Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference: Thursday

My nonexistence has been greatly exaggerated.

Somebody thinks that I don't exist. No, not here at the conference, where nobody is yet conflating me with the docetic Christ. Rather, it's somebody whom I've never met . . . but maybe that goes without saying. If I had met him, he'd have to believe in my existence, right?

Jeffrey Gibson informs me that a certain Geoff Hudson has been emailing various scholars to alert them to the 'fact' that I am actually an alias for Gibson.

I won't waste my time trying to prove Mr. Hudson wrong. But if you various scholars out there are willing to attest to my existence as the genuine Horace Jeffery Hodges attending this SBL Conference in Singapore . . . well, have at it.

I don't have much time for blogging today. I gave my presentation yesterday (Wednesday) on nourishment in John's Gospel and Gnostic texts. The program title had me giving the paper titled as follows:

"Earthly versus Heavenly Nourishment in John's Gospel"

That's because I told them that I would be doing so. By the time that I reached Singapore, the title had transfigured into:

"Gift-Giving Across the Sacred-Profane Divide: A Maussian Analysis of Heavenly Versus Earthly Food in Gnosticism and John's Gospel"

The content remained the same, and for those interested, an earlier, online version can be found here on Felix Just's website.

Today (Thursday), I presented my paper on Mark:

"Jesus as the Holy One of God: The Healing of the Zavah in Mark 5:24b-34"

In the same program, Mark Cheeseman (Whitley College) and Kim Huat Tan (Trinity Theological College) presented papers related to mine. All three of us were concerned with Jesus's role as the Holy One of God, albeit with different emphases.

Tan's paper, "Exorcism and Empire in Mark," an excellent thought-provoker, offered a political reading of Mark that argued on the basis of the Gerasene story for a political reading of this gospel. Jesus is presented as bringing political liberation from Rome but not revolt, for the demons destroy themselves by rushing into the waters -- thus will Rome destroy itself. Tan, incidentally, wasn't offering a reductionist hermeneutic. He added -- when I asked him -- that he reads Mark as really speaking about actual demon possession and not using mere code words intended for deciphering by those in the know.

Cheeseman's paper, "Priestly Christology in the Cleansing of the Leper (Mark 1:40-45)," was also quite good. He argued that Jesus is presented as fully purifying the leper in Mark 1:40-45. Jesus's order to the healed and purified leper that he go to the priest to offer the ritual sacrifices as commanded by Moses should be followed by this meaning of "eis marturion autois":

"as a testimony against them"

Usually, this is taken to mean "as a testimony to them" -- as though Jesus were setting an approving seal on the Levitical regulations. Cheeseman thinks that this reading is not supported by the use of "eis marturion autois" in the rest of Mark's Gospel.

Well, I can only report schematically, for I have to run to catch the next session.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference: Wednesday

First, a reminder: today may be Wednesday, but I'll be blogging on yesterday's material.

Actually, I'll be blogging only on yesterday evening's presentation by Harold Attridge, "Johannine Christians: A Distinct Type?"

Held at the chapel of Trinity Theological College, as was Clines's talk, it took place from 8:00 to 9:30 -- though some of that time was taken with other things, including a gift from TTC to Attridge. This is a tradition in Asia, it seems, for the same sort of thing occurs in Korea.

The talk was very good. I didn't take extensive notes, but perhaps the other bloggers will fill you in on more details. Attridge argued that over the years, scholars have developed four models of Johannine Christianity. Here's a schematic outline of these four 'types':

1. Gnostic:

Associated with Bultmann, as everyone knows, this typology saw Johannine Christianity as dependent upon a pre-Christian Gnosticism that provided the dialogues of a revealer-redeemer figure that the fourth evangelist supposedly plagiarized for his own text. (Well, Attridge didn't call it plagiarism, but you know how I feel about copying other people's work . . .) This view hasn't fared too well, for most scholars think that there was no pre-Christian Gnosis . . . or at least that the evidence for it is lacking.

2. Qumranian:

Rather than Gnosticism, Qumranian Judaism stands behind Johannine Christianity as a direct link. Some Essenes who left Qumran entered into a Christian tradition that became the Johannine one and influenced it in its dualism of light and dark, two spirits, and so on. This view of John emphasized its Jewishness. Again, despite the parallels between Johannine Christianity and Qumranian Judaism, most scholars don't see enough evidence to support a link -- though scholars do agree that the parallels show John to be profoundly Jewish.

3. Sectarian:

Johannine Christianity developed from a small Judean group of Jewish Christians. Into this group came an influx of Samaritans. With a rising Christology (and, I presume, the ethnic issue) came expulsion of the Johannine group from the synagogue. As a consequence of this expulsion began the Johannine process of defining itself over against Judaism and then over against other Christians. This view sees Johannine Christianity as having been on a trajectory towards various non-orthodox Christianities of the second century C.E. Again, the evidence does not support this very clearly, for the orthodox Christians seem to have had no trouble using John, whereas the non-orthodox had to deny certain parts before making use of the Johannine text or otherwise engaging with it.

4. Dramatic:

Johannine Christians used the literary medium of contemporary drama to guide their construction of the fourth gospel -- which purportedly explains such things as the bump that comes at the end of chapter 14, which has Jesus saying "Arise, let us go from here." It's a bump -- as everyone knows -- because Jesus and the disciples manifestly do not go anywhere but remain where they are until the first verse of chapter 18, where the texts tells us, "Having said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples." In between comes a lot of discourse, and this -- so say the scholars of ancient drama -- is quite the norm in dramatic texts.

Attridge expressed some support for the general approach of this fourth scholarly position because of its ability to resolve some of the aporias like the 'bump' just mentioned.

He also noted something that he had brought up in his transition from type three to type four, namely, a similarity between Johannine Christianity and Stoicism.

Stoicism presents a fatalistic cosmos that nevertheless leaves room for human freedom. Never mind whether or not this view is consistent -- it's there in Stoicism. The freedom lies in a human being's ability to either assent or withhold assent to the fated conditions in which one finds oneself (a bit like Nietzsche's eternal recurrence, to which one can freely assent . . . or not assent).

Similarly, Johannine Christianity presents a predestinarian theology that nevertheless leaves room for humans to freely choose belief or disbelief. Again, never mind whether or not this view is consistent -- it's there in John . . . maybe.

Belief, according to Attridge, has the functional equivalence in Johannine Christianity to assent in Stoicism.

This was intriguing, so I posed my question:

"Thank you for a stimulating presentation. My question concerns the parallel to Stoicism that you see in Johannine Christianity. In Stoicism, as you noted, despite the fatalism of its system, every human being has the innate power to assent of deny assent to the conditions that fate has wrought. Now, I presume that this power stems from the all-pervading logos that informs human reason and allows one to make choices. In Johannine Christianity, you find that belief has the functional equivalence to Stoicism's assent. If so, what gives human beings this power, according to Johannine views? Does every human have this power? If not, we'd be right back to an inexorable predestination, right?"

Attridge first corrected my assumption, explaining that the all-pervading logos doesn't provide humans with freedom. Rather, the Stoics held that each human being has a "hegemonikon" within that enables it to make free decisions of assent or denial of assent.

(Sounds rather ad hoc of the Stoics to put this hegemonikon into their system.)

As for the Johannine Christians, Attridge pleaded ignorance as to what would parallel the hegemonikon but noted that the Johannine text does assert the reality of human freedom to choose to believe.

That set the gears of my own little hegemonikon in motion. If anything in John might be inherent in all human beings and also enable them to make free decisions, it might be light. John 1:9 refers to the light that enlightens all human beings, and I wonder if this could be an anthropological concept in addition to its theological meaning (and its cosmic one). After the session was over, I approached Attridge and posed this questions. His reply: a resounding . . . maybe. Maybe not. Worth looking into.

Any ideas from those of you reading this stuff?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference: Tuesday

Since there are many sessions to attend and little time to report on them, I've decided that I'll only blog on the few that really interest me.

Yesterday evening at 8:00 in the chapel of Trinity Theological College, I and over 100 other people heard David Clines, of the University of Sheffield, give a talk on the book of Job titled "Job's God: A Surfeit of Theologies."

Provocative lecture.

Clines first made the conventional point that Job's three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all offer to Job a theology of retribution and differ only in their evaluation of the degree of Job's sinfulness.

Clines then noted that Elihu, an interloper in this discussion, agrees with the retribution theology but argues that it is insufficient and that one must recognize that God takes an active concern for his creation in all of its parts.

Clines followed this view of Elihu with Job's own view, which is similar to Elihu's but turns it on its head: God is a monster. He concerns himself with the affairs of humans to catch them in the smallest misstep so that he can torment them, even torture them, yet he allows the wicked to do as they will without charging them with any wrong.

Clines then turned to God's own theology . . . at least as presented by the Yahweh-character in Job. This God -- according to Clines -- is a designer God who takes an active role in creating the world in all of its concrete details but doesn't especially care for human beings more than other creatures, nor is he particularly concerned with enforcing justice in the human realm. Clines added that this is "a theology of concrete particulars, not of abstractions, and thus not the sort of language that one finds in Aquinas, Calvin, or even sometimes elsewhere in the Bible and therefore not a language that takes interest in expressing a larger purpose that could serve as comfort for Job in his suffering." Clines took this to be the theology of the author (not to be conflated with the narrator).

Then came the time for questions.

Everyone was quiet, thoughtful (I suppose), so I asked the first question:

"Interesting presentation," I began. "You argue that this is a theology of 'concrete particulars,' not abstractions, and not the language of Aquinas, Calvin, or others. Yet, 'design' is an abstract word that comes from the mouth of God in Job 38:2, so couldn't God's own theology be intended to convince Job of his ignorance of God's larger intentions, given Job's ignorance of the particular details of creation? Because -- and this is the central question to pose, I think -- if God is unconcerned with mankind, why does he bother to answer Job? Does God's reply to Job really imply a lack of concern with justice. Doesn't God imply -- or leave possible -- a larger purpose, one including concern for human beings, for justice? The answer, merely by virtue of being an 'answer,' suggests concern. Couldn't the consolation that Job finds in Job 42:2-6 -- which you 'hear' as Job's ironically expressed despair -- couldn't this consolation be genuine and come from the fact that God does speak to Job, which demonstrates his concern even as he refuses to reveal the overall design that Job's ignorant words obscure?"

Clines conceded that "design" is an abstract term, but he didn't think that this detracted from his larger point about God as a divinity concerned with concrete particulars, not with overarching purpose congenial to mankind.

I'm not persuaded by Clines, but what do I know?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference

I arrived in Singapore yesterday without a serious hitch but didn't manage to reach the registration site in the Meritus Mandarin Hotel until fifteen past four in the afternoon, precisely fifteen minutes too late to get my materials for the Society of Biblical Literature's International Conference.

These, I picked up early this Monday morning. (But where's the AAR?)

The Tsuanmi triggered by December 26th's massive undersea earthquake off the eastern coast of Banda Aceh missed Singapore, but the destruction is on everyone's mind here and has been integrated into the conference's themes. Consequently, there are a fair number of talks on the book of Job as theodicy. Other talks focus on distinctly different aspects of Job. Yesterday's opening convocation, for instance, featured an evening presentation by C. L. Seow, of Princeton Theological University, on "Job's Curse."

My Hebrew skills were just barely good enough to follow the ambiguities that Seow was pointing out in the text of Job, but I understood his main point, namely, that the character Job is perhaps being portrayed as doing something more disturbing than cursing the day of his birth. He may, more broadly, be cursing the day of creation itself.

Rather startling, if this is the case, for Job doesn't seem to incur any special disfavor with God for cursing God's creation. It might, however, explain why God 'defends' himself later in Job by speaking about the things that he has created and plaguing Job with such rhetorical questions as "Where were you when I made the . . . ?" (Leviathan, Behemoth, whatever . . . you fill in the blank.)

Anyway, this morning after obtaining my SBL materials, I attended several talks in the Greco-Roman World Section.

Michael Tilly, of Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz spoke in German about "Die griechische Bibeluebersetzung als Zeugnis der Kulturellen Begegnung," which translates as "Greek Bible Translation as Witness to Cultural Encounter." His talk was on the not-too-surprising point that the Hellenistic cultural context shaped the Septuagint translation but that the Hebrew original also shaped the style of translation, which was not 'normal' Greek. I'm probably not doing Tilly justice since my German-listening skills are a bit rusty.

Wen Hua Shi, of the University of Durham, England spoke about "The Crucifixion of Jesus and 'Noble Death,' with Special Reference to the Death of Socrates and the Maccabean Martyrdom." We know about some of this from Jerome H. Neyrey's work. Shi's intention was to contrast Paul's understanding in 1 Corinthians 1.23 of the crucifixion as an ignoble death with, for example, Plato's presentation of the execution of Socrates as a noble death. In itself, this isn't especially surprising either, but she went on to make the claim that the early Christians were aware of the contrast.

Following Shi's presentation was a talk by Marco Frenschkowski, of the University of Duisberg, Germany (though I believe that the presider mentioned that he had moved to another institution). Frenschkowski spoke on "Gender Studies an Ancient Magic." His basic point was that while we find presentations in ancient literary texts (especially novels) of female 'witches' practicing magic by casting spells, we don't find much evidence in magical texts for the existence of female witches. This raises a double-edged question: did many female witches actually exist or did their presence in ancient literary texts act as a form of gender construction?

Frenschkowski admitted to not knowing about the answer to the former but held that the answer to the latter would be "yes" regardless of the existence of witches. So, the question is not quite either/or.

What intrigued me, however, was Frenschkowski's remark that ancient magical spells very often begin with an appeal to the power responsible for the creation of the cosmos.

I was interested because Seow in his talk on "Job's Curse" had -- as noted above -- spoken about Job cursing the day of creation. In light of Frenschkowski's presentation, I have to wonder if Job isn't being presented as performing magic. It is a curse, after all, and what is a curse but a type of magic? Black magic, even.

I posed this as a question, and Frenschkowski mused on it but didn't seem to give it too much weight . . . so I won't either.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Heading for Singapore's AAR/SBL Conference

I'm exhibiting the gypsy aspect of my character today as I head for Singapore to present two papers at the annual International Conference of the AAR/SBL .

For those wondering, these two acronyms AAR and SBL stand for American Academy of Religion and "Society of Biblical Literature," respectively.

I assume that Singapore has good internet connections, but I hope that blogging on isn't too expensive. If afforable blogging is possible, I intend to blog from there and report on things that interest me.

I might even blog on the conference itself.

But knowing me -- and I've known me for a long time -- I'm likely to blog on humorous, exotic, or interstitial matters.

Speaking of things interstitial, I might take some time off to tour The Interstitial Library.

You say that you've never heard of such a thing? Obviously, you've never read Jorge Luis Borges. Not that he ever explicitly mentions it . . . but it's there in his Library of Babel if you look hard enough.

But I'm gettiing off topic. See you from Singapore.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

An old drinking friend . . . makes good.

Not all of my childhood acquaintances ended up like Al. Most survived. Some have even prospered.

One of my best childhood friends was Bruce Cochran, a fellow member of our Dairy Products Team for Salem High School's local chapter of the Future Farmers of America -- to which we both belonged back in our "Honky Cat" days.

One of our tasks was to judge the condition of that part of the milking machine that fits onto a cow's teats.

Not, of course, while it was still on the teats.

We were a proper, upstanding team, not some lowlife sort. Admittedly, we did also have the duty of judging milk in various stages of corruption . . . but we kept ourselves pure (except for the occasional foray into testing such 'wines' as Boones Farm Strawberry Hill).

Moreover, we had the great good pleasure of tasting exotic cheeses . . . even something labeled "Edam/Gouda" that we called "damn good" cheese. (Later, much later, I learned that "Edam" and "Gouda" are actually two distinct if related cheeses.)

We became good enough at judging dairy products to qualify for the State Competition in Fayetteville, where we were treated to a fine, formal dinner at the University of Arkansas. That meal taught us hicks that reward comes for hard work and also that a crystal wine glass rubbed along its brim by a moistened finger will produce a fine, high-pitched whine (much to the consternation of our hosts).

Maybe all of that milk, cheese, and even occasional 'wine' tasting paid off for Bruce, for he's now enjoying success as a food and wine expert in Arkansas.

Yes, Arkansas. Try not to be too surprised.

Bruce has done quite well for a fellow-Ozarker -- and even seems to be developing something of a national, indeed international reputation for his wine and food expertise. Here is what his Florentine friend Joe Pascale -- a fellow wine expert -- says about him:

"Let me tell you a little more about Mr. Cochran. I could say that this Little Rock native is one of the -- if not the leading wine authority in Arkansas. But honestly, that does not do him justice. Bruce is one of the most knowledgeable individuals on wine, food, and travel I've ever met. He has conducted wine classes, dinners, and trips for twenty years. Since 1978, Bruce has worked in the wine trade as a retailer, wholesaler, and importer -- all three levels of the chain between the wine and spirits producers and the consumers. He continues his roles as a writer on wine, food and travel, a wine and food teacher, and group trip organizer. Throughout his career, he has been published and quoted in various magazines and newspapers, has conducted over 1,500 wine events, and has organized group trips to Italy, Chile, Argentina, and France."

That's from Joe Pascale on Bruce. From what Bruce himself has told me, he has even done some wine touring in Russia -- though not recently, perhaps. Anyway, Bruce and Joe conduct summer wine tours together in Italy: "Driving Italy with Bruce and Joe." Here -- in Bruce's words -- is what they promised to do for this past Spring of 2005:

"My partner Joe Pascale lives in Florence, and he and I will each drive a van. Our small group (no more than eight people) will be mobile, and able to visit restaurants and other places that cannot accommodate large groups. The idea is to have a more personal experience than a large tour bus, but more convenient than driving yourself, poring over road maps, looking for parking, etc. If you go with us you'll stay where we stay, eat where we eat, and visit the towns that we enjoy most. You'll get to spend time with some of my Italian friends, and stroll the cobble stoned streets of some of Italy's loveliest towns and villages. With this itinerary you won't run into a lot of other American tourists!"

I like the promise of avoiding the typical itinerary of "American tourists." For how they kept their promise, see Bruce's "Italy Trip Report Spring 2005." Here's a sample:

"Arriving in Parma, the rain persisted, and I started to worry a little. For one thing, I love the restaurant at the hotel we use in Parma, but the chef was in another part of the country cooking at a chef’s event. But, good food isn’t hard to find in that town, or that whole region, which is known even to the Italians as having the best chefs. Isabella at our hotel had long recommended to me a nearby restaurant, so I sent in advance a list of some of the local dishes that I hoped could be prepared, and of course it was no problem. It turned out to be a fine dinner. Walking four blocks in a light rain may or may not have sharpened our appetites, but the food was good and plentiful. The staff didn’t speak much English, which to me says local cuisine and not touristy fare."

Read on for a meal that'll whet your appetite. It all sounds like good 'epicurean' fun. And Bruce doesn't limit himself to the Old Continent. He also heads south of Arkansas, way south:

"Also, planning now for February 2006--repeating one of my favorite trips, to Chile and Argentina. Includes a drive over the Andes!"

And here I was, thinking that I was the gypsy! Bruce, you've come a long way and done well.

(And to think that it all started long ago with us as teenagers sipping such 'wines' as the insipid Boones Farm Strawberry Hill selection . . .)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Walter Kohn's Rabbinical Lesson

I went yesterday to hear Walter Kohn give the fourth lecture in Korea University's Nobel Laureate Lecture Series. He had altered the topic of his talk, switching from the original "Electronic Structure of Matter -- Wave Functions and Density Functionals." The title remained the same, but only the first half of the talk dealt with his Nobel-Prize-winning achievements. In the second half, he presented his views on energy resources for the future.

His brief account of density-functional theory clarified some things that I hadn't understood before (as readers will recall). Schroedinger came first. His 1926 equation enabled scientists to describe the electronic structure of matter, whether atoms, molecules, solids, liquids, or plasmas, but it did not work well with systems of more than 10 to 20 atoms.

Kohn's work improved on this by concentrating on the probability density distribution of electrons in a system in a way that allowed description of far larger systems of up to 500 to 1000 atoms.

How did he do this? I still haven't gotten that far.

But he remarked that his basic idea was rather simple and that it had so surprised him by its accuracy when he first tested it that he was certain that it must be wrong. Further empirical tests convinced him that it was right, and he recalls this confirmation as one of the great exhilirating moments of his scientific career.

Then, he talked about the future, first quoting Niels Bohr, whom he had known personally (or so I understood):

"Prediction is a very tricky thing, especially when it concerns the future."

Nice quote. Not many people caught the humor, but Kohn had anticipated that in a foreign audience and didn't bother to wait for laughter.

Instead, he went on with his talk about the future, choosing a date of about 50 years from now for purposes of illustration, extrapolating population growth, economic development, energy needs, and energy sources. The situation sounded pretty dire, but he believes that if we start now, we can solve the problem of finding renewable energy sources that don't pollute.

His favored solution is solar power.

Now, I've been rather skeptical of solar's potential given that one has to blanket so much land with solar receptors in order to generate enough electricity to meet demand. Kohn, however, did make the crucial, if obvious point that the energy coming from the sun is immense, arrives constantly, and will never run out . . . until the heat death of the universe of something similar.

Then, he gave a rabbinical lesson. About 2000 years ago, there was a young farm worker in the Holy Land who was moving about the land to find work. He passed an old man planting an olive tree.

"Grandfather," he called out, "why are you planting that tree? It won't bear fruit for many years."

"All the more reason to plant now," replied the old man.

And he continued his work. Like Kohn himself.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

We are all cyborgs now?

Donna J. Haraway, professor of science studies, women's studies, and the history of consciousness (yeah, I know) at the University of California, Santa Cruz wrote an essay in 1985 titled "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." In that essay, she made the following provocative and frequenltly quoted statement:

"We are all cyborgs now"

I read this and her essay around the time of its publication while I was a history of science student at Berkeley. The essay has been republished in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).

I am reminded of Haraway's remark about us all being cyborgs now because in the June 20 issue of The New York Times, I read this:

"For people who see Cameron Clapp for the first time, he is an object of wonderment: a young man walking and talking tall on shiny robotic legs."

If you have registration to the Times (and it's free), then take a look at the photos and multimedia images to see the future. Or go directly to Cameron Clapp's own website to see what this Cyborg has to say for himself.

Or check out what 'concept crunchers' like me think. Here's what one expert, Sherry Turkle, the director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says about our emerging cyborg consciousness:

"There is a kind of cyborg consciousness, a fluidity at the boundaries of what is flesh and what is machine, that has happened behind our backs. . . . The notion that your leg is a machine part and it is exposed, that it is an enhancement, is becoming comfortable in the sense that it can be made a part of you."

She's referring to people like Cameron Clapp, with his "shiny robotic legs," but she could easily be referring to a wide range of cyborgian sorts, from the man Michael Chorost with a computer in his brain to any one of us who just happens to wear contact lenses.

There are a lot of us cyborgs lumbering around out there, so watch out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"to live outside the law, you must be honest"

From my students, I get a lot of internet plagiarism -- mostly due to ignorance of proper methods of citation, I hasten to add (thus my hastening dash). Sometimes, however, I encounter premeditated theft of internet material.

One time, a student wrote his own introductory and concluding paragraphs, then inserted six paragraphs from Wikipedia and handed in the 'essay' as his own work. When I confronted him with the incontestable evidence of his plagiarism, he contested it anyway, claiming that the work was his own because he had written the introduction and conclusion before adding the long 'quote' in between as his 'research.' He wanted to maintain that his only error was in neglecting to add a footnote.

He had a point.

"Okay, add a footnote," I told him. "Then, you can get an honest F."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kim Jong-il wants to be your friend . . .

The Marmot has an interesting post on North Korea's offer of 'friendship' with the United States. He cites an article via Reuters on this intriguing offer. Last Friday, the South's Unification Minister Chung Dong-young met Kim Jong-il in the North's capital, Pyongyang. Here's what Chung is said to have reported back to South Korean President Roh during a cabinet meeting:

1. That the North is ready to end its boycott of the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons if the U.S. shows it respect.

2. That the North will give up all of its nuclear missiles if it establishes diplomatic ties with the U.S. and the U.S. becomes an ally (literally, ubang, either "ally" or "friendly nation" as The Marmot notes).

These are actually two, quite different positions. The first reflects something that the North has been saying for the past two weeks. It's an offer to return to where we were one year ago, but conditional upon U.S. showing the North some 'respect.' This is Kim Jong-il as Rodney Dangerfield -- always in need of respect but never getting any. Or not enough. "Just a little bit more, please."

The second position is the far more intriguing one, for it says something new. Perhaps not entirely new. Recall that after visiting the North and meeting with Kim Jong-il in 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung reported ("Defending the troops," Washington Times, June 28, 2000) that Kim Jong-il "showed understanding" and grasped the South's "viewpoint of the geopolitical situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula," namely, that the Americans were stationed to "keep stability" by preventing "Japan and China from engaging in efforts to gain hegemony in the region."

If Kim Jong-il was serious then and is serious now, then he shows realistic geopolitical understanding of the peninsula's difficult position. And he knows that the North's position is even more difficult, even -- in the Marmot's singular 'sports' metaphor -- painful:

"[T]he Chinese have his balls in a vice grip that they might eventually find it in their interests to use."

Concerning this allusion to Kim Jong-il's impaired golf game (now we really know why he played only one time), The Marmot links to a Selig Harrison article ("Getting Around Pyongyang's Hard-Liners," Washington Post, June 10, 2005) in which a couple of relevant points are made:

"It is particularly galling to North Korean leaders that the United States, oblivious to the sensitivity of Chinese-Korean relations throughout history, is attempting to apply pressure through China and to use it as a diplomatic intermediary. 'This is not the 19th century,' one North Korean official commented, an allusion to the servile posture of Korean monarchs toward China during the closing decades of the Yi dynasty, which provoked a strong nationalist reaction. The Kim regime consistently appeals to Korean national pride and has sought friendship with the United States in part as an offset to excessive dependence on its giant neighbor."

I've also thought that the U.S. reliance on China in this way has been a mistake because it confers legitimacy upon China's influence over North Korea. China has legitimate interests in what happens on the peninsula, but the U.S. should not be in the business of increasing China's power over North Korea.

So . . . it seems to me that that U.S. should sound Kim Jong-il out on this offer of 'friendship,' see if he's serious.

But don't expect too much friendship. Perhaps the North just wants to play the role of 'balancer' in Northeast Asia.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Langland's Universal Salvation

The 14th-century Medieval poet William Langland presents an intriguing argument for universal salvation in Piers Plowman, Passus 18.399:

18.399 For I were an unkynde kyng but I my kyn helpe.

In modern English:

18.399 Because I would be an unkind king if I did not help my kin.

The context makes clear that by virtue of the incarnation, all mankind is kin of Christ the King, and this verse emphasizes that Christ is bound by the bonds of kinship to save all of his kin from the flames of hell.

The argument follows not from prooftexting the Bible but from an appeal that resonates all the way back to the 8th-century text of Beowulf 2594 ff:

2594 . . . [Beowulf has] cruelly suffered,
2595 encircled in fire . . .

. . . [Many warriors abandoned Beowulf, but] . . .

2599 . . . in one of them surged
2600 his heart with sorrows; kinship can never
2601 aught be altered, in him who thinks properly.

Beowulf, struggling with the malicious dragon that has attacked his realm, is engulfed in the horrific flames from its mouth and stands in mortal danger. His kinsman, one of those watching the battle, cannot endure to see him suffer and thus joins in the struggle in an attempt to save Beowulf from the dragon's flames (in the lines that follow 2601).

These two passages in conjunction (given their textual contexts) show that the old Anglo-Saxon views on kinship and its bonds held on quite long among the English. One thing has altered, however. Langland extends kinship to all mankind, something the older, tribal-based Anglo-Saxons wouldn't have done, and this extension, particularly in its link to the incarnation, comes into English thinking only from Christianity.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pavel Litvinov gets a phone call . . .

When I was living in Germany, I joined Amnesty International and took part in their letter-writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience. I thought, and still think, that the organization does a lot of good in the world.

Recently, Amnesty's Secretary General, Irene Kahn, made the remark in a report on 2005 that the America's Guantánamo Bay detention camp has become "the gulag of our times."

The comparison has received a lot of criticism.

Even The Washington Post, which is on record as having criticized prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, spoke out against Kahn's statement:

"[W]e draw the line at the use of the word 'gulag' or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union. Guantanamo Bay is an ad hoc creation, designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime. Abuses there . . . have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages through which more than 20 million people passed during Stalin's lifetime and whose existence was not acknowledged until after his death."

Amnesty International, however, has not backed down. Quite the opposite, the organization has attempted to persuade gulag survivors to support Kahn's remark. Pavel Litvinov tells of receiving a phone call:

"Several days ago I received a telephone call from an old friend who is a longtime Amnesty International staffer. He asked me whether I, as a former Soviet 'prisoner of conscience' adopted by Amnesty, would support the statement by Amnesty's executive director, Irene Khan, that the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba is the 'gulag of our time.'"

Litvinov's response was exemplary: "Don't you think that there's an enormous difference?"

I can't say the same for his old friend's reply: "Sure, but after all, it attracts attention to the problem of Guantanamo detainees."

This reply is typical of the current Left's cynical idealism.

* * *

Incidentally, I should set something straight. Litvinov argues that:

"[B]y using hyperbole and muddling the difference between repressive regimes and the imperfections of democracy, Amnesty's spokesmen put its authority at risk. U.S. human rights violations seem almost trifling in comparison with those committed by Cuba, South Korea, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia."

I agree with Litvinov's point, but he has almost certainly made a slip of the pen in his inclusion of South Korea. He surely meant North Korea.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Poetry Break: Vampire

Batman Begins is now showing, maybe even here in Korea. I haven't yet seen it, but I've just watched a trailer for the film, and it looks good.

The critical reviews and popular response are agreed: It's the one.

So in honor of that Dark Knight with ice in his veins, here's an old poem of mine:


Fine frost that laces window panes,
the icy-blooded vampire’s veins;
seductive, sensual spoor of death,
its frozen, freezing undead breath;
one cold, controlled, alluring art,
its solitary lover’s heart.

Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1992

Friday, June 17, 2005

Walter Kohn and Density-Functional Theory

I have just attempted, and failed, to read Walter Kohn's Nobel Lecture: "Electronic Structure of Matter -- Wave Functions and Density Functionals" (pdf). I didn't learn the chemistry lesson, but I did learn another lesson in humility.

Well . . . I did also manage to uncover an error in the lecture. Page 221 is duplicated. I've contacted the Nobel Prize organization to alert them to this egregious flaw, and I expect soon to be awarded my own Nobel Prize for Proofreading.

But I still don't understand much about Density-Functional Theory, which I promised to get back to you on. Let me supply some weblinks that might be of use to those of you with greater intellectual capacity than I have (which is likely a large number).

Here's a nice site by Wilfried Gerhard Aulbur, professor of physics at Ohio State University. By 'nice,' I mean that it has some colorful pictures and color-coded graphs and tables. For those who can understand such things, this nice site also provides an "overview over the basic principles of DFT and some neat applications of DFT to real life problems." Or so says Professor Aulbur on the mother site, where he also tells us:

"Density functional theory is an extremely successful approach for the description of ground state properties of metals, semiconductors, and insulators. The success of density functional theory (DFT) not only encompasses standard bulk materials but also complex materials such as proteins and carbon nanotubes."

Well, it sounds very practical, as well as successful. And all of this is based on a main idea:

"The main idea of DFT is to describe an interacting system of fermions via its density and not via its many-body wave function. For N electrons in a solid, which obey the Pauli principle and repulse each other via the Coulomb potential, this means that the basic variable of the system depends only on three -- the spatial coordinates x, y, and z -- rather than 3*N degrees of freedom."

As Zippy the Pinhead would say, "Are we there yet?"

Well, this pinhead isn't. First, I need to know what a "ground state" is in order to understand what "ground state properties" means. I don't think that it refers to the state of coffee beans when I finish pulverizing them for brewing each morning. I think that it must refer to physics or chemistry. So . . . let's see Wikipedia's entry:

"In physics, the ground state of a quantum mechanical system is its lowest-energy state."

Unfortunately, this doesn't say much to me, for I would imagine that the lowest-energy state of a system is at absolute zero, but that doesn't seem to fit this context. Proteins? Carbon nanotubules? Do proteins even exist near absolute zero? Do carbon nanotubules?

Well, this hasn't gotten me very far. But at least, I know what fermions are. That is, I've seen the word before and know that it refers to a sort of subatomic particle. That's not really knowing, though, is it? Back to Wikipedia, this time on fermions:

"Fermions . . . are particles which form totally-antisymmetric composite quantum states. As a result, they are subject to the Pauli exclusion principle and obey Fermi-Dirac statistics. The spin-statistics theorem states that fermions have half-integer spin. One possible way of visualizing spin is that particles with a 1/2 spin, i.e. fermions have to be rotated by two full rotations to return them to their initial state."

This is about to spin out of control. Following up these multiple, branching links could lead to infinity -- and beyond! But then comes some information to bring us back to our ground state:

"All elementary particles are either fermions or bosons. Composite particles composed of fermions may be either bosons (such as mesons) or fermions (such as baryons) depending on their total spin. The elementary particles which make up matter are fermions, belonging to either the quarks (which form protons and neutrons) or the leptons (such as electrons). The Pauli exclusion of fermions is responsible for the stability of the electron shells of atoms, making complex chemistry possible. It also allows the stability of degenerate matter under extreme pressures."

Uh . . . wait a minute. What did that say? "Composite particles composed of fermions may be either bosons (such as mesons) or fermions (such as baryons)." This says that fermions make up bosons and fermions. Assuming that this is no error, then the term "fermion" is ambiguous between elementary particle and composite particle.

Look, I'm going to leave the rest of this to you folks out there in cyberland. If anyone with expertise wants to post a comment clarifying this fermion matter and exposing me for the density-dysfunctional thickhead that I am, please do so.

Oh, and please explain density-functional theory while you're at it.

Meanwhile, I intend to look into this "degenerate matter." It sounds almost Gnostic . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Kissinger on China's Rise

In a June 13th column for the Washington Post, "China: Containment Won't Work," Henry Kissinger argues against the views of the two Roberts: Robert Kagan and Robert Kaplan.

He also dismisses one of my analogies:

"China's emerging role is often compared to that of imperial Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, the implication being that a strategic confrontation is inevitable and that the United States had best prepare for it. That assumption is as dangerous as it is wrong."

I hadn't gone quite so far as to suggest that "strategic confrontation is inevitable," so Kissinger isn't quite fair to me on this point.

(Yes, I know Kissinger doesn't know me from a hole in the ground.)

Despite the 'unfairness,' let's look at more of Kissinger's argument:

"The European system of the 19th century assumed that its major powers would, in the end, vindicate their interests by force. Each nation thought that a war would be short and that, at its end, its strategic position would have improved."


"Only the reckless could make such calculations in a globalized world of nuclear weapons. War between major powers would be a catastrophe for all participants; there would be no winners; the task of reconstruction would dwarf the causes of the conflict. Which leader who entered World War I so insouciantly in 1914 would not have recoiled had he been able to imagine the world at its end in 1918?"

Agreed, and let's hope that neither China nor the United States are reckless. But even the careful can miscalculate when major interests are at stake. In the Cold War, the desire to avoid a major hot war between the U.S. and Soviet Union didn't prevent either from engaging in small hot wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan, respectively. And what was intended as a small hot war can flare up into a large-scale conflagration if crucial national interests become involved.

Nevertheless, Kissinger is right to emphasize the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons in preventing a hot war between major powers with atomic bombs in their arsenals.

Kissinger also assures us that we need not worry about any militant Chinese imperialism:

"Military imperialism is not the Chinese style. Clausewitz, the leading Western strategic theoretician, addresses the preparation and conduct of a central battle. Sun Tzu, his Chinese counterpart, focuses on the psychological weakening of the adversary. China seeks its objectives by careful study, patience and the accumulation of nuances -- only rarely does China risk a winner-take-all showdown."

I agree that China's usual approach is one of "careful study, patience and the accumulation of nuances," but would these characterize China's 1979 invasion of Vietnam or its earlier, 1949 invasion and military occupation of Tibet? The latter even looks to my eye to be an instance of military imperialism.

Kissinger distinguishes between Russian and Chinese cases:

"It is unwise to substitute China for the Soviet Union in our thinking and to apply to it the policy of military containment of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was heir to an imperialist tradition, which, between Peter the Great and the end of World War II, projected Russia from the region around Moscow to the center of Europe. The Chinese state in its present dimensions has existed substantially for 2,000 years. The Russian empire was governed by force; the Chinese empire by cultural conformity with substantial force in the background."

Kissinger does recognize that China has been (is?) an empire, but he argues that it is not an expansionist one, unlike Russia was. I would agree that China is -- generally -- not an aggressively expansionist imperial power, but it has been expansionist. In the late 19th century, it was still attempting to increase its imperial presence in Korea and went to war with Japan in 1894 over control of Korea.

It lost that war, but the 1950 Korean War brought China back into the peninsula. A decade later, it signed the 1961 China-North Korea Friendship Treaty, which still commits China to supporting North Korea with over 50,000 ground troops "if North Korea is cornered as a result of an invasion by the United States and South Korea." While I don't expect an imminent invasion of the North by either the US or South Korea, what would happen if North Korea began to collapse?

In such a situation, cool heads can heat up, and even cold calculations might have to figure on incommensurable interests.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Walter Kohn: Nobel Laureate Lecture Series IV

On Thursday, June 23, at 2:00 p.m., at Inchon Memorial Hall, Walter Kohn will deliver the fourth lecture in Korea University's Nobel Laureate Lecture Series.

For those interested in finding out more about Professor Kohn, see the Nobel Prize site on the chemistry prize for 1998. As with previous speakers, we find there links to his Autobiography, his Nobel Lecture, an Interview with him, an image of his Nobel Diploma, a Prize Award Photo of him accepting the award, and Other Resources, namely, links to Walter Kohn’s page at the University of California, Santa Barbara and to an interview on Face2Face with Walter Kohn from The Vega Science Trust, by Tony Cheetham and John Perdew.

From Kohn's autobiographical remarks about his age in 1998, I calculate that he's now about 82 years old. The black-and-white photo at the Nobel Prize site, showing a Kohn of about 60, makes him look the very image of a conventional 1950s-era scientist: high forehead, thick-rimmed glasses, and square-jawed rectitude. That photo is taken from his UC Santa Barbara webpage, so I suppose that it has his blessing.

Hmmm . . . well . . . in its favor, there is a hint of Jack Benny about it.

But I much prefer Kohn's image on the Korea University poster that I saw hanging in the Gyo Yang Gwan Building -- until somebody else who also must have liked it a lot appropriated it! The photo there showed a much older, spryly humorous fellow in a beret, eyes twinkling with wit. He looked like an artist in that picture, and my first thought on seeing it was, "Oh, did KU invite a Literature Laureate, too?"

But no, he is -- despite his prize for chemistry -- a physicist. That will soon make three physicists in a row: Stephen Chu, Carl Wieman, and next Walter Kohn.

I'll have to look into his work on "density-functional theory" (whatever that is) and report back here.

Meanwhile, I can claim a sort of intellectual link. As a doctoral student at Harvard, Kohn was friends with Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science famous for his "paradigm theory" explanation for how scientific revolutions take place. Kuhn was the intellectual mentor to John Heilbron, a highly respected historian of science who worked for years at UC Berkeley, organizing and directing its Office for the History of Science and Technology, which was housed in Stephens Hall. I studied under John and still maintain contact with him.

Small world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Devil's Advocate

Yesterday's question was: "Who's playing the Devil's advocate here?"

Milton in Areopagitica, argues against a "cloistered virtue." Similarly, Eve in Paradise Lost argues against a "Vertue unassaid" (untested virtue). But Adam, also in Paradise Lost, uses heavy irony to argue against subjecting oneself to a "glorious trial."

If Adam is right, for Eve does fall, then aren't Eve and Milton arguing the Devil's case?

Not quite. Just because Eve fails and falls does not mean that she was wrong in principle. Milton agrees with Eve that one cannot remain cloistered in order to avoid the evil that lurks outside the 'nunnery' (Milton's anti-Catholicism showing through). Evil lurks inside even the garden, so temptation -- and therefore testing -- will come anyway. Both Eve and Milton believe that virtue is praiseworthy only if tested, and it can only be tested if one is free. And we know from elsewhere in Paradise Lost (Book 3.102-106) that God the Father speaks in favor of freedom, even arguing that he has given mankind free will to choose between good and evil:

Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have givn sincere
Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love,
Where onely what they needs must do, appeard,
Not what they would? what praise could they receive?

Milton's God approves of the freedom to be tested because only in that way could human beings develop praiseworthy virtue, precisely the view of Eve and Milton.

If so, if Eve and Milton are in agreement with God, then isn't Adam arguing the Devil's case?

No, because Adam, in spite of his argument that Eve should not needlessly seek out trial by testing, does believe in freedom and does freely allow her to strike off on her own in the garden despite the lurking danger (Book 9.351, 372):

But God left free the Will . . . .
Go; for thy stay, not free, absents thee more;

Therefore, even cautious Adam would agree with Milton on the political issue of free speech as argued for in Areopagitica.

Thus, God, Adam, Eve, and Milton are all for free choice.

Of course, the Devil is for it, too.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A "cloistered virtue"

Maverick Philosopher, in a post "Milton Praises the Strenuous Life" (an allusion to one of Teddy Roosevelt's speeches?) quotes Richard Weaver quoting John Milton:

"I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world; we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by that which is contrary."

The quote is from Milton's Areopagitica, subtitled: "A Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc'd Printing, to the Parlament of England." Milton prefaces this with a quote from Euripides, The Suppliants 437-440:

This is true Liberty when free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserv's high praise,
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;
What can be juster in a State then this?

Milton's speech, as you will have surmised, is one in favor of free speech, and he understands this to include a free press.

In his speech, and specifically in the 'strenuous' quote above, Milton argues for freedom by insisting that any growth in our morally praiseworthy virtue requires that we be tested by trials that can lead us to greater moral development and thereby purify us.

In a sense, Milton is arguing that public vice produces private virtue.

Interestingly, Milton presents Eve arguing much the same in Paradise Lost, Book 9.335:

And what is Faith, Love, Vertue unassaid . . . ?

In this line, Eve is arguing that she should have the right to depart from Adam's side and work alone in the Garden of Eden even though Satan might approach and test her through temptation. "Without testing, what is virture?" is her rhetorical question.

In lines 367-369, Adam counters:

Wouldst thou approve thy constancie, approve
First thy obedience; th' other who can know,
Not seeing thee attempted, who attest?

With these words, Adam attempts to dissuade Eve from potentially exposing her virtue of loyalty to God to any testing by a trial of temptation, urging instead her obedience.

But he gives her leave to go. We know the story. She fails the test, and falls. After Adam also falls, he rues having allowed Eve to leave his side, arguing that she had been overconfident in opening herself to a 'glorious' trial of temptation (1175-1177):

But confidence then bore thee on, secure
Either to meet no danger, or to finde
Matter of glorious trial;

So, Eve defends a tested, uncloistered virtue; Adam opposes putting oneself to the test. Who's playing the Devil's advocate here? And does Milton take Adam's side . . . or Eve's?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Down Memory Lane . . . hey, this is a dead end street . . .

As an undergraduate at Baylor University, I worked about 20 hours per week in Penland Cafeteria and studied most of my other waking hours . . . but somehow found time to contribute to mischief instigated by the Noble NoZe Brotherhood.

Yes. I was a NoZe Brother.

(pregnant pause . . .)

Okay, so none of you know what that means. Let me explain.

The NoZe Brotherhood is an anonymous, satirical fraternity lurking on the margins of Baylor University life. I say "lurking" because the organization has been on and off of campus for years and years. Consequently, the Brothers wear wigs, Groucho Marx noses, and faded tuxedos for disguise and sometimes break in on eminent guest speakers at Baylor University Chapel to induct them into the Noble NoZe Brotherhood, a great honor indeed.

They also expend a lot of effort in satirizing Baylor University.

Why? Why satirize Baylor?

Probably because it is so easy to do.

Baylor University is the largest Southern Baptist University in the world. It is also very much a school of the American South. Consequently, it emphasizes its venerable TRADITION . . . especially football.

Well, yeah, there's also that Bible stuff, and that's important, too, but Homecoming -- when everybody comes 'home' to Baylor -- that's the biggest event of the year.

So, in the Fall Semester of 1978, we Noble NoZe Brothers cancelled Homecoming. We printed our fall issue of The Rope -- a parody of the campus paper, The Lariat -- with the bold headline:

"Homecoming cancelled"

We waited until the campus paper had been delivered to the dormitories early on the Thursday morning before Homecoming, then sneaked around to each dorm and placed hundreds of copies of our parody on top of the newspaper piles. Since we had designed this special Rope to look exactly like a Lariat, the effect was convincing and devastating.

Students really believed that Homecoming had been cancelled. People were weeping, distraught, angry.

We thought it was pretty funny.

The administration was not amused. They banned us from campus. If a NoZe Brother were to appear on campus, he would be faced with arrest.

That just made tweaking the administration's collective nose all the more enjoyable, and it certainly didn't stop us from making our mischievous appearances. We just had to run more quickly, chased by Baylor's Keystone Cops . . .

* * *

Now, I maintain that Baylor expelled us from campus because of the ruse about Homecoming being cancelled, but there is a revisionist view.

In the same issue of that parody, Brother NebuchadNoZer and I (Brother AgNoZetic) published a satire about the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas and its pastor W. A. Criswell. At the time, we had just read a report that Rafael Septien, who was an excellent placekicker for the Dallas Cowboys football team in the late 70s to mid-80s, had recently joined First Baptist Church of Dallas . . . as the 20 thousandth member.

It seemed odd to me that a really famous person would just happen to be number 20,000. After all, that's a two followed by four zeros.

"Look," I told my friend Brother NebuchadNoZer, "they made this guy wait to get baptized so that he would be exactly the 20 thousandth member!"

We decided to satirize that, and for your convenience, I reproduce it here:


Bertrand Russell joins Baptist faith

Impressed by the church's opulence and the pastor's white shoes, Bertrand Russell accepted Christ into his heart as his own personal savior and submitted himself as a candidate for baptism and membership in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, the largest Southern Baptist Church in the entire world.

W. A. Christwell, currently celebrating his 50th year in the ministery, expressed genuine pleasure at the famous atheist's sudden reversal, noting, "We are really pleased to have Bert as one of our congregation; it's always nice to have famous people join our church."

Russell, the 144,000th member at First, followed in the steps of Dallas Cowboy placekicker Rafael Septien.

"I guess I made it by the skin of my teeth," he quipped.

When asked about his surprising move, Russell said, "I was standing gripping the pew in front of me and asking myself why I am not a Christian and I couldn't think of any logical reasons; then it hit me, by God, there are a lot of good benefits to being a Christian, especially in America."

Russell did not elaborate.


As I noted above, some revisionist historians point to this satirical piece as the real reason for the NoZe's expulsion from campus. I'm willing to concede that the Bertrand Russell article written by Brother NebuchadNoZer and me may have been one deciding factor.

But I still think that the Homecoming deception most annoyed the administration.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Contagion of freedom? Or appeal of submission?

On April 7, 1950, the National Security Council (NSC) sent to President Harry Truman its famous (well . . . among historians) top-secret report reviewing American Policy toward the Soviets: "NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security."

Section 4 of this report is interesting for what it says about the two societies. Titled "The Underlying Conflict in the Realm of ideas and Values between the U.S. Purpose and the Kremlin Design ," this section describes the nature of the conflict:

"The Kremlin regards the United States as the only major threat . . . [in] the conflict between [the] idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin [and the the idea of freedom within the American system. This conflict] . . . has come to a crisis with the polarization of power . . . and the exclusive possession of atomic weapons by the two protagonists. The idea of freedom, moreover, is peculiarly and intolerably subversive of the idea of slavery. But the converse is not true. The implacable purpose of the slave state to eliminate the challenge of freedom has placed the two great powers at opposite poles. It is this fact which gives the present polarization of power the quality of crisis."

This Manichaean conflict had reached a crisis because of the apocalyptic dimensions of destructive power through the atomic weapons possessed by both sides. The atomic bomb was a wild card in the conflict between the two systems, but it was successfully brought into a rational framework based upon traditional balance-of-power assumptions applied to armaments. Combined with the American policy of "Containment," which committed the United States to counter the spread of Communism, this balance of power was designed to maintain a stalemate between the free world and the Communist world. The assumption was that with the time bought by this stalemate, the free society would defeat the slave society through the seductiveness of its freedom.

Thus, the document describes the American ideal of freedom:

"The free society values the individual as an end in himself, requiring of him only that measure of self-discipline and self-restraint which make the rights of each individual compatible with the rights of every other individual. The freedom of the individual has as its counterpart, therefore, the negative responsibility of the individual not to exercise his freedom in ways inconsistent with the freedom of other individuals and the positive responsibility to make constructive use of his freedom in the building of a just society."

This freedom, in both its negative and positive aspects, assumes a rule of law and the motivation of citizens to contribute toward a just society, which is left undefined but probably understood at that time as meaning freedom of opportunity under equal protection of the law in a society of individuals motivated in their private lives by an ethos aimed at uplifting the poor and disadvantaged through volunteerist efforts. From all of this, a strong society is expected to emerge:

"From this idea of freedom with responsibility derives the marvelous diversity, the deep tolerance, the lawfulness of the free society. This is the explanation of the strength of free men. It constitutes the integrity and the vitality of a free and democratic system. The free society attempts to create and maintain an environment in which every individual has the opportunity to realize his creative powers. It also explains why the free society tolerates those within it who would use their freedom to destroy it. By the same token, in relations between nations, the prime reliance of the free society is on the strength and appeal of its idea, and it feels no compulsion sooner or later to bring all societies into conformity with it."

This last statement expresses the oldest of American self-understandings, namely, America as -- in the words of John Winthrop -- "a city on a hill," from where its example would inspire other nations to emulate it. The analogy of the capitalist marketplace is also brought in to exemplify this American concept of freedom:

"For the free society does not fear, it welcomes, diversity. It derives its strength from its hospitality even to antipathetic ideas. It is a market for free trade in ideas, secure in its faith that free men will take the best wares, and grow to a fuller and better realization of their powers in exercising their choice."

Much as Natan Sharansky has more recently argued in The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, the NSC 68 memorandum holds that freedom is both effective and inherently appealing:

"The idea of freedom is the most contagious idea in history, more contagious than the idea of submission to authority. For the breadth of freedom cannot be tolerated in a society which has come under the domination of an individual or group of individuals with a will to absolute power. Where the despot holds absolute power -- the absolute power of the absolutely powerful will -- all other wills must be subjugated in an act of willing submission, a degradation willed by the individual upon himself under the compulsion of a perverted faith. It is the first article of this faith that he finds and can only find the meaning of his existence in serving the ends of the system. The system becomes God, and submission to the will of God becomes submission to the will of the system. It is not enough to yield outwardly to the system -- even Gandhian non-violence is not acceptable -- for the spirit of resistance and the devotion to a higher authority might then remain, and the individual would not be wholly submissive."

This is an interesting paragraph for a number of reasons, especially for its assumption that freedom is more appealing than submission. But I wonder if this holds for all cultures. Mohammed Atta seems to have preferred submission, and he wasn't alone.

In an insightful remark, Walter McDougall notes of NSC 68 that it viewed "the peoples of the Soviet bloc . . . not [as] the enemy but the strongest potential allies in the struggle against the Communist apparatus" (Promised Land, Crusader State, p. 168).

Our current struggle, however, is more complex because the Islamist terrorism arises not from a secular system but from within a religious system, wherein submission (and "Islam" literally means "submission") to an Islamist sociopolitical system is understood as submission to God.

And religion makes promises that the Bolsheviks never could.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Whatever happened to American isolationism?

I have just recently finished reading Walter McDougall's Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776. The book is definitely worth reading if you want to understand American foreign policy over the past two centuries. The big surprise for me -- and it should surprise just about everyone -- is that America has never been isolationist.

I repeat: America has never been isolationist.

If this is true, then what American foreign policy has been misunderstood as one of isolationism? Easy . . . if you've read McDougall. It's American unilateralism.

What has long been called isolationism was really American unilateralism. George Washington's famous "Farewell Address" in 1796, in which he warned against entangling alliances, has been often cited:

"Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice? It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

What McDougall shows is that this warning did not mean that America sought to isolate itself from the world. From its very beginnings, the United States was engaged with foreign issues and events, but in almost all cases -- prior to the 20th century -- American foreign policy was unilateral.

In this sense, our current American president is well-grounded in American precedent.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Kaplan on China's Rise

Robert Kaplan has a new article in the June issue of the Atlantic Monthly, this one on the U. S. response to China's coming rise as a naval power: "How We Would Fight China."

The article's title suggests a "hot war," but Kaplan thinks that the 'contest' can be kept a "second Cold War which will link China and the United States in a future that may stretch over several generations."

Except that he's not really thinking in terms of the Russo-American Cold War. He's thinking Bismarckian Realpolitik:

"In the Pacific . . . a Bismarckian arrangement still prospers, helped along by the pragmatism of our Hawaii-based military officers, five time zones removed from the ideological hothouse of Washington, D.C. In fact, PACOM [i.e., U.S. Pacific Command] represents a much purer version of Bismarck's imperial superstructure than anything the Bush administration created prior to invading Iraq. As Henry Kissinger writes in Diplomacy (1994), Bismarck forged alliances in all directions from a point of seeming isolation, without the constraints of ideology. He brought peace and prosperity to Central Europe by recognizing that when power relationships are correctly calibrated, wars tend to be avoided."

Kaplan is referring to this passage, page 122 of Kissinger's book:

"[H]ow was Prussia to sustain Realpolitik all alone in the center of the continent? . . . Bismarck's answer . . . was to forge alliances and relationships in all directions, so that Prussia would always be closer to each of the contending parties than they were to one another. In this manner, a position of seeming isolation would enable Prussia to manipulate the commitments of the other powers and to sell its support to the highest bidder."

How this policy would proceed remains to be seen, but it took a Bismarck to maintain it working despite its complexity, and after he had passed from the scene, his successors were not up to the task. Some historians think that the First World War was the consequence of their failure and thus, in part, the responsibility of Bismarck himself.

Perhaps in contrast to such a view, and certainly in contrast to Robert Kagan, who thinks that China's rise to power cannot be 'managed' and who argues that "[r]arely have rising powers risen without sparking a major war that reshaped the international system to reflect new realities of power," Kaplan thinks that China's rise can be 'accomodated':

"Only a . . . [Bismarckian] pragmatic approach [that correctly calibrates power relationships] will allow us to accommodate China's inevitable re-emergence as a great power. The alternative will be to turn the earth of the twenty-first century into a battlefield. Whenever great powers have emerged or re-emerged on the scene (Germany and Japan in the early decades of the twentieth century, to cite two recent examples), they have tended to be particularly assertive and therefore have thrown international affairs into violent turmoil. China will be no exception. Today the Chinese are investing in both diesel-powered and nuclear-powered submarines a clear signal that they intend not only to protect their coastal shelves but also to expand their sphere of influence far out into the Pacific and beyond."

Interestingly, Kaplan agrees with Kagan on a fundamental point: a rising great power throws international affairs into turmoil. But he holds that China will be acting out of its own "legitimate" interests:

"This [expansion of China's sphere of influence far out into the Pacific and beyond] is wholly legitimate. China's rulers may not be democrats in the literal sense, but they are seeking a liberated First World lifestyle for many of their 1.3 billion people and doing so requires that they safeguard sea-lanes for the transport of energy resources from the Middle East and elsewhere. Naturally, they do not trust the United States and India to do this for them. Given the stakes, and given what history teaches us about the conflicts that emerge when great powers all pursue legitimate interests, the result is likely to be the defining military conflict of the twenty-first century: if not a big war with China, then a series of Cold War style standoffs that stretch out over years and decades. And this will occur mostly within PACOM's area of responsibility."

And Kaplan expects the U.S. Military, rather than the American civilian leadership, to do the most clear-headed thinking in this upcoming conflict:

"To do their job well, military officers must approach power in the most cautious, mechanical, and utilitarian way possible, assessing and reassessing regional balances of power while leaving the values side of the political equation to the civilian leadership. This makes military officers, of all government professionals, the least prone to be led astray by the raptures of liberal internationalism and neo-conservative interventionism."

Clearly, Kaplan doesn't side with either Clinton's or Bush's approach to reforming the world in America's image. It's all about -- or should be all about -- protecting the legitimate interests of nations through balancing of power as power balances shift.

But I wonder if China sees it that way. I agree that China has legitimate interests, just as every nation does. But these can be distorted by past grievances, of which China has its share.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Good Tast in Dictionaries . . .

The online etymological dictionary that I link to in my sidebar is intended only for stopgap purposes. For instance, it tells me that the first use of "stopgap" is from 1684. What's a "stopgap"? According to 'my' online Merriam-Webster, it's "something that serves as a temporary expedient." A "temporary expedient"? Isn't that redundant? Is there such a thing as a "permanent expedient"? Aren't all expedients meant to be temporary?

Anyway, in short, a "makeshift." ("Hey, that's two letters longer than 'stopgap,' so whaddeya mean 'In short'? And now, you've got to define it, too!" -- Editor. "Okay, I will." -- Jeff) While we're at this, let's click on "makeshift." Let's see . . . oh, here it is: "a usually crude and temporary expedient." Uh-oh. There's that redundancy again . . . sort of a re-redundancy.

And "crude," too? Yeah, these online stopgapping makeshifts are crude. So, let's turn from such makeshifting stopgaps and look at a real dictionary: the OED.

That's the Oxford English Dictionary.

Despite the title, this dictionary is not solely about the elevated English spoken at Oxford. It aims to be a universal dictionary of all the words in the English language, so -- as you can imagine -- there are many volumes. I use the more convenient two-volume 1971 edition in compact form with four micrographed pages per compact page and a magnifying glass to make the tiny font legible. If you tire of that tedious method, you can use the a photocopier's enlarging function and photocopy the pages with the word that you're checking.

I looked up "taste." If you recall, our online dictionary yesterday informed us that taste in the "Sense of 'aesthetic judgment' is first attested 1671." Surprisingly, it was right about this. Even more surprisingly, look at OED 107 (column B) to see who first used it this way:

"1671 Milton P. R. iv. 347 Sion's songs, to all true tasts excelling Where God is prais'd aright"

There's that "tast" again. Anyway, deciphered, this says that John Milton's Paradise Regained, which was published in 1671, uses "taste" in Book 4, Line 347 in the sense of "aesthetic judgement." It then also helpfully provides the instance: "Sion's songs, to all true tasts excelling Where God is prais'd aright."

If I recall, that's Christ responding to Satan's offer of 'wisdom' -- a recapitulation of the original temptation. Christ replies that God's word offers all the wisdom needed. You can find Paradise Regained online and read for yourself (Book 4.195-364).

So . . . all of my effort yesterday only expended itself in the redundancy of proving that Milton was the first to use "taste" in the sense of "aesthetic judgement." Everybody knew that already. He used it in 1671, the first recorded usage that way.

Unless he first did it in 1667 . . .

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

That "mortal tast"

I posted yesterday the somewhat obscure invocation to Book 1 of Paradise Lost. The first three lines seem fairly clear:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,

But what's this "tast"? A typo for "taste"? Well, it does mean "taste," but Milton spelled it without the final "e." Perhaps that was a common spelling at the time, but I haven't yet looked carefully enough to know. Here's some information from an online etymological dictionary:

"taste (n.): c.1300, 'act of tasting,' from O.Fr. tast (Fr. tât), from taster."

This suggests that an older spelling may have been "tast" since the word comes into English from Old French "tast." The meaning may go in several directions, which is part of what makes Milton fun. Here's more from the etymological dictionary:

"Meaning 'faculty or sense by which flavor of a thing is discerned' is attested from c.1380. Meaning 'savor, sapidity, flavor' is from 1382. Sense of 'aesthetic judgment' is first attested 1671."

Here, we find three meanings: sense of taste, flavor, and judgement. Milton primarily intends the second of these, flavor. But he may be thinking of the others. In a different place, I think that he is. See Book 9.1017-1020:

Eve, now I see thou art exact of taste,
And elegant, of Sapience no small part,
Since to each meaning savour we apply,
And Palate call judicious;

In these lines, Milton uses "taste" (note the spelling!) in two of the above senses: 1) faculty by which a "flavor" is discerned and 2) sense of "aesthetic judgment." Milton's reference to a judicious palate fits this latter sense. These lines have been borrowed from the 1674 edition of Paradise Lost, but they are the same in the 1667 edition, where they appear (due to different division of the text) in Book 8.1017-1020. This means that Milton's use of "taste" to mean "aesthetic judgment" precedes by four years the 1671 occurence that is cited as the first attestation of this sense in English.

Obviously, this deserves looking into further.

Note also that Milton could have used the spelling "taste" in the invocation to Book 1 rather than "tast" since he does use "taste" here in speaking of Eve's sense of taste. So, why does he use "tast"?

Was he punning on "test"? This is possible, for "test" in the "Sense of "trial or examination to determine the correctness of something" is recorded from 1594," the fruit of the tree of knowledge was certainly a "mortal tast" for a moral test (though this would need to be checked in Milton's works).

Finally, note that "taste" as a verb had an interesting older meaning:

"taste (v.): c.1290, 'to touch, to handle,' from O.Fr. taster 'to taste' (13c.), earlier 'to feel, touch' (12c.), from V.L. *tastare, apparently an alteration of taxtare, a frequentative form of L. taxare 'evaluate, handle.'"

Given his multilingual knowledge, Milton would be aware of all of these. So "mortal tast" would also have meant "mortal touch," which fits both the biblical and Miltonic contexts, for as Eve tells the serpent in Book 9.659-663:

. . . Of the Fruit
Of each Tree in the Garden we may eate, [ 660 ]
But of the Fruit of this fair Tree amidst
The Garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eate
Thereof, nor shall ye touch it, least ye die.

Milton is drawing on Genesis 3:2-3 here. Does "mortal tast" thus also mean "mortal touch"? I think so, but to be sure, I'd need to do more digging around first.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Milton's "great Argument"

Milton's poem begins with an invocation of the Holy Spirit, invoking aid in his attempt to "justifie the wayes of God to men."

No, that's not quite right. The poem actually begins with an "Argument," a prose preface summarizing the theme of the first book.

Well, no, that's not precisely right either. The poem first begins with prefatory 'Front Matter,' a couple of poems intent on justifying the ways of John Milton to other men.

First is a Latin poem, "In Paradisum Amissam Summi Poetæ Johannis Miltoni," written by a certain "S.B.," the initials probably standing for "Dr. Samuel Barrow, a friend of Milton's and physician to Charles II." Milton needed 'justification' through friends like Barrow, who had such very close connections to the king, for with the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, men who had espoused the Puritan cause found their lives in danger, especially a man like Milton, who had written a defense of the beheading of Charles I, had served as a Secretary to the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, and had written a published defense of the Puritan republic only one month before Charles II's ascension to the throne.

Second is an English poem by a certain "A.M.," the initials certainly standing for Andrew Marvell, who, drawing on his own poetic reputation, uses rhyming couplets to 'justify' Milton's "Verse . . . [which] needs not Rhime."

Marvell's poem is immediately followed by Milton's prose defense of "The Verse," in which he injudiciously informs us that he has used "English Heroic Verse without Rime" because rhyme is "but the Invention of a barbarous Age." These are not words calculated to please other poets, and one wonders how his own 'defender' Marvell felt at being lumped with the barbarians.

After all this -- the Latin poem, the English poem, the prose defense, the prose summary -- we finally enter the world of Milton's epic:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ]
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues [ 15 ]
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Unwary Reader in Paradise Lost

One of the most memorable scenes in Paradise Lost comes in Book 2.890-919, which describes Satan's first glimpse of chaos after he has persuaded his daughter and former paramour Sin to use her key to open Hell's gates so that he can plunge into the abyss and force his way through the warring elements to blaze a path to God's new creation and open it for conquest:

Before thir eyes in sudden view appear [ 890 ]
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold [ 895 ]
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand.
For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four Champions fierce
Strive here for Maistrie, and to Battel bring
Thir embryon Atoms; they around the flag [ 900 ]
Of each his faction, in thir several Clanns,
Light-arm'd or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow,
Swarm populous, unnumber'd as the Sands
Of Barca or Cyrene's torrid soil,
Levied to side with warring Winds, and poise [ 905 ]
Thir lighter wings. To whom these most adhere,
Hee rules a moment; Chaos Umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroiles the fray
By which he Reigns: next him high Arbiter
Chance governs all. Into this wilde Abyss, [ 910 ]
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain [ 915 ]
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wild Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while,
Pondering his Voyage:

Impressive in their description of the chaos that confronts a Satan intent on his perilous endeavor, the verses lead us to the very brink, where we leap with the Adversary deep into the wild abyss . . .

. . . only to discover that we're out there alone.

This is part of Milton's brilliance. He captivates us with language, induces us to identify with Satan, then leaves us dangling. Milton's method in his 'great argument' is "Not so much a Teaching as an Intangling," to borrow Stanley Fish's memorable phrase. Or as I would suggest: "teaching by entangling."

Milton's aim? To evoke in the reader the experience of the fall. To teach us fallenness.

We might not like the lesson. We might even feel manipulated. But we learn from the experience.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bosnia and My Disillusion with Europe

Ah, Europa, Europa . . . I'm reminded of you today from my reading about "a gruesome video of the shooting deaths of . . . [six Bosnian] Muslims from Srebrenica by Serb forces in July 1995."

I first went to Europe in 1986 as something of a Europhile, lived there for about seven of the nine years from 1986 to 1995, and left disillusioned.

Don't misunderstand me. I like European life, I have friends there, and I think that Europe is important.

I simply lost a lot of respect for the place, especially with the European left.


The key reason was Bosnia.

For years, the European left had talked endlessly about fascism -- analyzing, labeling, and condemning it. Leftists seemed to see fascism everywhere.

Until it really showed up in the ethnic cleansing and genocidal killing in Bosnia. Suddenly . . . silence.

Most of my friends at that time in Europe were on the left politically, but none of them wanted to talk about Bosnia.

I remember asking one young German woman why the left was so quiet. She said:

"Yugoslavia is far away."

Her words reminded me of Chamberlain's words about "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."

With irony, I supplied her a geography lesson:

"It's on the other side of Austria."

Finally, in another discussion, a somewhat older woman on the left leveled with me:

"If we called for intervention, then NATO would have to do it, and we're against NATO."

I got it: anti-Americanism trumped anti-fascism.

Apparently, it still does.