March 31, 2007


For first time visitors, this blog generally discusses fairly serious social and cultural issues during the week.

The gratuitous animal pictures that usually accompany each post are simply El Cabrero's pathetic attempt to derive some use from the animals infesting Goat Rope Farm.

During the weekend, however, it is longstanding Goat Rope practice to provide space for the animals to speak for themselves.

This weekend we are pleased to provide a cinematic post-modern moment in which you can watch an image of a dog on a blog watching and reviewing a movie of himself on a blog. (At some point, we hope to achieve infinite regression...)

The animal in question is none other than our very own canine film critic Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY).

We believe it's safe to say he's his own biggest fan.

Here's the link to the movie.

Note: To ease problems for viewers using slow internet connections, Goat Rope home movies in the future will generally be linked rather than embedded in posts.


March 30, 2007


This is the fifth and final day of Goat Rope's official Fun With Freud Week. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier posts.

This series is about some of Sigmund's more interesting ideas, some of which hold up better than others.

As Freud got older, he became more pessimistic. This is understandable given the events of the time such as the First World War, the rise of totalitarian movements, and the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany and Austria. Here's a quick tour of some of his later works, some of which are speculative and even bizarre in nature.

(Disclaimer: El Cabrero is neither a psychologist nor a Freudian. While some of his ideas still may have some life others are way out there but interesting anyway.)

*Totem and Taboo (1913). This one is WAY out there. Among other things, in this work Freud speculates that human society had its origin in a primal horde where power and sexual access was monopolized by a father figure. The younger males killed the father, whom they also admired. The guilt that resulted from this led to the dead father being venerated as a sacred figure. This was thought to be the origin of the Oedipal complex, religion, and a whole bunch of stuff. It would be a challenge to find someone today who subscribes to this.

*Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1920). If you've ever noticed that group behavior does no favors to human intelligence and morality, don't skip this one. Freud believed that in certain mob or group settings, people regress to a more primitive level. He reprises some of the ideas from the previous book as well, which probably detracts from the work for contemporary readers.

*Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). In this dark book, Freud speculates about another human drive that may rival eros or the libido, i.e. thanatos or the death instinct, which represents the desire of organic matter to return to a simpler state and could result in acts of destruction. Again, this one is a stretch today (but sometimes I wonder about it...).

*The Future of an Illusion (1927). Freud wrote often about religion, but in this work he characterizes it as an illusion, which basically is something we believe in because we want it to be true. He saw the belief in a good and provident God who would take care of us as a kind of wish-fulfillment that reflects an infant's or child's view of his parents.

*Civilization and its Discontents (1930). This one lays out his basically tragic view of human social life. People depend on society increasingly for survival but doing so necessarily involves the frustration of our instinctual drives. And we're stuck with both.

There's way more to ol' Sig than this week's posts have hinted at. Even if you disagree with many of his ideas (as most people probably do), you may find him worth a look or two.

And as for that cigar...who knows?

THE LATEST ON INCOME INEQUALITY. Here's the latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute:

Newly released data on income inequality reveal that all of the gains in 2005, the most recent year for data of this type, went to households in the top 10%. Moreover, those even higher up the income scale—say, the top 1% and above—saw the largest gains of all.

The economy expanded in 2005, with gross domestic product and productivity both posting solid gains (3.2% and 2.1%, respectively). Yet, as shown in the chart below, real market income (i.e., income aside from government transfers) actually fell slightly (-0.6%) for those in the bottom 90% of the income scale....

These trends lead to two clear conclusions. First, the factors driving inequality—diminished union presence, globalization, surging CEO pay—are funneling growth to the top of the income scale and dramatically shaping the economic fate of America's working families. Second, these income trends clearly argue against further regressive tax cuts that continue to favor the wealthiest and exacerbate the seriously skewed pre-tax income distribution.

A LITTLE JUSTICE. Massey Energy was fined $1.5 million by the federal government for its "reckless disregard" for safety at the Aracoma mine, where two men were killed in a fire in Jan. 2006. This from the Charleston Gazette...


March 29, 2007


Caption: The little guys here are in the oral phase.

This is the fourth installment in Goat Rope's official Fun With Freud week. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to earlier entries.

Disclaimer: El Cabrero is neither a psychologist nor an orthodox Freudian. I think he was probably WAY wrong about a lot of things but that some of his basic ideas still have merit. Or are at least entertaining.

The area of his theory that most scandalized his contemporaries had to do with child development. He believed that the passions that drive adults are present in children from earliest days in a different form, who ordinarily go through a series of phases of development(oral, anal, phallic, latent, and mature adult).

Most scandalous of all was his theory of the Oedipus complex, which took its name from the classic Greek myth of the tyrant of Thebes who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother.

He believed that young children, especially boys (the psychology of females was...problematic for him) wanted exclusive possession of their mother or female caregiver and resented adult males, especially their fathers. He believed that how the child negotiated those early entanglements and conflicts shaped the rest of his life.

To put it mildly, his ideas on this point are not widely accepted today (although they do seem to fit for some people). Is there anything worth keeping in here?

Here's the official Goat Rope verdict: a little.

It's hard to deny that when kids roll out, it's all about the mouth as the main focus of energy and attention. After a while, they do become fascinated with all things having to do self control of certain bodily functions. Then there's the period where they run around playing with themselves (some people seem to get stuck there). After a while, about the time kids now enter school, they chill out and are fairly calm for a few years. Then, in adolescence, the beast reawakens.

That's pretty close.

And while not many people believe the Oedipus complex is a universal fact, there is a great and growing body of evidence that early interactions shape a child's approach to others over the course of a lifetime. Attachment theory was first developed by John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst, in partnership with Mary Ainsworth.

Freud's theory of child development has influenced many future theorists, even if some developed their ideas in direct opposition to his. Erik Erikson's theories of the stages of psycho-social development are a further elaboration of Freud's initial ideas.

His ideas have also influenced studies of how gender affects child development, particularly of how boys often come to define themselves in terms of separation while with girls relationships are more important.

The mother/child relationship is an emotionally powerful one, as El Cabrero was recently reminded in a conversation with his 3 year old grandson. I tried to say that his mother (my daughter) was a woman. "NO!," he screamed indignantly, "She's my MOM!"

That was pretty complex.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. Speaking of family conflicts, the federal government reported in March that violence against intimate partners is down dramatically in recent years:

Criminal violence against intimate partners fell by nearly two-thirds in recent years and has reached a record low, according to preliminary government

The declines were greatest for nonfatal attacks, which fell by about 65 percent from 1993 to 2005, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicides among intimate partners dropped by roughly a third.

The figures are based on the annual National Crime Victimization Survey, which counts criminal abuse against spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends and former spouses, whether it's been reported to police or not. The information,collected in thousands of confidential interviews, is the most widely used instrument for charting U.S. crime trends.

Homicides involving a domestic partner were down by roughly a third over the same period, although sadly you wouldn't notice the decline from the all too frequent incidents of relationship homicide from watching the headlines. It's still unfortunately all too common and it's important to remember that domestic violence is still underreported.

A lot of the credit for this reduction should go to the domestic violence movement, which has worked long and hard to change laws and policies; educate the public, the police, the courts, etc. about the issues; and provide services to people facing intimate violence.

FEDERAL BUDGET. As the U.S. House takes up the budget, a number of groups are urging people to contact their representatives to support human needs funding. Here's a link to ECAP (Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities) and Sojourners on the topic. The vote may happen today, if you're interested, don't delay.


March 28, 2007


Caption: The cat is analyzing the dog's dream.

This is day 3 of Goat Rope's official Fun With Freud week. Please scroll down to earlier posts if this is you first visit.

For the record, El Cabrero is not a Freudian. I think he was probably wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, on lots of things, but some of his big ideas hold up pretty well (or at least look that way from Goat Rope Farm).

One trademark idea of Freud's that I think is a keeper is the whole idea of the unconscious and the role it can play in our lives. He believed that the conscious part of the mind was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg and that there's a lot more going on than we often realize.

Like goats on the farm, the critters in the unconscious pop out whenever they get the chance in the form of dreams, (Freudian) slips of the tongue, mistaken actions, symptoms, etc. They can also be the source of much creativity and insight.

Freud believed that dreams are mostly disguised wish fulfillment. I don't think that's always the case but some are (and some aren't all that disguised). I had a classic Freudian dream while reading his Interpretation of Dreams. At the time, I wished I could interpret my dreams. Then I dreamed that I could.

Score one for Sig...

The book of Freud's that got my attention as a teenager was The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which was quite a hoot. He argued that many common events in our lives reveal the activity of the unconscious.

Some examples:

*If you've ever "lost" your car keys when you had to go to work, maybe part of you didn't want to go to start with;

*If you've ever "forgotten" something and left it at someone's house, then possibly part of you wanted to go back;

*If you've ever forgotten the name of someone you know perfectly well, it may be because that person has associations with someone or something else.

I had another classic in that department a few years back when I attended the funeral of a friend. There was someone there I'd known, liked, and worked with for years and for the life of me I couldn't remember her name. It turned out she had the same name as someone I was having some disagreements with at the time.

Score two for Sig.

(The main problem of thinking that way is that if you do it too much you don't think anything is an accident. Sometimes the cigar IS just a cigar.)

FEDERAL BUDGET ITEM. It looks like the U.S. House and Senate have better budget priorities than the administration, which wants to keep slashing social programs to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy and its unnecessary war in Iraq. Here's an item from this Sunday's Charleston Gazette-Mail about the Senate version.

NEW LABOR LEGISLATION INTRODUCED. Recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board could potentially deny millions of workers the right to join unions by classifying them as "supervisors." Last week, a bill was introduced which would correct this problem. Here's some info from the AFLCIO blog:

One of the major contributors to the middle-class squeeze is the difficulty workers face when trying to join together and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. That freedom has been further reduced by several misguided decisions by the Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which eroded the ability of millions of workers to exercise their freedom to join unions.

...a bipartisan bill was introduced in the House and Senate that would begin to reverse some of the most egregious of those NLRB decisions. The Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers (RESPECT) Act would reverse a Republican party-line NLRB vote in September 2006 to slash long-time federal labor law protections of workers’ freedom to form unions.

The RESPECT Act would clarify the National Labor Relations Act to ensure it is not misinterpreted or undermined on a fundamental question of coverage.


March 27, 2007

THE WAR WITHIN, plus the privatization of war and global inequality

Caption: Seamus McGoogle's main psychological conflict is due to his inability to break the window and get to the bird feeder.

This is the second installment of Goat Rope's official Fun With Freud Week. This means that in addition to snarky commentary and links on social justice issues, each day will highlight one aspect of ol' Sig's thoughts that are still interesting today.

(Disclaimer: El Cabrero is not a psychologist and is also fully aware that a lot of what Freud talked about not only would not hold up to scientific investigation but is on the order of science fiction. Good though.)

One idea of Freud's that I think is a keeper is the vision of people not as totally rational animals nor yet as robots conditioned by stimulus and response but rather as inherently conflicted critters.

We are divided and the different parts of ourselves do not always or even usually play nicely with each other. Much of human life consists of trying to reconcile drives and demands that aren't all that reconcilable.

He believed that not only is the human mind partly conscious and partly unconscious but that it it also divided between the id or "it" that wants what it wants when it wants it (usually RIGHT NOW!), the superego or "over-I" of internalized social norms whose job is to tell the id it can't have what it wants, and the ego or "I" that has to deal with the demands of the external world and try to mediate the demands of the other two warring factions.

Actually, this idea is way older than Freud. Plato in the fourth century BC used the analogy of the rational soul as a charioteer trying to control two very different horses, one of which is "is a lover of honor with modesty and self-control" while the other is "companion to wild boasts and indecency...shaggy around the ears--deaf as a post--and just barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined." Elsewhere Plato talks about the soul as having three parts, the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive.

St. Paul also spoke eloquently of the war within. In the Epistle to the Romans, he says

The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do...I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (7:19, 23)

and in Galatians

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (5:17)

For Freud, the war within goes on pretty much all the time, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. It makes human life not only tragic but interesting.

THE WAR WITHOUT. In Joseph Heller's classic Catch-22, the hyper-capitalist Milo Minderbinder says "Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry." What was once a laugh line is becoming a reality. In the April 2 issue of The Nation, Jeremy Scahill has an interesting feature on the privatization of war titled "Bush's Shadow Army."

GLOBAL INEQUALITY. A brief item in the Spring issue of Yes Magazine highlights the wealth gap on a world scale:

A new global study of personal wealth shows that the richest 2 percent of adults now own more than half of global household wealth. The study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, Helsinki was based on data from the year 2000. It showed that the richest 1 percent of adults (those worth at least $500,000) controlled 40 percent of global assets, and that the richest 10 percent of adults (those worth at least $61,000) owned 85 percent of the world total. Meanwhile the bottom half (those worth less than $2,200) together owned barely 1 percent of global wealth.


March 26, 2007


Caption: This man takes out his psychological conflicts on a toy money.

Since El Cabrero has been on a psychology jag lately, I’ve decided to quench not the spirit. Instead, I’m pleased to proclaim this is Goat Rope’s official Fun with Freud week.

I still remember when I first discovered Freud. It was about the same time I ran into Nietzsche and the effects on me were similar to those that occurred when I got into my mother’s homemade wine as a kid. I was buzzing!

I was at that stage of life when one is trying to figure out oneself and others (before I realized it couldn’t be done) and I still have a soft spot for old Sig.

Imagine my disappointment when I took my first college psychology class. My professor belonged to that idiotic tribe known as behaviorists and he scoffed at the idea of consciousness, much less of the unconscious. (There may have been loopier and more evil ideas than behaviorism in psychology, but I can't think of any at the moment.) That was the end of my major in psychology.

Not that I’m a Freudian fundamentalist today. He’s taken quite a beating over the years (some of it possibly deserved) but I think he was right about some big ideas even if he was wrong about the specifics.

So this week, in addition to whatever else comes up, will include Sigmund’s greatest hits.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but you never know…

HEALTH CARE FRONT AND CENTER. The traditional U.S. connection between employment and health insurance is increasingly frayed. The Employee Benefits Research Institute reported this month that

In 2005, 50.1 percent of workers were employed at a firm that did not offer health benefits to any workers. Nearly 18 percent worked for an employer that provided benefits, but were not eligible for them; and nearly one-third were offered benefits but chose not to participate

Whatever the final outcome of the 2008 election may be, one issue that is likely to dominate public debate is health care. Here's a NY Times article on a recent forum for presidential candidates. So far, Edwards appears to have the most detailed proposal. For those looking for ideas on the subject, I'd recommend the Agenda for Shared Prosperity's Health Care for America proposal.

THE GREAT RISK SHIFT. The health care proposal mentioned above was developed by Jacob S. Hacker, who is also the author of the book The Great Risk shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back. For a review by Charleston Gazette staff writer Paul Nyden, click here.