Friday, June 29, 2012

2012.06.29 — Tao te Ching Translated by Stephen Mitchell

translated by Stephen MItchell.
Tao te Ching: the Book of the Way.
London: Kyle Cathie Ltd, 1996. ISBN 1856262340.

Began 2012.05.23.
Finished 2012.06.08

I stumbled into this translation of the Tao te Ching more or less by accident. It turned out to be a far better read than I thought it would be. I would put it third in rank with the other translations of the Tao te Ching I've read.

I liked that this book is without any kind of embellishment, in a simple classic font, one chapter per page. Mitchell's commentary is brief and in general interesting and contributes to the enjoyment of the read. He has put his comments in an appendix without footnotes.

Oddly enough, the thing that stood out to me in this translation above all else was the economic commentary. I plan to check the other translations I have to see if Mitchell's emphasis in his translation is why that stands out. Or did it stand out because I am once more preparing to teach another course of Debunking Economics that is scheduled for this fall? Psychology and synchronicity are sometimes hard to distinguish.

Anyway, here is what I mean:
Chapter 19
Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won't be any thieves.

If these three aren't enough
just stay at the centre of the circle
and let all things take their course.
Chapter 53
The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centred with the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn —
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.
Chapter 57
If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes [as] common as grass.

And once again, I see re-confirmed that nothing is new in the human social structures. Lao Tzu could be writing about what is happening right now in North America.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2012.06.17 — Chomsky for Beginners by John Maher & Judy Groves: finished 2012.06.14 & Fushigis*

John Maher and Judy Groves (Illustrator).
Chomsky for Beginners (but published as Introducing Chomsky in the USA).
Cambridge (UK): Icon Books, 1996. [Out of Print.]
ISBN 1874166420. [NOTE: The USA cover for this ISBN is different.]
Began 2012.05.27.
Finished 2012.06.14

This book review also contains a pair of fushigi:, which I've linked.
1. Blood pressure Fushigi
2. Crow Fushigi

First, the review
I purchased Chomsky for Beginners without much expectation, but as a Chomsky book to put into my library. I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the exposition and thought that went into putting this excellent synopsis of Chomsky's ideas in linguists and their role in utterly transforming our understanding of human language. Even more than that, Maher and Chomsky include a range of contrary opinions and subsequent arguments that, although very concise, clearly illuminate the issues, thinking and controversies.

The basic evisceration of the behaviourist model of language acquisition was well articulated throughout. But I like how he approached Skinner.

The Refutation of Behaviourism
In 1959, Chomsky composed a basic refutation of behaviourist psychology in this review of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behaviour. According to Chomsky, children are not born tabula rasa. On the contrary, each child is genetically predisposed to structure how knowledge is acquired.

"The phrase 'X is reinforced by Y' is being used as a cover term for X wants Y, X likes Y, X wishes Y were the case, etc. Invoking the term 'reinforcement' has no explanatory force, and any idea that this paraphrase introduces any new clarity or objectivity into the description of wishing, liking, etc., is a serious delusion."

Skinner's account rejects all postulations of inner states and sees human behaviour as entirely a function of antecedent events. For Chomsky, this reduction of human behaviour to 'conditioned responses' contradicts the actual [and demonstrated] complexity and freedom of consciousness (43).
I find the few quotations supplied to be on point and interesting. As a reader of fiction, even of so-called 'literature' I was bemused to read:
Perhaps literature will forever give far deeper insight into 'the full human person' than any model of scientific inquiry can hope to do (9).
The bulk (2/3) of the book covers linguistics. The balance of the book is Chomsky's political and media criticism. This was of less interest to me, that being where the bulk of my Chomsky reading has been. However with that exposure comes my ability to assess how well that section is put together. But more than that, the precise and clearly articulated criticisms of the media and socio-political thought in general was hugely informative and entertaining to read. For example, the contrast that Chomsky draws between 'enlightenment values' and how far our science and social perspicuity have fallen from them is delightful. For example:
The American Paradox
The United States proudly calls itself 'the leader of the Free World'. We know the US as a free and open society, more so in many ways than societies of Western Europe. And yet, Chomsky has criticized the US as blind to what it really is…
1. One of the most depoliticized nations in the industrial world
2. One of the most deeply indoctrinated societies in the industrial world
3. One of the most conformist intelligentsias in the industrial world.

A: It only looks that way.

The freer the society the more well-honed and sophisticated its system of thought control and the indoctrination. The ruling élite, clever, class-conscious, ever sure of domination, make sure of that (138-9).
It is clear from the very first page that, unlike the one or two 'Dummy' books I've tried, the writers of Chomsky for Beginners, John Maher and Noam Chomsky, demonstrate deep respect for the readers' intelligence and ability to understand complex ideas. This at no time feels dumbed down. This book has been described as a good introduction to Chomsky's ideas, and it is. But far, far more importantly, this is a book that introduces one to the challenge of really thinking, even those who are, like me, familiar with Chomsky. And I loved that.

Now, everything up to this point would have earned from me four stars. So why five? Because for the first time I read someone else make the connection between C.G. Jung and Chomsky's ideas of language and language acquisition. I was so excited to see this! (For my connection, see my review of Noam Chomsky: A Philosophic Review by Justin Leiber.) From Beginners Maher does not elaborate on the connection beyond a citation on the Collective Unconscious which he implies has a correspondence to Chomsky's concepts of Deep Structure and Universal Grammar.
"One part of our biological make up is specifically dedicated to language. That is called our language faculty. UG is the initial state of that language faculty" (77).

Universal Grammar is that part of cognitive psychology (ultimately human biology) which seeks to determine the invariant principles of the language faculty and to determine as well the range of variation that those principles allow — that is, the possible human languages(78).
Now compare with Jung's idea of the collective unconscious and archetypes:
The human psyche is composed of innate forms always present, giving direction and form to their actualization in images and action. The collective unconscious is universal: it is shared by everyone. "The autonomic contents of the unconscious or 'dominants' … are not inherited ideas but inherited possibilities, necessities even, of bringing to birth the ideas by which these dominants have been expressed, every region has its forms of speech, which can vary infinitely" (80-1).
Okay, enough book review.

1. Blood pressure fushigi

I took my wife to an appointment with a dietician to talk diet as it relates to her recent onset of diabetes. This was her first time there, and there was an instantaneous clash of personalities. I won't go into the minutiae. However, the nature of the visit may perhaps be epitomized by when she had her blood pressure. For the first time in her life, despite having had her pressure measured many times because of fifteen years of serious health issues, it was taken with an automatic machine. Well, she has a relatively contentious relationship with mechanical devices, and when the pressure on her arm became far more intense than she was familiar with from the manual systems, she freaked. Pure panic. When I picked her up 45 minutes later she was still clammy and sweating from the panic. She commented that her arm still hurt and, to her great annoyance read over 160. In fifteen years of repeated tests under various circumstances, it has never been over 130, and normally sits between 120 to 125 to the surprise of every doctor who always expect it to be high.

So, later that day, when I return to reading Chomsky for Beginners, I read:
Universal Grammar is not a grammar. Neither is it a theory of knowledge. It is a theory about the internal structure of the human mind.

Principles, therefore, are universal to all languages. The specific values for parameters are a fixed property of language which vary within very specific limits from one language to another.

For example, age, gender, and renal function are parameter values (para = in addition to) that determine blood pressure in the human body.

If renal function is damaged by an illness like diabetes, then the blood pressure goes up. Therefore the study of dietary salt intake by itself will not provide an accurate and complete picture of operating renal function.

In a tightly integrated theory with a fairly rich internal structure, change in a single parameter may have complex effects, with proliferating consequences in various parts of the grammar (Chomsky102).
And the graphic to accompany it seems right on point, too.

2. Crow Fushigi

Well a second fushigi happened on the 14th, too. And indirectly it is related to my wife's visit with the dietician, so I'll include it here, even though it is not directly related to Chomsky for Beginners except though the dimension (or element) of time.

It began in the morning while waiting for it to be time to leave for the appointment. We have been observing a pair of crows who have nested nearby. Oddly enough, for the first time in my life I was actually dive bombed by the one the crows the previous weekend. Anyway, my wife asked when crows fledged. I said I didn't know, but that it must be soon.

When I dropped my wife off at the dietician's office, I went and did some banking. After that I had a nice open block of time and then went for a good walk to Queen's Park along 5th Avenue before going to pick her up. On the way back from the park I heard unusual sounding crow squawks. When I looked over to where the noise came from, I saw three crows standing at the edge of the roof of a house. One was in the eave, the other two on the roof. The one that was making the unusual noise was being fed by the other ones: it's beak was wide open and squawked it's demand for food, and the others were feeding it.

'Ah,' I thought, 'it would seem that the crows have fledged.' L.'s question has ben answered.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

2012.06.05 — Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky & Fushigis* Rev 12.06.09

Well, despite my lack of verbiage, here — or maybe my lack is because of it! — I have been reading. And even finishing books. And in case this has got you excited to read a full fledged book review, your premature elation was, well, premature. This is one of my *fushigi book blog things.

It began, this morning with my continuing to zip through

Deterring Democracy

Noam Chomsky.
New York: Verso (New Left Books) 1991 ISBN 086091318X.
(Out of Print: the link to the title above goes to the text of the entire book at

This is filled with documented examples of the media's general misrepresentation of America's active role in destabilizing the world, rejecting peace, and subjecting 'client' states to terror, torture and death to ensure compliancy for the survivors to live in extreme poverty so as to benefit American corporate hegemony. Today's fushigi began with a particular gruesome read: that in some Latin American countries the extreme poverty has been effective in creating new 'free' markets. Specifically, the kidnapping, sale, fattening up and trade in babies and/or their body parts. Anyway, part one of today's first Deterring Democracy fushigis:
The foreign-imposed development model has emphasized "nontraditional exports" in recent years. Under the free-market conditions approved for defenceless Third World countries, the search for survival and gain will naturally lead to products that maximize profit, whatever the consequences, Coca production has soared in the Andes and elsewhere for this reason, but there are other examples as well. After the discovery of clandestine "human farms" and "fattening houses" for children in Honduras and Guatemala, Dr Lul's Genaro Morales, president of the Guatemalan Paediatric Association, said that child trafficking "is becoming one of the principal nontraditional export products," generating $20 million of business a year. The International Human Rights Federation, after an inquiry in Guatemala, gave a more conservative estimate, reporting that about three hundred children are kidnapped every year, taken to secret nurseries, then sold for adoption at about $10,000 per child.

The IHRF investigators could not confirm reports that babies' organs were being sold to foreign buyers. This macabre belief is widely held in the region, however; indicative of the general mood, though hardly credible. The Honduran journal El Tiempo reported that the Paraguayan police rescued seven Brazilian babies from a gang that "intended to sacrifice them to organ banks in the United States, according to a charge in the courts." Brazil's Justice Ministry ordered federal police to investigate allegations that adopted children are being used for organ transplants in Europe, a practice "known to exist in Mexico and Thailand," the London Guardian reports, adding that "handicapped children are said to be preferred for transplant operations" and reviewing the process by which children are allegedly kidnapped, "disappeared," or given up by impoverished mothers, then adopted or used for transplants. Tiempo reported shortly after that an Appeals Judge in Honduras ordered "a meticulous investigation into the sale of Honduran children for the purpose of using their organs for transplant operations." A year earlier, the Secretary-General of the National Council of Social Services, which is in charge of adoptions, had reported that Honduran children "were being sold to the body traffic industry" for organ transplant."

A Resolution of the European Parliament on the Trafficking of Central American Children alleged that near a "human farm" in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, infant corpses were found that "had been stripped of one or a number of organs." At another "human farm" in Guatemala, babies ranging from eleven days old to four months old had been found. The director of the farm, at the time of his arrest, declared that the children "were sold to American or Israeli families whose children needed organ transplants at the cost of $75,000 per child," the Resolution continues, expressing "its horror in the light of the facts" and calling for investigation and preventive measures.12

As the region sinks into further misery, these reports continue to appear. In July 1990, a right-wing Honduran daily, under the headline "Loathsome Sale of Human Flesh," reported that police in El Salvador had discovered l group, headed by a lawyer, that was buying children to resell in the United States. An estimated 20,000 children disappear every year in Mexico, the report continues, destined for this end or for use in criminal activities such as transport of drugs "inside their bodies." "The most gory fact, however, is that many little ones are used for transplant of organs to children in the U.S.," which, it is suggested, may account for the fact that the highest rate of kidnapping of children from infants to eighteen-year-olds is in the Mexican regions bordering on the United States.13

The one exception to the Central America horror story has been Costa Rica, set on a course of state-guided development by the Jose Figueres coup of 1948, with social-democratic welfare measures combined with harsh repression of labor, and virtual elimination of the armed forces. The US has always kept a wary eye on this deviation from the regional standards, despite the suppression of labor and the favorable conditions for foreign investors. In the 1980s, US pressures to dismantle the social-democratic features and restore the army elicited bitter complaints from Figueres and others who shared his commitments. While Costa Rica continues to stand apart from the region in political and economic development, the signs of what the Guatemalan Central America Report calls "The 'Central Americanization' of Costa Rica" are unmistakeable.14

11. Anne Chemin, Lc Monde, September 21,1988; Guardian Weekly, October 2. Ibid., September 30, 1990. Tiempo, August 10, 17, September 19, 1988. Dr Morales, cited by Robert Smith, Report on Guatemala, July/ August/ September 1989 (Guatemala News and Information Bureau, POB 28594, Oakland CA 94604).

12. Ibid.

13. La Prensa Dominical. Honduras, July 22,1990.

14. CAR, April 28, 1989. For discussion of these matters, see references of Chapter 12, Note 58.
Yup, seems unbelievable that such a thing would happen, but as always Chomsky provides citations that are not easily dismissed. This description reminds me of Jonathan Swift's caustic satire A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public. And it poses the interesting question, in our news-hungry age: why isn't this kind of horror news-worthy? Chomsky's suggested answer is that it works against the notion of America's democratic benefits of free-markets.

Okay, so what constituted the fushigi? About an hour after reading this, at work I opened my gmail account, had received, as I do every day, from Powells Books their 'Daily Dose' — a book and a customer's review of that. Well, today's Daily Dose was The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar.

Here's the text from the e.mail:

The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar.

Rachel's Comments:
"I was afraid I had become too cynical a reader to enjoy fiction anymore. This book restored my faith in fiction and in just about everything else. It's one of those reading experiences that makes you feel like you've emerged from a cocoon. Hector Tobar is my new hero. Absolutely amazing."

Publisher Comments:
New York Times Notable Book for 2011;
A Boston Globe Best Fiction Book of 2011.

The great panoramic social novel that Los Angeles deserves — a twenty-first century, West Coast Bonfire of the Vanities by the only writer qualified to capture the city in all its glory and complexity.

With The Barbarian Nurseries, Hector Tobar gives our most misunderstood metropolis its great contemporary novel, taking us beyond the glimmer of Hollywood and deeper than camera-ready crime stories to reveal Southern California life as it really is, across its vast, sunshiny sprawl of classes, languages, dreams, and ambitions.
I laughed at the juxtaposition of the description of the text to that of the title. What a weird fushigi.

Well, if that weren't enough, the following night, 2012.06.06, instead of finishing this very disturbing fushigi book blog, I finally answered a co-worker who asked for my opinion on a proposal he wrote to help 'fix' the problems of the high costs of imprisoning people, and that of the problem of too light sentences and recidivism.

I wasn't swayed by his argument. I felt it ignored the roots of the problem and proceeded with some false assumptions on the nature of punishment and human behaviour. In part, this is what I wrote:
Dear RM:
I read your appeal and it has passion but does not convince me for several reasons. I will take the time to respect your effort by providing you with reasons for my opinion.

… the American solution is financially effective: the state contracts prison management to giant corporations, who have lobbied with millions to ensure that they get the job because they are solely concerned with the social well being of black Americans. (Right!) And thus is created an MBA's wet-dream: make it illegal to be poor, offshore all significant manufacturing jobs to create endless unemployment, under-fund public schools, and you will have created a corporate money making machine. So what if it costs the state $150,000.00 per year (or whatever the number is) to incarcerate the serious criminals, because it ensures that the shrinking middle classes' taxes are transferred not into the hands of those unworthy welfare bums and drug addicts, but into the coffers of big business who have successfully lobbied to avoid paying taxes. I would not be surprised if, in the near future, your solution is enacted with the USA. It is a serious money making solution. But this pales in comparison to Jonathan Swift's solution to the problem of Irish poverty, when the British lords made destitute the already poor by forcing them off the land. Read his essay A Modest Proposal, which is a satirical presaging of today's MBAs. Of course, William Blake also delineated the solution to poverty in Britain in his time by highlighting the trade in children as chimney sweeps. Of course, this is now echoed in the current child sex trade practices of Asian countries, which is dependent for its continuation on poverty, a poverty which pelf takes advantage of and enriches the overseers. And I have just read in Deterring Democracy where Chomsky sites the trade of baby parts and organs for transplants for wealthy Americans and Israelis within the context of the destitution created by American 'free trade' practices brutally brought into place with wars both covert and overt, and with prolonged help of death squads and terror.

My pragmatic MBA nature found Brazil's solution to the problem of their criminal street children quite appealing: quietly kill them with covert death squads. Clean, simple, and efficient. And if the social poverty continues to create these ungrateful miscreants, then the price of a bullet is cheap, especially if the government is paying an American manufacturer for the supply of both the guns and bullets.
Well, the next night, shortly after recommencing Deterring Democracy, I read the following:
The share of the poorer classes in the national income is "steadily falling, giving Brazil probably the highest concentration of income in the world." It has no progressive income tax or capital gains tax, but it does have galloping inflation and a huge foreign debt, while participating in a "Marshall Plan in reverse," in the words of former President José Sarney, referring to debt payments.

It would only be fair to add that the authorities are concerned with the mounting problem of homeless and starving children, and are trying to reduce their numbers. Amnesty International reports that death squads, often run by the police, are killing street children at a rate of about one a day, while "many more children, forced onto the streets to support their families, are being beaten and tortured by the police" (Reuters, citing AI). "Poor children in Brazil are treated with contempt by the authorities, risking their lives simply by being on the streets," AI alleged. Most of the torture takes place under police custody or in state institutions. There are few complaints by victims or witnesses because of fear of the police, and the few cases that are investigated judicially result in light sentences (228).30

30 South, November 1989. Reuters, NYT, Sept. 6, 1990.
So, there you go. Not a book review, but a pair of the oddest fushigis.

And I strongly recommend that you give Deterring Democracy a read. It is very, very good. And, despite some of the reviews I've read, not all that hard to read.

2012.06.09 Fushigi Addendum.
Well, the theme of prison reform continued to be fushigi extended: today, when I picked up my weekly Globe and Mail, the cover story was about bail reform: CRIMINAL JUSTICE
A case for bail reform
by Kirk Makin June 8, 2012.