July 06, 2007


Caption: These are good kitties.

Yesterday's post included a parable from the ancient Chinese Taoist sage Chuang Tzu. Here's another for good measure on the art of dealing with people...oh, yeah, and tigers too.

The basic idea is that if one takes into account the nature of those with whom one is interacting the outcomes will be better. The example is one of a trainer of tigers. Obviously, this can be a dangeous profession, particularly if one doesn't take their nature into consideration. Here's a suggestion on how to do it right:

Do you know how a tiger trainer works? He does not risk feeding the tigers live animals for fear of arousing their ferocity as they kill. He does not risk feeding them whole animals for fear of arousing their anger as they tear them apart. He knows when the tigers are hungry and when they are full; thereby he is in touch with their fierce nature. Tigers are a different species from man, yet by observing their ways, one can train them to be gentle. They will kill only when aroused.

Note to self: try not to feed the tigers live food...unless it really seems like the right thing to do at the time.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS FOR WV. The right wing noise machine in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia seems fixated on the idea that everything is bad here all the time. Perhaps they might wish to relocate?

Here's a little good news:

New data shows the average West Virginia worker earned nearly $1,400 more last year.

Workforce West Virginia says that 4.4 percent increase pushed the average worker's earnings above $32,700 last year.

George Hammond with West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economics says that's the state's fastest growth rate since 1990.

NO GLOBAL WARMING AROUND HERE, BOSS... Another canary in the old coal mine just went down:

Scientists on Tuesday blamed global warming for the disappearance of a glacial lake in remote southern Chile that faded away in just two months, leaving just a crater behind.

The disappearance of the lake in Bernardo O'Higgins National Park was discovered in late May by park rangers, who were stunned to find a 130-foot deep crater where a large lake had been.

After flying over the lake Monday scientists said they were able to draw preliminary conclusions that point to climate change as the leading culprit for the lake's disappearance.

MASSEY HIT BY SHAREHOLDER LAWSUIT. This should be fun to watch. Paragraph from the middle of Ken Ward's Gazette article:

The suit alleges a “conscious failure” by Massey management “to comply with applicable environmental and worker-safety laws and regulations.” It says failure has “caused and will continue to cause severe injury to the company by consciously ignoring Massey Energy’s legal obligations to comply with federal and state law, thereby exposing the company to a substantial threat of monetary liability for violations.”

Among other things, the suit cites a recent federal lawsuit over repeated water pollution violations, hefty fines for the deaths of two miners in the Aracoma Mine fire, and a nearly $2 million verdict against Massey for firing a worker who complained about safety problems.


July 05, 2007


El Cabrero began this week by discussing the late great Bruce Lee, who was quite enamored of Taoist thought.

It occurs to me that this might be as good a time as any to share this nugget from the ancient Chinese Taoist sage Chuang Tzu (aka Zhuangzi), who lived around the 4th century BC. His eponymous book is full of humorous and skeptical parables and dialogues about relativity, simplicity and living in accord with nature and the Way (Tao or Dao).

A basic idea of Taoism that is that we often make things harder on ourselves than we have to through unskillful actions and wasted energy. That's the point of the story of Prince Wen Hui's cook.

It is said that one day the prince observed the cook carving an ox. He was so skillful that the ox seemed to fall apart of its own accord. The Prince complimented him on his skill and got this reply:

The cook laid down his knife and said, "What your servant really cares for is Tao, which goes beyond mere art. When I first began to cut up oxen, I saw nothing but oxen. After three years of practicing, I know longer saw the ox as a whole. I now work with my spirit, not with my eyes. My senses stop functioning and my spirit takes over. I follow the natural grain, letting the knife find its way through the many hidden openings, taking advantage of what is there, never touching a ligament or a tendon, much less a main joint.

"A good cook changes his knife once a year because he cuts, while a mediocre cook has to change his every month because he hacks. I've had this knife of mine for nineteen years and have cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the edge is as if it were fresh from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints. The blade of the knife has no thickness. That which has no thickness has plenty of room to pass through theses spaces. Therefore, after nineteen years, my blade is as sharp as ever. However, when I come to a difficulty, I size up the joint, look carefully, and work slowly. Then with a very slight movement of the knife, I cut the whole ox wide open. It falls apart like a clod of earth, crumbling to the ground. I stand there with the knife in my hand, looking about me with a feeling of accomplishment and delight. Then I wipe the knife clean and put it away."

"Well done!" said the Prince. "From the words of my cook, I have learned the secret of growth."

From the Taoist viewpoint, much of the art of strategy and life consists of learning the cook's lesson.

HEALTH CARE FRENCH STYLE. I love Business Week. You just never know what you're going to find in there, but usually there's something interesting. The current issue has a favorable article about the French system of universal health care, which has been rated the best in the world. Here's the beginning:

Michael Moore's documentary Sicko trumpets France as one of the most effective providers of universal health care. His conclusions and fist-in-your-gut approach may drive some Americans up the wall. But whatever you think of Moore, the French system—a complex mix of private and public financing—offers valuable lessons for would-be health-care reformers in the U.S.

The whole article is worth a look.

DAMN, THAT IS ONE BIG BIRD! They just keep digging up more cool stuff. The latest is the prehistoric bird Argentavis magnificens, which weighed around 150 pounds, had a 23 foot wingspan and could actually fly.

It lived about 6 million years ago in South America and was so big it couldn't take flight just by flapping it's wings but had to glide from high places. Some might consider that a limitation, but who wants to be in a flatlanded place anyway?

Here are some pictures of the critter from Google images.


July 04, 2007


And who better to wish us a better future than Walt Whitman, poet of democracy:

ONE song, America, before I go,
I’d sing, o’er all the rest, with trumpet sound,
For thee—the Future.

I’d sow a seed for thee of endless Nationality;
I’d fashion thy Ensemble, including Body and Soul;
I’d show, away ahead, thy real Union, and how it may be accomplish’d.

(The paths to the House I seek to make,
But leave to those to come, the House itself.)

Belief I sing—and Preparation;
As Life and Nature are not great with reference to the Present only,
But greater still from what is yet to come,
Out of that formula for Thee I sing.

July 03, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle practices tiger style.

Yesterday's post on the late great Bruce Lee--may he rest in activity--got me thinking about the best lessons I learned from a life in the martial arts.

Here's a basic one: live in your body.

It's sad these days to see that so many people--especially children and young people--don't.

I remember times when perfectly healthy kids were absorbed playing basketball or even martial arts games on a video game when they could easily have been doing the real thing. That's become an all too common post-modern moment.

I remember a healthy neighbor boy whose sole activity consisted of riding a four wheeler...

Not living in one's body exacts a high social cost in terms of obesity, illness, bad health, mental problems, and general well being. The way our society approaches sports and activity does a great disservice to many people: sports and physical activity are too often things you watch rather than do or are only done by a few people for a few years.

The first martial arts legend I learned as a kid went something like this...

The arts that were eventually known as karate and "kung fu" (not a good term but a popular one) trace themselves to Buddhist monks who both sought enlightenment and were committed to nonviolence.

It was said that Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who is credited with bringing Chan (Japanese "Zen") Buddhism to China, settled at the famous Shaolin Temple and began to teach. The other monks, however were too physically weak to make any progress.

Zen teaching is opposed to dualistic thinking. The world of suffering (samsara) and the state of enlightment (nirvana) were not to be thought of as separate from each other. Much less body and mind...

Bodhidharma (known in China as Ta Mo and in Japan as Daruma) believed that one could not make spiritual progress if the body was neglected. He began teaching a series of exercises that eventually the monks would use to defend themselves without weapons on their travels.

That was legend; it probably didn't happen quite that way, but the point is valid: we should try to use and develop body and mind throughout the course of a lifetime.

That lesson was a keeper.


Maine is the first state to take a stand against big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot that often swagger into a town, pushing out small businesses while harming the environment and sucking up municipal services. Gov. John Baldacci (D) last month signed into law the Informed Growth Act, which holds big-box corporations accountable and gives citizens a real voice in development decisions.

Specifically, the new law—which was strongly backed by working families and small businesses—requires developers of retail stores exceeding 75,000 square feet to conduct studies gauging a project’s impact on municipal services, the environment and local businesses. The proposed store can’t be approved if the studies find it is likely to cause a quantifiable “undue adverse impact” in any of these areas.

Although Maine is the first state to take this action, similar legislation has been introduced in six other states in the past two years. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that states such as Montana and New Jersey have or are considering similar adverse-impact laws. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed a big-box impact law last year.

LIKE MANY BULLIES, PIRANAS ARE WIMPS. That's the verdict of a recent study on the fish.

MASSEY SUIT. It looks like our dear friends at Massey Energy had a bad day yesterday, when a jury awarded Wheeling-Pitt $219 million in a case over a contract dispute.


July 02, 2007


Caption: This great blue heron practices the crane style.

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, in the famous 13th chapter, St. Paul says "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Speak for yourself, dude. I mean, how much stock can you put in a saying by someone who said "It is better to marry than burn"?

(Note: that was a joke--especially in the event La Cabra reads this.)

I thought of those lines about putting away childish things when I came across this Google video featuring a "lost interview" with Bruce Lee, the idol of my youth and icon of my declining years.

He had just died when I began formally studying martial arts in the summer of 1973, a hobby I've continued off and on ever since. In fact, I remember reading his philosophical articles on the subject in magazines as a kid before he became a superstar.

I still like Bruce and quote him frequently even though I don't kick as high, hard or fast as I used to. Come to think of it I still like the other idols of my youth like Tolkien and Alice Cooper (not necessarily in that order).

Bruce was not just a pretty spinning back kick. He studied philosophy at the University of Washington and throughout his life and his theories of the martial arts and other subjects are still studied. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was particularly influenced by the Taoist tradition.

His ideas of strategy can be applied to areas far removed from martial arts (although they do work pretty well there too).

Here is my favorite quotation from Chairman Bruce, one that has served me well in several difficult situations when I remembered to act on it:

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water…If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

CHINESE LABOR LAW REFORM. This could be interesting, particularly if it is seriously enforced. From the Washington Post:

BEIJING, June 29 -- The Chinese legislature passed a law Friday to provide more protection to the millions of farm youths who leave home and become cheap labor in the factories and construction sites that have mushroomed in China's booming economy.

The Standing Committee of the China People's Congress, in approving the law, presented it as a bulwark against widespread abuses of the often-uneducated migrant workers, such as forced labor, withholding of pay and unwarranted dismissal. The country was alarmed two weeks ago, for example, by the discovery that hundreds of Chinese were forced to work in conditions resembling slavery at dozens of brick kilns in Shanxi province while local Communist Party officials did nothing to stop it.

In reaction, lawmakers at the last minute added a provision to the long-discussed labor code to mandate punishment for officials who are shown to be negligent or corrupt in allowing entrepreneurs to abuse workers. This and the unusual public rollout of the new law seemed designed to show the Chinese public that the central government of President Hu Jintao is determined to crack down on corrupt officials and protect those left behind by the swift economic growth of the past 25 years.

RADIO GA GA. A recent book titled Unleashing Capitalism has been getting lots of attention in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. The book, which claims to be totally objective and scientific, opposes minimum wage and prevailing wage; supports right to work for less; calls for "tort reform;" wants to cuts public funding for education, infrastructure, and services to pay for business tax cuts; opposes workplace safety and other business regulations; wants to undercut public education with a voucher system; etc.

Again, this is all "science" and anyone who disagrees--say by wanting good coal mine safety legislation--is a "Marxist."

WV Public Broadcasting reporter Scott Finn interviewed WVU's Russell Sobel about the book. Dr. Sobel got a little defensive when questioned about the book's factual and "scientific" claims. Yours truly was also interviewed and expressed a different point of view. Here's what another WV blogger, Raging Red, had to say about the story.