January 11, 2008


For first time visitors, it is the policy of this blog to cover fairly serious human issues during the week. Weekends, however, are reserved for the contributions of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

In our ceaseless efforts to bring only the very best to our readers, we continually seek for the best and brightest animal commentators. This weekend, we are pleased to introduce Self Help Guru Rooster. Self Help Guru Rooster is a motivational speaker who claims to have advised many business and civil leaders with his message of positive thinking and prosperity.

Ordinarily, he charges very high fees for his seminars, but for a limited time only he has agreed to share his secrets with Goat Rope readers on the condition that the hens stay around.

(Disclaimer: we assume no liability for the consequences of anyone who acts upon his advice or that of any GR commentator.)

It is our hope that (bio) diverse features such as this will elevate the level of discourse and promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


You know what? You can have everything you want all the time! All you gotta do is want it.

I'm living proof. See how good looking I am? That's cause I wanna be that way. And anything I want is right there. When I walk around the yard, there's grass and bugs and worms whenever I want them. And when I want grain, there's some of that too. When I concentrate real hard, sometimes somebody throws an apple core.

And there are fuzzy hens too! There's like a gray one and a white one and a black one. And they're just there all the time.

You too can have all this. I know what your thinking--there's no way you could have it all like I do. That's what's holding you back: your negative mental attitude.

Take it from me. I used to be a loser like you. Actually, I don't think I was. OK, forget that part. Just get out there and start scratching around the yard and stick your face right down in the mud and manure and you too will find all kinds of grass and bugs and worms. Just like me!

Just leave the hens alone.



The dude himself, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme of Goat Rope lately is strategy and what even peace loving people can learn from the study of strategy, strife, and conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

Yesterday's post mentioned Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese strategist of the Warring States period (402-221 BC). His Art of War has been studied for centuries by people in many walks of life who have found useful insights for daily life there--with "war" understood metaphorically for the world's constantly occuring collisions. I learned of this classic while studying martial arts.

The book consists of 13 brief chapters, although additional related texts have recently been discovered. I'm going to highlight some passages that I've found useful in personal experience in the course of dojo sparring and several peaceful campaigns.

Here's one of my favorites. As mentioned yesterday, Sun Tzu believed that the highest level of skill was to accomplish one's goals without a fight. Here's a related insight from Chapter 3:

The best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers; and the worst to assault walled cities.

Let me unpack the first part of that a little. Imagine you are engaged in a campaign to either make something happen or keep something from happening and that you face opposition. Not too hard, huh? All too often, we tend to attack our opponents, at least verbally.

Personally attacking people may make one feel better for a little while, but it usually doesn't accomplish much and can lead to all kinds of trouble. It's far more effective if one understands the opponent's strategy and neutralizes it without attacking the opponent at all.

Here's a real example. A while back, there was an effort by A to push through a potentially popular but irresponsible policy as a first step to a wider agenda. That was their strategy. Group B put together an alternative proposal that many organizations supported. The alternative addressed legitimate concerns but avoided the negative aspects of A's agenda. Group B released their proposal at the best moment. It got a good bit of attention and helped shape debate on the issue and ultimately the outcome.

Group B didn't attack anybody, but rather deprived the opponents of their strategy. Straight Sun Tzu. It was fun too. That's what I heard anyway...

Here's another simple example. Imagine a woman walking through a dark street who is being followed by a potential attacker. She crosses the street to an area with more light and more people around and continues on her way. Without engaging her potential attacker, she neutralized his strategy, which was to attack her in an isolated place. Pretty simple but pretty effective.

More of the same next week.

RICH FOOD. In response to an item from yesterday's post about the dietary divide between rich and poor, a friend in Philly sent the following link which asks the question "can you afford to eat right?" Increasingly, eating a healthy diet will require more money, more education, and more time. Thanks, MM!

FRESH FIGS. Darkness and light and challenges and responses are part of the mix in the latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

EVOLUTION AND ALTRUISM. Here's coverage from the UK on an interesting scientific debate.

ABOUT THAT PROVOCATION AT SEA. The military isn't sure it happened. As the folks at Wired's Danger Room blog suggest, "hold off the invasion force."


January 10, 2008


Gichin Funakoshi.

The theme of this week's Goat Rope is strategy and what people who want to make the world less violent and more just can learn from the theory and history of conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

El Cabrero admits to being a fan of Sun Tzu from way back. I first learned about his Art of War when I began became interested in martial arts as a child. At the time, there were no classes in my little town and we couldn't afford the tae kwon do school in a nearby city, which charged high payments and made you sign contracts. (I've always been grateful to Lady Poverty for saving me from going that route.)

So for a few years, I just read whatever I could find about it. In the process, I learned about different religions, philosophies and traditions. Eventually, we found a non-commercial dojo which taught shotokan, a strict traditional Japanese/Okinawan style. Practice sessions are a mixture of ritual and drill, part boot camp and part high church.

Shotokan was founded by Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan schoolteacher, scholar, and calligrapher (Shoto was his pen name, and kan means school). A sickly child, he studied from the leading masters of his day and was a pioneer in introducing the Okinawan art to Japan and ultimately the world. His writings and example have probably influenced my moral and spiritual development (such as it is) as much as the Bible and the church I sometimes attend. Probably more.

In one of his earlier manuals, he wrote the following:

Deep within the shadows of human culture lurk seeds of destruction, just as rain and thunder follow in the wake of fair weather. History is the story of the rise and fall of nations. Change is the order of heaven and earth; the sword and pen are as inseparable as the two wheels of a cart. Thus, a man must encompass both fields if he is to be considered a man of accomplishment. If he is overly complacent, trusting that fair weather will last forever, he will one day be caught off guard by terrible floods and storms. So it is essential for all of us to prepare each day for any unexpected emergency.

Funakoshi drilled his students in ethics and courtesy as much as physical techniques. The result combined strong inhibitions against the use of force with a fierce, linear, all-out fighting style.

His master text, Karate-Do Kyohan, contains a section of maxims for the trainee which includes quotes from Sun Tzu as well as Confucian and Buddhist sources. They are quoted without attribution since it was presumed that readers would know the source.

Here are two well known ones. They are pretty basic but if you only keep two from Sun Tzu, they'd be a good choice:

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.

In other words, the ultimate level of skill in understanding conflict or strife is to accomplish what you need to without it. Understood metaphorically, it also means one should use the least possible energy and do the least possible harm in responding to situations.

Funakoshi also quoted Sun Tzu on the importance of knowledge:

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.

If ignorant of both your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

In other words, understanding one's own capacities and limitations as well as those of one's opponent can help one anticipate developments and/or take advantage of openings in a given situation or avoid engagement altogether. Those two sayings taken together are pretty good advice for the most peace loving people, whether they are trying to effect some change or just deal with the ordinary collisions of life.

CITIES FIGHT BACK. Here's an interesting item from Business Week about how some cities are dealing with home foreclosures. It seems that many banks abandon homes after they force out the former owners for not being able to keep up with payments. The abandoned housing causes all kinds of problems. Some cities are taking banks to court to force them to keep up the property, demolish it or otherwise take some responsibility for the mess they created.

THE DIETARY DIVIDE reflects the economic one. The rich get organic and the poor get diabetes.

MASSEY IN COURT. Here's the latest on Massey Energy's most recent legal battle.

STATE OF THE STATE. Here's the text of Gov. Manchin's speech.


January 09, 2008


Heraclitus, by way of wikipedia.

It may be that a person's choice of worldview is as much a result of temperament as rational persuasion. El Cabrero inclines to a view of the world as something in constant flux, with things colliding and combining all the time.

I don't think it's all chaos. Instead, it seems that much of the art of life consists of trying to understand the patterns of change and the array of forces and working with them.

That's probably why one of my favorite philosophers is the ancient Greek sage Heraclitus, whose enigmatic teachings only survive in fragments.

He is perhaps best known for cryptic sayings like "you can't step in the same river twice" and "the way up and the way down are the same thing."

Two of his signature statements are panta rei--all things flow--and polemos panton pater--war is the father of all things (note: my Greek is pretty pathetic). He was using the term war metaphorically. Strife would probably be a better term. He also said dike eris--strife is justice, meaning that harmony arises from the interaction and conflict of forces.

All this is another way of saying that understanding the nature of strife and how to deal with it wouldn't be a bad idea for even the most nonviolent people. Scott Ritter makes the same argument in his book Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement:

I start with the premise that life is conflict, given that I define conflict as the existence of friction created when two or more forces interact...Conflict is constant, and ongoing. Conflict is life... Accept this and you're on the path to dealing effectively with conflict.

Strife doesn't have to be violent or even nasty. It's pretty much the norm. I think the more we learn about it the less nasty it will be.

One ancient text dealing with conflict is Sun Tzu's Art of War. It has been studied for centuries not only by warriors but by people in many walks of life engaged in peaceful pursuits. About which more tomorrow.

THE MIDDLE CLASS. Speaking of ancient Greeks, El Cabrero's amigo Aristotle stressed in his Politics that republics are most stable when the middle classes make up the majority of the population. The role of unions in creating and sustaining the middle class was the subject of a recent talk by economist and columnist Paul Krugman. A major step on the road to rebuilding the middle class is restoring the right to organize by the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

SPEAKING OF LABOR, here's an item from The Nation about the anti-labor NLRB and possible ways around it.

RESPONDING TO RECESSION. As signs of a recession increase, there is more talk about some kind of economic stimulus. This new paper from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities lays out a rational approach-one that is timely, temporary and targeted to bring the most bang for the proverbial buck (in the parlance of our times). Sneak preview: more tax cuts for people who don't need them aren't going to get it.

WV MEDICAID FLAP. Some readers may remember the struggle in 2006 to restore cuts in-home care for elderly Medicaid recipients. Here's a summary of the coverage of a recent legislative audit from Lincoln Walks at Midnight.

TORTURE is the subject of this Gazette op-ed by Carli Mareneck.

WHERE'S WALLACE? The British scientist and co-discoverer of natural selection Alfred Russel Wallace, that is.


January 08, 2008


El Cabrero is musing this week about strategy and what people who want to make the world less violent and more just can learn from the history of strife and conflict. For an introduction, see yesterday's post.

Two of the more interesting books on this subject I ran across last year are Scott Ritter's Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement and Robert Helvey's On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking about the Fundamentals.

Both books are written by genuinely progressive people concerned about making the world more just and less violent. Both were written by people with extensive military experience. And both discuss military theory and history at some length in the context of the nonviolent effort to end war, promote democracy, and struggle against injustice.

I imagine that some people find this to be rank heresy, but, as I argued yesterday, refusing to learn about things one labels as "bad" is probably not the most practical approach to dealing with the world's problems.

Helvey's book on nonviolent action features a discussion of the importance of developing a "strategic estimate" of a situation, which he borrowed from his military experience. There are also chapters on operational planning and psychological operations. There's a chapter on strategic thinking that discusses Gandhi--but also Machiavelli, and military theorists Clausewitz, and Liddell Hart

Ritter argues that

The antiwar movement needs to study the philosophies of those who have mastered the art of conflict, form Caesar to Napoleon, from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz. It needs to study the "enemy," learning to understand the pro-war movement as well as it understands itself. It needs to comprehend the art of campaigning, of waging battles only when necessary, and having the ability to wage a struggle on several fronts simultaneously, synchronizing each struggle so that a synergy is created that maximizes whatever energy is being expended.

Ritter notes that the British military theorists Basil Liddell Hart was said to have disapproved of the old saying "If you wish for peace, prepare for war." Rather, he suggested "If you want peace, understand war."

I think this isn't bad advice whether war is understood literally or metaphorically.

Next time: fun with Sun Tzu.

THE ECONOMIC FEAR FACTOR is the subject of this op-ed by Paul Krugman.

SNAKE OIL. Along the same lines, this post from the AFLCIO blog makes the point that more tax cuts for the rich aren't the best medicine for dealing with the recession.

ANYONE FOR JUNG? Robert Rupp, WV Wesleyan political science professor and frequent op-ed writer, offers a Jungian approach to analysing presidential candidates. Now that's something you don't see every day.


January 07, 2008


This would be an interesting topic to research, but El Cabrero is willing to bet that most people who are active in the anti-war/"peace and justice" movement have little or no interest in the history of warfare and strategy, mostly because they think war is bad.

I suspect that this neglect isn't contributing a whole lot to their effectiveness.

I would agree that war is bad. It's one of many nasty things in human history, along with poverty, massive inequality, exploitation, domination, oppression, etc. Economic disparities alone cause many more deaths today than armed conflict (at a ratio of around 180:1, according to one estimate I found in the 1990s). But I don't think ignoring things one doesn't like is the best way to deal with them.

Can you imagine what the fields of medicine or public health would look like if people refused to study injuries and diseases because they were "bad?"

I think it's bad when people's houses burn down, which is why I'm glad that all firefighters have to study at least a little about the science of fire. Car wrecks are bad, which is why I'm glad EMTs, rescue services, and fire departments study first aid and auto extrication.

For that matter, even the most peaceful efforts to promote social change often involve dealing with opposition and power, both one's own and that of the opponent. Power is defined by sociologists as the ability to make something happen or keep it from happening even in the face of opposition. Any chance of improving things (victory) requires intelligent decision making (strategy).

In fact, a whole lot of the universe and the biosphere consists of things colliding with each other and if people want to make things better and more peaceful, I think we need to recognize that right off the bat.

I am reminded of a couple sayings of Jesus along this line. In Luke (16:8), he said "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." This, by the way, inspired the title of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's classic The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In Matthew (10:16), he advised his followers to "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."

Musings such as these will be the theme of this week's Goat Rope. Tune in again if you want to get in touch with your inner reptile.

STUCK RECORD. As signs of a recession increase, a rational economic policy would involve some kind of stimulus that would help people who are struggling the most. But, as this NY Times editorial notes, for the Bush administration, the correct answer to any question is tax cuts. It seems to escape their notice that if cutting taxes for the rich was the road to the promised land, we'd have gotten there a while back.

WHO'S COUNTING? The Drum Major Institute, that's who. Here's their 2007 Injustice Index.

ICED OUT. From Sunday's Gazette-Mail, here's an item about a WV scientist's first hand evidence of global warming. The vested interests that run WV think denial is the answer, but I don't think that will help them much in the long run either.

WORD TRAVELS. Here's a review of a book about mountaintop removal in WV all the way from the LA Times.