 2007

ART OF DARKNESS


Caption: Author Joseph Conrad. Image courtesy of wikipedia.


This week, El Cabrero is attending a conference in DC. I'm savoring the irony of writing about Heart of Darkness within view of the Bush White House.

Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness and many other works, was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Russian-dominated Poland in 1857. His father was convicted by the Czarist government of revolutionary sentiments. The family, including Jozef, was deported to northern Russia, where his mother soon died.


Note: while his parents truly were opposed to Russian rule, one didn't have to work to hard to be convicted of being a revolutionist by that government.

Before he was 20, he signed on as an apprentice on a ship and spent much of the next 20 or so years at sea. Like the narrator Marlow in Heart of Darkness, he sailed the Congo River in 1890 and personally witnessed some of the imperial brutality described in his novel.

I think of Conrad as writing about the apparent apex of colonialism much as Graham Greene wrote about the era of its apparent decline. The story was not intended to be primarily a work of political propaganda, which may have had the odd effect of making its political statement stronger.

But Conrad's concerns were not limited to the political. The darkness that he delved was existential and even cosmic. He seems to be asking what kinds of creatures we are who can do this kind of thing to one another.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's an item from Common Dreams about torture, death squads and disappearances from Central America to the Middle East.

OFF BASE. Iraq's government says the US cannot have permanent military bases there. I wasn't aware that they had a choice...

WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE AND FOUND WANTING. That's the verdict of a new study of the Bush administration's Labor Department.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 11, 2007

THE MERRY DANCE OF DEATH AND TRADE


Caption: Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Recently El Cabrero re-read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I was struck more than ever by the force of its denunciation of colonialism and imperialism. It was set in the Congo of a century ago, where the "Christian" king Leopold of Belgium and his minions perpetrated a holocaust that rivaled Hitler's. (See yesterday's post.)

I know that the interpretation of this short novel remains controversial. A colleague who is a native of Congo pointed out to me recently that the great writer Chinua Achebe thought that the novel de-humanized Africans by denying them language and culture.

Achebe has a point, but in fairness Conrad would probably get clobbered these days for presuming to speak for Africans as a European. And, with the exception of the narrator, the Europeans in the novel who do speak talk nonsense. Conrad went as far as he could go in this novel, which was pretty far. It is an unmistakable and explosive condemnation of the atrocities perpetrated not so long ago.

I first became aware of Conrad's brutal gem in the late 1970s with the release of the film Apocalypse Now, which is still one of my favorites. The film, as the reader will no doubt recall, was set not in Africa but in Vietnam, but it seems to me to be pretty close in spirit to the novel that inspired it.

But while Apocalypse Now was a film about war, Leopold's holocaust was perpetuated in a time of official "peace" in the name of Christianity, commerce and humanitarianism. Conrad described it best ironically in the tile of this post: "the merry dance of death and trade" whereby millions of people were exploited, exterminated and/or mutilated, physically or otherwise.

Sad to say, the merry dance continues, although generally in a more subtle form.

SHOCK AND ALL. Here's an interesting piece on neocons and the roots of the "shock doctrine" of disaster capitalism which was the subject of Naomi Klein's recent book.

SOCIAL EUTHANASIA. A few years ago, a dear friend and comrade applied for Social Security disability. By the time she finally got it, death was near. As this New York Times article shows, her case was not an isolated one:

Steadily lengthening delays in the resolution of Social Security disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory, now waiting as long as three years for a decision...

But in the meantime, more and more people have lost their homes, declared bankruptcy or even died while awaiting an appeals hearing, say lawyers representing claimants and officials of the Social Security Administration, which administers disability benefits for those judged unable to work or who face terminal illness.


WHAT DUMB ANIMALS? In lieu of Goat Rope's usual gratuitous animal picture, here's an item on animal intelligence. And here's one about the longstanding bond between animals and fermentation. Drink up!

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 10, 2007

CAPITALISM UNLEASHED


Caption: King Leopold II of Belgium, who claimed the Congo as his personal property, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A recent Business Week cover story asks the question, "Can Greed Save Africa?"

Far be it from me to deny that investments and enterprise have a role in development, but the snarky response that occurred to me was, didn't they try that before?

I'm thinking about the horrible atrocities perpetuated upon Africans by more economically developed countries over several centuries, and particularly about the Belgian plundering of the Congo in the 19th and 20th centuries. This vast area was the personal property of King Leopold II (1835-1909).

As the BBC put it awhile back,


While the Great Powers competed for territory elsewhere, the king of one of Europe's smallest countries carved his own private colony out of 100km2 of Central African rainforest.

He claimed he was doing it to protect the "natives" from Arab slavers, and to open the heart of Africa to Christian missionaries, and Western capitalists.


The result was a massive forced labor system for the extraction of things like ivory and rubber. The BBC estimates the death toll at 10 million, although some estimates are higher. Torture and mutilation were common. It was a human, epidemiological, and ecological disaster.

The atrocities committed there were so over the top that they were condemned by other imperialist powers, much as was the case with Spanish cruelties in the heyday of its empire centuries before.

One missionary was so horrified that he wrote the following to Leopold's agent:


I have just returned from a journey inland to the village of Insongo Mboyo. The abject misery and utter abandon is positively indescribable. I was so moved, Your Excellency, by the people's stories that I took the liberty of promising them that in future you will only kill them for crimes they commit.


The murder and mutilation in there revved up the ire of Mark Twain, who wrote the scathing King Leopold's Soliloquy in 1905.

This was also the setting for Joseph Conrad's short novel, Heart of Darkness, about which more tomorrow.

HEALTH CARE. Here's a good item from a medical journal about universal health care.

MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. It looks like out of state groups plan another event related to this case. The Logan County prosecutor has expressed concerns about the impact of such events in the case against those police say kidnapped and abused the young African-American Woman.

WORKER FREEDOM BILL. If we're ever going to try to expand the ranks of the middle class in this country, restoring the right to organize is an obvious step. Here's an op-ed by one of El Cabrero's buddies, WV AFLCIO secretary-treasurer Larry Matheney about a bill that will be introduced in the 2008 legislative session. Dubbed the Worker Freedom Bill, it would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend mandatory meetings in which their bosses rant on politics, religion, or the evils of a free labor movement.

CHAMBER OF YOU-FILL-IN-THE-BLANK-CAUSE-MINE'S-UNPRINTABLE. Here's a link from Wired Science about the US Chamber of Commerce's commercial about the evils of doing something about global warming. Tell us another story!

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 07, 2007

WEEKEND SPECIAL: THE FELINE ZEN MASTER RETURNS


For first time visitors, this blog normally covers fairly serious topics during the week. Weekends are reserved for various animal commentators in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This week we a pleased to feature another Dharma talk by a cat. Our guest claims to have mastered a particularly austere form of Zen Buddhism. His formal name is Neko-Roshi, which is loosely translated from the Japanese as "Cat Master."

It is our hope that features such as this elevate the cultural discourse of our times and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.

THE MASTER SPEAKS

I have once again come to guide hapless humans to the path of Enlightenment. Perhaps you do not realize that felines are among the most advanced practitioners of the most excellent Dharma, devoting as we do some 20 hours a day to meditation.

Humans who cultivate wisdom, ethics, and compassion and venerate the glorious Feline Vehicle may hope to be reborn as cats.

As is the case with other schools of Buddhism, the Feline Vehicle is based upon compassion and the desire to liberate all beings from suffering. We especially desire to liberate little beings, such as birds, ground squirrels, mice, baby rabbits, some insects, lizards, and small snakes from endless suffering the the transitory realm of birth and death.

If we were bigger, we might even try to liberate you...

When we are bored, we even practice by trying to liberate strings, cat toys, and little objects we can bat around.

We have discovered through intense meditation that these small creatures suffer more intensely than others and when we liberate them--especially when we take our time and really enjoy it--they are immediately reborn in the Pure Land of endless bliss.

Not so for us. We have taken a sterner path and have taken the Bodhisattva vow that we will refrain from entering Nirvana until we have liberated all such little helpless beings. Or at least a whole lot of them.

Now I have but one favor to ask of you. Would you please tell the woman who lives in this house that it is very bad karma to keep me inside when there are dozens of hungry birds hopping around in the winter?


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

SOCIAL PSYCH


Caption: Venus the goat, left, is all about Adlerian psychology.

Aside from news and links about current events, this week Goat Rope is looking at one of psychology's lesser known Old Guys, Alfred Adler. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As a psychologist as well as a Social Democrat, one of Adler's main ideas was about the importance of social interest or community feeling, so it's not surprising that he was also concerned about the need for social reform. He basically had a public health approach to psychology.

Living as he did during the rise of Nazism, he was aware of the dangers of prejudice:

Those who have travelled have found that people everywhere are approximately the same in that they are always inclined to find something by which to degrade others. Everyone seeks a means which permits him to elevate himself at little cost.


Economic hardships could make social hostilities increase:

Difficulties in earning a livelihood, bad working conditions, inadequate educational and cultural facilities, a joyless existence, and continuous irritation, all these factors increase the feeling of inferiority, produce oversensitivity, and drive the individual to seek "solutions." To an individual in this state of mind any outside interference appears as a threat to his security and rouses him to active or passive self-defense. Motives of hatred appear most clearly in the economic disturbances of our time.


War and group idolatry (my term, not his) were examples of how our natural tendency to social interest could be abused:

...the psychologist must work against nationalism when it is so poorly understood that it harms mankind as a whole; against wars of conquest, revenge, and prestige; against unemployment which plunges people into hopelessness; and against all other obstacles which interfere with the spreading of social interest in the family, the school, and society at large.


He also had an acute understanding of the pitfalls of power that echoes the ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu:

The struggle for power has a psychological aspect, the description of which appears to us today as an urgent duty. Even where the welfare of the subjugated is obviously intended, the use of even moderate power stimulates opposition everywhere, as far as we can see. Human nature generally answers external coercion with countercoercion. It seeks its satisfaction not in rewards for obedience and docility, but aims to prove that its own means of power are stronger.

The results of the application of power are apt to be disappointing to both parties. No blessing comes of the use of power. In power politics the man in power wins followers who are actually his opponents and who are only attracted by the intoxication of power. And he finds opponents among those who might be his followers if they had not automatically become oppositional. Those who are excluded from power line in wait for the revolt and are reception to any argument.


Adler probably isn't read or studied much these days--but maybe he should be.

RACIAL DISPARITIES persist in the criminal justice system.

THE MESSAGE. Here's an interview about communicating social issues with Thom Hartmann, author of Cracking the Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion.

DON'T WAIT FOR THE MOVIE. The CIA apparently destroyed videotapes of some "severe interrogation" sessions.

THEM BELLY FULL BUT WE HUNGRY. I almost missed this one. The USDA recently reported that 35.5 million Americans, including 12.6 million children, are having trouble meeting their basic need for food.

FULL COURT PRESS. The Manchin administration has joined Massey Energy in opposing federal court rulings about mountaintop removal mining that may limit the ability of coal companies to do whatever they want to.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 06, 2007

SUPERIORITY AND SOCIAL INTEREST


Caption: There they are. Superiority is on the left.

Aside from news and links about current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is old school psychology and in particular about Freud's one time ally and later "rival," Alfred Adler. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

Adler may be best know for his concept of the inferiority complex, but ideas of inferiority and superiority are central to his work. Everyone comes into the world weak, helpless, and ignorant. Later life experiences, illnesses, and other struggles amplify this.

In Adler's view, a basic drive in human life is the attempt to move from a perceived "minus" or feeling of inferiority towards a superior, more positive, or more complete state. As he put it,

To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest...The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.


But that striving for superiority is or should be balanced by what he called "social interest." In Adler's view, humans are inherently social:

Fiercely besieged by nature and suffering from considerable physical weakness, man's intellect points him to that communal living. This process of association, itself the result of personal weakness and insecurity, indicates a precondition that must be met in every way just as does the will to live, as life itself, must tacitly be accepted: Man is a social being. Expressed differently: The human being and all his capabilities and forms of expression are inseparably linked to the existence of others, just as he is linked to cosmic facts and to the demands of this earth.


Adler, who was politically a Social Democrat, disagreed with Freud's view that there was an inherent conflict between individual and society. When it happened, this was a sign of neurosis or a misguided style of life.

Speaking of which, "style of life" is another major Adlerian term. He believed that everyone, more or less consciously (usually less) has a guiding goal or narrative (sometimes he called it a "fiction") that is followed throughout life, based on their own vision of superiority. People are not so much pushed by instincts and drives, as in Freud's view, as pulled by their final goal (Greek: telos):

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.


Treatment for him involved helping people rethink mistaken goals. This aspect of his teaching has led many to regard him as a grandfather of sorts to the current cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy which seems to have the best track record of bringing good results in a relatively short time.

O CANADA. El Cabrero finally got around to watching SiCKO, with its amusing contrasts between the US, French, Canadian, and British health care system. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows the Canadian system costs much less than ours and has better outcomes in terms of infant mortality and longevity.

IRAN. Here's Robert Scheer on Bush's latest Iran contortions.

UNLEASHING CAPITALISM? Perry Mann says "No, thanks" in this op-ed.

THINK KIDS GROW UP FAST THESE DAYS? The Neanderthals were probably quicker.

OH POO--it could be the key to the diversity of life. No #($*.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 05, 2007

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ALFRED ADLER?


Caption: Psychologist Alfred Adler, by way of wikipedia.

Welcome to Goat Rope. This week it's old school psychology with a heavy dose of current events and commentary.

When the early history of psychoanalysis is discussed, three names are usually front and center: Freud, Jung and Adler. While Freud and Jung still have large popular (not to say cult) followings, Adler (1870-1937) is by far the least known. Ironically, his work can be seen as a forerunner of the current cognitive behavioral approach to psychology and psychotherapy.

Adler was a Viennese physician who was an early collaborator of Freud's. The relationship continued for around 10 years, with Adler eventually serving as president of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society. However, Adler wasn't shy about developing his own ideas and Sig was never a great celebrator of theoretical diversity, and the two parted ways in 1911.

Adler was nowhere near as sexy as Freud, whether you take that literally or metaphorically, or as occultish as Jung. His basic idea was that people try to move from a perceived negative state to a positive, more complete situation as they understand it and that the best way to do this includes relating productively to other people. He called these striving for superiority and social interest, about which more tomorrow.

LABOR'S LEGACY. Here's a good op-ed from down Florida way that appreciates labor's legacy for all Americans.

FROM THE WEST COAST, here's a good item reminding us that markets are not God.

COMING HOME? A disproportionate number of homeless people are veterans, according to this study.

POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC. Here's an item in praise of Latin which also notes how many things have gone south since its study declined. El Cabrero is thinking of taking up Latin if I ever get anywhere with Greek.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAVE TO GET BACK IN THE PREHISTORIC WATER, a pretty nasty new one has just been found. You can count on Goat Rope to keep you up to date with dinosaurs and other things that happened millions of years ago. We might get behind on other stuff.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 04, 2007

THE OTHER GUY


Caption: RX Sig. A prescription written by Freud himself. His contemporaries probably couldn't read it either.

Aside from links and comments about current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is psychology.

El Cabrero can still remember stumbling onto the subject in high school through the writings of Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung (I can't remember which came first). At the time, I found the text and pictures of Jung et al's Man and His Symbols intoxicating with all the talk about the collective unconscious and its archetypes.

And as for Sig, after plowing through The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, nothing ever looked the same. That was the work where he discussed what we now call "Freudian" slips of the tongue, mistaken actions, "forgetting," and other actions in which unconscious thoughts and emotions expressed themselves.

If you read about the early history of the psychoanalytic movement, three names are prominent. Aside from Sig and Jung, the Other Guy was Alfred Adler, who is by far the least known. Ironically, Adler's ideas have probably held up better in psychological circles than either of the others. He can be viewed as one of the grandparents of contemporary cognitive psychology and related forms of therapy.

I became interested enough to give Adler a whirl recently after discovering that his approach to psychology is an influence in my daughter La Cabrita's graduate psychology program. Goat Rope verdict: Dude ain't bad.

More about Adler tomorrow--same Bat time, same Bat channel.

WILL IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE? US intelligence agencies say that Iran abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons years ago. But then this administration has never allowed facts to get in the way of an unnecessary war.

A NICE IDEA.Bush administration cutbacks in veterans' services have made it hard for some vets to call home when they receive treatment at VA facilities. Veterans for Peace is urging people to buy phone cards for veterans this holiday season.

STOP THE PRESSES. Chimpanzees are better at math than you may think.

FIGHTING FOR SICK DAYS. Allied groups yesterday announced a drive to require paid sick days for workers at WV businesses employing 25 or more people. SEIU is taking the lead, but many other organizations have signed on as well.

WV ONES TO WATCH. A lot of other economic justice issues are percolating in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia these days. Here's an AP item by Lawrence Messina about concerns over the privatization of the workers' compensation system. Also, on a positive note, an interim legislative committee has supported what labor supporters call the Worker Freedom Bill, which would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend meetings where they pusy their views on unions, religion, or politics.

PITFALLS OF PERFECTIONISM. Speaking of psychology, this one from the NY Times is interesting.

ON A RELATED NOTE, a mental health study of Katrina survivors finds it has a continuing impact.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 03, 2007

PSYCHED OUT


Photo credit: Dave Hogg, courtesy of EveryStockPhoto.

It used to be a joke that every college freshperson wanted to be a psychology major. That is the age when people are trying, generally with very limited success, to figure out themselves and other people.

El Cabrero fit that pattern back in the previous geological age. I had somehow stumbled on to Freud, Jung, and Nietzsche in high school and imagined that psychology classes would be that cool.

Would that it were so.

To my horror, I seemed to have stumbled in to a den of behaviorists. If there is one ideology I like even less than Stalinism or economic libertarianism, it's gotta be behaviorism.

I would probably have a lot less trouble learning that a good friend was a cannibal than I would to learn that he or she was a fan of B. F. Skinner. Actually, that happened recently and I'm still trying to deal with it.

Clarification: by behaviorism, I don't mean attempting to study behavior in measurable ways. That's fine. I mean metaphysical behaviorism, where people pretend that there's no such thing as conscious or unconscious mental activity and that we're all balls of stimulus response conditioning.

I remember some professors ridiculing the idea of consciousness, mind, and similar ideas and thinking "These people are idiots."

It seems to me the height of loopiness for beings who are only aware of the world through their own consciousness to deny that it exists. And I think there's something evil about reductionism, the attempt to reduce the complexity of human life to any simple deterministic factor, whether it's conditioning, genes, economics, "rational choice," etc. We're way too messy for that. Sometimes I wish we weren't.

As Dmitri Karamazov said in Dostoevsky's classic novel,

Yes, man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower. The devil knows what to make of it!

That was the end of my psych major.

Fortunately, it appears that the discipline has recovered from this mental disorder, thanks in part to research from many quarters, including brain science, evolution, ethology, etc., not to mention common sense.

SHOCKING IRAQ. Here's a video segment of Keith Olbermann discussing the application of the "shock doctrine" in Iraq with Naomi Klein.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. Corporate lobbyists, nervous about 2008, are pressing to grab all they can in the months ahead.

MINE SAFETY then and now, courtesy of the Gazette's Ken Ward.

TWISTS AND TURNS. There have been some strange developments in the Megan Williams case lately. First, the WV Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office declined a request of the Logan County prosecutor to offer an opinion on pressing hate crimes charges in the case. Then the AG expressed a desire to take over the the case. Both moves were not well received by prosecutor Brian Abraham.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

December 01, 2007

WEEKEND SPECIAL: A DOG EXPLAINS "ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW"


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 once again welcome back Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shardor Shegg-AY), our offical film critic.

We must remind the reader that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury when he crashed into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he has sometimes been known to transpose the plots of the movies he discusses. Nevertheless, we believe that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

This weekend, Mr. Sege will discuss The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

THE CANINE FILM CRITIC EXPLAINS ROCKY HORROR

OK, this movie is like a documentary or something. These two people named Brad and Janet have car trouble and have to walk to this castle where there's all these weird people walking around in underwear and singing.

Sometimes Moomus does that.

The weirdest person in the castle is Frankenfurter, who is like this guy from India trying to lead his country to independence. He wears robes and makes people march for salt and get beat up.

I like salt on popcorn but not as much as butter. If I was going to get beat up, I'd rather do it for butter.

Anyway, Frankenfurter wants to be all peaceful with the British until he gets kicked out of Cuba. Then he becomes like this big drug dealer guy who uses the same word over and over and has white powder all over his face.

I guess it's salt.

He goes on this big adventure to get his bicycle back after somebody steals it, does a tequila dance in a motorcycle bar, and winds up with his girlfriend Dotty after he gets his bike back. They make a movie about it but it's like a movie in a movie.

There's a lot of symbolism in this movie. The bicycle stands for liberation and you have to give up a lot of salt or something to get it.

Doodus says he likes the parts where the hot nun sings. Moomus says she's not a nun in this movie and that Doodus is a dork.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

November 30, 2007

AMONTILLADO?


Caption: This is Poe's black cat or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Pretty scary, huh?

Welcome to the last day of Edgar Allan Poe Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts. You will also find links and comments about current events.

El Cabrero can't think of a better way to wrap up the week than with his selection of Greatest Hits from Poe's short stories.

Here goes:

*Cask of Amontillado. This tale of revenge by burial alive is a hoot. It's probably Poe at his most darkly humorous. I love the first paragraph:

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.


Aside from beautiful dead women, Poe had a major fixation about live burial. It was even better for him when a not quite dead beautiful woman was buried alive. Something like that happened in The Fall of The House of Usher.

*The Masque of the Red Death. A little justice is done by Death in this story, which shows that even rich folks have to pay the piper. Here are some first lines:

THE "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."


But the Red Death had the last word. I love the last line:

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.


*The Pit and the Pendulum. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, much less the hapless narrator of this tale.

*The Telltale Heart. Although El Cabrero's taste for the theme of heats has diminished in the wake of his own cardio problems, this one is still a keeper. Again, some great first lines:

TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.


I didn't include The Black Cat as I am a friend to the feline.

Did I miss any of your favorites?

CALLING IT A WIN. The United Mine Workers is declaring victory after an NLRB judge ruled in their favor in a dispute with Massey Energy at the Mammoth mine in Kanawha County, WV. Here's hoping it's over. Massey will appeal.

GASSING DOWN. A new study suggests the US could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent with relatively little costs.

SHINY UNHAPPY PEOPLE. El Cabrero's beloved state of WV comes within a hair of leading the nation in depression and suicide. Basic economic justice issues seem to be a major factor:

People who are college educated and have health insurance are less likely to be depressed or suicidal, the study concluded. About 245,000 of 1.8 million West Virginians are without health insurance, and roughly 16 percent have college degrees.

West Virginia also has a relatively low number of mental health professionals compared to other states. West Virginia has about eight psychiatrists and 10 psychologists per 100,000 people, compared with 22 and 83, respectively, in neighboring Maryland, one of the healthiest states in the country.

In addition, more than 17 percent of West Virginians report being unable to afford health care, about double the rate of South Dakota, which had the lowest depression rate.


CALAMITY JANE. This one from alternet suggests we move beyond the Jane Austen vogue. El Cabrero, however, is a big fan.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED