Archive for April 2010

#  Dao De Jing →

April 28th, 2010 at 16:40 // In Worth Reading 

It’s not new or news, but it’s a good read that I decided to chase down recently. I thought this (Stephen Mitchell’s) translation more readable than the others I encountered, though it should be noted that there’s a great deal of discord on the topic. Quoth the Wikipedia:

Critics of these versions, such as Taoism scholar Eugene Eoyang, claim that translators like Stephen Mitchell produce readings of the Tao Te Ching that deviate from the text and are incompatible with the history of Chinese thought.[6] Russell Kirkland goes further to argue that these versions are based on Western Orientalist fantasies, and represent the colonial appropriation of Chinese culture.[7][8] In contrast, Huston Smith, scholar of world religions, said of the Mitchell version, “This translation comes as close to being definitive for our time as any I can imagine. It embodies the virtues its translator credits to the Chinese original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, largeheartedness, and deep wisdom.” —Other Taoism scholars, such as Michael LaFargue[9] and Johnathan Herman,[10] argue that while they are poor scholarship they meet a real spiritual need in the West.

If you’re intimidated, some choice verses: 8, 16, 27, 41, 59.

(I don’t know a lot about Chinese, but I do know enough to loathe Wade-Giles. That said, this is more commonly known as the Tao Te Ching.)

#  I Can Help →

April 21st, 2010 at 17:47 // In Worth Knowing 

A recent study found that we regularly underestimate how willing people are to help. And while I increasingly look askance at any single study result I see reported anywhere, this aligns with my experience and so I judge the results accurate enough.

(via LGm)

#  The Problem of Prison →

April 20th, 2010 at 15:43 // In Worth Considering 

The next best essay in the magazine from which the last post came, these two paragraph are one of the more eloquent arguments you’ll ever hear against America’s criminal justice system:

Prison is that part of the developed world least altered by civilization, by modernity, by the growth of any consciousness of peaceful interaction. In here, the old scourges hold sway in epidemic proportions. Racism, tribalism, all the old “isms” are still vital and dominant, still driving behavior and ruining lives. In a sense, the prisons are society’s dustbins, the dumps into which are swept not only the various miscreants but also the various felonious ideas no longer acceptable in polite company.

Perhaps at this more basic level, the prison is a literal repository of society’s most feared ideas and people. The trouble for those of us growing old in prison, we of the broken body and wounded, drained spirit, is that free society’s fears far outlive our fearsomeness. To that society I will forever be judged by the wail of a police siren long silenced by time’s passage and the ghoulish 8-by-10 photos of the man I killed in another lifetime. In the collective mind on the other side of the chasm between here and there, between some kind of death and some kind of life, I am still a merciless marauder with bloodied hands.

#  The Symphony of a Lifetime →

April 19th, 2010 at 14:37 // In Worth Reading 

This essay’s not perfect, but I certainly wish I encountered more like it.

I have instead believed in living the prosaic life, going at things day by day, and hoping to evade such unexpected thunderbolts as serious illness, economic disaster and early death, my own or that of those dearest to me. Not everyone shares this general view. Although I was a wild young boy, somewhere along the way I chose to live the quiet life, and I have not regretted it.

(via ALD)

#  Sunday Magazine →

April 13th, 2010 at 17:05 // In Worth Knowing 

Every Friday, I post the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from 100 years ago this weekend, with a little bit of commentary or context.

I can’t decide if David Friedman’s latest project is a curiosity or something that I’ll enjoy long-term. (I’m leaning toward the former, given the paper’s yellowish hue in that era.) Either way, it’s interesting enough to note.

#  Ill Fares the Land →

April 9th, 2010 at 11:46 // In Worth Reading 

While I reflexively flinch at the intergenerational paternalism some of this piece carries, there’s a lot I like about Tony Judt’s adaptation of his political manifesto:

Poverty is an abstraction, even for the poor. But the symptoms of collective impoverishment are all about us. Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid, and the uninsured: all suggest a collective failure of will. These shortcomings are so endemic that we no longer know how to talk about what is wrong, much less set about repairing it. And yet something is seriously amiss. Even as the US budgets tens of billions of dollars on a futile military campaign in Afghanistan, we fret nervously at the implications of any increase in public spending on social services or infrastructure.

#  Online Enthusiasm, etc. →

April 8th, 2010 at 15:51 // In Worth Reading 

I thought about linking to the stuff Bobulate links to here, but it’s best in the context she’s put it.

#  Why France Aided America’s Revolution →

April 6th, 2010 at 16:11 // In Worth Knowing 

While this story advertises itself as the time Haiti saved America (a difficult if interesting case, as Haiti didn’t technically exist at the time), it reveal a new-to-me story of why France funded the revolution.

France did not want to lose its jewel, and so it sprang into action when the American colonists began to agitate for their freedom. The king’s advisers worried that the British would use the conflict to shore up their Caribbean possessions, and seize Saint Domingue [today Cap-Haïtien] once and for all. To support the Americans would not only weaken the British and help avert that disaster, it would support a people with a known interest in trading with the French colonists. … Eventually, French support grew open and robust. As recounted by Stacy Schiff in “A Great Improvisation,” France ultimately provided 1.3 billion livres, or the equivalent of $9 billion today.

#  The Collapse of Complex Systems →

April 5th, 2010 at 13:46 // In Worth Reading 

I can’t tell if it’s Clay Shirky’s clear thinking or straight-forward writing that I find so compelling, so it must be both. But goddamn:

In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today, and people will doubtless make pots of money on those forms of production. It’s tempting, at least for the people benefitting from the old complexity, to imagine that if things used to be complex, and they’re going to be complex, then everything can just stay complex in the meantime. That’s not how it works, however.

#  Small Talk Doesn’t Make You Happy →

April 2nd, 2010 at 12:34 // In Worth Knowing 

From the I Would Have Told You This Years Ago If You’d Stopped Blabbering About Shit I Don’t Care About desk, some researcher is surprised that his study found a correlation between deep conversations and life satisfaction.

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.