March 14, 2009

Lines Written in Early Spring (by someone else)

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

William Wordsworth 1798

March 13, 2009

Scour the anchor

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Perhaps the Gentle Reader has noticed that people who are actively engaged in doing productive things tend to be less quarrelsome that those who aren't.

El Cabrero came across a similar sentiment in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. When Franklin was working with a group of men on defensive preparations during the war between England and France in the 1750s, he noticed

...that, when men are employed, they are best content'd; for on the days they worked they were good-natur'd and cheerful, and, with the consciousness of having done a good day's work, spent the evening jollily; but on our idle days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, finding fault with the pork, the bread, etc., and in continual ill-humour, which put me in mind of a sea-captain, whose rule it was to keep his men constantly at work; and, when his mate once told him that they had done every thing, and there was nothing further to employ them about, "Oh," says he, "make them scour the anchor."

GETTING IT RIGHT. Can we avoid the Mother of All Depressions? Can we make instead the Second Cousin of All Recessions? Only if we do just about everything right.

LABOR GOES GREEN. Here's a post from the AFLCIO blog on green jobs and good jobs.


SPEAKING OF A CLASSIC, here's Nobel winning economist Amartya Sen's take on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments.

DARWIN AND LINCOLN, not necessarily in that order, are the subjects of David Gopnik's Angels and Ages. Here's an interview with the author.


March 12, 2009

The little sacrifice of vanity

Benjamin Franklin, whatever else you can say about him, possessed a lot of social intelligence which he used to great effect in pursuing his various interests.

Yet another example of this can be found in how he approached gaining support for a lending library. At first, when he solicited subscriptions, he presented the library as his own idea (which it kind of was). But...

The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions, made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one's self as the proposer of any useful project, that might be suppos'd to raise one's reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's neighbors, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project.

From then on,

I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on smoothly, and I ever after practis'd it on such occasions; and, from my frequent successes, can heartily recommend it. The present little sacrifice of vanity will be amply repaid.

According to Lao Tzu,

...the sage works without recognition.
He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it.
He does not try to show his knowledge.

CLASS WARFARE? Jim Hightower thinks conservatives don't have a clue about it.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's another take on it.

GOING TO WASHINGTON. El Cabrero just finished and highly recommends Van Jones' book The Green Collar Economy. I just found out he's on his was to DC to work with the Obama administration. Here's an interview.

FORECLOSURES were up in Feb. over last year's levels.

HEALTH CARE. A business group issued a report that shows the US health care system is a liability.


March 11, 2009

Asking for a favor

Franklin at his printing press. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The last few weeks at Goat Rope have been spent with Benjamin Franklin. The focus lately has been on his considerable diplomatic skills. You'll also find links and more or less snarky comments about current events below.

Whatever else you can say about Franklin, he had, in most areas of his live anyhow, social intelligence out the wazoo. One example of this in action came early in his career when he obtained the position of clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

The post was agreeable to Franklin in terms of income, social contacts, and opportunities to drum up printing business. But it was a yearly appointment. One year, a wealthy and influential new member of the assembly made a speech against Franklin's reappointment in favor of another candidate.

Here's how he dealt with the problem:

I therefore did not like the opposition of this new member, who was a gentleman of fortune and education, with talents that were likely to give him, in time, great influence in the House, which, indeed afterwards happen. I did not, however, aim at gaining his favor by paying any servile respect to him, but, after some time took this other method.

The method was very simply to ask the gentleman for a favor:

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return'd it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before, and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

Here's the punch line:

This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged." And it shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove, than to resent, return, and continue inimical proceedings.

Pretty slick.

HARD TIMES. Here's a good overview of a bad scene from USA Today.

GOVERNMENT-PROVIDED HEALTH CARE? Economist Dean Baker argues here that in a fair fight it would win out over private insurers.

CHICKEN LITTLE, REVISITED. Corporate America is having another hissy fit over the Employee Free Choice Act.


March 10, 2009

Information and improvement

This conversation improved and entertained both participants (although the one on the right has since shuffled off this mortal coil).

Goat Rope has recently been spending time in the company of Benjamin Franklin. Well, actually with his autobiography, but you get the idea.

Franklin achieved remarkable success in many of his endeavors thanks in no small measure to his skill in dealing with other people. As noted in yesterday's post, he made it a habit to avoid not only arguing with and directly contradicting others but also to state his own views in a modest and unassuming way.

If, as he believed, conversation is about informing others and being informed in turn and pleasing and being pleased by others, then stating opinions in a dogmatic way tends to shut things down. He said,

For, if you wish to inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix'd in your present opinions, modes, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, judiciously:

Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot...

Many years before Franklin, Lao Tzu put it like this:

A good soldier is not violent.
A good fighter is not angry.
A good winner is not vengeful.
A good employer is humble.
This is known as the Virtue of not striving.
This is known as ability to deal with people.
This since ancient times has been known
as the ultimate unity with heaven.

GOT THE DIPLOMA. NOW WHAT? This isn't the best of years, economically speaking, to graduate from college.

HUNGRY COUNTRY. The nation's food banks may need a bailout if things continue as

DREAM ON. Research suggests that people interpret their dreams selectively.

RELIGION ON THE BRAIN. Adaptation or accident?

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. Blenko Glass plans to resume limited production after closing earlier this year.


March 09, 2009

The Tao of Ben

The late great Benjamin Franklin had considerable diplomatic skills whether he was pursing his many interests or that of his country. One insight that greatly contributed to his success was an early insight that arguments and forcible assertions seldom convince other people and may even have the opposite effect.

It's the old fact that if you push people, they usually push back.

In his early years, Franklin admitted to a fondness for argumentation. After reading about the life of Socrates, he even experimented with the Socratic method:

I was charm'd with it, adopted it and dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter...I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis'd it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause observed.

After a while, however, he gave up the practice,

retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me , or I should think it so and so for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken.

And that made all the difference:

This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade me into measures that I have been from time to time engag'ed in promoting...I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information and pleasure.

NOT GOOD NEWS. The unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent in February. Here's an analysis of the numbers by Dean Baker.

WAS IT ENOUGH? In light of that and other bad news, recent efforts to jump start the economy may not have been bold enough.

REUNITED. Efforts are in progress to reunite labor unions into a single, large umbrella organization.

EITC. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on the effort to enact a state Earned Income Tax Credit for families with low and moderate incomes in WV.