Friday, September 30, 2005

Reasonability and Believability

In my university mailbox on Wednesday, I found a flyer announcing an upcoming talk on religion:

"Vernuenftigkeit und Glaubwuerdigkeit monotheistischer Religiositaet"

The speaker will be Reiner Wimmer, who is German and in the title rightly used an umlaut where I've had to make do with an "e."

Wimmer teaches in the Philosophy Department at Eberhard Karls University, where I spent the six years from 1989 to 1995 pursuing my doctoral research as first a Fulbright then a Naumann Scholar.

The presentation's title translates as:

"Reasonability and Believability of Monotheistic Religiosity"

Believe me, this monstrosity of a title sounds a lot better in German, but in either tongue, it sounds interesting . . . at least to me. I'm looking forward to the talk, which will take place on October 5 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. in . . . 인 촌 기 념 관 제 5 회 실. I think that this means somewhere in Inchon Memorial Hall, but I'll have to ask my wife.

I'm curious about the contents of Wimmer's lecture. He's done work on Kant, so he might be speaking from the Kantian tradition and concern himself primarily with abstract philosophical issues of epistemology and ontology. Maverick Philosopher Bill Vallicella would be interested in these issues and might be able to comment.

But I wonder if he might not also touch on political and social issues of religion in Europe these days, where Christianity seems largely dead in the water while Islam appears to be surging ahead. I'd like to know how Wimmer would judge Islam's capacity for critical self-reflection.

I'll probably post on this again.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Poetry Break: Things that I wonder about...

I have a question that somebody out there might be able to answer. Let me introduce it this way:

Natural Philosophy

On a smooth granite stone
Sat a frog all alone
And queried a by-bustling fly:
"Should a big bull giraffe
Raise its head, snort, and laugh
When the lightning comes crashing nearby?"

Though the fly paused in flight --
A superlative sight! --
It impatiently gave this reply:
"On requests to tempt fate,
I'd prefer less debate --
Ask giraffes why they're dying to fry!"

(Horace Jeffery Hodges, Copyright 1991)


My question: How have giraffes, the tallest creatures on the African savannah, managed to survive electrical storms?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Space-Time is doomed!"

No, not "domed." Doomed.

Although it does appear to be sort of domed if you bother to look up at the sky next time that you find yourself outside doing the high plains drifter thing. And isn't Eastwood usually a rider of doom?

But none of that matters now because space-time is doomed. I learned this yesterday at the Nobel Laureate lecture given by David Gross, who cited Edward Witten.

T.S. Eliot, however, said it first:

A Lyric

If space and time, as sages say,
Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
Yet let them be divine.

Although this poem dates to April 1905, the same year as Einstein's famous publications on time, space, and energy, Eliot first published it two years later, in the Harvard Advocate, Volume 83, no. 7, June 3, 1907, thereby missing his chance at a Nobel Prize in physics.

In the lecture, Gross mentioned neither this early scientific work by Eliot nor Eliot's anticipation of String Theory -- though Eliot at least acknowledges unnamed "sages" in his poem.

Anyway, after the fascinating lecture on the upcoming revolutions in physics -- mostly on how string theorists will have to give up space and time since these are "emergent properties" rather than fundamental ones -- everyone was invited to a brief reception starting at precisely 4:00 p.m. in a room situated directly to our right as we emerged from Inchon Memorial Hall's central auditorium.

I wonder . . . if charm and strange are fundamental, then might not irony itself be a fundamental property?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Noble Laureate Lecture . . . Today?!

This one slipped up on me . . . stealthily.

This afternoon at 2:00 p.m. in Korea University's Inchon Memorial Hall, one of the 2004 Nobel Laureates in Physics, David J. Gross, will be lecturing on a very interesting topic:

"The Coming Revolutions in Fundamental Physics"

Today's talk will be the penultimate in Korea University's Hyundai-Kia Motors Nobel Laureate Lecture Series. Officially, it's "Nobel Laureate Lecuture Series VII," but it's actually the tenth lecture because number VI -- as good and faithful readers will recall -- was a marathon session with three speakers.

Here's the abstract for today's lecture:

I review the present state of knowledge in elementary particle physics and the questions that we are currently addressing. I discuss the experimental revolutions that might occur at the LHC and the ILC. I shall also review the state of string theory, an ambitious attempt to construct an (sic) unified theory of all the forces of nature, and describe the conceptual revolutions that might be necessary to complete this task.

I take it that LHC stands for Large Hadron Collider at CERN and that ILC stands for the proposed International Linear Collider (also at CERN?).

I expect to learn a lot even though I probably won't understand a single word.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Christianity's Two Innovations

Not that there weren't others.

So, shouldn't I say "Two of Christianity's Innovations"? Probably, but it's not as catchy.

Anyway . . . early Christianity made two innovations that ensured its divergence from the Judaism that emerged from the first century:

1. An elevated messiah who shared God's divine nature

2. A radical reinterpretation of purity regulations

Both of these are linked to the holiness issue that I've been harping on lately. Here's the connection. High Christology implies high holiness. If the messiah was somehow divine, then he was extraordinarily holy. But the messiah was also Jesus, a human being doing all the ordinary human things, including coming into contact with impurity.

Which is extraordinary.

Why? Because holiness and impurity are dynamic forces in conflict. I think that this is a major theme in the gospel stories, and it's what I have begun to examine in my paper on Mark.

Alas, however, I am far from useful libraries and archives and must therefore await the coming of the internet in all its fullness and glory . . .

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Enough already . . .

. . . on Leviticus 10:10?

Not quite yet. I need to explain myself, why this verse interests me enough to warrant its designation as a "most fascinating text."

I became interested in this verse back in 1998, when I moved to Jerusalem for a year to do postdoctoral work as a Golda Meir Fellow at Hebrew University and began to focus on purity, impurity, and holiness in the Bible. I had previously gotten into issues raised by purity-impurity systems when asked to write a review article on the 1996 edition of Mary Douglas's book Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology.

Despite the title, Mary Douglas's book has nothing to do with physics and everything to do with the ways that religions classify reality.

When I was doing my doctoral work at Berkeley, I had followed the advice of my advisor Robert Bellah and my friend Mario Biagioli and done some reading on Mary Douglas, so I already had some familiarity with her ideas and found them fascinating.

This led to an encounter with the work of Jacob Milgrom on Leviticus, for Milgrom applies the ideas of Douglas to his analysis of the purity laws in Leviticus.

Working with the insights of Douglas and Milgrom, I began to analyze Mark 5:24b-34 in an attempt to understand the purity issue presupposed in the passage presenting Jesus as "the Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24) coming into contact with the impurity carried by the woman suffering from a nonmenstrual, genital flow of blood.

This led to a paper on Jesus as the Holy One of God, which I finally presented at an SBL conference this past summer in Singapore. In that paper, I discuss Leviticus 10:10 (note that the word translated as "common" can also be translated as "profane"):

[O]ne should recall the discussion of the sacred and the profane in comparative religion, especially in terms of their connection to two interrelated paired binarisms in the Hebrew scriptures: holy–common and impure–pure. Although useful, the binarism of "sacred" and "profane" does not easily map onto these scriptural binarisms (though at a deeper level, the mapping works). Leviticus 10:10, a paradigmatic verse, demonstrates this difficulty. It states that one should "distinguish between the holy and the common and between the impure and the pure." This verse opposes the holy to the common and the impure to the pure in a parallelism that suggests some equivalence of holy with impure and common with pure. Yet, the Hebrew scriptures draw an unequivocal contrast between holiness and impurity. So, if there is a contrast between holiness and impurity, between holiness and the common, and between the impure and the pure, then is Leviticus 10:10 a parallelism or a chiasm? Neither structure is completely satisfactory because the common can actually exist in a state of purity or of impurity—or even in a state of holiness!

Jacob Milgrom opens a way toward resolving this mapping problematic by providing an illuminating discussion, in his commentary on Leviticus, of the ancient Israelite understanding of these two binarisms of holy–common and impure–pure. According to Milgrom's analysis, the ancient Israelites understood the holy and the impure as dynamic forces in antagonistic opposition to each other and the common and the pure as static states (although using the term "state" to characterize the common does not precisely convey its nature, as will soon become clear):

"[T]he holy may never become impure. These two categories are antagonistic, totally opposite. They are antonyms. Moreover, they are dynamic: they seek to extend their influence and control over the other two categories, the common and the pure. In contrast to the former, the latter two categories are static. They cannot transfer their state; there is no contagious purity or contagious commonness." (Milgrom, Leviticus, 732)

Milgrom emphasizes the antagonism inherent between the holy and the impure, but his emphasis upon their dynamism indicates their similarity—and in fact, one could perhaps too conveniently label them as the positive and negative poles of the spiritual realm. As for the common and the pure, rather than conceiving of both of these as states, one would do better to conceive of the common as an inert 'substance' that, as noted above, can exist in a 'spiritually contaminated' state of holiness or impurity or in an 'uncontaminated' state of purity (the deeper level at which the binarism of sacred and profane, respectively, maps onto the scriptural binarisms). Indeed, the common naturally exists in a pure state—but a pure state constantly under threat of contamination by the impure. Consequently, for the holy to embue the common, the natural purity of the common space requires protection. Failure to ensure the purity of common space occupied by the holy leads inexorably to punishment and withdrawal of the holy from that common space.

Due to the difficulty of maintaining the purity of common space, religious injunctions require the physical separation of the holy from everything else. Indeed, the radicals in the Hebrew term for "holy" possibly have the basic meaning of "separation, withdrawal." Certainly, the Hebrew word for "the holy" means both "apartness" and "sacredness." Separation fits with the understanding of the holy and the impure as antithetical dynamic forces. Because of this dynamic opposition, the holy both endangers and is endangered. Consequently, physical separation not only protects persons carrying impurity from the holy, it also protects the holy from contamination by the impure.

Perhaps this excerpt helps to clarify why Leviticus 10:10 fascinates me. Perhaps the excerpt also hints at the problematic issue raised by Jesus as the Holy One of God coming into contact with the dynamic impurity of the woman with a nonmenstrual, genital flow of blood.

The remainder of my paper dealt with precisely this issue and its implications for understanding the Gospel of Mark. But that will have to wait until another time . . .

Saturday, September 24, 2005

More thoughts on Leviticus 10:10

Yesterday, I mused about how to read Leviticus 10:10, considering first Hebrew parallelism and then a chiastic structure.

But in looking more closely at the Hebrew text, I noticed something else:

ולהבדיל

בין הקדש

ובין החל

ובין הטמא

ובין הטהור׃

One could read this simply as items in a series. Literally:

"And distinguish

between the holy

and between the profane

and between the impure

and between the pure."

Put into better, more normally formatted English:

"And distinguish among the holy, the profane, the impure, and the pure."

Such might appear to nullify all of my musing about parallelism and chiasm, but I don't think so, for reading this verse as items in a series means that one not only distinguishes each item from the other three but that one also sees connections of the sort that I noted yesterday.

Moreover, these items in a series lend themselves rather easily to a reading in terms of parallelism or chiasm (or both), as the early translations into Greek and Latin suggest.

Septuagint Text: Greek:

διαστειλαι

ανα μεσον των αγιων και των βεβηλων

και

ανα μεσον των ακαθαρτων και των καθαρων

Translated literally:

"Distinguish

between the holy and the profane

and

between the impure and the pure."

Vulgate Text: Latin:

et ut habeatis scientiam discernendi

inter sanctum et profanum

inter pollutum et mundum

"And that you might have knowledge to discern

between the holy and the profane

between the impure and the pure."

From these early Greek and Latin renderings of Leviticus 10:10, we see that readers readily grouped the four items into a pattern suggesting either parallelism or chiasm (or both).

Knowing how the early rabbis understood the structure of the Hebrew text -- as simply items in a series, as parallelism, or as chiasm -- would be interesting, so if anyone knows, please post a comment.

Perhaps I'll post more on this verse tomorrow . . . and probably lose my few remaining readers.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Leviticus 10:10 is one of the most fascinating texts...

. . . in the Bible because the closer one looks, the more perplexing it seems to become:

Leviticus 10:10

"And distinguish

between the holy and the profane

and

between the impure and the pure."

For you scholars out there, here are the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts:

Masoretic Text: Hebrew:

ולהבדיל

בין הקדש ובין החל
ובין הטמא ובין הטהור׃

Septuagint Text: Greek:

διαστειλαι

ανα μεσον των αγιων και των βεβηλων
και
ανα μεσον των ακαθαρτων και των καθαρων

Vulgate Text: Latin:

et ut habeatis scientiam discernendi

inter sanctum et profanum
inter pollutum et mundum

And here's the English again so that you don't have to scroll up:

"And distinguish

between the holy and the profane

and

between the impure and the pure."

Why do I say that this is perplexing? Because this looks like Hebrew parallelism, the restating in a second line what has already been said in the first line but in different words.

In this verse, that would be odd.

Why? Because holy would pair with impure, and profane would pair with pure, and such pairings would seem at odds.

Perhaps the verse uses not parallelism but chiasm, a reversal in the order of terms.

That would seem to work better.

Why? Because holy would pair with pure, and profane would pair with impure, and such pairings seem to fit.

Yet if we think more about the meanings of "holy," "pure," "profane," and "impure," we begin to have doubts.

Both the holy and the impure are very often portrayed as dynamic forces in scriptural texts. And the profane, in its basic state, is pure. So, maybe the verse uses parallelism after all.

Yet, there is something disconcerting about likening the holy to the impure while contrasting it to the pure -- given that the pure is likened to the profane.

Thus, back and forth, one goes . . .

I have gradually, therefore, come to think that we're intended to read Leviticus 10:10 as both parallelism and chiasm and to thereby see the affinities and differences among all four terms within the biblical system for classifying reality.

I could explain this further, but perhaps some other time . . .

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Literary Break . . . The Children's Hour

About a year ago, my son wanted a story, so I made one up about . . . well, you'll see what it's about.

Why Wolves Howl at the Moon
by Horace Jeffery Hodges
(illustrated by En-Uk Sequoya Hwang)


Long, long ago, before there were any people, there were . . . Wolves! Like today's wolves, they ran in packs.

But unlike the wolves of today, these wolves had a ball.

No one knew where the ball had come from. For all the wolves knew, it had always been there. Because it was unique, the ball was very valuable. The wolves took very good care of it.

Once a month, they would take the ball out and play with it. Their games were simple -- throwing, catching, and chasing.

Simple though these games were, they required teamwork. Care was taken neither to damage nor dirty the ball. Because they cooperated, the wolves were happy.

In the course of time, however, there arose a selfish wolf as leader of the pack. He was strong and clever, but his selfishness marred his character.

He wanted the ball for himself.

One day, as the pack was playing its monthly game, their leader saw his chance. He grabbed the ball in his enormous jaws and darted away from the pack.

At first, the others thought his move was part of the game, but when they saw him run off for the hills . . . they burst after him, but he was very fast.

He was so fast that the pack at first could not keep up, but fell further behind.

Joyously free in his sole possession of the ball, the lone wolf tossed it into the air, catching it and tossing it again and again.

But his exertions wore him down, and the pack slowly gained on him.

He failed to notice this, and as the hills turned to mountains, his pace slowed even more.


At the highest mountain peak, the pack trapped him unawares, and advanced.

Noticing them at last, the leader panicked. Not wanting to share the ball again after having had it to himself . . . the head wolf hurled the ball skyward will all of his considerable might!

The ball soared high, higher, highest . . . and stayed.

Look up in the night sky, and you'll see it, too, a bit roughed up from the selfish wolf's teeth and slightly smudged with earth from having been dropped a few times.

The wolves see it every night, too, and they howl in despair at their loss.

The moon, however, belongs to no one now, and sheds it borrowed light on the just and the unjust, the wise and the foolish . . . the pack, and the lonely leader of the pack.

On us all . . .


But you're wondering about those illustrations.

My son En-Uk and I made a little children's book out of this story because he loves to make 'books' and illustrate them, so we have a small laminated text with En-Uk's own colorful crayon drawings to accompany the story. The pictures don't always exactly match -- my son was only five when he sketched them -- but they're always amusing to look at.

Especially for En-Uk, who laughs out loud in delightful peals at his own handiwork.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Thanks to all my 'fans'...

. . . who take the trouble to write, and even to criticize.

Although those of you who know me only from Gypsy Scholar might not guess it, I do have a serious side, which finds expression on a number of scholarly discussion lists to which I am subscribed.

Recently, on the Ioudaios List, Robert Kraft posted an announcement about the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins, concerning its "Topic For 2005-2006":

Redescribing the Holy Man: Theoretical Frameworks and Specific Applications

Whether Neoplatonic diadochai, Christian saints, Jewish rabbis, or the priests, healers, and prophets of the diverse local religious cultures of Late Antiquity, the methods and descriptions employed by modern scholars to make sense of these figures all speak of a shared imaginaire. Scholars of Christianity, Judaism, and other ancient Mediterranean traditions have embraced the Holy Man as an analytical type since it was introduced by Peter Brown in 1971. Recently, however, some theoretical studies have focused more closely on the various social roles performed by ritual experts in their communities, grounding the general type in more specific sub-types and social dynamics, and thereby pushing the academic community to a new stage of theoretical reflection and critique. Can the utility of the comparative taxon "Holy Man" be increased by refining the concept and, in some cases, employing a more thoroughly comparative method (between traditions, between individuals, between time periods, and between cultures)? It is our hope to use this year of PSCO to initiate an ongoing discussion involving scholars of early Christianity, scholars of early Judaism, and other students of late antiquity in an examination of the roles of these figures in the Greco-Roman world, and especially in early Judaism and Christianity, in order to further nuance the analytical concept of the Holy Man and increase its utility.

In line with the topic, a presentation is scheduled for Thursday, October 20, 2005 (7:00-9:00 p.m.), in the Second Floor Lounge of Logan Hall at the University of Pennsylvania:

David T. Frankfurter, University of New Hampshire
Topic: "From Holy Man to Ritual Experts"

This may sound esoteric to some of you, but it's one of those many things that interest me. In fact, one of my own presentations in Singapore this past June was on "Jesus as the Holy One of God," so I have a specific scholarly interest in the topic of the "Holy Man." But I can't travel from Seoul to Philadelphia in the middle of a semester just to hear one talk. So, I posted a response:

This sounds very interesting. I've also done some work on holiness in the New Testament. I can't make the session from Korea, but I'd like to read Frankfurter's paper sometime. Have you ever considered extending the seminar to include an online discussion?

I soon received a friendly offlist reply from a certain "GH" who clearly has nothing to do with the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins but who responded to my post by first quoting some of my words and then commenting on them . . . or, rather, on my 'moral' character:

"This sounds very interesting. I've also done some work on holiness in the New Testament."

It didn't help to cure your propensity for lying, did it Jeffrey. Incidentally, I have spoken at length to Greg D. . . on the telephone, particularly about Dierk, Stephen and Ian.

This is the cybernetic equivalent of picking up the telephone and hearing an unfamiliar voice intone:

"We know who you are, and we saw what you did."

Except that I didn't do anything. And this GH fellow doesn't seem to know who I am. Therefore, after unruffling my feathers, I calmly replied to GH:

I do not know you, the people whom you are referring to, nor why you accuse me of lying.

Also, my name is "Jeffery," not "Jeffrey." I suggest that you have confused me with someone else.

To which, I received this ominous reply:

Where are you on the web site of Korea University?

This GH -- who seems to have confused me with somebody else and who refers to Greg, Dierk, Stephen, and Ian as if I'm supposed to know whom he's talking about -- is aware that I teach at Korea University and wants to know precisely where to find me.

I didn't reply to this query. I see no reason to help this GH fellow locate me with any greater precision since he appears to be slightly hostile toward whoever he thinks that I am.

But the initial email did provide my wife and me with a good, early morning laugh at GH's humor in noting that my work on holiness hadn't cured me of my "propensity for lying."

Apparently, GH has been reading my blog . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More posting on postillions

In my further search for that postillion who, "from what height fallen" and fiercely "pursued with terrors and with furies," now lies "thunderstruck and astonished" upon the drenchéd earth, I discovered that the British actor Dirk Bogarde wrote his autobiography and titled the first volume A Postillion Struck By Lightning.

If you clicked that link, you discovered that nobody has reviewed the book on Amazon. Oddly enough, the audio version has four glowing reviews by readers plus an Editorial Review that states . . . somewhat obscurely:

Autobiography comes in two flavors -- one, the life of an interesting person, badly written; two, ditto, but written with energy, charm and style. It is to this latter classification that Dirk Bogarde's story of his early life belongs.

That "ditto" worries me. Strictly speaking, it would mean that Bogarde is an "interesting person" who has penned a "badly written" autobiography "with energy, charm and style." I suppose that such is possible if one takes "style" in an other than literary sense, but I don't intend to read badly written books even if penned by interesting people.

For those still wondering about Bogarde, he's known for starring in such films as Death in Venice (1971), which I saw as a student at Baylor University, and that controversial film The Night Porter (1974), which I've never seen but which also starred the beautiful and mysterious Charlotte Rampling (whom I first saw in Zardoz (1974), a film in which she starred with Sean Connery).

Given the intertextual nature of the internet, this post could go on and on, linking site after site into a chain mail fabrication impenetrable to all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune hurled like thunderbolts at poor postillions . . . but little would be accomplished.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tornadoes transfix me...

. . . with fear, as regular readers will recall.

The one that passed directly over my head one late afternoon many years ago left me unharmed but touched down in Bakersfield, Missouri to tear the roof off its school building, making it an F2 on the Fujita Tornado Scale.

From looking at a map, I discover that Bakersfield lies northwest of the Arkansas farm that my uncle managed and where my brothers and I -- on loan from our grandparents in Salem -- were staying for a couple of weeks in the late summer. This means that my memory of the tornado coming from the west may be inaccurate unless the storm shifted. Assuming that the storm did not change direction, then it perhaps came from the direction of Viola, Arkansas and was moving to the northwest, which is a bit odd since most storms move from the southwest in an northeasterly direction.

Tornadoes, however, can be unpredictable.

I have no desire to see another one up close, but the mystery, power, and unpredicability of tornadoes profoundly attract some people. I was spurred to write this post by a chance encounter with a website maintained by some fellow named Gene Moore who's been chasing tornadoes since the early seventies. Take a good look at this photo and tell me that you'd like to get close to one of these monsters.

Not only do people like Gene Moore and his friends pursue close encounters, some folks have even developed F5 Tornado Safaris! They call these "Extreme Tours," and I'd agree. Indeed, I'd worry that my extreme touring could suddenly become an extreme turning up the funnel of a dark heavenly tour . . . never to return.

But for those of you who like that sort of thing . . .

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Postillions I have known...

. . . can be counted on none finger.

Richard Nokes of Unlocked Wordhoard has unlocked a teeming horde of seductive words with his Ideology of Phrasebooks and thereby prompted my memory of an unforgettable phrase:

"Our postillion has been struck by lightning!"

I believe that I first read this sentence in an essay used by Sheridan Baker, perhaps in his Complete Stylist, which I have in my office and thus cannot immediately check, or possibly in his Practical Stylist, though I don't find it in either the sixth or eighth edition.

The sentence was given as an example of useless phrases in guidebooks -- useless because vanishingly unlikely to be needed in any reasonable circumstances. But the essay's author went on to note the more interesting point that most dialogue provided by guidebooks is useless because, outside of a few very simple requests, most of the sentences offered are unlikely to be needed.

Even the simple requests sometimes misfire:

Hapless tourist: "Where is the toilet?"

Native Speaker: "In the bathroom, you idiot!"

This is an entirely plausible dialogue, but most guidebook dialogues are implausible.

In fact, most of the remarks that we utter each day are novel constructions. The essay's author noted this point and used it to introduce Noam Chomsky's linguistic theory of generative grammar, which argues that 'deep' grammatical structures generate an endless variety of 'surface' sentences.

Using Google, we can test the essayist's point that most sentences are novel. Go to Google's Advanced Search webpage, find the slot labeled "with the exact phrase," and type in the simple sentence "I'd like to buy Gravity's Rainbow."

Nothing comes up.

Try it with simple and with complex sentences of your own making. The more complex the sentence, the less likely it is to show up, but even quite simple sentences are often novel and fail to show up in an advanced google search.

This doesn't prove Chomsky's theory, but it does illustrate the flaw behind most guidebooks that provide 'handy' phrases for the language-deficient traveler.

But you're still wondering about postillions. Let's check Webster for its definition of "postillion":

one who rides as a guide on the near horse of one of the pairs attached to a coach or post chaise especially without a coachman

This doesn't clarify much, but it does suggest the statement's implausibility. The unlikelihood of anyone ever needing to say anything about a postillion has raised doubts that the statement or a variant of it ever appeared in any guidebook's handy phrases. Those doubts can now be allayed if not quite extinguished, for one intrepid soul, Nigel Rees, has found some tantilizing evidence:

Q729 An actual source for the famous phrasebook line, 'My postillion has been struck by lightning'. In Karl Baedeker's The Traveller's Manual of Conversation in Four Languages (1836 ed.) is: 'Postilion, stop; we wish to get down; a spoke of one of the wheels is broken.' In an 1886 edition I have found: 'Are the postilions insolent?; the lightning has struck; the coachman is drunk.' From these examples it is quite clear that the preposterous phrase could quite likely have appeared in Baedeker or similar, but where? In 1935, the phrase was said to come from a Dutch phrasebook.

These examples get us pretty close, but as my high school coach used to say, "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Hands of Wire?

Yesterday, I posted on the hazards of travel during Korea's Chusok harvest festival, when the entire country hits the roads homeward bound.

A longtime expatriate resident here in Korea recalls one Chusok not many years back when a horde of southbound travelers from Seoul decided to solve the traffic problem by appropriating the oncoming lanes for themselves and use all lanes to drive south. That worked beautifully for several miles until these southbound travelers met a horde of oncoming, northbound countrymen doing the same thing.

Result: a massive Mongolian clusterlock from Seoul to Busan and Busan to Seoul.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today. Something more sinister than Korean driving habits must be discussed . . . carefully. Prompted by a comment yesterday from Jeff of Quid nomen illius? about bad maps and bad driving, I recalled the following existential encounter with nothingness:

In 1976, I rode my bicycle from Talequah, Oklahoma to Waco, Texas and nearly died of dehydration one day because the map showed a highway that didn't yet exist and never did come into existence. (I know because I drove that route once some years later, and the highway still wasn't there!)

If I hadn't been astoundingly fit back then, I wouldn't be here entertaining the public . . . uh, okay, entertaining myself . . . today.

Anyway, I learned to be sceptical of maps.

Concerning this flawed map promising something where there was nothing, my Quid nomen illius? cyber-interlocutor saw the wirey hand of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named:

Glad you survived the bike trip. The inaccurate map sounds like the work of -- well, I won't say his name, but he reportedly has hands of wire . . .

Hmmm . . . so Mr. Hand O'Wire's handiwork may have handcrafted my near-doom, my existential encounter with nothing but a rough dirt road over a steep mountain in the days before mountain bikes and with no water except for a slimey, stagnant pool that even in my dire thirst I dared not drink.

The Wire Hand certainly had motive enough to craft my doom and malice enough to carry it through, but there remains the question of "How?"

Did Willie find a way to work his wiles? Did he again try to do me in, this time not in the dark dead of an Arkansas night but under the merciless Oklahoma summer sun blazing down on a deserted dirt road?

Here's the truly frightening thought. What if the map was not wrong? What if that little part of the world had been altered by a powerful, malicious entity intent on my demise?

Is that physically impossible?

We know that Mr. Wirehand has mighty powers, sufficient to transform entire reservoirs into electricity. If he can do that, might he not have power sufficient to make a highway disappear?

Such would be truly worthy of the fiend.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Chusok is nearly upon us...

. . . and Koreans are gearing up to pile into cars, buses, trains, and the odd plane for a yearly pilgrimage back to their hometowns to celebrate the annual harvest festival.

When an entire country hits the road, expect a few traffic problems.

My wife's family home is Daegu, so we usually head there and suffer both going and returning. Last year, we went but made the mistake of taking a bus because we'd already made the mistake of trying too late to purchase a train ticket. We almost got stranded in Daegu because even the buses were filled to capacity with the tickets all sold out. Fortunately, one bus company decided to run a special late-night bus back to Seoul, and we packed onto that for what would ordinarily be a three-hour trip.

The driver must have had a hard day because in working the graveyard shift, he nearly landed us all in the graveyard as he three times nodded off and drifted into other lanes during a fourteen-hour trip.

By the grace of God and cups of coffee, we safely reached our Seoul home rather than our eternal one, but I wanted no more rides on The Celestial Omnibus and told my wife: "I will never again go to Daegu for Chusok unless we take the terrestrial train."

So, we're not going this year.

Which explains why we went to Daegu last weekend -- as you may have noticed if you were alert and not too cartographically challenged.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Who says that the devil lacks a moral sense?

Or is he just erudite? Let us see . . . . In Paradise Lost 4.55-57, Satan recognizes:

. . . that a grateful mind
By owing owes not, but still pays, at once
Indebted and discharged; what burden then?

As Alastair Fowler points out (Paradise Lost (1998), 218, n. ll. 55-7), Milton borrowed from Cicero, Pro Plancio xxviii 68 to put these words on the devil's otherwise forked tongue:

In a moral debt, when a man pays, he keeps, and when he keeps, he pays by the very act of keeping.

At a 2003 conference on Johannine studies held in St. Andrews, Scotland, I prefaced my paper on "Gift-Giving in John's Gospel" with Milton's Satanic quote but left the devil unacknowledged to see if anyone would recognize the source.

No one did.

I now acknowledge my debt to Old Scratch himself, who in turn should acknowledge his debt to Milton, who should further fulfill the obligation of acknowledging his debt to Cicero, who . . . well, where did Cicero get this idea?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I should have realized...

but in my denseness didn't . . . that Nemerov's riddle is rhymed iambic pentameter:

What is this creature who must sweat all day
In the mill of making, in the field of fight,
And then, instead of sleeping, spend all night
To counterfeit the paper for its pay?

So much for my poetic ear that I didn't hear the poetry. In my defense, I note that nobody else on the Milton list mentioned this until Louis Schwartz pointed it out.

Now, as anyone can see . . . and it's odd that I had to see it before I could hear it . . . the rhyme scheme is abba, the rhythm is generally unstressed-stressed, and the feet are trippingly five.

I suppose that one could debate about the rhythm and therefore the feet.

Does having the form correct aid toward solving the riddle? I don't know, but poetry makes more pleasant the process of thinking the riddle through.

Incidentally, Nemerov's lines either are or are from his poem A Riddle the Sphinx Forgot, published in volume 120 (July 1972) of Poetry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Howard Nemerov wrote...

Creation Myth on a Moebius Strip, published in volume 119 (October 1971) of Poetry, a literary journal founded by Harriet Monroe in 1912.

Which I haven't read but mention here because of its twisted connection to recents posts . . . and because of a twisted Nemerov riddle from volume 120 (July 1972):

"What is this creature who must sweat all day in the mill of making, in the field of fight, and then, instead of sleeping, spend all night to counterfeit the paper for its pay?"

This riddle was posed on a Milton email-list to which I belong, and people are struggling there for an answer.

List member and Milton scholar John Ulreich suggested the answer: "ourselves." But he didn't explicate the details of this suggestion. I think that Ulreich is right, and my suggested explication is that Nemerov meant:

"We work and struggle all our lives for an eternal reward but find only death, its counterfeit."

Does this sound right? If anyone definitely knows Nemerov's answer to his riddle, please post a comment.

Monday, September 12, 2005

September 11 arrives early in Korea

Too early.

I said nothing yesterday, but today in the U.S. is 9/11. Let us remember those who died that day.

I've quoted from my 9/11 talk before, but now is a time appropriate for quoting from it again:

One year ago on a late Tuesday evening, I finished teaching my graduate conversation class, caught an Osan bus home, rocked my two-year-old son to sleep, turned on the television, and saw a huge passenger plane slam into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and explode into an enormous fireball. Within seconds, janitors and executives, secretaries and managers, waitresses and cooks, people who had been drinking a cup of coffee or chatting with a co-worker or mentally preparing for another work day, were leaping from the flames and plummeting, some hand in hand, for a thousand feet to the sidewalks and the streets and certain death. Then, a second plane, into the South Tower. Another horrendous fireball. More bodies falling in a gruesome rain. Then, the thundering collapse of those two massive skyscrapers. Finally, ashes and silence.

Only then did I go to rouse my wife, telling her, "Sun-Ae, wake up. Terrorists have destroyed the World Trade Center."

Instantly awake, she cried, "Oh no!"

We sat together in horror and darkness, watching the scenes repeated as Americans tried to comprehend the attack.

At Hanshin University the next morning, students looked at me oddly, but only one person came to express sorrow, a theology student who was heading to Germany for studies and who had previously asked me for advice about studying overseas.

Otherwise, no one . . . absolutely no one spoke to me. I felt rather alone.

In my next graduate conversation class, a day later, we talked about the attack. People had various perspectives. One person blamed American foreign policy. Another person said no, not that. Some worried about fundamentalism but didn't know much about Islam.

One kindly woman said that her husband had sat watching the news with an enormous smile on his face.

I never met that husband, but his phantom smile haunts my memory...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Not a place of rest.

Yesterday afternoon, we visited the Buddhist temple of Dong Hwa Sa on Palgong Mountain to see its enormous stone Buddha.

Tired, hot, and sweating from the hike up the steep hill and the long steps, we sat down on the shaded porch of a closed, unvisited temple to stretch out our legs.

A grey-clad devotee passing by yelled: "Don't sit with your legs stretched out! Cross them! This is not a place of rest!"

Saturday, September 10, 2005

What's in a shrug?

A couple of blog entries ago, I wrote: "Wendy, by the way, dismisses Edward Said with a shrug."

An anonymous commenter posted this response:

That shrug bothers me. is it Moibian too? are we supposed to imagine a supplicant East Coast literary critic dismissed from the regal presence of the West Coast scientist's daughter? such a gesture would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.


I reponded with this:


Anonymous, it sounds as though you haven't read Wendy's paper. If you had, you likely wouldn't characterize her gesture in the way that you have.

Moreover, I don't see anything "regal" about a shrug. It seems to me to transcend class, cultures, and even civilizations.

So, why label the shrug orientalizing?

If Said's theory greatly oversimplifies a complex range of interpretations crossing the borders of neighboring, interpenetrating civilizations -- and, arguably, it does -- then Said's view deserves a shrug.


Upon reflection, I'm not sure that shrug was the right term to describe Wendy's mention of Said. Here is what she wrote:

Western Orientalism was not nearly as unified and homogeneous as Edward Said originally suggested, but rather imagined the Orient in contradictory ways depending on the circumstances.

This remark comes at the beginning of paragraph six, and she doesn't again mention Said although she says quite a bit about Orientalisms and Occidentalisms. So, I took it as a shrug. Judge for yourselves.

My anonymous commenter chose to take it as a shrug, but perhaps only on my say-so and without (it seems) having read Wendy's paper.

In re-reading the comment critical of Wendy's 'shrug,' however, I noticed a stylistic bump:

such a gesture (i.e., the 'shrug') would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.

Did my commenter really mean "dislodged"? Seriously? That would be odd, for this would seem to imply that Wendy's shrug had successfully refuted Said's premise.

Parallelism of clauses, however, would suggest that not "dislodged" but rather "confirmed" was intended. As in:

such a gesture (i.e., the 'shrug') would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action confirmed Berkeley's theory of perception.

Or perhaps:

such a gesture (i.e., the 'shrug') would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action confirmed rather than dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.

The parallelism works now, but I'm not fully sure if the commenter meant this. Let's assume, however, that this meaning was intended. Since "dislodged" alone was used, could it have therefore been used ironically? This is possible, but the style suffers from bumpiness.

Whether my commenter meant to type an earnest "confirmed," an ironic "dislodged," or some longer expression, the meaning misfires through the parallelism anyway because Johnson's kick neither confirmed nor refuted Berkeley's idealism.

As every schoolchild knows.

At any rate . . . . Affirm. Refute. Dislodge. Confirm. What's in a word? In the case of "shrug," no one -- etymologically speaking -- is sure:

c.1400, schurgyng, of uncertain origin. Perhaps connected to Dan. skrugge "to stoop, crouch." The noun is first recorded 1594. To shrug (something) off "dismiss" is recorded from 1909.

If shrug does stem from the Danish word skrugge, then its etymological connection to anything regal would reflect the supplicant's posture rather than the monarch's.

Not that etymology proves anything . . .

Friday, September 09, 2005

Lala Oulippo and her non-Euclidean lingerie...

Lala Oulippo?

Must be a stage name in a parallel but non-Euclidean universe that intersects our own in the infinite future.

I have this 'name' from the simply fabulous Wendy Bracewell, who read yesterday's blog entry and posted a comment:

Jeff! Can it be that you never saw the brief but startling stage career of Lala Oulippo and her non-Euclidean lingerie? You can do a lot with elasticated underwear...

Elasticated underwear?

I believe that we're no longer speaking purely of performance but also of costume, and thus moving from Möbius stripping to the expandable topography of Klein Bottles.

Wendy also fired off an email response to my recounting of her proposed Möbian kinesthetics:

I cracked up! I'd completely forgotten that. I have sent the url to my father, who will be amused -- and glad that the campaign to save Heliopolis is getting such good publicity. I must see if I can find a new set of non-Euclidean underwear in case my colleagues/students inquire. Our place obsessively googles its staff, trying to measure 'esteem indicators'...

Well, I'm not surprised at students and colleagues goggling and ogling at anyone who would traipse about in non-Euclidean elasticated underwear. Doubtless, those steam indicators are off the charts . . .

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Who said that literary theorists can't be logical!

Not that anybody said that.

Maverick Philosopher Bill Vallicella will like this:

Whereas the two pairs of opposites in Lévi-Strauss's homology are of the same kind, Greimas puts into place two kinds of opposed semes (the 'seme' being the minimal unit of sense): contradictories and contraries. Contradictories (A v. not-A) are created when one seme (or -- in logic -- one proposition) negates the other, so that they cannot both be true and they cannot both be false. They are mutually exclusive and exhaustive (e.g. 'white' v. 'non-white'). Contraries, on the other hand (A v. B), are mutually exclusive but not exhaustive (e.g. 'white' v. 'black'). They cannot both be true, though they might both be false (Copi 1961, pp. 142-3). (Rimmon-Kenan, 12)


I've taken this from page 12 of Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics (London and New York: Methuen & Co. Ldt., 1983), by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan. For those who have an interest in this sort of thing, Routledge has a new edition (2002) available.

The "Copi'' referred to is Irving M. Copi's Introduction to Logic, which is now (since 2004) available in edition number twelve! Take a look at the lovely Möbius strip on its cover. For more on Möbius strips, see Wikipedia.

Speaking of which, I once knew a woman, Wendy Bracewell, who wanted to perform a Möbius strip. Her father was the Stanford physicist Ronald N. Bracewell, famous for his work in radio astronomy, from whom she must have inherited an interest in things 'scientific.' Be that as it may, she was working on a striptease technique for removing her clothes from inside out in a way that would leave her fully clothed when finished. I didn't know much mathematics, but I told her that I was greatly interested in her artistic work and would be happy to help.

I expected that we could both learn a lot from failures in her technique.

Sadly, nothing came of that, but at 'Heliopolis' in the shadow of one of her father's radio telescopes, we did construct an earthen oven for baking bread.

Which reminds me of toast. And of my beautiful wife.

But for those of you still interested in Wendy, she has eyes "the color of green pond scum" (in her own words) and lectures on the Balkans at University College London in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Here's a sample of her writing, which . . . if not quite fiction . . . has something of literary quality to it and delves somewhat into those binary oppositions in the oriental vs. occidental logic that postmodern literary critics love to deplore.

Wendy, by the way, dismisses Edward Said with a shrug.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The semester has begun . . .

. . . and I'm wondering why more graduate students don't want to read all of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Who can resist a poem that begins:

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,
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
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
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
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,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

These 26 opening lines to Paradise Lost, Book 1 should entice anyone, right?

Apparently not.

Students take one look and think, "Twelve books of this stuff? Twelve books in one poem? Why does it take so long to justify God's ways?"

Length raises suspicions that God's ways are not easy to justify, maybe not justifiable, and likely don't justify the effort.

The good new is that Milton takes his time because he's got a great story to tell.

Actor John Basinger knows this and has taken the effort not just to read the poem but to memorize and perform it.

In December 2001, he gave a 3-day, one-man performance of all twelve books at Three Rivers Community College. He plans to give another performance of all twelve books on December 9, 2008, the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth. Meanwhile, anyone interested in tapes or discs of his 2001 performance can contact him by email: johnbasinger@paradiselostperformances.org.

I would bet that his performance justifies the effort.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Friendly Notice:

I've re-opened my blog for anyone to comment.

Word Verification seems successful enough at blocking businesses that have obtained blogger accounts designed for sending advertisements disguised as 'comments' hawking wares on the unwary.

Have at it.

N'awlins . . .

I received an email from my old Berkeley friend Lionel Jensen, the guy who baffled me with the "Yats" of his hometown, New Orleans. He teaches at Notre Dame these days -- Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, if you must know. Here he is looking directly at you who are so curious.

I'm pasting his "N'awlins" email:

Dear Horace,

Yeah, he calls me that, but he's the only one who can get away with it (so don't you try).

Thanks for asking about how we are doing. So far so good, considering the enormous devastation. A house we owned in Diamondhead, [Mississippi] . . . was unscathed, even though most of the rest of the community was utterly destroyed. Incredible! The destruction is biblical and can only fire the imagination as reason is dwarfed by the vastness of the damage. New Orleans will recover -- albeit, very deliberately -- but it will not be the same. The sheer number of deaths will dwarf all previous natural (and human incompetence) disasters of the past century. Tens of thousands are dead in New Orleans alone and an incalculable number displaced, wandering, dispossessed. I have an aunt and a number of cousins with whom I have yet to speak, I do not know where they are, but I do believe they were able to get out. This is very harrowing. My question is: what will we learn from this?

If you checked the links that I've set up to Google Maps, you'll see that Lionel's home in Diamondhead, Mississippi is close to the Gulf Coast and not far from New Orleans -- looks like about 50 miles east on Interstate 10. If you go to Wikipedia's article on Katrina, you'll see from these two maps that Diamondhead probably lay directly in the storm's path. How his house was spared when most of the other houses were destroyed remains a mystery . . . though we'll probably figure it out eventually.

I'm shocked by Lionel's estimate of tens of thousands dead in New Orleans. This far exceeds the number of 10,000 recently estimated by New Orleans Mayor Nagin. I'm suspending judgement on who may be right, if either, because I know far too little to evaluate this (though I hope that both are wrong and that the number killed is fewer). Even without knowing the number of deaths, we can clearly see that Katrina is one of the worst storms ever to hit the Gulf Region, comparable to the Great Hurricane of 1780, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, or Hurricane Mitch of 1998.

My 6-year-old son En-Uk has been talking a lot about the 'sea-rain' since that recent Sunday morning that we were caught outside in a downpour. According to him, 'sea-rains' are dangerous because they cover the earth with water. In New Orleans, people know what he means.

Monday, September 05, 2005

When New Orleans' muddy waters have cleared...

. . . and we can see more than dim outlines, I think we'll find more than enough blame to go around.

At this point, I have some blunt questions. Perhaps there are convincing answers, or explanations (as with Governor Blanco's words about shooting looters), but let me at least put these questions on the table.

According to the August 28th issue of Nola.com, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans in response to an appeal by President Bush:

Acknowledging that large numbers of people, many of them stranded tourists, would be unable to leave, the city set up 10 places of last resort for people to go, including the Superdome. The mayor called the order unprecedented and said anyone who could leave the city should. He exempted hotels from the evacuation order because airlines had already cancelled all flights. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.

This means that all three levels of government, from city to state to federal, recognized the severity of the storm and knew what had to be done and should have anticipated the worst.

Each level of government appears to have failed:

1. City Failure Prior to the Storm:

According to the Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan (Revised January 2000), page 13, paragraph 5:


5. The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.

This plan was not followed. Photos online show now-flooded school and municipal buses that must have been available for evacuation purposes at the time that the mandatory evacuation was ordered. See here, here, and here. Why weren't these buses used to evacuate the poor people who couldn't leave on their own? And why were hotels exempted from the evacuation order if these buses could have been used?

Why didn't Mayor Nagin act on this plan since he did order a mandatory evacuation?

2. State Failure After the Storm:

According to the September 4th issue of the Washington Post:

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.

A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."

Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.


This passage doesn't make anybody look good, but let's focus on the state level. It appears from this Washington Post report that Governor Blanco and others at that level were more concerned about looking good . . . well, looking less bad anyway . . . than about rushing a coordinated relief effort even at a time when the city was descending into chaos.

And I don't understand why Governor Blanco was so slow about requesting multi-state mutual aid or declaring a state of emergency.

Why didn't Blanco set aside politics and act promptly?

3. Federal Failure After the Storm:

It took Bush rather long to act. Waiting for the local and state levels to do something made no sense under the circumstances. I'm running out of blogging time, so I'll just link to this disappointed Bush supporter and echo her words. Who gives a flying finkerninkle about Trent Lott? Well . . . maybe Bush does:

We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch.

Trent Lott has lost his house? So have a hundred thousand other people, most of them with fewer means of rebuilding than Senator Lott. And why this gratuitous mention of Lott anyway?

I don't understand why Bush didn't act sooner. In a crisis like this, one acts immediately and worries about getting approval later.

Once again, at all three levels of government, we have seen incompetence in America's political leaders. Just last night, my wife remarked,

"I thought that American politics worked better than Korean politics."

"I'm beginning to wonder," I replied.

A lot of politicians are going to find themselves living in interesting times when the muddy waters clear.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A different explanation for Blanco's words...

. . . has been supplied by Michael S. Pearl, whom I know from an online discussion list to which he and I both used to belong. Michael, who lives in Louisiana and can supply some context to Blanco's words, took the time to write me despite problems in linking to the internet. Here is what he posted in a comment to yesterday's blog entry:

The context of Blanco's remarks are critical to understanding the appropriateness of her remarks.

Her remarks may also explain why she seems to be becoming a scapegoat for the rampant incompetence exhibited by the response of the Federal government in general and FEMA in particular.

After days of countless promises and no actual activity on the part of the Feds, after days without providing personnel who could ensure safety, after days of not even having begun to deliver water or food to trapped people, it was no longer appropriate to soft-peddle in the typical politician manner.

Furthermore, no one who saw Blanco speak the words you cited -- either live or on tape -- would ever mistake what she said for bragging. The woman was clearly fed up with the inactivity, and some sign -- or symbol -- of strength and resolve was all that should have been put forth under the circumstances. As an emblem of the disgust building up in the people of Louisiana, she spoke for the people perfectly capturing the tenor of their infuriated dismay. By eschewing the speaking protocol of the political class, her remarks should be interpreted as intending to ratchet up the attention being paid to the situation in Louisiana. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, ratcheted up matters in his own way as well; the profanities usually reserved for private speech became the only mode of exclamation left, since no one in or from Washington evidenced sufficient attention or concern.

The risk of "killing over rescuing" only comes from an inability, an unwillingness, to distinguish between the activities of those who are seeking food and water over those who are marauding for television sets, DVD players, jewelry, antiques, etc.

It is this very inability/unwillingess -- in conjunction with the failure to deliver food and water to the trapped -- that is driving the trapped to a state in which they are ever more desperate. When George Bush was asked whether he considers those who break into stores for food and water to be looters as much as those who hijack television sets and the like and he so facilely opined that we should have a "zero tolerance" policy, he enhanced the likelihood of "killing over rescuing". The next day he seemed to ameliorate those remarks by publicly focusing on the utter ineffectiveness of the Federal effort; so, context is indeed key to meaning and understanding.

It is beginning to appear that Blanco and Nagin are going to be blamed for the Federal disaster -- and that is preposterous. Seeing as how I am only able to get internet access via long distance dial-up and since I am having to ration our own power by limiting how long we run our generator, I need to keep my remarks brief, but the following story should be sufficient to indicate just who/what is the real problem.

Yesterday, the mayor of Slidell here in St. Tammany Parish, got on the news and reported that FEMA had arrived in his city with generators and fuel, but FEMA refused to unload the relief supplies because the mayor could not provide a site inspection certificate authorizing the off-load location.

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!

That single anecdote captures perfectly exactly how the Federal "emergency management" agency and the Federal government have been "helping" in Louisiana. Incompetence, lack of discernment, lack of intelligence -- call it what you will, but I'll just leave it there for now.

Oh, and by the way, I did not vote for Blanco; I voted for Bobby Jindal (who is now my Congressman).

Thanks for taking the time, under difficult circumstances, to provide an explanation. Perhaps if I had heard the statement by Blanco on television, I'd have gained a somewhat different impression. I rarely hear any American politicians speak in their own voice since I live in Korea and don't watch much TV but get nearly all of my news in the papers and on the internet.

I agree that the Feds have performed wretchedly in this crisis. FEMA sounds like a hidebound bureaucracy. The anecdote that you relate almost has me ready to affirm the Peter Principle: "Individuals rise to their level of incompetence and remain there." And I'd add a Hodges Corollary: "Especially in a bureaucracy!"

Deva Hupaylo, a friend from my high school days who's doing some volunteer work in Lake Jackson, Texas with refugees from New Orleans, wrote me some words on Friday that are consistent with your view of FEMA:

FEMA claims they had food stockpiled in [New Orleans] . . . before this event, but the people in the Superdome say they haven't eaten since Monday. Something doesn't seem right.

Deva's implication is that FEMA is either lying or incompetent (or a little of both).

I agree that Bush has not performed well in this emergency either. Since FEMA and other federal agencies were being so slow about responding to people's needs, Bush should have kick-started them. Indeed, as soon as the levees broke, he should have acted. And I agree that Bush's words about "zero tolerance" for looters made no distinction between thieves willing to kill and decent people who just need to eat.

However, I can't let Blanco completely off the hook. If she chose her words "to ratchet up the attention being paid to the situation in Louisiana," then I can understand her intent but not the content. The best sense that I can derive from the content is that she was threatening the violent looters stealing luxury goods. But those people probably aren't watching the news, and from the news reports that I've read, I don't see that she specifically directed her statement to them or that she distinguished between the violent luxury looters and the decent people breaking into stores for food alone.

Perhaps you're correct that she simply spoke in fury and disgust at the Federal government's incompetence. That mitigates the tone of her remark, but the harsh words still grate on my ears.

Thanks, again, for taking the extra trouble to write. Our best wishes are with you and all the suffering people of Louisiana and the entire Gulf coast.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Louisiana Governor Blanco, trying to sound 'tough'...

. . . praised some "battle-hardened" members of the Arkansas National Guard, who have just returned from Iraq and are being sent to New Orleans with orders authorizing them to shoot looters:

"They have M-16s, and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will."

So, let me get this straight. We are bragging about sending soldiers to kill American citizens? Blanco's words come awfully close to that. I don't know the context to her remarks, but from here across the ocean, her statement makes a very bad impression.

I recognize the need to re-establish order in New Orleans, bring security to the people trapped there, and help the victims struggling to survive. I think that all of this should have been done immediately. And I'm not so naive as to think that it can be done without shooting some of the well-armed, violent looters whom we've been reading about.

Blanco's words, however, seem to emphasize killing over rescuing. She would better have said something like this:

"The Arkansas National Guard will soon arrive in New Orleans to protect the storm's victims and ensure orderly rescue efforts. They will therefore stop the looting, disarm the gangs, arrest criminals, and restore order."

Let's at least try to sound civilized.

Friday, September 02, 2005

But the U.N. can pass binding resolutions . . .

More fascinating details of my boring interests . . .

In a previous post on international law in which I talked about Joseph Nye's classic political-science text, Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, I both quoted and noted.

Here's the quote:

[T]here is an oddity about the General Assembly that makes states unwilling to have it pass binding legislation. U.N. General Assembly resolutions are just that: resolutions, not laws. (162)

Now for the note:

Interesting. This means that in ignoring a U.N. resolution, a state breaks no laws.

This 'note' wasn't quite correct. Let me explain. In further reading of Nye, I've come across this statement:

The [U.N.] Security Council is able to pass binding resolutions under Chapter VII of the [U.N.] Charter. (167)

Let's see what Chapter VII has to say. Here's the chapter title:

Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression

Sounds like serious business. And its first article shows that it is:

Article 39: The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.

We need to look at these two articles:

Article 41: The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

This means isolation. Serious, but it gets even more serious:

Article 42: Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

The "other operations" can mean war, and this threat of war is what backs up the Security Council's resolutions and gives them the force of international law.

So, it's not true that the U.N. cannot pass binding resolutions. It can do so, but only through the Security Council, not in the General Assembly.

But as Nye points out:

The Security Council can be seen as a nineteenth-century balance of power concept integrated into the collective security framework of the U.N. (167)

This is the hard-power reality behind the U.N.'s soft-power aura, and it's grounded in balance-of-power Realpolitik.

Thus, as noted above, U.N. Security resolutions have the force of law. But do they have the status of law?

Yes.

They have this status because the states belonging to the U.N. have all signed the U.N. Charter, which is (I assume) equivalent to signing an international treaty. Every U.N. Security Council resolution thus is legally binding on members of the U.N., has legitimacy derived from the generally recognized legitimacy of the U.N., and has the force to back its legitimate, legal demand.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Always wanted to see New Orleans . . .

But I guess that I never will.

The place just barely missed the brunt of the storm, thought that it had survived, then found itself inundated when the levees broke.

Result? Eighty percent of the city under water. Hundreds, even thousands, feared dead. Total evacuation ordered. Expected to be empty for the next two or three months.

They say that the New Orleans will never be the same. From the photos and news, I believe it.

To a boy like I was, growing up in the Ozarks, New Orleans might as well have been on the other side of the world. Now, I'm living in Seoul, and it really does lie on the world's other side.

One of my best friends from Berkeley, Lionel Jensen, comes from New Orleans, and used to talk about the Yats of Gnaw Lynn's Loozie Anna.

"What's a 'Yat'?" I asked.

"You mean 'Where y'at?'" Lionel 'explained.'

"No, 'What's a 'Yat'?" I repeated.

"Where y'at?" Lionel insisted.

Our dialogue remained stuck there for a while till Lionel grew tired of my obtuseness and explained that "Yats" are New Orleans natives who eat a lot of batter-fried Cajun cooking, tend to get quite fat, and say "Where y'at?" when they mean "How are you, today?"

Lionel showed me a book of Yat dialogue overheard on the streets of New Orleans. In one conversation, two old folks were talking about juvenile delinquents and how bad these young criminals were.

Once said, "Ah wuz at Woolwuts thuh othuh day, 'cause Ah had tuh get some shoos, and they stole 'em off mah feet befoh Ah'd even paid foh 'em!"

The other person commiserated, "They'd a-stole Chris' off thuh cross if 'e 'adn't been nailed down!"

I've probably mangled the dialect, but you get the drift.

Now, that world has disappeared under twenty or thirty feet of water.