Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Simply in Genius?

Genius at Work
Like the Language of Delirium
Image by Jacob Magraw and Rachell Sumpter

Joshua Wolf Shenk, writing "The End of 'Genius'" (NYT, July 19, 2014), argues that genius is not individual, despite the shared view of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, whose combined effect is still felt today:
The big change began with Enlightenment thinkers, who sought to give man a dignified, central place in the world. They made man's thinking the center of their universe and created a profoundly asocial self . . . . But it was during the Romantic era that "the true cult of the natural genius emerged" . . . . Today, the Romantic genius can be seen everywhere.
But, argues Shenk, it ain't true:
[T}he real heart of creativity . . . [is] the intimate exchange of the creative pair, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney and myriad other examples with which we've yet to fully reckon . . . . The elemental collective . . . is the pair. Two people are the root of social experience -- and of creative work . . . . -- most strikingly with Paul McCartney and John Lennon . . . . Why is this? For one thing, given that our psyches take shape through one-on-one exchanges, we're likely set up to interact with a single person more openly and deeply than with any group. The pair is also inherently fluid and flexible. Two people can make their own society. When even one more person is added, roles and power positions harden. This may be good for stability but problematic for creativity. Three legs make a table stand in place. Two legs are made for moving.
Two's company, three's a crowd. Okay, I got it. But I like to see where ideas are stretched to the breaking point, and here's the place:
The pair is the primary creative unit -- not just because pairs produce such a staggering amount of work but also because they help us to grasp the concept of dialectical exchange. At its heart, the creative process itself is about a push and pull between two entities, two cultures or traditions, or two people, or even a single person and the voice inside her head. Indeed, thinking itself is a kind of download of dialogue between ourselves and others. And when we listen to creative people describe breakthrough moments that occur when they are alone, they often mention the sensation of having a conversation in their own minds.
I have italicized and thereby emphasized the phrase "or even a single person and the voice inside her head" because we are here back to the individual genius, even if 'she' is carrying on a conversation in 'her' head. Don't get me wrong. Creativity often does emerge in collaborative pairs. That's how my wife and I work on our translations.

But that's not how I wrote my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. I worked mostly alone on that, albeit in dialogue with other writers, most dead, but some living.

I'm no genius, of course, but Shenk is basically talking about creativity.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Franklin Willis: Artist, Athlete, Fulbright Fellow

Franklin Willis
Challenges Changing Form

My wife was cleaning out our closet and found a packet with slides of artwork by an old Fulbrighter friend from 1989-90 -- the man in the photo above, Franklin Willis. The man has made his way to some degree of success, as his website shows.

When I knew him, he was just getting onto the fast track, and he's certainly outpaced me! We had some good talks about art and basketball and culture, our ABCs for living in Germany.

Here's a sample of his art:

Franklin Willis

Good job, Franklin . . . I hope you remember me . . .

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rhie Won-bok on Christian 'Misuse' of "Allah"

Rhie Won-bok
JoongAng Ilbo

Rhie Won-bok, a cartoonist who encountered some charges of antisemitism a few years back over his depiction of the US as controlled by Jews, has recently opined on Malaysia's decision to block non-Muslims from using the Muslim word for "God," i.e., "Allah." He concludes that this is analogous to differences in the name for "God" among Catholics and Protestants in Korea:
In Korea, the Catholics and Protestants believe in different gods. Catholics believe in Haneunim while Protestant Christians believe in Hananim. While Haneunim was the general term to refer to the Christian god when the religion was first introduced in Korea, Protestant churches differentiated their god by using a different spelling. Just as Allah is not for everyone, Haneunim is not the same god for all Christians. The Malaysian case is therefore not much different from the Korean situation. (Rhie, "'Allah' is not for all," JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 28)
I don't want to be rude, but Mr. Rhie is all wet. Catholics and Protestants do not worship different 'Gods'! They simply use different Korean names for "God." Furthermore, no law exists in Korea forbidding one or the other usage by anybody. The Malaysian case is therefore completely different from the Korean situation, for the Malaysian legal system outlaws the use of "Allah" by non-Christians in certain contexts.

Moreover, Mr. Rhie never thought to inquire about the term used by Arab Christians for God.

That word is "Allah."

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Deva Hupaylo: Nobel Prize 'Winner'

Deva Hupaylo and Colleagues
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Mr. Richard Irby, editor of my hometown's Area Wide News, has an article on my old friend Deva: "Deva Hupaylo started with a Salem diploma; worked up to the Nobel Peace Prize" (Wednesday, July 16, 2014). Although I blogged on this when the prize was awarded, Mr. Irby has more details:
From horse and buggy days and one room school houses to today's tech filled school rooms, many north central Arkansas youth have gone from humble, rural beginnings to distinguish themselves.
Good hook in that opening line, and another good hook follows:
But Salem High School graduate Deva Hupaylo is surely the first to have a Nobel Peace Prize on her resume.
Now that Mr. Irby has us doubly hooked, he reels us in:
"It's a medallion and it's real gold," Hupaylo said . . . , showing a photograph taken after the OPCW -- the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- was given the prestigious award on Oct. 11, 2013 . . . . "I have a chocolate one they gave us [employees]. They are preparing replicas for us . . . [but] ours will not be gold" . . . . Deva Hupaylo graduated from Salem High School in 1976, began studying engineering at the University of Arkansas because she was good in math and science and has had a long, successful career as a chemical engineer . . . . In 2010, Hupaylo, who has three grown sons, moved to The Hauge, a capitol city in the Netherlands, to work for the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons . . . . To high school classmate, Dr. Griffin Arnold, that sounds like the Deva Hupaylo he knows. "She was always very organized and determined. She has a way of making things she wants to happen. I am happy for all she's accomplished but not surprised."
Nor am I surprised at her accomplishments. Well, okay, I was a bit surprised about the Nobel award, and I wondered what Deva's precise role was. Mr. Irby clarifies that:
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons works to eliminate existing chemical weapon supplies and make sure they do not re-emerge, by getting countries to sign a treaty and give up any chemical weapon supplies they have. Hupaylo is the head of the Industry Verification Branch. She leads a division of 120 inspectors who work, once chemical weapons are removed from a country, to make sure new supplies are not manufactured. They monitor and actually inspect chemical industries in 190 countries to make sure chemicals that can be turned into weapons are being used correctly.
And Deva has some good words for our school:
Hupaylo credits Salem schools . . . . [and] some very good teachers who encouraged them, and other teachers who motivated them through "fear and dislike," to excel.
I know those teachers, too, but no names . . .
During her visit to Arkansas, she stopped in to give some advice to Salem High School's eighth grade careers class. "I told them to get as much education as soon as possible" . . . . [And she added,] "You should not be working for money. You should be working for something that you believe in, that you enjoy doing."
Pretty good advice, generally speaking, though I think that I ought to have been a bit more fastidious about money.

For more on Deva, read the full article.

UPDATE: Deva sent me a correction of a slight inaccuracy: "'She leads a division of 120 inspectors'. I don't lead the inspectors division. I have 8 Substantive Officers. We plan the missions that the inspectors conduct, while they are actually managed in a separate division."

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Gypsy Scholar with Two Friends . . .

Though you might suspect that two beers were my "friends," based on the two photos below, I was actually having lunch with two EPO colleagues who are also teaching EWIS, but they sent only two pictures of me with one beer:

Scene 1:

I was obviously listening intently, though perhaps not to my Erdinger wheat beer, but she forgave me and soon quenched my thirst for true companionship, given that a glass of wheat beer is well-nigh bread, anyway!

Scene 2:

I would report on the conversation, but I was mostly tongue-tied -- exhausted after three hours' teaching -- and one of the two colleagues was even more tired, so we didn't linger . . .

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ozark Beer Company

Brooding Over a Brewery
Ozark Beer Company

In the beer-related "Official Size and Weight Newsletter" sent weekly by one of my Arkansas friends, John Wells, I learned about the Ozark Beer Company. Craft beer has come to the Ozarks, and John says the OCB is a good craft beer place:
[A]t Ozark Beer Co. . . . brewer Andy Coates is making some OUTSTANDING brews. Southern Living Magazine named Ozark the "Favorite Southern Craft Beer in the State of Arkansas" (June 2014 issue) and right now you'll not get an argument out of me. Their APA and Onyx Coffee Stout are just as good as they come, period, and I also had a taster of their Belgian Golden, IPA and Cream Stout and was very impressed with them all. I brought a 12-pack of the APA home with me but fear it's not going to see a very long life. Watch these guys.
The photo above dates to when the brewers were just getting started, I reckon. But before they got started, the head brewer had some training:
Andy had an apprenticeship with Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago, and was subsequently hired as a full-time brewer. He learned the ins and outs of a large-scale production brewery, and enjoyed cellar work and the finishing process of a beer (carbonating, and filtering the beer, so that it is ready to be packaged), recipe development, barrel aging, and sensory analysis. It was an invaluable experience that gave him the skillset needed to operate a successful brewing operation.
Take some time to read their story. I wish I could visit this brewery and taste-test to see if it lives up to expectations, but maybe Cousin Bill can check it out . . .

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Graphic Artist Ganzeer

Not Yours to Touch
June 2014

I learned of this artist of the Egyptian Revolution through Barbara Pollack's article "Hieroglyphics That Won't Be Silenced" (NYT, July 10, 2014), so I Googled his pseudonym, "Ganzeer" (i.e., "bicycle chain") and found his website with this message above, "not yours to touch no matter how naked I am," a warning to the gropers among the men of Egypt, along with their supporters, concerning which, he says:
There's a sad misconception among many men (and even some women unfortunately) that if a girl dresses revealingly then she's fair game, and there for anyone to touch or worse. This here poster, featuring artist/model Maya Desnuda, is my attempt at tackling the subject matter.
Apparently, he has encountered displeasure among Egypt's new military leaders, who have accused him of being in league with the recently deposed Muslim Brotherhood, whereas he's actually a liberal secularist, so far as I can tell.

See what you think.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Inexplicable Data on Hate?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an economist with a PhD from Harvard (2013), and he offers some intriguing facts on Stormfront users in his article "The Data of Hate" (NYT, July 12, 2014). What's Stormfront, you ask? This:
Stormfront was founded in 1995 by Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Its most popular "social groups" are "Union of National Socialists" and "Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler" . . . . The white nationalist posters on Stormfront have issues with many different groups. They often write about crimes committed by African-Americans against whites; they complain about an "invasion" of Mexicans; and they love to mock gays and feminists. [They find Asians "repulsive," though also seem to envy them.] But their main problem appears to be with Jewish people, who are often described as super-powerful and clever -- the driving force, generally speaking, behind the societal changes they do not like.
One might therefore expect Stormfront users to be uneducated. Not so:
The top reported interest of Stormfront members is "reading." Most notably, Stormfront users are news and political junkies. One interesting data point here is the popularity of The New York Times among Stormfront users. According to the economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, when you compare Stormfront users to people who go to the Yahoo News site, it turns out that the Stormfront crowd is twice as likely to visit nytimes.com.
Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz admits to being baffled:
Perhaps it was my own naïveté, but I would have imagined white nationalists' inhabiting a different universe from that of my friends and me . . . . Why do some people feel . . . [hatred toward African-Americans, Mexicans, gays, feminists, Asians, and Jews, among other groups?] I have pored over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer: I have no idea.
Maybe he should ask them. They seem to have given some reasons. Concerns about the crime rate among African-Americans. Concerns about illegal immigration from Latin America being out of control. Those are two genuine issues, whatever one's stance might be. But what about gays and feminists? Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz writes only that Stormfront users "mock" these two groups. He might consider these points: gay rights are a topical issue, as the debate over homosexual marriage shows, and feminism is widely perceived by many men as being an anti-male ideology. As for beliefs about Asians and Jews, the view that they are "super-powerful and clever" -- a belief Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz cites about Jews, but it also tends to be a belief about East Asians -- might stem from the fact that both Asians and Jews are statistically over-represented in positions of power and prestige.

But why the hatred expressed toward these groups? From the points just noted, we might hypothesize that each of these hated groups represents ways in which white nationalists feel that they have lost control over their country. But why the hatred? Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz seems to assume that hatred is an unnatural emotion, one that requires an explanation. But what if that's incorrect? What if it's people's default position when confronted by difference?

What if hatred is easy?

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Shakespeare vs. Milton?

Ms. Erica Wagner

I did something I very seldom do -- and if you have two hours, eleven minutes, and fifty-eight seconds to spare, so can you -- I watched a video. I rarely watch videos due to the time involved, particularly long videos, but this one came recommended by the Milton List and was presented by Intelligence Squared. It featured a 'debate,' Shakespeare vs Milton: The Kings of English Literature, chaired on June 22nd by Erica Wagner (depicted above), between Professor James Shapiro (Columbia University) and Professor Nigel Smith (Princeton University), extolling Shakespeare and Milton, respectively (but shouldn't that be The King of English Literature?).

Two actresses and one actor -- Pippa Nixon, Harriet Walter, and Sam West, each renowned on the stage -- performed scenes from Shakespeare and Milton. To show Shakespeare's superiority, Professor Shapiro had Ms. Walter and Mr. West play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the same scene twice, once with Lady Macbeth portrayed as masculine in her aggressiveness and once with her portrayed as feminine in her seductiveness, the point being that Shakespeare allows for multiple interpretations.

But why should multiple interpretations imply superiority? Milton can be variously interpreted. Indeed, he is so daily among scholars! I expected Professor Smith to have a single scene from Paradise Lost performed more than once, each time differently interpreted. Perhaps Satan's soliloquy occasioned by the radiant beams of sunlight? Once with greater defiance, once with considerable remorse? That could have been a coup!

Professor Shapiro probably 'won' the debate. Shakespeare did get the most votes from the audience. But I think Professor Smith could be the 'winner' in a rematch by showing that Shakespeare's strengths are also found in Milton.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Genghis Khan: Bloodthirsty Tyrant or Progressive Leader? Answer: Yes.

Genghis Khan
"If I only had a heart . . ."
Photo in Spectator

Justin Marozzi informs us that John Man, author of The Mongol Empire: Genghis Khan, His Heirs and the Founding of Modern China, offers the view that "Genghis Khan was tolerant, kind to women – and a record-breaking mass-murderer" (The Spectator, July 12 2014).

Well, as Stalin reputedly said, you've got to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelette:
If you had the misfortune to live in Central Asia during Genghis's rampages in the 1220s, you ran the very real risk of being cut in two, beheaded, disemboweled, perhaps even forced to swallow molten metal by his ferocious soldiers. Cities were razed and depopulated, prisoners slain or ordered to march as a shield before the army, in full battle formation. Mongol bloodlust was such that even cats and dogs were killed. (Marozzi, para. 2)
Big omelette . . . but the Khan was progressive:
Yet the same man who is said to be responsible for the deaths of a world record 40 million is also noted -- admittedly less widely -- for his religious tolerance, enlightened diplomacy and championing of women's rights. (Marozzi, para. 3)
Patriarchal warrior, politically correct on women's issues . . .

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