July 30, 2005

Wifebear

She Who Must Be Obeyed has taken up the blogging cudgel, here.

I am reminded of my father's old joke, one of many. It seems a couple were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and the husband was asked the secret of his success.

"Well," he wheezed, "I make the big decisions, and my wife makes the small decisions."

When asked for examples, he went on, "She decides where to send the kids to school, whether to sell the house, what job I should take, and so on."

What were the big decisions, then? "Whether Red China should be admitted to the UN." (This was a while ago, before we started sticking them with all our dubious paper in exchange for electronic devices.)

Our blogs are like that. She writes about dogs, cats, adolsecents, stupid drivers, checkout line psychics, and insomnia, a lot of what Deborah Tannen calls "trouble talk," a penchant of American women but not men. I write about constitutional law, the place of religion in society, foreign policy, and prevailing idiocies.

Here's a Tannen riff on "trouble talk":
For example, women often enact a routine I call “trouble talk”: One woman tells a trouble, and the other offers a matching one. A woman from Massachusetts complained that a woman friend from New York was always putting her down. It turned out that when she mentioned a problem, her friend often said, “That’s not a problem for me.” This violates the rules of troubles talk, which require that if you can’t say, “I’m the same way,” you should at least say, “I know how you feel.” Refusing to admit to being the same seems to imply thinking you’re better.
Wifebear has managed to create a network of groupies, from Canada to Lisbon to Singapore. More power to her. Remember, "Patriarchy is nothing but repressed matriarchy."

July 14, 2005

Portrait of the Blogger As an Old Reptile


Adam, Rick Lee's nephew, started a photo blog.

As the caption for this picture, he says "Looks like a grumpy old man."

And the kid doesn't even know me.

July 7, 2005

London


Churchill said, some 65 years ago:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Once again, Britain's fight is our fight.

July 6, 2005

Tao Te Ching Message For Today

38.

People with integrity
don't even think about it.
That's how you can tell
they have integrity.
Other people talk about
how much integrity they have,
when they really don't have much.
If any.

Truly powerful people
don't do anything,
but they get the job done.
Other people are always busy
doing something,
but nothing ever gets done.

When kind people act,
they do so without thinking about it.
When the just act,
they're always sure
they're doing the right thing.
But when the righteous act,
and nobody reacts,
they try to force everyone
to do things their way.

If you're not in touch with Tao,
at least you can still have integrity.
If you don't have integrity,
there's always kindness.
If you don't have kindness,
there's always justice.
If you don't have justice,
all you have left is righteousness.

Righteousness is an pale imitation
of true faith and loyalty,
and always leads to trouble.
If you've already made up your mind,
you don't know the first thing about Tao,
and you never will.

The Masters pay attention
to what's beneath the surface.
They'll look at a tree's leaves,
but eat the fruit.
They turn all that down,
so they can accept this.


There are many translations of this book, because the structure of Chinese is so different. A lot must be inferred. This guy did a translation in very modern language.

He explains how he went about it:
The TTC I found at Dutton's was written by Stephen Mitchell, a version which remains popular nearly twenty years after its original composition. Having read a couple dozen translations since, it's still one of the most accessible versions I've seen, but even then, I found his style a bit too refined, too full of a certain "wisdom of the ancients" flavor. For example, here's how Mitchell starts the first chapter:

"The Tao that can be named
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name."

At the time, I was newly infatuated with the writing of Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet, so my dream version of a TTC reflected the simplicity and grit of their dialogue:

"If you can talk about it, it ain't Tao.
If it has a name, it's just another thing."

Anyway, I grabbed a couple other translations and started looking at the different ways they expressed the same sentiments--or, as I quickly discovered, how much poetic license Mitchell and other translators were willing to take with the original text. I don't think this necessarily matters all that much; many current English- language versions are by people who don't know Chinese well, if at all, and I can't read or speak it myself. To that extent, then, we're *all* (unless we're fluent in Chinese, that is) at the mercy of, at best, a secondhand understanding of what Lao Tzu said.

Once I thought I had a rough idea what was behind the words, though, I went about rephrasing the chapters in my own voice. My guiding principle was to take out as much of the "poetry" as possible, to make the text sound like dialogue, so the reader could imagine someone telling him or her what Tao's all about. You can't take the "poetry" out completely, because the TTC is always going to have those lines about Tao being an "eternal mystery" and whatnot.

But the beauty of the book isn't in its language, at least not for me--it's in the practical advice Lao Tzu offers us about how to live a productive, meaningful life on a day to day basis. What I wanted to do was to make that advice as clear to a modern American reader as it would have been to the guard who first asked Lao Tzu to write it down.

I worked through the first twenty chapters, then put the rough draft up on my website under a pseudonym I used online back in those days. A bunch of fan mail came in, so I kept plugging away at the text, then my hard drive collapsed and all my files were completely erased. I was freelancing pretty steadily then, and what little free time I had I spent building my own website, so the TTC went on hold. I got an occasional email asking about the other chapters, and I developed a stock answer. When it was time for me to finish the job, I told people, I would.

Years went by. I'd left LA for San Francisco, then moved up to Seattle, chasing after big dotcom money. It was great for a while, but as Lao Tzu says, "If you give things too much value, you're going to get ripped off." In the middle of the worst of the frustration, I rediscovered the Tao Te Ching, and realized I needed to finish what I started.

I dug out all my old copies of the TTC and went shopping for more versions, some of which were even better than the ones I'd found the first time. Brian Browne Walker's translation comes close to the modern oral quality I was striving for, though his voice is still much more of an "Eastern sage" voice than mine. David Hinton is somewhat more poetic, but I think he does a wonderful job of capturing what Lao Tzu may have actually sounded like to his contemporaries. And Ursula K. LeGuin strikes a balance between the modern and classical voices that gave me a new perspective on Tao; her commentaries on several chapters are enlightening as well.

I wish I could say that I wrote the remaining sixty-one chapters in a hurried creative frenzy, but things took a little longer than I thought. I got distracted by the decision to move to New York City, and though I did get some work done on the book, it was a little over a year later, when (and, yes, I know how cliched this sounds) the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and I realized I'd still been wasting too much of my life on things that didn't pan out. Instead of talking about getting serious about my life, it was time to actually do it. (Living through the following two and a half years has also made me appreciate chapters 30 and 31 a lot more, for reasons that will become readily apparent.)

So here you are--with my own name attached, as thepseudonym has long since fallen away. From a scholar's point of view, this TTC is unfaithful to the original text on more than one occasion, if not in every single line. Case in point: in chapter 20, Lao Tzu didn't exactly say, "Don't spend too much time thinking about stupid shit." For all the liberties I've taken with his words, however, I've made every attempt to stay true to his message, and I hope you'll find something useful in my efforts.

--Ron Hogan
(tao@beatrice.com)
January 2004
There's a Mac widged that gives you a new chapter (there are 81--3 cubed, or nine squared, 8 + 1 = 9--for you number freaks) every day. I find it very soothing.

July 5, 2005

Another Vote for Kozinski

By David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy, here.

July 4, 2005

Independence Day Oratory

July 4th speeches are a lost art, alas.

Power Line quotes from Independence Day speeches by Lincoln and the underestimated Calvin Coolidge. Here's a bit of Lincoln:
Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will---whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices---"me" "no one," &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of "no, no,"] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.]

And here's old Cal:

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

'Nuff said.

July 3, 2005

The Good Intentions Paving Company

I watched a bit of "Live 8."

It was clear that at the heart of it was a genuine concern for the poor and the suffering in Africa, even if wrapped in many layers of media hype. Aside from raising funds, though, there was a political message, calling for increased aid and debt forgiveness for African countries, and a lowering of trade barriers.

The latter is the easy part--freer trade in African commodities will surely not make a dent in our economy, but to small, weak economies that rely on these items for much of their income, it might make some difference. (I haven't looked it up, but my bet is that our tariffs on all but politically privileged commodities (think sugar) are nonexistent or low.

Aid? If government to government, I doubt it will make much difference. Africa suffers from at least three treatable maladies--disease (AIDS, malaria), corrupt governments, and socialist and dirigiste policies that hold back the kind of economic growth we've seen in East and South Asia and parts of Latin America.

Disease, in turn, is due in part to governmental inefficiency and in the case of AIDS, to a gender sexual culture that accepts male infidelity and prostitution. Greater resources for AIDS treatment, and the fight against malaria (including limited use of DDT) may make some difference here.

But at the core of the African problem is the corruption and tyranny of its governments. I did not hear about Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has initiated a horrid genocide of much of his population, has destroyed agriculture, and suppresses all opposition, or any other of the swinish, incompetent and corrupt régimes that dominate the continent.

Unless those issues are addressed, aid, unless it goes to honest NGO's, is not going to accomplish much.

These ideas are hardly original with me--but too subtle for a passel of rockers and movie stars.

Very sad.

UPDATE: There is at least one success story on the continent, as discussed here--the landlocked country of Botswana, relatively free from corruption, and protective of property rights. It has the highest growth rate in the world, so they say.

Ten?


One of my favorite posters is Rachel, who practices a non-Orthodox but spiritual Judaism. We often disagree, but she is also thoughtful and always courteous in discussion. A discussion where the participants aren't all in the same choir is, of course, more likely to get one to think than is the other kind.

In this post, Rachel contributes three important points the Ten-Commandments-In-Public-Places discussion:
  • Jews, Catholics, and Protestants have consensus neither on which commandments are the Ten, nor on how to divvy them up for counting.

  • In the Jewish tradition, ten laws are not to be favored over all others. All 613 commandments, in the traditional count, are part of a system of good conduct.

  • "The truth of the matter is, excerpts from my holy book shouldn't be hanging on courthouses or state houses or legislative chambers. Nor your holy book. Nor anybody else's. Because we're blessed to live in a nation with a secular government, and our government ought to respect the diversity of American belief by refraining from glorifying one holy text over its fellows.

    "The Torah is important to me and my country is important to me, but that doesn't mean I want them conflated."

There's merit in all three points, but I don't see it quite as Rachel does.

Although there are two versions of the Ten, the texts are the same, whatever the numbering one chooses to adopt. The posting of the text in a frame on the wall or on a stone on the ground or in the lobby, as a manifestation of "civic religion," should hardly shock the conscience of anyone who believes in or respects the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish traditions.

The existence of various methods of counting, and the very different applications, of, say, the Sabbath commandment, of course, are of greater interest if one takes the text seriously or tries to apply it to daily life.

In that regard, although rabbinic Judaism does focus on both the written and oral law, and regards it as a system, I wonder if today the prohibition of linsey-woolsey or shatnez is really on a par with, say, the prohibition of idolatry. One certainly sees images of the Ten in synagogues and elsewhere quite frequently.

The question is probably more difficult for Christians, for whom the question of what parts of Jewish law are binding on them pending the Second Coming, and which are superseded, is an old and unresolved debate, further complicated by the question of what the Ten really mean. Are icons and images idols? Is remarriage adultery?

These issues are deep and complex, but they are alien to "civic religion." When Americans sing "God Bless America" at baseball games they're not thinking about whether the Godhead is immanent or transcendent, whether there is a Demiurge, or, if they are Christian, whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Nor are they deciding whether the blessing they seek in the song means material bounty, spiritual wisdom, or peace of soul.

Rachel wants to keep the political order and the religious order separate (chocolate ≠ peanut butter). Most Americans would agree. The question, though, is where to draw the line. Few would compel attendance at religious services or have the state appoint clergy. The live debate tends to be about how much "civic religion" is too much.

The Supreme Court has made a muddle of the Constitutional limits. I don't think the Establishment Clause was designed to protect all who hold minority views of religion from every form embarrassment, but rather to prevent the federal government from instituting a state church or impeding observance by religious minorities. To my mind, that allows a lot more leeway than current case law in the areas suggests. It's judge-made law, and unlike free speech jurisprudence, there's no principled basis that I can find for current reinterpretation of the original text.

Now, if I'm right, and the Constitution, properly interpreted, allows a lot of leeway for civic religion, how much is it wise to have? Even though I'm unchurched and unsynagogued, I do believe that the systematic exiling of religious expression from the public square does, in effect, enshrine anti-religion as a norm and is rightly viewed by many as an attack on religious belief. Given the failure of rationalist ethics, this is more than a problem of offense to certain believers--it's a symptom of a society adrift.

And yet. We need not enact everything that a loosely interpreted Establishment Clause permits. Too much civic religion will, as Rachel's discussion of the Ten Commandments shows, tend to water down everyone's religion. It can so easily become a sterile exercise, largely empty of feeling and content. Established religions everywhere become either corrupt and oppressive, or formalistic and empty. Yes, this country has a basically Protestant history (with a heavy dose of Deism among the Founders) and a Protestant majority. There's no harm in acknowledging that, as long as dissenters are free to dissent.

But to the advocates of more religious expression in the government sphere should be very careful what they wish for. A occasional Reese's peanut butter cup is a treat, but too many will make you sick. I have no problem with modicum of civic religion, and more than the Court allows now--prayers at football games and graduations, Psalms in public schools (which I grew up with), the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls, even vouchers to private schools including religious ones are all fine with me. The further we go, though, the more we risk corrupting religion, emptying it of content, or both.

ADDENDUM: Christopher Hitchens, another writer who makes me think, doesn't like any version of the Ten.

Let's Fisk Again Like We Fisked Last Summer

Patterico has well and amply filled the niche of Official Fisker of the Whale, aka the Los Angeles Times.

This time it's an editorial about Justice O'Connor's retirement. It appears the editors are just flat wrong about how many 5-4 decisions there were this term, and how often Justice O'Connor was in the majority.

This is the paper where an editor attacks bloggers and boasts about how many levels of editorial correction there are.

So in addition to being boring, they're incompetent. Maybe they should hire Susan Estrich.

HT: Instapundit, one of the usual suspects.

July 2, 2005

Great Reporting From Iraq

Whatever your opinion about the war in Iraq, Michael Yon's writing is vivid, skilled, and compassionate.

They All Look Alike Department

Here.

The Produce Blogger


I'm a fan of a West Virginia commercial photographer named Rick Lee.

Thursday is his shopping day. I guess he's one of those scheduled people. Anyway, he got a new Optio camera which has a macro capability and has been blogging his fool head off. I've put up one example, and linked here to his "roundup."

It's not a Weegee or Arbus world. Its more colorful and less gritty than that, but the man's got an eye.

Enjoy.

July 1, 2005

Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule, In Song

In this Lego video, no less.

HT: The Volokh Conspiracy.

The Taxpayers Can Still Bend Over a Little Further, Can't They, Bill?

San Diego City politics is awhirl because of corruption, and the granting of outrageous and bank-breaking pension benefits to public employees.

The same has happened in Orange County, still spending 90 mil a year to pay for its previous bankruptcy. In spite of warnings from John Moorlach, who warned about the previous BK before it happened, the Supervisors voted 3-2 for a pension deal that will really break the bank. One of the majority was Bill Campbell, a supposed conservative.

The Grand Jury came out with a report that details just how bad things are, as discussed here with a plethora of links for those who wish to delve.

The Register, on its blog, which appears not to have permalinks yet (and I didn't know existed until this a.m.) has been using the "R" word, for recall, as to sometime conservative Bill Campbell. This, OC Blog's Jubal (probably rightly) thinks is a non-starter.

Is this a case of things having to get much worse before they get better? It's part of a dysfunctional system. OC has been a one-party county for years, leading to an unresponsive government. It's made worse by the fact that there are only 5 supes in a county of 3 million, meaning only the well-connected and well-financed (by developers and the public employee unions, mostly) get elected, and there's rarely real competition for a seat.

Some have talked about some kind of lawsuit, but it's not illegal for elected officials to be stupid, even cosmically stupid, and remember, we don't want judges deciding things like this? Or do we, if we get the result we want?

Would another BK allow the County to repudiate the deal? Chapter Nine experts (both of you), let us know.

Too Clever By Half

Tom Umberg is a local politician in Orange County, one of its increasing passel of Dems.

It seems that Tom, who supposedly was in the Reserves doing hard duty at Gitmo while running for the Assembly, was really in D.C. for much of the time, and was getting a bit on the side while posing as the soul of probity. (Where have we heard that one before?)

So Tom gets wind that the story of the affair might come out, and calls a friendly reporter at the Whale, aka Los Angeles Times, which runs with the story.

The Times's rival, the Orange County Register got scooped, but they'd been working on the Gitmo story and weren't going to go with the affair thing at all. But of course, after the Times story came out, it was all fair game.

Oops.

An account here by Scott Moxley, who works for the snotty "alternative" OC Weekly and is nevertheless a fine reporter who covers stuff the big boys won't, including the sins of pols on the left as well as the right. And here's the account in the Register by Frank Mickadeit, my favorite columnist, who takes too many days off.

HT: The fine OC Blog.