Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Whenever I read something by Noam Chomsky . . .

. . . and begin to get too annoyed, I remember that I was briefly friends with his daughter Avi at Berkeley, that she was a really nice person, and that she loved her father very much.

Maybe that shouldn't matter, but somehow, it does.

At the very time that I met Avi, I knew of her father only for his linguistic reputation, which both amazed and delighted her. I was waiting outside a classroom for a lecture by Martin Jay, and she was doing the same thing. She first struck up the conversation, introducing herself. In turn, I introduced myself, then asked:

"So, your name is 'Chomsky'? Are you related to Noam Chomsky?"

Her face took on a secretive look. "Shhh . . ." she shushed.

Disconcerted, I whispered, "Uh . . . are you?"

She nodded, then whispered that she preferred to keep quiet about it because of people's responses to her father's political views. I gazed at her for a moment, reflective, then told her:

"Well, you've finally met someone who knows nothing of your father's political views. I only know of him by his reputation as a linguist."

She seemed to relax, and we studied together a lot that semester. Naturally, I found out about her father's political views during those sessions. In the context of Berkeley's political spectrum, his politics seemed nothing out of the ordinary.

I also learned one other thing from Avi: the meaning of the word "steep" with reference to making tea.

"Let it steep," she remarked after pouring boiling water into a teapot.

"'Steep'?" I echoed. "What do you mean? Pour it out?" I knew of "steep" only as a sharp incline. Did she want me to tilt the teapot?

She was amused at what I didn't know.

But you know what? I was half right. We checked a dictionary and discovered its etymology.

See for yourself:

steep (v.) "to soak in a liquid," 1390, of uncertain origin, originally in ref. to barley or malt, probably cognate with O.N. steypa "to pour out, throw" (or an unrecorded O.E. cognate), from P.Gmc. *staupijanan.

Of course, it's not the same "steep" as the one that I already knew:

steep (adj.) "having a sharp slope," O.E. steap "high, lofty," from P.Gmc. *staupaz (cf. O.Fris. stap, M.H.G. *stouf), from PIE *steup- "to push, stick, knock, beat," with derivations referring to projecting objects (cf. Gk. typtein "to strike," typos "a blow, mold, die;" Skt. tup- "harm," tundate "pushes, stabs;" Goth. stautan "push;" O.N. stuttr "short"). The sense of "precipitous" is from c.1200. The slang sense "at a high price" is a U.S. coinage first attested 1856.

From this etymology, I suppose that I ought to have imagined Avi wanting me to beat the tea. But I wasn't educated enough to be that ignorant.

Anyway, I lost contact with Avi after that semester. She became involved in activist politics on campus, and I began working at Stephens Lounge, serving tea, where my newfound knowledge of 'steeping' came in handy.

Monday, May 30, 2005

As long as we're on this topic . . .

Maybe I should first state that I'm no Sinophobe. I rather admire the Chinese. When I discuss Northeast Asia and China's intentions here, I'm thinking as a historian who notes -- like Robert Kagan -- that the rise of a great power usually sparks wars that reshape the international configuration of power. China appears to be a rising great power, so we have to think about the possible implications.

In returning to this issue, I revisited an old post (January 14) by the Marmot (aka Robert Koehler) and re-read something that Charles Pritchard speculated about:

"He also said that while most people expected the two Koreas to reunify if the North collapsed, it was more likely North Korea would be absorbed by China. Pritchard said that since North Korea already depends on China for much of its fuel and life necessities, the process of absorption could be quite smooth and natural."

I posted a comment there (to which I've now added a few bracketed remarks):

"I’ll bet that the Chinese government has contingency plans that elaborate how China would absorb North Korea if it felt that it needed to (such as keeping the U.S. at a geographical distance).

I doubt that China would simply invade. It might be 'asked' by a collapsing North Korea to 'assist' in stabilizing the country, then never leave. Something like the Syrians in Lebanon. [Oops. That analogy doesn't work anymore.] It could ensure its control long term in some of the ways noted — such as offering jobs in other parts of China to North Koreans and moving Han Chinese into North Korean territory (something that I pointed out to the students in my history course last semester).

The initial cost even of entering because 'requested' would be high in terms of international relations, but that would pass fairly soon. Longer term would be the tensions here in Northeast Asia. South Koreans would be furious, Russia would be extremely nervous about [possibly] losing some of its own territory, and Japan would worry about China's military dominance in the region (which they're already worrying about anyway).

The United States, of course, would object, but what they would do depends, in part, on relations with South Korea.

I suggest [but don't expect to be listened to] that it would be prudent for South Korea, Japan, and Russia to reach a mutual understanding now on a unified reaction if such a situation should arise in the future, and the understanding should be just vocal enough for China to 'overhear' it soon without loss of face.

Continuing a healthy alliance with the United States would probably also be in South Korea's interests, it seems to me (though the Koreans would always have to worry about being asked to send troops to show its commitment to the Korean-American alliance).

One advantage of the Sunshine Policy was that it held out the possibility of making North Korea dependent upon the South, and any lessening of the North's dependence upon China would be better for the Korean peninsula."

The irrepressible Jodi posed some questions, partly to me, that I didn't notice until re-visiting the Marmot's post:

"I agree with everything you said, Jeffery.

These are not my original ideas as they've been posed to me before when the topic has come up but it's worth asking to this crowd here: would China really want a million starved, depressed, brainwashed people on its hands with a dissolved NK rule? (Okay, so maybe they would take the brainwashed but what about the others?)

Secondly, how realistic is this? Do you really think South Korea and the USA would just let China simply absorb North Korea without putting up a fight? Even though the South seems to want to delay any reunification (and for good reason in my opinion), if the circumstances drove a sudden reunification, I doubt it SK would just let China take over. Heads would surely roll . . .

And thirdly, if the North collapsed, wouldn't China be more concerned about border issues as there are some areas which are sort of gray-zone in that regards?

I don't see an NK collapse being so smooth for any side: China, South Korea, Russia or Japan. In fact, should such an event happen, there most likely will be casaulties . . ."

I apologize to Jodi for not responding earlier. I missed her comment somehow. I'm no expert, so anything I say should be taken with Jimmy Buffet's "lost shaker of salt," but here goes.

On the first question . . . no, China wouldn't want millions of North Koreans on its hands, but great powers sometimes accept big things that they don't want in order to get even bigger things that they do want. What 'bigger' things might China want? Perhaps another seaport, the better to project its power in Northeast Asia. Perhaps the opportunity to bring the Korean peninsula more fully under its influence, which would be a return to its 19th-century power games in Korea before Japan -- with its enhanced, modernized military -- assumed control.

On the second question . . . South Korea wouldn't like it, not at all. Nor would the USA. But there are lots of things that nations don't like that they can't easily alter. China is a nuclear power, and that would make South Korea and the US think twice about pursuing a military response. Moreover, I'm assuming that China would have been 'invited' in by the North Koreans, which would give its presence there the fig leaf of legitimacy.

On the third question . . . if China occupies North Korea, then settling border issues to its own advantage would be easily done. If necessary, this might even be the price for a withdrawal -- along with a seaport in the northeast.

On the fourth point (or is it part of the third?) . . . yes, casualties are possible, even likely. But if China is 'invited' in by the North Koreans, then there might not be any stiff fighting.

Well, these are sheer speculations. But China has occupied other areas and accepted the consequences -- Tibet for example -- so we have to consider such scenarios.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Another article on China's rising power: David Wall

I recently noted Robert Kagan's argument concerning the likelihood of conflict stemming from a China rising in economic and therefore political and military power. Kagan's reasoning was premised upon the empirical fact that:

"Rarely have rising powers risen without sparking a major war that reshaped the international system to reflect new realities of power."

Now, an article by David Wall in The Japan Times presents similar worries:

"Although Premier Wen Jiabao recently said China has no aspirations of becoming a regional hegemon, he was being a little naive. China's rising influence in Asia has already given it a great power role verging on hegemony, helped by at least 350 nuclear-weapon-tipped missiles pointed at Taiwan and maybe Japan, too."

Wall appears convinced by the neoconservative argument of the sort presented by Kagan. At any rate, he cites John J. Mearsheimer's view that on the inevitability of a U.S.-China war, summarizng it as follows:

"[T]he absence of a world power, an enforcing agency, means that states are free to press their own interests in an anarchic international system of sovereign states. If a hegemon [e.g., the U.S.] emerges in this system, it will seek to maintain its status by seeking to suppress the rise of new hegemons [e.g., China] . . . . [An] existing . . . hegemon will need to prevent the development of any hegemonic power in regions outside its own -- by war if need be, if other forms of containment prove ineffective."

This doesn't sound good. Wall concludes, however, in a somewhat less than apocalyptic tone:

"It will not be a military war, however. Apart from some local skirmishes, the real war will be in the economy and in cyberspace."

That sounds encouraging . . . until we begin to think about where such a "local skirmish" might take place . . .

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Margaritaville II: Changes in Longitudes, Changes in Laundry . . . Dudes

In late '79, I left Baylor and headed west like many Arkies and Oakies before me. Unlike most of them, I had a degree in hand and the aim of getting into either Stanford or Berkeley. The former turned me down, but the latter turned me on. So, I attended Berkeley.

But I lived near Stanford.

Either way, I had to shed my old clothes -- army surplus stuff didn't fit elite culture or counterculture. Changes in longitude, changes in laundry, dude.

My first semester at countercultural Berkeley, I met Professor Walter McDougall because I was taking his graduate seminar on Modern Europe. He was a Cold War conservative. I was an Ozark liberal. We got along.

McDougall has been on my mind recently because I'm reading his book on the links between domestic and foreign policy in America -- Promised Land, Crusader State -- and because I've been thinking about Margaritaville.

McDougall loved margaritas -- as I found out. After the first semester had passed, I invited him and all five of my seminar cohorts down to Atherton, where I lived as a 'turtle' with Mrs. Rosenfield. They arrived in a single, small car within which McDougall had . . . somehow . . . already been mixing margaritas.

Quickly meeting and greeting Mrs. Rosenfield, he headed for her kitchen to mix more.

"I just need a blender," he said.

I found one and left him to his labor of love. I had a smoking barbecue to attend to. Some minutes later, an emergency called me back to the kitchen. McDougall had prepared one pitcher of frozen margaritas and had started a second. To keep the first mix frozen, he had placed it up in the refrigerator's small freezer. Finishing the second, he had turned to the freezer to retrieve the first, but it wasn't sitting right and had come flying out and crashing to the floor, spraying its entire contents all over Mrs. Rosenfield's small kitchen.

In his surprise, he dropped the second pitcher.

So, he took off his shoes and made a third.

I'm not sure why he took his shoes off. Maybe they were drenched in margarita. Or maybe it was because he was using his socks to wipe up the spill.

"Uh, Wally," I suggested, "why don't you take that pitcher of margarita out to the others. They're in the garden. I'll take over here."

McDougall was agreeable and headed off with that cold margarita. I watched longingly as it disappeared from sight, then got down to the long business of cleaning.

Our cat, Thorstein Veblin, came to watch at leisure, sardonically observing the irony of such a conspicuous consumption unconsumed.

"Don't say a word," I warned. Veblin just looked at me, amused.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Wasted away again in Margaritaville

From 1975 to 1979, I lived in Waco, Texas, where I attended Baylor University, the biggest Baptist university in the world. Why be modest? It's the biggest Baptist university in the whole universe. I mean this actual universe, not any of the parallel ones generated by the post-inflationary bubbles of cosmological processes or by the quantum mechanical processes implied in Schrodinger's equation.

But I'm getting off-topic.

While studying at Baylor, I met a pretty sharp fellow named Don Howard, who these days teaches in the "Radio/Televison/Film Department" at the University of Texas in Austin. Don introduced me to Jimmy Buffet. Not personally. Just the music. I liked and tried to memorize "Margaritaville," singing it over the raucous noise of the machinery in the dishroom to Penland Cafeteria, where I worked stacking dishes.

Nobody could hear me over the noise, so nobody complained. Baylor being a Southern Baptist school and Southern Baptists being teetotalers, some folks might not have cottoned to my singing about the usefulness of a frozen concoction that helped me hang on. Not that I drank many margaritas. I had no money in those days and depended on the kindness of others to buy me drinks.

I often went thirsty.

But one evening near the end of the fall semester, our Penland boss slipped some of us non-teetotaling student workers a paper bag with a half-gallon of vodka hidden inside. We 'borrowed' a box of punch mix from the cafeteria's stocks and retired to my room to mix a fix and lift our many, many glasses in celebration of Christmas . . . a couple of weeks early . . .

Next morning, a Sunday, I woke up half in my closet, lifted my head from the floor, observed my fallen companions scattered like autumn leaves, and forced myself up. I had a job to do. There was plenty of vodka punch left, and I hate to waste anything, so I took it along to Penland, poured it into the punch dispenser (an act that could have gotten me expelled from Baylor), and began filling the nearby basins with crushed ice for students wandering in after church.

At that moment, my cousin Cindy entered the cafeteria. Instantly, I went on alert. Cindy was very Baptist and a true teetotaler, having never touched a drink in her life, and she was headed straight for that special punch. I managed to beat her to the punch but failed to come up with an anti-punch line that would sound convincing. She smiled at my apparent officiousness but served herself.

Having soon drunk that one, she returned for a second shot. Then a third.

I watched aghast, sure that she would notice something amiss. She did . . . sort of:

"Jeff," she told me, "this is the best punch that Penland has ever served."

And she took another! At that point, I stopped worrying that she would notice the alcohol and started worrying that she wouldn't notice the alcohol and might drink herself into oblivion.

But she didn't do that either. She wandered off instead, in high spirits.

At Christmas that year, she remarked, "You know, I've never touched alcohol."

"Cindy," I told her, "That's admirable." And so far as I know, she still maintains that she's never touched a drink.

I hope that she doesn't read this blog.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Breedlove Begets Quadruplets!

According to this report from Houston, a certain Breedlove "has given birth to a set of rare identical quadruplets, conceived without fertility drugs or in vitro fertilization."

No father is mentioned, but I suppose that one exists, assuming that this isn't a case of parthenogenesis.

Anyway, it's heartening to see that Mother Nature is still striving to outdo the medical profession and genetic engineers, but ultimately, hers is a fruitless task. Everywhere, it seems, human beings are outdoing nature.

For example, the coldest spot in the universe is found at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, where -- courtesy of the Physics Department's friendly physicists, specifically Cornell and Wieman -- temperatures have dropped as low as "a few billionths (0.000,000,001) of a degree above Absolute Zero!"

This is far colder than the approximately 3 degrees above Absolute Zero of deep space and even colder than a winter in Duluth, Minnesota or a summer in San Francisco. Nature on her own can't chill out any further due to heat left over from the Big Bang.

That's what I learned at Wieman's Tuesday lecture.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

In the Ninth Circle of Hell

The Big Hominid has officially welcomed me to the ninth circle of his own personal underworld. For those intrepid enough to enter, proceed with caution into those Hairy Chasms.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with Dante, the ninth circle of hell is the lowest, and it's reserved for those damned sinners who committed the horrible sin of . . . treachery.

I don't think that I've stabbed anyone in the back lately, but let's check the four rings of this lowest of all hellish circles:

1. Caina: Traitors to Kin

2. Antenora: Traitors to Homeland

3. Ptolomea: Traitors to Guests

4. Giudecca: Traitors to Benefactors

Koreans would perhaps expect traitors to family as the lowest ring, but Dante has traitors to benefactors there. I've read but not studied Dante, so I don't know why he structures his hell in the way he does, but since Judas is placed even lower, being gnawed on by one of Satan's three mouths, then I'm guessing that the archetype of Judas as traitor to Christ has shaped Dante's thinking.

I don't know precisely where in hell to go, but hell wants me in its ninth circle. Normally, I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member, but even woman hath no fury like a hell scorned, so I'd better accept.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Quantum Behavior of 'Superatoms'?

That's what's promised for today's lecture in the Nobel Laureate Lecture Series. Not the behavior, but the explanation. Here's a foretaste from Wieman's "Abstract of the Lecture":

"The BEC state is a novel form of matter in which a large number of atoms lose their individual identities and behave as a single quantum entity, the 'superatom.' The entity is the atom analogue to laser light, and, although large enough to be easily seen and manipulated, exhibits the nonintuitive behavior normally important only at much tinier scales."

Wikipedia has a stub on the superatom, but it doesn't say a lot -- and nothing about the quantum weirdness alluded to by Wieman. But Wikipedia's article on the Bose-Einstein Condensate notes this intriguing suggestion:

"A rotating Bose-Einstein condensate could be used as a model black hole, allowing light to enter but not to escape."

But if rotating superatoms can act like black holes, wouldn't that imply that with superstoms, even quantum mechanics can break down, as noted in this Wikipedia article:

"Most physicists believe that quantum mechanics provides a correct description for the physical world under almost all circumstances. It seems likely that quantum mechanics fails in the vicinity of black holes."

Just an 'intuitive' hunch of mine. Should I ask Wieman -- even at the risk of embarrassment?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Would you buy an English textbook from this man?

Over the years of my teaching in Korea, I've often been approached by textbook salesmen wanting me to use their company's books for teaching English to my students. They're only doing their job, so I'm always polite. I'll even accept a sample copy to peruse. (I now have a shelf of these mostly unperused samples.) But I wouldn't use any of the materials that they sell.

Why not? Here's why:

Author's Words

This book was created for the benefit of Korean-English learners.

. . . If I am not familiar with Korean culture, food, language, and customs,

. . . If I am not a polyglot English teacher (fluent in several languages),

I could never, ever publish a well organized, easy to use and useful English conversation book only for Koreans.

Try "If I were," buddy. Unless you're really not these things.

Sadly, carelessness (if not incompetence) of this sort is rife in the English-teaching business in Korea. Now, I admit that I've cherry-picked to make a point, and the author did get the subjunctive right in five of his eight "Ifs." Here's a good one:

"If I didn't know what Korean speakers need exactly to improve their four skills in writing, reading, listening and speaking . . ."

That's subjunctive, but the mood is spoiled by a misfiring "exactly." It's not exactly in the right place. Let's give this sentence a tune-up:

"If I didn't know exactly what Korean speakers need to improve their four skills in writing, reading, listening and speaking . . ."

That's better, but the sentence is still clunky. Does our author mean the "four skills in writing, reading, listening and speaking" or the "four skills of writing, reading, listenting and speaking"? Probably the latter. But if so, why not just say:

"If I didn't know exactly what Korean speakers need to improve their writing, reading, listening and speaking . . ."

But "speakers"? Who needs "speakers"? Keep paring down that language:

"If I didn't know exactly what Koreans need to improve their writing, reading, listening and speaking . . ."

Now, that's a lot better. Still banal, but not clunky.

The disquieting thing is that the author is a native speaker of English, for the subtitle on the cover announces:

"Native English Teacher's Perspective"

But I wonder . . . . The author studied in Montreal and has one of his majors in "Translation: English <--> French." He also claims fluency in Spanish and Arabic, plus a good understanding of Italian, Greek, and Portuguese. I admire his ability to learn languages, but is he really a native speaker of English?

Oh -- and I'd suggest getting rid of that hyphen in "Korean-English learners." If, however, he really wants to use it, he could insert it here: "well-organized."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Gnostic Turn For the Worse

The Big Hominid, a fellow expatriate and fellow blogger here in the Republic of Korea, has read my online paper on the "Ethical Dualism of Food," which I wrote on John's Gospel and Gnosticism for presentation at the annual SBL/AAR conference back in 1999, and he has a few questions:

"Could it be that the writer(s)/redactor(s) of the Fourth Gospel were appropriating Gnostic symbolism and fusing it with Jewish tropes? Maybe I've been reading too much Elaine Pagels, but Gnosticism, it seems, is hard to pin down as an easily definable '-ism.' Free-floating Gnostic memes wafting about the Mediterranean could have been picked up by Jewish writers and incorporated into the scriptures. Personally, I'm partial to the notion that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with Gnosticism, even if John's version of Jesus doesn't follow the Gnostic model in crucial ways. There's too much light/dark, spirit/flesh dualism to rule Gnosticism's presence out (not that your paper was doing that, though it seems to imply that scholars reach too quickly for the Gnostic interpretation). I also tend to think that Jewish thinkers have always been adept at taking surrounding cultural tropes and subverting them -- witness how the Hebrews took Canaanite deities and demonized then, or how Jesus -- very much a Jew -- subverted prevalent Jewish preconceptions about purity, morality, etc. to make his points. I wouldn't put it past a Jewish writer to lift a trope and rework it. My point is that the Gnosticism we might be seeing in the Fourth Gospel is really there, but it's been reappropriated: Judaicized Gnosticism . . . ?"

Tough questions. Scholars have been arguing about this sort of thing for well over a hundred years. I'm a bit out of the argument these days since my research projects have taken other directions (partly from my lack of access to sources).

If by "Gnosticism," one means the full-blown Gnostic system that presents the myth of an evil creator-god who shapes the material world to trap fragments of the divine spirit that must be released through the help of a heavenly messenger sent by the higher, spiritual god of salvation, then I'd say that the author of John is probably not drawing on that. Gnostic systems like this seem to come from the second-century A.D.

But if by "Gnosticism," one means a much broader constellation of dualistic ideas and images -- such as dark versus light or flesh versus spirit -- then I'd agree that the author of the fourth gospel is certainly drawing on some of that. But to note this and call it an appropriation of Gnosticism is to make it sound more significant than it is because there's no system that's being appropriated.

For something more like a genuine Judaized Gnosticism, I think that we'd need to look at Kabbalistic systems, which are several hundred years later than John and which really do echo those second-century Gnostic systems.

Your questions deserve a more in-depth response, but I'm short of time. Thanks for asking. Mark Goodacre will be happy.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Unamusing Musing About The Muse

I haven't had much time to look into material on Bose-Einstein Condensation or to compose posts about this topic in preparation for the upcoming Korea University Nobel Laureate Lecture by Wieman. For anyone who's planning to attend, however, the links that I've provided in previous posts will fill in the many gaps. Here's a previously linked webpage that explains BEC in basic, fairly non-technical terms and uses nice graphics for illustrations.

One of the topics that has long interested me is creativity. I remember wondering about it when I was an undergraduate student at Baylor Univerity. Until my penultimate semester there, I was a double major -- (1) English Language and Literature and (2) Psychology. Courses in literature often exalt creativity, and some of my courses in psychology discussed topics such as intelligence and creativity, so my personal interest in it was doubly reinforced.

I don't have any great insights into the sources of creative thinking. I used to associate it with unstructured, holistic approaches (whatever those are), but as I grow older, I connect it more closely to structured, analytical ways of thinking about things combined with a deep grounding in the materials that one is working with and a broad familiarity with related areas.

But it also requires a certain independence of mind. That's why I focused on the rural childhoods of Wieman and McFadden, as you'll perhaps recall, for I wondered if their somewhat unusual childhoods contributed to their creativity.

I was curious enough about this to send Wieman an email noting his and McFadden's rural pasts and asking him if he thought that this "may have led them to be more independent in their thinking." Wieman was kind enough to respond, but he was 178 emails behind on his correspondence, so he hadn't time to say much. He did, however, make this unexpected observation:

"I am not sure that McFadden and I are all that unique in our backgrounds. It is easy to forget, but there are an awful lot of people who live in rural US, and some significant fraction of their families take education pretty seriously."

This calls into question my view that a rural childhood is especially unusual. I suppose that in a large, populous country like the United States, many people do have country roots, so in absolute terms, there will be several million of them. I seem to recall that only 3 percent of the American population lives on farms, but if our population is about 300 million, then their absolute number approaches 10 million.

Be that as it may, I can attest that Wieman is correct that many rural "families take education pretty seriously." Despite growing up poor in the Arkansas Ozarks, I never doubted that I'd get a higher degree.

And I'm just one of many.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Poetry Break: memento mori

As a kid growing up in the Ozarks, I often had Indian mounds pointed out to me by older kinfolk. Generally, people left the mounds undisturbed, assuming that these were graves. I don't know if the mounds really are graves, but I have wondered if the old Ozarkers left them in peace out of religious convictions or a sense of ethnic affinity (many old timers being themselves part Indian).

Anyway, here's a poem that I wrote on this some 20 years ago. It neither scans nor rhymes, but it does play with sounds.

Ozark Indian Mound

Within this mound are dead men's bones.
Once, bound with flesh as you,
They walked the earth they now lie down beneath.
Remove your sandals: this is sacred ground.

Wild poke grows here, deepest green,
Fed by torsos of the dead, watered with their now-cold sweat.
They dream of lives too long ago,
Lives that once they led.

H. J. Hodges, 1985

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Kagan on 'Managing' China

Robert Kagan, neoconservative and author of the text Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, has written an article on "The illusion of 'managing' China" for his monthly Washington Post column, which can be read online here (registration required).

It also appears in the May 17th issue of The Korea Herald, though I haven't managed to find the online article. For those of you with the offline copy of the Herald's reprint, take a look at page 7 and see how NOT to summarize the theme of an article:

"Commercial ties between China and the other powers will act as a buffer against aggressive impulses and ultimately ease China's 'integration' into the international system without war."

This "light bite" (well, it ain't a "sound bite"), which appears in larger font and presumably conveys the author's thinking, seems a bit odd, given the article's title. Our suspicions are confirmed if we take the trouble to read the 'bite' within the context of Kagan's entire column. These quoted words reflect the arguments of those whom Kagan is arguing against. Here is Kagan's own view:

"The history of rising powers, however, and their attempted 'management' by established powers provides little reason for confidence or comfort. Rarely have rising powers risen without sparking a major war that reshaped the international system to reflect new realities of power."

China, Kagan suspects, does not want to be 'managed' and will not be willing to be merely 'integrated' within the current international world order. Rather, it will desire to transform that order in its own image and for its own interests.

The article is well worth reading and should provide a dose of realism to those of us (both native and expatriate) living in Korea and hoping for a secure, peaceful future. History provides no comfort.

For those of you not familiar with Kagan, here's a profile provided by the IRC, which posts its information on Kagan under the ominous heading: "Right Web: Exposing the architecture of power that's changing our world." I think that they mean "the architecture of the power that's changing our world." Otherwise, the architecture seems to be the agent of change. Anyway, the profile provided is fair enough, and I don't want to go google-grubbing further. Besides, giving this link is a public service in expanding the horizons of my reader on both the left and the right. (You folks in the middle will just have to wait.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bose-Einstein Condensate

One of yesterday's links provides a link to this article: "About the Bose-Einstein Condensate: A New Form of Matter."

I'll try to summarize some of this -- partly to better absorb it myself.

The Bose-Einstein condensate is named after the famous Albert Einstein (of course) and the lesser known Satyendra Nath Bose. Einstein, building on the work of Bose, predicted the condensate in 1924. The condensate occurs when a group of atoms are chilled to within a few hundred-billionths of a degree above absolute zero, which is minus 273.15 degrees Celsius (minus 459.67 Fahrenheit). At that extremely low temperature, the wavelengths of individual atoms start to overlap and behave identically, thereby forming a 'superatom.'

What's this superatom good for? According to Wieman, "it has the same relation to ordinary matter as laser light has to light from a light bulb." This means that it can be used to develop an "atom laser" for shooting out streams of atoms -- exactly like a laser shooting out streams of light. This has already been done and could lead to techniques for making extremely tiny computer chips or constructing nano-devices one atom at a time.

I haven't yet figured out how shooting streams of atoms could be used to construct nano-devices, since that sounds like pretty delicate work, but I'm guessing that at these extremely cold temperatures, any "shooting" would be with very, very slow 'bullets.'

I intend -- time allowing -- to find out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Carl E. Wieman: Nobel Laureate Lecture Series III

On Tuesday, May 24, at 2:00 p.m., at Inchon Memorial Hall, Carl E. Wieman will deliver the third lecture in Korea University's Nobel Laureate Lecture Series.

For those interested in finding out more about Professor Wieman, see the Nobel Prize site on the physics prize for 2001. Read his autobiography and compare it to the autobiography of Daniel L. McFadden, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics for 2000. Both have unusual childhoods. This from Wieman's autobiography:

"Much of my youth was spent wandering around in the forests of towering Douglas fir trees. I also spend much of my time reading and picking fruit and fir cones to earn spending money. Every Saturday my family would make a long expedition to the nearest town to do the week's worth of shopping. A stop at the public library was always part of these trips. Although I was unaware of it at the time, my parents must have made special arrangements for their children to use the library since we lived far outside the region it was supposed to serve. The librarians would also overlook the normal five-book limit and allow me to check out a large pile of books each week that I would then eagerly devour. That experience has left me with a profound appreciation for the value of public libraries. At the time I was quite envious that my friends had televisions while we did not, but in retrospect I am very grateful that I spent this time reading instead of watching TV."

Compare to this from McFadden's autobiography:

"My parents met in 1929 when my mother was teaching for a semester at the University of North Carolina. In 1936, she left university life in Cincinnati and married my father. They settled on a remote farm in rural North Carolina, and led an unconventional life, with no electricity or running water and little money. My father was a great collector and reader of books, and I grew up surrounded by his library. My mother became a high school mathematics teacher. Most of our food was grown on the farm. Neighbors were remote, and reading was the primary recreation. I grew up planning to become a farm agent, or a novelist in the florid style of Thomas Wolfe. I was active in 4-H, winning a state championship for my soil conservation projects, and blue ribbons for my sheep and geese. I milked three to five cows each day, and we sold butter, cottage cheese, peanuts, corn, and hay. My parents taught me that to lead a virtuous life, I should be modest, take my satisfaction from work done well, and avoid being drawn into competition for status and rewards."

Both men seem to have had childhoods that set them apart from the typical American, which -- I'm guessing -- may have led them to be more independent in their thinking.

I intend to read more on Wieman and blog again. Meanwhile, here are some websites to check out on Wieman, his Nobel and other colleagues, and their work on Bose-Einstein Condensation:

See Wieman's Curriculum Vitae at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

See this related website on Bose-Einstein Condensation, for which, Wieman and fellow prize winners Eric A. Cornell and Wolfgang Ketterle won their 2001 Nobel Prize.

Another website provides further information: JILA BEC Homepage (Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics Bose-Einstein Condensation Homepage).

Interestingly, this BEC work is connected with the Laser Cooling work of Steven Chu, who (you'll recall) gave the second presentation in Korea University's Nobel Laureate Lecture Series.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I thought that I'd seen a lot . . . (and don't read this if you've got a weak stomach)

Spitting is common is some cultures. Indeed, it's hardly unknown in the West -- if old laws still on the books are any indication. For example, in Salinas, California:

"Sec. 30-4. Spitting on sidewalk prohibited.* No person shall spit on any sidewalk. (Ord. No. 22 (NS), § 11.)"

Or in South Haven, Michigan:

"Sec. 54-4. Spitting in public. No person shall spit on any sidewalk or on the floor or seat of any public carrier, or on any floor, wall, seat or equipment of any place of public assemblage. (Ord. No. 779, Sec. 1(42.01(c)(22)), 3-11-93)"

These sorts of law are sometimes ridiculed as "Crazy Codes," but according to one informative website on "Tobacco control policy," under the heading "The case of the disappearing spittoon," spittoons were common in the United States in the 19th century until:

"As medical opinion evolved about the transmissibility of disease through spitting, and as people's living standards and social habits changed, it became socially unacceptable, and more than that, was outlawed in public places. 'No spitting' signs were erected, and in time spitting so declined that the signs and spittoons were no longer needed: non-spitting had been established as the norm."

But spittoons held out in some regions. I recall still seeing them in the Arkansas Ozarks even up to my teenage years, though they were usually intended for use by people who chewed tobacco. In barber shops, especially (because women didn't enter those places), you could find some excellent spitters -- men who'd have the skill for a sure shot from ten feet away.

Spitting contests of that kind, incidentally, might explain something that had long puzzled me. One of my uncles tells the anecdote of his induction into the military during WWII. He and others from the Ozarks were sent to Little Rock before heading on to boot camp. First, the new draftees had to get medical exams to test their fitness. They were told to strip down to their birthday suits and stand near the back wall of the room. A sergeant came in with a bottle, held it up for all to see, and began to explain what the men had to do:

"Men!" he barked, "I want you to piss in this bottle."

To which, in utter seriousness, one of the men from my hometown responded:

"From back here?"

Now, maybe this hometown hillbilly of mine was skilled at hitting spittoons, or perhaps he had even been in a few pissing contests, but he was absolutely sincere in his question -- my uncle swears to it!

Anyway, as for spittoons themselves, I'm sure that some spitters used them for fluids other than tobacco-enhanced saliva, but most Americans are generally unaware that the habit of public spitting has only relatively recently disappeared. If we Americans just knew a little more about our own relatively recent 'nasty' habits, we might be more understanding of the spitting that we see in Korea.

But then there are guys like the one my wife and I saw yesterday. We had just exited the Bonghwasan Subway Station with our children in tow and were waiting for the bus home when I happened to notice a man seated on a nearby bench. Beside him on the bench was a lovely, copper-colored dog that resembled an Irish Setter, only smaller.

Turning to my children, I said, "There's a dog!"

Now, my kids love dogs, even more so because we can't have one ("A cat indoors, fine, but a dog -- no way!"). I also like dogs and always point them out so that my children can see them -- and perhaps pet them if the owners allow and the dogs endure.

My wife stopped them in their tracks: "No, the man is strange!"

Cautioned now, I began to watch him out of the corner of my eye but didn't immediately spot anything odd.

My wife whispered to me, "Watch how he pets the dog."

Surreptitiously, I looked for the man's hand. Half hidden in the dog's fur, it was fondling the dog.

Stunned, I looked directly at the couple. The guy was definitely fondling his dog's private parts. Now, I guess that you could call this "heavy petting," but I've never seen anyone attempt this sort of thing under any circumstances, let along so openly. Yet, the man seemed perfectly comfortable to be doing it in public.

The dog looked a bit embarassed. Seriously. The dog seemed actually uncomfortable with the attention. Was it experiencing . . . sexual harassment?

As I was posing this question and wondering about laws concerning such things, the man stopped fondling for a moment, reached into a greasy, brown paper bag that he had in his lap, drew out something that looked like a slice of chicken or pork, and fed it to his dog.

The dog even licked the man's hand, which soon thereafter returned to fondling the dog. A few moments later, the man again withdrew his hand, raised his fingers to his nose ("Now what?" I wondered), and proceeded -- without tissue -- to blow it clean in a loud and eminently successful manner. That, I couldn't watch, but the sound revealed all.

I looked at my wife, who was grimacing in disgust. I glanced back at the man, who had now taken another piece of chicken or pork from the greasy brown bag and was busy stuffing it into his own mouth -- with the same hand that had previously been in contact with a dog's genitals and saliva and then with his own mucus!

"Good Lord!" I murmered. "There really ought to be a law."

But I'll say this for the fellow: He didn't spit.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Celebrating my Birthday with Korean Traditional Drama

No, I didn't attend a performance yesterday. Rather, I 'celebrated' most of the day sitting at my desk editing articles on traditional Korean drama that have been collected for publication in a book. I didn't know anything about this subject before, and I don't know much now, but some of the articles were informative and interesting.

Particularly sticking in my mind are two characteristics of the traditional Korean stage: 1) emptiness and 2) openness.

The expression "empty stage" refers to the traditional stage's lack of props. Lacking these, Korean actors had to use lines and gestures to convey setting.

The expression "open stage" refers to the traditional stage's lack of walls. Performances took place outside and encouraged interaction between actors and audience.

I can imagine that these were characteristic of traditional Western folk drama, and some of the articles note this but could have said more. A number of the articles also refered to similarities with postmodern drama in the West but didn't provide enough careful comparisons to substantiate the allusions. So, the references remain tantalizing . . . just out of my intellectual grasp.

One otherwise excellent article attempted to link changes in the Korean traditional drama with a shift in patronage from the aristocracy to the "emerging bourgeoisie." My reaction was: "What 'emerging bourgeoisie'?!" The expression seemed like a nod to leftist historical analysis, for it was otherwise unmotivated by the article's principle concerns. Be that as it may, my impression from reading Korean history is that the failure of a bourgeiosie to emerge was one factor contributing to Korea's weakness in the 19th century. But perhaps somebody can set me straight on this.

I'm hoping that the publisher will give me a free copy so that I can read the articles at more leisure. For anyone who's never edited, you probably won't know that we editors spend so much time focusing on details like punctuation, grammar, and word choice that we often miss the big picture. To really understand, we have to go back and read the edited text in a different way -- less attuned to the mechanics and more attuned to the broader themes.

The latter is how I'd prefer to read.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Today is my birthday, and I turn . . .

. . . a year older, dammit!

Pardon my vulgar Latin, but I feel like my Aunt Betty, who being revived from a diabetic coma and being asked "How old are you?" replied:

"Too old."

My Uncle Harlin laughed, relieved that Betty would be her old self again.

But like her, I feel "Too old." In the couple of weeks since my flying fall down the subway steps, I've recovered quite well, but I still wake up every morning with my right arm feeling as though it's going to come apart at its joints.

A week ago, after the splint came off, the doctor wanted me to come in several times for physical therapy. I tried it once and decided once was sufficient. The nurse did three consecutive things:

1. Wrapped my arm in hot towels. (I could do that myself!)

2. Applied electric shocks to my wrist. (To scare the pain away?)

3. Smeared cold cream along my upper forearm. (To undo the benefit of the hot towels?)

No actual physical therapy, you'll note. I'd had enough. The hot towels were pleasant, but I can get the same effect from washing dishes in hot water every evening -- plus the physical therapy of using my arm.

My home remedy seems to be working, but I still wake up every morning feeling my age . . . which -- "Dammit!" -- is now one year older.

In case you're wondering, I'm 138, come from Betelgeuse, and wear a cap to protect my head from cold, heat, and ridicule.

Wish me a happy birthday . . .

Friday, May 13, 2005

Jacob Bronowski, Galileo . . . and me dragging along behind . . .

As an undergraduate at Baylor University, I studied in the Honor's Program, which offered 'accelerated' courses for students who SAT or ACT scores were high enough. Don't be impressed, though, for I think that my score just barely made the minimum.

I was reminded of this program because in looking over examples of science writing in Baker's Practical Stylist, I came upon an essay by Jacob Bronowski: "The Reach of Imagination." This was first published in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1967, volume 17. Some of you may remember Bronowski as the humanistic scientist who made the Ascent of Man series, which consisted of a book and a sequence of accompanying videos exploring the development of scientific thought within its cultural context (and a whole lot better than anything Carl Sagan ever attempted). I had the privilege of experiencing the entire series along with the book because the Honor's Program required us to take a course with the book as text, the videos as lectures, and extra sessions as occasions for discussion.

Despite all of that and all of my studies in the history of science at Berkeley, only today did I finally understand a thought experiment by Galileo -- and only because I happened to read a paragraph by Bronowski early this morning. Galileo took Aristotelian assumptions about falling bodies and uncovered a problem. If heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects -- as Aristotle claimed (and which seems intuitively obvious until modern science tells us "Not so!") -- then what happens if a heavier object and lighter object are bound together by a string and allowed to fall? The lighter object, if Aristotle is right, will be a 'drag' on the heavier object, causing it to fall more slowly. This produces a contradiction, as described by Bronowski:

"[T]he string between them has turned the two balls into a single mass which is heavier than either ball -- and surely (according to Aristotle) this mass should therefore move faster than either ball? Galileo's imaginary experiment has uncovered a contradiction; he says trenchantly, 'You see how, from your assumption that a heavier body falls more rapidly than a lighter one, I infer that a (still) heavier body falls more slowly.' There is only one way out of the contradiction: the heavy ball and the light ball must fall at the same rate, so that they go on falling at the same rate when they are tied together" (Baker, Practical Stylist, 294).

"So that's what Galileo meant!" was my morning exclamation. I don't know how many times in my long years of study that I've seen this thought experiment alluded to, but only today did I finally understand it.

The Honor's Program may have been 'accelerated,' but understanding this simple argument by Galileo took me 30 years.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Spiders and Wasps

From a young age, I wanted to become a scientist. I don't know why. In any case, the dream proved unrealistic for me because I lack the patience necessary for careful observation or precise measurement. The summer that I worked as a surveyor's chainman for my old high school math teacher, I discovered my disinterest in that sort of precision, and I rejoiced when the long, hot and sultry summer ended, allowing me to return to my college studies and more literary pursuits.

But I never lost interest in science, and I soon discovered the pleasure of reading good science writing. One of the finest such essays that I have ever read by a scientist is Alexander Petrunkevitch's "The Spider and the Wasp." For those of you who like to go directly to the source, the essay can be found in the August 1952 issue of Scientific American. Although the online issues don't go back that far, the current Scientific American website might provide information on ordering older back issues.

My own first encounter with this essay is lost in the murky mists of my foggy memory, but I recently came across it again in my copy of . . . Sheridan Baker's Practical Stylist (1998), to my great pleasure (as readers of this blog will quickly surmise).

But who was Alexander Petrunkevitch? According to the Yale Peabody Museum, he "was the top arachnologist of his time, studying all aspects of spider biology, taxonomy and paleontology." From the biographical information provided, I see that he lived a long life: Born December 22, 1875, he died March 9, 1964 -- 88 years! His life also sounds eventful. He left Russia and his University of Moscow studies for political reasons, studied after that in Germany at the University of Freiburg, met there an American woman whom he married and followed to United States, taking a position as instructor at Yale in 1910 and becoming a full professor in 1917. The bio doesn't say enough about his wife, but she must have been an impressive woman.

Like many European scientists of the early 20th century, Petrunkevitch seems to have had broad interests, even contributing to a book on the Russian Revolution: The Russian Revolution: The Jugo-Slav Movement. His spider and wasp essay demonstrates his literary skill, particularly impressive given that he wrote it in English, not his native language Russian. See how he begins:

"In the feeding and safeguarding of their progeny, insects and spiders exhibit some interesting analogies to reasoning and some crass examples of blind instinct. The case I propose to describe here is that of the tarantula spiders and their archenemy, the digger wasps of the genus Pepsis. It is a classic example of what looks like intelligence pitted against instinct -- a strange situation in which the victim, though fully able to defend itself, submits unwittingly to its destruction" (Baker, Practical Stylist, 178).

This excellent introduction catches our interest for at least two reasons. It promises to say something significant about intelligence versus instinct, and it promises to describe an exciting if brutal struggle for survival in making this point. But I think there is something else, too, something subtle in its tone that fascinates us -- something suggesting that in this tale lurks a warning that we had better heed.

Leading up to the epic battle, Petrunkevitch describes both creatures and their formidable powers -- the quickness and bite of the tarantula, the powerful sting of the wasp. Both are large, and either has power to kill the other. But if the tarantula is of the proper species to serve as food for a wasp's larva, the female wasp is relentless. Having sought out the tarantula and assured herself by probing all over the spider's body that it is the right sort, which (oddly) the tarantula tolerates, the female Pepsis wasp moves only inches away and digs a grave eight to ten inches deep and wide enough to drag the tarantula into. All the while, the spider simply watches. Until:

"When the grave is finished, the wasp returns to the tarantula to complete her ghastly enterprise. First, she feels it all over once more with her antennae. Then her behavior becomes more aggressive. She bends her abdomen, protruding her sting, and searches for the soft membrane at the point where the spider's legs join its body -- the only spot where she can penetrate the horny skeleton. From time to time, as the exasperated spider slowly shifts ground, the wasp turns on her back and slides along with the aid of her wings, trying to get under the tarantula for a shot at the vital spot. During all this maneuvering, which can last for several minutes, the tarantula makes no move to save itself. Finally the wasp corners it against some obstruction and grasps one of its legs in her powerful jaws. Now, at last, the harassed spider tries a desperate but vain defense. The two contestants roll over and over on the ground. It is a terrifying sight, and the outcome is always the same. The wasp finally manages to thrust her sting into the soft spot and holds it there for a few seconds while she pumps in the poison. Almost immediately the tarantula falls paralyzed on its back. Its legs stop twitching; its heart stops beating. Yet it is not dead" (Baker, Practical Stylist, 180-181).

Petrunkevitch goes on to comment that whereas the wasp behaves "like an intelligent animal . . . . the tarantula behave[s] . . . stupidly" (Baker, Practical Stylist, 181). He admits that he does not clearly know why the tarantula acts so stupidly, but he does note this: "The tarantula does exactly what is most efficient in all cases except in an encounter with a ruthless and determined attacker" (Baker, Practical Stylist, 182).

Ostensibly, the essay is about intelligence and instinct in wasps and spiders. But Petrunkevitch may also have been thinking of other, more human struggles. He had grown up in Russia and seen the blundering responses of an autocracy, and then of a brief, ineffective democracy, under attack by ruthless and determined political opponents. And he certainly saw Bolshevism as a danger. According to this website:

"On May 1, 1917, he made an important speech before the Economic Club in New York warning Elihu Root's commission, then about to depart for Russia, that the moderate provisional government the United States supported might easily collapse. Such a collapse would make a separate peace between Russia and Germany probable and free up a great number of German troops to fight on the Western front. On July 4, 1917, he made an address in Center Church, New Haven, on the spirit of freedom. He was a founder and president of the Federation of Russian Organizations in the United States of America. From 1919 to 1924 he was also president of the Russian Collegiate Institute of New York, set up to assist in the education of Russian refugees. Initially, he taught biology there once a week. In 1921 he made great efforts to ameliorate the position of I. P. Pavlov and seems to have felt that these efforts were not fruitless. Petrunkevitch was particularly opposed to the United States' recognition of the Bolshevik government in 1924. That same year he became associated with the magazine Current History and contributed several articles on the political and social events in Russia and the Baltic states. This association was terminated, however, by a disagreement with the editor, who apparently felt Petrunkevitch was biased against communists" (OCR for page 241).

Given all this, is there a subtextual warning to Petrunkevitch's words about "a strange situation in which the victim, though fully able to defend itself, submits unwittingly to its destruction"? Was Petrunkevitch warning against falling for utopian schemes that can offer nothing but destruction, no matter how much they promise peace through submission?

Or am I reading too much between his lines?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Some Good News . . .

. . . and no bad news. Not today . . . not yet.

Of course, the morning is still young, perhaps in its infancy. Possibly even prenatal since I rise at 3:00 a.m. to start my day -- a bit like Bill Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher.

Yes, I'd say the morning is still . . . well . . . (glancing at the clock -- "Good Lord, already 5:00?!") . . . uh, relatively young at 5:00 a.m.

Anyway, three in the morning or five in the morning, there's still time for things to go wrong -- plenty of time.

But have no fear, the good news is that I'll always be up before the bad, fighting to save your day.

. . . unless you're one of my students, in which case: I am your bad news.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

No More Two-Fisted Flying . . .

My splint came off on Saturday, so I'm blogging two-fisted again. I'm also back to my two-fisted dishwashing. And my two-fisted walking. And two-fisted teaching. Two-fisted reading, too.

Look, it's all two-fisted now, okay?

Except for flying. No more of that, not even one-fisted.

My wrist is still sore from that last flight, and if I'm not careful and twist it the wrong way, I cry out a little two-fisted involuntary "Ouch!"

If my son happens to hear, he comes over, gently touches my arm, and asks in his little boy's voice, "It hurts?"

And I am graced with a moment of unclenched fists . . .

Monday, May 09, 2005

Memories of Times Lost . . .

In an article on Milton that I published about a year ago, I cited Dorothy L. Sayers. She's known to most people familiar with her as the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels, and in Britain, there's a society in her honor: The Dorothy L Sayers Society. (Yes, there's no period after the "L" in British usage.)

I first learned of Sayers when I was living in Atherton, California from 1981 to 1984 as a "Turtle." That's what Mrs. Elizabeth S. Rosenfield called us -- "us" being the long line of poor history graduate students whom she took into her home for a nominal rent (only 50 dollars per month in my time), so long as we were willing to help her with her shopping and gardening.

Mrs. Rosenfield was one of the first female graduates of Stanford University's Law School (JD '24). Because of her generosity to history graduate students, her memory has been honored by Stanford's History Department, which offers an annual "Elizabeth Spilman Rosenfield Prize for Excellence in History Writing" for the best-written doctoral thesis (cf. pdf: page 24).

Mrs. Rosenfield was a dignified lady with a wicked sense of humor. She enjoyed an evening scotch despite the protestations of her brother-in-law, an eminent research doctor, who warned her that alcohol kills T-cells and thus weakens the immune system. To gently spite him, Mrs. Rosenfield would pour herself a scotch each evening and recite a little 'poem' that she had composed:

"Scotch kills
By the trillions."

Then, she would smile. She was 86 years old, still healthy, sharp, and doing editing work for a medical research firm in San Francisco. She seemed to have T-cells to spare. Brain cells, too.

Despite her name, she was not Jewish but a nominal Protestant who had married a Jewish man from her Stanford Law School days. She had first noticed him because some days in class, he had sported two legs, but other days, just one. She had found this annoying and recalled thinking, "I do wish he'd decide how many legs he wants!" What he really wanted, it seems, was her, and his alternating states at least got her attention. When she became acquainted with him, she learned that he had lost his leg in The Great War -- as WWI was then called -- and that the stump was sometimes still too sensitive for his prosthetic leg. Eventually, he gave up the leg entirely and resigned himself to using crutches.

His hero status served him well. At Stanford in the 1920s, law students were required to learn a foreign language. Mr. Rosenfield hated the requirement, but he discovered a solution. French was being taught by a lady from France whose Gaulic nationalism and hearty disdain for Germans earned Mr. Rosenfield an "A" just for having fought in The Great War as an American soldier against the Germans, and thereby for the French. He took her course for every required semester, finished with a perfect record, and didn't learn even one cedilla of French.

Mr. and Mrs. Rosenfield never had any children, but they did have a cat that lived 26 years and could understand English well enough to do whatever Mrs. Rosenfield suggested. I say "suggested" because as a cat-lover, she was never one to order a cat to do anything. One time, during a particularly hot day, the cat just couldn't get comfortable anywhere and was lying sprawled out on the kitchen floor, wilting in the heat. Mrs. Rosenfield noticed this and suggested, "Well, why don't you just go lie down in the bathtub? It's probably cool in there." The cat promptly got up, went down the hall, and did exactly that.

I never met Mr. Rosenfield because he had died years before, but Mrs. Rosenfield told a lot of stories about him and obviously missed him despite the passage of time. We Turtles served as surrogate family. Some of my 'siblings' were a bit odd. One had worked as a scientist in the Sleep Lab at Stanford. No, that's not like L'il Abner working at the mattress factory by sleep-testing every mattress! This particular Turtle measured people's R.E.M. patterns -- that is, the rapid eye movements that people display while dreaming. He and his wife, a history graduate student, had been living with Mrs. Rosenfield for some time, and one of his household chores was vacuuming the house. One day, he didn't finish the vacuuming.

"What's wrong?" Mrs. Rosenfield had asked when he stopped and unplugged the machine.

"The vacuum cleaner isn't working anymore," he declared. "You'll have to get a new one."

"How is it not working?" she inquired.

"There's no suction," he told her.

"Have you emptied the bag?" she asked.

"The what?" he said, baffled.

This scientist then had to be educated on the inner workings of vacuum cleaners. Having never cleaned house before staying at Mrs. Rosenfield's place, he knew nothing about cleaning. I thought it odd that a scientist wouldn't have some curiosity about where all that dust was going, but perhaps he believed that the interior of the vacuum cleaner was linked by a wormhole to a deep space vacuum, where the dust from millions of vacuum cleaners was incrementally forming a new planetary system for eventual colonization when our own world dies.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, as I was saying, I first discovered Dorothy L. Sayers when I was living with Mrs. Rosenfield. On weekend evenings, Masterpiece Theatre would sometimes feature the Lord Peter Wimsey stories. I had never heard of Sayers, but Mrs. Rosenfield had the whole collection, so I took to reading them in my spare time. Only more recently did I discover her other works. She wrote a book on Christian orthodoxy, The Mind of the Maker, in which she compares God's creativity with human creativity. Here's what Jacques Barzun says about it:

"Its thesis is that the ordinary experience of making anything -- creating art or applying workmanship to any object -- corresponds to the meanings symbolized by the Trinity. First comes the creative Idea, which foresees the whole work as finished. This is the Father. Next the creative Energy, which engages in a vigorous struggle with matter and overcomes one obstacle after another. This is the Son. Third is the creative Power of the work, its influence on the world through its effect on the soul of the user-beholder. This is the Holy Spirit. All three are indispensable to completeness as they unite in the work" (Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present (New York: Perennial, 2001), page 742).

I haven't yet read this book by Sayers, but Barzun makes it sound interesting (and Platonic). Alongside this, she began and nearly finished a translation of Dante but died suddenly at 64. A friend, Barbara Reynolds, finished the remainder. I also have yet to read this work of hers. Plus other works that she wrote.

I suppose, then, that this post is not just about memories of times lost but a reminder of time still to be found -- for more reading.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Baker and Cicero on Writing and Speaking

Moved by my recent visit with The Practical Stylist, I spent some time online looking for Sheridan Baker. One of the first websites that I encountered informed me of his death. Born on July 10th, 1918 in Santa Rosa, California, he died on June 30th, 2000 in -- I am assuming -- Dearborn, Michigan, where he had lived for many years as a professor at the University of Michigan.

Although I knew of him only as a stylist, Baker had many talents. He was a published poet, a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Nagoya, Japan (1961), the first editor (1962) of the Michigan Quarterly Review, and editor of the Norton critical edition of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones.

He also knew Latin well enough to translate Cicero, and he included in his Practical Stylist a passage from Cicero's De Oratore (1.xxxiii. 150f) as an example of good writing about the importance of writing:

"But the main thing is what, to tell the truth, we do least -- it is indeed hard work, which most of us flee -- to write as much as possible. The pen is rightly the supreme producer and teacher of speech. Just as a little meditation easily beats an offhand extemporaneous speech, so a diligent written speech will just as surely top the former. Indeed, all the ideas that immediately pertain to what we are writing, whether from others or from our own gifts and knowledge, rush forth as we ponder with the full sharpness of our gifts, and all thoughts and all words, the most sparkling, each in its way, must necessarily flow under and follow the point of the pen. Then, too, writing perfects the very arrangement and organization of words, but in the rhythm and measure of public speaking, not of poetry" (page 17).

Cicero was speaking about writing as a means for improving one's rhetorical skills for better oratory, a mastery necessary for participating effectively in Rome's political arena. Most of us who learned effective language skills from Baker read him for his advice on writing essays and term papers, what we thought of purely as the written word. But as I again peruse Baker, I am impressed by how concerned he was with teaching us how to speak.

I am saddened to hear that Baker's own voice has fallen silent.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Sheridan Baker Redux

Yesterday, I praised Sheridan Baker's Practical Stylist. I first read Baker nearly 30 years ago, but I still learn more about writing each time that I reread his book.

Here's how the 8th edition (1998) begins:

"Writing is one of the most important things we do. It helps us catch our ideas, realize our thoughts, and stand out as fluent persuasive people both on paper and on our feet" (page 1).

My copy of the 6th edition (1986) begins the same way. I like that. It's like encountering an old, familiar friend. Maybe we've entered the "Age of the Internet," and so has Baker, but here's my old friend, The Practical Stylist, still greeting me with those warm familiar words.

Baker has his limitations. He assumes a readership of native speakers of English:

"The language we share is Standard English" (page 1).

Thus begins the book's second paragraph, thereby quickly excluding most of my students. "We," then, is not really every reader, and I can't use Baker in my writing classes in Korea.

But I sure wish that I could.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Stylist

Gertrude Stein is often quoted for her witty, eccentric remarks. I especially like her observation about Oakland, California: "There is no there there." Is she right? I don't know -- I've never bothered to go looking for it.

About Ernest Hemmingway, she has been quoted making this devastatingly ironic remark: "He writes modern, but he smells medieval." The quote may be apocryphal, however, for I've not yet been able to find it confirmed anywhere.

Her most remarkable statement is one close to my heart: "I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences." Now, one might take this as pure irony, but I prefer to read it as Stein's ironic observation on her genuine enthusiasm for diagramming sentences -- an enthusiasm that I share.

I have a similar enthusiasm for reading manuals on style. Indeed, I might echo Stein and say: "I really do not know that anything has ever been more enthralling than reading Sheridan Baker's Practical Stylist."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Winter Moon

When the moon rose full from the hills,
It raised trees of the night:
Black trees,
Shadow trees,
Trees of burnt bone.
I thought of holocausts
And hands raised in supplication
Before the altar of an unknown god.
I thought of dead ones risen from the dust,
Multitudes waiting for sinews, and skin.
I saw each hold his lonely place.
I saw it was the world's untimely end.

H.J. Hodges

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Binary Oppositions: Good or Bad?

Until he was recently deconstructed by his own death (10/8/2004), Jaques Derrida worked assiduously for the deconstruction of binary oppositions.

What are are binary oppositions, and how are they to be deconstructed? According to the entry on deconstruction in Wikipedia:

"One typical procedure of deconstruction is its critique of binary oppositions. A central deconstructive argument holds that, in all the classic dualities of Western thought, one term is privileged or 'central' over the other . . . . Examples include: . . . presence over absence, . . . fullness over emptiness, meaning over meaninglessness, . . . life over death."

I could quibble about the strange construction "to be 'central' over" -- or I could edit it out, thereby deconstructing it and thus privileging "privilege over." But I understand what's meant here, so let it pass. Reading further:

"Derrida argues in Of Grammatology . . . that, in each such case, the first term is classically conceived as original, authentic, and superior, while the second is thought of as secondary, derivative, or even 'parasitic.'"

Okay, got it.

"These binary oppositions, and others of their form, he argues, must be deconstructed."

Why? The Wikipedia article doesn't immediately say why, but skimming further ahead, we find the implication that deconstruction will reveal "the true richness and complexity of the world."

Shouldn't this say "the true richness and complexity of the text"? Either way, who would oppose such a thing? Let's do it! So, how's it done?

"This deconstruction is effected in stages. First, Derrida suggests, the opposition must be inverted, and the second, traditionally subordinate term must be privileged."

Are these really two distinct steps? Doesn't inversion implicitly privilege the formerly subordinate term? Anyway, it sounds pretty easy, so let's invert the binary oppositions already cited: absence over presence, emptiness over fullness, meaninglessness over meaning, and death over life. Or nonbeing over being?

If everything has gone according to plan, then presence, fullness, meaning, and life should all be "secondary, derivative, or even 'parasitic'" with respect to absence, emptiness, meaninglessness, and death . . .

Hmmm . . . this doesn't quite seem to be happening. What about with nonbeing over being? Is there any way in which being could derive from nonbeing? Not according to the principle ex nihilo nihil fit (i.e., from nothing comes nothing). Except . . . if there were utterly nothing, absolutely total nonbeing, then this principle itself would not exist to prevent nonbeing from giving rise to being. In which case: ex nihilo res fit. From nothing comes something.

Hey, I think that I'm getting the hang of this deconstruction stuff. Let's see the score:

Being over Nonbeing: Bad
Nonbeing over being: Good

Conclusion: The second binary opposition of these two binary oppositions is the good binary opposition, but the first binary opposition of these two binary oppositions is the bad binary opposition.

"[T]he next project of deconstruction would be to develop concepts which fall under neither one term of these oppositions nor the other."

What?! Still more to do? Not me -- I've done enough. Let ex nihilo take care of this next project . . . .

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bookish Blogging: Ceci n'est pas une pipe . . . ou un cigare

I'm looking at the cover to my gritty copy of Umberto Eco's edited volume Interpretation and Overinterpretation and wondering what it means that Eco's shown smoking a cigarette.

Theologian Michael P. Foley might interpret this as indicative of "the appetitive part of . . . [Eco's] soul" -- unlike a cigar or pipe, which would signify the "spirited" or "rational" parts, respectively.

But that might be reading the wrong message into the cover's iconographic significance. More likely, it's simply an 'everyday rebellion' against political correctness.

Monday, May 02, 2005


In her daily English lesson, my daughter is currently reading The Hobbit. She isn't yet enjoying it so much, but because she wants to read Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (her interest having been piqued by the films), I've required her to first read The Hobbit.

Yesterday, she wanted to know why the ring turns people evil. That was getting ahead of the reading, but the question deserved an answer. So, I told her that the ring confers power on the one who possesses it and that people want power.

"Eventually," I told her, "the possessor of the ring becomes possessed by the ring."

"Why?" she asked.

"In the same way that we think that we possess things that may actually possess us," I explained -- which isn't precisely true in the story, but it was the best analogy that I could dredge up at the moment.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"Well," I said, "suppose that you want some toy really badly, so you work hard for it, save your money to buy it, and then keep it just for your own use and not let anyone else play with it. Suppose you play with it all the time and no longer play with your friends."

"But I don't do that," she objected.

"Right," I agreed. "but you can imagine it, can't you? And if you were like that, wouldn't the toy possess you?"

She seemed to see my point. I left it at that, but there'll be more explaining to do when she realizes that the ring has a magical power of possessing its owner, not just a psychological one, and that the word "possess" is itself ambiguous.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

I Can Fly!

But only briefly.

If -- as Douglas Adams assures us -- flying is simply a matter of throwing yourself at the ground . . . and missing, then my aim is too true.

Last night, as I was carrying my five-year-old son down the subway steps at the Korea University Station, my feet got tangled up, and I was pitched headlong down. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to clutch my son closer and allow my right arm to take the force of my, uh . . . flight, when we landed.

As my wife and daughter came running, I told them, "Look at En-Uk! See if he's okay!"

I worried that he might have gotten a concussion, but he seemed not to have hit his head very hard. I, however, felt so much pain in my right arm that I feared it had been broken. Apparently not, but this morning, I can't move it without pain, so I'm typing this post lefthanded.

Blogging -- as they say -- will be light.