March 21, 2009


Sound the Flute!
Now it's mute.
Birds delight
Day and Night
In the dale
Lark in Sky
Merrily Merrily to welcome in the Year

Little Boy
Full of joy,
Little Girl
Sweet and small,
Cock does crow
So do you.
Merry voice
Infant noise
Merrily Merrily to welcome in the Year

Little Lamb
Here I am.
Come and lick
My white neck.
Let me pull
Your soft Wool.
Let me kiss
Your soft face
Merrily Merrily we welcome in the Year

William Blake

March 20, 2009

A little British snark

D.H. Lawrence was not a big Franklin fan. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero has been amusing himself, and, he devoutly hopes, the Gentle Reader, lately by thumbing through the pages of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. This week I've been looking at his quest for moral perfection.

It's hard not to like Franklin, even when he's taking the whole Protestant Ethic/Spirit of capitalism thing too far. But there are those who manage to dislike him. One such person was the British writer D.H. Lawrence.

When he was able to tear himself away from writing about sex, Lawrence put together an amusing but venomous look at American literature in which he singles "sturdy, snuff-coloured Doctor Franklin" out for singular abuse.

In his discussion of Franklin's list of virtues and his practice of them, Lawrence accused him of attempting to fence in the human soul:

Who knows what will come out of the soul of man? The soul of man is a dark vast forest, with wild life in it. Think of Benjamin fencing it off!

Oh, but Benjamin fenced a little tract that he called the soul of man and proceeded to get it into cultivation. Providence, forsooth! And they think that bit of barbed wire is going to keep us in pound forever? More fools them...

And now I, at least, know why I can't stand Benjamin. He tries to take away my wholeness and my dark forest, my freedom. For how can any man be free, without an illimitable back-ground? And Benjamin tries to shove me into a barbed-wire paddock and make me grow potatoes or Chicagoes.


Rave on, D.H. For all his quirks, old Ben lived a full and generally useful life. I'm not sure it would have been better spent writing highbrow erotica.

VOLUNTEERING AGAIN. Here's an interesting news story about the growing number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteering to help civilians displaced and harmed by the war.

TAKING IT PERSONALLY. Here's an interesting article about how AIG executives who received post-bailout bonuses are feeling the scorn and ire of many people.

EAT IT. Are big changes coming to America's industrial food system? When an organic garden is about to be planted at the White House, anything is possible.

URGENT WHALE GENEALOGY UPDATE. Hippos may be their closest living relative. I was thinking maybe wolverines...


March 19, 2009

Would you settle for the appearance of humility?

Arpad, aka Vanilla Iceberg, has mastered the appearance of humility.

El Cabrero has been having fun here lately with American founder Benjamin Franklin. This week's focus is on his quest for moral perfection.

(Been there, done that, put "Mission Accomplished" on the old aircraft carrier.)

As mentioned earlier, he had a little trouble with the virtue of humility, although he did make progress on seeming to be humble:

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix'd opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so and so; or so appears to me at present.

Well, that's a start. But his method does have some practical merit:

When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to be some difference, etc.

It paid off:

I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

I guess you could call that strategic humility.

EVERY MOUNTAIN SHALL BE BROUGHT DOWN, said Isaiah, but this isn't probably what he meant.

INVISIBLE WOUNDS. Brain injuries often dismissed as concussions are likely to be the most pervasive combat wounds suffered by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SILVER LINING? Here's a tiny bit of economic good news.

GREEN JOBS. Improving energy efficiency could create thousands of jobs in Appalachia. And probably everywhere else too.


March 18, 2009

The magnificent thirteen

Wu practices moral perfection every day.

As mentioned in earlier posts this week, the intrepid Benjamin Franklin set for himself the task of attaining moral perfection. (El Cabrero is far to modest to say in passing that I accomplished this long ago.)

In his methodical way, he came up with a list of virtues, along with a brief maxim for each. He then set about working on one virtue per week until he ran through the list and then started over, even making a chart to note his progress. Here's the list:

Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e., waste nothing.

Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I don't know where to start with a list like that. I think things like industry, moderation, resolution and sincerity are OK, in moderation. But half the fun of speech is trifling conversation. As a cradle Episcopalian, I have some serious problems with including temperance on the list. And don't even mention order. Finally, since this is a family blog, I will leave venery to the Gentle Reader's imagination.

While I find the quest for moral perfection amusing in the highest, I do agree with Ben on this: one virtue at a time is plenty. Maybe even too much.

A LITTLE FRUGALITY when it comes to military contracting might not be a bad idea.

BATTLE OF THE BUDGET. The federal budget proposed by President Obama will be the first stage of the struggle for universal health care.

UNIONS AND UNEMPLOYMENT. Economist Dean Baker takes on misinformation about the Employee Free Choice Act.

WV ITEMS. A collective bargaining bill for public employees has been introduced in the state senate. Mountaintop removal opponents are pushing the Obama administration to take steps to ban it.

ANIMAL MAGNETISM. Stop the presses! Cows tend to line up along a north/south axis.


March 17, 2009

Oh yeah, humility

Seamus McGoogle takes great pride in his humility.

As noted yesterday, as a young man Benjamin Franklin, whose Autobiography is the theme lately at Goat Rope, took it upon himself to achieve moral perfection.

It would be hard to say something like that today with a straight face...

Not surprisingly, he found his task difficult:

I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.

From his reading and further rumination, he came up with a list of requisite virtues to pursue which he committed to writing. The first list included temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, and chastity.

He showed the list to a Quaker friend, who

having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show'd itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc'd me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavoring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or follow among the rest, and I added Humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word.

Leave it to a Quaker to bust your bubble...

SPEAKING OF RELIGION, here's a discussion of the results of a recent survey on religious identification in the US. There have been some major changes since the 1990s.

ON A RELATED NOTE, here are some reflections on religion, morality, and the idol of unfettered capitalism.

SERENITY NOW! Anger and hostility are bad for the heart, especially the male heart.




March 16, 2009

Moral perfection

The era of the Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason, reached its peak in the 18th century. It was characterized by a cooling of homicidal religious zealotry and the growth of science and technology and a growing optimism about human possibilities.

Benjamin Franklin, the theme at Goat Rope lately, was nothing if not a child of the Enlightenment. A constant theme in his Autobiography is the quest for self improvement, which became a kind of American mania.

Franklin took to to a degree that probably seems comical to modern readers, jaded as we are by the terrors of history in the centuries that followed. Can you imagine writing something like this (with sincerity)?

It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I know, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.

(Where are Augustine and Calvin on those extremely rare occasions when you actually need them?)

He found it to be no easy rowing:

...I soon found I had undertaken a take of more difficulty than I had imagined. When my care was employ'd in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason.

Not being a person to easily admit defeat, he determined to resort to a systematic method, about which more tomorrow.

THE WANING OF THE AGE OF CULTURE WARS? Maybe. Would that it were so.

ALSO WANING, in the wake of the economic crisis, is the well-being of many non-profit organizations. This one hits a little close to home for El Cabrero.

WAXING, the opposite of waning, could happen to labor unions with the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE. Lawmakers in WV are contemplating changes in funding for this program. El Cabrero and others are also pushing for the state to expand benefits in order to be eligible for more federal stimulus money.

MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL mining is the subject of this NY Times editorial.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. A book mentioned last week about Darwin and Lincoln, Angels and Ages was written by Adam Golpik, not David. My bad.