March 03, 2007


For first time visitors, Goat Rope generally runs fairly serious commentary about current events and ideas during the week.

The gratuitous animal pictures are just sort of there.

During the weekend, however, the animals get to speak for themselves.

This weekend, we are pleased to once again feature advice for the lovelorn from Ferdinand the Peacock, our very own gangster of love.

(Disclaimer: Goat Rope accepts no liability for the relationship consequences of acting upon Ferdinand's advice.)


Dear Ferdinand,

I'm a guy who has been out of the dating game for years now and am about to go on a blind date. Do you have any suggestions for how I should prepare or what we should do while we're getting to know each other?


Rusty in Ripley

Dear Rusty,

How can you be so silly as to even ask such a question?

Is not the answer clear to even a baby bug? Can this not be seen even by a newborn kitten who has yet to open his eyes?

First, you must preen and carefully groom yourself. Look at the photograph and do as I do. You must always do as I do.

Then, once you have properly preened and are in the presence of the object of your passion, or of anyone else who may or may not be in the general vicinity, you must poof up your feathers and rattle them like the tail of a viper love which is about to strike.

What is the point of romance but to display yourself to the world? And what is the point of being the object of desire but to watch the display and bathe oneself in the rising tide of longing?

No other activity is needed. The goddess of love will do the rest.

Now go, silly little man, and trouble me no more.


Ferdinand the Peacock


March 02, 2007


Caption: This amphibian considers reptiles to be reckless innovators.

FIRST THE GOOD NEWS: The Employee Free Choice Act passed the U.S. House by a margin of 241-185. Among WV's delegation, only Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito voted against it. There's a good post about that at West Virginia Blue. See the item "Capito spins anti-union vote as pro-union."

WHAT THE? While you're at WV Blue, scroll on down to the post "Tax Breaks for the Rich" for info on the WV Senate's proposal to drastically cut corporate taxes. This would mean drastic cuts in education, services, and infrastructure. At this moment, the Gazette reports that it doesn't seem likely to pass the house, which is a good feature.

THE HORSE'S MOUTH. Check out Jim Lewis's new Notes from Under the Fig Tree for an account of his arrest at Congresswoman Capito's office over her Iraq position, his hearing, and other interesting items.


If there is an Achilles' heel of conservatism, it is it's historic tendency to side with with politically and economically dominant groups. When this happens, there are pretty simple reasons for it: nearly any society consists of winners and losers. The winners want to keep their winnings, whether they were gained by fair means or foul.

(In fairness, it could also be said that the Achilles' heel of radicals is the belief that a major transformation of society by peaceful or violent means would bring about an improvement for the majority of people outside the ruling elites. To put it mildly that's not always the case and often such changes make things worse for everyone.)

But I'd say the best conservatives can transcend this weakness. The British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is a case in point.

Born in Ireland, Burke served for many years in Parliament where he was spoke eloquently and effectively against abuses of power. He defended the American colonists and recommended a conciliatory policy in the 1770s and later exposed English crimes against the people of India.

He was, in other words, a progressive conservative, i.e. one who recognized that society should be prudently reformed and that abuses should be corrected, but he was realistic enough to know that most human actions have unintended consequences.

He parted company with some of his former radical allies, including his former friend the Anglo-American revolutionary Thomas Paine, over the French Revolution. His 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France is one of the best books of political theory ever written.

Burke had no doubts that the excesses of the French monarchy needed to be corrected. But he was convinced that one should seek to reform past abuses in a way that respected a people's history and tradition and that trying to start again with a blank slate would lead to violence, chaos, war, and tyranny...which is pretty much what happened. While El Cabrero intends no disrespect to the French Revolution, it was, well, a goat rope.

Here's are some sample quotes:

The science on constructing a not to be taught a priori... The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature, or to the quality of his affairs...The rights of men in governments are...often in balances between differences of good; in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil...

So when and how should good people deal with abuses of political power and when should patience give way to resistance?

The speculative line of demarcation where obedience ought to end and resistance must begin is faint, obscure, and not easily definable. It is not a single act, or a single event, which determines it. Governments must be abused and deranged, indeed, before it can be thought of; and the prospect of the future must be as bad as the experience of the past. When things are in that lamentable condition, the nature of the disease is to indicate the remedy to those whom nature has qualified to administer in extremities this critical, ambiguous, bitter potion to a distempered state. Times and occasions and provocations will teach their own lessons. The wise will determine from the gravity of the case; the irritable, from sensibility to oppression; the high-minded, from disdain and indignation at abusive power in unworthy hands; the brave and bold, from the love of honorable danger in a generous cause; but, with or without right, a revolution will be the very last resource of the thinking and the good.

He also had a long-term view of society as a partnership "between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." That's an insight we could use today given the disastrous impact of this generation on the earth's resources.

Sometimes he could go too far, as for example, when he referred to the mass of lower class English subjects as "the swinish multitude."

Thomas Paine responded to his former ally's Reflections with Parts I and II of The Rights of Man, where he accused Burke, with some justification, of pitying the aristocracy and ignoring the sufferings of the lower classes: "He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird."

Actually, the world needs both its Paines and Burkes in proper measure. In the end, both were right. As Craig Nelson wrote of British political history in his recent Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,

In the end, Burke's Reflections accurately predicted that the French Revolution would finish in bloodshed and tyranny, while Paine's Rights just as brilliantly anticipated, two hundred years ahead of its time, the style of government for close to half the world's nations today. The great irony of this epic struggle in British political history is that, when it came to dear old Albion, both would be right. The English polity over the coming decades would glacially reform itself, just as Burke proposed, but into a structure not all that different from the one envisioned by Rights of Man.

It would be nice to think they are somewhere now arguing about who was right...


March 01, 2007


We interrupt Goat Rope's ongoing series on conservatism for this news flash.

(You guys must be living right--two Goat Rope posts today!)

((You'll have to wait for the next post for the gratuitous animal picture.))


I guess you could call him The Capito One. The Rev. Jim Lewis, a retired Episcopal priest, pleaded guilty yesterday of trespassing in Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's Charleston office.

Rev. Lewis visited the office on Feb. 16 with a delegation from WV Patriots for Peace to express concern for Capito's vote against a House resolution opposing President Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq. While other members left the office, Lewis remained, noting that U.S. troops in Iraq had to stay so he would too. He was ordered to pay a fine of $50 or do a day of community service.

Here's the Gazette story.

Here is an excerpt from the statement Rev. Lewis gave in municipal court:

Your honor, I find it ludicrous that I have been charged with a citation for trespassing.

Mr. Bush has received no citation for trespassing in Iraq.

Ms. Capito has received no citation for having been an accessory to our trespassing in Iraq.

No one in the CIA, or the Bush Administration, has received a citation for trespassing on international law, and the human rights of prisoners, for having shipped over a thousand prisoners to other countries where they are being tortured.

No one in the Justice Department has received a citation for having trespassed on the Constitution by using illegal wiretaps and surveillance techniques to spy on U.S citizens.

No one in Congress has received a citation for having trespassed on U.S. taxpayers by allocating billions upon billions of dollars, many of them squandered illegally, for a war that threatens the very soul of our nation...

I want to apologize for any trouble, inconvenience or anxiety I may have caused the staff at Representative Capito’s office.

My fervent hope is that everyone involved in this situation will come to understand that my actions were motivated by conscience, a sense of duty to my God and to my country, and, last but not least, my concern for all peace-loving people who work and pray for an end to this war.

BISHOP'S STATEMENT OF SUPPORT: In addition, WV Episcopal bishop the Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer issued the following statement of support:

This communication comes to attest that the Rev. Jim Lewis is an Episcopal priest in good standing, resident in the Diocese of West Virginia. As such, he agreed at his ordination to “ proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. It is our understanding in the Episcopal Church that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of peace.

In his action of “sitting in” at Shelley Moore Capito’s office on February 16, he was following the tenants of the Church that call for promoting peace and non-support of war. Father Lewis was speaking out specifically against the war in Iraq, consistent with the voice of the Episcopal Church against unjust war. The war in Iraq does not meet the “just War” criteria. Beginning with St. Augustine in the early 7th century, the church has supported the Just War criteria in evaluating acts of defense and aggression. Three basic conditions for a just war were established at that time, and elaborated upon over the centuries. The three basic conditions for a just war include: authorized authority, just cause, and rightful intention. Although President Bush is clearly our authorized authority in the US according to just war conditions, “just cause” and “rightful intentions” have not been adhered to in this war.

In his endeavor to serve as a prophetic voice, father Lewis has repeatedly attempted to speak with our elected leadership to vote the “will of the people” rather than the will of the Party. When that failed, due to an unwillingness to listen to the electorate, Father Lewis proceeded to remain in Congresswoman Moore Capito’s office until such time as he spoke with her, or was removed.

As Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, I strongly support Father Lewis in his message, and in his actions.

Rock on, Episcopalians! Did El Cabrero mention he was one too?

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL...The U.S. House of Representatives is likely to vote on the Employee Free Choice Act today. This bill would restore the right of workers to form unions. Specifically, it would allow workers to organize when a majority sign a card authorizing union representation, increase penalties for companies that illegally fire or harass workers for trying to organize and would provide mediation and arbitration for first contracts. It would be an important step towards restoring the middle class and putting the country on the road to shared prosperity.

If you haven't contacted your congressperson yet, now would be the time. Here's some information.

Coincidentally or maybe not, Congresswoman Capito is the only member of WV's delegation who has not come out in support of EFCA.


February 28, 2007


Caption: Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit (center) is an economic libertarian rather than a traditional conservative.

This is the third post in a series about conservative political philosophy. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the previous entries.

Yesterday's post discussed Russell Kirk's seminal book, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, which has had enormous impact since it first appeared in the 1950s. Whether you agree or not, it is worth a look and deserves respectful treatment.

Early on in the book, Kirk identifies what he considers to be the canons of conservative political thought. They are enumerated below, with comments from yours truly.

1. "Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience." Comment: I wouldn't necessarily disagree. The problem arises when different more or less bloodthirsty groups fight over exactly what that transcendent order consists of (sorry about the preposition thing) and impose their vision on others. This is one huge advantage of the American system as opposed to theocracy.

2. "Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems..." Comment: I don't have the problem with egalitarianism (in moderation, as with all things) that Mr. Kirk and his allies do but I'm with him at least part way on resisting uniformity and utilitarianism.

The irony of modern conservatism is that a lot of the uniformity and dissolution of old values comes from an amoral and cut-throat capitalism, which for many is at least as sacred as any transcendent order. Personally, I neither worship capitalism nor plan to destroy it; I'd just be happy if it used the bathroom in the right places. I wonder what he'd think of a Wal-Mart world and a fast food nation?

3. "Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes as against the notion of a 'classless' society." Comment: OK, I admit that complete arithmetical equality in terms of income, wealth, etc. is neither possible nor desirable. But that doesn't mean there is any virtue in extreme inequality or a hereditary class system either. And its no excuse for people in a country and world as wealthy as this one for millions of people to live in poverty, do without health care, earn a sub-living wage, etc. Smart conservatives like Theodore Roosevelt knew that.

4. "Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked..." Comment: I wouldn't necessarily disagree, which I why I'd like to see property more widely distributed. One problem conservatives sometimes miss is that if sacred Property is concentrated into a few hands at the expense of the vast majority of people, the same is true of freedom. A persistent danger to principled conservatism is a de facto embrace of oligarchy.

In practice for most of history, as E.P. Thompson noted in his The Making of the English Working Class, "the greatest offence against property was to have none."

5. "Faith in prescription and distrust of 'sophisters, calculators, and economists' who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs." Comment: I'm OK with that one too, especially if it includes neocon sophisters, calculators and market god cultist economists. By the way, by "prescription," he means tradition or custom.


6. "Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress." Comment: He must have been talking about our adventure in Iraq, huh? I'm with him on this one too. Change is inevitable. Sometimes you have to try to speed it up, slow it down, or direct its course but I would agree with Kirk that "a statesman's chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence."

So like, where are the prudent statesmen or stateswomen? We could use some. But seriously, all in all it's not a bad list and merits courteous treatment even if one can't swallow the whole thing. But what he's talking about is a far cry from the current fare.

Next time: Edmund Burke, the best conservative.

WEST VIRGINIA ITEMS. In case you missed it, here is UMWA president Cecil Roberts' response to another attack on unions by Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Let me also mention two really good WV blogs (in alphabetical order:

Lincoln Walks at Midnight, which offers what it calls a "just-the-facts approach to politics and government in the Mountain State of West Virginia," and

West Virginia Blue, which describes itself as devoted to "Democratic politics, progressive policies, the good life and free living in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia."

Both blogs are regularly updated. The latter even has the occasional gratuitous animal picture.


February 27, 2007


Caption: This guy approaches change cautiously, which can be a problem when he's on the road.

This is the second post in a series on whatever happened to conservatism (there's other stuff in here too). Please scroll down to yesterday's if this is your first visit.

Before there was Goldwater, and before William F. Buckley became a major national influence, there was the writer and scholar Russell Kirk, who wrote The Conservative Mind, one of the intellectual foundations of modern conservatism.

The book was first published in 1953 and went through seven editions. It's no lightweight tome even literally, ranging from the 1700s to the twentieth century over 500 or so pages. Buckley gave the book a great deal of credit for the conservative revival, noting that it "is inconceivable even to imagine, let alone hope for, a dominant conservative movement in American without [Kirk's] labor." (That was from the jacket.)

Although I'm not exactly a member of the tribe, I'd have to say it's worth reading not only for its intelligent presentation of intellectual conservatism but also for the contrast it provides to what passes for conservatism today.

Chapters range from a good one on Edmund Burke (who deserves his own post) to the Adams family to Randolph and Calhoun to various cranky old Englishmen to Disraeli and Newman to intellectuals like Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer Moore and George Santayana.

He stated his reasons for writing it as such:

If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.

Kirk identifies six key elements that comprise the "canon of conservative thought." These, among other things, will be on tomorrow's menu.

POVERTY AND PUBLIC ASSISTANCE NEWS. In case you missed the AP story yesterday about the current state of public assistance programs, here it is. Short version, while welfare "reform" slashed people off the rolls of cash assistance, more people than ever depend on supports for low income people such as food stamps, Medicaid, and disability benefits.

This is no surprise when good jobs are a major export, the number of people without health care are growing and the minimum wage has been stagnant for 10 years. People left welfare alright--from 36,000 cases in WV in 1996 to less than 10,000 in 2006--but they didn't leave poverty.

BUSH VS. KIDS. U.S. governors of both parties meeting in Washington are urging Bush not to cut the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has been one of the most successful policy initiatives in recent decades. CHIP covers children from low and moderate income families and has made a huge difference in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.


February 26, 2007


This rooster was a stalwart conservative (until the possum got him).

Lately El Cabrero has been thinking about conservatism.

One of the weird things for me about living through the Bush era (or trying to) is the realization (a.) that I'm pretty conservative in several ways and that (b.) the right wing extremism and utopianism we've been force-fed the last six years is a perversion of that tradition.

In literature, politics, education religion, and even hobbies, I draw heavily on ancient sources and resources. I don't like waste and my first instinct is to repair something old rather than replace it with something new. I don't equate change with improvement.

I'm not a Calvinist, but no one has ever accused me of having an overly optimistic view of humanity or the possibilities of either political or personal perfectionism. I'm not a literalist, but "sinful" and "fallen" seem like pretty good adjectives to describe our world.

I don't mind authority as long as it's rational and legitimate. My main quarrel with power, wealth and property is that they are not widely distributed enough to promote a stable, healthy society.

I understand conservatism at its best to mean or at least include respect for the past and for old traditions, a cautious approach to social change, a suspicion of utopian schemes, and a dislike of wastefulness.

Somehow, contempt for the constitution and Bill of Rights; a reckless domestic and foreign policy; neocon blueprints of a glorious imperial export of democracy to the middle east (there are any number of oxymorons in that phrase); and the squandering human lives, the natural environment, and public resources doesn't seem to fit that description.

In the next few posts, I'm going to try to follow a thread of reflections on conservatism, both of what it used to mean and what it has come to mean today. (There will also be random links and other commentary as appropriate.)

Next time: a look at a founding manifesto of American conservatism, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot by Russell Kirk.

WORTH CHECKING OUT: For a good summary of unhealthy economic trends based on a McClatchy analysis of Census data, check this post from the AFLCIO blog.