Friday, October 31, 2014

A Simple Tapestry . . .

God Accuses Adam and Eve after the Fall (ca. 1648)
(Click Image to Enlarge)
Pieter Coecke van Aelst
(August 14, 1502 - December 6, 1550)
Photo by Bruce White

New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is displaying a beautiful exhibition titled "Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry" (October 8, 2014 - January 11, 2015). I especially like this scene depicting Adam clothed with a natural thong of what looks like a vine - but ought to be fig leaves - accusing Eve of the tresspass. God, by contrast, is clothed in a glowing red robe - and the serpent is clothed in its own red, white, and blue skin! In the distance - representing the future, but not the distant future - God clothes the two fallen humans with animal skins. I wonder what sort of animal (not the serpent, obviously, though that would have been appropriate), and why is God robed in red - has he been trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored? Most amazing of all, this image isn't painted, but woven!

Milton's serpent, incidently, is also colorful in PL 9.499-501:
. . . his Head
Crested aloft, and Carbuncle his Eyes;
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold
Different colors, of course, but this leads me to wonder about traditions concerning the serpent's coloring . . .

Anyway, go and see this exhibition for yourself.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Left-Hand Screw Turns to the Right . . .

"Behead the Infidels"
London Islamists
Google Images

Man of the Left Brian Whitaker warns us that "Most Arab states share Isis's ideology" (The Guardian, October 28, 2014), and then tells us about it:
Compulsion in religion is the ideological foundation stone of Isis and Islamist movements in general. Believing they have superior knowledge of God's wishes for mankind, such groups feel entitled - even required - to act on his behalf and punish those who fail to comply with the divine will. In doing so, of course, they do not claim to be seeking power for themselves but merely trying to make the world more holy.
Tell us all about it, Mr. Whitaker. Some of us have long been talking about this problem. Where've you been? But maybe you've also discussed this issue before, too - I can't read everything - and at least you're now talking about it, so maybe the Left more generally is coming around to seeing the Islamist danger.
Bombing Isis and banning Islamist movements may suppress such movements for a while but it does nothing to address the ideological problem. Unless the question of compulsion in religion is tackled head-on, and in a serious way, they [i.e., Islamists] will resurface later or similar groups will emerge to replace them.
Exactly right. But how do we address "the ideological problem . . . of compulsion in religion"?
Although freedom of belief is a widely accepted principle internationally, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is still far from becoming established in the Arab countries. This is true of both governments and society.
Whitaker goes on to show various other Arab states with laws similar to those cited by ISIS, but let's turn to another Leftist speaking truth to Leftist power, Jeffrey Tayler, writing "Reza Aslan's atheism problem: 'Fundamentalist' atheists aren't the issue, apologists for religions are" (Salon, October 25, 2014):
Bill Maher's recent monologue on "Real Time" about the failure of liberals to speak out about the routine atrocities and violations of human rights carried out in the name of religion in the Muslim world has unleashed a torrent of commentary, much of it from progressives advocating more, not less, tolerance of Islam . . . . One pundit in particular . . . has busied himself opining on Maher and nonbelievers in general - Reza Aslan, Islam's most prominent apologist of late. Delivered via multiple media outlets, his remarks, brimming with condescension, tinged with arrogance and laden with implicit insults to thinking people, deserve special scrutiny for one main reason: among well-intentioned liberals who don't know much about religion, his words carry weight . . . . Aslan accuses the benighted critics of religion of a . . . grievous misapprehension: the assumption that words mean what they actually mean . . . . Aslan is essentially taking a postmodernist, Derrida-esque scalpel to 'scripture' and eviscerating it of objective content. This might pass muster in the college classroom these days, but what of all those ISIS warriors unschooled in French semiotic analysis who take their holy book's admonition to do violence literally? As they rampage and behead their way through Syria and Iraq, ISIS fighters know they have the Koran on their side - a book they believe to be inerrant and immutable, the final Word of God, and not at all "malleable." Their holy book backs up jihad, suicide attacks ("martyrdom"), beheadings, even taking captive women as sex slaves. This is not surprising; after all, the prophet Muhammad was a warrior who spread Islam by the sword in a dark, turbulent time in history.
Wow. Tayler is really speaking his mind on this, but he's done so before, as I've pointed out in an earlier blog entry.

Read the rest of Whitaker and Tayler on your own, if interested - and you should be interested.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Book of Life

The Book of Life
Image: Twentieth Century Fox
Christianity Today

In a movie review titled "The Book of Life" (Christianity Today, October 24, 2014), Nick Olson begins the review with a hook from the beginning of the movie baited to catch even readers as wary as we:
A busload of spitball slinging schoolchildren are unloaded at a museum, expecting to spend the day menacing the world around them. However, they are greeted by Mary Beth, a quick-witted tour guide who seems knowledgeable in dealing with mischievous tricksters.

Grabbing their attention with an optical illusion that leads to a secret passageway, Mary Beth leads the children to an obscure room where she introduces them to a mysterious book. It's the "Book of Life," she tells them, and it contains all of the world's stories.
Not the Book of Life Christians usually talk about, but this one sounds like a fun movie for a man of my sort, a fellow interested in telling tales, so let's check out a trailer: Here. Or another: Here.

Well, it's certainly colorful.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Immersion in 'Superior' Chinese Education?

Congratulating a Student
Photo by Jane Peterson
New York Times

In "An American School Immerses Itself in All Things Chinese" (NYT, October 26, 2014), Jane A. Peterson publishes an informative article - though also something of a 'puff' piece - about a school in Minneapolis, Yinghua Academy, that immerses American students in Mandarin Chinese to teach all of its classes from from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is fine and dandy by my reckoning, but I have a few reservations about some of the praise:
Math results, which are particularly strong, are partly attributed to the Singapore Math curriculum and its eight-step approach to word problems, as well as the Chinese-educated teachers who move through material more quickly than their American peers.
Ms. Peterson is a journalist stationed in Singapore, so she should know something about its approach to math education, but she might also be wont to consider it more positively than if otherwise stationed. I note this only as a possibility - and one should always practice some skepticism about what one reads. Consider, for instance, these words of praise for Mandarin:
Mathematical terms in Mandarin are also clearer. The word for "triangle," for instance, "sanjiaoxing," means three-sided. And when counting to 100, the Chinese use only 10 numbers to build all others; 71, for instance, is written 7-10-1. "The number system is easier to work with," said Mary McDonald, a seventh-grader who takes an extra university math class once a week. "It's faster and more organized."
Hmmm . . . Let me just point out that "triangle" means "three-angled," which is no more difficult than "three-sided." Moreover, I can't see the Chinese number system as easier since the Western number system also uses only ten numbers - 0 through 9 - to compose all others. But who am I to argue with a seventh-grader?

And perhaps I've simply missed the point about how math is "clearer" and "easier" in Mandarin. Might somebody explain to me how?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

"All your perfect imperfections . . ."

"All Of Me"
John Legend and Lindsey Stirling

I heard this song recently one morning while sitting in Ewha's ECC Starbucks sipping an extra-strong cappuccino and reading the New York Times, and I fell for the whole song on the strength of the fourth trenchant line in these four: "'Cause all of me / Loves all of you / Love your curves and all your edges / All your perfect imperfections . . ."

Here are the entire lyrics (and you can listen, too):
"All Of Me"

What would I do without your smart mouth?
Drawing me in, and you kicking me out
You've got my head spinning, no kidding, I can't pin you down
What's going on in that beautiful mind
I'm on your magical mystery ride
And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me, but I'll be alright

My head's under water
But I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh

How many times do I have to tell you
Even when you're crying you're beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I'm around through every mood
You're my downfall, you're my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can't stop singing, it's ringing, in my head for you

My head's under water
But I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh

Give me all of you
Cards on the table, we're both showing hearts
Risking it all, though it's hard

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you

I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh
Granted, the lyrics are uneven - aside from a few lines, they don't look like much just to read them, and even seem a bit contradictory (is you, ain't you, is you ain't my baby?) - but John Legend's artful interpretation brings out the best meaning, particularly, of the "perfect imperfections."

Lindsey Stirling is great, too, on the violin . . .

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

What the world needs now . . .

Walter A. McDougall
FPRI

. . . isn't love, sweet love. Instead, writes my old Berkeley professor Walter McDougall, channeling Kissinger's new book, World Order:
What the world needs is a steering committee of responsible powers akin to the 19th century Concert of Europe.

But no longer is it even the 20th century, let alone the 19th, and not even America, let alone Europe, bestrides the whole world. Our moment in history is unique in that other, non-Western and especially Asian societies have assimilated western technology and economics and emerged as potential peer competitors. In particular, the United States now confronts, for the first time in its history, an authentic China: a coherent, confident, Confucian China that knows it is the Middle Kingdom and is bidding to become a regional hegemon to which all other states are tributary. Likewise, during the life span of the United States, no serious Islamic jihad had arisen before the 1970s. Whereas today Muslim terrorist movements and regimes aspiring to a universal caliphate have become pandemic, while Iran, of course, asserts its own Persian and Shi'ite concept of legitimate world order. India, Russia, and Japan also nurture historic notions of legitimacy and order that are unique to themselves. Kissinger only makes one brief reference in an end-note to Samuel Huntington, but the world he describes sounds an awful lot like a Clash of Civilizations.

In other words, the Westphalian order remains as an excellent model - or at least the only model - of an international order in which five or more Great Powers limited conflict among themselves and cooperated for goals of mutual interest. Why can't such an order be established today? Perhaps it can. But the only region with experience in that system is relatively impotent Europe, while the Great and Emerging Powers today are all bearers of non-Westphalian universalist ideologies. The classical Indian model of foreign policy, though muted today, is rigidly hierarchical. Its great classic, written by the prime minister Kautilya from the fourth century BCE, is the Arthashastra which Kissinger says is like Machiavelli and Clausewitz rolled into one. The Chinese model, associated with Sun Tzu and Taoism, takes for granted that the Chinese Imperial Dynasty is the sole source of legitimacy and peace under heaven. Hence it made no room for foreign policy at all, just relations with barbarian representatives to be administered by the Ministries of Rituals and Border Affairs. (But China, unlike Islamic and Christian civilizations, was not a missionary society.) The Islamic caliphate, in its most tolerable form, would probably look like the Ottoman Empire that terrorized Christendom for centuries. (Walter A. McDougall, "Kissinger's World Order," Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, October 13, 2014)
Will mankind have sufficient insight to work out a balance of power among the various civilizations? Or will Islamist aggression upend everything, and the other civilizations take on the clashes along Islam's "bloody borders"?

Stay tuned into reality . . . and find out.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ednan Aslan on Islam and the Islamic State

Ednan Aslan
Archivbild: Religionspädagoge Ednan Aslan
Bild: Stanislav Jenis

Ednan Aslan is a Turkish-Austrian expert on Islam and also a teacher of religion who has some interesting words to say about the Islamic State's legitimacy on Islamic grounds in an interview by Köksal Baltaci for Die Presse:
Köksal Baltaci, "Religion Teacher Ednan Aslan: 'Muslims Need Peace Concepts'" (The Press, September 26, 2014)

(Köksal Baltaci, "Religionspädagoge Ednan Aslan: 'Muslime benötigen Friedenskonzepte'" (Die Presse, September 26, 2014))

Baltaci: How do you define "Islamic State"?

(Wie definieren Sie "islamischer Staat"?)

Aslan: A state under Islamic law, as IS-Chief al-Baghdadi would like it.

(Ein Staat nach islamischem Recht, wie ihn IS-Chef al-Bagdadi gern hätte.)

Baltaci: Including Sharia, Caliphate, Holy War, stoning, and so on.?

(Inklusive Scharia, Kalifat, des Heiligen Krieges, Steinigung etc.?)

Aslan: Yes.

(Ja.)

Baltaci: If the faith community consists of organizations that seek such a state, it cannot so easily find critical words. It would have to distance itself from itself.

(Wenn die Glaubensgemeinschaft aus Organisationen besteht, die einen solchen Staat anstreben, kann sie ja schlecht kritische Worte finden. Sie müsste sich von sich selbst distanzieren.)

Aslan: There is some truth in that. Neither from the associations nor from the faith community have I seen an opinion that distances itself from political Islam or an Islamic state according to classical theological standards. If one cannot detach oneself from the illusion of a highly idealized Islamic state, one must always reckon with the violent attempts to establish such a state. The faith community believes that Sharia is not possible in Austria because Muslims are in a minority. Let this statement melt on your tongue (i.e., digest this well). It implies, namely, that Muslims in Austria cannot live by their own laws, though they would certainly like to do so.

(Da ist etwas Wahres dran. Weder von den Verbänden noch von der Glaubensgemeinschaft habe ich eine Stellungnahme gesehen, die sich vom politischen Islam bzw. von einem islamischen Staat nach klassischen theologischen Normen distanziert. Wenn man sich von der Illusion eines hoch idealisierten islamischen Staates nicht ablösen kann, muss man immer mit den gewalttätigen Versuchen zur Etablierung eines solchen Staates rechnen. Die Glaubensgemeinschaft vertritt die Meinung, dass in Österreich die Scharia nicht möglich ist, weil die Muslime hier in der Minderheit sind. Diese Aussage muss man sich auf der Zunge zergehen lassen. Sie impliziert nämlich, dass die Muslime in Österreich nicht nach ihren eigenen Gesetzen leben können, das aber gern tun würden.)

Baltaci: Do you consider that the terror group IS legitimately bases its activities on the Koran?

(Halten Sie es für legitim, dass sich die Terrorgruppe IS bei ihren Aktivitäten auf den Koran beruft?)

Aslan: Theologically, it is 100 percent legitimate. Everything that the IS does and calls for is theologically sound and occurs in all basic works of Islam. A Caliph does have a war contract, no peace order. He has to spread Islam through violence and should should wage war at least once a year.

(Theologisch betrachtet ist es zu 100 Prozent legitim. Alles, was der IS macht und fordert, ist theologisch richtig und kommt in allen Grundwerken des Islam vor. Ein Kalif hat nun einmal einen Kriegsauftrag, keinen Friedensauftrag. Er muss den Islam auch mit Gewalt verbreiten und sollte dazu mindestens einmal im Jahr Krieg führen.)
Those who know German can read the entire article here. What I find fascinating is that criticisms earlier labeled "Islamophobic" or "Orientalist" now constitute real questions deserving honest answers . . .

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Pixar's 22 Rules to Storytelling?!

Pixar's 22 Rules on Slides
Posted by Gavin McMahon

And there you were thinking there were only five rules! These 22 aren't your easy rule-of-thumb rules, either. Let's take a look at these 22 rules for storytelling, which I'm borrowing from Cyriaque Lamar at io9:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about till you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write 'cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
These must be good advice because everybody says so! Apparently, these 22 were first formulated in a series of tweets on Twitter by Emma Coates, former story artist at Pixar. Someone then made this enticing image:


Click the image to expand. Courtesy of The Masters Review Blog. I think these 22 aren't so much rules as pieces of seasoned advice, words of wisdom derived from years of working on stories.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Andrew Stanton - "Five Rules of Storytelling"

"Five Rules of Storytelling"
Click Image to Enlarge
Andrew Stanton

Andrew Stanton, a voice actor, screenwriter, film director, and producer at Pixar Animation Studios, has formulated five rules of storytelling, and these rules - according to the site Educational Technology and Mobile Learning - were taken by Karin Hueck and Rafael Quick (Brazilian culture and science magazine Superinteressante) and turned into the above visual for Stanton's TED Talk.

Here are the five rules, boiled down to a few words:
1. Make me care (i.e., about the protagonist).

2. Take me with you (i.e., with the protagonist).

3. Be intentional (i.e., about the protagonist's motives).

4. Let me like you (i.e., about the protagonist's likeability).

5. Delight me (i.e., about the audience's joy at the protagonist's success).
Obviously, these five rules are for stories with happy endings. Subverting one or several - as the diabolical Carter Kaplan suggested concerning Sean D'Souza's merely three rules of storytelling - makes for fun of the sort enjoyed by academics and literary critics!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Narrative - Technical Definition Offered by Paul McKean

Paul McKean

I turn today to Paul McKean's technical piece on "Narrative" (Concepts in Communication Study, August 2012), which is interesting for me if not for others:
Definition and Etymology

The word narrative is likely derived from the Latin words narrāre, meaning to relate or recount, and narrātiō, which refers to a story, a tale, or a section of a speech establishing the facts of a case (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.). According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2012), one of the oldest uses of narrative was in a legal context, meaning "A part of a legal document which contains a statement of alleged or relevant facts closely connected with the matter or purpose of the document" (n.p.).

In some contexts such as the study of literature and literary criticism, narrative has been defined narrowly as a series of events or facts within a story. For example, Jahn (2005) defines narrative as "a form of communication which presents a sequence of events caused and experienced by characters" (n.p.). This usage can be traced back in English to the late sixteenth century (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.).

Narrative has been studied in such fields as: rhetoric, literary theory, philosophy, history (see for example: White, 1980), psychology, political communication, journalism, studies of folklore, persuasion theory, and media studies.

Bibliography

Jahn, M. (2005). Narratology: a guide to the theory of narrative. English Department, University of Cologne. Retrieved from http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm

Narration. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.oed.com

Narrative. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.oed.com

White, H. (1980). The value of narrativity in the representation of reality. Critical Inquiry. 7(1), 5-27.
There's more at the site if any reader should happen to have an interest. The article is not especially long. My interest lies in these words:
"In some contexts such as the study of literature and literary criticism, narrative has been defined narrowly as a series of events or facts within a story."
One can't get a much more concise definition than that, other than by pruning that long introductory expression:
"narrative has been defined narrowly as a series of events or facts within a story."
Actually, I believe I can prune some more:
"narrative has been defined as a series of events or facts within a story."
Even shorter:
"narrative, a series of events or facts within a story."
Another cut:
"narrative, a series of events within a story."
One more time:
"narrative, a series of events in a story."
Or even:
"narrative, a story's series of events."
I believe I've pruned this far enough . . .

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