February 02, 2008


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

This weekend, we welcome back bantam rooster and noted free market economist Dr. Denton "Denny" Dimwit. Dr. Dimwit is director of the Goat Rope Farm Public Policy Foundation, a fellow at a number of conservative and libertarian think tanks, and a senior economic advisor to the Bush administration.

It is our hope that by providing (bio)diverse viewpoints, we will elevate the level of discourse, promote a climate of deep mutual respect, and reduce the tragic polarization of our times.


Crudawackadoodledoo! Jeez, this blog just keeps getting stupider. I just ate a more intelligent bug. It's about time you had somebody cool on here.

And what's all this stuff about a recession? Suck it up, crybabies! The market knows what it's doing and if it kicks you in the nads, deal with it. You don't need to extend unemployment benefits--you need to get rid of them! If people are stupid enough to lose their jobs they just need to find another one.

Besides, if you give money to poor people, they're just gonna waste it on living.

The only thing the government should do is privatize stuff. And they should contract that out too.

And all this stuff about a stimulus? I'll show you a stimulus. Check out the picture. The handsome little guy in the background is me. Now check out what's in front of me. See that BIG hen? Yeah, man! That's what I'm talking about. And she's with me! Got it?

That's all the stimulus I need to jump start my economy. That's the beauty of the market.

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


February 01, 2008


A good dream can help you get out of--or into--the woods.

The theme at Goat Rope this week has been dreams. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts. There's also stuff on current events.

To wrap up, I'm going to lay out El Cabrero's theory of dreams. Here goes...

First, I have no idea what dreams really are or even whether they are things we experience in sleep or construct when we wake up. However, I do think they provide a viewpoint from another part of ourselves. Our minds and brains are bigger, wiser and weirder than we often think they are. They work even when we're not aware of it. Sometimes a dream teach you a lot about what's doing on inside or even outside.

Second, not all dreams are created equal. Some just seem to be random static. Others evaporate like dew. Some are obvious examples of wishes, like dreaming you've already gotten up so you can sleep a little longer. But some dreams are strong and may be worth attention.

When I have a strong dream, I try hard to remember it before it disappears. Sometimes I write them down. Then I ponder the story. As Freud and others suggested, sometimes it's good to break them down into component parts and see what thoughts or feelings are associated with them to try to find the latent dream thoughts.

Some of the best advice I've ever got came to me in dreams. Here are some examples.

*At a low point in my life, I had a real sense of being treated unjustly. In a dream, I dug up an old casket full of bones that proved my point. I carried the casket with me wherever I went. At some point in the dream, it occured to me that I had lots of things to do and places to go in life and I couldn't do it carrying around a box of dead bones. Message: let go!

I'm not saying God speaks in dreams, but if that were the case, it might just be a message like that.

*At another stressful point in life, I dreamed that Cheng Man-ch'ing, a legendary master of the martial art of tai chi chuan, came to the town I was living in and was giving lessons. In real life, he had been dead for more than 20 years. I woke up determined to learn tai chi, which has a lot of health and stress benefits. It helped get me over the hump and I've practiced it most days for the last 10 years.

*Another time, I dreamed that an older person I was close to had died. I felt really bad that I had not been very attentive to this person lately while they lived. I woke up determined to be more attentive to this person while I could.

So here's my advice: dream on--and pay attention! You just might learn something.

TURNING THE WHEEL. Buddhism is growing in popularity among China's middle class.

RECESSING. Business Week asks about how real the prosperity bubble was. Some may ask "What prosperity bubble?" Also from Business Week, here's an item on fixes for the economy which suggests infrastructure investments and questions the wisdom of a corporate tax break as a stimulus measure.

NEW NOTES. Here's the latest version of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree, complete with crosses, Civil War talk, color, and hanging chads.

ALL THINGS IN MODERATION--including happiness, according to new research.

JUDGE MASSEY BLANKENSHIP BENJAMIN made the Wall Street Journal's law blog.

MAN BITES DOG. The notoriously anti-union NLRB is petitioning a federal judge to issue an injunction which would make Benjamin--I mean Massey Energy rehire union workers and recognized the UMWA as bargaining agent. Will wonders never cease?

HOW PHILANTHROPIC. Big bank BB&T has been giving away millions to promote the "philosophy" of Ayn Rand. Marshall is the latest mark.


January 31, 2008


Image courtesy of fromoldbooks.org.

The theme for this week's Goat Rope is dreams and what they may mean. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

Carl Gustav Jung is something of a cult figure these days, which might not altogether be a good thing. He had a tendency to take dips into what Freud considered the "black tide of...occultism." Still he had some interesting ideas about dreams and it would be hard to leave him out of a discussion of them.

Jung is remembered today for several of his ideas, but one of the main ones is that of the collective unconscious. Freud admitted the existence of a personal unconscious, but Jung argued that there was a deeper layer of instincts and archetypes, which are inborn images and motifs which we inherit.

Fittingly enough, Jung claimed that a dream helped him develop this concept. As described in Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he dreamed of a house he recognized as his own. It was a little old fashioned, but OK otherwise. But when he went down a flight of stairs, the rooms were much older, darker and medieval. A stone stairway led to a cellar dating from ancient Roman times. When he lifted a slab on this floor, it led to an ancient cave with scattered bones, broken pottery and two human skulls.

Here's his interpretation:

The ground floor stood for the first level of the unconscious. The deeper I went, the more alien and the darker the scene became. In the cave, I discovered the remains of a primitive culture, that is the world of the primitive man within myself--a world which can scarcely be reached or illuminated by consciousness. The primitive psyche of man borders on the life of the animal soul, just as the caves of prehistoric times were usually inhabited by animals before men laid claim to them.

Elsewhere, he wrote that

The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the psyche, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness may extend... All consciousness separates, but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. Out of these all-uniting depths arises the dream, be it never so childish, grotesque, and immoral.

El Cabrero is no Jungian, but sometimes dreams are too deep and weird to fit any reductive scheme. I remember one I had as a young adult that stuck with me. I stood on a hill watching my home town being devastated by a horrible flood. We got flooded a lot for real, but this was way worse and way different. It was a disaster of biblical proportions.

I remember looking in the water and seeing a drowned woman floating upside down. Suddenly she turned face up and I was horrified to see that she was clutching a drowned baby to her breast. That was bad enough, but then I heard a voice say, "Alas, poor baby. We could give you everything but peace."

I'm still trying to shake that one off.

STRESS AND TRAUMA. A new study suggests that stress may be more of a factor in the problems of some veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan than brain injury. If that proves to be the case in light of further research, that would be good news. Stress-related problems are easier to treat than neurological ones.

WE'RE AN INSPIRATION! The WV Supreme Court goat rope just keeps getting better and better. The latest twist is novelist John Grisham's latest effort was inspired by the (largely Don Blankenship-funded) election of Brent Benjamin to the state supreme court in 2004. Here's an extract from a conversation between Grisham and Matt Lauer about his new book on the Today Show:

"Basically, it involves a chemical company,” Lauer said. “They contaminate the water in the community. There’s a cancer outbreak. People die. And there’s a $41 million jury award against this company. And the head of the company says, I’m not gonna pay it. What I’m gonna do is avoid paying it by stacking the court that’s eventually gonna hear the appeal on this case. Far fetched?”

“It’s already happened,” Grisham said. “It’s already happened.”

“It’s a long term calculation,” Lauer said. “You have to be pretty sure about the money you’re investing in this.”

“Well, it’s happened,” Grisham said. “It happened a few years ago in West Virginia. A guy who owned a coal company, got tired of getting sued. He elected his guy to the Supreme Court, it switched 5-4 back his way. Now he doesn’t worry about getting sued. So it happens. It’s already happened.”

And here's more from WV Public Radio.


HIT THE ROAD, JACK. If you want to stay strong as you age, that is.

UNEMPLOYMENT. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute illustrates why a boost in unemployment benefits is good for workers and the economy.


January 30, 2008


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The theme for this week's Goat Rope is dreams and what they may or may not mean. You will also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

No discussion of dreams would be complete without spending a little time with Old Man Sig. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams made a huge splash in 1900 and is still worth a look all these years later. He also wrote a shorter, more accessible book titled On Dreams in 1901.

Freud's basic idea here is that dreams are more or less disguised wish fulfillment's usually originating from unconscious desires. Sometimes this is all too obvious and the desires are too, as when hungry people dream of food or lonely people dream of company (take that any way you want it).

In other cases this isn't so obvious. Some dreams seem scary or just senseless. He believed that dreams have both a manifest and a latent content which together make up what he called the dream work. The manifest content of a dream might involve say a house. The latent or hidden idea behind this image could mean something else entirely, for example the body.

The process of interpreting dreams for him involved breaking down the manifest or obvious content into its component parts and analyzing the things the dreamer associates with them. Dreams are tricky critters and employ a number of ruses, including metaphors and similes, condensation, substitution and other ways of disguising their meaning:

The dream thoughts which we first come across as we proceed with our analysis often strike us by the unusual form in which they are expressed; they are not clothed in the prosaic language usually employed by our thoughts, but are on the contrary represented symbolically by means of similes and metaphors, images resembling those of poetic speech. (On Dreams, ch. 6.)

Why bother with all the imagery? For Freud, people have unconscious desires, often of a sexual nature, which are repressed most of the time. When we sleep, the repression eases up enough for the varmints to get out, but they pass through what he called a "dream censor" which disguises them so as not to disturb sleep or the sleeper. A nightmare is a really disguised wish in which one part of us wants something the other parts would be creeped out by.

For Freud, dreams aren't the only way the unconscious pokes out, if you'll pardon the expression. Slips of the tongue, mistaken actions, and symptoms are other ways.

Later in life, after studying the nightmares of many World War I veterans suffering from what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he came to partially modify his theory in the book Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In that 1920 book, he developed his theory of the death instinct.

Even if we can't go all the way with Sig, he does deserve great credit for getting the study of dreams on the agenda of psychology. The problems with his theory is its reductionism. Some dreams really are Freudian, but others not so much.

I remember once waking up after a classic Freudian dream--flying, trains, tunnels, all that--and wanting to write a nasty letter to my unconscious saying "How trite! How cliched! Couldn't you come up with something a little more original?"

THE MISSING PIECE. Washington Post columnist Marie Cocco states the obvious about the need to expand unemployment benefits in a recession. Stating the obvious is necessary in these 2+2=5 days.

SMIRK OF THE UNION. More comments and links about the recession and the receding state of the union can be found here.

ANOTHER BAD IDEA would be extending the arms race into space.

YOUNG VOTERS, already saddled with debt and worried about health care and a declining middle class, are the subject of this Business Week article.

LEGISLATIVE PARADOX. Any time someone proposes that the WV legislature proposes some action benefiting working folks, they can expect to be asked "How are we going to pay for it?" Fair enough. But not too many of them seem to be saying the same thing about proposed cuts to corporate taxes.

WV INSPIRES GRISHAM. Popular courtroom novelist John Grisham's latest novel--about a rich businessman who buys a judge's election--was inspired in part by WV's 2004 Supreme Court election when Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent millions of his own dollars to elect the politically unknown Brent Benjamin.

On a similar front, Benjamin has consistently refused to recuse himself from cases involving Massey (he's usually on their side), including a pending lawsuit for $220 million. Chief justice Spike Maynard, who was photographed vacationing with Blankenship did recuse himself from the case in the wake of recent publicity.


January 29, 2008


Image credit: fromoldbooks.org.

Aside from the usual assortment of links and comments about current events, the theme of this week's Goat Rope is dreams and what they may or may not mean. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's posts.

When I was a little kid, I had an odd dream that stuck with me until the present. In it, I was sitting alone at night among old stone ruins. Though it was dark, there was some light from the moon and stars. The odd thing is that I wasn't afraid; awe might be a better word.

That dream kind of set the tone for me. I've always been drawn to things that are ancient or at least old enough to withstand the tests of time. While it's important these days to keep up with current events and the latest in science and research, I don't look much to the present for wisdom. I find all I can handle--and more--in Greek tragedy, Homer's epics, myths, the Bible, and ancient Western, Buddhist and Chinese philosophy.

Speaking of which, there's probably little in human history more ancient or universal than a fascination with dreams and what they mean. Dreams play a part in the folklore of many cultures and are mentioned in many ancient texts from places as diverse as Egypt, ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and China.

Dreams are prominent in several biblical stories, with several major ones in Genesis. During a time of troubles, the patriarch Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. A little later in the book, dreams and their interpretation both get Joseph into trouble with his brothers and into the good graces of Pharaoh.

The prophet Daniel was also portrayed as a great interpreter of dreams--even when he wasn't told what the dream was. It was written that God appeared to King Solomon in a dream offering him anything he wished. Famously, he chose wisdom.

Dreams are also frequently discussed in the Talmud, a collection of rabbinical writings and commentaries. One rabbi said there that "An uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter" and another that "A man is shown in his dreams what he thinks in his heart."

Dreams play a major role in the early chapters of the Gospel attributed to Matthew. Joseph is warned in a dream to accept Mary as his wife though she is with child; to fly with his family to Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod; and to return from Egypt when Herod dies. The "wise men" were warned in dreams not to tell Herod of the child. Later in the gospel, Pilate's wife has a dream about Jesus and warns her husband to have nothing to do with him.

In ancient Greece, dreams were a major part of healing. In a practice known as dream incubation, a patient would sleep in a temple of the healer Aesculapius and the dream they received there was used as the basis of treatment.

In the second century BC or BCE, a Greek named Artemidorus wrote five volumes about dreams in a work called Oneirocritica, which described and attempted to interpret 3,000 different dreams. Although his interpretations strike us as odd today--for example, the thought it was good luck to dream of having a well-shaped nose (Holy Tristram Shandy, Batman!)--the work is still in print.

Of course, even in ancient times, there were those who dismissed dreams as stuff an nonsense (which admittedly many are). The Roman politician, writer and orator Cicero wrote

Let us reject...this divination of dreams...For, to speak truly, that superstition has extended itself through all nations, and has oppressed the intellectual energies of all men, and has betrayed them into endless imbecilities.

Whatever the case may be, we get one or more free indie movies every night.

COMMENT ON THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS: Whatever. That was mine. Here's The Nation's.

ALGORITHMS OF LOVE? Has a mathematical computer program figured out compatibility? This would have vastly simplified Pride and Prejudice.

MATH AND GOD. This is a fun one on religion and mathematicians, complete with this great line from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg:

With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.

TORTURE AND DEMOCRACIES have often co-existed.

HEGEMONY CRICKET. Here's a long one from the NY Times magazine about the changing status of the US in the world during the Bush disaster.


January 28, 2008


Dreams are a perennially fascinating topic. It's pretty amazing that each night as we sleep our minds produce such wild images, stories, and ideas--or at least it seems that way when we wake up. Some animals even seem to do it.

El Cabrero is not an expert on sleep or dream science, but it seems like the latest research indicates that dreams play an important mental function connected with memory and the processing of the information and stimuli of waking life.

Freud shook the scientific community with the publication of his The Interpretation of Dreams at the turn of the last century. His ideas that such phenomena were meaningful seemed ludicrous to materialistically oriented scientists, but in fact it concurred with the opinions of pretty much all humanity throughout pretty much all history. Dreams probably influenced the development of a lot of human myths and religious beliefs and practices--including the belief in life after death as people dreamed of encounters with the departed.

Some dreams seem to be just residual static from the previous day's events, but others appear to have a clear or disguised meaning. Occasionally, some are downright deep.

I've always been interested in this subject, but dreams really got my attention when I discovered the ideas of Freud and Jung in my youth. I'm not an orthodox Freudian or Jungian now (though I lean towards the former most days), but I agree with their main idea that these creations of the unconscious have a lot to tell us.

I take dreams pretty seriously, especially strong ones, and they have even influenced some of the most important decisions of my life. It's not that I think they are messengers from beyond--although some sure seem that way--but rather that they express a lot of the mental activity, thinking and feeling that go one beneath the surface of our ordinary awareness. They have triggered insights and creativity from scientists as well as artists.

Dreams will be the guiding thread through this week's posts.

Speaking of which, here's a funny dream I had when I first read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, which argues that they are basically wish fulfillments. I wished I was able to interpret dreams--so I dreamed I could. Pretty cute.

DEALING WITH RECESSION. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on what it would take to provide a strong stimulus to a slowing economy.

TIME FOR DISASTER POPULISM. Here's Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, on how the right is great at cashing in on bad news and how the rest of us need to dial in.

MINE SAFETY. Ken Ward had a good one in the Sunday Gazette-Mail about how many coal companies ignore fines for unsafe conditions.

is increasingly a factor in courtrooms around the country in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MEAT. More and more people are rethinking carnivorous habits, or at least the ways we satisfy them.