Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick or Threat: Have a Harrowing Halloween...

(Image from Wikipedia)

Some of you may recall the fascinating Extreme Pumpkins site from my post on Dani's Flaming Head. Go there this Halloween for all your jack-o'-lantern needs.

Or for some of your Jacko-Lantern needs ... to frighten off those annoying trick-or-treaters. Or even more frighteningly ... to attract them.

To keep an eye on Jacko, we need the original jack-o'-lantern, "a night watchman ... or man with a lantern," according to Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, enjoy your Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Some nice folks...

(Image from Wikipedia)

Now that the border-crossing conference if past, and last week's midterm work grading thesis statements is finished, I return to my classes to face the students and make them face my many-faceted, red-penned critique of their projected essays.

I'm a little bit tired. Truth to tell, I'm exhausted. On the subway yesterday morning with my son, I fell asleep and only woke up shortly before Itaewon Station, which left me just a few minutes to revive before reaching Noksapyeong Station, where we had to get off. At least, the brisk morning air on our walk had me feeling alert enough by the time that I reached our church for me to help my group discuss the meaning of "telos" in Romans 10:3:
telos gar nomou cristos

For Christ is the end of the law.
"What does that mean?" we asked, and got into a discussion about "telos" as "end," "termination," "aim," "goal," "consummation," "fulfillment," or all of these ... somehow.

But on this early Monday morning, I'm not here to discuss our recondite hermeneutical meanderings. Rather, I just want to introduce you to a few nice women to get your week started off right. I don't really know these ladies, whom I've only accidentally 'met' in my websurfing for information on homeschooling, but I sometimes visit their blogs for downhome downtime...

Faith Raider


Whittaker Woman

Just Laugh
If you like reading the blogs of women like these, then follow the links that you find there.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

ASAK Conference Over: "Crossing America's Internal Borders"

The conference has finished, the scholars dispersed, the ephemeral community dissipated ... with only the odor of soju still lingering in the air as evidence for that dissipation.

I can reconfirm that in spite of my pre-conference concerns about terms like "imperialism," "class," and "race" being used to convey moral opprobrium rather than to provide rational analysis, the conference proved itself not only academically serious but even a lot of fun.

Of course, I don't get out much.

People generally maintained civility.

Sometimes, though, I wondered if the conference might get heated. Professor Russell Duncan, an American teaching at the University of Copenhagen, was analyzing the immigration debate -- the conference was about border-crossing, after all -- and referred to the proposed wall along the Mexican-American border as a "Berlin Wall," but with me being a stickler for precision, I couldn't quite let that pass without a response during the time for discussion at the end of the session.

A civil response.

I noted that the expression "Berlin Wall" didn't seem quite apposite, since the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, whereas the proposed wall is intended to keep people out, and I suggested instead the expression "Great Wall of China."

To his credit, he nodded, but my suggestion will never become common currency because it does not roll "trippingly on the tongue."

I had the impression that I was not alone in thinking that there were serious issues that needed proper discussion. Why? Because another person explicitly asked, "But you would agree that there are serious issues here?"

Duncan acknowledged that there were.

Another person -- I believe that it was Professor Donald C. Bellomy, of Sogang University -- openly wondered why African-Americans were so silent on the immigration issue since illegal immigrants from Mexico were taking jobs that many of them would otherwise be working at.

Duncan also expressed puzzlement, adding, "If there are any complaints, they're still under my radar."

I've heard the issue raised elsewhere, but usually by white economists who've pointed it out, so Duncan and Bellomy may be correct that African-Americans haven't yet raised the issue.

Incidently, I had a chance to speak with Stanford Professor Ramón Saldívar over dinner, for we were seated next to each other, and discovered that we have some points of contact. He comes from Brownsville, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin shortly before I attended Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. He went on get his doctorate at Yale, very quickly, and was back at UT by 1977 or thereabouts, so our time in Texas overlapped. Later, in the early 80s, I was living near Stanford and using its libraries while studying at Berkeley and got to know a Stanford history professor named Al Camarillo because we played basketball together on Saturday mornings.

"Do you know Al Camarillo?" I asked.

Saldívar smiled broadly and replied, "Why, yes! Al is one of my best friends. How do you know him?"

I explained about the basketball games every Saturday morning on an outdoor court near Stanford. "But," I emphasized, "Al probably wouldn't recall my name. However, if you remind him of the white guy who could dunk, then he might remember."

Saldívar laughed, I poured him a cup of soju, and we drank to memories and friendship.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

ASAK Conference Follow-Up: "Crossing America's Internal Borders"

Despite my concerns about such terms as "imperialism," "class," and "race" -- i.e., that they would be poorly defined and not used analytically -- I have no serious objections so far. Just before the conference began, I did happen to mention my skepticism to a colleague here at Korea University, who didn't understand me at all even when I explained that folks in literary criticism often borrow concepts from other fields and use them without understanding them clearly. I see this all the time with Huntington's "clash of civilizations," which a lot of people use with no real clue what the man was talking about ... partly because they haven't read his essay or his book.

But I don't want to get off topic.

I merely wanted to note that the first keynote speaker, Ramón Saldívar, gave an excellent talk about the newspaper reporting of Américo Paredes (1915-1999) in postwar Japan and how it shaped the scholarship that Paredes later undertook in his ethnographic studies of the Tex-Mex border regions.

Paredes arrived in Japan in late 1945 as a 30-year-old Mexican-American soldier and began writing in English for the Pacific Stars and Stripes and in Spanish for the Mexico City daily El Universal, composing some 74 major articles and feature columns over a five-year period. According to Saldívar:
[T]hese articles broach a formidable array of topics. In his writings from postwar Japan, Paredes attempts to capture the despair of the exhausted and impoverished Japanese, their anguish and regret mixed withh the birth of hope in strange new social forms and their simple joy at "the unexpected surcease of misery and death" that came with the end of the war (Dower Embracing Defeat 38). What would this new postwar Asian world under American occupation look like? What shape would its political forms and social traditions take? How would its language, media, and arts evolve? What would it be like to live in a homeland suddenly inundated with all of these mysteriously good-natured, rich white men who were now quietly but unmistakably in control? Who were these new Japanese emerging from defeat? Paredes' dispatches from the Occupation frontline would address all of these questions.
As you can see from Saldívar's tone, he's not out to slam the American occupation but to analyze how it transformed Japan as seen by the young Paredes.

Later in his talk, Saldívar emphasized that:
Americanization was not just a process of cultural imperialism; it represented a complex model of border crossing, of appropriation, negotiation, and creolization between conquering and conquered societies.
Now, some of these terms are precisely the ones that bother me in the writing of lit-crit folks, but Saldívar uses them well, in analytical ways, to get at what Paredes saw happening.

Saldívar goes on to indicate what was happening:
During Paredes' time in Asia, a uniquely Japanese hybridity was emerging from contact with the American Occupation. From the debris of disastrous defeat, a new national identity was being produced "that could encompass the memories of loss and devastation through the realm of everyday culture rather than through abstract political discourse" (Igarashi Bodies of Memory 12-13). In Japan, Paredes witnessed and documented how postwar Japanese society constructed narrative strategies to create continuities that masked the historical disjunction of defeat and transcended the loss it has endured (Igarashi 11-12.
Paredes returned to America in 1950 and began studying for his degrees in what led to an illustrious scholarly career ... or so I gather, in my appalling ignorance, not having heard of him before.

How did Paredes' experiences help him as a scholar?
In his writings from Asia, Paredes was working out the implications of his initial observations of the features of national culture. He would carry these implications over as the focus of his later scholarly writings about the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His observations of the Japanese experiences of accomodation to postwar Americanization provided him with a crucial model for understanding how alternative border modernities functioned.
Interesting stuff, at least for me ... perhaps because living here in Korea in a time of intense globalization, I find myself wearing Paredes's shoes and seeing with similar eyes an ongoing transformation.

One last remark: I know nothing of Saldívar or Paredes other than from the talk yesterday and the Stanford website, so I can't offer any commentary on the larger picture.

But I think that you all by now know how to use Google...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Paradise Lost: Milton's 10565-Line Poem

(Image from Wikipedia)

This morning, I have an esoteric query of likely little interest for most readers.

In "Milton in Print: A Review of Some Recent Editions of Paradise Lost" (Milton Quarterly, Volume 40, Issue 3, October 2006), John T. Shawcross has recently remarked in passing:
As most people know, the first [Paradise Lost] edition of 1667 (-1669) is in ten books, whereas the second edition has twelve books through division of Book 7 into Books 7 and 8, and Book 10 into Books 11 and 12, while altering the number of lines (10550) by what comes to be a total of fifteen additional lines (10565).
Twenty years earlier, in "Milton" (The Years Work in English Studies, 1986, 67: 286-296), Archie Burnett had noted:
... the fact that in 1674 Paradise Lost became a poem of 10565 lines: according to the Cabbalistic gematria, the number corresponds to the most holy name of God.
I have only this fragment from Burnett's article, so I don't know which scholarly material he's summarizing, but it's probably the same one recently alluded to by Milton scholar Carl Bellinger on a Milton listserve that I belong to:
One scholar [I have the ref. somewhere] has observed that the total line count in Ed. 2 of PL is 10565, and points out that this can be seen without too much effort as 10-5-6-5, i.e. the Hebrew numerical form, by way of cabalist gematria, of the Tetragrammaton, the "I am" (Y-H-W-H) spoken to Moses from the burning bush, Exodus 3:14. But of course to claim that Milton makes structural or symbolic use of particular numbers, here or anywhere, is a tricky thing: does this or that numerical sum seem more like happen-stance, or more like rhetorical intention? Milton's familiarity with sources containing explicit number lore would constitute some part, although I'm not sure how big a part, of the evidential equation. I'd love to see some discussion of the evidential question...
Another Milton scholar (and rabbinics expert), Jeffrey Shoulson, expresses skepticism:
I'm very skeptical about the 10-5-6-5 signifying Milton's attempt to embed the gematria for YHWH. This seems to me to be one of those interesting but essentially meaningless coincidences...
I admit that I'm also skeptical ... but willing to skeptically entertain the query, so I posted some querulous questions of my own:
Carl, if you could provide the argument sometime, I'd be interested. The 10-5-6-5 is interesting but -- as Jeffrey Shoulson notes -- could be mere coincidence.

But if we were to speculate, why would Milton want to encode the gematria for YHWH?

Because the poem is an effort to justify the ways of God to man and is thus about YHWH?

Because reading the poem is a sacred undertaking through 'uttering' the tetragrammaton?

Because everything happens within God, i.e., within YHWH?

Because it's intended to give the poem life, like the slip of paper with YHWH written upon it that Rabbi Judah Loew the Maharal of Prague put into the Golem's mouth to bring it to life?

In short, what would be the point?
That's where I've left things. Perhaps Eshuneutics knows something about this issue.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

ASAK Conference: "Crossing America's Internal Borders"

(Image from ASAK)

Okay, today's just some serious stuff about ASAK (American Studies Association of Korea). On Friday, October 27th and Saturday, October 28th, Korea University will be hosting the ASAK's 41st Annual International Conference, the theme being: "Crossing America's Internal Borders."

You'll find the program schedule here on ASAK's website.

For your prurient interests, here is what to expect:
U.S. imperialism has been the object of study and criticism by scholars of many disciplines and, especially since the start of the Iraqi war, U.S. imperialism and militarism have been examined and severely criticized by scholars and activists both inside and outside the U.S. Alongside this scrutiny of U.S. imperialism, recent trends in American Studies or, all across the board in the Humanities and Social Sciences, have reflected various ways in which the intersection of gender, race and class have changed the way we view the U.S. both synchronically and diachronically.

The 2006 ASAK conference committee seeks to shift the current scholarly concerns to the “internal borders” within the U.S. The catastrophic events brought on by Hurricane Katrina have exposed and lay bare in the eyes of the world not only the actual material consequences of racial and class divides in the U.S. but also of the complex workings of other less visible internal borders within the U.S. Some of the questions that might be raised may be: Do regional differences still exist in the U.S.? How are the questions of race and class interrelated with economic and regional divides? How has the traditional notion of 'class' changed in terms of everyday life of Americans? How is the regional or geographical divide related to issues of race and gender?

The committee invites papers from all disciplines and in the spirit of the tradition of past ASAK conferences, welcomes new, innovative interdisciplinary approaches, but this year, the committee would like to especially encourage papers from various disciplines in the Social Sciences and from scholars with diverse background and training. The conference committee hopes to foster a productive and rewarding dialogue among the scholars of the Humanities and the Social Sciences, carefully seeking to go beyond the discursive realm and find possibilities of intervening in the social processes. Rather than viewing the U.S. as a monolithic superpower, locating the real or imagined 'third worlds' within the U.S. may transform the way we imagine the future world.
At least, you know what to expect. I should admit that I had a hand in this blockquoted material but only as one proofreading the English and not as one composing it.

(Parenthetically speaking, I see that my change of "have exposed and lay bare" to "have exposed and laid bare" got lost somewhere along the pathways of correction.)

I have my usual doubts about the terms "imperialism," "class," and even "race" because these are usually poorly defined at such conferences in the humanities. They stem from the New Left of the 60s, though they've been deconstructed and postmodernized, which has only served to make them even more poorly defined. Precision, however, is almost never the aim, for the terms aren't used to bring conceptual clarity but moral critique.

I'll be attending but not presenting, and anyone who recognizes me should say hello. I'll be the holy man juggling three yin-yang spheres -- as shown by my icon at this top of this blog.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Humor Break: Sex Education

Pride of the Professors
(Image from Wikipedia)

About 20 years ago, I was working as a Teaching Assistant in U.C. Berkeley's History Department while studying there for my doctoral degree.

That degree, as readers have likely figured out, took a somewhat circuitous path that led me through the thicket of theology, the gradgrind of Greek, the harrowing of Hebrew, and the cornucopia of Coptic.

Speaking of Coptic, I learned it under Berkeley's David Larkin, of the Near Eastern Studies Department, and I've just seen, via Jim Davila's Paleojudaica, that Egypt's Daily Star ("Coptic language's last survivors," by Joseph Mayton, October 24, 2006) has reported that Coptic is now spoken by only a couple of families in Egypt and is thus in danger of utterly dying out as an oral language. Sad to hear that, but I'm surprised to learn that it's still spoken at all. I recall Bentley Layton's Coptic Grammar suggesting that spoken Coptic had probably died out in the 15th century.

But this report on Coptic has gotten me rather off-track ... a bit like my, um, career.

Anyway ... as I was saying, back in my Berkeley days, I worked as a TA for the History Department, usually teaching history-of-science sections in conjunction with a survey lecture by one of the professors.

One semester, I was working with another TA, Jonna Van Zanten (now married to a friend of mine, the historian Walter McDougall), and we talked a lot about our lackadaisical students and their ingenious ways of avoiding real effort.

Sometimes, energy expended by students in avoiding work seemed, to Jonna and me, to involve even more effort than actual studying would have.

"One of my friends is an undergraduate in a different department," Jonna said, "and he told me about a girl he knows who was complaining about having a difficult semester."

"So Berkeley is hard," I replied. "The students should just get used to the high expectations."

"Uh..." Jonna hesitated, "this is a bit different."

"Different how?" I asked.

"Well..." Jonna, still hesitating, considered her words. "Okay, I'll tell you. The girl told my friend, 'This is a really hard semester because I'm sleeping with four of my professors.'"

That shocked me. I guess that I'm rather naive, but FOUR fricking professors?

"Four," I said.

"Four," Jonna confirmed.

"Hmmm..." I mused, recovering my irony with a smile. "Four of them, you say. Well, I wonder who's getting the raw end of that deal."


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Doubts about the "Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI"

A dark image of Islam?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Two days ago, I posted a report on what appeared to be a positive development among peaceful, moderate Muslims responding in an open letter to the Pope's Regensburg lecture and emphasizing Islam as a peaceful religion.

Alas, there are problems with some of the signatories. I had noted in the comments to the blog that:

It would be interesting to check the writings of the signatories to this list to see what their position is on various issues related to Islam.
Erdal, the person who had alerted me to the existence of the open letter, did some checking and quickly found some disturbing information on two of the signatories. First, Erdal cites an article by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Jumuah, who was signatory number 15:

In an article in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Dr. 'Ali Gum'a (=Ali Jumu'ah of the open letter, only a different transscription) expressed his support of the "jihad" of Lebanon's resistance and stated that the lies of the "Hebrew entity" expose "the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers... who prepare [Passover] matzos from human blood."
Second, Erdal cites a German article about Muhammad Ali Taskhiri, whom the open letter identifies as an Ayatollah whose office is Secretary-General of the World Assembly for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thoughts, Iran, and who was signatory number 32:

Mullah Mohammed-Ali Taskhiri (another of the open letter group), head of the "Global Association of Affinity of Islamic Denominations" ..., is currently attending a conference in Egypt (February 2006) and called on all forces loyal to Teheran to organize attacks on foreign embassies and consulates in multiple countries.
Here's the specific paragraph that Erdal cites:

Mullah Mohammed-Ali Taskhiri, Kopf der "Global Association of Affinity of Islamic Denominations" und einer der Verantwortlichen für den Export von Terrorismus und Fundamentalismus Teheraner Regimes, hält zur Zeit eine Konferenz in Ägypten ab und rief alle Kräfte, die loyal zur Teheraner Diktatur stehen, auf, in mehreren Ländern Angriffe auf ausländische Botschaften und Vertretungen zu organisieren.
Translated, it states:

Mullah Mohammed-Ali Taskhiri, head of the "Global Association of Affinity of Islamic Denominations" and one of those responsible for the export of the Teheran regime's terrorism and fundamentalism, is currently attending a conference in Egypt (February 2006) and has called on all forces loyal to the Teheran dictator to organize attacks on foreign embassies and consulates in multiple countries.
This certainly sounds violent. Two caveats, however. First, this report comes to us from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization hostile to the Iranian government. Second, the date of this report suggests that the issue exercising Taskhiri was that of the Muhammad caricatures, and the call for "attacks on foreign embassies and consulates in multiple countries" might have been nothing more than a call for protests. I'd need to see his actual words to know for certain.

I haven't yet uncovered those, but here is an interesting passage from an article by Taskhiri, "Towards a Definition of Terrorism," Al-Tawhid, Vol V No. 1 (Muharram 1408 AH/1987 CE):

It is indeed comical that the United States of America, which is the mother of international terrorism, and the author of all the circumstances of oppression and subjection of peoples, by strengthening dictatorial regimes and supporting occupation of territories and savage attacks on civilian areas, etc. should seek to convene symposia on combating "terrorism", i.e. any act that conflicts with its imperialist interests.
So ... Taskhiri doesn't much care for the U.S. or the Muhammad caricatures. That doesn't make him a hypocrite for signing the peaceful, open letter to the Pope, but these plus his position in the Iranian government raise some questions, at least for me.

A collaborative, online effort might uncover disturbing information about other signatories to the open letter, but Erdal and I have already done our part.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Bribing North Korea...

(Image from Wikipedia)

Norimitsu Onishi has written a fascinating article, "Defections for sale," that appears in The International Herald Tribune (October 19, 2006).

As the title implies, the successful defector need only have sufficient money for paying human smugglers and bribing border guards. Defectors with relatives outside of North Korea have their source of funds, of course, but I suspect that money also comes by way of Christian missionaries from South Korea who are operating near the North Korean border in northeastern China, where many ethnic Koreans live.

Bribing the Korean border guards seems awfully easy to do:

Lee Chun- hak, a 19-year-old North Korean, went to the Chinese border to meet with a North Korean money trafficker. Using the trafficker's Chinese cellphone, Lee talked to his mother, who had defected to South Korea in 2003. She told him she was going to get him out.

Lee missed his mother and his sister and brother, and he had a persistent, if half-formed, desire. "I wanted to go to a country that is more developed," he said, "even more developed than South Korea."

In June, a young North Korean man appeared suddenly at his home with a message: "Mother is looking for you." The man then took him by bicycle and foot to the border and handed him over to a North Korean soldier. At the soldier's direction, Lee was ordered to leave his identification card and his Kim Il Sung badge, which is worn by all North Koreans to honor the nation's founder.

The soldier then escorted Lee across the Tumen River, where on the other side two Chinese men in plainclothes handed the soldier his bribe. Lee was free to go.

The increasing ease with which people are able to buy their way out of North Korea suggests that, beneath the images of goose-stepping soldiers in Pyongyang, the capital, the government's still-considerable ability to control its citizens is diminishing, according to North Korean defectors, brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts on the subject.
Money talks, even in North Korea, and it's now beginning to outtalk the ideology. This is the good corruption that capitalist engagement with North Korea can engender, which is why I support some form of engagement with the North -- a sunshine policy predicated upon tough love rather than the permissive sort that we've seen, but still a policy of engagement.

Yet -- you may say -- the North is already being undermined through China's engagement. The 'open' border there allows increasing trade not only in goods but also in ideas, and the money plus the ideas are already 'corrupting' the North's juche bureaucracy, so why should South Korea do anything at all?

In short, because it should be doing everything possible to make North Korea dependent upon the South rather than letting it become ever more dependent upon China.

I could say a lot more about this, but since yesterday evening, blogger has been suffering from posting problems too boring to explain.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Regensburg Revisited

The very object in question...
(Image from Answers.com)

Today's blog entry is more in the nature of a report than an analysis, for the issues are already beyond my ken ... and beyond my allotted time.

One of my readers, Erdal, who knows a great deal about the history of Islam, notified me of an open letter from a number of illustrious Muslim scholars in courteous reply to the Pope's Regensburg speech. Here's what Erdal wrote:
Sorry to intrude on this thread, but the official answer and rebuttal to the Pope's lecture is in. All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented, 38 top clerics. This is as close to a definitive, official answer as it will ever get. Actually, this is totally without precedent.

Read it all! They cover all the "hot iron" topics, including a surprising answer to Manuel II Paleologus' question:

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

It is:

"What the emperor failed to realize -- aside from the fact... that no such command has ever existed in Islam -- is that the Prophet never claimed to be bringing anything fundamentally new.

I bet you didn't see that one coming, huh?

Link to pdf of open letter
Thanks to Erdal for this message and link. No, I didn't see that coming, though I'm familiar with the Muslim position that Muhammad brought nothing new -- the corollary of which is that extant Judaism and extant Christianity are deviations from the original revelations and that Islam is Allah's corrective to those deviations.

Anyway, I've finally had time to read -- and recommend that others read -- the letter, which is a bit long but not overly so (and an easier read than the Pope's Regensburg lecture). I've also checked with the Catholic magazine Chiesa, which often reports on Catholic issues, and it has a number of articles related to the controversy, including one on the open letter from the Muslim scholars and one on the official, definitive version of the Pope's Regensburg address, replete with footnotes.

For those interested, the complete, official texts of the Pope's lecture in both the original German and the English translation can now be read online.

As for the open letter from the Muslim scholars, it is a welcome development. Between the Pope's lecture and this letter, there is still much room for many questions and much discussion. I would like to see a joint Catholic-Muslim study on the issues raised. Protestant and Orthodox scholars could also be included, I suppose. Be that as it may, a lengthy study by experts with the aim of publishing the results could be useful, perhaps even for the Muslim world at large since it might enable respected Muslim scholars to present a unified statement defining the official Islamic position and criticizing the Islamists.

I say "might" because my impression is that Islam's lack of an authoritative office for pronouncing official doctrine on its faith and morals leaves it as chaotic as Protestant Christians, who can never agree on much of anything.

Still ... such a study could provide a lot of useful information and valuable insight.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Octopus derives its name from its eight long...

The kind that En-Uk saw...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Two days ago, my seven-year-old son, En-Uk, was pounding at the door, which usually means that he's holding the elevator open because he's just come up but only to tell me something before rushing back down our building's 23 floors

"Daddy!" he cried out. "Come down. There are fish. Buy some and cook them for dinner."

He was talking about the market that comes to our parking lot every Thursday. People sell fruit, vegetables, and meats, including various kinds of fish.

"No, En-Uk," I told him. "I'm making pasta. I wouldn't know what to do with the fish that they sell here, anyway. That's for mama to deal with, but she has to teach tonight. And you need to come in soon. Have you run up the steps today?"

My kids and I run up the 23 floors each day as part of our exercise program, so I don't know what we'll do for fitness training when we move to a small apartment next spring. Anyway, En-Uk admitted that he hadn't done that yet.

"Then, go back down and run up," I bade him.

"Okay," he agreed.

But he was gone for a long time, and as the pasta was growing soft enough for eating, I sent Sa-Rah, my nine-year-old daughter, down to get En-Uk.

"Make sure that he runs up the stairs!" I called.

Some minutes later, Sa-Rah returned, explaining, "He was looking at fish, but he's running up the steps now."

En-Uk arrived after a few minutes, flushed in the face and breathing hard from exertion. The three of us then settled into our places in the living room to enjoy our meal while watching The Polar Express and thus had no time for discussing fish.

The next morning at breakfast, however, En-Uk raised the issue of the fish. At first, he spoke to Sun-Ae in Korean, but we have a table rule. At meals, we speak English, and I reminded him.

"But I don't know what it's called in English," he complained.

Sun-Ae told him, "Then use the Korean word for that fish, but speak English."

"Yesterday," he said, "I saw a nak-ji."

"What's a nak-ji?" I asked.

"I don't know!" he complained. "That's why I'm speaking Korean."

"It's an octopus," Sa-Rah offered.

"Yes," En-Uk agreed. "An octopus."

"And why," I asked, "was this octopus so special that you had to rush up yesterday to demand that I buy it?"

I was taking a sip of my coffee when En-Uk replied, "Because it had eight really long testicles."

I nearly choked but somehow managed to swallow normally enough. Sun-Ae smiled ... and even Sa-Rah knew that En-Uk had misspoken, and also smiled. At their faces, I had to laugh, a hearty, deep laugh.

En-Uk looked at me ... uncertain and somewhat bewildered.

When I'd recovered enough, I told him, "Tentacles, En-Uk. Not testicles. Tentacles."

At which point, Sa-Rah wanted to know precisely what "testicles" are...

Friday, October 20, 2006

When North Korea starts worrying about its image...

Gijeong-dong (DMZ), North Korea
(Image from Wikipedia)

Kim Jong-il must have realized that he's not getting his more reasonable side aired in the Western media, so he's let that shifty-eyed talking head of the DMZ, General Ri Chan-bok, 'splain things about life in wartime to CNN's Diane Sawyer:
Bok to Sawyer: N. Korea Has No Terror Ties
No terror ties? That's good to know. Of course, this is the same Ri Chan-bok who in 2005 ("Pyongyang reveals its hand," Asia Times Online, May 21, 2005) assured Selig Harrrison that:
There's no need for a [nuclear] test, and we don't want to have one, even one underground, because of the fallout.
Well, they had one anyway, didn't they, and the worldwide fallout has indeed been bad -- bad enough to force General Bok to go on his charm offensive and utter charmingly offensive things like:
War is inevitable.... Here, on the peninsula.
Inevitable, that is, if the sanctions continue in an effort to force the North "to kneel down." Well, I hope that Bok's as wrong about war's inevitability as he was about the North not wanting to test its nuclear weapons.

Bok also said -- speaking not only for himself but for all the people of North Korea -- that President Bush should stop dissing the DPRK with his talk about it being "the axis of evil," "the outpost of tyranny," and "an unacceptable government that makes its own people hungry."

I don't recall Bush recently using the expression "axis of evil," but I'd agree with General Bok that Bush shouldn't have used the word "axis" four years ago because Iraq, Iran, and North Korea have never turned around a common axis. The plural form, "axes," would be more precise. Good call, Bok.

For whatever it's worth, Bok also claimed that the North doesn't insist on the bilateral talks with the U.S. that it's been insisting on but is willing to return to the six-party talks that it's been refusing to attend ... if the sanctions are lifted.

Sanctions, eh? I guess that Kim Jong-il must be running out of cognac.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Another moment of mindless levity...

Smarter than your average bore?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In my history lecture yesterday, we covered some material on the late 19th-century racial theories that emerged from applications of Darwinism to human biology.

Scientists of the day were interested in measuring brain size and finding correlations between size and intelligence, then checking further correlations between these two and gender or race.

The scientists tended to find correlations that put Europeans at the apex in terms of brain size and men above women.

This sounded good to the European scientists ... until they turned to the brains of Eskimos, Lapps, Mongolians, and Tartars and found that their brains were generally larger than those of Europeans. But everybody knew that Europeans were smarter, so that was considered an anomaly, and therefore largely ignored at the time ... though my Korean students' ears perked up at the information.

I then mentioned that studies have shown that Neanderthals also, generally, had brains larger than those of modern Europeans.

So (my class and I wondered), with those bigger brains of theirs, why did Homo sapiens neanderthalis lose out in the struggle for survival against Homo sapiens sapiens?

"Obviously," I told my students, "with those big brains, Neanderthals were intellectuals, and we all know how unrealistic intellectuals can be. They probably sat around the campfires discussing philosophy and art when they should have been out hunting that big game that they needed for their massive muscular physiques!"

That's my theory, anyway. Some scientists differ. John M. Berardi notes that:

1. Big muscles and big brains are expensive.

2. When food is scarce, we need to think good, not look good.

3. When you're weak, you don't rely on muscular strength.

4. Big brains don't always mean high intelligence.
But I didn't go into that material (and who's this Berardi fellow, anyway, using "good" as an adverb?). I saw no need to undercut my Neanderthals-as-intellectuals theory, especially since my students liked it. Well, they laughed ... which is a quantifiable measure of something.

As for my views on average racial differences in intelligence ... I remain agnostic and will wait until all the evidence is in. I approach people as individuals anyway and hope that my Korean students do the same ... especially since East Asians generally score about 5 points higher on IQ tests than do people of European descent.

Damn! They're smarter! But for any of my students reading this, just remember what happened to the Neanderthals...


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Museum of Food Anomalies

Gravity-Defying Food
(Image from Wikipedia)

Am I allowed to be silly and lazy sometimes?

Early this morning, after reading a comment over at The Marmot by a fellow who says that he works for MOFA, I decided to find out what the acronym stands for ... and discovered:

Museum of Food Anomalies

At this online museum, you'll see images posted revealing all sorts of anomalous food, with some of the 'edible' items appearing quite evil-looking. Others, more innocuous, gain your sympathies.

I especially empathized with the grimacing lemon in dire need of a dentist.

Incidently, the above image of the mysteriously floating meat comes to us from Wikipedia rather than from MOFA, but note the hunk of meat in the upper left of the image. Doesn't it look rather like a fat bird with the feathers missing?

Weird, eh?


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Marmot has a bowel movement...

Beowulf Fights the Dragon
Illustration by J. R. Skelton
(New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1908)
(Image from Wikipedia)

The Marmot had the living 'sheet' scared out of him in a civil defense drill yesterday. I admit that I was worried myself. Seoul is only about 20 miles from the DMZ, so one of Kim Jong-il's state-of-the-art nuclear boomlets hefted onto a cart and hauled from the North by a donkey could reach Seoul in about seven hours.

So when the sirens started, I figured that I had just about enough time to finish my two afternoon lectures, take the subway home, do my exercises, drink a couple of ice-cold beers, have dinner, and tutor my two kids in English before taking shelter under some protective blankets until morning.

I seem to have survived.

I recall these drills from 1995, so when the sirens started at a little past 2:00 p.m., I knew exactly what was happening. As the sirens wailed on and on, the young students in my Medieval literature course looked around at each other, clueless, so I told them that Kim Jong-il was attacking. That got some nervous laughter. About that time, the screaming jets flew over low, and actual fear crossed some of their faces.

"Those are the missiles," I said, eliciting still more fear.

Then, I laughed and went on teaching ... though I considered reminding them of this heartening statement:

"Wyrd oft nereð unfaégne eorl þonne his ellen déah."

These are Beowulf's words to Unferth after the latter has questioned the hero's ability to defeat the monster Grendel, and they can be found in lines 572b-573 of the manuscript. Translated, they say:
"Fate often spares an undoomed man if his courage endures."
Still ... if the missiles were actually falling all around, then like The Marmot, I just might need a new pair of britches myself.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

North Korea's Nuclear Test: Geopolitical Message to China?

Think About Geopolitics
(Image from Wikipedia)

I have concluded that North Korea's nuclear-weapons program is directed primarily against China.


Because such a policy makes sense geopolitically and explains some of the North's behavior. Readers will recall my expression of bafflement at North Korea's abrupt test after having initially "informed China [that] it may drop its plan to test its first atomic bomb if the United States holds bilateral talks." China confidently passed this information on to the U.S., only to be embarrassed at the North's sudden reversal. At the time, I wondered why North Korea were willing to appear so erratic, especially at the price of slapping China in the face, and I expressed my continuing bafflement:

The baffling part about North Korea's decision to test its nuclear weapon is its apparent indifference about embarrassing its patron China, which had just reassured the world that the North was not about to test a nuclear weapon and which is currently apoplectic enough to criticize the Kim Jong-il regime for its "flagrant and brazen" violation of international opinion -- China's way of letting the North know that it's very angry about its loss of face.

China's expression "flagrant and brazen" was duly noted by many commentators because the phrase (hanran [悍然]) is ordinarily reserved for describing actions by hostile powers.

I then noted that the Marmot had posted a link to a CNN report, "NK army 'wants early nuclear test'" (CNN World, North Korea: Nuclear Tension, October 8, 2006), that clarified my bafflement as to why North Korea would choose to embarrass its patron China:

U.S. envoy John Bolton said last week that while Britain, France and Japan had made clear [that] a strong statement was needed to warn Pyongyang against testing, he was not certain "what North Korea's protectors on the (U.N. Security) Council are going to do".

In response, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said: "I'm not sure which country he is referring to, but I think that for bad behavior in this world no one is going to protect them."

Wang's remark riled North Korean generals who bristled at the notion of needing China's protection and urged their leader, Kim Jong-il, to bring the test date forward, said the source who requested anonymity.

"North Korea is especially unhappy with China," the source told Reuters after speaking with senior North Korean officials.

"This is chauvinism. North Korea does not need Chinese protection. North Korea is no longer a dependency," the source cited the North Koreans as saying.

From this, I concluded that North Korean nationalism, directed against China, spurred the military to "urge" an earlier test.

But North Korea wasn't simply reacting emotionally out of an aggrieved sense of insult to its hypernationalism. Rather, it was expressing an underlying geopolitical strategy, and China's use of the word hanran, implicitly treating North Korea as a hostile power, shows that China recognized this.

Jodi, over at Asia Pages, has recently posted in "Uneasy Moments" a statement that she heard a Chinese man tell a group of South Koreans who were blaming the U.S. for the North Korean test:

[In] the closing of the discussion[,] ... the Chinese man said in a quite terse tone to the South Koreans, "You have to realize though that North Korea is causing a very huge problem for China as well."

Well, what is this "very huge problem"? The problem is not merely that Korea embarrassed China. That's not a huge problem -- and certainly not a "very huge" one. The enormous problem for China is that North Korea chose a critical moment to declare not only its independence of China but its nuclear hostility toward China. Precisely that is the "very huge problem for China."

If I'm right, North Korea's implicit geopolitical circumstances open a window of opportunity for the U.S. and South Korea to reach out to the North.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

B. R. Myers: "Kim Jong Il's suicide watch"

Symbol of the Fascist Movement
(Image from Guide-to-Symbols)

My post of two days ago, "Approaching North Korea: Realpolitik plus Human Rights," hasn't exactly gotten overwhelming support, but I understand the criticisms.

And if Brian Reynolds Myers -- better known as B. R. Myers, author of A Reader's Manifesto, an attack upon postmodern literature, but also author of the scholarly Han Sorya and North Korean Literature, and who is an associate professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University (at the other campus, I think, for I've never met him) -- anyway, if B. R. Myers is correct, then nothing, neither sanctions nor engagement, will work with the Kim Jong-il regime.

In the October 12, 2006 issue of the International Herald Tribune, Myers, writing of "Kim Jong Il's suicide watch," seems to imply that neither approach will work because the regime's ideology has produced not the so-called 'Marxist masses' but a type of fascistic Volk that has encouraged fanaticism among its population. How has it done this? Through emphasis upon racial superiority through racial purity:
[A]lthough journalists persist in calling North Korea a Stalinist state, its worldview is far closer to that of fascist Japan.

Like the Japanese in the 1930s, the North Koreans trace the origins of their race back thousands of years to a single progenitor, and claim that this pure bloodline makes them uniquely virtuous. The country's mass games -- government-choreographed spectacles with a cast of more than 100,000 -- are often mistaken by foreign journalists as exercises in Stalinism. They are in fact celebrations of ethnic homogeneity. "No masses in the world," the state-run Cheollima magazine reminded readers in 2005, "are purer and more upright than our masses."

The North's emphasis upon race reminds one of the views of some South Koreans -- or of what some South Koreans used to believe about Korean purity -- but the North's emphasis is profoundly uncompromising, even aggressive, as "a recent meeting between generals from both Koreas [demonstrated], [for] the North delegation's leader condemned the South for allowing racial intermarriage," something that the South actually needs if it's going to maintain its population at replacement level.

At any rate, here's where Myers gets into the part of his argument that poses problems for proponents of engagement:

Naturally enough, the North Koreans' race theory, like that of the Japanese fascists, actuates a blithe indifference to international law. A uniquely virtuous people has no reason to obey its moral inferiors, be they allies or enemies. China has now learned that despite decades of military and economic assistance, it can draw on no residue of good will in dealing with Pyongyang.
Interestingly, the same holds for the North's relations with South Korea -- and, by extension, to relations with the U.S.:
Neither can the South Koreans, whom the North Koreans will revile for their ethnic treason no matter how much cash they pump northward. This utter imperviousness to gestures of friendship and conciliation bears obvious implications for the prospect of normal relations between North Korea and America.

Myers presents a deeply pessimistic view of engagement, especially since the regime knows precisely what it is doing:

The northern regime has so far restricted its racial propaganda to the home audience, because it wants the world to go on misperceiving it as a Stalinist state. This way we continue to pin our hopes on the kind of trust-building dialogue that worked so well with Communists in the 1980s - and failed so disastrously with the pure-race crowd a half-century earlier.

So, engagement will never work ... but, then again, neither will sanctions:

[T]he irrationality of their worldview is such that we should, at the very least, stop assuming that they would never use their own weaponry.

While Kim may not be suicidal himself, he shares Hirohito's penchant for encouraging this quality in his people: "Defense until Death" is an increasingly popular slogan. In 2003 a colorful poster was disseminated to the foreign press showing a fat missile in flight with a suicide-readiness slogan on it: "Yankee, take a good hard look." That isn't bad advice.
I take this to mean that if we press the North, it's likely to attack.

If Myers is correct, then neither engagement or sanctions will effect a desirable result ... so what do we do? It seems to me that the lesser of two evils would be engagement, for if sanctions are likely to lead to a war profoundly damaging to South Korea, then better engagement than death.

Moreover, while Myers might be correct about the Kim Jong-il regime's fascistic aspects, we can at least wonder if the regime has successfully brainwashed its population. But even if so, would it remain brainwashed under conditions of engagement? Would the regime's entire administration remain loyal? Or would 'ideological corruption' seep into the system as the attraction of wealth draws loyalties elsewhere even within the regime itself?

Do we have anything to lose by engagement?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Fan It and Cool It"

Let me give you a tip, cow: "Come Home."
(Image from Wikipedia)

Now, some time off to cool down with "Fan It and Cool It." To get a sense for the tune, go listen to bits from versions performed by Country Rockers, The New Duncan Imperials, and Woody Herman.

I'm typing this from memory, which may be faulty, but as the above sound-bites demonstrate, lyrics differ anyway, so here goes:

If this song's too hot,
Cool it if you can.
Better go out
And get yourself a fancy fan
And fan it, yeah, fan it.
You gotta fan it and cool it
Honey till the cows come home.

I got myself a new gal,
And her name is Sue.
She said you make me love you,
Honey, tell you what you do,
You gotta fan it, fan it,
You gotta fan it and cool it,
Honey till the cows come home.

My mama's in the kitchen,
I heard that back door slam.
Come outta the kitchen honey,
Quit scorchin' that ham,
And let's fan it, fan it,
You gotta fan it and cool it,
Honey till the cows come home.

I got six months in jail,
My back turned to the wall.
Fannin' that thang,
was the cause of it all.
Oh fan it, fan it,
You gotta fan it and cool it,
Honey till the cows come home.

I think that the version haunting my memory comes from a performance by "Hank the Cowhand," born David E. Stanford in Mexia, Texas, a place that I know well because I used to do volunteer work there at the Mexia State Home for the Mentally Retarded and Emotionally Disturbed -- as the place was called back in the days before political correctness.

For those with insatiable curiosities, I was doing the volunteer work with a Baylor University group known as "SCMR" -- as I discovered when the leader gave me a SCMR badge to wear.

"What's this S-C-M-R?" I asked.

"It's 'Skuh-Mer,'" she pronounced.

"Oh," I said, then asked, "What's it mean?"

In a bright, bubbly voice, she exclaimed:

"It stands for 'Sharing Christ with the Mentally Retarded'! Don't you want to wear one? That way, if people ask, 'What's SCMR,' you can tell them and also have a chance to share Christ."

I declined the honor. I couldn't -- even in those pre-PC days -- imagine myself explaining that acronym!

Now, if we had been "Sharing Christ with the Mentally and Emotionally Disturbed," I might have accepted a badge, if only for the resulting acronym "SCMED," which I would have pronounced "Scummed."

"We're 'Scummed,'" I'd have explained, "because God has skimmed us like scum from the corrupt mass of humanity. We do volunteer work with idiots and the insane. Would you like to be 'Scummed,' too?"
I don't know why I've never been very good at personal evangelism...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Approaching North Korea: Realpolitik plus Human Rights

Let's not just flare up!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Let's assume that that, despite some nagging doubts, the North Koreans have indeed tested a nuclear weapon.

Granted, at about 500 tons of explosive force, the power was only one-fortieth the size of the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki. Thus, the test might have been faked using TNT.

However, Michael Levi, science and technology expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues in a New Republic article, "What Really Matters About North Korea's Nuke" (New Republic Online, October 12, 2006), that a faked test is unlikely:
Coordinating the detonation of several hundred tons of conventional explosives is not a simple task. More importantly, if any country could demonstrate that the detonation was indeed conventional, it would cause North Korea profound humiliation.
Levi doesn't explain this point, but I suppose that he means that getting a lot of TNT (or whatever) to go off simultaneously in one large explosion rather than sequentially in a number of smaller explosions is difficult. The test was therefore far more likely to have been genuinely nuclear than faked. Why, then, such a low payload? Levi cites three possibilities:
[T]he test may have been a partial failure. In an implosion bomb, which most believe North Korea has developed, high explosives are used to compress plutonium. If the explosives compress the material partially, but not as much as expected, the explosive power is reduced.

[Another] possibility is luck. A nuclear detonation depends on a certain random element. For this reason, U.S. military analysts estimated that the Nagasaki bomb, before it was dropped, had a twelve percent chance of falling short of its 20-kiloton potential. North Korea may have been unlucky in its roll of the dice.

A final theory holds that North Korea chose to test a more sophisticated weapon whose power was lower by design. Yet
North Korea apparently told China that its bomb would have a power of four kilotons -- substantially larger than the actual explosion.
Levi leaves us hanging on that last point ... or are we supposed to reject number three? Anyway, I'd go with the first or second theory, neither of which is clearly enough distinguished to clarify the difference, but I suppose the difference is that even if the plutonium is properly compressed, the randomness of chain reactions leaves open the possibility of lower-level explosion.

Anyway, let's assume the explosion was indeed nuclear. What now?

Well, let's look on the bright side of this nuclear flash. It has illuminated -- by the bristly manner in which the North Koreans have conducted themselves -- the underlying tensions that North Korea has with China.

Realpolitik -- and here we need a Nixon -- would dictate that the U.S. take geopolitical advantage of this opening and make a bold offer. Along with Japan and South Korea, the U.S. could offer "a peace treaty, full diplomatic relations, economic investment, and ... implicitly ... independence from China, at whom the nuclear test was partially aimed" (as I suggested yesterday at DPRK).

I know -- this is the failed "Sunshine Policy" writ large, but hear me out. Some of you may recall my March 2005 meeting with Korea University's emeritus professor of philosophy Shin Il Chul, one of the intellectual forces behind Korea's "New Right" movement (but who has, regretably, since passed away). If you recall, I was impressed by Professor Shin, about whom my wife learned this:
[I]n the 1970s, Professor Shin was invited by then-dictator President Park to join the government in an important position, but Shin refused. Why? Because, as he privately told Min, "Someday, I will want to have the moral right to criticize this dictatorship, and I can't do that if I join it."
Interestingly, Shin did not oppose engagement with North Korea but argued that it needed grounding in the classical liberal tradition:

From my own talk with Shin as well as from an NKHR lecture that he gave in 2001, I know that by "liberty," he means more than merely economic freedoms. At that meeting, he told me that he intends the liberal tradition's grounding in human rights. Neither the left nor the right in Korea have emphasized this, he explained, and he argued that this neglect is the main flaw in the "Sunshine Policy" of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

Shin thinks that engagement with the North should have been modeled on the Helsinki Accords, which emphasized human rights and cited the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If this had been an integral part of South Korea's Sunshine Policy, then economic engagement would have been conditional upon the North's commitment to human rights.

Would this work? I don't know, but do we lose anything by trying? As things stand right now, North Korea has nuclear weapons that work and that will improve with further testing. China, despite its anger at Kim Jong-il, will be unwilling to apply tough sanctions because these might either drive the North into the arms of another (e.g., Russia) or send the North spiraling into chaos, with unpredictable consequences. China, therefore, will do nothing to endanger North Korea's stability. If the U.S., along with Japan and South Korea, were to impose sanctions and isolate the North further, this would have the effect of driving North Korea closer to China but do nothing to alter Kim Jong-il's behavior. The only effective card that we have is to make a generous offer of peace in return for a human rights agreement and hope that North Korea fears China's long-term aims more than it fears engagement with the U.S. and its Asian allies.

If North Korea would take the bait, then over time, we could open that society up through the lure of capitalist 'corruption' as North Korean officials come to see that its democratic, capitalist 'friends' have more to offer than the Kim dynasty ever has.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

North Korea's 'China Policy': Less Baffling

North Korean Throws Rock at China
Is that a Swoosh on his cap?
Photo Borrowed From BBC News

The Marmot posted a link to a CNN report, "NK army 'wants early nuclear test'" (CNN World, North Korea: Nuclear Tension, October 8, 2006), that might clarify a point that has been baffling me ever since Monday, namely, why North Korea chose to embarrass its patron China:

U.S. envoy John Bolton said last week that while Britain, France and Japan had made clear [that] a strong statement was needed to warn Pyongyang against testing, he was not certain "what North Korea's protectors on the (U.N. Security) Council are going to do".

In response, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said: "I'm not sure which country he is referring to, but I think that for bad behavior in this world no one is going to protect them."

Wang's remark riled North Korean generals who bristled at the notion of needing China's protection and urged their leader, Kim Jong-il, to bring the test date forward, said the source who requested anonymity.

"North Korea is especially unhappy with China," the source told Reuters after speaking with senior North Korean officials.

"This is chauvinism. North Korea does not need Chinese protection. North Korea is no longer a dependency," the source cited the North Koreans as saying.

Well, there you have it -- North Korean nationalism, directed against China, spurred the military to "urge" an earlier test.

Hmmm ... raises the question as to who's calling the shots up there, Kim Jong-il or the military. And note that this CNN report pre-dated the nuclear test, which gives it some credibility because it was a prediction rather than an explanation.

Anyway, as I had mused on this blog, the test might be directed as much against China as against the U.S., Japan, or South Korea.

A colleague of mine in Korea University's Department of Philosophy suggested to me yesterday that while China wouldn't do anything to destabilize North Korea, they'd happily do something to get rid of the North's Kim dynasty and put someone more amenable to Chinese pressure in charge.

I think that he's right, but if the CNN report is accurate, then the North's military is just as much driven by nationalism as Kim Jong-il himself and perhaps even more determinedly unwilling to kowtow to China.

According to Joseph Kahn, "China, angered, takes harder line with North" (International Herald Tribune: Asia-Pacific, October 10, 2006), China isn't very happy about this attitude and the nuclear test, which it labeled "hanran" (悍然):

China's punctilious Foreign Ministry reserves the word hanran, which translates as brazen or flagrant, for serious affronts to the nation's dignity by countries that have historically been rivals or enemies.


North Korea, a longstanding ideological ally, has had increasingly testy relations with China in recent years. But it was not until Monday, moments after North Korea apparently exploded a nuclear device, that China accused it of a "brazen" violation of its international commitments.


"Hanran" has been applied to North Korea for the first time. But Japan and the United States, which favor the sharpest response to the North Korean test, have been "hanran" for years.
Sounds pretty serious ... but as the North Koreans might hanranly challenge: "Whaddaya gonna do about it?"

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Juche means ... never having to say you're sorry

All Hail the Juche Wave of the Future
(Image from Wikipedia)

The baffling part about North Korea's decision to test its nuclear weapon is its apparent indifference about embarrassing its patron China, which had just reassured the world that the North was not about to test a nuclear weapon and which is currently apoplectic enough to criticize the Kim Jong-il regime for its "flagrant and brazen" violation of international opinion -- China's way of letting the North know that it's very angry about its loss of face.

But I guess that Juche -- the North Korean ideology of self-reliance -- means never having to say you're sorry, so don't expect Kim Jong-il to apologize.

The question is: What sort of tough love can the North expect from China?

China is the only country with the ability to bring down the Kim regime by economic means, for the Chinese supply the bulk of North Korea's energy and have, occasionally, cut off fuel oil shipments ... temporarily. In a moment of pique, the Chinese might do this again ... briefly ... but Realpolitik suggests that the logic (if not the manner) of Kim Jong-il's nuclear test won't change things.

Why not?

Because the Chinese don't want North Korea to collapse. Consequently, they won't do anything to endanger the North Korean regime unless they have to, and if they thought that they needed to undermine the regime, then they'd try to ensure that China shapes the process and controls the end result -- such as when China "contemplated launching a pre-emptive invasion of North Korea" because it feared that the U.S. might actually start bombing the North to take out its nuclear-weapons program about three years ago, according to a Jasper Becker op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (reported in the OUP Blog).

So unless the U.S. is about to bomb the North Koreans or otherwise seriously undermine the Kim Jong-il regime, then China will do nothing more serious than attempt a reciprocal public embarrassment of North Korea for having embarrassed China (such as supporting a U.N. condemnation of the North or very publicly shutting off the North's fuel oil supplies for a few weeks).

Kim Jong-il might look eratic in his manner, but there's method in his madness. Everyone may currently be expressing fears that North Korea's nuclear test will start a nuclear arms race in Northest Asia as Japan and the South Koreans rush to develop their own nuclear weapons, but I don't think that this will happen.

Why not?

Because it's not in the interests of the United States for Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons to balance those of the North Koreans. The U.S. can dissuade Japan by assuring it of protection under America's nuclear umbrella, and it can do much the same with South Korea.

China, Russia, and the U.N. would also urge restraint on the part of Japan and South Korea, and I don't think that either of these two nations would be willing to further destabilize Northeast Asia when the U.S. and everybody else is telling them not to.

So far as I can see, then, the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il has calculated the Realpolitik of Northeast Asia and determined that the nuclear benefit outweighs the temporary cost.

And he's probably right.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea: Not Bluffing, But ... Baffling

(Image from Wikipedia)

North Korea may not be bluffling, but it's certainly baffling.

Over at The Korea Liberator on Sunday, Richardson cited a CNN report that the North had told China that it might not test its nuclear device:

North Korea informed China it may drop its plan to test its first atomic bomb if the United States holds bilateral talks with the communist country, a former South Korean lawmaker said Sunday.

The North also denied speculation that its nuclear test was imminent and said the regime has not raised the alert level of the country's military, said Jang Sung-min, citing a telephone conversation with an unidentified Chinese diplomatic official.

North Korea warned the Chinese official, however, that it would accelerate its preparations for a nuclear test if the United States moves toward imposing sanctions or launching a military attack, Jang said, citing his contact.

In Richardson's view, the North had a tactical aim in its decision:
Perhaps not wanting to use up the precious nuclear card, North Korea has signaled that won’t test a nuke if the U.S. will meet in bilateral talks; plain and simple blackmail.
That seemed like a reasonable interpretation to me. Those crafty North Koreans were simply bluffing and using the bluff to ratchet up pressure for bilateral talks with the U.S.

The North, however, prefers baffling us to bluffing us, for less than 24 hours after the China report, came this update, commented upon in a follow-up post by Richardson:
Things are about to get interesting. North Korea claims to have tested a nuke; seismic confirms an explosion.
I was taking a lunch break in my office when I read Richardson's breaking news, and I happened to be the first to post a comment:
This comes rather suddenly upon the heels of the North's denial that "its nuclear test was imminent."

Given the unlikelihood that the U.S. has moved "toward imposing [new] sanctions or launching a military attack" in the brief 24 hours since the North warned against such moves, then this nuclear test is even more puzzling.

The test is yet more baffling when one considers that the North had "informed China [that] it may drop its plan to test its first atomic bomb if the United States holds bilateral talks."

Whether this was a nuclear device or a whole lot of TNT used for simulating one, its use so soon after its statements yesterday makes the North look extremely erratic. It might also prove embarrassing to China.

So … what was the point? Was this an accidental firing? Or does Kim Jong-il want to look erratic? Or does the army call the shots now, overruling the government’s position? Or was there a remarkably coincidental earthquake?

I suppose that living in Korea, trying to read up on both Korean history and current events, and even taking a scholarly interest in the region, I ought to have more insight ... but I don't ... not yet, anyway.

In a comment to a more recent post by Joshua, also of The Korea Liberator, USinKorea suggests a message scarier than bluffling or baffling:
I think NK is desperately saying that if some internal problems come up next year -- rebellions, revolts, major splits at the top of the society [--] and [if] the US tries to exploit it, the NK could nuke Seoul. I think that is the message the timing of the test is sending out.

If the worst were to happen, here's what to expect:
The sound of the explosion was so loud, so prolonged and so unusual that I knew at once I was listening to a historic singularity...

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Muslim Shahid as Sacrificial Intercessor: Follow-Up

West Jerusalem Bus Wreckage after Suicide Bombing
Tuesday, 18 June, 2002
Allah sorts them out?

A couple of posts ago, I asked about Bin Laden's citation of a hadith stating that a Muslim martyr's "intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted." Bin Laden cites it as "Narrated by Ahmad and AtTirmithi but gives no details.

One of my commenters, who goes by the name "Erdal," offered this information on the quoted hadith:

The quote you ask about is quite famous and widely known for a single reason only: It's in Hassan-al Banna's 'Risalat ul-Djihad' (and any any number of compilations of his writings under different titles), which have been read by millions (and have been translated a lot), unlike of course the original ahadith.
The English transliteration would be "Risalat al-Jihad," variously translated as "Epistle on Jihad," "Tract of Jihad," and "Essay on Jihad," as I have learned through Googling. Erdal also called "somebody who owns one of these searchable hadith databases" and reported back:
He says this is #1067 in a-Tirmidhi. It's narrated on the strength of the word of a certain "Al-Miqdam Ibn Madikarib" solely, and expects it to be rated quite low on the reliability scale by classical commentators.
Erdal also noted that his colleague with the searchable hadith database:
...doubted that Bin Ladin got this from al-Banna's book, instead he thought it very likely that he got it from the popular "Mishkat al-Masabih" (sort of a slightly dumbed down 'Best of Hadith' ordered by topic), listed there under Volume 1, No.814, the same source Banna is known to have drawn from.
I am pretty ignorant of these materials, so forgive me for relying on Wikipedia ... but according to the entry on Mishkat al-Masabih:
Mishkat al-Masabih is the improved version of Masabih al-Sunnah. Al-Tabrizi essentially rendered a version of the text more preferable to those who don't posses a more advanced knowledge of the science of hadith by writing a commentary on it by the directions of 'Allamah Husayn ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Muhammad al-Tibi, and this writing is what came to be known as Mishkat al-Masabih. It contains 4434 to 5945 ahadith, divided up amongst 29 books and is considered by Sunni scholars as an important writing.

Two things strike me about this hadith. One: it's considered to be of low reliability by the classical commentators. Two: it's a highly popular hadith among jihadists.

The use of this hadith by a Salafist like Bin Laden is somewhat surprising to me, but perhaps due to my ignorance. Salafists reject all 'innovations' in Islam, e.g., venerating the graves of prophets and holy men, which is considered a form of shirk (i.e., polytheism). I would therefore expect Salafists such as Bin Laden to reject the belief that a Muslim martyr could intercede for seventy of his relatives through his self-sacrifice, which sounds to me like something that Muslims ought to consider a form of shirk, given their low Christology, which rejects the Christian veneration of Jesus as self-sacrificial redeemer, and given their own belief that each individual bears the responsibility for his or her own sins.

Still, the hadith is very popular, and for understandable reasons since it not only affirms the salvation of the Muslim martyr but also of seventy family members -- which grounds the martyrdom in society, for it is not simply the act of an individual seeking solely his own salvation but one dying for the salvation of others and thus takes on the character of altruism.

Probably Meir Hatina's article "Theology and power in the Middle East: Palestinian martyrdom in a comparative perspective" (Journal of Political Ideologies, Volume 10, Number 3, October 2005, pp. 241-267), described by the following abstract, would be worth reading on this subject:

Jihad (holy war) and self-sacrifice constituted a formative ethos for Palestinian Islam in its struggle against Israel from the early 1990s onward. They became important components of politics of identity, aimed at infusing metaphysical values into Palestinian life, while also positing a political alternative to the PLO. This paper focuses on a formative manifesto titled 'Readings in the Laws of Martyrdom' (Qira'a fi Fiqh al-Shahada). Disseminated by the Islamic Jihad in 1988, the manifesto laid down the ideological foundations of martyrdom in Palestine. With the passage of time, Palestinian 'suicide attacks' became unprecedented in scale, distinctive thereby from similar phenomena in other conflicted areas such as Lebanon, Kashmir, Chechnya, Turkey and Sri Lanka. The discussion evaluates the role of the Palestinian manifesto in the radical Islamic orbit. For this purpose, two other formative texts are also examined. The first is 'The Absent Duty', issued in 1981 by the Egyptian Jihad movement, which was responsible for President Sadat's assassination. The second is 'Manual for a Raid', issued by the al-Qa'ida organization, containing instructions for the perpetrators of the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. A comparative analysis of the three texts reveals common themes as well as variations that reflect the particular context in which each Islamic group was active.
The article is not online, but I did manage to uncover the fact that it cites "Risalat al-Jihad":
Hasan al-Banna, 'Risalat al-Jihad' (The Tract of Jihad) in (no Editor) Majmu'at Rasa'il al-Imam al-Shahid. (Collection of Tracts of the Martyr Imam) (Beirut: al-Mu'assasa al-Islamiyya, nd), p. 264.
Since it cites al-Banna, Hatina's article perhaps analyzes his use of the quote about dying for seventy family members, but even if it doesn't treat al-Banna's use, the hadith itself is so popular that Hatina must have dealt with it anyway.

I'll have to look into this more closely. Thanks to Erdal for the very helpful details.

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