Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Terrance Lindall's "Dinner with the Devil" a Success!

Book Display

My art friend Terrance Lindall sent some photos yesterday from last Friday evening's Dinner with the Devil - at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (WAH) - in honor of The Satanic Verses of Bones Banez, as recounted to Lindall.

First, here's Yuko Nii - well-known artist and founder of the WAH - speaking, while Lindall sits nearby, manning the sound system and perhaps being introduced prior to reading from The Satanic Verses:

Here's Lindall, reading aloud from the text:

Finally, here's Bien playing the piano with Peter Dizozza:

I wish I could have been there . . . and in some way, I was, for if you look closely at the first photo above, you'll see the yellowish-looking hard copy of my novella - The Bottomless Bottle of Beer - just below the third painting from the right. That was the first edition, and it had a lot of mistakes due to my poor editing - even a missing paragraph from the beginning - so anyone interested in reading the complete and perfected text will have to go for the ebook version, at Amazon.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kate Marie Reads The Bottomless Bottle of Beer!

Long-time reader of Gypsy Scholar, Kate Nanney (aka Kate Marie) recently read my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and even actually really liked it:
I wanted to tell you that I read your novella and enjoyed it immensely. Toward the beginning of the story, I came upon this sentence and chuckled: "I thought some woman might, some eve or other, find him seductive." It struck me as I read it, though, that I know many young people for whom that sentence would convey nothing other than a dim sense that the gentleman in question was attractive. It was very satisfying -- and delightful -- to find that that kind of religious and cultural amnesia was a theme of your novella (one among many, of course). It was great fun to see how The Master and Margarita, which I have read recently, inspired you. You've inspired me, in your turn, to reread Paradise Lost -- which I have not read in its entirety since college.

Thank you for a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read!
Naturally, I thanked her:
Thanks for the kind words about my novella.

I suspect that many young people would react to "eve" as a misspelling of "evening." One editor in the anthology version caught the allusion, however, and capitalized "eve" as "Eve," not realizing what I was up to - he later promised never to alter anything without checking with me first!

I'm gratified you liked the story - please tell everyone you know to purchase a copy! And to tell others! Nothing less than the survival of Western Civilization is at stake . . .
I then asked if I could post her remarks on my blog, and she responded in the affirmative:
Of course, you may post my response on your blog. It needn't be anonymous. I liked the novella so much I'm willing to sign my name to the review. :)

I will indeed tell all my friends, including "Facebook friends." Never let it be said that I didn't have Western Civilization's best interests at heart.
Yes, and since the majority of my readers also have the West's best interests at heart, I urge all of you to read my story and defend the West!

Oh, and if any enemies of Western Civilization are reading this, read my book, too, and discover how to undermine the West . . .


Monday, September 22, 2014

Foreign Policy's Little Ironies . . .

Andrew C. McCarthy
National Review

My literary friend Carter Kaplan sent me a link to an article by Andrew C. McCarthy, "The Islamic State . . . of Saudi Arabia" (National Review, September 20, 2014), which begins by reminding us of the atrocities we've recently witnessed in the name of Islam:
The beheadings over the last several weeks were intended to terrorize, to intimidate, to coerce obedience, and to enforce a construction of sharia law that, being scripturally rooted, is draconian and repressive.

And let's not kid ourselves: We know there will be more beheadings in the coming weeks, and on into the future. Apostates from Islam, homosexuals, and perceived blasphemers will face brutal persecution and death. Women will be treated as chattel and face institutionalized abuse. Islamic-supremacist ideology, with its incitements to jihad and conquest, with its virulent hostility toward the West, will spew from the mosques onto the streets. We will continue to be confronted by a country-sized breeding ground for anti-American terrorists.

The Islamic State? Sorry, no. I was talking about . . . our "moderate Islamist" ally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Who is Mr. McCarthy? Some readers may recall that he led the prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven followers in 1995 for their role in the 1993 World Trade Center terrorist bombing, an earlier attack on the WTC now overshadowed by the more successful 9/11 terrorist atrocity, about which everyone is now an expert. Doubtless, McCarthy has learned a lot about 'Islamism' since 1993, for as leader of the prosecution, he would have had to immerse himself in the world of Islamism and Islam, and the fact that the Islamic State is not especially different from Saudi Arabia hasn't escaped his notice.

As McCarthy implies, the ironies of US foreign policy abound . . .

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soccer Game: Suwon 2 - Pohang 1

Post-Game Photo

My friend Kent invited my family and me to see a live soccer game from the Sky Box of Suwon's World Cup Stadium yesterday. I think I've not been in a stadium since I was an undergrad, when I went once to an American football game in college and found myself bored to tears - except I was too tough to cry - but I never went back. Soccer, however, is a whole new ball game for me, and I can enjoy watching it. There's more action in it than in American football.

To make this blog entry short, I'll just say that Suwon was losing with the score 0 to 1 in the latter part of the second half of the game when I had a call of nature, and when I returned from that call, the score was tied. Only one or two minutes later, Suwon scored again and kept Pohang from scoring till time ran out.

We had the opportunity to shake hands with the Suwon goalkeeper - who's also goalkeeper for the national team - and pose for photographs as well. You see me second from right. My wife is next to me, holding my hand, and I've got an arm on the shoulders of my friend Seung-Tae, a professor at Ewha Womans University, though I first met him in Germany 22 years ago. Kent is the big guy in the green shirt standing beside the equally big goalkeeper. Kent's wife in on the other side of the goalkeeper. The other player in the photo is - I think - the man who scored the winning goal for Suwon. The man between this other player and Kent's wife is no one I know. Finally, you see the four team mascots.

I'm not really one for watching sports, though I'll occasionally watch soccer and basketball, but I had a great time anyway!

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Religious Ambiguity of the Universe: Wolfhart Pannenberg's Death

Fred Sanders - writing a quasi-obituary for Christianity Today on "The Strange Legacy of Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg" (September 18, 2014) - notes that:
For Pannenberg, God does not make himself known through speaking actual words, or through an interior, existential encounter, or in any other way. We know God because he makes himself known indirectly through historical events which are open to all observers, not just the eyes of faith.
This is an enigmatic position - i.e., that "God . . . makes himself known indirectly through historical events" - for historical events are known from imperfect records and their meaning depends, anyway, on inferences from those incomplete records. I understand this sort of theology as based on what I call "the theological ambiguity of the universe."

Everywhere we look - whether to the fine-tuning-of-the-universe design argument or to historical arguments for the resurrection - we find much ambiguity, such that judgment as to the existence of God could go either way, depending on the predilections of the individual.

I deal with this issue, albeit surreptitiously, in my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer . . .

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Christina Rees on "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now" at Crystal Bridges Art Museum


Art reviewer Christina Rees has a generally positive though occasionally snarky review - and even some rather nasty remarks -- in her article, "State of the Art at Crystal Bridges: Pure Pop for Now People" (Glasstire, September 12th, 2014). First, the positive:
This is real art by real working artists. The populist bent was a considered choice. The exhibition's curators, museum president Don Bacigalupi and staff curator Chad Alligood, traveled the country for nearly two years and visited about 1000 artist studios, and mostly avoided any truly challenging art; nothing here is willfully ambivalent or too subtle or dark. Almost every piece is turned up to eleven in terms of being engaging. Good examples this are the Mom booth, by Andy DuCett of Minneapolis, which will be staffed by real volunteer moms throughout the show's run, or the knitted cave-like hallway that opens the show, by Brooklyn-based Jeila Gueramian.
Generally positive, as I said, and though she might be disappointed at the absence of 'challenging' art - that "nothing . . . is willfully ambivalent or too subtle or dark" - she accepts that the "populist bent was a considered choice." But she can't restrain some snark:
[E]verything is instantly gettable . . . . Get it? Yes. Yes you do.
Maybe these comments weren't meant to be snarky, but the tone strikes me that way. Here's the nasty stuff - not about art, but about the region:
The museum's home of Bentonville, high in the Ozarks (the region is undeniably beautiful), is also home to the Walmart Corporation, and it's a semi-charming town, but the region feels a little spooky. Its stubborn ruralness has a whiff of meth hillbilly. As I walked and drove around town and dealt with my hotel's front-desk people and gas-station cashiers and the like, I could sometimes hear the sinister banjo playing in my head.
The "sinister banjo" is a reference to a scene in the movie Deliverance, a famous scene showing an inbred young hillbilly playing a banjo in a musical duel with a city slicker: "Dueling Banjos." While they're both playing, the hillbilly seems friendly, but turns unfriendly immediately after they finish - even though he won the duel - and refuses to shake the city slicker's hand.

As for the "whiff of meth hillbilly," that's simply gratuitous insult, unless Ms. Rees has some reason better than "stubborn ruralness."

Nevertheless, the review has some interesting things to say about the art, so go read it in its entirety for the positive remarks and a few photos of images from the exhibit - or see even more on the museum's own website: "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now."

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Al-Baghdadi: Emulating Islam's Prophet Muhammad?

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi
Leader of the Islamic State

In its Inquiry and Analysis Series, Report No. 1117, "Understanding Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi And The Phenomenon Of The Islamic Caliphate State" (Memri, September 14, 2014), Y. Carmon, Y. Yehoshua, and A. Leone offer their analysis of the Islamic State's intentions and its self-justification, which I condense below in a version with bold-fonted, underlined points to consider:
This report seeks to clarify the IS's doctrine based on the organization's official writings and speeches by its leaders. It will argue that, unlike Al-Qaeda, the IS places priority not on global terrorism, but rather on establishing and consolidating a state, and hence it defers the clash with the West to a much later stage. In this, it is emulating and reenacting the early Islamic model . . . . Al-Baghdadi's vision of the Islamic state is modeled on ancient Islamic history, and therefore does not descend to the level of wallowing in contemporary Middle East politics and struggles . . . . In the current stage, the IS is concentrating on consolidating its rule in the parts of Iraq and Syria it has already conquered, and on expanding its rule in these countries, beginning with areas where there is a Sunni majority. The next stage will be conquering the bordering Muslim states. The second issue of Dabiq[, the IS's English-language magazine,] cites a reliable hadith of the Prophet that precisely defines the organization's order of priorities following the establishment of the state - first Saudi Arabia, then Iran and ultimately "Rome": "You will invade the Arabian Peninsula, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Persia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will fight the Dajjal, [an Islamic reference to the false messiah,] and Allah will enable you to conquer him."["In the seventh century Islamic texts, 'Rome' referred to the Christian Byzantine empire. In contemporary Islamist texts, it refers to Christendom in general."] . . . . In his approach that prioritizes the consolidation of the Islamic State over an all-encompassing battle with Islam's enemies, Al-Baghdadi is emulating the Prophet Muhammad – the ultimate Islamic role model.["Al-Baghdadi also claims to share the Prophet's lineage when he calls himself Al-Qurayshi, a member of the Quraysh tribe, to which the Prophet belonged."] The Prophet, while displaying cruelty in battle ­– cruelty mirrored by the IS – put off battles with his enemies and integrated compromises and tactical agreements in his policy, in order to gather strength prior to renewing action to obtain his ultimate goals.["This is exemplified by the Al-Medina Constitution of 622, which extended rights to the Jews to ensure their political absorption. These rights were subsequently withdrawn when Muhammad was able to expel them from the city in 628. Another example is the 628 Peace of Hudaibiya with the Meccans, which lasted 18 months, until the Prophet was able to realize his most cherished goal of taking over Mecca and the holy Ka'ba."] The IS, ruling from its informal capital in Syria's Al-Raqqa, conducts itself in a similar manner [as Muhammad], enforcing the laws of the shari'a while selling oil to Europe via the black market. ["As for the atrocities against Yazidis and the Al-Shaitat tribe, and the persecution of Christians, these conform to ancient Islamic doctrines with regards to idolaters, Christians, and apostates to which the Islamic State is committed."]
The interesting point for my concerns is the fact that the IS looks to Muhammad as "the ultimate Islamic role model" - what I have elsewhere termed "Islam's moral exemplar" - such that Muhammad's cruelty is mirrored in the IS's cruelty and used as a justification for the IS's actions.

Clearly, if reform is going to come to Islam, the would-be reformers will have to deal effectively with the "cruel Muhammad" image found in the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and the Hadith.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Islam: A Violent Religion?

Flag of Islamic State
Image from The Global Panorama
Christianity Today

Writing for Christianity Today (CT), Morgan Lee asks, "Does Islam Encourage Violence More Than Other Religions?" (September 12, 2014). I'm encountering this question more and more and listening carefully to people's responses. Nobody wants to come out and say directly that Islam is more violent, but their manner of expressing themselves reveals their answer to the question. Take Professor Rodney Stark, for instance:
In CT's interview with Rodney Stark earlier this year on why global religious hostility is on the rise, the Baylor University sociologist suggested that Muslim violence was largely because "most Middle Eastern nations have several Muslim groups that have been bitter enemies for centuries."
The primary example of this would be the Sunni-Shia conflict, which has been going on for 1400 years! This is evidence of what? That one Islam wouldn't be violent, but two 'Islams' are? Stark next offers a grab-bag full of reasons for Muslim violence, but read the reasons carefully:
"Some 75 percent of the people who died from religious hostility in 2012 were Muslims killed by Muslims. Then the terrible bitterness among them gets fanned by the enormous anger in these countries toward the West: the jealousy arising from poverty; technological backwardness; and then, of course, being appalled at the West's immorality, especially as depicted in the media," said Stark. He also argued that "religious violence isn't something new in the world,” and noted that he hesitated "to think there is anything peculiar to the Islamic tradition. There is a problem, to be sure, in that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion. But the fact is, Christians have killed each other by the millions too."
Just consider that passing remark about Muhammad: "There is a problem, to be sure, in that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion." These words reveal what Stark really thinks, but doesn't want to think. Stark knows that Muhammad is the moral exemplar for Muslims. If Muhammad did or said something, then that deed or word is the moral thing to do or say. If Stark thinks "that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion," he is implying that Islam is violent at its very core.

The so-called 'Islamic State' (IS) also believes that Islam is violent at its core, else it wouldn't be showing to the world all those videos of its own atrocities - acts of violence that the IS considers sacred violence - and going on to justify the violence, even sanctify it by pointing to Muhammad's violence.

We call this "Islamism," but is Islamism simply the violence at the very core of Islam?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Also for reading the atmosphere of a too quiet classroom in Korea . . .

Have some nunchi?
Illustration by Rose Wong

In "Looking Another Culture in the Eye" (NYT, September 13, 2014), Erin Meyer tells of a recent educational experience she had in Tokyo:
While traveling in Tokyo recently with a Japanese colleague, I gave a short talk to a group of 20 managers. At the end, I asked whether there were any questions or comments. No hands went up, so I went to sit down. My colleague whispered to me: "I think there actually were some comments, Erin. Do you mind if I try?" He asked the group again: "Any comments or questions?"

Still, no one raised a hand, but this time he looked very carefully at each person in the silent audience. Gesturing to one of them, he said, "Do you have something to add?" To my amazement, she responded, "Yes, thank you," and asked me a very interesting question. My colleague repeated this several times, looking directly at the audience members and asking for more questions or comments.

After the session, I asked my colleague: "How did you know that those people had questions?" He hesitated, not sure how to explain it, and then said, "It has to do with how bright their eyes are."

He continued: "In Japan, we don't make as much direct eye contact as you do in the West. So when you asked if there were any comments, most people were not looking directly at you. But a few people in the group were looking right at you, and their eyes were bright. That indicates that they would be happy to have you call on them."
Ms. Meyer goes on to note that an absence of this ability to spot what people want has a name:
In Japan, there is an expression popular with young people: "kuuki yomenai." Often shortened to "K.Y.," it refers to someone who is unable to read the atmosphere.
This inability is the opposite of what the Koreans call nunchi (눈치, pronounced "noonchi"), an ability to read the atmosphere of a situation. But Koreans also have an expression for the inability to read atmosphere: nunchi eoptta (눈치 없다), meaning "nunchi is lacking."

The next time I inquire whether my Korean students have any questions, I'll remember to look for the shining eyes . . .

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Holocaust Recividus? J Speaks

Howard Jacobson
Photo: Hindustan Times via Getty
The Spectator

In James Walton's first response to Howard Jacobson's new novel, he writes, "Howard Jacobson's J convinced me that I'd just read a masterpiece" (The Spectator, 13 September 2014), but he soon had some doubts. First, the conviction:
I finished the book, in fact, convinced that I'd just read a masterpiece.
But 'reality' sets in:
The trouble comes with reflecting on it afterwards. Once you're not being swept along by Jacobson's prose, the awkward realisation dawns that he's not joking, in more ways than one. Nor is he merely trying to write a work of dark fantasy. For the novel to carry the kind of punch he clearly intends, it needs to be at least imaginable that, within the next few years, the British people could rise up against the country's Jews, who still occupy 'a particular, even privileged place in the nation's taxonomy of fear and loathing'. And that once they had, the crime could be buried. And that British Christians still define themselves against the Jews.
I haven't read the book - I can't read everything! - but perhaps Jacobson is listening to the political left that has aligned itself with radical Islamists and openly re-uses antisemitic tropes. Could that be what the novel is really focusing on?

Of course, I'm mildly speculating, but the fact is that the rise of antisemitism in Europe these days is not so much rightwing as it is Muslim and leftwing.

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