May 12, 2007


For first time readers, this blog generally covers serious topics during the week and features commentary by talking animals on the weekend. This weekend, however, we have a special news item.

We are pleased to announce that Goat Rope Farm resident, noted free market economist and bantam rooster Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit, has recently received major funding from a large bank doing business in West Virginia to present a series of lectures supporting the philosophical tradition represented by Ayn Rand.

(Note: It is not clear whether this is related related to the bank BB&T's recent funding of several similar projects in this state.)

The topic will be "The Virtues of Total Selfishness as the Whole Basis of Commerce and Society." The reader will perhaps recall that Dr. Dimwit serves as director of the Goat Rope Farm Public Policy Foundation and has served as a senior economic advisor to the Bush administration and several conservative and libertarian think tanks.

We are very proud of Dr. Dimwit and have long believed that he is by far the most intelligent and articulate representative of this school of economic thought. We will now proceed to his inaugural lecture.


Crudawakapatootarini! It's about time I got some recognition in this dump. I'm getting sick of the sceptic sludge on this blog.

OK. Let me tell you what it's all about. Or better, let me show you what it's all about. Check out that picture. Know who that is? Huh? Know who's on center stage? Want three guesses? Is it you? Oh, no, I forgot, isn't you, is it? Who could it be?

Oh yeah--it's me! That's what I'm talking about.

Now see, this is about morality which is about what's good and bad. Let's go back to the picture. Did I mention that's me? OK. First principle: me=good. Second principle: me getting what I want=good. Third principle: me not getting what I want=bad. Fourth principle: good=freedom. Fifth principle: me getting what I want=freedom=good.

Pretty simple, huh? That's all you need to know. Now go fetch me that BIG hen, dammit. And tell the bank to get rid of that other rooster. I say sell him to Col. Sanders! That's the beauty of the market.

And that's the truth. You bet your cloaca.


May 11, 2007


The guiding thread on this week's Goat Rope is a series of reflections on the ancient Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching, a work attributed to Lao Tzu. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

This book has some interesting things to say about the art of dealing with people and about leadership that are worth considering.

I noticed as early as junior high school that there were some teachers and authority figures that I felt obliged to resist, while others earned my respect without even asking for it. This was not a matter of size or intimidation; those who tried the hardest to intimidate aroused my greater resistance.

The ones I respected gave people space. They didn't flaunt their authority or try to push others around. When they used their authority, they did so for an obvious reason. Since they didn't push unnecessarily, I didn't feel obliged to push back.

As Lao Tzu put it,

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. (68)

Some people seem to understand this; others don't. Those who do are able to accomplish much more with less energy wasted. For those who don't even the most routine interactions can become battles. Understanding this may be the most effective kind of personal and social self defense: it can enable one to avoid conflict and defuse violence before it happens.

Lao Tzu's ideas on effective leadership probably seems counter-intuitive to many people but we need more of it:

Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition. (66)


The very highest [type of leader] is barely known by men.
Then comes that which they know and love,
Then that which is feared,
Then that which is despised.

He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.

When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, "We did it!" (17)

He doesn't say anything about swaggering beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner, but I think that would be a Taoist no-no.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's some data on public opinion on Iraq now and then from the Center for American Progress.

COSTS OF WAR. Here's an item by Dean Baker on the long term costs of war to economic growth. He links the issue to current discussions about dealing with the costs of addressing global warming.


May 10, 2007


Caption: Feline Taoist sage Seamus McGoogle has mastered the art of non action.

El Cabrero was lucky to stumble upon his first copy of the Tao Te Ching as a teenager. I can't seem to keep a copy of it as I keep giving it away.

That ancient classic of Chinese philosophy is the guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope. If you haven't already, please click on the earlier entries.

Ever since starting to try to soak up that little book, I've always cringed when called an activist. From the Taoist point of view, that's a bad thing (see yesterday).

Briefly, Lao Tzu taught that aggressive action usually leads to resistance and unintended consequences. Instead, he called for non action (wu wei). Non action doesn't mean not doing anything, although it might if there's nothing better to do, but it does mean doing nothing that isn't timely and appropriate.

The best example I can think of comes from martial arts, where you often fail if you try to force a technique but can easily succeed if you wait for the proper opening. Too often, we're busy but not getting anything done and wasting energy. As they used to say in judo class, "If you're trying too hard, you're not doing it right."

In practice this may mean focusing on prevention rather than intervention, looking for the solution within the problem itself, or working with rather than against the grain of the situation.

Tao abides in non-action.
Yet nothing is left undone...

He who acts defeats his own purpose;
He who grasps loses.
The sage does not act, and so is not defeated.
He does not grasp and therefore does not lose.

The style of work advocated does not resemble chanting slogans from the barricades (although at rare times it might); at its best, it is often invisible. Non action can also mean waiting until there is an opportunity for effective intervention. As the eminent philosopher Tom Petty noted, the waiting is the hardest part. Lao Tzu asks,

Who can wait while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?

MORE ON SAGO. According to the new federal report on the Sago mine disaster, lightning may have set off the chain of events, but other precautions could have prevented or reduced the severity of the incident. Here's Ken Ward from today's Gazette.

LIVING WAGE FOR MARYLAND. This week Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed that state's new living wage law, which sets a baseline of pay for government service contractors. Here's more from the AFLCIO blog. A number of local governments have passed living wage ordinances, but Maryland is the first state to do so and could set the example for others to follow.


May 09, 2007


The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is a series of reflections on the ancient Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

A major theme of the Tao Te Ching is the critique of force and its unskillful use. For example, if you push people, they usually push back--harder. If you try to pull people towards you, literally or otherwise, they tend to pull away. If you hit a nail, it usually goes in deeper.

Heated arguments with people seldom convince. When muscles are treated with resistance, they grow stronger. Strident and self-righteous groups often alienate others.

When new antibiotics are developed, micro-organisms tend to evolve defenses. Some insects develop immunities to poisons. And, uhhh, arrogant and aggressive foreign policies and unnecessary wards don't usually work out very well either.

The common tendency to apply force against that which we dislike often has the unintended consequence of strengthening it. As Holmes Welch put it in his book Taoism: The Parting of the Way,

Interfere with existence and it resists, as a stone resists crushing. If it is a living creature it resists actively, as a wasp being crushed will sting. But the kind of resistance offered by living creatures is unique: it grows stronger as interference grows stronger up to the point where the creature’s capacity for resistance is destroyed. Evolution might be thought of as a march towards ever more highly articulated and effective capacity for resistance. Humans and human societies are thus highly responsive to challenge. So when anyone, ruler or subject, tries to act upon humans individually or collectively, the ultimate result is the opposite of what he is aiming at. He has invoked what we might call “the Law of Aggression."

While the Tao Te Ching recognizes that some coercion may be necessary for defensive purposes, it advises that the wise person or leader should use force of any kind only when absolutely necessary and use it to the least degree possible and then stop. Excess and aggression lead to disaster:

Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,
Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
For this would only cause resistance.
Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
Just do what needs to be done.
Never take advantage of power.

Achieve results,
But never glory in them.
Achieve results,
But never boast.
Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.
Achieve results,
But not through violence.

Force is followed by loss of strength.
This is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the Tao
comes to an early end. 30

MINIMUM WAGE CALL IN DAYS MAY 9-11. The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign is urging people to call Congress between now and May 11th and urge that they get moving on the minimum wage. Two different bills have passed the House and Senate and await reconciliation. Click here for more info, complete with a toll free number provided by the American Friends Service Committee.

THE LATEST ON SAGO. This is from Ken Ward in today's Charleston Gazette.

GUARDING KANSAS. The war in Iraq has limited the ability of the Kansas Guard to respond to disasters like that in Greensburg.

NOTE TO EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS. It has come to my attention that some people who get Goat Rope via email haven't been receiving it. It should be working now. Sorry for any inconvenience.


May 08, 2007


Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven, everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice. Tao Te Ching, 78

The geologic history of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia
as I understand it is the story of water versus rock, with the water winning every time.

Simple observations like this are at the root of the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese classic (see yesterday's post).

You can probably think of other ones...trees that are brittle break during heavy snows or high winds, while the flexible ones don't. People when healthy are pliable and flexible, but become rigid when they are dead. Extremes of wind or rain don't last long. People can't run at top speed for very long. It's hard to scream at the top of your lungs all day (even if you feel like it).

Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven. (9)

Recognizing these obvious truths and acting in accordance with them are the basic elements of living according to the Tao or way of things, according to Lao Tzu, legendary author of these words.

Unfortunately, people aren't very good at doing things the easy way and often force their intentions on nature or other people in unskillful ways and with undesirable consequences. The Tao Te Ching has a very sophisticated critique of force and aggression, about which more next time.

SPEAKING OF CRITIQUES OF AGGRESSION, here is Senator Byrd on the Bush administration's "foolish consistency."

SUPERSIZE ME. Here are some interesting factoids gleaned from Dean Baker's book The United States Since 1980: average daily calorie consumption in the US rose by 22 percent between 1980 and 2002, with average daily fat consumption rising by 14 percent in the same period. In 2002, only 17.4 percent of people with college degrees were classified as obese, compared with 29.7 percent without.


May 07, 2007


According to an old legend, one of the wisest books ever written came about by accident.

Lao Tzu, or Laozi in pinyin , lived in the 6th century BC and was a archivist during the Zhou dynasty. When he became tired of the artificialities of court life, he gave up his post and retreated westward to the wilderness.

At a frontier post, a gatekeeper asked him to write down his teachings so they would not be lost to the world. The result was the Tao Te Ching, or the Classic of the Way and its Power, a short work of 5000 characters and 81 brief chapters.

Actually, none of this probably happened and there may never have been a Lao Tzu, but it doesnt' matter. We have the book. If I could, I'd give everyone in the world a copy of it.

The Tao or Dao that gives the book its name is usually translated as the Way, meaning the ultimate principle or natural order of things. We can observe and infer things about it but ultimately it is something beyond name and form, as the Tao Te Ching states in its opening lines:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

Although some people have read it as a mystical work, I think it's the most practical book ever written. Its insights can be useful in all aspects of public and private life. Short version: people can live in harmony with the nature of things (including people) or not. The correct answer is the former.

More on this later.

NOT IN HARMONY WITH THE TAO. A basic idea of the Tao Te Ching is that aggression provokes resistance and feeds violence. If you want to see a perfect example of an anti-Taoist, look no further than the White House. If you want to see the consequences, look at the world. The latest tragic example comes from a Pentagon survey of the mental health of U.S. troops serving in Iraq. The NY Times reports that the results of the survey

suggested that extended tours and multiple deployments, among other policy decisions, could escalate anger and increase the likelihood that soldiers or marines lash out at civilians, or defy military ethics.

ON THE OTHER HAND, the same paper carried this item on the growing political clout of some anti-war groups.

CHAMBER CONTINUES WAR ON WV. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to flood the airwaves with ads attacking WV's legal climate. This doesn't seem to be getting them anywhere. This is from today's Gazette. Here's hoping they spend it all.