February 24, 2007


For first time readers, it is the policy of Goat Rope to provide semi-serious commentary 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 introduce a new commentator, Madame Ouspenskaya, a fortune teller well versed in the occult arts.

(Note: any resemblence between Madame Ouspenskaya and Goat Rope's canine film critic is purely coincidental.)

Thanks to a massive upgrade by the Goat Rope tech crew, we believe we are about to break new ground in blogospheric history, to wit, the first online animal fortune teller.

Here's how the system works. First, hold your palm to your computer screen. Then, scroll down to access Madame Ouspenskaya's reading.

Hey! You're not supposed to scroll down until you've held your hand to the screen.

And Yes! This means you.


Your palm--it speaks to me. It tells me of your journey through life, of what has been and what is yet to be.

Your journey is long and varied. You will know many moments of both joy and sadness, of companionship and solitude.

In moments of companionship, you must sniff and let yourself be sniffed.You must share the popcorn of life and chase its many sticks.

Yet when moments of solitude come, you must embrace them. Clasp solitude to your bosom as if it were your friend.

A squeaky toy can help at these moments.

You must learn what to chase and what not to chase.

And you will know moments of failure and embarassment, when you use the bathroom on the floor.

This too shall pass.


February 23, 2007


Caption: These guys would do OK.

We interrupt Goat Rope's ordinary social commentary to pass on this truly random news item.

It has to do with the politics of marriage.

(St. Paul famously said that "it is better to marry than to burn." But then, he was single.)

Anyhow, check this out:

OLYMPIA, Wash. - An initiative filed by proponents of same-sex marriage would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriage annulled.

Initiative 957 was filed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance. That group was formed last summer after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage.

Under the initiative, marriage would be limited to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children in order to get a marriage license, and if they did not have children within three years, their marriage would be subject to annulment.

Evidently, some people got tired of hearing that marriage is for procreation only and decided to call that bluff.

“For many years, social conservatives have claimed that marriage exists solely for the purpose of procreation ... The time has come for these conservatives to be dosed with their own medicine," said WA-DOMA organizer Gregory Gadow in a printed statement. “If same-sex couples should be barred from marriage because they can not have children together, it follows that all couples who cannot or will not have children together should equally be barred from marriage."

Holy jujitsu, Batman! As the saying goes, turnabout is fair play.

NOW FOR A REAL FAMILY VALUE THE "FAMILY VALUES" CREW DOESN'T CARE ABOUT. A recent study of child well being by UNICEF found that the US and Great Britian trailed other advanced democracies:

The far-reaching analysis by UNICEF didn’t measure just family income, but also focused on meaningful factors such as whether kids live in two-parent homes, whether they eat dinner together as a family, whether they’re bullied or have fights at school, whether they’re obese, whether they dabble with drugs and sex, whether they’re vaccinated against diseases, whether they’re delinquent, and many other indicators.

Holland and Scandinavia scored at the top among 21 affluent nations — while the United States ranked 20th and Britain 21st. A top UNICEF researcher said the poor showing of the bottom pair stems partly from their worse income inequality and worse government programs such as day care and medical insurance.

“What they have in common are very high levels of inequality, very high levels of child poverty, which is also associated with inequality, and ... poorly developed services to families with children,” British professor Jonathan Bradshaw said.

Isn't it ironic that the legions that rise up in defense of so-called "family values" as a rule don't care about things like this?


February 22, 2007


El Cabrero is a pretty much lifelong student of the martial arts, which have quite a bit to teach those who are willing to learn about strategy and the dynamics of conflict.

Here's a basic rule: never do anything if you can help it that makes your potential opponent more powerful and dangerous than he (usually it is a he) already was. That's another lesson lost on the Bush administration.

Here's a case in point:

The Feb. 19 & 26 issue of The New Yorker has an interesting article by James Surowiecki about how the belligerence of the Bush administration towards Iran actually strengthens the hardliners in the regime. The title is Troubled Waters over Oil.

Basically, the political fortune of Iranian President Ahmadinejad follow the price of oil. When it goes up, the regime has more money to spend. When it goes down, reformers and internal critics are usually in a stronger position. So when signs point to a crisis and conflict, the "risk premium" and thus the price of oil increases.

When buying and selling oil, traders don’t just look at today’s supply and demand. They also try to forecast the future. And if buyers think there’s a chance that supply is going to be lower down the line—because, say, Iranian oil fields will be shut down—they will be willing to pay a higher price today in order to guarantee that they will have the oil they need. That’s why, in the run-up to the Iraq war, oil prices jumped more than fifty per cent. In the current confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, these same concerns create a perverse set of incentives: whenever the U.S. says things that make a military conflict with Iran seem more likely, the price of oil rises, strengthening Iran’s regime rather than weakening it. The more we talk about curbing Iranian power, the more difficult it gets.

The inflated risk premium provides the revenue that the government depends on. This means that "Ahmadinejad, whatever his religious or nationalist inspiration, has an economic incentive to say confrontational things that spook the oil market."

But by himself, he can only do so much, since traders know that Iran does not really want to shut off the supply of oil. What really raises the risk premium are the American public responses to these provocations.

He concludes

Talking tough may look like a good way of demonstrating U.S. resolve, but when tough talk makes our opponent richer and stronger we may accomplish more by saying less.

ROUGE'S GALLERY: Meanwhile back to El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. Here is an op ed on state budget issues by GR amigo Ted "Beavis" Boettner. He's gunning for the position of uber-wonk and is going to be pretty insufferable now.

And this one by AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Larry Matheney asks some big questions.

And finally, a few years back, WV became the "mouse that roared" when it passed legislation aimed at reducing the price of prescription drugs. Since then, we've been more like the mouse that...I don't know...didn't. This one by Dan Kurland suggests we're facing a moment of truth.


February 21, 2007


Caption: Goats are the ultimate pragmatists.

Today is Ash Wednesday and El Cabrero will get his annual dose of cranial carbon if all goes according to plan.

In a couple previous Lents, I actually gave up beer and wine for all 40 days (46 if you count the weekends, as I found out to my dismay) until I discovered that this caused me to lose all interest in religion...

I'm thinking about giving up something I don't do. Maybe something like mime, mud wrestling or pursuing an interest in accounting. But then you never know when the urge to mud wrestle will strike.


This blog has several patron saints. Among them are Aristotle, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Montaigne, Albert Camus, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Walter Reuther and psychologist, philosopher and pragmatist William James. (This list is not conclusive.) If there's a common thread, none of them were fanatics.

If you haven't read it (or even if you have), James' Varieties of Religious Experience is well worth the effort. The same is true of his Pragmatism
and many of his essays.

Here's a take home message from his essay "The Will to Believe:" faith can create facts. Let me explain. At times, the belief that something can be done, whether it's climbing Everest or challenging an unjust law, can lead us to try things that can succeed against all odds. In other words, that kind of faith can change and create reality.

El Cabrero was again reminded of James by a review of the book William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism by Jackson Lears in The Nation.

Here's a quote from James that rings true to me:

If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight--as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulnesses, are needed to redeem.

So again and again and again, let us fight the good fight.

SPEAKING OF REAL FIGHTS, here's a little more about the effort to get the legislature of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia to pass a resolution opposing escalation of the war in Iraq.


February 20, 2007


Caption: This seems like a good image for the war in Iraq.

For an interesting critique of U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere, check American Respect, which has just released Terrorism: A Brief for Americans. A sample quote from their home page:

Simply put, U.S. policies and actions in Iraq and throughout the world have increased world terrorism. The predictions made by our administration regarding the war have been badly wrong—predictions regarding how quickly it would end, how much it would cost, how we would be greeted as liberators, and how terrorism would decline as a result. Now predictions are no longer even offered. The predictions have been wrong .....

Roger that. The group recommends the following steps:

*Pursue true terrorists such as al Qaeda by eliminating training camps, preventing arms smuggling, freezing financial assets and apprehending terrorist leaders.

*Find balanced solutions in sensitive areas which foment terrorism by rebuilding international coalitions. Violence in regions like Chechnya, Kashmir and especially Palestine directly and adversely affects the entire Muslim world.

*Decrease our profile in Iraq and use international coalitions to lead a march toward guaranteed rights, limited government and democratic representation. Further recognize that Iraq was arbitrarily assembled in 1919 from three ethnically and religiously different Ottoman provinces, and that a peaceful solution may require a return, either partly or fully, to this pre-1919 arrangement.

*Build up the economies of Muslim countries with the goal of creating a larger middle class in each. If abject poverty is a breeding ground for terrorism, then creating broad prosperity is a key part of the solution--especially in the areas of trade and land reform. And success in the economies of any Muslim country--from Morocco to Indonesia--is positive for stability and peace throughout the region.

*Establish a tone of goodwill in policies and actions toward these nations and their growing and increasingly global populations.

One of the leaders of this group is business leader Richard Vague, former CEO of FirstUSA Bank and a co-founder of Juniper Financial, who describes himself as a pragmatic conservative. He is now working to persuade business leaders and conservatives that the war in Iraq is increasing terrorism, weakening America, and is also "bad for business."

I guess the President would say these guys hate freedom...

MEANWHILE, BACK IN EL CABRERO'S BELOVED STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA, a diverse coalition, including yours truly, held a press conference in support of a resolution now under consideration by the WV House of Delegates that supports U.S. troops but opposes escalation of the conflict there. Here's one news report on the event.


February 19, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle, having invoked the saints and taken refuge in the Buddha, prepares for the final push on the minimum wage

GOAT ROPE BIRTHDAY. It has come to my attention that this past Saturday, Feb.17, marked the first birthday of this blog.

El Cabrero would like to thank Goat Rope subscribers and readers as well as his employer, the American Friends Service Committee, which allow it to happen.

Ordinarily AFSC strives for a degree of respectability, at least outside of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, but they've let me and the talking animals here away with quite a bit.

(I think that's because they don't read it. )

Now for some updates:

A STEP CLOSER FOR THE MINIMUM WAGE. The U.S. House passed a $1.8 billion package of tax breaks for business as a step towards a compromise with the Senate on raising the minimum wage.

Earlier, the House passed a clean minimum wage increase, but the Senate tied it to $8.3 billion in business tax cuts. This may make it easier for both houses to reconcile differences and (finally) raise the minimum after 10 years of stagnation.

Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus predicted the bills would reconcile within two or three weeks.

For a good critique of the Senate tax cuts, check this "Outside Shot" article from Business Week by Economic Policy Institute economist Max B. Sawicky, who argues that "these tax cuts would never stand alone, so they ought not stand at all."

IRAQ. While the Senate failed this weekend to vote on the Iraq resolution that passed the House, the WV House of Delegates will take up a similar one this week. A press conference in support is planned for this afternoon.

And it looks like there was a little excitement at Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's office Friday after she became the only member of WV's delegation to oppose the anti-"surge" resolution. First there was a vigil outside the office. Later that evening, the Rev. Jim Lewis, a leader of WV Patriots for Peace was eventually escorted out by police and issued a citation for, shall we say, making an extended visit.

Speaking of Jim, if you haven't already, check out his musings in Fig Tree Notes. They are always worth a look.