Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some Moments of Silence for the Many Who Died Yesterday in the Korean Ferry Boat that Sank off Korea's Southwest Coast . . .

BBC AFP

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bulgakov's Fesiya is Goethe's Faust?

Goethe
Distorted Image by An(other) Englishman in Germany

A recent commentator, Thomas, from the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium asked me a difficult question about my novella's dependence on Bulgakov:
You said your "story relies more on Bulgakov's retelling of Goethe's story in his inimitable magnum opus, The Master and Margarita".

Actually I've always been enormously intrigued by Boelgakov's work, and in particular by its relation with Goethe and the Faustian theme. The formal and "superficial" allusions are clear enough, but could you tell me more about the deeper substantive and thematic relation, beyond the central appearance of Satan as such for example, and the love between the Master and Margarete? Thanks a lot for any information on that point.
I don't actually know very much about that, but the question got me thinking:
I'm no expert, and thus offer no depth, but Margarita seems the one bargaining with Satan (Woland) over the Master and his manuscript.

That looks like a reversal of roles, but I'd need to re-read with that in mind to see what is implied by this reversal.

The Master seems oddly un-Faustian, weak-willed and dependent. If there's a Faust in this tale, it would appear to be Margarita, except that she's playing both roles -- Faust and Gretchen.

But you've probably already noticed these things . . .
And he likely had, for he replied:
Thanks for your interesting reaction, Jeffery!

Recently I read in a Boelgakov comment that in the primitive version of the novel, the Master was a certain Fesija, a savant who was concerned with medieval satanic arts, and standing much closer to the Goethean Faust. This figure of Fesija is supposed to have been inspired by the religious philosopher Pavel Florenski (1882-1937), who was arrested in 1928.

Later on the Master became in the first place Boelgakov himself (or maybe Gorki).

Do you know something about these things?
I admitted my ignorance:
No, I knew nothing about those things. Thank you! I'll look into this.
I did as I said I would and looked into this, finding:
In Bulgakov's early versions of the novel the part of the Master was played by Fesiya, a wise man who was interested in the devilry from the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. Fesiya was occupied with demonic powers much more than later the Master, he was much closer to Goethe's Faust. Fesiya was probably inspired by the philosopher Pavel Alexan-drovich Florensky (1882-1937), who was arrested in 1928.
I found that information on the website Master and Margarita, a site I'm familiar with, though I wasn't familiar with this particular page.

See? One really can learn something new each day . . .

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

And now for something completely different: Graphene!

Graphene
Photo by Nicholas Petrone

I sometimes -- well, all right, often -- post on topics I know nothing about. Nick Bilton, for instance, in "Bend It, Charge It, Dunk It: Graphene, the Material of Tomorrow" (New York Times, April 13, 2014), just recently told me about my ignorance of graphene:
Graphene is the strongest, thinnest material known to exist. A form of carbon, it can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else. And get ready for this: It is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable.
I'm just smart enough to understand that this will bring about a radically new form of computing devices that will be thin, light, strong, and flexible. Oddly enough, I dreamt the night before last of an iPad-sized tablet that I could fold into a small rectangle and slip into my pocket, and the day after that dream, I read about graphene and its computing implications:
In 2012, the American Chemical Society said that advancements in graphene were leading to touch-screen electronics that "could make cellphones as thin as a piece of paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket."
This leads me to suspect that I might have read that statement two years ago without paying attention and that my brain mulled it over for a while and finally decided to bring it to my mind's attention . . . but how did my brain know I'd read a report on stuff like this the next day? There's a bigger mystery here than the mystery of graphene itself. But graphene might also help accomplish this other über-phenomenal thing:
[A]n international team of researchers based at M.I.T. has performed tests [on graphene] that could lead to the creation of quantum computers . . .
Finally, there's a potential use for quantum mechanics! Subatomic physics hasn't been a waste of time after all!

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Shannon Hodges: One of My More Successful Brothers . . .

Dr. J. Shannon Hodges
and
Shoshanna Cogan

The photo above is of my brother Shan and his wife Shoshanna, who sent me the picture and bragged on Shan:
Here's a photo taken minutes after Shannon's Keynote Address to a sold-out crowd of 350 professionals at NY Statewide Mental Health Conference. I'm so proud of his amazing work . . .
He deserves the boasting! Keynote speaker! Wow! I'll certainly never attain that status! Shan himself is modest:
Pretty good for a guy from Salem, Arkansas who once was considered the dumbest kid in his class.
I'd say it's even pretty good for somebody at the top of his class, too. Due to his modesty, he therefore needs a woman like Shoshanna to promote him. He has several areas of expertise, so I was naturally curious to see what he had spoken on, and a quick Google later, I found this:
Keynote Speaker: Dr. J. Shannon Hodges

Dr. Hodges will talk to us about "101 Careers in Counseling". He will illustrate the broad range of counseling careers open to Mental Health Counselors and counselors in general and has recently published a book titled 101 Careers in Counseling. The talk will include occupational information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wide variation in occupational possibilities for Mental Health Counselors (e.g., agencies, university counseling centers, human resource positions, counseling in a foreign country, etc.). A significant aspect of his keynote speech is to make prognostications of the future of the counseling profession and what this means for Mental Health Counselors and Counselor Educators. Because an important part of his address deals with change, emphasis on multicultural competence will be emphasized as the emerging global profession necessitates such.

Dr. Hodges will also tell us about his experiences working in the Australian outback with Aborigines!!
Shan has long now overtaken me as a world traveler! Next, he'll be visiting Antarctica to work with penguins, counseling them on their unwarranted fear of polar bears . . . More seriously, he also conducted a workshop:
Pre-Convention Workshops: (12-3 pm on Friday, April 11th)

101 Careers in Counseling

Presenter: Dr. J. Shannon Hodges, LMHC

The workshop will include ways Mental Health Counselors and future Mental Health Counselors can prepare for future changes brought on by technology and an ever expanding counseling profession.

The session will cover concrete information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook regarding rapidly growing counseling professions, the emerging international counseling profession, cultural competence, traditional and non-traditional counseling careers, changes due to technology (e.g., Skype counseling, ethical issues related to social media, international collaboration - particularly for counselor educators, etc.), adapting to a dynamic future. The session will also address the value of promoting and advocating for the counseling profession (and Mental Health Counseling profession).
Those of you interested in what sort of things Shan probably discussed might want to watch this video.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Joseph Braude Talks to "A Saudi Psychologist on Jihadism, Clerical Elites, and Education Reform"

Joseph Braude
FPRI

In an E-Note from FPRI, Joseph Braude reports on the Saudi attempt to rehabilitate jihadists, "A Saudi Psychologist on Jihadism, Clerical Elites, and Education Reform," which makes for interesting reading even if one retains skepticism about long-term results. For example, I found of interest this passage on the use of Islam as justification for terrorism, an explanation by the Saudi Psychologist:
It is a matter of how a group of so-called clerics interpret, or misinterpret, Islam. In Surat Al 'Imran of our Holy Book, it says, "No one knows [the Qur'an's] true interpretation except God, and those who are well-grounded in knowledge say, 'We believe in it. All of it is from our Lord.'" But some clerics stop in the middle of the verse, and just say, "No one knows [the Qur'an's] true interpretation except God and those who are well-grounded in knowledge." Then they put it to you that they alone are well-grounded in knowledge, and go on to use the half-sentence as a divine mandate for their own authority. If we claim that our religion is a peaceful religion, calling for peace between nations and between religions, then these false foundations need to be addressed.
A problem with this is that in insisting that no individual can rightly interpret the Qur'an, one means that reason plays little role, so one simply believes through an act of abject fideism. But even if the Qur'an is obscure, there are the hadith, which are often quite clear and very violent.

Nevertheless, the article (an interview, actually) is worth reading.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

"I am chatting with a modern Goethe!"


A recent visitor stopped by on an early blog entry of mine on Derrida (where I claimed that my then-five-year-old son En-Uk believed that nothing exists outside the text), and this visitor made an intriguing, if puzzling remark about recursive stories:
Stories within stories, ok, but telling the story they are told by! That's the inevitable recursion we will always be doomed to . . .
Deeming this an opening to promote myself, I replied:
Here's 'my' story . . .
The visitor took a look:
Waw... Looks great . . . I am chatting with a modern Goethe! Particularly the following comment is intriguing me:
"Hodges very successfully argues that moral choice lies at the center of the problem of the human condition, and he drives home his point -- without metaphysics and without moralizing -- that our situation in the Cosmos is precarious indeed; and that recent progressive claims for the transformation of society and the human race through a postmodern revolution in consciousness are premature, naive, self-deluding, and very possibly self-destructive."
Is this an accurate comment?
Not having received a customary notice from Site Meter that a query was awaiting my response, I only happened to notice this comment when I was deep within my blog's inner mechanism deleting spam, so I only then replied:
[S]orry, but I didn't get a notice of your comment with its query:
"Hodges very successfully argues that moral choice lies at the center of the problem of the human condition, and he drives home his point -- without metaphysics and without moralizing -- that our situation in the Cosmos is precarious indeed; and that recent progressive claims for the transformation of society and the human race through a postmodern revolution in consciousness are premature, naive, self-deluding, and very possibly self-destructive."
That was a reader's review, and you asked:
"Is this an accurate comment?"
My belated reply:
I hope so . . . because it sounds good . . . but I don't quite comprehend the praise. That reader must have understood more than I did . . . . Anyway, if you do read my story, I hope it's worth your time and effort.
I hold that same hope for all readers, and you can find out for yourself at this site here, though a site where you will also clearly see that I am no modern Goethe (a remark perhaps meant ironic), but merely one of that great man's epigones . . .

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Idle Request . . .

Donald Duck
Wikipedia

Does anybody of a certain age recall this childhood ditty -- sung to the tune of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (or for you Brits, "God Save the Queen") -- popular among kids in the early sixties:
I hate my country,
I'll go to Germany
To see the king.

His name is Donald Duck,
He drives a garbage truck
To every city dump,

And how it stinks!
I recall singing this when I was about five, but I had -- and still have -- no plausible idea what it's about.

Anyone out there know its origin and meaning?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Wright stuff I left behind . . .

N. T. Wright
Christianity Today

Over 15 years ago, back when I was striving hard to become a scholar in religious studies, I grew interested in the writings of N. T. Wright, and I met him at the 1999 SBL/AAR Conference, where I gave three ground-breaking presentations but garnered no interviews. Within three months of that conference, I was walking a couple of kilometers four times a day to teach English conversation in a language institute in Daegu. I was lucky. I had a job.

Yesterday, I encountered an article by Jason Byassee, "Surprised by N.T. Wright" (Christianity Today, April 8, 2014), that called forth memories I'd forgotten of Wright's attraction as a scholar:
Wright's goal in his teaching and writing is to massively revise the way Christianity has been articulated for generations. Christian faith, for Wright, is not about going to heaven when you die. It is not about the triumph of grace over the law of the Old Testament. He says its key doctrine is not justification by grace alone, the cornerstone for the Protestant Reformers. The church has misread Paul so severely, it seems, that no one fully understood the gospel from the time of the apostle to the time a certain British scholar started reading Paul in Greek in graduate school.
In short, Wright was a pot-stirrer, an iconoclast, a trouble-maker . . . except that he presented a novel conservative reading through his radical approach, so his writings offered a bracing challenge to things I had previously learned, whether liberal or conservative.

But I've left that scholarly realm behind, for life is full of surprises . . .

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

War is a Boon?


Stanford historian Ian Morris has book on war, and British historian David Crane reviews it for The Spectator, informing us that Morris means "War is good for us" (April 5, 2014), and explaining that in War: What is it Good For? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robots, Morris offers the possibly counter-intuitive claim that "in the long run, the very, very long run, 'productive war' has always made the world a safer and richer place for the losers as well as the winners" by creating larger, more peaceful societies.

The problem lies in what is meant by that expression "productive war," for this turn of a phrase suggests there are also "unproductive wars," leaving us to wonder if we should win or lose the long 'war on terror' and other conflicts, except that Morris hopes we win:
In Morris's opinion these next three or four decades are going to be the most dangerous in human history. But if we do happen to survive not just all the known and unknown threats that Islamism, resources, climate change, China or a resurgent Russia might throw up, but also all the 'unknowable unknowns' as well -- if, as he says, we get lucky with our timing and do survive all this, then that very biological predisposition to violence that has made us so good at cooperating, organising, innovating and evolving in the pursuit of better ways of waging war and wielding power will finally put war out of business.

Then human beings (or at least the 'trans-humans' and 'post-human' hybrids that will succeed us in about 2050) will find themselves at the end of the 10,000-year-long trek that has taken our species from Stone Age violence to that mythical Happy Valley of tolerant, inclusive, multi-cultural, crime-free civilisation.
Let's see . . . in 2050, I will be 93. Except I won't be, probably, since I don't expect to live that long, not being one of those "trans" or "post" sorts expected to inherit the earth.

Without reading the book, I can't comment directly, so go and read for yourself Crane's entire review to get a sense of what you may think . . .

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Jacob N. Shapiro - The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations


This book by Professor Jacob N. Shapiro (Yale) sounds like an interesting, insightful, and useful book on terrorism's dilemma: how to run a terrorist organization's bureaucracy while simultaneously maintaining secrecy. I don't know if I'll have time to read it, but I found a useful interview in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Here, for example, he speaks on how to exploit the weaknesses in terrorist operations:
There are several things being done already, such as aggressively tracking down various leads, following the signals that are created, and giving them relatively higher priority. It is not the case that the threat prior to 9/11 went undetected, because it was detected. What happened is the signals were not treated with sufficient gravity, and that has been rectified. What I think could be done, or what is not being done in a particularly aggressive way, at least as far as I know, is sowing more seeds of discord within organizations: getting on the chat-rooms and black websites that various militant organizations use and stoking ideological disagreements. Stoking disagreements about what's tactically acceptable. Providing misinformation about technical matters. All kinds of things that increase the need for communications within organizations are going to lower the production possibilities frontier that organizations can get to, given their levels of activity.

I think the other thing that is not being done enough is working to publicize the externalities that groups cause. We know that people in many countries get angry at the consequences militant groups cause for civilians, and it lowers support for them. We know that in most cases, these guys are tremendously vulnerable to information shared by noncombatants, by civilian and by nonparticipants who happen to notice something going on. And that suggests that there is a lever that can be used by policymakers, which is really aggressively getting the word out about just how bad the activities of many of these groups are. And it happens to some extent, but not as much as I think would be valuable. If the Voice of America says it, in many populations, it doesn't have the credibility of a local press outlet saying it. But there are lots of ways you can subsidize NGOs and other organizations that make it easier for local press outlets in lots of countries to report on what groups are doing. I think a lot of our public diplomacy is very centrally focused and coordinated on getting out the message of the U.S. government, as opposed to making it easier for the people to get basic facts about what the groups that we find problematic are doing. (Interview by Ian Philbrick and Henry Shepherd, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, October 10, 2013, Washington, D.C.)
I'm struck by the fact that the first of these two can be done freelance, by private individuals who have the necessary skills for passing as a terrorist and infiltrating online communities to disrupt them. I wouldn't recommend this, however, because if one is too skilled in passing as a terrorist, one might end up arrested by the government on the charge of terrorism.

As for the second of these two, blogs such as my own can play a role in critiquing Islamism, not that Islamist terrorists care about what infidels think, but they do care what Muslims think, and I know that some Muslims read my blog . . .

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