Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kim Jong-un Far, Far Younger Than Previously Believed

Four-Year-Old Kim Jong-un

Experts on North Korea have debated Kim Jong-un's real age ever since he assumed power three years ago, but that debate is now over as the North's media have disclosed recent photographs of a clearly very young Kim, officially said to be but four years old, going about his duties as a precocious litle dictator: left photo, proudly saluting the glorious socialist future; central photo, keeping both eyes directly on YOU; right photo, peremptorily ordering his Uncle Jang's execution. Here follows the KBS report based on the official NKCT news release:
The North Korean media has disclosed photos of its leader Kim Jong-un . . . . The North's Korean Central Television on Tuesday released . . . photos showing a four-year-old Kim [at various duties, such as] wearing an air force uniform at a performance of the Moranbong Art Troupe.
The Moranbong Art Troupe is the North Korea Wave of the Future, which Kim is shown saluting in the left-most photo above, as already described. The North's surprising disclosure of Kim's actual age has left foreign experts stunned -- and groping for appropriate ways to engage Kim in dialogue about his nuclear weapons, his ballistic missiles, and his space satellites, for he appears very reluctant to give up what he calls his "toys."

I suggest seeking advice from child psychologists on how to deal with immaturity at this level . . .

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Muslims Converting to Christianity?

Image: Courtesy, WIGTake Resources

In "Why Muslims Are Becoming the Best Evangelists" (Christianity Today, April 22, 2014), Timothy C. Morgan interviews career missiologist David Garrison on Muslim conversions to Christianity:
Muslim background believers are leading Muslims to Christ in staggering numbers, but not in the West. They are doing this primarily in Muslim-majority nations almost completely under the radar -- of everyone . . . . "What did God use to bring you to faith in Jesus Christ? Tell me your story." This was the core question Garrison asked . . . . In Algeria, after 100,000 died in Muslim-on-Muslim violence, 10,000 Muslims turned their backs on Islam and were baptized as followers of Christ. This movement has tripled since the late 1990s . . . . Garrison estimates that 2 to 7 million people from a Muslim background worldwide now follow Christ . . . . [According to Garrison,] "Muslim-background believers [say] that they had met Jesus[,] . . . . people whose lives had been shaken and rattled by their encounter with Christ . . . . They look into their Koran and they see references to Jesus. In the Hadith, they hear stories about Jesus . . . . Abdul-Ahad, a Sheik from Mogadishu, Somalia . . . . had been involved in drug running, prostitution, and extortion . . . . [but] the Sheik was saved . . . . [and he] said, "You know when you see people like me with the beard and with the prayers, skull cap, you stay away from us because you're afraid of us . . . . The truth is we want you to be afraid of us . . . . But when you see people like me you need to know that we're empty and we're lost" . . . . [Garrison] often see[s that fear,] anger and hatred . . . . The sad thing is this fear is grounded in reality. You've got 14 centuries in which tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Christians have been gobbled up into the world of Islam. It makes communism look like just a cheap parlor trick. Communism came and went in a century . . . . One reason Muslims are responding today is [their new situation]. They are in independent nations. They don't have colonial powers occupying them. As a result, they're turned in on themselves. They don't get along very well with one another. Several of the big movements . . . across the Muslim world coincide with Muslim-on-Muslim violence, horrible violence like in Algeria, Bangladesh, or Indonesia . . . . [as] self-government in Muslim-majority nations has triggered violence between Muslim factions . . . . Muslims are fighting Muslims both in the name of Allah, [but a]fter a while, people say: "Can this really be Allah's will? Can this really be his ideal for mankind? If this is Islam, I don't want any part of it" . . . . [For instance, i]n Afghanistan, one man who had been an imam said, "We were killing everybody in this village because they were a different branch of Islam than us. I took this little girl, one-and-a-half years old, in my arms. We had already killed her parents. She held my finger, looked me in the eye, as I stuck a knife into her and killed her. That was the beginning of my conversion [from Islam]" . . . . [As] for Christians[, says Garrison, t]his is not a time to . . . fear Muslims. This is a time to love, win, and reach Muslims . . . . [I]n the house of Islam, . . . [there are] movements breaking out in multiple places . . . . [One hears about Muslim dreams of Jesus, and Muslims take dreams very seriously.] It's part of the reality of their world. Mohammad listened to dreams, and he gave Muslims the impression that God could speak through them. So they do listen to them, and they do talk about them . . . . [Many of the Muslims interested in Jesus] are having dreams of a living being glowing with bright light and drawing persons to him or just exuding love or offering them a book to read . . . . [One evangelist would hear Muslims speaking of such dreams, and he would hand them a Bible, point to Matthew 17:1-2, and ask them to read.] They would start reading. "After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" . . . . Muslims [would] read that and [say,] . . . . "That's the guy. That's the guy in my dreams. Who is this? And how do I know more about him?" . . . . A Muslim's direct encounter with the Bible seems crucial . . . . [Of these Muslim-background converts, t]here is a range [of views on Islam] . . . . Some Muslims who come to Christ and seem on the surface to be the most Islamic, hate Islam. They hate Mohammad. They would . . . [say]: "We will wipe this virus out from our people. It's just destroyed our people." And yet if you were an outsider, and you met them, you'd never even know they were a Christian, because they continue to live in the culture. And some of them are even imams and Sheiks who stayed in their culture. For many Muslims, Islam is central to the way their people function. It was their mother. It was their family. It was their community. And they had no [problem] . . . with Islam [as a culture]. What they want to do is to follow Jesus and to love their parents better and to draw them into faith. I found very few people who wanted to take on Islam. They just felt like that was a secondary battle. The real battle was to follow Jesus and to spread Jesus.
This is interesting, but even if we assume the high estimate of seven million Muslims converting every year from Islam to Christianity, that's a very low percentage out of one and a half billion Muslims, so I can't quite see much general impact, hardly the "staggering numbers" promised at the outset of this article . . .

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Anthony N. Celso on Never-Ending Jihadism?

Anthony N. Celso
Google Images

I came across this enlightening paper yesterday about a dark topic with a gloomy thesis:
This paper conceptualizes a wave theory of continuous jihadist warfare composed of four phases: mobilization, extremism, implosion and rebirth . . . . Each phase involves a sequence of events that characterize jihadist terror. The general evolution of the wave is easily discernible. After an initial burst of organizational dynamism and mobilization, Jihadist movements employ counterproductive violence to satisfy their millenarian ambitions. The ideological extremism of the jihadist group prompts internal divisions, popular revulsion and galvanizes opponents. This juxtaposition of forces leads to jihadist failure and a concomitant inability to create a stable Islamic state. The Algerian GIA and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), for example, suffered severe reversals at the hands of security forces and local militias. Egypt also has witnessed bursts of jihadist violence throughout the 1980’s and 1990's with high profile attacks against security services, foreigners and tourist resorts. Long thought dormant Egyptian jihadi terrorist violence has been catalyzed by the July 2013 military coup that deposed Muhammad Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood's democratically elected government. The same extremist visions that led to implosion, however, contribute inexorably to the group's regeneration. (Anthony N. Celso, "Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence," Paper prepared for presentation at the Political Studies Association Meeting, Manchester, England. April 14-16, 2014, page 7)
Since these spasmodic waves of jihadism direct their violence against infidels and Muslim 'apostates', they would tend -- in the long run -- to clear the ground for less radical Islam's expansion, or so I extrapolate, based on Celso's analysis. Despite their irrationality, then, jihadist groups actually advance Islam's interests by spreading Islam. At the same time, they undermine Islam's ability to govern with stability, for no moderate form of Islam is ever sufficiently pure and rigorous.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Spencer Case Reviews Roger Scruton's Notes From Underground at National Review Online

Spencer Case, in "Polemics and Philosophy from a British Contrarian" (National Review Online April 19, 2014), reviews two works by Roger Scruton, but I will comment only on Case's words about Notes From Underground. Early in his review, Case makes the general observation that Scruton's novel deals "with the dualities of beauty and ugliness, love and betrayal, freedom and tyranny, piety and sacrilege," and Case is correct, but he neglects the greatest duality in Scruton's thought as expressed in this novel, that between truth and falsehood.

Indeed, Scruton informs the reader of precisely this theme, for in his "Author's Note," he states, "This is a story about truth." Even more precisely, Scruton's fictional account of Prague in 1985 is about "living in the truth," as Vaclav Havel expressed it, or rather, the great difficulty of living in the truth within a system that demands, at the very least, compromises.

This problematic of truth comes to a head in a section of the novel that Case finds weak:
Chapter 22, which details the visit of a liberal American philosophy professor, is fine polemic, but it is largely irrelevant to the plot, dropped in to advance the author's point of view.
I think Case means chapter 21. Anyway, I disagree that the chapter is not relevant to the novel's plot. The "liberal American philosophy professor" is integral in two ways. First, he is central to the opportunity for emigration to the West sought by the protagonist's lover. Second, he is integral to the confrontation between living within truth and living with relativism:
He mentioned Richard Rorty, whose name we were hearing for the first time, and who had changed American scholarship with a new theory of truth. The true belief, we learned, is the useful belief, the one that enables you to affirm the rights of your group, and to gain the illuminated plateau of liberation. Truth means power, just as Nietzsche and Foucault had said.
Interestingly, this new theory of truth leads to a 'true' discussion, for as the protagonist notes:
What struck me in this was not the vigorous nature of the argument, unusual though that was, but the fact that it really was an argument, about a concrete matter concerning which modern people ought surely to make up their minds.
The American professor thus plays a role crucial to the plot on two levels -- it moves the plot forward, and it raises the novel's central theme of truth. But I can't entirely set myself at odds with Case's critique:
Ironically, Scruton has written a novel whose content makes the argument for spontaneous order and liberty, but the book overall suffers from authorial central planning. The result is a worthwhile read that doesn't sustain its best moments.
I partly agree that Scruton maintains control, but such is necessary in a novel of ideas, as I know from experience! Anyway, I find Scruton's novel more of a success than Case does . . .

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

EBS 'Report' on Yi Kwang-su's Novel The Soil

Headlines + News Close Up
Posted December 23, 2013

I just happened to stumble across this four-month-old announcement (and grammar lesson!) yesterday on Korea's Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), specifically, at EBS Morning Special's You Tube site, starting at 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the video:
U.S. Journal Recognizes 2 Korean Translations

English translations of two Korean literary works - Yi Kwang-su's The Soil, and Hyesim's Magnolia and Lotus - were included among 75 Notable Translations in an American international culture and literature magazine's December edition. Hwang Sun-ae, one of The Soil's two translators, said it was difficult to use natural English without any of the original novel's meaning getting lost in translation.
EBS's English grammar lessons are often played on city buses, so a lot of Koreans may have heard our translation of The Soil used as an example of how easily things get lost in translation. (Thanks a lot, there, EBS.) The broadcaster then goes on (in the video's notes) to explain this idiom, "lost in translation," for the benefit of Koreans:
1) to get lost in translation (v.)
the original meaning of something is misunderstood or not clear because of differences between languages
번역 한계 때문에 뜻이 어색해지다

ex) This song sounds strange in English because a lot of it is lost in translation.
The magazine -- coyly referred to as "an American international culture and literature magazine" -- was, of course, World Literature Today, and I've previously noted the honor.

Anyway, those of you interested in a great big grammar lesson can order a copy of The Soil at Amazon Books.

And while you're there at AB, check out my novella . . .

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Scott Corey on Carl Schmitt's Influence on Neoconservatives

Carl Schmitt
Google Images

Scott Corey -- one of my old friends from Berkeley, where he earned his political science doctorate in revolution and political violence -- has published an online op/ed piece titled "Release the Entire Torture Report!" In this op/ed, he looks at the torture used by Americans on suspected terrorists and asks (among other questions), "why did the torture regime arise and take hold?"
The why is easily found in neo-conservative doctrine and praxis. Once a respectable strand of conservative theory, the neocons departed into subversion by combining the thinking of Carl Schmitt with the practices of ex-Trotskyites who joined them during the 1980's. Their core belief is that legal/rational government is inadequate for a world of catastrophic dangers that may appear in forms and at times that are uncertain (hence the drivel about fearing "the unknown unknown" and the need to somehow overcome the tautology that "we don't know what we don't know").
I have to admit that I'd always found Rumsfeld's systemization of our knowledge and our ignorance (known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns) rather intriguing, intellectually, as well as a humorous way of stating our epistemological state. But what really interested me in Scott's article is the assertion above that neoconservatives turned to the legal views of Carl Schmitt (the legal theorist used by Germany's National Socialists), so I was disappointed that more wasn't said on this point.

Scott, however, is a careful scholar, so I accept that there must be some research supporting this assertion, and I suppose I'll just have to ask him. He did -- in one of his email circulars -- mention that he is "not the first to note the neocon link to Schmitt," and he also speaks of a run-in with a neoconservative professor who was instructing an inner group of students in the political thought of Schmitt.

Perhaps he'll comment . . .

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Phillip Somozo on Emanations: Third Eye

My friend Terrance Lindall -- artist and provocateur -- forwarded a recent review by art and literary critic Phillip Somozo of last year's literary anthology Emanations: Third Eye, which in part is praise of the artist "Bienvenido Bones Banez, Jr." and in part is praise of writer and literary critic Carter Kaplan, though also in part critique of them both! I will focus on the positive:
Book Review

Emanations: Third Eye anthology by International Authors introduces Surrealmageddon of Davao surrealist

By Phillip Somozo

Surrealmageddon (surreal + Armageddon), a term Banez coined to describe his phantasmagoric vision of the final battle between good and evil, was picked up by books author Carter Kaplan who used it as introductory title for his anthology Emanations: Third Eye, third of a series. This reviewer is motivated by Kaplan's reception of Banez's Surrealmageddon to scrutinize the former's introduction to Emanations: Third Eye.

Carter Kaplan is an American professor who had taught English and Philosophy for 30 years in many U.S. Colleges and in Scotland. He is a poet and had written a number of novels with philosophical and mythological themes.

Describing Banez as "pioneering philosopher of Surrealmageddon," Kaplan considers the Dabawenyo's vision of apocalyptic psychedelia as "a catalytic spec floating in the global crucible of morphing civilizations." What shapes the future, Kaplan rationalizes, is the global consumerist culture and he admits it doesn't seem very bright. Self-destruction, he elaborates, is built-in in the Homo s. sapiens because of greediness which, in the civilized world, is considered "not insanity." Kaplan's introduction, in effect, also concludes his interpretation of the anthology (subtitled Art of Ecstasy and the Ecstasy of Experiment) in the context of collective human thought deciding its own destiny. It is remarkable Kaplan corroborates Banez's cataclysmic semanticism.

The union of the terms surreal and Armageddon, a brilliant etymological updating, by Banez, modernized its semantic significance by redefining modernism's pinnacle to which society prophetically (and now affirmed by Kaplan's sound psychosocial arguments) is heading. The term could had been invented by Saint John the Apostle two millennia ago, if only John had knowledge of modern behavioral psychology and social dialectics. Bridging the gap between Prophet John and hermeneutic surrealist Bienvenido "Bones" Banez is artistic evolution.

Yet, I am sure not everyone agrees with Kaplan and Banez, not the inventors of artificial life-support systems (e.g. biotech, genetic engineering, transhumanism) who aim to perpetuate human life regardless if they have to alter nature, and the vested corporates who tweaked the nostril of the planetary Tao so that it has been desperately sniffing for the vanishing direction to its future since Modernism dawned.
There is more, much more, all of it somewhat obscure, though discernible with some effort, but I've received no website address, so I've nothing to link to. Part of my interest is that some of my poetry appears in the anthology, which can be ordered here.

I suppose this is less obscure for me than for some of my readers because I'm familiar with the individuals and their ideas -- and also because I've been reading a bit about "biotech, genetic engineering, [and] transhumanism" lately . . .

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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 . . .


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bulgakov's Fesiya is Goethe's Faust?

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!

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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