September 01, 2007
For first time visitors, it is the policy of this blog to cover fairly serious issues during the week. Weekends, however, are reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.
The views expressed by these animals are not necessarily those of the Goat Rope staff.
This weekend we once again welcome bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Public Policy Foundation, a member of many conservative and libertarian think tanks, and a senior economic advisor to the Bush administration. It is often Dr. Dimwit's practice to comment on the previous week's posts.
We hope that by including features such as this we are promoting an appreciation of (bio) diverse viewpoints, promoting a climate of deep listening and profound mutual respect, and reducing the tragic polarization of our times.
THE DIMWIT DISPATCH
Crudawackadingdong! Where do you guys get the jibberish you put in this blog anyway? I've heard more intelligent conversations at the goat pen!
And who's this guy you've been writing about this week? He obviously doesn't understand anything about the market.
What's this blessed are the poor stuff anyway? The poor aren't blessed--they're losers! And this stuff about the first being last and the last being first--that's just nuts! What about incentives?
Doesn't that guy understand that the whole kingdom thing would distort market outcomes?
Let me explain how it really works. I can do it scientificocalculostatistically. Check out the picture. Pretty nice, huh? The little handsome guy is me. Pretty sharp, right! And you see what's beside me? That BIG hen? Well, guess what--she's with me! That's what I'm talking about. If the last think they're going to be first around here, they're gonna have to deal with me!
That's the beauty of the market.
And that's the truth. You bet your cloaca.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
August 31, 2007
Icon painted by La Cabra.
A while back, El Cabrero received a challenge from a Goat Rope reader to write about five things I most admire about Jesus. It took me a while to rise to that challenge. This is day five. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.
A note on method: I'm confining my remarks to events that happened during Jesus' natural life, although I believe there was and is more to the story...
This last post is about the last days of his natural life.
If Jesus had decided to say in Galilee and confine his activities to peasants in rural villages, he would probably have had a much longer life. But, as one of the gospels puts it, "he set his face to go to Jerusalem:"
Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.
I don't pretend to know what his thoughts were when he made that decision--I'm not even sure what mine are most days. But whether you look at it as a religious or purely historical question, it seems clear that he knew that going there in the way he did and acting as he did would provoke the ruling elites of his day, both Roman and Jewish, to retaliate. And he knew that this retaliation was often drastic.
The Domination System of his time, to use the words of theologian Walter Wink, did not take kindly to challenges. Come to think of it, the Domination System of our time isn't too crazy about them either. And the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and enacted (see the post "The World Turned Upside Down "earlier this week) was nothing if not a challenge to the domination system.
The timing of the last Jerusalem trip was critical also. It was the festival of Passover, which was kind of like Christmas, Easter and Independence Day all rolled into one. The feast had political and subversive implications: it celebrated the liberation of the children of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt. The Romans were on high alert and Jerusalem was heavily garrisoned with soldiers.
Aside from many verbal confrontations with opponents that last week, Jesus engaged in two explicit acts which would have been seen as provocative. The first was his entry into Jerusalem, celebrated now as Palm Sunday. As Marcus Borg puts it,
Jesus' action was based on a passage from the prophets that spoke of a humble king who would enter Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. He would be a king of peace who would banish chariots, warhorses, and battle bows from the land and command peace to the nations (Zech. 9:9-10). By riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, Jesus enacted his message: the kingdom of God of which he spoke was a kingdom of peace, not violence.
The meaning of Jesus' mode of entry is amplified by the realization that two processions entered Jerusalem that Passover. The other procession was an imperial one. On or about the same day, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate rode into the city from the opposite side, the west, at the head of a very different kind of procession: imperial cavalry and foot soldiers arriving to reinforce the garrison at the Temple Mount...
The next day, Jesus created a disruption at the Temple, traditionally called its "cleansing," when the gospels say he overturned tables and drove out money changers. At the very least, this indicates that he viewed the Temple system as an unjust one that fed upon the poorest of the faithful.
It didn't take that much in those days to bring down the wrath of the ruling powers and this was more than enough...
Each of the gospels contains slightly different versions of the trial of Jesus. A very likely scenario, however, is pretty simple: there were standing orders to crush any disruption or display of resistance.
The punishment meted out to Jesus is telling. Crucifixion in the ancient Roman world was a punishment aimed mostly at rebellious slaves and those who threatened the legitimacy of the ruling order. And, to his eternal credit, Jesus really was and is a threat to the domination system of his and of every era.
Crucifixion at that time was as much spectacle as punishment, a prime example of the theater of empire and cruelty. Crucifixions took place in public places, on highways, prominent hillsides, or at heavily traveled crossroads. The message was simple: cross the empire and you die this way.
Many victims of this punishment were never even properly buried; instead, their bodies remained tied to the cross long after death as an example to others why might try to challenge the social order. This was, in the minds of many, a punishment worse than death.
What happened after the crucifixion of Jesus is beyond the scope of this post. Everyone must choose his or her own interpretation. My own best answer is to echo what was told to the disciples in the gospels when they came to anoint Jesus' body on the Sunday morning after his death: "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He has gone before you..."
IF SPIDERS REALLY CREEP YOU OUT, don't read this.
HEALTH CARE CRISIS. This Charleston Gazette op-ed from John Sweeney and Kenney Perdue of the national and state AFLCIO, respectively, is about the need to expand health coverage to more Americans.
SUFFER THE CHILDREN, AGAIN. From the same source, here's a good op-ed by Renate Pore about the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
August 30, 2007
Icon of the Archangel Michael.
This week on Goat Rope, El Cabrero is responding to a challenge from a reader to write about the five things I admire most about Jesus. The hardest part was figuring out where to start.
If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.
The fourth thing I'm going to write about is Jesus' way with words. Official Goat Rope verdict: he had one. Big time. Whole libraries have been written on the sayings of Jesus and more could and will be written. I'm going to focus today on his awesome one liners.
My personal favorites include some of his comic visual images, like when he nailed hypocrites who made a show of religion while neglecting simple justice and compassion:
You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
And speaking of camels, let's not forget this one:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
How about these for cutting through the #$&%:
No one who puts his hand on the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.
What goes into your mouth will not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that will defile you.
Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
To save your life is to lose it; to lose your life is to save it.
Follow me and let the dead bury their dead.
The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Exalt yourself and you will be humbled; humble yourself and you will be exalted.
I could go on and on but I'm sure the Gentle Reader knows where to find more.
WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS. In light of the new Census report on poverty, health coverage, and incomes, the American Friends Service Committee calls for new priorities:
Congress should redirect the $720 million a day the U.S. is spending on the Iraq war to programs that reduce poverty at home, urged the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), responding to Census Bureau data released today.
“For $720 million, we could provide over 400,000 children with health care, or over a million children with free school lunches,” notes Joyce Miller, the American Friends Service Committee assistant general secretary for justice and human rights. “America’s shameful poverty rate should lead everyone to ask ourselves how we want to spend our tax dollars — on war or on education, health care, job training, affordable housing, and the like.”
CONSIDER THE LILIES. Did you ever want your own Spiderman suit? As in a real one? A group of Italian scientists say nanotechnology could make it happen.
MORE ON THE CAMEL/NEEDLE'S EYE THING. CEOs of major U.S. companies made more in a day than the average worker in a year.
MORE ON THE WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS THING. Here's an interesting essay by David Korten on rethinking the meaning of wealth in terms of life.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
August 29, 2007
A while back, El Cabrero was challenged by a Goat Rope reader to write about five things I most admire about Jesus. This is the third installation. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.
The third thing I'm going to highlight is what could be called Jesus' program. He called it the Kingdom (Greek: basileia) of God. As the Gospel of Mark puts it,
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Then as now, there was all kinds of debate on what the term meant. For John the Baptist and many others before and after, it was God's coming apocalyptic judgment of the world, a cataclysmic divine intervention in history. It seems that for Jesus, the Kingdom had a present as well as future aspect. At least in part, it was something not just to wait for but to do. The Kingdom is a verb...
As John Dominic Crossan wrote,
In the beginning was the performance; not the word alone, not the deed alone, but both, each indelibly marked with the other forever.
For Jesus, the Kingdom meant the rule of the God of justice and compassion. It was the opposite of the kingdom or empire of men which was based on state violence, political oppression, economic exploitation, and religiously sanctioned injustice.
In the reign of God, the poor were blessed and the rich were cursed (Luke, ch. 6); the first were last and the last were first; women, children, the unclean, the sick, the outcasts and sinners were welcome, while the self-righteous were self-excluded. Equality replaced hierarchy and service/mutual aid replaced domination.
Jesus taught a subversive wisdom that turned the world upside down. But it wasn't all teaching. Jesus and his followers, together and in pairs, would go from village to village in Galilee proclaiming and enacting the kingdom.
What did it look like? People ate together, sharing whatever they had. The hungry were fed. The sick, who were often considered to be ritually unclean and isolated, were healed. Whatever that meant physically, it meant they were once again included in the life of the community. Those believed to be possessed with evil spirits were exorcised and restored to mental health.
As Marcus Borg puts it,
...the kingdom of God referred to what life would be like on earth if God were king and the kingdoms of the world, the domination systems of the world, were not.
And it involved acting as if that were already the case.
Obviously, this could be dangerous even if we didn't know the rest of the story. It would be dangerous today. Jesus warned his disciples, "If you follow me, you carry a cross."
HUNGERING AND THIRSTING FOR WHAT IS RIGHT. Here's a piece on the right to organize by economist Dean Baker, who recently visited El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.
GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR. There actually was a little in WV. When the Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty, income, and health coverage, it reported that the poverty rate here dropped. El Cabrero is still going through the data but it looks like poverty fell in WV at more than twice the rate than it did for the nation as a whole--.7 percent compared with .3 percent.
We're still very poor compared to the rest of the country and have lots of problems and work to do, but ingratitude is a sin. We just need to build on this progress in the future. And this is another reminder that the Chicken Littles of WV, who have made a business of saying that everything is all bad here all the time, are off. We are the Little Engine that Could.
COUNT THE COST. But when you look at what Census figures say about the nation as a whole, it's easy to see we have major problems. The slight drop in poverty at the national level still leaves us below where we were in 2001. There was a slight increase in median household income, although wages of year round individual workers actually declined. The big news is the jump in the number and percentage of the uninsured, which went up 5 percent to 47 million Americans or 12.3 percent. The number of uninsured children went up from 8 to 8.7 million or from 10. to 11.7 percent of all children.
Here's a summary statement from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
And by the way, the $720 million we are spending (or will spend) every day of the Iraq war would go a long way towards dealing with some of these problems.
WOE UNTO YOU in the Bush administration who want to make it harder for children to receive coverage from the Children's Health Insurance Program.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
August 28, 2007
Caption: Orthodox icon of John the Baptist.
A while back, El Cabrero was challenged by a Goat Rope reader to write about the five things I most admire about Jesus. It took me a while to respond since I haven't found anything not to admire.
(He didn't seem to think much of goats if Matthew 25 is right, but that could be a mark of supreme wisdom.)
Anyhow, that's the theme this week. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.
The second thing I'm going highlight about Jesus reflects my personal prejudice as a hick from West Virginia. According to our pals at Wikipedia,
Hick is a derogatory term for an unsophisticated person from a rural area.
One of the few things the Roman and Jewish ruling classes would have agreed on was that Jesus was a hick. And a dangerous one at that. Indeed from the point of view of anybody who was anywhere in the ancient world, Jesus was a nobody from nowhere.
For sophisticated pagans, Rome was the place to be, and if you couldn't be there, you should be at a nice estate in the countryside worked by slaves or someplace like Athens or Alexandria. For Jewish rulers at Jerusalem, Galilee was a rural backwater whose residents were religiously suspect.
Then factor in social class. Both pagan and Jewish elites lived off of the labor and sufferings of the lower classes, whether of peasants or slaves or others teetering on the edge of oblivion. The gospels refer to Jesus as a tekton, which has traditionally been translated as carpenter but can mean any kind of manual laborer.
In a world where food security was not a given for most people and was tied to the land, a tekton would often be a landless peasant living a life even more precarious than that of those who tried to scratch a life from the soil and had to render up their surplus--and often their necessities--to the ruling classes.
Jesus knew all about living on the edge. He pretty much stayed there all his natural life.
Then factor in official credentials. Not only was he considered to be a lower class hick, but he had no official sanction to do the kind of stuff he was doing. Over and over in the gospels, people keep wondering "Who is this guy anyway? What's he think he's doing talking and acting this way?"
So the next time you get called a hick, smile, thank the person, and say you're in some pretty good company.
THE WORKER IS WORTHY OF HIS HIRE. According to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
Unionization substantially raises wages and benefits even in typically low-wage occupations, according to "Unions and Upward Mobility for Low- Wage Workers", a report released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Inclusion.
The report, which analyzed 15 of the lowest-paying occupations in the United States, found that unionized workers earned about 16 percent more than their non-union counterparts. Unionized workers in these same industries were also about 25 percentage points more likely to have health insurance or a pension plan.
For workers in these low-wage industries, unionization raised their wages, on average, about $1.75 per hour. In financial terms, the union effect on employer-provided health insurance and pensions was even larger.
SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN... Here's an elegant response from Paul Krugman to the right wing attack on the Children's Health Insurance Program.
BUILT ON SAND. Excerpt from a long but good article in the New Republic about our neglected infrastructure:
Here is Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: it is the "duty of the sovereign or commonwealth" to erect and to maintain "public institutions and those public works, which, though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain." Infrastructure is the classic public good that the free market does not and cannot provide. On the scale that is necessary, only the federal government can make the difference.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
August 27, 2007
A while back, El Cabrero received a challenge from WV blogger Juanuchis to write about five things I most admire about Jesus.
It took me a long time to get around to that, mostly because I can't think of anything I don't like about Jesus. For the record, El Cabrero has no complaints about Jesus (however, I'm not sure that the converse is the case.)
It's also a little hard to answer that challenge because there have been so many different and conflicting images of and ideas about Jesus. As the English poet and mystic William Blake wrote,
THE VISION OF CHRIST that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy...
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
Still, most believers and secular scholars would agree about the basic outlines of his life that can be gleaned from early Christian, Jewish, and pagan sources. Here are the main points of agreement:
*Jesus was a Jew from the lower social classes who grew up in the region of Galilee and was probably born around the time of the death of Herod the Great (more accurately Herod the Extremely Nasty) in 4 BC.
*He was influenced by the preachings of John the Baptizer and was baptized by him in the Jordan.
*At some point thereafter, he began a short but very different public ministry, which could have lasted anywhere from less than a year to three years. This consisted of calling for repentance, proclaiming God's Kingdom, teaching, and performing acts of compassion such as healings and exorcisms. Most of this ministry took place in rural Galilee.
*Around 30 BC, when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, he went to Jerusalem where he engaged in controversies and acts that were seen as a threat to the ruling social order. As a result he was crucified, a Roman punishment reserved for rebellious slaves and for those who threatened the social order.
*After his death, his followers continued to experience him as a living reality. They proclaimed this as his resurrection and vindication by God.
Here's the first item on my list: it is truly amazing that Jesus had such a huge impact on religion, history, and culture given that his public activity was so brief and that much of it occurred in what many of his influential contemporaries would have been considered to be an insignificant corner of the world. Moreover, most of his activity took place among the most marginalized people of a marginalized place.
By contrast, other religious and cultural leaders who gained influence had much longer to promote their teachings. Muhammad lived nearly 20 years after he began to preach the tenets of Islam and was a political ruler as well as a religious figure. Little is known for certain about Confucius, but he is likely to have taught for decades even though he never gained a political post of great influence. Gautama Buddha taught for 45 years after his enlightenment experience at the age of 35 and was celebrated by the rulers of his time and place.
The short life of Jesus and the events at the end of it were like an explosion that we're still feeling the shocks from after all these years.
WWTRJD? (WHAT WOULD THE REAL JESUS DO?). From yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail:
Low-income West Virginia families who depend on child support to make ends meet could be forced onto welfare if federal budget cuts go through as planned this October.
The cuts were passed by the previous Congress in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (which didn't reduce the deficit). That legislation cut social programs like child support and Medicaid by $40 billion and included $70 billion in tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthy. Of WV's delegation, only Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito supported the DRA. New leaders in congress have expressed interest in restoring funding.
EVERY MOUNTAIN SHALL BE BROUGHT DOWN. Here's another take on the Bush administration's recent love offering to coal companies that eased restrictions on mountaintop removal mining. And here's an editorial from today's NY Times.
THE CAMEL AND THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE. Professor Allan Ornstein warns that America needs to fix the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else if it wants a decent future.
EVERYTHING SECRET SHALL BE MADE KNOWN. Blowing the whistle on contractor corruption in Iraq can claim a high price according to this AP report.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED