Friday, October 31, 2008

Uncle Cran's First Big Drunk

Dionysus Enjoying a Brew!
100th anniversary of Qingdao Beer
(Image from Wikipedia)

Even my Uncle Cran the Preacher -- not so much fundamentalist as 'fun-the-mentalist' in this story -- had his dionysiac days of heavy drinking. Today's blog entry relates the tale of Uncle Cran the alcoholic, driven to drink by his older brother Brad.

Who happens to have been my father . . . but that's nearly irrelevant.

Anyway, here's what Uncle Cran has to say:
In reading the life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I noted that after each Little House book was published, she was deluged by thousands of children pleading, "Please Tell Us Another Story."
Well, I would have nipped that in the bud. I have enough difficulty coming up with stories for my own flesh-and-blood children!
I have received . . . not thousands, nor hundreds, nor dozens, nor many pleas for more stories. However, I did receive one from favorite nephew Jeffrey -- oops, favorite nephew Jeffery -- which, in my thinking, is equal to the multitude of childrens' pleas to Laura.
I'm gratified to be so highly valued as a 'multitude' but wonder at your inability to remember the correct spelling of my name first off.
After all, there are only a few PhD's in our family line. My youngest, Colonel James, has multiple master's degrees, graduating from the Air Force Academy (BS), Washington University (MS), George Washington University (BS), plus Command and General Staff College, and Air Force War College, causing his high school superintendent to say "James has more degrees than a thermometer."
Not to be quibble, Uncle Cran, but I count only one master's degree in that list. Most of what you've presented is just pure BS. And James has a high school superintendent? Is my cousin still in high school? Are the degrees honorary? At any rate, if he does have "more degrees than a thermometer," he's probably very useful at recording the temperature of the EU-US ambience in his role working for NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, which you obscurely allude to:
He is scheduled for another advanced Air Force school after his two-year tour with NATO.
Ah . . . I recall my own European tour, hanging out in the Swiss town of Fribourg, on the lovely Sarine River, border between German and French speakers, who helped me practice not only their languages but my own beer and wine drinking. Gruetzi and Salut to any of my former drinking partners who might be visiting. Those were the days, my friend.

But back to Uncle Cran's gripping story:
BUT WHO AM I TO BRAG, with my BA in Christian Education from a small Bible College? My children inherited my intelligence, sagacity, wisdom, leadership ability, and fiery temper . . . these qualities have all evaporated somewhere, anyway. My wife still has all these attributes, none have been lost.
I presume that this was all prefatory, but at least my thirst for your story has been increased by the long delay:
I remember this story as though it were yesterday, (which has slipped my mind)!

During the summer of my 15th birthday, big brother Bradley, my youthful protector, and sometimes tormentor, who occasionally said to me, "Quit bugging me, you little pest!", told me to get ready, we were going to the metropolis of Viola to see a movie. After begging some money from Mom, and the use of the old Model A Ford from stepdad Archie, we drove the six miles of gravel road, up and down hills and across two creeks, and arrived at Viola. Our town at this time had a population of about 150, three country stores, two cafes, one pool hall, one auto repair garage, a blacksmith shop, and a run-down building that showed cowboy movies on Saturday night.
'Longhorn' country hasn't changed a bit, I reckon. Viola still has about 150 people, doesn't it?
The country stores and blacksmith shop are gone but the population is about the same. Its history is similar to the home town of country singer Willie Nelson. He said in his home town in Texas the population never changes . . . whenever a baby is born, a man leaves town.
I guess it's either that, marry the lady, or be involuntarily run out on a rail. But back to Uncle Cran's repeatedly self-interrupted story:
After eating a hamburger, fries, and coke (25 cents), Brad gave me a dollar for a movie, and to play pool, as he and friend Dale (who's last name I won't mention) had someplace they wanted to go.
Twenty-five cents! In 1955? I presume that this was due to post-war inflation. Part and parcel of that infant inflation known as the baby boom, perhaps, which I was just barely to join two years later. But back to Uncle Cran's story again -- and note that the dollar would have paid for four movies! At least that wasn't inflated! But pool games were costly, it seems:
After the movie (25 cents), I took my remaining wealth to the pool hall (10 cents a game, inflation had reached there) and played pool until late in the evening, when Brother Bradley and Dale came in and said we were going to spend the night at Dale's house. They were laughing, and carrying on with foolish actions, kind of staggering, and their faces were flushed. We drove the three miles down the gravel highway, going south to the turn off to Dale's house. Brad stopped the Model A, shut off the engine, and said to Dale, "We had better finish off this beer and wine before we get to your house."
A wise decision, as I can vouch from painful experience, but hardly one to fool the grown-ups . . . as Uncle Cran's story implies:
We got out and sat down by the road. They opened up the last two beers, handed them to me, and said, "Here, Cran, take the poison off the top for us."

My first taste of booze! I was excited to try it, but was a little disappointed!

It was sour, and strong, I thought, but duly obeyed, taking a big swig out of each can, and handing it back.

Brad said, "That's enough for you." I never argued with a brother half again my size and twice my strength.
Another wise decision -- and one providing evidence that Uncle Cran's IQ truly is above 150.
Then they took out the cheap Sweet Lucy wine, and finished it off.
Sweet Lucy wine?! After the beer?!
Then they started telling each other how much they liked each other, and were friends for life.
Uh-huh, we'll see how long that lasts:
Next they got into a quarrel, and almost got into a fight.
I expected as much.
Finally, they started groaning, and saying, "I'm sick." Pretty soon they were throwing up, moaning, and praying, saying "Oh Lord, if I live, I'll never touch another drop as long as I live!"
These are the sincerest, most hearfelt of prayers, for they rise up from the depths of one's bowels. I know from repeated experience . . . and the Lord let me live each time.
All this took a little while, and I thought I heard footsteps coming down the road from Dale's house, but the steps soon stopped, as though someone was listening, then the footsteps receded toward the house.
Are you implying that the Lord was walking in the cool of the evening? Well, it's said that the Ozarks are God's country. Anyway, if the Lord was walking about, then he surely heard those two incipient drunkards pouring out their hearts:
When the big boys at last got it all out (literally), we drove on the hundred yards to the house, and slipped into Dale's bed. (Yep, all three of us . . . it was the only other bed there).
No comment. Let's fast forward:
Next morning, Dale's father, Jim Dawson said, "Boys, did you have a good time last night?" We all said, "Yes, we did." No more questions were asked. And we were homeward bound.
There are various ways to read this part of the story, but I urge folks to restrain their suspicious little hermeneutic hearts. Let's simply note that Dale's family name has been provided and then move on to the happy ending:
That was my first and last taste of booze until my Navy days, when I tried it a few times.
Beer again? Whiskey? Moonshine? I seem to recall an earlier confession pertaining to moonshine. Or is that a false memory?
But after I met my future wife, got out of the Navy, and married her, I have been a teetolaler ever since.
Precisely when you began to teetotal remains unclear, dear uncle.
And with this, one of my skeletons has been released from its closet.
It's free to roam the land, terrorizing the inhabitants this 31st of October!
Your turn, JK and Jeffery!
Pass. I've still got a career to protect. Maybe JK will take you up on the offer.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dunscentrate just a little bit more . . .

Dunce Cap
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, a student showed up in my Yonsei course on multiculturalism and European unification after missing 9 straight classes. She has missed 10 classes in all and hasn't read a single word of the assigned articles, nor has she participated in a single discussion in a course small enough for me to treat as a discussion seminar.

I informed her that she had missed 10 classes, and she merely smiled. I asked her how much one could miss and still pass the course, and she knew the immediate answer to that:

"One-third . . ." I mused. "We have 16 weeks, counting midterm and finals weeks, with two classes per week . . . which makes 32. You've missed nearly one-third already. And that's assuming that midterm and finals weeks count. I'll have to check with the office on this."
I looked at her for a moment, then said:
"Thesis statements are due this Friday. Do you know what you want to write your paper on?"
She shook her head. I pointed to the board, where I had provided a sample thesis statement:
Europe will successfully unify despite its problems because it is a continent of democratic states with wealthy, educated populations that recognize their economic, political, and military self-interest in uniting and developing into an effective superpower.
I then explained:
"Note that this sample has thesis-statement form. It has the A --> B b/c A --> C logic. This Friday, you should bring to class a thesis statement formulated in this way."
She smiled but said nothing. I'm curious to see what she brings on Friday. As for me, I might need to prepare by picking up a traffic cone on my way to that class.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sarah Palin, the evangelical candidate

Sarah Palin
"not the most photogenic angle"
(Image from Christianity Today)

With my mind on the upcoming election, I read this morning a moderately interesting editorial in Christianity Today, "Misunderstanding Sarah: Media reaction to Gov. Palin shows ignorance of evangelicalism," (October 28, 2008). Two issues are briefly treated, but I'll address only the first, which involves the assumption among nonevangelicals concerning the supposed puritanical views of evangelicals.
[This assumption was revealed in] reactions to news of Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy: liberal pundits gleefully announced that this was going to seriously undermine Governor Palin's standing with the Republican Party's evangelical base. Any informed evangelical watcher or evangelical believer could have told them that this is a non-issue.
Right. I knew immediately that the out-of-wedlock pregnancy wouldn't matter. Evangelical believers regularly deal with this situation. Almost nobody was shocked. Some might have been dismayed, but most empathized. Why? The editorial explains:
It is a non-issue because John Newton's famous line, "I once was lost but now I'm found," defines the evangelical ethos. We specialize in troubled lives. Stories of transformation from sin and degradation to righteousness and wholeness frame the way evangelicals see life. From the slave-trading Newton to the White House "hatchet man" Chuck Colson, God saves people from their slavery to sin and uses them to restore others. Indeed, those of us who never did anything particularly shocking sometimes have trouble fitting in.
That's my problem. I never did anything wrong. Just kidding. I've done plenty that wasn't quite right . . . very quietly. When I was home in the Ozarks last February, one high school friend remarked, "I never heard anything bad about Jeff Hodges." I could only smile in chagrin and say, "I just got away with it because I was quiet." Then, pointing over at my wife, I added, "If you want some details on my faults, just talk to her."

Actually, my wife doesn't bad-mouth me, and evangelicals generally accept a lot of awkward situations because that's the untidiness of life:
Evangelical pews are full of people whose family lives are untidy. If we get angry when a teen gets pregnant, it is not at the hot-blooded teens but at the fashion and entertainment industries that persistently sexualize the images of the young and set them up for bad choices. It's no wonder: One recent study showed that adolescents with a sexually charged media diet are more than twice as likely as others to have sex by the time they turn 16. Teen pregnancy is one of the situations in which it is easiest for us to hate the sin but love the sinner.
The evangelical reaction to Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy was thus one of immediate acceptance. Evangelical empathy for the Palin family probably even strengthened Governor Palin's personal support.

But as I noted yesterday in a conversation with my philosopher friend Dan Ernst over coffee at an Ewha campus coffee shop, although Palin may have personally energized the Republican Party's evangelical base, she put off many other conservatives. I mentioned Charles Krauthammer, George Will, David Brooks, and other conservative pundits who expressed disappointment at McCain's selection of a running mate so 'inexperienced'. By that, they also meant "ignorant" even if they were careful about not quite saying so.

In my own opinion as amateur pundit (if that's not a redundancy), Palin is highly intelligent but needs -- to put it generously -- at least four more years of exposure to national and international issues before she'd be minimally prepared to take on the responsibilities of high office. Evangelicals remain excited by Palin the person, in ways that surprise nonevangelicals, but I sense that many of these same evangelicals have some uncertainty about Palin the candidate -- though most will fervently pull the lever for her on November 4th and even more fervently pray that McCain lives a long, healthy life.

To be frank, however, I don't think that the evangelical vote will be enough to give the Republican Party this election, and Palin's untimely, national political career will be tragically over, fallen victim to the blame game as Republicans fight over who lost the White House.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Um . . . so he really is Obamessiah?

Stanley Fish
"smiling wisdom from the epicine . . . picine . . . piscine era"
(Image from NYT)

In his NYT column "Think Again" of October 26th, "The Power of Passive Campaigning," Stanley Fish reaches for a literary analogy to describe Obama's campaign style.

Fish reminds us of Obama's unusual calm -- what Charles Krauthammer calls a "first-class temperament" -- during the past few weeks' swirling chaos:
We saw it in the 10 days when the activity around the mounting economic crisis was at its height. Henry Paulson alternated between scaring members of Congress and scaring the public. Nancy Pelosi alternated between playing the responsible Congressional statesperson and playing the partisan attack dog. Media commentators went from one hysterical prediction to another. John McCain went from saying there's nothing to worry about to saying there's everything to worry about to saying that he would fix everything by suspending his campaign to saying that he was not suspending his campaign and that he would debate after all.

And Barack Obama? He didn't do much and he said less (O.K., he did say some reassuring, optimistic things), and his poll numbers went up.
Fish doesn't cite Krauthammer but does turn to another conservative pundit to make his point:
He just stands there looking languid (George Will called him the Fred Astaire of politics), always smiling and never raising his voice.
Meanwhile, John McCain gets angry -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- and ever more energetically attacks Obama, who does nothing. Fish asks:
What's going on here? I find an answer in a most unlikely place, John Milton's "Paradise Regained," a four-book poem in which a very busy and agitated Satan dances around a preternaturally still Jesus until, driven half-crazy by the response he's not getting, the arch-rebel (i.e., maverick) loses it, crying in exasperation, "What dost thou in this world?"
Fish assures us that he doesn't "mean to suggest that McCain is the devil or that Obama is the Messiah (although some of his supporters think of him that way), just that the rhetorical strategies the two literary figures employ match up with the strategies employed by the two candidates."

Concluding his analogy to Paradise Regained, Fish gives Milton's explanation for why Obama's strategy works:
Toward the end, the poem describes the mighty contest in a metaphor that captures its odd and negative dynamic. Jesus is "a solid rock" continually assaulted by "surging waves"; and even though the repeated assaults result only in the waves being "all to shivers dashed," they keep on coming until they exhaust themselves "in froth or bubbles." The power Jesus generates is the power of not moving from the still center of his being and refusing to step into an arena of action defined by his opponent. So it is with Obama, who barely exerts himself and absorbs attack after attack, each of which, rather than wounding him, leaves him stronger. It's rope-a-dope on a grand scale.
In short, Obama need do nothing at all, but simply remain calm within the chaos that buffets about him, and he wins? Well . . . maybe. It's not over yet, and unlike in Paradise Regained, there's no predetermined winner.

But Fish is clearly onto something with this analysis, and it need only be turned around for some obscure Milton scholar to offer a new perspective on Milton's depiction of Jesus: "The Son's Rope-a-Dope Strategy in Paradise Regained?"

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Barack Hussein Obama is not a Muslim

Anti-Obama Billboard
Near West Plains, Missouri
(Image from Baxter Bulletin)

As I've often stated, I don't make political recommendations on this blog, nor do I reveal whom I vote for, but I do comment on politics and political issues -- as every reader undoubtedly already knows.

Last February when I visited my hometown in the Arkansas Ozarks, I had a discussion with the father-in-law of one of my brothers. He was convinced that Obama was a Muslim. Apparently, some significant percentage of voters believe this as well.

A billboard near West Plains, Missouri -- a small town about 35 miles from my hometown of Salem, Arkansas and a place that I know very well -- presents a political caricature of Obama wearing a turban and identified as Barack "Hussein" Obama. Obviously, this billboard is an attempt to play upon the suspicion that Obama is a Muslim.

Barack Hussein Obama is not a Muslim despite his middle name "Hussein" and even his first name "Barack" -- not if freedom to choose one's religion has any significance in the United States. Obama was born in Hawaii to parents who were a nominally Muslim father from Kenya and a nominally Christian mother from Kansas. If one follows Muslim law, also known as shariah, then that would indeed qualify Obama as a 'Muslim', but the United States does not follow shariah. Obama was raised primarily by his nominally Christian grandparents and does not seem to have been religious at all until converting to evangelical Christianity during his post-university time as a community organizer working in Chicago.

Obama is therefore a Christian by choice.

I ought to add -- in partial agreement with Colin Powell -- that even if Obama were Muslim, that point should not matter. It would only matter if Obama were an Islamist aiming at instituting shariah rather than defending the US constitution.

Whether one votes for or against Obama, vote on the issues, not on the false rumor of Obama being a Muslim.

More about the controversial billboard can be read in the Baxter Bulletin.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jerry Bone on David Lynn Jones's Music

On bass guitar, some years back...
(Image from

I mentioned in a recent post that I'd located on MySpace the bass guitarist Jerry Bone, who used to work with David Lynn Jones, and that I'd sent him an email to ask if he was involved in the gospel CD by Jones that I have a bootleg copy of.

Mr. Bone has since replied and proven to be not only a musician but also a real gentleman, and we've exchanged a few emails. Concerning the gospel CD, he informs me:
[I played] a small role but none the less I have fond memories and would very much like a copy of your CD so I can finish what I started concerning the gospel music you speak of.
I sent Mr. Bone some contact numbers that might lead him directly to the tape itself, and he replied:
I appreciate the numbers to contact about the tunes. I have a question. The CD you speak of. Is that made from a cassette? What type of tape was the CD made from? Interesting read about the meanings and perspectives of David's songs. I can tell you that Jones is a very spiritual soul and perhaps for most a little hard to understand but he is a master of his craft as most would agree . . . . My prayer is that the old Jones will rise again to give us more food for thought through his music. When we got off the road back in the 90's, we re-did a lot of the Jones music from his first CD -- or album as it were -- plus enough new material for at least 2 CDs. I feel it's some of the best yet to come. I just pray that is not been lost in the shuffle. I have the orginal DAT [i.e., Digital Audio Tape] with the gospel songs but Jones had not kept it out of weather conditions and it broke while I was attempting to mix it down for a CD. Managed to save most of the tunes and perhaps I can find someone to fix the DAT tape. I still plan to put it together and approach Jones about what he would like to do with the songs. I think people deserve to hear this masterpiece.
I replied to Mr. Bone's further query:
It had occurred to me this morning that the best thing would be for you to have the original tape that my nephew Justin . . . found when he helped Jones's wife clean out old things. I don't know for a fact that Justin still has that, but he used it to make the CDs and would probably have saved it. I believe that it was a tape on a spool rather than a cassette, but I'm not certain, but it had only gospel songs on it, nothing else, according to my nephew.
Justin, as I've mentioned in some blog post or other, is a bass guitarist for a band in Batesville, Arkansas called Gazer, and I know that he'd like to help get more of David Lynn Jones's music out there for the public to appreciate. Mr. Bone sounds hopeful about that, for he wrote:
Thanks for making the contact with me because I think this could be a seed planted for the good.
Perhaps, like a mustard seed, this one will grow into a tree great enough for the fowl of the air to rest upon and sing. The gospel CD alone would be worth the effort expended in producing it, and if the music that Jones, Bone, and the others redid from Jones's first album can be located, especially if found with the new material that would fill at least two CDs, then we all have something very special to look forward to.

Maybe it would even bring Jones out of his retirement.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Muslim Clerics' Fatwa: Suicide Attacks Forbidden . . . in Pakistan

The 7th July 2005 London Suicide Bombers
Haram in Pakistan!
Elsewhere, Martyrdom Operations are halal?
(Image from Wikipedia)

More news from MEMRI: In Special Dispatch No. 2093 (October 24, 2008), "Clerics' Conference In Lahore Issues Prohibition Against Suicide Attacks Inside Pakistan," we learn that:
"On October 14, 2008, clerics from 28 religious groups in Pakistan held a conference at the Jamia Naeemia madrassa in Lahore. The conference was organized by the Muttahida Ulema Council of Pakistan. In a fatwa agreed by consensus, the clerics declared suicide attacks inside Pakistan to be haram, or forbidden in Islam."
Specifically, that's point number 13 of "the 21-point declaration issued by the clerics and distributed to journalists at the end of the conference":
"13) It is Ulema's fatwa by consensus that suicide attacks inside Pakistan are haram [forbidden in Islam] and illegitimate."
The implication is that such attacks are halal in other contexts, else why specify Pakistan? But did the clerics actually call these "martyrdom operations" by the contested expression 'suicide attacks'? To call such bombings "suicide" attacks would make them automatically haram anywhere, yet the clerics specify Pakistan.

Perhaps MEMRI has mistranslated this term?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Financial Conspiracy of Uncle Sam, Zionists, and . . . Allah?

Uncle Sam
Third-Rate Deceiver?
(Image not from Wikipedia)

All of you financial analysts studying the role of derivatives in the current financial crisis have been looking at the wrong thing. The crisis is not the unforeseen consequence of trying to eliminate financial risk by spreading the risk across various investments, a practice that many analysts now claim actually increased risk because everybody was spreading risk around and thereby involving the entire financial system in an increasingly precarious 'risky business'.

Well, that's all wrongheaded, for that indispensable resource MEMRI, in a dispatch titled "Arab Columnists: The Economic Crisis -- A Conspiracy by U.S. Government, American Jews" (Special Dispatch Series, No. 2091, October 22, 2008), informs us that "several Arab columnists" have recently written "that the global economic crisis is the result of a conspiracy by the U.S. government, by American Jews, and/or by the Zionists . . . aiming to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, to seize Arab wealth, and to take over the global economy" -- with the general aim of "increasing their influence in the world."

The head of the Egyptian Parliamentary Foreign Liaison Committee, Dr. Mustafa Al-Fiqqi published an article in the London daily Al-Hayat arguing that the economic crisis was "Part of Global Political Conspiracy":
During the summer holidays, I was preoccupied with the global issue of the conspiracy theory. I examined everything that was happening around me in light of this theory, applying historical analysis to gain insight into events and opinions . . . . In my opinion, the current economic crisis, which is expected to get worse, is a new kind of conspiracy. It started in September, only seven years after the first [conspiracy, i.e. the September 11 attacks]. This time, the aim is to take over the property and capital of the Arabs, and to create a new climate of economic plundering in the wake of the political plundering. Such is the Western mentality -- it excels at reaping what others have sown and at seizing anything that they have no right [to take].
Al Fiqqi argues that 9/11 was for political control and that that current financial crisis is for economic control. Both are conspiracies because both began in the same month -- the former in September 2001, the latter in September 2008 -- and Al Fiqqi should know, for he's been studying the September 2008 crisis since last summer.

Lebanese columnist Fuad Matar wrote that "The Crisis is a Move Devised by the Jewish Mind and the Zionist Lobby," apparently publishing the same article for the Lebanese daily Al-Liwa and Saudi daily Al-Yawm, and argued that Jews had "instigated the financial crisis in order to prevent Bush from fulfilling his promise to establish a Palestinian state before the end of his presidency."

Matar acknowledges a minor inconsistency in his theory:
Some might [disagree with me,] saying that Jewish money and the Jewish mind constitute the main nerve of the financial world and of the real estate investment [sector] in the U.S., and that it is therefore hardly likely that Zionism would destroy financial, real estate and investment institutions in which [Zionists] play an active role, whether as shareholders or executives.
Matar, however, remains convinced because he is certain that the aim is to reduce American power:
Zionists made a significant change in their plans, [and decided that] the time has come to transfer the Zionist strategic base from the U.S. to Europe, when the possibility arose that a black man, Barak Obama, would head the U.S.
But I thought that Obama was strong in his support for Israel . . . . Well, never mind that. It's all smokescreen, anyway.

Meanwhile, in that center of intellectual ferment, Saudi Arabia, Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma, a lecturer at King Faysal University, maintains that this global economic crisis is being manipulated by the Rothschilds in line with their aim of taking over the world's financial markets. In "Who Is behind the American Crisis?", written for Al-Watan, she argues that "the real value of learning history does not lie in merely knowing the facts, but in absorbing them and taking a lesson from them" -- a reasonable enough point -- and goes on to tell us the lesson:
Some say that the facts of the current American crisis are clear, and that there is nothing hiding behind the scenes, but I disagree. [I believe that] those hiding behind the scenes are numerous. [These are forces] that are accustomed to staying hidden and working in the dark, especially [when the moment is right] and hegemonies are ripe for toppling.
Although I lack Al-Jalahma's financial expertise and grasp of historical facts, I wonder what her positive evidence is for blaming the Rothschilds, for she seems to provide merely analogical 'evidence' from past financial crises when the Rothschilds allegedly manipulated things behind the scenes.

Even Allah is implicated in this conspiracy, it would seem, for in another MEMRI translation of Arabic news (MEMRI, Special Dispatch Series, No. 2092, October 23, 2008), we learn from Dr. Zaghloul Ragheb Al-Naggar the startling truth about the truly hidden forces at work:
In an October 8, 2008 interview on Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV, prominent Egyptian geologist and cleric Dr. Zaghloul Ragheb Al-Naggar discussed the global economic crisis, warning that the "usury system" displeased Allah, that the capitalist system was collapsing, and that this was "a wakeup call" to "base economic institutions on healthy Islamic principles" and to realize the truth about Islam . . . . [adding that] "What we are seeing is a war waged by Allah and His Prophet."
So . . . am I to infer that Allah is working with the Bush administration and the Rothschilds to destroy the global financial system and bring about the victory of Islam?

Truly, "Allah is the best of deceivers" (Allahu khayru al-makireena, Quran 3:54).

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Speaking of hillbillies and music . . .

Hillbillies Jammin'
German-Funded, American-Filmed

Shot on location in the Ozark Mountains, generally southwestern Missouri, but also in Lawrence, Kansas, this looks like a good film about hillbillies and hillbilly music even if it is a documentary largely set in the state of 'misery' rather than the great state of Arkansas.

The film is already getting some international attention:
Rick Minnich's Homemade Hillbilly Jam . . . [is] a portrait of dying musical traditions in rural Missouri, which also makes its UK debut in Sheffield. The third feature-length documentary by the US-born, Berlin-based director is another quirky insight into an America that most Americans would barely recognise.

"It's a culture that is fading but putting up a good fight," Minnich says. "Maybe there is more of a movement of people finding these subcultures within their own culture. The response in North America to Homemade Hillbilly Jam has been, 'Wow, are there still people like that?' They don't necessarily want to live that way, but they are glad that way of life exists."
That's from Stephen Dalton, writing "What’s up? Documentaries" for UK's Times Online (September 29, 2008). In an online interview -- "Homemade Hillbilly Jam: Q&A with director Rick Minnich" -- by Nigel A. Messenger for Phase 9 Entertainment (October 23, 2008), the filmmaker, Rick Minnich, responds to some questions:
What was the basis for the idea for your film?

I met the guys from the band Big Smith through the making of my previous film Heaven on Earth in Branson, Missouri several years ago. They seemed like the antithesis of the pseudo-hillbilly showtown Branson. After drowning in Branson's flashiness, I was eager to discover what lie beyond the town's borders. What I discovered was Big Smith and the extended Bilyeu family.

Did a particular incident/event inspire it?

The husband of one of Big Smith's cousins Joy Bilyeu gave me a copy of the band's debut CD. I listened to it once, and didn't think much about it. But when I gave it another shot about a year later, I knew immediately that there was more to the story than meets the eyes and ears. I had to meet these guys, and once I did, I was hooked. The deciding moment was meeting Grandma Thelma on her deathbed, and filming her and her grandson Mark singing together only days before she died. I knew at that moment that I had to make a film about this family. One-and-one-half years later, I was doing it.

What aspect of the filmmaking process was most enjoyable/challenging and why?

Hanging out with Big Smith was loads of fun. They're a bunch of ordinary guys with a ton of musical talent. Whenever they get together, they can't help but break out into song. The Thanksgiving dinner scene was one of the highlights, and definitely the most wonderful Thanksgiving celebration I've ever been a part of. The most challenging part of the film was trying to find a way to mould my fascination with hillbilly culture into a tangible form with somewhat of a storyline. Most of this happened in the editing room thanks to the help of my co-writer and editor Matt Sweetwood (also an American residing in Germany).
The interviewer, Nigel Messenger, adds these words describing the film:
The brothers and cousins who make up the band Big Smith are proud to consider themselves Hillbillies. They combine traditional roots of Scots-Irish jigs, church music and folk songs handed down over generations, with more modern elements of country and western and a sensibility they describe as 'neo-hillbilly'. Minnich's beautifully shot film celebrates Missouri's Ozark countryside and the way music can transcend conflicting attitudes, to bring and hold generations together.
There's also a good interview by Melissa McCarthy in her "Bulletin Message" column for Shooting People, in which she catches Rick Minnich at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival UK Tour. I especially liked this remark by Minnich:
Audiences in the South (such as at the US premiere in Hot Springs, Arkansas -- about four hours from where we shot the film) felt that the film is very much about themselves, and made comments such as, "Finally someone made a film about us!"
That 'us' would be people like Mark Bilyeu, of Springfield, Missouri's hillbilly band Big Smith, which appears in the film. Here's what Christianity Today has to say about Bilyeu and that band in an article by Jeffery Overstreet, "Watch . . . and Listen," for his column "Through a Screen Darkly" (October 21, 2008):
We meet 34-year-old singer/songwriter Mark Bilyeu of the popular folk-rock band Big Smith, and he invites us to his family's Thanksgiving dinner -- several generations of Ozark tradition gathered around one table on a brisk autumn day. They hold hands for a prayer, expressing their hope that the next generation will "learn to love Jesus in the same way."

The scene may seem foreign, or as familiar as canned cranberries. But what is likely to surprise most viewers is what happens after dinner, when the Bilyeus gather in the living room with mandolins and electric guitars. Have you ever heard "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" sung to washboard percussion? "Any family can get together and watch football," says Mark, "but not every family can get together and play five guitars at once and make it sound halfway decent."

He explains that the drive to keep Big Smith together has everything to do with preserving the traditions of his elders. "There's so much about our everyday existence that's not worth keeping. When you come upon something that is worth keeping, you really want to hold onto it . . . . There are some things that are timeless, and we'll hold on to those things." And, as if to prove it, he sings a song of his grandmother, from memory, in an empty chapel.
I think that I've got to see this documentary, which will probably never come to South Korea but which will eventually appear on DVD, I reckon, and we can then all learn about jammin' with Ozark hillbillies.

Of course, I already know a little about that.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"High Ridin' Heroes"

David Lynn Jones
Hard Times on Easy Street
(Image from

I once mentioned a bootleg CD of gospel music played and sung by David Lynn Jones that my brother Tim told me included a musician named Jerry Bone. Yesterday, I was thinking about that CD and decided to look for Jerry Bone on the internet. I found him at Oxford, Arkansas, only a bit over ten miles from my hometown . . . well, actually, I found him on MySpace. He has an interesting bio there in which, among other things, he recalls earlier days playing music with David Lynn Jones:

Not until I was in my later years and many musical chairs down the road did I get a glimpse of what the music chase was all about. A long time friend "David Lynn Jones" landed a major record deal with polygram records after he wrote a song called "Living In the Promise Land" which was a big hit for Willie Nelson in the early 80's and also recorded later by Joe Cocker.

Jones was at the liberty of choosing his band members for an extensive tour and I was fortunate to have been chosen for the job of playing bass. From 88 till mid 90's we were on the tail wind of every popular country artist and venue during that time frame. Concerts, CMT videos, etc, I felt blessed to have played on 3 of his cd's released on the "liberty" label under the command of Jimmy Bowen. Jones's music like any music is not for everyone but he was and still is a major influence and mentor. He is a master of his craft, and I believe someday his music will be like the Mona Lisa.

Those days were experiences and opportunities I would have never had if not for his friendship and expertise. One of the many highlights of that Jones experience was working with the late great Mick Ronson during the pre-production recordings of a Jones project called "Wood Wind and Stone". We were recording in Bexar Arkansas in an old converted commissary we called the Alamo. I have a picture Of Mick Picking ticks on a hot day of what seemed like endless sessions. A real gentleman and powerful talent in every respect. His passing was a great loss. I'll try and post the tick pic soon. I have to mention that Richie Albright our road manager and producer was an inspiring force in the Jones days.
I sent Bone an email to ask if he was in fact involved in that gospel CD, but I haven't heard anything from him yet. For more on some of those days that Bone recalls, see this article "Living in the promised land," by Angelia Roberts, written for the Batesville Daily Guard (March 16, 2005).

Meanwhile, here are the lyrics to a David Lynn Jones song -- from Hard Times on Easy Street -- that you can find sung on You Tube by a country musician who calls himself "Campfire Cowboy" and does a respectable enough job:
High Ridin' Heroes

David Lynn Jones

Daylight or midnight,
red eyes and that old hat,
whiskey-spent and busted flat,
and a credit to his faults.
He's a bad risk and a good friend,
small change and loose ends,
and he only regrets that he might've been
a little faster on the draw

Hey, those old high ridin' heroes,
they're anywhere the wind blows.
He's been to hell and Texas
and he knows how it feels
to be ridin' that hot streak,
drunk on some back street,
fallin' off the wagon,
and under the wheels.

Time was, when he was king.
Now the rodeo's just an old man's dream,
and the highs are few and far between,
and the lows get the rest.
But these old hard times ain't nothin' new.
Once you've done the best you can do,
You just tip your hat to the wider blue,
Ride off to the west.

Hey, those old high ridin' heroes,
they're anywhere the wind blows.
He's been to hell and Texas
and he knows how it feels
to be ridin' that hot streak,
drunk on some back street,
fallin' off the wagon,
and under the wheels.
Bone mentioned that from 1988 to the mid-90s, the Jones band did a lot of Country Music Television videos, so there must be a lot of Jones's music recorded and stored away somewhere but that hasn't made it onto You Tube. The one video recording that I'd earlier found there, "Bonnie Jean," has been removed. Only a nonvideo recording of "Bonnie Jean" remains.

A lot of things in these hard times have just gone "fallin' off the wagon, / and under the wheels."


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Response to Paper by Metropolitan Ambrose Zographos

Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos
Metropolitan of Seoul
(Image from OrthodoxWiki)

My responses to the papers by Professor Nobuo Kazashi and Metropolitan Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos were delayed from 5:00 p.m. until nearly 7:00 due to the length of some afternoon presentations, so I got home late in the evening and am not yet rested well. Consequently, I'll post what I said in response to the Metropolitan's paper because I'm still too tired to be even minimally creative this morning (and because my response is relatively short).

By the way, I finally learned what the conference is called: "Mystical Tradition and Autobiography as the Source of the Multi-Cultural Spirituality in a Global World." It continues all week, until the 24th.

Anyway, here's my response to the Metropolitan's paper, which was titled "Orthodox Christian Spirituality and the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer":
I now respond to Metropolitan Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos's paper, which I have understood better because I have more knowledge of religion than of philosophy. Consequently, my remarks will be brief, followed by some questions. The Metropolitan has explained the fundamental goals of Orthodox spirituality:
First, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit through a life in Christ and, second, to experience a living unity with God (Theosis). The sole reason why God created human beings was to make us partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3-4) . . . . For Orthodox Christians, . . . the grace of the Holy Spirit . . . . effects deification (Theosis), which implies nothing other than direct union with God.
Clearly, a type of mystical union with the divine is at the center of Orthodox spirituality, which therefore places the Metropolitan's paper squarely at the center of this conference on mysticism. Quite startling, however, is the statement concerning the change effected through the "grace of the Holy Spirit," for we learn that "it is this divine grace that effects deification (Theosis)."

The Metropolitan has cited 2 Peter 1:3-4, which reads (minus the accents, though I've tried to add the rough breathing marks):
1:3 ‘ως παντα ‘ημιν της θειας δυναμεως αυτου τα προς ζωην και ευσεβειαν δεδωρημενης δια της επιγνωσεως του καλεσαντος ‘ημας ιδια δοξη και αρετη
1:4 δι ‘ων τα τιμια και μεγιστα ‘ημιν επαγγελματα δεδωρηται ‘ινα δια τουτων γενησθε θειας κοινωνοι φυσεως αποφυγοντες της εν τω κοσμω εν επιθυμια φθορας (Greek NT (Nestle-Aland) UTF8)

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (New International Version)
The operative phrase here is ‘ινα . . . γενησθε θειας κοινωνοι φυσεως, which literally means "so that . . . you might become sharers in the divine nature." This promise already sounds remarkable enough as expressed in 2 Peter 1:3-4. All the more astonishing is the startling Orthodox statement already noted: "It is this divine grace that effects deification (Theosis)" -- though our astonishment is perhaps reduced by the clause declaring that this deification "implies nothing other than direct union with God."

I confess, however, that I am somewhat unsure of the meaning. The word "deification" is very powerful. It is the substantive form of "deify," which literally means "to make a god of." Does the Greek "Theosis" imply something this strong? Or does the phrase "nothing other than direct union with God" weaken the meaning? Either way, is this union temporary, or eternal? If eternal, what happens to one's human nature? Does one have a union of divine and human natures similar to that of the incarnate Son? I'd like to know more about this apparently "mystical" union. I wonder to what degree it is biblically grounded and to what degree it draws upon Greek thought, such as the Neoplatonic concept of henosis.

Similarly, what are the respective roles of God and the individual in this process? The Metropolitan states that "the means through which one may reach . . . deification . . . can be summarized in the following five steps":
1) The technical means, . . .such as the bending of the head and controlled breathing.
2) Reciting the holy name of Jesus
3) The blocking of any image or thought during prayer
4) Heartfelt prayer
5) Ceaseless prayer
If I have understood correctly, the prayer consists of these words: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." I understand that this is no automatic, magical formula, but also requires obedience to God's commandments (cf. Matt 7:21-23). I suppose that my question is a very Protestant one, but to what extent is "deification" a gift of divine grace, and to what extent is it earned by human works?

I have one final question. The Metropolitan has stated that "the Jesus Prayer is not to be practiced intensely without a guide," for there exist "spiritual, psychological and physical dangers . . . without the guidance of an experienced spiritual father." Yet, the Metropolitan has also stated that the prayer can be practiced "by anyone . . . . alone . . . as a private . . . prayer." If so, then what sort of guidance is meant?
Such were my words. Unfortunately, I did not get to hear a reply by the Metropolitan, for my own response was so long delayed that he had already left.

Perhaps I should email him.


Monday, October 20, 2008

The Minute Vagaries of a Scholar's Life...

International Conference on Mysticism
(Logo from Sogang University)

Today begins Sogang University's international conference on mysticism. I don't know the precise wording that announces this conference because I've not yet seen the flyer, and Sogang's English website says nothing.

I know only that the conference starts at 2:00 p.m. and that I'm scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. with my response to two papers, one on William James and the other on Orthodox spirituality. I hope that I encounter no difficulties reaching Sogang for the opening of the conference, for I have to proctor two exams today at Ewha Womans University, the latter of the two tests ending at 1:00 p.m.

Initially, I was told that I have 25 minutes for my response, so I worked for three full days -- Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday -- reading the papers, boning up on the material, and writing the precisely 10 pages that would fit neatly into the 25-minute time limit.

Sunday, I found out that the 25 minutes would include time for simultaneous translation -- though not really 'simultaneous' -- and that I would actually have only about 17 minutes for my presentation. I therefore spent Sunday afternoon trimming my response by exactly 3 pages down to the precisely 7 pages that would fit nicely into the 17-minute time frame.

The life of a scholar is measured as much in pages and minutes as in items on a resumé, but these are only a rough mismeasure of the time and energy actually expended.

Wish me luck.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Metropolitan Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos on Theosis

12th-Century Icon and Image of Theosis
St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
Monks Ascending (and Falling from) the Ladder to Jesus
(Image from Wikipedia)

In preparing my response to a couple of papers to be presented at this week's international conference on mysticism, I learned something quite new . . . for me. Actually, it's quite old.

My past couple of posts have treated issues in William James, for the first paper that I'll be responding to is titled "The Young William James and Ontological Wonder Sickness" (by Nobuo Kazashi). The second paper is by the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Korea, Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos, who will be presenting on “Orthodox Christian Spirituality and the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer.” From this paper, I have learned something new, the concept of theosis.

I don't want to quote from the Metropolitan's paper without his permission, so I'll quote instead from an Orthodox website. According to the OrthodoxWiki:
Theosis ("deification," "divinization") is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamártía ("missing the mark"), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía -- which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity -- which is everlasting.

This is not to be confused with the heretical (apothéōsis) -- "Deification in God’s Essence", which is imparticipable.
This OrthodoxWiki entry is rather more technical than the Metropolitan's presentation on theosis, but it says the same thing. In my response to the Metropolitan's paper, I inquire about this "deification" expressed in theosis. The New Testament passage cited above is 2 Peter 1:4, which has the crucial words ‘ινα . . . γενησθε θειας κοινωνοι φυσεως, namely, "that . . . you might become sharers in the divine nature," which seems less striking somehow. Here is what I plan to ask about theosis:
I confess . . . that I am somewhat unsure of the meaning. The word "deification" is very powerful. It is the substantive form of "deify," which literally means "to make a god of." Does the Greek "Theosis" imply something this strong? . . . Perhaps the Metropolitan could explain more about this. For instance, is this union temporary, or eternal? If eternal, what happens to one's human nature? Does one have a union of divine and human natures similar to that of the incarnate Son? I'd like to know more about this apparently "mystical" union. Also, . . . are there other biblical passages that support the Orthodox view of "deification"? (Or is Orthodoxy drawing upon the concept of henosis in the Neoplatonic tradition?)
I'd also like to know how theosis differs from apotheosis, and I'll perhaps find out this week . . . albeit not firsthand.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gerald E. Myers about James M. Edie on William James

James M. Edie
(Image from Wikipedia)

In the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Vol. 49, No. 3, Mar., 1989, pp. 538-541), Gerald E. Myers reviewed the book William James and Phenomenology, by the American philosopher James M. Edie. In his review, Myers relates Edie's remarks on a famous statement by William James:
The book's concluding note is that action is the central Jamesian category, returning Edie to something he mentions several times. This is the now famous episode of 1870 when James was depressed, dejected by thoughts of determinism, but seemed to recover, in part anyway, by reading C. Renouvier's definition of free will that led him to declare: "My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will." Edie's comment: "Action, in the philosophy of James, is another word for Freedom. By the decision to act he becomes a philosopher and the philosophy he developed is a philosophy of the free act" (p. 8o). Extracting the significance of this episode in combination with James's writings allows Edie (with J. Wild) to reiterate the existential character of James's philosophy, thus showing how existentialism and phenomenology meet in and contribute to that philosophy.
I don't know enough about Renouvier's views, but I presume that William James is being ironic in his manner of expression, for if one has free will, then it would long precede any act of belief in free will. More precisely if less strikingly expressed, James could have said, "My first fully convinced act of free will shall be to believe in free will."

As for William James and phenomenology, I also know too little about that to understand how it meets with existentialism in his philosophy.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

"ontological wonder-sickness"

William James
"in wandering mazes lost"
(Image from Wikipedia)

I have to prepare a response to a couple of papers being given next week at an international conference on "mysticism" -- a fraught term -- and one of the two papers, by Nobuo Kazashi (professor of philosophy at Japan's Kobe University), is titled "The Young William James and Ontological Wonder Sickness."

I've not read James in a long time, so I returned to one of his most famous books, The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, and Human Immortality (Courier Dover Publications, 1956), where James describes what he calls "ontological wonder-sickness":
Our mind is so wedded to the process of seeing an other beside every item of its experience, that when the notion of an absolute datum is presented to it, it goes through its usual procedure and remains pointing at the void beyond, as if in that lay further matter for contemplation. In short, it spins for itself the further positive consideration of a nonentity enveloping the being of its datum; and as that leads nowhere, back recoils the thought toward its datum again. But there is no natural bridge between nonentity and this particular datum, and the thought stands oscillating to and fro, wondering "Why was there anything but nonentity; why just this universal datum and not another?" and finds no end, in wandering mazes lost. Indeed, [a certain Professor] Bain's words [affirming the end of mystery in the complete vision of science when all has been encompassed within the most general of scientific laws] are so untrue that in reflecting men it is just when the attempt to fuse the manifold into a single totality has been most successful, when the conception of the universe as a unique fact is nearest its perfection, that the craving for further explanation, the ontological wonder-sickness, arises in its extremest form. As Schopenhauer says, "The uneasiness which keeps the never-resting clock of metaphysics in motion, is the consciousness that the non-existence of this world is just as possible as its existence." (pages 71-72)
In the reference to finding no end but being "in wandering mazes lost," James quotes from Milton's epic Paradise Lost, Book 2.561, where the more philosophical of the fallen angels apparently fall into a type of wonder-sickness -- and James is probably punning between "wandering" and "wondering" -- though Milton does not explicitly state that these erring angels pose the ultimate ontological question. They perhaps don't suffer from James's peculiar illness.

But what is the symptom of "ontological wonder sickness," anyway? The "oscillating to and fro, wondering"? Or the "craving for further explanation" itself? James is not entirely clear on this point.

Be that as it may, I suspect that a fear of nothingness lies at the heart of James's concern, for the Schopenhauer quote emphasizes "that the non-existence of this world is just as possible as its existence."

Perhaps I should ask my friend Bill Vallicella.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reverend Spitz Upon Yesterday's Post

American Life League
Pro-Life, Against Violence
(Image from ALL)

Yesterday, I looked briefly at Dan Clanton's recent article, "Biblical Interpretation and Christian Domestic Terrorism: The Exegeses of Rev. Michael Bray and Rev. Paul Hill" (SBL Forum, n.p. [cited Aug 2008]), and I noted that the word 'terrorism' in the article's title remains undefined:
Despite the title's reference to "Christian Domestic Terrorism," the term "terrorism" does not elsewhere appear in the article -- nor does "terrorist" or even "terror." Consequently, no definition of "terrorism" is provided by Dr. Clanton that would clarify why he applies this term to the violence advocated by Michael Bray and used by Paul Hill. Presumably, "the bombing of abortion clinics and the planned murder of abortion providers" is so obviously "terrorism" that the issue need not even be broached, but I'd like to have seen some treatment of this point.
This question about Clanton's choice of the word "terrorism" was the main point of my blog post, but a certain Reverend Don Spitz dove bellyfirst into my post and splashed it with this comment:
You seem to imply there is something wrong if a babykilling abortion mill is burned or bomb. Which do you prefer, a pile of bricks or a pile of dead babies? Innocent unborn babies deserve to be protected just as born children deserve to be protected. You would have no problem protecting born children if they were about to be murdered.
This comment seemed to fit my post like a wrongly pressed suit, for I had been posing a question about Dr. Clanton's choice of the word "terrorism" to characterize the violence advocated by Michael Bray and used by Paul Hill. Reverend Spitz didn't appear to be the sort to engage in reasoned dialogue -- and I had a suspicion that he wasn't looking for discussion anyway -- so I gave as much serious thought to his 'comment' as he had given to my post and instead asked him:
Reverend Spitz, do you support the killing of abortionists?
I received no answer from Reverend Spitz, but his own words imply that he does indeed support the killing of abortionists.

In response to another individual's comment on Reverend Spitz, I revealed my initial suspicion about the good reverend, along with what I had since learned:
My initial thought was that Reverend Spitz was spamming -- searching the net for blog entries like the one that I've written and posting preformulated 'responses'.

I suppressed that thought, however, and posed a question to him . . . just in case he were the sort to reply.

Since posting, I've Googled his name and discovered that my first thought was correct. He spams his preformulated 'responses' onto blogs as if they were comments.
On the blog Serendipity, I had found this information about Reverend Don Spitz:
Spitz seems to spend large amounts of time searching the internet for mentions of his proteges Hill and Rudolph. When he finds these references, he drops in a comment chock-a-block with assumptions, invective, accusations, calls for violence, and biblical quotes that he supposes give him the authority to spread his hate-speech.
Since I was right about Reverend Spitz's mode of operations, then I suspect that he will notice today's blog entry as well, given that it specifically mentions Michael Bray and Paul Hill, and we may see another spammed-in 'comment' supporting "the bombing of abortion clinics and the planned murder of abortion providers" -- violent actions that are roundly condemned by such mainstream pro-life organizations as ALL.

I wonder what Reverend Spitz thinks of those groups more consistently pro-life.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Christian Domestic Terrorism"?

Dr. Dan W. Clanton
(Image from Denver University)

Dan Clanton, biblical studies scholar, has written an article, "Biblical Interpretation and Christian Domestic Terrorism: The Exegeses of Rev. Michael Bray and Rev. Paul Hill" (SBL Forum, n.p. [cited Aug 2008]), that analyzes Christian 'terrorism' against abortionists and suggests ways of countering such violence, and since Islamist terrorism is one of the topics that I often post on, I thought that I should at least take a look at Dr. Clanton's article.

Despite the title's reference to "Christian Domestic Terrorism," the term "terrorism" does not elsewhere appear in the article -- nor does "terrorist" or even "terror." Consequently, no definition of "terrorism" is provided by Dr. Clanton that would clarify why he applies this term to the violence advocated by Michael Bray and used by Paul Hill. Presumably, "the bombing of abortion clinics and the planned murder of abortion providers" is so obviously "terrorism" that the issue need not even be broached, but I'd like to have seen some treatment of this point.

What Dr. Clanton does talk about is violence used in religion:
Most scholars who examine the relationship between religion and violence agree that one of the most important factors in using sacred texts to justify violence against another person, community, or institution is the process of making them an "Other."[1] Religiously speaking, these others serve as the discordant example of belief and behavior over and against which the people of God are to be constructed, and thus it is easy to see why violence is often employed to remove, punish, or defend innocents from these others.[2] The emphasis on defending innocents from the "Other" is central to the most common form of scripturally justified violence in America: violence in the radical anti-abortion movement(s).


[1] See, e.g., Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 4-5 and passim. See also the comments of Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Quran (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 2003), 112-13.

[2] See John J. Collins, "The Zeal of Phineas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence," JBL 122 (2003): 11: "Identity is defined negatively by a sharp differentiation of Israel from the other peoples of the land, and positively by the prescriptions of a covenant with a jealous sovereign god." See now Collins, Does the Bible Justify Violence? (Facets Series; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 15. See also "The Zeal of Phineas," 18; Does the Bible Justify Violence? 27: Collins sees this construction of the "Other" and the divinely guaranteed absoluteness of that category as "the root of religious violence in the Jewish and Christian traditions."
This is a commonly noted point about violence directed toward an "enemy" and has been discussed at length, as Dr. Clanton notes, but he has more specific things to say about the use of the Bible by Bray and Hill:
It should be clear that both Bray and Hill view the Bible in a specific way. For them, the text serves as what Bruce Lincoln calls a transcendent discourse upon which they base their practices, that is, "embodied material action [that] render religious discourse operational."[21] These practices affect both the way(s) in which believers encounter the world and the way(s) in which they shape their own identity. That is, given the assumptions that believers like Hill and Bray hold about the Bible, it is not surprising that they would seek answers to perceived problems in its pages, but what is not so obvious is that "prior familiarity with the text -- and the sedimented familiarity of others, which he experiences as an interpretive tradition -- provides the lens through which he [i.e., a believer such as Hill or Bray] understands and responds to the problem."[22] Lincoln calls this situation one of "mutual mediation," that is, one's devotion to a specific religious discourse and/or sacred text both colors and in turn reinforces the way in which one views the world in general, and specific issues in particular. With Hill and Bray, it is obvious that they both hold the view that the Bible is a repository of wisdom, a handbook for living due to their understanding of their particular brand of evangelical Christianity. This view allows them the exegetical freedom to turn to their sacred text with real-life issues and situations, such as the plight of the "pre-born," and find viable instructions and paradigms for action, where others may find only thematic or tangential parallels. Similarly, their investment in the Bible also allows them to view their present situation through an interpretive grid developed through years of study and an imbededness in a particular interpretive tradition. Thus, the Bible serves as the font of action, belief, and identity for them, as well as providing the matrix through they perceive their own political, social, and ideological location in the world.


[21] Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 6.

[22] Ibid., 35; ee also 47.
I'm not sure how much this explains. Many evangelicals -- and perhaps other Christians as well -- consider the Bible "a transcendent discourse upon which they base their practices" and hold "the view that the Bible is a repository of wisdom, a handbook for living," yet they don't turn to violence against abortionists. The number of Christian 'terrorists' must be very tiny, though I don't know the statistics. Since the numbers are so small, we should perhaps look at the idiosyncratic motivations to explain particular Christian 'terrorists' rather than generalizations that fail to distinguish them from a larger body of Christians who share similar views of the transcendent status of the Bible but who do not commit religiously inspired 'terrorism'.

I suppose that I ought to say more on this issue, particularly on Dr. Clanton's views on preventing this sort of violence, but my day's duty calls me to my own nonreligiously inspired actions that will terrify my students.

I'm giving a test.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Michael A. Launius: "A political analysis of Japan's Dokdo claim"

Michael A. Launius
'terra nullius homo'

Finally, I've read an article that makes sense on why Dokdo belongs to Korea and not to Japan.

Most articles that I read on this subject talk endlessly about maps from the past, but when I visited the Dokdo Museum, located on the larger East Sea (Sea of Japan) island of Ulleungdo (from where one can supposedly see distant Dokdo), I could not make sense of the changing names and locations on the museum's maps of the what was claimed to be Dokdo. I came away still to be convinced that the maps clearly show that Dokdo belongs to Korea. However, possession is nine-tenths of the law, or so says the proverb, so I was satisfied on other grounds that Dokdo is Korean land.

But Michael A. Launius has supplied a political argument that makes sense of Korea's claim by showing Japan's claim to be untenable. Japan asserts that it had already long claimed possession of Dokdo before 1905, but Launius shows why this claim cannot be taken seriously:
The political aspirations of the rising Japanese Empire made Dokdo an important issue in 1905 when the decision was made to formally annex the islets. The justification given was that Dokdo was terra nullius, meaning land claimed or administered by no other state. The claim was posted in Matsue City, an obscure provincial capital after a bill was introduced the preceding year in the Japanese Diet. Japan usually portrays this incorporation as unrelated to the overall imperial project upon which it had embarked; as if it were a mere coincidence that it was already in the process of extinguishing Korean independence and preparing for war with Russia for regional dominance.

It is obvious, though, to any impartial observer that Japan believed Dokdo to be Korean territory because of the manner in which it was seized; as terra nullius (meaning that Japan did not believe it was already theirs) and via publication in a backwater town out of public view. None of that would have been necessary had the Japanese government believed that Dokdo had been theirs historically.

The seizure of Dokdo was obviously part of the larger Japanese goal of colonizing the Korean Peninsula and advancing into China. After all, the immediate use to which Dokdo was put after the incorporation was as a naval communications post for gathering intelligence on Russian naval movements. This is critical evidence of the purpose behind the timing and method of its seizure as related to the Russo-Japanese War and the eventual annexation of Korea. These were all part of a larger act of imperial expansion. (Michael A. Launius, "A political analysis of Japan's Dokdo claim," The Korea Herald, October 13, 2008)
This argument makes perfect sense for two reasons. First, it places the annexation of Dokdo within Japan's imperial venture, thereby showing the annexation to be part and parcel of Japanese expansion. Second, and even more tellingly, it shows that the legal argument employed by Japan to annex Dokdo depended upon the island being terra nullius -- "land claimed or administered by no other state" -- which means that Japan clearly acknowledged that prior to 1905, it had held no claim to Dokdo.

Additionally, the fact that Japan announced its annexation "via publication in a backwater town out of public view" strongly implies that in making the claim, Japan had something to hide, namely, its knowledge that Dokdo belonged to another country, i.e., Korea.

At last, a solid argument to stand on.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

European Union and "Democratic Deficit": Addendum

Hans Köchler
University Professor
Chair for Political Philosophy
University of Innsbruck, Austria

Two days ago, I blogged on Hans Köchler's article "The European Constitution and the Imperatives of Transnational Democracy" (Singapore Year Book of International Law, Volume 9 (2005, pdf)) to clarify the charge that the TCE would result in a European Union (EU) with a "democratic deficit."

As one commentator noted, Köchler was analyzing the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) -- which met with difficulties due to rejection by the French and the Dutch in referenda when it was proposed for approval -- but the process of EU integration has moved beyond the TCE, so one should now look at the Lisbon Treaty, which aims "to complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action" (Preamble of the Treaty).

That commentator is correct, of course, and I will look into this further. Eventually. For now, however, I'd like to add a bit more to my study of Köchler's analysis of the TCE's "democratic deficit":
The Constitution for Europe juxtaposes the "principles" of representative and participatory democracy,[54] while "founding" the very functioning of the Union on representative democracy alone. It assigns participatory democracy mainly to the area of lobbying and public relations in the traditional sense. Article I-47 states that the institutions of the Union shall give the citizens and N.G.Os ("representative associations") the opportunity to make known their views, and obliges those institutions to maintain an open dialogue "with representative associations and civil society". Apart from information and consultation, the Constitution provides only for one rudimentary form of citizen's participation, namely a "citizens' initiative" for "inviting" the European Commission to submit a legislative proposal in cases where citizens consider "that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution".[55] Such a demand may be submitted to the European Commission if it gets the support of at least one million citizens from a "significant number of Member States".[56] Too much excitement has been expressed about this "European referendum"[57] which, in fact, does not provide for any legislative authority of the citizens in the sense of direct democracy, but merely defines a right to request the Commission to make proposals for certain acts of legislation. In the strict sense of the term, this provision is not one of participatory democracy. It might well be perceived as a kind of placebo[58] handed out to European citizens' groups that have desperately lobbied for the insertion of provisions of direct democracy into the European Constitution.[59]

As regards the exercise of "participatory" democracy, it is noteworthy that the Constitution places citizens and "representative associations" on an equal level. However, "civil society" should not be represented by transnational lobbies and economic interest groups. The ambiguity of Art. I-47 of the Constitution in regard to the nature of civil society (namely its constituent elements) makes the need for genuine procedures of direct democracy even more obvious. The importance of such measures is further underlined by the predominant, [End of page 10.] though unavoidable, role of national executive power in the shaping of European legislation (according to the mechanisms described earlier). Only the possibility, in principle, of direct citizens' participation in the legislative processes (without the interference of lobbies and interest groups) could provide the democratic leverage that is necessary to make the European project succeed in the long term. Thus, one of the imperatives of transnational democracy in what is so far the strictly representative context of the EU would be the insertion of genuine forms of participatory democracy into the Constitution, such as a pan-European referendum, measures that are complementary to, not in lieu of, the representative models of decision-making.


54 Arts. I-46 and I-47, supra note 12.

55 Art. I-47[4], supra note 12.

56 The organisational details are not set out in the Constitution. The minimum number of Member States from which the supporting citizens must come and other administrative procedures of the citizens’ initiative are to be decided through European laws.

57 See, for instance, Michael Efler, A Rollercoaster Ride towards Transnational Democracy: Transnational Democracy in the Making (Amsterdam: Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe, 2003), online:

58 See the evaluation of the "People's Movement" in "A Brief Critique of the Provisions of the Proposed Constitution for Europe", online:
People’s Movement. "The provision is . . . practically useless but by mirroring the initiation process for a popular referendum, gives the illusion of democracy."

59 For an overall evaluation of the provisions related to what the Constitution calls "participatory democracy", see Bruno Kaufmann & Theo Schiller, Intitiative for Europe into new democratic territory. (Working paper on the Options and Limits of Art. 47.4 in the EU Constitution -- the European Citizens' Initiative process for the Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe, October 2004),
I find both interesting and encouraging that such an establishment figure as Hans Köchler would analyze the TCE's democratic limitations and call for "the insertion of genuine forms of participatory democracy into the Constitution," for one of the charges leveled against the EU is that it represents the interests of European elites, who have an undemocratic distrust for ordinary Europeans.

On other issues, Professor Köchler and I would undoubtedly differ in our analyses. For instance, I see little merit in his article "The 'Global War on Terror' and its Implications for Muslim-Western Relations" (International Roundtable Conference, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Penang, Malaysia, 13-14, December 2007). This paper never once mentions the Islamic concept of "jihad," nor even the neutral term "Islamism," and it naturally does not discuss the Islamic division of the world into the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb (Realm of Islam and Realm of War, respectively). Yet, a treatment of these topics would be necessary in any analysis of Islamist terrorism with a view to its roots. Köchler, however, seems to treat 9/11 as a reaction by al-Qaeda to Western provocations.

But let that be, for now.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Europe is a geographical concept . . ."?

Free Europe?
Or no real Europe at all?
(Image from FEC)

In yesterday's post, I delved into matters that I don't fully understand, namely, the so-called 'democratic deficit' of the European Union, but such delving is necessary these days because of my seminar on multiculturalism and the future of Europe.

Anyway, an anonymous visitor left this message:
Don't make the EU too complicated. Don't diminish freedom in Europe.Vote YES to Free Europe Constitution at [Free Europe].
I'm a curious man, so I visited the FEC link. Among its points is the following (number 8):
Decisions in the EU should be made by agreements between governments. Delegation of national legislative power to EU institutions is possible; withdrawal of such powers, both in specific cases and generally is equally possible.
This reminds me of the famous liberum veto that kept the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth weak because any member of the assembly could stop legislation by stating "I freely forbid" -- in Latin, "liberum veto." If any national government can withdraw the legislative power that it has delegated to EU, then the EU Parliament will be effectively powerless. Some might think this desirable, but that kind of vacuum at the center didn't do Poland much good in the 18th century, when it was repeatedly divided and partitioned until lost from the map.

I realize that I've offered only a superficial analogy here, but I would like to see more European unity, so long as it is truly democratic, than more European disunity. In the long run, I would like to see a Europe with a real foreign policy and a strong military to add hard power to its soft power. Europe should not be incapable of effective action -- the Bosnian crisis was an early indicator of what can happen even on the EU's borders if it lacks an ability to act.

But let's not get into that. Instead, I'd like to note a puzzling statement enunciated in the FEC's point number 1:
Europe is a geographical concept, and European is as such not necessarily good or bad.
I disagree with the apparent premise. Europe is not merely a geographical concept. The French philosopher Rémi Brague has devoted an entire book, Europe, la voie romaine, to the concept of European identity. His book has been translated as Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, and I've previously blogged favorably about Brague's views.

My point is that Europeans have a transnational identity that might not be as strongly felt as their various national identities, but that common identity is no less real for being rooted in things other than 'blood'.

For more on Brague, see the links or search Gypsy Scholar blog.

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