Friday, February 27, 2015

Gender: Finally Getting It Straight

Catholic Journal

From reading an article by the moral theologian Lisa Fullam (Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley) on "'Gender Theory,' Nuclear War, and the Nazis" in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal (February 23, 2015), I finally found out what people mean when they state that "gender" is a "social construct." Fullam in fact clarified several terms that have had me confused in many of the feminist articles I help edit for the journal of Feminist Studies in English Literature, among other journals, so here's your chance to get these terms clarified for yourself, if you're interested. According to Fullam:
1. Sex is a biological category like male and female. Of course, there are a substantial number of intersex people[,] . . . where external genitalia are inconsistent with genetic sex or the external genitalia are not identifiable as male or female . . . . [and the] common practice [has been] to assign a sex to babies at birth based on the easier surgical "fix" - usually to a female appearance[, often resulting some years later in a conflict between the sex assigned and the gender identity] . . . .

2. Gender Identity is one's inner sense of oneself as male, female or other [and is a biological trait]. If you want to know someone's gender identity, you need to ask. Gender identity emerges early in life, and usually lines up with one's biological sex. When it doesn't, . . . a large number of genetic[,] . . . epigenetic and other biological factors . . . have been implicated . . . . Gender identity is reflected in . . . the brain activity of people whose gender identity is different from their genital/chromosomal sex[,] . . . showing that gender identity, like sex, is a biological trait . . . .

3. Gender Expression is the way one expresses one's gender identity outwardly, in external and socially constructed signals like clothing, haircuts, voice, mannerisms, and such[, so gender expression is a social construct expressing a biological fact, i.e., gender identity] . . . .

4. Gender "refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women" . . . . Most children are socialized into the gender that matches their biological sex, though of course the particulars of that socialization vary with culture, personality and time . . . . To speak of gender as individually "chosen," it seems to me, merely reflects the historical fact that brave individuals stand up to challenge social norms before it is socially acceptable. (Lisa Fullam, "'Gender Theory,' Nuclear War, and the Nazis," Commonweal, February 23, 2015; emphases mine)
Now that that's all clear (though I wish it were still just a wee bit clearer), we can move on, and those readers interested in more details supplied by the article can click for more information here. These four categories give me something useful in my editing work for journals in areas outside my expertise, e.g., Trans-Humanities or the above-mentioned Feminist Studies in English Literature.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some Early Reactions To My Upcoming, Yet-To-Be-Published "Uncanny Story"

I've pretty much finished my new story - The Uncanny Story - and am currently having it critiqued by friends and family, who will of course say mostly 'nice' things, but I doubt they'd whitewash their views if the story were truly mediocre. Anyway, here come the reviews . . .

A friend of mine who's also the force of nature behind the Emanations anthology series, Carter Kaplan, wrote:
Your story is excellent. I couldn't put it down. It really is a page turner as far as sophisticated literary texts go. I much enjoyed it.
As a "sophisticated literary text," it might find relatively fewer readers than I'd hope for. Another friend, the well-known artist who illustrated The Bottomless Bottle of Beer (BBB), Terrance Lindall, wrote:
The ol' Devil will find new ways to come back to haunt you! And with the BBB experience under his belt, "What does not kill you makes you stronger!" As a story in itself as a stand alone, The Uncanny Story is not as good as the BBB. However, as a sequel, it works. If someone reads BBB and likes it, they will want to read this too. The part where students are discussing the cowardly character of Sir Gawain can stand alone as a humorous story. I loved it. You should submit it to some major magazines!
So . . . "not as good as the BBB." Well, that's also my view. But "as a sequel, it works," likewise expresses my opinion. Yet another friend, physicist-From-The-Ozarks Pete Hale, wrote:
I liked it a lot! Quite a nice sequel or at least heavily tied-in successor to BBB. You did a great job of all the various nested-dolls aspects, very cool. The two Russkies kind of reminded me of Tintin's two goofball detective friends, Thomson and Thompson. Any story that invokes one of my top 2-or-3 favorite SNL characters, the immortal (literally evidently) Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, is ok by me! SNL should, eventually, devote an entire show just to Phil Hartman, my personal favorite of them all. Finally, your use of "Too Much of Nothing" at the end is, itself, quite uncanny.
That's an entirely positive review, better than my story deserves, but the next view is even more positive! It's from my brother Shannon, who wrote:
I MUCH enjoyed your second novella. I even liked it better than The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. I had the sense early on that something unusual was about to happen regarding the meeting. There was a Twilight Zone/Night Gallery air about the story that I found enjoyable. There was more subtle humor than TZ or NG but also some of the bizarre. I thought your characters were well constructed and their interactions worked well. a good read. Naturally it was flattering to see the references to City of Shadows. The t-shirt "There's no X in espresso" comes from an encounter of mine in a coffee shop in Corvallis, Oregon. The "barista" was wearing such a shirt and it took him some 15 minutes to take my order despite having no line and it being the dead of summer.
Shannon is also a writer, and the reference in my story to "espresso" was drawn from a scene in his novel City of Shadows. I like to think that his positive evaluation of my story doesn't rest too much upon that allusion to his novel! Just kidding. I know he's not swayed by that. Not much, anyway.

More responses later if I receive any . . .

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More Photos from Jeonju . . .

I finally received some Jeonju images worthy of a serious blog effort. Let's begin with two photos of where my family and I stayed:

Looks inviting, no? The place wasn't bad, so far as hanok stays are concerned. Just the expected burning-hot floor that you can't stand on, the bed mat for the floor that you can't sleep on, and the Raid spray for that cockroach who'll never return so long as I'm fending him off from getting his dirty little feet wherever on! But let's move on to the next two images:

In Korea's traditional hanok center, we find a traditional Korean Romanesque cathedral. Yes! Yes! We get religion! Well . . . at least Korean Catholicism was brought from China by Koreans themselves, who slipped it in disguised as Confucianism. Meanwhile, from a political perspective, here's the first king of the Joseon Era:

Unfortunately, that king is dead . . . But do you hear that rumbling from the crowd? They're crying out "Long live the king!"

Oh, yes, I'm the great pretender . . .


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Jeonju Hanok Village Traditional Tree of Illumination

The Jeonju Hanok Village has a traditional tree that miraculously radiates light after night falls and thereby illuminates the darkness that would otherwise descend upon this traditional town every evening!

This tree was the high point for me in a visit in which I experienced many exciting traditions, e.g., street food, which could be purchased on main streets, side streets, and alleyways!

A memorable time for the entire family .. .


Monday, February 23, 2015

Biggie Train - Craft Beer in Daegu

Sorry to have missed blogging on Sunday - we were without internet connection in Jeonju.

Here are the photos from Saturday night, taken at a craft beer place in Daegu called "Biggie Train." I drank an India Pale Ale that the bartender said was supplied by Craftworks Taphouse, and the brew did taste like the IPA I've had many times there, but I'll need to check with Dan Vroon to make sure since there might have been something lost in translation, for the bartender spoke no English. Anyway, here I am drinking that IPA:

Sun-Ae drank a different beer, as can be seen in the next photo:

Sun-Ae's brother and his wife also enjoyed a brew:

I wish I had more time to write, but the evening is passing quickly by this Monday back in Seoul . . .

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thursday Evening in Daegu - By Lake Suseung

We've been in Daegu visiting Sun-Ae's family for the Lunar New Year, and we've taken a few photos. This first one shows the reflection of some trees growing on a low island:

The second photo shows a few city lights, also reflected in the lake:

And here's the entire family posing before the lake - probably with reflections of our backsides for anyone who might be photographing from the small island:

Expect more fascinating blogging photos tomorrow if our hotel has internet connection . . .


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Suntory Story - With a Ray of Light!

One of the two former Yonsei students I went drinking with some weeks back, Raymond Rohne, is on vacation in Japan, where he photographed the putative 'beer glass of his dreams':
I am currently in Japan and have had a rocky internet connection . . . [for] the past few days . . . . I am going to send a picture of a Suntory beer glass I used yesterday. It reminded me of something Mr. Em would have probably said.
Readers can likely see the words clearly in the image above, but just in case not, here they are:


Ray is probably right that the sinister Mr. Em might have spoken such words, which are just ambiguous enough to get a drinker into trouble, for what is a drop but a fall, but Ray - forewarned by my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer - was too alert to fall for the trick, so he guzzled the brew rather than sip it!

Good man, Ray!

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Irvin D. Yalom: On a 'Curious' Writer's Writing Block

The Writer's Block
Illustrated by Bill Bragg

My old Ozark friend Pete Hale, who's now a physicist - but whose son Ben is a up-and-coming novelist - sent me a somewhat breathless email yesterday:
I just read this at the New York Times: "A Curious Case of Writer's Block." Oh man! It had me at "Irvin Yalom," as I've read a couple or three of his books and he is really great. Kind of an Oliver Sachs who's more than ready to go fully-on literary. Anyhow, this little essay is a total blast, and seemed like something you'd really like. See what you think.
I read the column with interest, for it concerned a most peculiar man - call him "Paul" - a man with a fifty-odd-year writer's block who sought out the psychiatrist Dr. Yalom for an single, baffling session, namely, to read some of the long-term correspondence he'd had with a scholarly Nietzsche expert, from which I excerpt a short passage near the end, wherein Yalom gets a surprise:
"Paul," I said, "I'm uncomfortable because we're coming to the end of our session, and I've not really addressed the very reason you contacted me - your major complaint, your writing block."

"I never said that," he replied. "I know my words: 'I wonder if you'd be willing to see a fellow writer with a writing block.'"

I looked up at him expecting a grin, but he was entirely serious. He had said he had a writing block but had not explicitly labeled it as the problem for which he wanted help. It was a word trap, and I fought back irritation at being trifled with.

"Well then," I said, "let's make a fresh start. Tell me, how can I be of help to you?"

"Your reflections on the correspondence?" he asked. "Any and every observation would be most helpful to me."

"All right," I said, opening the notebook and flipping through the pages. "As you know, I had time to read only a small portion, but over all I was captivated by it, and found it brimming with intelligence and erudition at the highest level. There was no doubt he had the greatest respect for your comments and your judgments. He admired your prose, valued your critique of his work, and I can only imagine that the time and energy he gave to you must have far exceeded what he could possibly have provided the typical student. And of course, given that the correspondence continued long after your tenure as a student, there is no doubt that you and he were immensely important to one another."

I looked at Paul. He sat motionless, his eyes filling with tears, eagerly drinking in all that I said, obviously thirsting for yet more.

Finally, finally, we had had an encounter. Finally, I had given him something. I could bear witness to an event of extraordinary importance to Paul. I could testify that a great man deemed Paul to be significant. He needed a witness, . . . and I had been selected to fill that role.
I wrote back to Pete: "Interesting essay . . . or short story . . . or (very short) case study." Why 'interesting? Because it offers what every writer wants: recognition of the significance of one's writing.

I ought to read the New York Times Opinionator columns more often.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Graeme Wood: Islamic State Wears an Ideological Straitjacket

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Graeme Wood, writing on "What ISIS Really Wants" (The Atlantic, March 2015), tells us that the Islamic State follows a heavily apocalyptic, ideological belief system that is predictable enough for us to foresee its moves:
The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions . . . . [It] boasts openly about its plans - not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand . . . . [T]he waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph . . . . [T]he state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies - a holy order to scare . . . . them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict . . . . Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State's propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin . . . . [Establishing a state and joining the UN] is shirk, or polytheism . . . and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace [Abu Bakr al-]Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means - for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate - is shirk . . . . [One can hardly] overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State will be by its radicalism. The modern international system, born of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, relies on each state's willingness to recognize borders, however grudgingly. For the Islamic State, that recognition is ideological suicide. Other Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, have succumbed to the blandishments of democracy and the potential for an invitation to the community of nations, complete with a UN seat. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well . . . . To the Islamic State these are not options, but acts of apostasy . . . . [We] have reacted to the Islamic State belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group's ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and hadn't yet committed mass atrocities. [Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-]Adnani, the spokesman, told followers then that the group's ambition was to "restore the Islamic caliphate," and he evoked the apocalypse, saying, "There are but a few days left." Baghdadi had already styled himself "commander of the faithful," a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Adnani declared the movement "ready to redraw the world upon the Prophetic methodology of the caliphate." In August 2013, he said, "Our goal is to establish an Islamic state that doesn't recognize borders, on the Prophetic methodology." By then, the group had taken Raqqa, a Syrian provincial capital of perhaps 500,000 people, and was drawing in substantial numbers of foreign fighters who'd heard its message . . . . [Had we] identified the Islamic State's intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in Syria and Iraq would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed Iraq to harden its border with Syria and preemptively make deals with its Sunnis. That would at least have avoided the electrifying propaganda effect created by the declaration of a caliphate just after the conquest of Iraq's third-largest city . . . . Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it [through air strikes]] appears the best of bad military options . . . . If the United States were to invade, [however,] the Islamic State's [apocalyptic] obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed [by the West's vastly superior arsenal], it might never recover.
Maybe the Islamic State would collapse if defeated at the prophesied victory-battle of Dabiq, but when prophecy fails, belief is often strengthened in response to cognitive dissonance, so we should be forewarned about that. Anyway, the article is enlightening on the Islamic State, about which Wood doesn't mince words:
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic . . . . [T]he religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam . . . . [E]very major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, "the Prophetic methodology," which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.
That's an unflinchingly honest assertion, and I'm indebted to Bill Vallicella for posting on this article first and thereby calling my attention to it.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Islamic State: Grounding its Violence in True Islam?

Islamist Sword
Dabiq Magazine

A recent article in issue VII of the Islamic State (ISIS) English-language magazine Dabiq rejects claims that Islam is a peaceful religion and argues that it bases itself on the sword (February 12, 2015). A few quotes are provided below:
"There is a slogan repeated continuously by apologetic 'du'at' [callers for Islam] when flirting with the West and that is their statement: 'Islam is the religion of peace,' and they mean pacifism by the word peace. They have repeated this slogan so much to the extent that some of them alleged that Islam calls [for] permanent peace with kufr [unbelief] and the kafirin (unbelievers). How far is their claim from the truth, for Allah has revealed Islam to be the religion of the sword, and the evidence for this is so profuse that only a zindiq (heretic) would argue otherwise.
As evidence of Islam's righteous antipathy towards non-Muslims, ISIS cites words from the fourth caliph:
"'Ali Ibn Abi Talib . . . said, 'Allah's Messenger [i.e., Muhammad] . . . was sent with four swords: a sword for the mushrikin [polytheists] . . . a sword for Ahlul-Kitab [people of the book, i.e. Jews and Christians] . . . and a sword for the bughat [aggressors] . . . He also revealed the sword against the apostates . . . [Allah] also described what should be struck with the sword, {Remember when your Lord revealed to the angels, 'I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip'} [Koran 8:12]. [He] also said, {So when you meet those who disbelieve, strike their necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens} [Koran 47:4]. His Messenger . . . also described the sword as the salvation from evil and fitnah [strife]. [He] also described the sword as being the key to Jannah [paradise] . . . He also declared that his worldly provision was placed for him in the shade of his spear and that the best livelihood for the Muslim in the future is what he takes with his sword from the kafir [unbelieving] enemy.
ISIS thus calls for undying enmity toward just about everyone who doesn't follow the Islamic State's version of Islam.
"So how can the zanadiqah (heretics) or even those who blindly follow them - [George W.] Bush, [Barack] Obama, and [John] Kerry - obstinately claim that 'Islam is a religion of peace,' meaning pacifism? One of the biggest shubuhat [misconceptions] propagated by the heretics is the linguistic root for the word Islam. They claim it comes from the word salam (peace), when in actuality it comes from words meaning submission [Istislam] and sincerity [Salamah] sharing the same consonant root . . . "It is clear then that salam (peace) is not the basis of the word Islam, although it shares the same consonant root (s-l-m) and is one of the outcomes of the religion's sword, as the sword will continue to be drawn, raised, and swung until 'Isa (Jesus - peace be upon him) kills the Dajjal (the Antichrist) and abolishes the jizyah [poll tax]. Thereafter, kufr and its tyranny will be destroyed; Islam and its justice will prevail on the entire Earth . . . But until then, parties of kafirin will continue to be struck down by the unsheathed sword of Islam - except for those who enter into iman (Islamic faith) or aman (a guarantee of safety) - for there will always be a party of Muslims fighting parties of kafirin until there is no more fitnah and the religion is completely for Allah alone."
The Islamic State is pretty clear about its ultimate goal, conquest of the entire earth for its God, Allah. I'm no linguist, but I've long been skeptical of the argument that the word "Islam" is derived from the word for "peace" (salam), so I'm interested in the linguistic claims made here.

Is ISIS right and its Islamic State a true expression of Islam?

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