Saturday, July 04, 2015

Kenya play that country sound . . .

Sir Elvis
Country Music
Will Swanson

As I said only two days ago, "I learn something new every day." Well, to be frank, I'm not sure I learned anything new yesterday, but I did learn something new the day after yesterday . . . which I believe we call "today," though if I rightly recall, it was called "tomorrow" back then. Time. Who can understand it?

But enough metaphysics. What did I learn today? I learned there is something called "Kenyan country music." Meaning American country music played by Kenyans. In Kenya! According to Isma'il Kushkush, "Country Music Finds a Home Far From Home, in Kenya" (NYT, July 1, 2015), and here it is:
Sir Elvis, dressed in a yellow and black plaid shirt, jeans, boots and a black cowboy hat, tuned his guitar under the wooden roof and neon beer advertisements of the Reminisce Bar and Restaurant. With a signal to the band, he began singing . . . in a purring baritone . . . . This would not be an unusual sight for Nashville or just about any country tavern in the United States. Except this was not East Texas, but Nairobi in East Africa, where American country music has a surprisingly robust, and growing, following.
How did this happen?
"I grew up with it, and my parents loved country," said Elvis Otieno, 37, who has become perhaps the best-known Kenyan country performer. Sir Elvis, as he is known onstage, was born the year Elvis Presley died, and was named after him by parents who were big fans of the King.
That reminds me of something Charley Pride said about growing up listening to country music and never thinking that it might be just white folks' music. Like Pride, Kenyans listen to all kinds of American music:
But it is country music that has a strong hold. Country songs are regularly played on the radio. The Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation has a weekly radio show, "Sundowner," that often features country, while a private television station, 3 Stones, broadcasts a program called "Strings of Country." Reminisce and the Galileo Lounge here have weekly gigs, and the first country music fair in Kenya, the Boots and Hats Country Festival, took place in March [and] . . . . Kenyan country singers are writing their own music about love and longing, in an American twang.
I was used to Charley Pride singing great country music, but I still was surprised to learn that the country genre had Japanese fans. I discovered that fact in Berkeley, in the latter 1980s, when several Japanese girls appeared as dinner guests in the house where I lived on Alcatraz Avenue. During the after-dinner conversation, I happened to mention Hank Williams, and one of the girls became excited and cried out that she loved country music. How did this happen?
American country music has found audiences around the world, introduced by American soldiers to Japan, Korea, Thailand and Germany, and through Hollywood movies. Particularly devoted fan bases have grown in unexpected places like Australia, Jamaica and South Africa . . . . In Kenya, country music's popularity dates to the 1940s and crosses classes, but is especially pronounced in the central highlands, the country's farm belt. Many of the fans are over 50, but a younger generation who grew up listening to their parents' music also tune in.
But how did country music reach Kenya?
European settlers, mostly British, transported the music here during Kenya's colonial era, which ended in 1963. "We took it up from them," John Obongo, the host of "Sundowner," said of the Europeans . . . . Kenyans, Mr. Kimotho said, "can identify with the stories in the songs." A type of music called Mugithi, a genre developed in central Kenya and traditionally sung with guitar accompaniment in the Kikuyu language, has a country feel, giving its listeners an affinity for modern American country music.
I can imagine the affinity the Kenyans feel because of Mugithi, but did the British really carry country music to Kenya?

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Brother Shan Doing Good Things . . .

Brother Shan
Back Row, Second from Left

Michael Freedman tells us that my brother "Dr. Shannon Hodges Volunteers Counseling Expertise In South Africa" (NU News, June 28, 2015):
Dr. Shannon Hodges, professor and coordinator of Niagara University's clinical mental health counseling program, spent four weeks performing volunteer work in South Africa during May and June. He volunteered his counseling, training and consultation services in six different orphanages, making 18 presentations (ranging from 1-5 hours apiece) and assisting in group and individual counseling. He also served as consultant on treatment issues with children ranging from 6 months to 18 years of age.
I'm amazed at Shan's energy and personnel skills. I couldn't handle this:
"Many of the children are HIV orphans, though others have been removed from their families due to neglect of various types of abuse and neglect," Dr. Hodges noted. "Thus, most of my work was focused on understanding the role trauma plays in the lives of the children and how the staff can promote resilience."

According to Dr. Hodges, roughly 90 percent of the orphans were Zulus (the large cultural group in the KwaZulu-Natal region) with roughly 10 percent Afrikaner children (European origin).
But there was more:
Dr. Hodges also keynoted a conference for social workers and childcare workers in Durban, South Africa.

"The mental health needs in South Africa are tremendous, especially with regard to addressing trauma recovery," he said. "Of the nearly 500 children and adolescents in the orphanage systems, virtually all have experienced significant trauma. Yet the amazing thing was just how hopeful many of the children seemed to be. The staff members at the orphanages were doing a very good job, especially given the circumstances.

"Though the pace was very busy and the issues overwhelming at times, the experience was very fulfilling. I would like to return in the next couple of years and take a student or two with me as the experience would be transformative."
So . . . who is this Hodges guy, anyway?
Dr. Hodges possesses more than 20 years of counseling experience in community agencies, university counseling centers, and in residential living communities. He is a former director of a university counseling center and clinical director of a county mental health clinic. An award-winning researcher and professor, Dr. Hodges began teaching at Niagara in 2000.
As kids back in the Ozarks, none of us could have imagined growing up to do such things, but we did grow up and are doing those things we never imagined.

Imagine that.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Big Jerks as Great Visionaries? Or Vice-Versa?

Elon Musk

As I was reading Tony Schwartz's recent article, "The Bad Behavior of Visionary Leaders" (NYT, June 26, 2015), I finally understood why visionaries like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk can be so "unnecessarily cruel and demeaning . . . to the people who helped make their dreams come true." Schwartz helped me see why:
I would argue that most of the bad behavior of these men is fear-based, impulsive and reactive rather than consciously hurtful. It grows not out of a sense of superiority but rather of insecurity.
Still, why the insecurity? They're geniuses. The insecurity comes from the fact that those around them are not all geniuses. Schwartz tells us:
I know well the anxious feeling that can arise when a deal is coming undone, a project isn't gelling or an employee seems to be falling short. I know how frightening it can be to feel out of control . . . . Each of [these three visionaries] . . . was far more likely to act out suddenly and behave poorly when he wasn't getting exactly what he wanted - when he felt that others were failing to live up to his standards.
I finally understood. Great visionaries make great demands. Insanely great demands. They do so for their visions, and if they see their vision fading because of some employee failing to perform in an insanely great fashion, they lose control in trying to maintain control.

I can see how that happens. I understand . . . and I learn something new every day.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Boasting and Boosting with Bruno!

Bruno Littlemore

The other day over at the Marmot's Hole, I had the chance to play historian on a brief discussion of the reason for the American Civil War. One commentator had cited certain historians who claimed that the war was about states' rights. I objected by citing Wikipedia - yes, Wikipedia, because ease of access sometimes trumps scholarly rectitude - and posting this remark:
On the other hand, one significant figure, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, delivered the Cornerstone Speech (aka Cornerstone Address) at the Athenaeum in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861, and he said of the Confederate Constitution, that:
"Our new Government is founded upon . . . the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."
This would seem to indicate that the South saw slavery as a significant issue - possibly the most significant? - of the war.
I was actually thanked for that helpful tidbit, so I responded in an agreeable manner:
The states' rights interpretation was part of revisionist history that opposed the older historical interpretation that the war was about slavery. Not that there's anything wrong in principle with revisionist history, generally speaking (no, not General Lee speaking!). Merely that revisionism, while useful in calling attention to different interpretations, tends to exaggerate its own interpretation. Why? Because there are careers to be made!

I gained this insight too late to make personal use of it even though I had something extraordinary to say about John's Gospel and Gnosticism . . .
I was then asked what "extraordinary" thing I'd had to say "about John's Gospel and Gnosticism", so I replied and linked to a couple of online sites:
Here are two online sites, each with a presentation I gave on John and Gnosticism in late 1999:
"'Ethical' Dualism of Food in The Gospel of John"

"Gift-Giving Across the Sacred-Profane Divide: A Maussian Analysis of Heavenly Versus Earthly Food in Gnosticism and John’s Gospel"
The audiences of academics were very interested in my reinterpretation, but no university department cared enough even to interview me for a position.

My career therefore took a different turn, which is how I ended up here in South Korea.

Such such is life.
And life does go on . . .

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"'Music Banned?' I thought you said, 'Music Band'!"

Music Banned

On June 23, 2015, Memri reported, "ISIS Decorates Streets With Anti-Musical Instruments Ads":
On June 22, 2015, the press office of ISIS's Tigris (Dijla) Province in Iraq published three pictures of public billboards. The first one warns against use of musical instruments and includes a Hadith which states: "Some groups from my nation will regard musical instrument as permissible."
Hmmm . . . "Some . . . will regard musical instrument as permissible." "Instrument," eh? Yeah, I can see the use of the singular "instrument" as a problem. But I doubt ISIS was making a grammatical point. Rather, ISIS was drawing attention to the fact that it considers music impermissible! Based on this hadith, apparently.

But what exactly does this hadith mean? Look again: "Some groups from my nation will regard musical instrument[s] as permissible." Sounds like a statement of fact to me. I see no clear rejection of music, not even an insinuation that music is forbidden. But perhaps ISIS wants to make a subtle point:
"Some groups from my nation will regard musical instruments as permissible, and other groups from my nation won't. We're one of those groups that won't. In fact, we're one of those groups that will kill you if you try. So, play it safe, not music! This has been a public service announcement of the ISIS Ministry of Silly Walks and Serious Consequences."
Actually, to be serious, I recognize that several hadith do forbid music, and this one probably does, too.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

A Novelist Appears . . . Tim Fitts

Tim Fitts

I received a note just recently from a novelist telling me that he likes a story by Jang Jung-il that my wife and I translated:
My name is Tim Fitts, and I am a novelist currently living in Philadelphia. I wanted to drop a quick note and say that I just picked up When Adam Opens His Eyes, and from the first page, am really enjoying the voice and character. I'm constantly looking for new books to teach in my classes here and will spend the next month organizing my fall reading list.
He also mentioned a novel of his to be translated into Korean, The Soju Club, which will apparently appear in Korean before it appears in English. I hadn't heard of Mr. Fitts, so I looked him up and quickly saw that he is an up-and-coming writer who has published in well-known literary journals, such as Granta, which informs us:
Tim Fitts lives and works in Philadelphia with his wife and two children. His stories and photography have appeared in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, The New England Review, CutBank and others.
The Korea connection behind his soju novel? He has taught here, the last time in 2005. For more on the man, Google his name. He doesn't seem to have a website, but his name does appear on a variety of literary journal sites . . .

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Microbiota: Influence on our Brains?

Illustration by Andrew Rae

Peter Andrey Smith, reporting for the NYT, asks, "Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?" and answers, "The rich array of microbiota in our intestines can tell us more than you might think" (June 23, 2015). Smith introduces us to the work of Dr. Mark Lyte, a pioneer in this field:
Mark Lyte . . . [is interested in the] digestive tube . . . of all vertebrates . . . [for their] vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.
This sounds fascinating. And there's more:
Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety.
So if your gut disagrees with you, it might be right and you wrong:
It has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals - an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin - originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals.
And thus also turn to interest in the role of these microbes in our mental health and intellectual wealth. Some may say we're chasing a chimera. I say: "Exactly!"


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Women of Hell and Virgins of Paradise

In MEMRI TV Clip No. 4973, the "Egyptian Imam Abu Mu'adh Al-Dardiri Extols The Pleasures Of Paradise[, stating that a] . . . Man Will Have 100 Virgins In One Morning."

But first, from the hadith, bad news for women:
In a recent Friday sermon, Imam Abu Mu'adh Al-Dardiri said that out of every 100 dwellers of Hell, 30 are men and 70 are women . . . . "Most of those who will enter the gates of Hell are women. Most of the dwellers of Hell are women. Out of every 100 dwellers of Hell, 30 are men and 70 are women. In other words, for every three men in Hell there are seven women.
More women are headed for hell, I guess, if we can believe Muhammad. And that's not all - also  from the hadith, bad news for the virgins of Paradise:
Al-Dardiri further said, citing the Prophet Muhammad, that in Paradise, a man will have the strength of a hundred men and will have a hundred virgins in a single morning . . . . "The Prophet Muhammad said, with regard to the black-eyed virgins of Paradise: 'A man will lie on his back in Paradise for 70 years...' He will enjoy those virgins of Paradise on a regular basis."
Eventually, though, the tables will turn - along with other furniture, like beds - for the virgins will have had enough:
"[B]ut at some point, a virgin will come to him, and will slap him on the shoulders."
The bed has clearly turned, for the man is no longer on his back, else he could not be slapped there. What kind of an unexpected slap is this? Al-Dardiri tries to explain it away as a kind kind of slap:
"This is a pampering slap, a slap of love. Some men like this. A man likes to be slapped by a woman, as long as it's not on the neck."
Sorry, Dardiri, this one's a slap on the neck - the back of the neck - and this "slap of love" signals that sadomasochism is now to begin, with the virgins in charge, and that's when the man finds out that the virgins of Paradise are really the women of Hell (thereby explaining why there are so many of them), and boy has their time come!

According to Memri, this 'sermon' was preached at Al-Salam Mosque in Giza, Egypt, on May 8 and afterwards posted on the Internet, which is why we are now confronted with this nonsense that passes for a sermon in Islam. Exactly what sort of moral lesson are we supposed to draw from this foretaste of glory divine?

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Growing older . . . and hearing voices from the past

"Switch Your Land"
Google Images

As I lay dining on a piece of toast while bedridden with my stomach virus, an old Swiss-German friend with the ever surprising surname "d'Aujourd'hui" was writing me an email:
High Jeff,
Well, that would be nice, in general, but while sick, I had no desire for any chemically induced buzz. Nevertheless, Ms. d'Aujourd'hui continued:
I was thinking about you, asking myself how you might be going. I saw Antonia today, Monica's friend in Fribourg. Maybe you remember her . . .
By the time I read her entire email, I was able to answer. I didn't say, well, I'm going . . . going . . . though not yet gone. I instead replied reasonably to Ms. d'Aujourd'hui's question:
Yes, I remember Antonia. I admit I had to reflect a bit to do so, but that seems to be a matter of getting older - in my case anyway.
Ms. d'Aujourd'hui went on to inform me:
I'm at Zürich for work. And I'm astonished how lively this city is. There are so many people here from all over the world. Summer is really nice here; everybody is outside, gathering in the parks, swimming in the river and the lake. I stay at my brother’s flat; my son is living here, so it is a nice occasion to spend some hours together.
I was at work, too, although in Seoul, and I told her:
At the moment, I'm preparing for my 9 a.m. course, an intensive class on writing. Expository, not creative. Occasionally, I have to correct students' pronunciation, so I sometimes do your [sort of] work, if you're still doing Logopaedie . . . . I still read the IHT - though it's now the INYT - so I know that Zürich is a bustling place, and so is Basel, with its yearly art fair (or whatever it's called). Once in a great while, there's an article that mentions Fribourg.
Ms. d'Aujourd'hui soon signed off:
A lot of Swiss greetings . . . . hope you're as fine as you can be!!
I did the same:
I suppose I'm doing as well as the last time we communicated, though a bit less so. You seem to be doing well. I hope you are.
And so it goes as our past fills up with more and more of our less and less time . . .

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Snuff already with the flu!

Hillbilly  Nose Candy

Still not up to it . . . but maybe by tomorrow.