April 07, 2007


(Photo credit: La Cabra)

For first time readers, this blog generally covers serious issues during the week, seasoned with gratuitous animal pictures.

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

This weekend, we are pleased to once again welcome Ferdinand the peacock, Goat Rope Farm's gangster of love, who will once again offer advice for the romantically challenged.

(Note: Goat Rope will assume no liability or responsibility for the consequences of actually following his advice.)


Dear Ferdinand,

A while back I read your advice about how to approach someone for a date and unfortunately I took it. I went up to a woman and tried to poof up my tail feathers even though I don't have any. Then I shook my bottom and rotated just like you said.

Not only did I not get a date, I got arrested instead. Thanks for nothing!


Jailed in Jackson County

Dear Jailed in Jackson County,

Silly little human, it is a wonder to me that there are so many of you given that people are so stupid in the matters of love. Perhaps you are cloned or grow from pods...

Obviously, you did not do it right. If you did, you would now be luxuriantly sipping the ambrosia of Aphrodite.

Since you are so obtuse, I will show you how it is done. Watch this video and learn.


Ferdinand the Peacock


April 06, 2007


Caption: This man is pretty happy. Now. (Photo credit: La Cabra)

Goat Rope is all over the place this week, but the guiding thread is a story from the Histories of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus about the nature of happiness. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

The story has to do with a conversation and its aftermath between the wealthy and arrogant Lydian king Croesus and the Athenian sage Solon. Croesus asked the latter who the happiest mortal was, expecting to be told that he was.

As the last few posts have shown, he didn't get the answer he wanted and thought Solon was a fool.

But as Herodotus puts it,

After Solon's departure nemesis fell upon Croesus, presumably because God was angry with him for supposing himself the happiest of men.

After a number of misfortunes, he loses his throne to Cyrus, ruler of Persia. The story goes that as he was placed on a pyre to be burned alive, he

remembered with what divine truth Solon had declared that no man could be called happy until he was dead. Till then Croesus had not uttered a sound; but when he remembered, he sighed bitterly and three times, in anguish of spirit, pronounced Solon's name.

Cyrus asked through an interpreter who Solon was.

'He was a man,' he said, 'who ought to have talked with every king in the world. I would give a fortune to have had it so.'... He then related how Solon the Athenian once came to Sardis, and made light of the splendor which he saw there, and how everything he said proved true, and not only for him but for all men and especially for those who imagined themselves fortunate--had in his own case proved all too true.

Herodotus states that Cyrus was moved by this:

He himself was a mortal man, and was burning alive another who had once been as prosperous as he. The thought of that, and the fear of retribution, and the realization of the instability of human things, made him change his mind...

After a close shave, Croesus was saved and became a companion and advisor to Cyrus.

I guess you could say he learned his lesson the hard way. Looking at our world today, it looks like he's not the only one that should have listened to Solon's advice the first time.

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT UPDATE. Now that EFCA, a bill which would restore the right of U.S. workers to organize, has passed the House, the struggle has moved to the Senate. Here's an item from the AFLCIO blog on the latest phase of the campaign.

FEDERAL BUDGET. The outlook for a rational federal budget has improved drastically over previous years. This week the House passed its version of the budget, which was even better than the Senate version which itself was WAY better than the proposed Bush budget. Alas, one member of WV's delegation apparently longs for the bad old days. Here's Antipode's rant on that subject.

GOOD FRIDAY. This item appeared in Goat Rope last year on Good Friday...

El Cabrero is not sure at what point in church history the observation of the crucifixion of Jesus acquired the name "Good Friday." It pretty terrible to the people involved. It's hard in our day and age to understand how terrible or commonplace crucifixion was to people in the ancient world. The early church would have been horrified at the use of crosses as ornaments; they did not become standard features of Christian art until around the 4th century, after the practice was largely abandoned.

According to Martin Hengel, author of Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, "among the Romans it was inflicted above all on the lower classes, i.e., slaves, violent criminals, and the unruly elements in rebellious provinces, not least in Judea. The chief reason for its use was its allegedly supreme efficacy as a deterrent; it was, of course, carried out publicly..."

The practice was in part a spectacle of power and degradation. Hengel continues, "By the public display of a naked victim at a prominent place--at a crossroads, in the theatre, on high ground, at the place of his crime--crucifixion also represented his uttermost humiliation, which had a numinous dimension to it. " Often the crucified were denied burial and simply left on the cross, which for many in the ancient world was worse than the death itself.

Historians and believers agree that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem during Passover week shortly after he caused a disturbance at the Temple. Passover was more than a religious holiday to the Jews in Roman controlled Judea: it was a subversive celebration of freedom. The Roman occupiers would have been on high alert for the slightest disturbance at such politically charged times.

The Romans were right about one thing: the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed and enacted was and is a threat to all systems of violence, hierarchy, exploitation, oppression and degradation. To that extent--and to his honor--Jesus was guilty. In the best sense of the word.


April 05, 2007


Caption: It's hard to say if this couple is happy, but they're probably going to get lucky pretty soon.

You can find lots of topics in this week's Goat Rope but the guiding thread is a story about happiness from the Histories of Herodotus. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier posts.

The story goes that when the very wealthy King Croesus of Lydia (in modern Turkey) entertained the Athenian sage Solon as guest, he had his servants display his vast wealth and then asked Solon who was the happiest of men.

He was fishing for a compliment, as La Cabra sometimes says (although she's not above doing that herself).

And, like many fishermen, he was disappointed. As discussed in the last two posts, Croesus wasn't a winner or even a runner up on Solon's list. Finally in anger, he said

That's all very well, my Athenian fried; but what of my own happiness? Is it so utterly contemptible that you won't even compare me with mere common folk like those you have mentioned?

Solon replied

My lord, I know God is envious of human prosperity and likes to trouble us; and you question me about the lot of man. Listen then: as the years lengthen out, there is much both to see and to suffer which one would wish otherwise...You can see from that, Croesus, what a chancy thing life is. You are very rich, and you rule a numerous people; but the question you asked me I will not answer, until I know that you have died happily. Great wealth can make a man no happier than moderate means, unless he has the luck to continue in prosperity to the end. Many very rich men have been unfortunate, and many with a modest competence have had good luck...mark this: until he is dead, keep the word "happy" in reserve. Till then, he is not happy but lucky...

Look to the end, no matter what it is you are considering. Often enough God gives a man a glimpse of happiness, and then utterly ruins him.

Croesus sent Solon on his way, convinced that he was a fool. But that wasn't the end of the story, as we'll see tomorrow.

GRATUITOUS ANIMAL FEATURE FILM: Fresh from Goat Rope Studios, here is a brief feature film called Dueling Peacocks. (Fear not, the duel involves voices rather than pistols or sabres.) By the way, this is a talking picture. Just don't turn it up too loud.

TAX PROPAGANDA. Don't tell him I said anything nice about him, but Antipode had a good post about "Tax Freedom Day" in his Mountain State Review blog.

EXPANDING THE MIDDLE CLASS is an idea that resonates with many Americans. According to Shawn Fremstad and Margy Waller of the virtual think tank Inclusion, the best way to do that is to improve low wage jobs.


April 04, 2007

SECOND PLACE, plus stuff on Wal-Mart

Caption: It's not yet clear how happy these brothers are, but they have eight more lives than the people discussed here today.

You can find all kinds of things in this week's Goat Rope, but the guiding thread is the story of a conversation about happiness that took place between the ancient Greek sage Solon and Croesus, the wealthy and arrogant king of Lydia in what is now Turkey.

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

Croesus was miffed to find out that Solon did not consider him to be the happiest of mortals, but he thought surely that he had to come in a close second. When he asked who was the next happiest, Solon, who was obviously trying to teach Croesus a moral lesson, replied

Two young men of Argos, Cleobis and Biton. They had enough to live on comfortably; and their physical strength is proved not merely by their success in athletics, but much more by the following incident. The Argives were celebrating the festival of Hera, and it was most important that the mother of the two young men should drive to the temple in her ox-cart; but it so happened that the oxen were late in coming back from the fields. Her two sons therefore, as there was no time to lose, harnessed themselves to the cart and dragged it along, with their mother inside, for a distance of nearly six miles, until they reached the temple. After this exploit, which was witnessed by the assembled crowd, they had a most enviable death--a heaven-sent proof of how much better it is to be dead than alive. Men kept crowding round them and congratulating them on their strength, and women kept telling the mother how lucky she was to have such sons, when, in sheer pleasure at this public recognition of her sons' act, she prayed the goddess Hera, before whose shrine she stood, to grant Cleobis and Biton, who had brought her such honour, the greatest blessing that can fall to mortal man.

After her prayer came the ceremonies of sacrifice and feasting; and the two lads, when all was over, fell asleep in the temple--and that was the end of them, for they never woke again.

The Argives had statues made of them, which they sent to Delphi, as a mark of their particular respect.

That sounds pretty grim to people today, but part of Solon's point was that happiness (eudamonia) is not a matter of life's quantity but its quality. A happy life is one that is honorable and socially useful and concluded with dignity. Fortune is changeable and until it's over one can't say with certainty whether a person is happy or just lucky.

Croesus still didn't get it, as we'll see tomorrow.

OUR OLD FRIEND WAL-MART. It's too soon to tell whether the retail giant Wal-Mart, which is a rich as Croesus (even if its workers aren't) is happy or just lucky. A recent article in the NY Times describes the company's take-no-prisoners approach to investigating employees with a team composed in part by former FBI, CIA, and Justice Department officials.

The April 2 New Yorker has a fascinating article on the company's corporate culture. The latest twist involves hiring liberal/Democratic political operatives to help bolster its somewhat tarnished image.


April 03, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle would be the happiest of cats if he could get through this window to the birds.

When Solon, the lawgiver of Athens who laid the foundations for its democracy, traveled to Lydia in Asia Minor around 600 BC, he was a guest of Croesus, its fabulously wealthy king.

Herodotus tells us that Croesus had his servants take Solon on a tour of his royal treasuries "and point out the richness and magnificence of everything."

When the inspection was complete, Croesus said,

Well, my Athenian friend, I have heard a great deal about your wisdom, and how widely you have traveled in the pursuit of knowledge. I cannot resist my desire to ask you a question: who is the happiest man you have ever seen?

He was obviously hoping Solon would say "Gee, dude, it's you." (It occurs to El Cabrero that if this guy needed someone else to certify his happiness, it may not have been that great.)

Solon wasn't the flattering kind. He answered simply, "An Athenian named Tellus."

Croesus was taken aback at this answer and the idea of an Athenian nobody being happier than him. He sharply asked "And what is your reason for this choice?"

Solon replied

There are two good reasons. First, his city was prosperous, and he had fine sons, and lived to see children born to each of them, and all these children surviving: secondly, he had wealth enough by our standards; and he had a glorious death. In a battle with the neighboring town of Eleusis, he fought for his countrymen, routed the enemy, and died like a soldier; and the Athenians paid him the high honor of a public funeral on the spot where he fell.

In other words, the happiest mortals have decent and socially useful lives and a dignified death.

Croesus couldn't take the hint and persisted in asking who won the second prize. He didn't like the answer any better, as we'll see tomorrow.

NEW PROGRESSIVE WV BLOG. An amigo of El Cabrero who has adopted the cyber name Antipode has started a new blog with a focus on policy called Mountain State Review, in which he will plumb the nether regions of wonkdom, guiding us through these dark regions in much the manner that Virgil guided Dante in the Divine Comedy. I tried to get him to call it Wonkabilly but he wouldn't. So far there are no gratuitous animal pictures.

AN INTERESTING ITEM on health care appeared in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. It's about the growing but surprising alliance between labor and business in support of universal health care. The author is Jonathan Cohn, who writes regularly and well on policy issues in the New Republic.

THE LUCIFER EFFECT. Over the last few weeks, El Cabrero has been musing over some famous psychology experiments and what they can tell us about ourselves. I was planning on writing about Philip Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prison Experiment. It turns out that Zimbardo has just written a book called The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. That's going on the list. Here is an interview with the author courtesy of the Times.

NEGLECTED FRIENDS. El Cabrero feels that he has neglected his old friend Wal-Mart lately. I'll try to atone for this lapse tomorrow.


April 01, 2007


Caption: This kid looks pretty happy now, but it's too soon to tell.

El Cabrero just finished a second slow slog through The Histories of Herodotus, which is a long, rambling account of the conflict between ancient Greece and the Persian empire, complete with any number of random digressions.

Herodotus has been called "the father of history." The book jacket notes that he's also been called "the father of lies."

(I would suggest "the father of BS" as a reasonable compromise, but I have a feeling that BS was already pretty old by the time of the battle of Marathon.)

For my money, such as it is, one of the best parts is the story of a conversation and its aftermath between Croesus, the fabulously wealthy king of Lydia (in what is now Turkey), and the Athenian sage and statesman Solon on the perennially interesting subject of happiness.

Both of their names have since become proverbial, as in to be "rich as Croesus" or a Solon or wise lawgiver.

That story will be the thread that holds this week's Goat Rope together.

Sneak preview: Croesus, fishing for a compliment, asks Solon who is the happiest of mortals and gets a wise answer he never expected. Solon answers in effect that the wisest course is to call no one happy until he or she has died and you know the whole course of the life in question. Things change and happiness or virtue can often be mistaken for luck.

TOUGH DAYS FOR MASSEY ENERGY. Speaking of which, Massey Energy has had a run of bad luck lately. Gee, I'm really torn up about that. Please wait while I try to compose myself. OK, I'm back. Here's why:

FIRST, as mentioned last week, Massey received the biggest fine in U.S. history for its "reckless disregard" for safety at the Aracoma fire that killed two miners in Jan. 2006. The fine was $1.5 million, the maximum allowed by law.

Here's the link to the MSHA report and here's a sample from their press release:

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today announced that it has fined the operator of the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 in Logan County, W.Va., where two miners perished in a fire on Jan. 19, 2006, $1.5 million for contributory safety violations. The fine is the largest ever assessed by MSHA in a coal mine accident. MSHA's investigation team determined that 25 violations of mandatory health and safety laws contributed to the accident.

"The number and severity of safety violations at the mine at the time of the fire demonstrated reckless disregard for safety, warranting the highest fine MSHA has levied for a fatal coal mining accident," said Richard E. Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "MSHA has referred this case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges."

Stickler added: "We at MSHA extend our thoughts and prayers to the families for their losses, and we thank them for their patience as we worked to complete our investigation. We appreciate the cooperative working relationship we have had with the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training and the West Virginia Governor's Office, as represented by Davitt McAteer."

In March 2006, MSHA referred the Aracoma case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges (assuming any of them still have their jobs).

SECOND, Ken Ward reported Sunday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that

More than a year after two miners died in a conveyor belt fire, federal inspectors continue to find serious safety violations at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine.

In the last six months, U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors have cited the Logan County operation for more than 170 violations, agency records show.

Actually, Ward also shows that mine inspectors before the fire "missed or ignored major violations that agency officials say were key factors in the deaths."

FINALLY, a March 23 decision by U.S. District Judge Robert C. "Chuck" Chambers, former speaker of the WV House of Delegates rescinded the valley fill permits of four large surface mines, all of which were, according to The State Journal, subsidiaries of Massey Energy.

Maybe if Solon were with us today, he'd urge us to call no corporation happy until we see how it all shakes out.