Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cousin Bill's "Weekly Ramblings"

Mount Sunflower
aka by its Indian name: Rewolfnus Tm
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm the black sheep of my extensive family because I ended up doing what I do, which ain't much, but most of my relatives have been leading far more productive jobs and lives. For instance, I've recently heard from Cousin Bill, who had earlier reported on a 'rattleheadedcoppermoccasin' and is now reporting on his travels and travails in a couple of emails that he titles "Weekly Ramblings" (W. R.), the first of which promises an upcoming road trip:
I've had no long trips this past week to relate and bore anyone, and tomorrow head to NW Kansas to the metropolis of Hoxie (population 1200), delivering a new Tundra. It's a small town with little claim to fame except for one NFL player, one Miss Kansas, one U. S. Representative (Erastus J. Turner) and an associate Oregon Supreme court judge. This I learned just today with a quick visit to Wikipedia. Hopefully, I'll be able to stay awake to and from, as the scenery that way is about as interesting as my reflection while shaving.
Cousin Bill might possibly anger a few proud Kansans with these words, but since he's a handsome fellow, like all of his family (including his cousins), this is actually a high compliment despite the remark about hoping "to be able to stay awake," for he simply meant that he's sleepy early in the mornings when he shaves even though he has his fascinating reflection to keep him awake.

Cousin Bill goes on to praise the Kansas weather, which he compares to Arkansas's temperate climate as experienced on the front porch at the farm belonging to our Grandma Hodges back in our childhoods, and he follows this with elevated praise for the mountainous landscape of western Kansas:
This way we're hot, 72 early and one gnat's whisker away from 100 at the moment. Being outside is about as comfortable as was Grandma Nora's front porch in August.

We had two light rains this week, each helping the parched lawns and certainly helping the humidity level. Further forecast calls for more dry and hot, making all this way look and feel like bleached bison bones on Kansas' Mt. Sunflower (4039 feet asl). It's about 3 feet higher than the rest of Kansas.
Cousin Bill means that all of Kansas is mountainous, and he might be doing some climbing of Mt. Sunflower soon if his wife can just whip him into shape:
The bride decided she (we) needed exercise, so yesterday we looked, bought, loaded, hauled home and managed to assemble a "home gym". The assembly took a little over three hours and was completed with absolutely no left over parts. Note, this thing came in one 278 lb box and two 70 lb boxes, the former containing all framework, pulleys, cables, nuts & bolts, seat, backrest, and other sundry parts, the latter fourteen 10 lb weights. As neither Cheryl's Dad nor mine "raised any dummies", we did think to open the large box and haul this thing downstairs piece by piece. We felt we had two weeks worth of workout just getting it downstairs and assembled, So now, I see no reason for further exercise until maybe mid August. Bulging triceps can wait awhile. Hope this thing doesn't cause me to have a "high bulging forehead", That comment references a recent blog by Cousin Jeff'.
Yes, a "high bulging forehead" like mine is nothing to greatly desire, given the high overhead costs! Still, it does have its advantages. For instance, as readers will recall from my Ozark Photoblog, I look like one of those handsome aliens on Star Trek, possibly from the Xindi missions. Be that as it may -- and to bring this blog entry back down to earth -- let's return to Cousin Bill and join him in a second "Weekly Rambling" adventure on his promised trip to astounding Hoxie:
The trip to Hoxie (mentioned in last weeks W. R.) was uneventful. Coming into Hoxie, one crosses a bridge, signage affixed stating the "South Fork Solomon River". The "river" contained no water and likely never does except when a toad strangler rolls through. I noticed only tires, cans, barrels, plastic garbage bags and other debris littering the "river bed".
Cousin Bill means that the city's water supply also supplies the locals with their consumer needs. Need a tire? A can? A barrel? A plastic bag? Some other consumer item? Just visit the river bed. Yet, the city also has other places to shop till you drop:
Hoxie is best described as a dusty little dried up town with only the implement dealership, grocery store, school, post office, and gas station/convenience store (with unleaded fuel prices there posted at $4.11 (39 cents higher than stations along I 70, just 18 miles to the south). A large brown mutt (also dusty), with a somewhat stifled tail wag and one wary eye opened, greeted my arrival at the station. The dog was about twice as friendly as the grizzled counter lady who wanted to know my reason for a requested gas receipt. Three grizzled old men (probably each the grizzled lady's husband (or husband and two boyfriends), all drinking something from plastic cups, looked up and eyed me suspiciously as I explained the needed receipt was for reimbursement from the Toyota dealer. I think I heard one old man say "damn Japs". This place should carry the name Purgatory, rather than Hoxie.
Purgatory? Isn't that a mountain in Dante's Divine Comedy, which despite the name isn't very funny -- I didn't laugh even once. I assume that Cousin Bill's literary allusion was intended to convey the mountainous landscape that characterizes much of Kansas. The local hillbillies of Hoxie sound like some of the friendly folks who made moonshine on the land adjoining Grandma Nora's Ozark farm. Readers will recall that Grandpa Archie had a pleasant conversation with one of those moonshiners concerning the best place to keep one's knife.

Anyway, Cousin Bill hauled his load up the local mountain of Purgatory to meet his appointment with destiny:
I delivered the new Tundra to the Hoxie Implement Dealer, and commented on a tracked and articulated Case IH tractor (the largest I've seen) on hand. The dealer (co-owner with three sons) advised these monsters are capable of pulling 40 plus foot plows, or whatever else one might choose to tow through the flat or hilly fields of America. The dealer was a nice gentlemen and pointed out all features and capabilities of this vehicle. The interior featured A/C, TV, GPS (allowing for perfectly aligned rows whether running contour or straight rows), Computer, AM/FM/CD radio, and a seat that looked comfortable enough to use in someone's family room. I was told this rig can pull a 40 foot cultivator through 1 acre in about a minute. The price, a mere $325 K.
Well that is a low price, so I may think about purchasing one. I could use a tractor since I'm also trying to cultivate the rocky landscape of my career. Speaking of landscapes, Cousin Bill goes on to describe the scenery between mountainous Hoxie and the merely hilly but still lovely land of northeastern Iowa:
The following morning I headed to Dubuque, IA, a rather beautiful city located in N/E IA alongside the Mississippi River. That area (200 plus miles north and east of Des Moines) is all rolling hills and prime farm country. Crops there are about 80% corn, the balance soybeans, hay or other. It is well treed with clear rivers and creeks, all running almost bank full. The area is very similar to Wisconsin and Minnesota, with beautiful farm homes and outbuildings nestled amongst acres of crops. Iowa has its share of picturesque towns, some carrying names like Cascade, Monticello, Key West and Anamosa (these along a 60 mile stretch of Hwy 151). I did not see any tracked articulated tractors in use there, assume they were all inside numerous outbuildings (equipment that way is stored inside, unless it's in use). Farmers were doing a lot of crop spraying, and on several occasions I had to slow for and then pass John Deere 4730 Self-Propelled Sprayers. Those things are wide (there must be eight plus feet between the wheels/tires) and tall enough that a small car could certainly drive under and through, thus eliminating the need to slow and pass. And the folks at the dealership, station/convenience store were friendly. As was the restaurant and hotel staff a few miles down the road. I'd bet no one in Iowa has a grizzled relative in Hoxie, KS.
Cousin Bill draws a theological inference from his travels:
In a comparison of western Kansas and Iowa, I'd say God spent a little more design time in Iowa.
Actually, I think that I'd prefer the mountainous scenery of Kansas, but there's no disputing tastes . . . or did Cousin Bill mean that God was forced to spend more design time on Iowa's landscape because the land there was less intrinsically interesting than the high-alpine terrain of Kansas?

Perhaps Cousin Bill will explain in a comment...

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Contradictions in Religious Texts?

Eleventh-Century North African Qur'an
Housed in British Museum
(Image from Wikipedia)

A former student of mine posed the following query about a 'contradiction' in the Qur'an:
I was reading Koran and I came across a contradiction . . . . Please compare Albagharah (Second surah) 6-7 to Al-Anfal 12, 13, 14, and 39. Do you think this is a sound argument if one is trying to disapprove Koran?
I wonder if my former student really meant "disapprove" . . . or possibly "disprove." Anyway, I don't know the Qur'an very well . . . though I have read it. I'm a bit doubtful about finding contradictions in literary texts since so much depends upon interpretation of ambiguous words, but I sought online for a Qur'an and found this one, which conveniently supplies both Arabic and various English translations. Selecting Shakir's translation for no good reason other than its being listed first -- i.e., at random -- I found the following for al-Baqara 6-7:
Sura 2, Aya 6:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ سَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَأَنذَرْتَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تُنذِرْهُمْ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ

Shakir 2.6:

Surely those who disbelieve, it being alike to them whether you warn them, or do not warn them, will not believe.

Sura 2, Aya 7:

خَتَمَ اللّهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهمْ وَعَلَى سَمْعِهِمْ وَعَلَى أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عظِيمٌ

Shakir 2.7:

Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.
Okay, sounds as though Allah prevents belief among some individuals. As for al-Anfaal 12, 13, 14, and 39:
Sura 8, Aya 12:

إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلآئِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ فَثَبِّتُواْ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ الرَّعْبَ فَاضْرِبُواْ فَوْقَ الأَعْنَاقِ وَاضْرِبُواْ مِنْهُمْ كُلَّ بَنَانٍ

Shakir 8.12:

When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

Sura 8, Aya 13:

ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ شَآقُّواْ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

Shakir 8.13:

This is because they acted adversely to Allah and His Messenger; and whoever acts adversely to Allah and His Messenger -- then surely Allah is severe in requiting (evil).

Sura 8, Aya 14:

ذَلِكُمْ فَذُوقُوهُ وَأَنَّ لِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابَ النَّارِ

Shakir 8.14:

This -- taste it, and (know) that for the unbelievers is the chastisement of fire.

. . .

Sura 8, Aya 39:

وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لاَ تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلّه فَإِنِ انتَهَوْاْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

Shakir 8.39:

And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah; but if they desist, then surely Allah sees what they do.
Okay, sounds as though Allah orders believers to fight unbelievers and slice off their heads and fingertips (fingertips?) . . . in what context, I don't know. Anyway, after looking at these verses, I replied to my former student:
[Y]our question prompted me to locate an online Qur'an.

As for contradiction . . . do you mean between Allah preventing the belief of some individuals (Al-Bagharah [Second Surah] 6-7) yet also punishing individuals for unbelief (Al-Anfal [Eighth Surah] 12, 13, 14, and 39)?

I guess that the possibility of contradiction depends upon how one interprets these verses.

Why does Allah prevent the belief of some individuals? Are they being punished for prior unbelief that they themselves chose? If so, then the apparent contradiction fades away.

But let's say that Allah predetermines unbelief, then punishes the individual for this unbelief. There is only a contradiction if one assumes that Allah is good, for the contradiction lies in one's expectations of what a most-perfect being would do. Yet . . . perhaps Allah is not good. If not, then the contradiction fades. Allah himself emerges as the problem in this case, however, though one response would be that Allah himself is ground of the distinction between good and evil, the point being that one cannot judge Allah. That response might not satisfy the unbeliever, but unbelievers are cursed by Allah anyway, so who cares what they think?

Just kidding.

Anyway, these are a couple of ways out of a potential contradiction. But I am not qualified to argue precisely about the issue, for I know neither the hermeneutics on these verses nor the Arabic necessary to read them for their nuances.
My former student replied:
Maybe it is not a contradiction but the way I read it, Allah sounds very cruel by ordering to cut off fingers of infidels eventhough Allah, himself, is preventing them from learning the truth! It seems to me simillar to punishing mentally disabled people for not fulfilling their obligations as healthy people ,if the analogy makes sense. Maybe the contradiction is not among these verses but I see it with the nature of 'the compassionate and the mercyful'.
Allah, of course, is often called "the compassionate, the merciful" in the Qur'an I replied:
[I]n literary texts -- broadly understood as literary -- contradictions are hard to pin down, and the Qur'an is a literary text, among other things.

One just has to keep asking questions, which is something that the Islamists don't like, but if questions are politely posed, they have to answer.

Except for those Islamists who prefer to shoot the questioner. For that sort, we need harder questions . . .
And a bullet-proof vest.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Expat Living: "The fruit of all evil"

Michael Pacher, Saint Wolfgang and the Devil (1483)
"Okay, okay, you're right . . . it doesn't say apple."
(Image from Wikipedia)

My most recent language column has appeared in today's issue of the Korea Herald (note: pop-up at newspaper), so I'll now post it here:
The fruit of all evil
In "Areopagitica," that famous 17th-century defense of free expression, John Milton wrote, "It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill."

Milton's opinion presupposes a sin-fallen world where we necessarily experience evil with good and thereby learn to distinguish these mortal opposites that cleave together -- a clever pun, incidentally, upon the ambiguous meaning of "cleave" as both "cling" and "cut."

Doomed as we are to know good by experiencing evil, Milton infers that any attempt to promote goodness by overly restricting bad speech would be . . . well, fruitless. But why does Milton call the fruit that Eve plucked and offered to Adam an apple? The biblical passage specifies no apple, but leaves the fruit unnamed.

That never stopped the pious from naming it, of course. Biblical reticence invites speculation. The extracanonical "Book of Enoch" calls the fruit grape-like, as do several rabbinical passages. Other rabbis name the fruit a fig, perhaps on the scriptural evidence that Adam and Eve, their fallen eyes first perceiving their nakedness, covered their pudenda with fig leaves. Other speculations about the unnamed fruit abound -- even the wild suggestion "wheat"!

Milton, however, says apple. Why?

He was hardly alone, for the Western Christian tradition in literature and art had largely settled on the apple as the fruit from the tree of knowledge, probably based on a pun in Latin between evil (malum) and apple (malus). The scriptural text in Latin reads "lignumque scientiae boni et mali" -- or, in plain English, "and the tree of knowledge of good and of evil," but the genitive singular form mali can be translated either "of evil" or "of apple." The "tree of knowledge of good and of apple" might sound slightly ludicrous, but we are talking wordplay, hence all in good pun.

Milton, however, might have had other thoughts in calling that fatal fruit an apple, for the word has an interesting history. The most ambitious English lexicon of all, the intimidating Oxford English Dictionary, notes that from early on, the word "apple" included "any fruit." Intriguingly, the English cleric Edward Topsell reveals that the English language held to this broader range of meaning as late as 1607, for in his book "The History of Four-footed Beasts," he refers to the "Apples of Palm-trees," and the book was republished some fifty years later. Moreover, nearly a hundred years after Milton, as late as 1765, the country gentleman Abraham Tucker observed in his multi-volume book "The Light of Nature Pursued" that the "fly injects her juices into the oak-leaf, to raise an apple for hatching her young," thereby demonstrating a still-extant, rather broad range of meaning.

Consequently, when Milton referred in "Areopagitica" to "the rinde of one apple tasted," when he had his narrator in "Paradise Regained" mention "that crude Apple that diverted Eve," and when he showed Satan in "Paradise Lost" tempting Eve with "tasting those fair Apples" and later boasting before the other demons of having seduced mankind "with an Apple," he might not have meant specifically what we today mean by "apple" but more indefinitely what we now mean by "fruit."

Therefore -- no two ways about it -- fear all fruit. You could study hard in school. You could even get a good job. But then, you might unwittingly eat some foreboding fruit . . . and just die!
Originally, the column above was intended for early July, but one of the other columnists who writes on language misunderstood and missed the deadline, resulting in a long delay before the printing of that language-column page, so my article has only appeared in print now, about an entire month later. During that lost month, I had actually sent in a revision of the penultimate paragraph, but the time delay resulted in those changes being lost. Here's what I had intended for the final form of that next-to-last paragraph:
Consequently, when Milton referred in "Areopagitica" to "the rinde of one apple tasted," when he had his narrator in "Paradise Regained" mention "that crude Apple that diverted Eve," and when he showed Satan in "Paradise Lost" tempt Eve with "tasting those fair Apples" and later boast before the other demons of having seduced mankind "with an Apple," Milton might not have meant specifically what we today mean by "apple" but more indefinitely what we now mean by "fruit."
Just for the sake of clarity.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Anti-American 'Beef' Protests Continue

Anti-American Beef Protest
Typical Photo from June Protests
Still Applicable Today
(Image from Brisbane Times)

The Korean 'left' still has a beef with American beef . . . or seems to.

Robert Koehler -- aka "The Marmot" at that online center of expat scuttlebutt The Marmot's 'Watering' Hole -- informs us that Scott Burgeson attended Saturday night's anti-beef protest, which has morphed into a "peaceful defense of South Korean democracy against the Lee Myung-bak dictatorship" (to borrow Robert's ironic manner of expression).

The Reaganite libertarian Robert Koehler and the postmodern leftist Scott Burgeson have rarely agreed on Korean issues but seem to find themselves in surprised agreement on the beef protests. Robert directs us to this post by Scott (aka known as Wang Baeksu [= "King White Hands," or King of the Slackers]), which reveals this about the protest in downtown Seoul:
At around 8pm, about 1,000 protesters had occupied the main intersection at Chonggak so that no cars could go through. After a while, the police opened the street (Chongno) by marching in a forward straight line, but with restraint and without hitting anyone that I could see. For some reason, after about 30 minutes the police decided to retreat, and one large line of police started retreating towards Ch'onggyech'on. Thus, they had left the entire intersection of Chonggak open again to the protesters, without arresting anyone or anything.

As the police were retreating, many protesters started charging at them and actually hitting them with their fists. There was the usual media frenzy, of course, flashes everywhere and whatnot. The most hilarious part was that the protesters were actually shrieking "Violent police!" as they were hitting the police! I thought this was just absurdly ironic and nothing else until I saw that one slight young policeman had been knocked unconscious by the protesters and had to be carried to the sidewalk and laid down. He was out for a while and eventually regained consciousness (volunteer protest medics and other police were attending to him), but couldn't stand up, so after waiting about 15 minutes an ambulance finally came and took him away.

Of course, none of the usual suspects were there to document all this, like Hankyoreh, MBC or KBS. I asked several protesters why they were complaining about the violent police when they were hitting police first, and they all whined, "The police started it!" like third graders. Remember: THE POLICE WERE RETREATING when this poor young guy was KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS!
I couldn't figure out an easy way to leave a message at Scott's website, so I posted a comment at Robert's site:
At Berkeley during protests in the early 80s against apartheid, the hardcore left used to stand at the back of protesting crowds and hurl rocks over the heads of the other protesters to hit the police.


Why, to foment revolution, of course.
My Berkeley friend Scott Corey, who wrote his thesis on political violence, had watched this sort of behavior on the part of the radical, hardcore left in Berkeley.

Similarly, when we doctoral students were protesting UC Berkeley's decision to rename Teaching Assistants as Graduate Student Employees -- for we were the TAs who would lose bargaining power through that name change -- I listened to one of our organizers complain about the hardcore left trying to infiltrate our ranks and incite violence.

My conclusion was that the radical left's main goal was to exacerbate divisions in society in the interest of class warfare, a point implied in an earlier post of mine, "Lying for the truth," for I quote there from Stephen Koch's long essay, "Lying for the truth: Münzenberg & the Comintern" (The New Criterion, Volume 12, Number 3, November 1993), who says this about the Communist protests 'defending' the two Italian-born American workers and anarchists Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti:
The Communist goal was never to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. Acquittal would have dissolved the whole political point. Katherine Anne Porter, like hundreds of writers and artists of the time, participated in the Boston deathwatch. She reports an exchange with the Comintern agent who was her group leader, Rosa Baron, "a dry, fanatical little woman who wore thick-lensed spectacles over her accusing eyes, a born whiphand, who talked an almost impenetrable jargon of party dogma . . . . I remarked . . . that even then, at that late time, I still hoped the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti could be saved . . . . 'Saved' she said, ringing a change on her favorite answer to political illiteracy, 'who wants them saved? What earthly good would they do us alive?'"
In response to what I'd read, I commented:
Ms. Baron's remark is either the profound cynicism of the nihilist or the deep conviction of the true believer that every deception is permitted in pressing forward toward the utopian 'truth' . . . and maybe both at once.
This same attitude seems to characterize the hardcore Korean left as well.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obama: Does he have a prayer?

Prayer Notes in Western Wall
(Image from Wikipedia)

Since this is a Sunday morning, let's talk about prayer . . . Barack Obama's prayer.

While Obama was visiting Jerusalem's Western Wall, he followed the tradition of leaving a written prayer in one of the cracks between the stones. According to Wikipedia:
There is a much publicised practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. The earliest account of this phenomenon is recounted by the Munkatcher Rebbe and is recorded in Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U'mekorei Ha-dinim. The story involves Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar who died in Jerusalem in 1743. A certain man came to him in great distress after he had become so destitute that he couldn’t afford to buy food for his family. The Ohr Ha-chaim wrote him an amulet in Ashuri script on parchment and instructed the man to place it between the holy stones of the Western Wall.
This passage cites page 270 of Avraham Yitzchak Sperling, Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U'mekorei Ha-dinim; Inyanei Hilula D'Rashbi (Jerusalem: Shai Le-morah Publishing, 1999). My Hebrew's not very good, but "sefer" means "book," "tamei" looks to be related to the word for "taste" ("taa'm"), "ha" is the definite article (the), "minhagim" looks to be the plural for the nominalized form of the verb "nahag" (conduct), "u" is the conjunction "and," "mekorei" is the nominalized form of the verb "karaa" (call), and "dinim" is plural for "judgment" ("din") . . . I think. Anyway, this is the title of the Hebrew text translated into English as The customs and ceremonies of Judaism, their origins and rationale, which was first published in 1890 by Avraham Yitzchak Sperling, a rabbi.

The main point is that this custom of slipping written prayers in the cracks between the stones of the Western Wall goes back only about 300 years, so far as we know.

While these prayers don't have the 'sanctity' of long-established tradition, they are considered a sanctioned practice and to be respected as private. Despite the custom of respecting the privacy of such prayers, curiosity apparently overcame one Jewish seminary student present at the wall when Obama placed his prayer in a crevice, for this student removed the prayer and passed it along to Israel's second-largest newspaper Maariv (Hebrew: מַעֲרִיב‎, lit. Evening), which published a photograph of the prayer on its front page.

Ordinarily such a prayer would be private, but since the milk got spilled when the cow escaped the barn, I might as well join other 'journalists' and publish Obama's prayer:

Obama's Prayer
(Image from Sense of Events)

For those who have difficulty reading cursive, Yahoo! News has conveniently provided this prayer in print form:
Lord -- protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.
This is a pretty good personal prayer. Did Obama expect this 'private' prayer to be made public? Maybe not. It doesn't strike me as the sort of prayer intended for public consumption. This prayer does, of course, offer up the words of a very public man, and his words reflect his position and his concerns. As prominent as he is -- and given the historic significance of who he is -- he and his family will need protection. I won't speculate on what his "sins" might be -- if he gets elected in November, all of those sins will soon become very public -- but his asking for God to guard him against pride and despair is excellent, and very understandable for one in his position. Asking for wisdom to do what is right and just is also good.

But asking to be an instrument of God's will? That's asking for trouble, isn't it? Admittedly, this is a typical expression in prayers offered up by evangelicals, but I can almost hear Obama's critics cite these closing words as evidence for Obama's supposed messianic complex. While I don't think that Obama has a messianic complex, I do worry a bit about any political leader -- especially one who might become president of the United States -- considering himself an instrument of God's will.

It sounds kind of familiar.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Light Summer Reading: Bobbitt's Terror and Consent

"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"
Early Suicide Bombing
(Image from Wikipedia)

A discussion list that I belong to has asked for its members to make recommendations for heavy but enlightening summer reading, and since I expended most of my "precious bodily fluids" sweating this one out, I now feel emptied of my 'essence', far too fatigued to accomplish any creative blogging today, so I'll merely repost here what I posted on that mysterious, unnamed discussion list:
I've almost finished Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century, by Philip Bobbitt.

This book is a follow-up to The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, which I haven't read but which got a lot of attention for its argument that we are leaving the era of nation-states and entering the era of market-states. By this, Bobbitt means that we are are leaving behind the nation-state, which promised to care for a nation's welfare, and entering the market-state, which will promise to maximize a people's opportunities.

Concurrent with this shift is the rise of a new type of terrorism that we see in terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, which do not use terror merely as a method but use it also toward their aim of instituting a state of terror, rather than the state of consent offered by democracies. For this reason, Bobbitt argues, the expression "War on Terror" is well-phrased, for states of consent really do need to pursue a war consciously aimed at defeating terror itself (and not just terrorists).

Bobbitt, despite being a Democrat (and nephew to President Johnson), supported both the attack on Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq and thinks that much of what President Bush and the current administration have done is right. However, he also argues that much is wrong, especially the administration's scofflaw attitude. Even on this point, Bobbitt expresses some understanding, for he thinks that many of our laws are outmoded, and he calls for legal reforms on both a domestic and international level to conform to a more realistic battle against terror.

As noted above, I've not yet finished the book, but I can definitely recommend it for August reading.

Next, I guess that I need to go back and read The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History . . .
I haven't yet concluded what I think of Bobbitt's views, which are rather complex and partly outside my fields of expertise -- especially in the realm of legal theory -- but his ideas are definitely thought-provoking, and after I've finished the book and had sufficient time to reflect, I'll post something definitive, as always.

Definitive subject to revision, of course.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

"Dualisms of Sustenance: Gnosticism and the Gospel of John"

Nag Hammadi Codices
(Image from Wikipedia)

A few days ago, I finally received the offprints for the article on John's Gospel that I published in Volume 22 (June 2008) of The Journal of Classical Studies, a scholarly journal put out by The Korean Association for the Western Ancient History and Culture.

The article is titled "Dualisms of Sustenance: Gnosticism and the Gospel of John," and for those interested in such things, here's the abstract that I provided to my wife for translation into Korean:
The article argues that John's Gospel and Gnostic texts presuppose dualisms of differing kinds and therefore that the fourth gospel is not a secretly Gnostic gospel. Gnosticism assumes a substance dualism, whereas John's Gospel assumes an ethical dualism. Nevertheless, Johannine dualism is so rigorous that it verges on Gnostic dualism, for sin has so pervaded the entirety of the world that it has tainted every part. The world's impurity thus opposes the holiness of the Johannine Jesus. For this reason, Jesus refuses worldly sustenance until the crucifixion scene, when he willingly accepts the 'corrupt' wine of vinegar offered by the world. Unlike Gnostic revealers, who either refuse sustenance entirely or are tricked into accepting it, Jesus takes the world's impurity into himself as part of his mission in cleansing it of its impure taint of sin. To establish this thesis, the article draws upon a close interpretation of Gnostic texts, Jewish texts, and the Johannine text.
Yes, that got put into Korean, for the journal has a mainly Korean scholarly readership, but my article itself is in English, as are two other articles in the June 2008 volume (the other four articles being in Korean). For any Koreans happening to read this, here's the abstract in my wife's Korean translation:
본 논문은 요한복음과 영지주의 텍스트에 깔려 있는 이원주의의 성격이 서로 다름을 밝힘으로써 요한복음이 감추어진 영지주의 복음서라는 기존의 이론에 반박한다. 영지주의는 ‘본질적’ 이원주의를 취하지만 요한복음서의 이원주의는 ‘윤리적’ 이원주의이다. 이러한 구분에도 불구하고 세상 전체에 퍼진 죄로 인해 모든 것이 타락했다는 복음서의 엄격한 이원주의는 영지주의의 이원주의에 닿아 있다. 따라서 세상의 불순성은 요한복음서 예수의 성스러움에 대립한다. 이러한 이유로 예수는 십자가에 못박히기까지 세상의 음식을 거부하고 십자가 처형의 순간에 이르러 세상이 제공하는 ‘상한’ 신 포도주를 기꺼이 받아들인다. 영지주의 칙사들이 음식을 철저히 거절하거나 혹은 속임수에 빠져 음식을 받아들이는 반면에 예수는 세상의 죄를 사하는 자신의 임무를 수행하기 위해 세상의 불순한 죄성을 자신의 것으로 받아 들인다. 본 논문은 영지주의 텍스트와 유대교 텍스트, 그리고 요한복음서의 정밀한 분석을 통해 이러한 주장을 뒷받침하고 있다.
For those with even more interest, I'll post here my paper's rather lengthy introductory remarks, which are rather general and were intended to open the way for my Korean readership to understand the significance of Gnosticism in antiquity as well as its importance for Johannine studies:
Dualisms of Sustenance: Gnosticism and the Gospel of John[1]
To clarify the argument developed in the analysis of food in John's Gospel and Gnostic texts, this article must first cover a few points on Gnosticism, many texts of which occur in Coptic, although one finds texts stretching from Spain to China and in all the various languages along the way. The abundance of Gnostic Coptic texts among an even larger body of heretical and orthodox Coptic Christian texts suggests the importance of Egyptian Christianity. Some words on this point are therefore in order. According to tradition, Egyptian Christianity was founded by St. Mark, purported author of the Gospel of Mark.[2] Egyptian Christianity became a distinct branch of the Christian religion after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, differing from the Catholic and Orthodox churches over Christology. The basic disagreement centered upon the essence of Christ, which the Chalcedonians asserted was one hypostasis of two natures, i.e., full humanity and full divinity.[3] Apparently, the Egyptian church disagreed, arguing that Christ was one nature, the Logos incarnate of full humanity and full divinity. This dispute might be merely a confusion of terms, in which nature (phusis) is being used in two different senses, but disambiguation of this issue is not essential for this article. At any rate, a distinct Coptic Church dates from this period.

Coptic Christianity, however, had already developed through differentiating itself linguistically. Since the first century, Greek letters had been borrowed for writing Coptic, which itself was a direct descendent of the language of the Pharoahs ‐‐ as my old Berkeley professor, David Larkin, used to phrase it. In its early development, Coptic supplemented its 'Greek' alphabet by borrowing several letters from Demotic but also vied with the Demotic writing system for prominence and won out as Demotic came to be used mainly for pagan religious purposes, whereas Coptic became the liturgical language of Egyptian Christianity.

For the purposes of this article, Coptic is mainly significant for its 'accidental' preservation of Gnostic texts, such as (but not limited to) the texts uncovered at Nag Hammadi in December 1945, a collection of codices (as opposed to scrolls) that came to be known by the somewhat grandiose title of "The Nag Hammadi Library." Two of the most famous of these codices are the Gospel of Thomas (of which some fragments also survive in Greek) and the Apocryphon of John, the former of which is perhaps more hermetic than Gnostic and the latter of which purports to reveal the Gnostic visions experienced by John the evangelist. Both texts are believed to derive from the early second century, but the codices themselves are later than that. The Apocryphon of John is a classic Gnostic text, for it describes an ontologically dualistic reality of spirit and matter in which the God of salvation rules over the realm of light and spirit and the god of ignorance rules over the realm of darkness and matter. This latter deity is the creator-god responsible for the formation of the cosmos, which he formed to trap the light, or spirit, that had fallen from above down into the material realm.

This radical dualism of substances implies that the material world is a source of impurity for the spiritual substance of light and weighs down the spirit with its material heaviness. Indeed, taking on more material substance tends to trap one ever more profoundly within the material realm, as the passage below will make clear. The quoted passage is taken from section 20 in an online edition (but sections 70-72 of the print edition) of the Apocryphon of John's short version (Berlin Codex BG 8502,2 and Nag Hammadi Codex III,1), but with variants from the long version noted in cursive brackets (Nag Hammadi Codex II,1 and Nag Hammadi Codex IV,1):
20 The Chief Ruler took him and placed him in paradise, of which he said, 'It is [a] delight for him' but really so that he might deceive him. For their delight (truphē) is bitter and their beauty is licentious. Their delight is a deception and their tree is iniquity. Their fruit is an incurable poison and their promise is death to him. {For [their food (trophē) was bitter and their [beauty] is licentious. Their food was a deception and their trees were [iniquity. Their fruit was an incurable poison] an[d their promise] is [death] to them.} Their tree which they planted is the tree of life.

For my part, I will teach you about the mystery of their life. It is their counterfeit spirit which dwells in them, whose purpose is to make him wander so that he does not know his perfection.

That tree is of this sort: Its root is bitter. Its branches are shadows of death. its leaves are hate and deception. Its fragrance is an ointment of evil. And its fruit is the desire for death. Its seed drinks from darkness {[an]d its seed sprouted [from] darkness.} The dwelling place of those who taste it is Hades. But the tree which they call 'knowledge of good and evil' is the Epinoia of the light. Concerning her they commanded, 'Do not taste (of it),' which means 'do not listen to her.' They issued this commandment against him so that he might not look up to his perfection and realize that he was naked of his perfection.

But as for me, I set them right so that they would eat. (Translation by Michael Waldstein and Frederik Wisse, edited and formatted by Lance Owens).[4]
The important variant is that between "delight" and "food" and may result from a confusion of the two Greek words truphē and trophē, respectively, which occur in these Coptic texts. I think that originally, a pun between the two words was at work, but wordplay or not, the passage sets up a dualism of food in the distinctly different effects rendered by eating fruit from the tree of their life (i.e., of death) or from the tree of perfect knowledge (i.e., of illuminated life). Eating from the former leads to further entrapment within the material world, but eating from the latter leads to release from the bonds of matter and escape into the realm of light.

These prefatory remarks have now prepared the way for this article's main thesis, which argues for a difference between the radical, ontological dualism in Gnostic texts and a moderate, ethical dualism in the Gospel of John and which looks at the synecdochal uses of food in both sorts of texts as a means of providing support for this argument. Much of the debate over the significance of food in John's Gospel has focused upon the literal versus figurative meaning of its passages on nourishment.[5] For example, scholars disagree ‐‐ often vehemently -- about how to interpret the John 6:51c-58 passage exhorting us to eat Jesus's flesh and drink his blood. Did the evangelist (or redactor) expect us to take this literally -- we should really gnaw on Jesus's flesh and guzzle his blood?[6] Or did he expect us to understand these strange words figuratively -- we should 'devour' their message of life? Rather than immediately confronting this difficult passage head‐on, I would like to look more broadly at the Johannine use of food.
And so goes the article, which turns at this juncture from its prefatory remarks on Gnosticism to the 'meat' of its argument, namely, the issue of sustenance in Gnostic texts and John's Gospel that the abstract has already summarized.

1. I presented an earlier version of this article at the 1999 AAR/SBL Conference.

2. Stephen J. Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy: The Egyptian Church and Its Leadership in Late Antiquity (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2004), pp. 2-20.

3. Bradley P. Nystrom and David P. Nystrom, The History of Christianity: An Introduction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), pp. 95a-96a.

4. Michael Waldstein and Frederik Wisse, The Apocryphon of John: Synopsis of Nag Hammadi Codices II,1;III,1; And IV,1 With BG 8502,2, Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies (Leiden: Brill, 1995).

5. On an earlier analysis of literal versus figurative meanings, see my doctoral dissertation: Horace Jeffery Hodges, "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1995). My attempt there and in this article is to combine the literal and figurative. Hence my use of the term "synecdoche."

6. I use these crude terms to make a point clear -- namely, that the wording in this portion of the Gospel of John is intentionally provocative. The Greek term trōgōn literally means "gnaw," and the thought of drinking blood would have been particularly abhorent to Jews (on the prohibition against drinking blood, cf., e.g., Leviticus 7:26-27).
For scholars (or anyone) who might be interested, I can provide an electronic version of the entire article.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008


The Original, Yet-Legged Ouroboros
Rat-Mouthed Mockercopacetickin?
(Image from Wikipedia)

A zoological issue has been raised concerning the "rattleheadedcoppermoccasin" that Cousin Bill mentioned in the comment of his that I posted a couple of days ago as a blog entry on Grandpa Archie.

At the time, I questioned this creature's existence, referring to it as an "imaginary varmint called a rattleheadedcoppermoccasin."

Uncle Cran denied knowing anything about a "rattleheadcoppermoccasin" -- though he meant "rattleheadedcoppermoccasin" -- and regular reader JK wondered if Cousin Bill had meant the creature that JK had always known of as a "rattlingcoppermouth."

Well, I got to reflecting, and I soon realized what creature they were all talking about. Those three ignorant 'billhillies' don't even know the local snakes of the Ozarks. They were confused about what is sometimes, albeit incorrectly, called a "prattle-mouthed coppermoccasin," but they didn't even get that misnomer right! The serpent that they were really intending to identify is actually and correctly called a "rat-mouthed mockercopacetickin," a name that describes -- precisely as one might expect -- a rat-mouthed snake that takes great satisfaction in mocking its prey.

The speech act of mocking -- not to be conflated with merely prattling -- is deadly among denizens of the animal kingdom, for that realm is governed by rigid norms of shame and honor.

The rat-mouthed mockercopaceteckin is rare, of course, for it must corner its prey and force the unfortunate creature to endure mockery beyond endurance.

That is a shameful, painful death dealt by degrees of humiliating scorn.

The rat-mouthed mockercopaceteckin is not an entirely local snake, let it be noted, for some rabbis argued that the first one appeared in Eden and successfully tempted the as-yet-innocent Eve into partaking of the fruit from that forbidden tree, an impious act that brought shame upon all creatures great and small, such that now, the vaunted subtlety of this serpent is reduced to the low gift of mockery through venomous words that drive those who hear them into the ambiguous arms of death.

I accept this rabbinical view, for it is confirmed somewhere by that reliable herpetologist, Jorge Luis Borges, probably in his scientific work concerning the venomous creatures listed in the Zohar. I refer, of course, to that renowned book El libro de los seres imaginarios, whose final form was published in 1969 and includes several entries on serpents, the ouroboros among them.

Alas, Cousin Bill, Uncle Cran, and JK are all ignorant of such things, or perhaps forgetful, for such is this fallible, mortal state into which we, and also the world, have fallen.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Celebrating John Milton's 400th Birthday!

John Milton, Englishman and Poet
On Exhibit at Williamsburg Art & Historical Center
(Image from WAHCenter)

I received a notice of an update from the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (WAHCenter) concerning its plans for celebrating John Milton's 400th Birthday and honoring "Paradise Lost, the greatest poem in the English language" -- which I take to be the words of the Show Director Terrance Lindall, who also happens to be an artist, a curator, and an intellectual.

The WAHCenter's Milton celebrations will carry on from September 27th to November 2nd of this year (2008), beginning with the Opening Reception of its Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball, which will take place on Saturday, September 27th, from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Unfortunately, I won't be in New York City this fall or early winter, but I've advised my NYC friend and connoisseur of art, Malcolm Pollack, to take his wife and attend the costume ball dressed "as a character and daemon from Philip Pullman's series, His Dark Materials." Malcolm and his wife can work out which of them is the character and which the daemon, but either way -- as I also told Malcolm -- "the [Pullman] series is loosely based on Paradise Lost, [so] the costumes would be perfect."

Incidentally, while I cannot make the celebrations, I shall be there in spirit, for I am already making a ghostly visitation online at the WAHCenter as a disembodied 'voice' among the scholars expressing praise for the choice of a Lindall painting depicting a scene from Paradise Lost to appear on the cover of Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, Random House 2008, a tome edited by Milton experts William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon.

Anyway, direct from the WAHCenter's website, here's my disembodied remark:
"Appropriately for his background in art and philosophy, Lindall seems especially interested in using art to express ideas, which makes his work particularly intriguing for Milton scholars, for he has painted a number of works depicting scenes in Paradise Lost" -- Horace Jeffery Hodges, Assistant Professor in Kyung Hee University's Dept. of English Language and Literature
I think that we can safely identify this as my "15 Minutes of Fame."

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grandpa Archie: Cousin Bill's Comment

Typical Ozark Scene
White River
Not terribly far from Norfork Lake
(Image from

Even Cousin Bill is now waxing nostalgic -- as readers of Sunday's comments already know -- but his nostalgia is as well-waxed as Grandpa Archie's old pickup truck . . . actually far better, for that truck was never waxed. Anyway, I've posted Cousin Bill's comment here, which begin with a reference to the music of David Lynn Jones:
In a previous Blog comment I relayed my two memories of DLJ's beautiful music.
Bill, I found one memory but not the other. No matter, though, carry on:
Now, I will relay two or three stories about Grandpa Arch.
For the benefit of my foreign readership -- such as folks from the State of Misery, just north of Arkansas, or elsewhere beyond even state lines -- the following scene takes place at my paternal grandmother's Big Creek farm, which was situated some eight miles from Norfork Lake, about halfway between the small northern Arkansas towns of Eliabeth and Viola, up on an Ozark ridge, mostly, and at the isolated end of a six-mile dirt road, just at the beginning of the wild lands, so there was a lot of wildlife around there. Grandpa Archie, as I've noted before, was a genuine woodsman -- the old-style hillbilly of part-Cherokee blood who grew up knowing the woods and hills and the creatures in them. According to Cousin Bill:
We (myself, wife, Grandma Nora and Grandpa Arch) were sitting in the living room late one night when Archie turned his head, listened intently to something, arose and proceeded outside without a word. Shortly the front door opened and Archie walks in, one arm behind his back, grinned and thrust a neck-held live possum straight out for all to see. He explained he heard a ruckess in the hen house. I have a picture of old Arch standing there with the critter, and, well, he's grinning like a possum.
Knowing Grandpa Archie, he probably let the poor creature go free . . . unless he decided that it would make a good possum pie for the next evening meal. Grandpa Archie was always catching some creature with just his hands. I'd seen him sneak up silently behind a bullfrog and grab it with his hands before it even noticed him, which may not sound like a great accomplishment, but just try it some time, and with your own repeated failures will come some respect for a fellow who could do it easily, repeatedly, without fail.

I wouldn't be especially surprised to learn that he'd also caught a bird that way . . . though I've never heard that he did. But I've seen him catch those big glade lizards, a feat requiring even more skill than catching bullfrogs.

The next scene described by Cousin Bill takes place mainly on the narrow dirt road leading down the farm's ridge on its steep side, which was wooded and rapidly declined some hundred and fifty feet or more in altitude along its slope to the little, spring-fed branch below:
Secondly, years ago, I took little brother Scott (a college freshman) to the farm for a week. While there we contributed to the woodpile, with Archie doing the cutting, us trying to split and stack, did a little fishing and ate them out of house and home. While there we headed to town in Archie's black, hand-brush-painted pickup. We headed down the lane, round the curve and down the hill toward the branch, and this pickup was rapidly gaining speed with Archie frantically clutching and going through the gears. I looked toward Archie, noticed mid seated brother Scott's sudden large eyeballs, and tried to calmly ask why he didn't use the brakes. The answer, "ain't got any, haven't had any for a long time". And so we continued [the seven miles] to Viola and back.
Broken down that truck may have been, but Grandpa Archie was partial to it . . . and he was a man of principle, in some mighty peculiar ways, as Cousin Bill relates:
In later years that pickup carried license tags with an outdated year sticker. I ask why no renewal, Archie's reply was "the tax went up a dollar and I ain't gonna pay it".
The government wasn't about to stop Grandpa Archie . . . nor was old age, as the next scene reveals:
Another time years ago, the wife and I took Grandma Nora and Grandpa Archie to the Salem singing, note here that it was darn good music by local folks, and I can vouch for Archie's dancing ability, even twirling around a little with Grandma and my bride. I even thought Grandpa Arch had perhaps located a little moonshine the way he twirled around.
Grandpa Archie stayed healthy, strong, and often slightly unshaven nearly so long as he lived, as Cousin Bill's wife can also attest:
And wife Cheryl still remembers us arrving for a visit and Archie's quick pace (even in later years) heading her way. Once there he give her his big hug and going for the welcome kiss would leave scratch marks from his two day old whiskers.
I remember those scratchy whiskers, too, but I noticed that Grandpa Archie always shaved on Sunday mornings, and when he had got dressed up, too, he looked right handsome.

Cousin Bill winds his anecdotes down by confirming two of Uncle Cran's creature-feature tales . . . but goes on to warn about an additional story, a tale of what sounds like a far more alarming but thankfully imaginary creature apparently dreamed up by Uncle Cran in some techno-dystopian-induced nightmare:
I've lots of good memories of both grandparents. Good people and characters, both of them. Now, to our Uncle Cran's fishing/turtle tale, lightning strike tale and upcoming bear story. I believe the first two, however, if he comes up with some hare brained snake story about rattleheadedcoppermoccasins, I'll suggest he was a little touched by Arkansas "Fan Death" when electricity arrived at the farm and the Flora community in, I believe, the early 50's. Or he got a little brain-toasted from hours sitting under the single, center ceiling mounted light bulb or got the neck noosed by the lightbulb's pull string hanging down.
'Fan Death' in the Ozarks?! Say it ain't so! I remember Flora Church in the early 1960s, and folks were still sitting and sweating in pews despite the open windows that let the wasps in, and every soul was waving those hand-held fans with depictions of Jesus holding a little lost lamb, without an electric fan in sight, so I doubt that Uncle Cran suffered there from the effects of the most-dreaded entity, the electric fan . . . unless you mean (shudder) in the farmhouse itself, a thing too terrible to imagine -- and largely unimaginable anyway, for Grandma Nora and Grandpa Archie both lived to be nearly 100, a feat impossible if their health had been affected by deadly electric fans. But brain damage by radiant waves emanating from that single light bulb . . . well, that may be a factor in Uncle Cran's amazing stories. Couldn't be that bulb's pull string, though, for pull strings are harmless. They don't pull; they are pulled.

Cousin Bill then tacks on a couple of three lines more:
And one word on our Grandpa Horace. Dad once told me "if you like Woodrow, you'd have loved my Dad. Will wait for more tales from you both.
I wish that I knew more about my paternal grandfather Horace, for I've inherited his name, but if he was like Woodrow, then I would indeed have loved him. As for tales from me, they'll have to wait until Uncle Cran finishes those two still untold tales about a bear . . . and some imaginary varmint called a rattleheadedcoppermoccasin?

I presume that this latter 'critter' has never been confirmed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Grandpa Archie

Grandpa Archie's Style of Pick-Up Truck
Keepin' that left-front wheel on the center line of life!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Uncle Cran posted a very interesting comment to yesterday's blog entry.

As readers will already know, I had written that blog entry using a comment left by a Mr. M. Shane Klein on one of my previous blog entries about the Ozark country musician David Lynn Jones. Mr. Klein had happened to remark on my reference to a man whom I called "Grandpa Archie" -- stepgrandfather to me and uncle to both David Lynn Jones and Mr. Klein himself.

Archie was, moreover, a stepfather to my Uncle Cran, who remembers . . .
I well remember both David Lynn Jones and my stepfather, Archie Dillinger. My father died when I was age two and a half. My memories of my father were more like dreams, just brief excerps. Mom kept us kids together, remaining single for ten years.
For those who didn't read yesterday's blog, I'll just add interject that Uncle Cran's father (my paternal grandfather) died in the early 1940s as a result of injuries sustained in a tree-felling accident.
Then[, after those ten years without a husband,] she met Archie, they were married, and he became basically the only father my sister Virginia and I really knew. Virginia was only five months old when dad died.

Archie was a good man. He and mom were married for forty years. He wasn't afraid of anything. I'll just mention one incident. We had a neighbor, who I won't name, who had a reputation as a knife fighter. In fact, he cut up a drunk who picked a fight with him, and the man nearly bled to death before they got him to a doctor.
I think that I might know that neighbor . . . if he was the one involved in moonshining.
This neighbor tried to encroach his fences on neighbors, and did so to one family. Not long after Archie and mom married, this neighbor sent a logging crew to cut timber off a piece of ground of ours. Archie ran them off. In Viola a short time later, Archie was sitting at one of the store fronts with some others. This neighbor came by, Archie confronted him and told him to keep off our land. The man pulled out his knife. Archie told him, "If you don't want to have to pull that knife out of your *** you better stick it back in your pocket." He did, and they never had another problem.
Fascinating. The closest to a curse that I ever heard Grandpa Archie use was "Shht!" He used that expression to avoid saying "Sh*t!" because asterisks are so difficult to pronounce. Yet . . . he managed three asterisks in a row to avoid the synonym for "donkey"!
Archie's driving habit was unique, He drove 35 mph an hour, whether on a gravel road, or the highway, keeping the left tire on the center line. Your brother John was riding with him, and said, "Grandpa Archie, what if you meet a car?" Archie said, "Somebody has to give."
Though I don't recall any center lines on gravel roads, I do distinctly remember Grandpa Archie's driving technique. More method than habit -- as Archie explained it -- for I asked him why he drove like that on highways, and he insisted that the center lines were painted on the highway to tell drivers precisely where to place the front left tire. Like my brother John, I then asked Archie what happened if two vehicles approached from opposite directions. "One of you just moves over," he replied, unperturbed. His answer to me, while less worrisome than the game of chicken implied in his reply to my brother John, was hardly reassuring, but I did notice that Grandpa Archie never encountered any driver with the same driving method, so the dilemma never presented itself.

The last photo that I have of Archie is one that Sun-Ae took. Archie, about 95 but still handsome, smiling, and looking strong, was standing beside me, his arm around my shoulder. Only seconds before, he'd pointed to me and said, "He's a dandy!"

Which didn't imply that I was a Baudelairean flâneur -- that "gentleman stroller of city streets" -- but simply that I was a fine, fun fellow.

I still miss that good old man.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

David Lynn Jones: Kith and Kin

David Lynn Jones
- First from Right -
2006 Americana Music Conference and Awards
Wayne, Chip Taylor, Steve Popovich, Steve Popovich, Jr., and David Lynn Jones
- From Left to Right -

I got home from church today and hadn't blogged this morning because the adapter to my internet connection had gone out, but I immediately found something for today's blog topic because Mr. M. Shane Klein, a cousin to David Lynn Jones, had visited my most recent blog entry concerning this extraordinarily talented musician and had left a message:
Hello Mr. Hodges, I have been reading your threads concerning David Lynn with interest. I was searching for a way to purchase David Lynn's music for my ipod and stumbled onto your MySpace page . . . or site . . . or whatever (forgive me, I'm not all that adept in the cybersphere). Anyway, my mother is David Lynn's cousin. My grandmother (sweetest woman that ever walked the earth) was David Lynn's mother's sister. I think I saw mention of Uncle Arch in a post along the way . . . that would be my grandmother's brother. I remember seeing Uncle Arch dance a jig when I was a small boy. We were at a concert where Aunt Hazel (David Lynn's mother's sister) was playing piano and her husband, my Uncle Thurl Cochran was playing fiddle. Music runs rich in that family.
Hello, Mr. Klein. You've stumbled onto what is known as a "blog" (abbreviation for "web log"), and you are very welcome here. If you're still looking for David Lynn's music for your ipod, you might check, for I've seen his music on sale there.

Yes, you did see your Uncle Arch mentioned, and if you search this blog for "Grandpa Archie," you'll find a few more mentions, including this one. He was my step-grandfather," having married my paternal grandmother sometime after Grandpa Hodges died from injuries incurred in a tree-felling accident.

Grandpa Archie was phenomenal. He was wirey, strong, in excellent health up to his 90s, and could outrun me even when he was in his 70s. He must have been a quarter Cherokee and kept a thick shock of hair his entire life! It did eventually turn white, though. He used to show me fox, deer, and even bear tracks in the sandy soil around the farm where he and my grandmother lived. And he could make a whistle from a stem and a leaf. I bet that Uncle Cran could fill you in on how Archie did it. It was pretty simple, as I remember, but I still don't quite recall the precise details.

As for the various people whom you mention, including the ones below, they are all very familiar.
I live in Iowa. My grandmother, Laudine Dillinger, of Bexar married Otis Felts of Wheeling and moved to Iowa together to farm and raise their family in the 40's. However, my mother, Cassie, and my Uncle Ed spent many summers with David Lynn when they would go down to visit their kin in Arkansas. My parents took us to visit the Aunts and Uncles in Arkansas many summers too. I last visited the area fairly recently for the funeral of my beloved Aunt Opal Dillinger (married Hayden). I didn't see David Lynn, but his daughter was there and sang beautifully at the funeral.
David Lynn sang at Grandpa Archie's funeral, I'm told, for I wasn't there, but my brother John performed the service. I heard his daughter sing at John's church in Salem last February.
Well, just thought I would say hi to you all. M. Shane Klein, Iowa
Thank you very much for visiting, Mr. Klein.
P.S. There is no reason to doubt the identity of the man in the video on myspace. That is David Lynn. (Although I see his profile says that he is 104 yrs old?!) I see you can buy music directly from the site. Of course, if there is someone out there malicious enough to try to steal his identity, I guess the video and music could all be pirated. Crazy world, this cyberspace.
Thanks for confirming the photo. As for stolen identities and pirated video and music (though I believe that the MySpace site is merely a photo and an audio), we'll find out for sure if and when my brother John visits David Lynn in Cave City.

Meanwhile, all of you fans, kith, and kin of David Lynn Jones, feel free to leave a comment.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Uncle Cran's Diabolical Tale...

Lightning Strikes . . .
. . . and fishy tales.
"I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven."
(Image from Wikipedia)

Uncle Cran has a diabolical tale to tell, a close encounter of the brimstone kind, utterly unlike the numinous encounter of my more venerable Uncle Isam:
Since my many {or mini} fans are waiting with 'baited' breath for my latest fishy tale (do I have a fishy tail also?), here is another true even if fantastic tale of yesteryear:

Fishing, A Lightning Strike, (What Is That Strange Odor)?

A lifetime ago, at the tender age of 12, Cran (sometimes called Cranford, CB {by Aunt Cora}, or You Little Brat, stop bugging me {by brother Bradley}, called 'me' or 'I' by myself) decided to go fishing.

With a cane pole, can of worms, my sure-enough imitation Barlow knife, and a string attached to a twig for a stringer, I blithely walked the trail down to Big Creek, at a bend in the creek next to the 'crooked bottom' hayfield, where there was a deep hole that I was sure had some catfish. Recent rains had muddied the creek, which is the best time to find catfish feeding.

Pretty soon I had a stringer of foot long catfish . . . then in the distance there was a rumble of thunder. Hating to quit, I kept fishing until it began to rain, the thunderstorm getting nearer. Lightning and thunder was getting closer and more ominous, so I gathered up my gear and fish, and started home.

Just then there was a brilliant flash, and a deafening boom, as lightning struck [a tree] just a short distance away, not more than 100 feet from me! The hair on my neck was standing up from static electricity, and a strange odor assailed my nostrils.

Terrified, I ran all the way home through the rain and lightning, a distance of slightly more that a quarter of a mile [Editor: All uphill, too!].

After I got home safely, drenched and shivering (from fear as well as being chilled), we had fish for supper, and all was well with the world again, but the question lingered in my mind . . . What was that strange odor when the lightning hit the tree?

Innocently, I told this to big brother Bradley. He (as his son Jeffery does presently [Editor: Blood will tell.]) laughed at me, and said, "I'll tell you what you smelled. That was you when you . . . (let us say 'pooped' [Editor: Nah, let us say "shat."]) your pants. I was hurt, even as at present when being 'dissed.' But I stubbornly insisted there was a strong, acrid odor just as the lightning bolt hit the tree.

Years later, I read a book by John Morris II, In Search for Noah's Ark [Editor: Noah's Ark and the Ararat Adventure?]. There he described being caught in a lightning storm on Mount Ararat, where he and his fellow explorers had a similar experience, except they were nearly killed. He spoke of a "strong odor of sulphur" at the time.

So now I know it wasn't a figment of my imagination. I had noticed the same odor. In fact, on my farm I had an electric fence to keep my cows from breaking out of the pasture. I had noticed that the cows would smell the fence, and if it was active, they would leave it alone, but if the fence charger wasn't working, they would stick their heads through the fence. I couldn't detect anything, as I am cursed (or blessed) with a poor sense of smell because of my sinuses. I told my wife Gay, who can detect an offensive odor at amazing distances. She sniffed the fence, and said, "It smells like sulphur."

Now I am vindicated! It wasn't me, it wasn't my imagination, it was actually a reality, just as all my stories are true, trustworthy, perhaps dull and uniterestering, but are honest facts, not the strange, fantastic ramblings of certain unnamed individuals, whose initials are HJH and JK [Editor: Unidentifiable.].
Vindicated indeed! Confirmed by some fellow who fruitlessly sought Noah's Ark in 'Turkey' and calls himself John Morris the Tooth! However, we all know the true source of sulphurous fumes, none other than the darkest prince himself (who sometimes visits the Ozarks). Morris and company were nowhere near the divine sanctity of Noah's Ark but closing in on the very gates of Hell! Uncle Cran, lacking that proverbial sense to get in out of the rain, was himself dangerously close to that foul precipice.

Learn from Uncle Cran's lesson: Don't go fishing in troubled waters.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Williamsburg Art & Historical Center Celebrates John Milton's 400th Birthday!

First Illustrated Edition of Paradise Lost, 1688
Originally Belonging to Lady Pomfret
Lady of the Bedchamber of Queen Caroline
(Image from WAH Center)

An email circular from Terrance Lindall yesterday reminded me that some important dates are coming up this autumn at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center to celebrate John Milton's 400th birthday, so as an expat member of the "Paradise Lost Committee" and for the benefit of those who might be interested, I'm providing some information from the circular as a public service.

The Center will host an art exhibit from September 27 through November 2, 2008 featuring the following artists (though perhaps not these specific artworks) described by Terrance Lindall:

Kris Kuksi - "one of the most highly regarded artists in the contemporary surreal/visionary movement":

Kris Kuksi, A New Divinity (2007)
In The Collection Of Joby Pritz, San Francisco

Richard "Rich" Buckler - "an American comic book artist best known for his work on Marvel Comics' The Fantastic Four in the mid-1970's. He will be producing a portrait of John Milton for the 21st century. The unveiling will be at the Costume Ball":

The Peacock Angel aka 'Satan'
Not the Portrait of John Milton
(Image from

Bienvenido Bones Banez - "All of his work is based on his '666 World View. He paints as if he is plugged into a wall socket and the energy that pours forth through his brain and fingertips to the canvas comes out in pulses of scintillating colors":

Bienvenido Bones Banez, 666 Prayer
(Image from WAH Center)

Agata Olek: "This vibrant Polish beauty debuted her career at the WAH Center in 2003 at the Surrealist Fashion Show. She is one of the most fascinating artists in the world, madly crocheting her way into art history":

Agata Olek, The Human Condition
(Image from

The works of these four, along with over 60 other contemporary artists, will be featured at the WAH.

All of this will open on September 27, 2008 with a Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball, beginning at 8:00 p.m. and lasting until midnight.

The very next day, on September 28th, there will begin a special event at 2:00 p.m. as the "noted Brooklyn Poet Steve David recites his tribute to John Milton and takes you on a poet's tour of the art in the show."

On October 3rd, 4th, 10th, and 11th, starting at 8:00 p.m., will be performed Know Your Paradise, "a musical mystery by brilliant surrealist play writer and composer Peter Dizozza."

On October 17 and 24th, beginning at 8:00 p.m. will be a performance, "Courante," directed by Arthur Kirmss and featuring "musicians in 17th century costume, on harp, guitar, lute and recorders, performing European vocal and instrumental music through early Baroque, celebrating Milton's life."

Sometime during all of this will be a performance by Yana Schnitzler, who recently performed her "Human Kinetics Movement Art" at the Metropolitan Museum and whose style is at "the cutting edge of interactive dance."

Along with the art and performances will be various exhibitions of historical interest, including Charles Lamb's copy of first illustrated 1691 edition of Paradise Lost and Lady Pomfret's copy of the first illustrated edition (c. 1688) of Paradise Lost, among other manuscripts and memorabilia.

As for me, I am stuck here in Seoul and won't be able to attend any of these exciting events or even view the various exhibitions, but if I were in New York City, I'd certainly go.

Meanwhile, visit the WAH website and keep an eye on that for details as they update the information.

UPDATE: Here's the regularly updated site.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fan Death Rides Again!

Fan Death Threat!
Blithely unaware of the looming danger...
(Image from Yonhap News)

Robert Koehler, founding rodent of the Marmot's Hole, has posted an entry on fan death that betrays his obvious disbelief in the truth of fan death despite his ostensibly journalistic commitment to noncommitment:
Fan Death -- Urban Myth?
Yonhap News ran a surprisingly long piece on the "debate" surrounding "fan death."

It seems most Korean doctors find "fan death" to be groundless, but Yonhap did find two med school professors who said fans could kill.
Unfortunately, the Yonhap article is in Korean, which I am incapable of deciphering, but since I -- and not those 'Korean' doctors -- am the local expat expert on fan death, I felt compelled by honor to speak out against this shoddy excuse for journalism:
I haven't read the article, but I am sure that it is wrong. Readers who value their lives should come to my website, do a search for my entries on fan death, and read my various defenses of the fan-death facts.

Don't listen to the experts. Listen to me. Fans can kill you.
Later, I posted a direct link to a complete index of my various writings on fan death:
To save all those who wish to circumvent termination by the whirling blades of death, I'm offering this public service: an index to all my blog entries on fan death!
Unfortunately, there are always the scoffers, the doubters, the sceptics -- and none such are worse than the wolves in sheep's clothing (do sheep wear clothes?). I mean those who, under pretense of arguing for the solid proof of fan death, actually intend to debunk the belief through despicable parody, such as in this comment by Mizar5:
I would warn you, dear reader, that any man with the curmudgeonly moniker H. J. Hodges cannot be trusted. He parodies an issue of utmost significance when any number of logical constructs can be used to justify the beleif in fan death.

For instance, negative proof may be used to assert that a proposition that has not been proven false is therefore true.

Statistical proof can also be offered. For instance, there is the statistical proof of spurious correlation, in which correlation may be used to imply causation. In this case, the causal connection is produced through the operation of a third causal variable ie. "lurking variable") such as the wind vacuum mentioned above.

The "three men make a tiger" proof (三人成虎), or argumentum ad populum, can be invoked to show that the premise of fan death has been mentioned and repeated by many individuals, and must therefore be accepted as the truth.

Contextomy may be employed to effectively remove an event from its surrounding circumstances in such a way as to prove that deaths that would otherwise have been attributed to strokes, heart failure and numerous other causes by mere medical science are in fact attributable to fan death.

Need I go on? With proofs so abundant, there is no need to investigate any further.
Mizar5 is obviously unserious, for what individual would seriously defend fan death by calling it a "beleif"? Another skeptical commenter with the crazy moniker of KrZ added his own two centimes:
No wonder H. J. Hodges believes in fan death, he certainly seems to enjoy the Korean delicacy of SPAM.
Naturally, such attacks could not go unanswered, even at the risk of more groundless accusations about my throwing a 'spammer' in the works, so I wrote:
SPAM? Me? Nay, KrZ! I am simply doing my logical, empirical best to warn expats against the true dangers of fan death. Articles like the one offered by Yonhap make my job tougher, admittedly, but I simply struggle all the harder.

Perhaps, as rebuttal to Yonhap, I should write for the Korea Herald another Expat Living column devoted to this pressing issue.

Meanwhile, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, Mizar5, whose moniker announces fivefold misery! His is the obvious parody, whereas my posts are in dead earnest!

I admit, however, that some of Mizar5's arguments -- against his obvious intention to debunk -- can nevertheless be used to help prove the solid fact of fan death. I especially admire his inadvertently compelling use of contextomy for its pure, empirical way of isolating a fact:

Fan + Death = Fan Death

Okay, that's actually two facts and an equation, but it's really close to the actual event, and by multiplying instances, we can amass a very considerable amount of empirical data as support for the scientific truth of fan death.

In fact, I'll go do that now . . .
With this post, consider that promise now kept.

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