Saturday, January 31, 2009

"You knew I was a snake when you took me in..."

Asp Biting Cleopatra
Steel Engraving, 19th C. Book of Shakespeare
Collection of the Yuko Nii Foundation

In a recent email from either Terrance Lindall or Yuko Nii, I received a notice about an upcoming talk on John Milton by Dr. Robert Wickenheiser at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center on May 10, 2009.

Dr. Wickenheiser is famous among Milton scholars for his Wickenheiser Collection, which he has built up over a thirty-five year period and which has more than 6,000 volumes, including more than 60 early editions of Milton's writings as well as other 17th-century Miltoniana, as the email informs me (else I wouldn't recall the numbers).

These details and more about the Wickenheiser Collection can be found at the University of South Carolina's Rare Books and Special Collections website.

Lindall and Nii's interest in this collection probably derives from the fact that the Wickenheiser Collection focuses especially on illustrated editions. As artists and curators themselves, they also collect illustrated books. Thus, as the email explains, on display will be not only many Miltonian items from Wickenheiser's personal collection but also a number of famous illustrated books from the Yuko Nii Foundation's collection.

One of the books from the collection of the Yuko Nii Foundation is the 19th-century Shakespeare edition shown above, which is opened to a page revealing an asp biting Cleopatra's breast. Not especially clear due to the image's small size is the asp's apparent aim -- the nipple of Cleopatra's right breast.

I call attention to this not for prurient reasons but because it reminds me of the traditional belief that serpents suck on teats for milk . . . though usually the teats of animals. Milton alludes to this belief in a Paradise Lost passage in which Satan, speaking through the serpent, tempts Eve by comparing the fruit that he claims to have eaten with milk directly from teats:
When from the boughes a savorie odour blow'n,
Grateful to appetite, more pleas'd my sense,
Then smell of sweetest Fenel or the Teats
Of Ewe or Goat dropping with Milk at Eevn,
Unsuckt of Lamb or Kid, that tend thir play. (PL 9.579-583)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, January, 2009]
The belief that serpents suck on teats of animals has been traced back to at least the first-century A.D. author Pliny the Elder, who refers to the "boa" of Italy, serpents that "are nourished, in the first instance, with the milk of the cow." The remark can be found in Book 8 of Pliny's Natural History. John Bostock's 1855 edition, from which I have borrowed, can be found online at Perseus.

Whether or not the illustration above is itself alluding to this tradition about serpents and teats, I do not know, but perhaps some kind and knowledgeable reader will have the relevant information.

While we're waiting for that expert kindness, here's an Oscar Brown Jr. morality tale about nursing a serpent in one's bosom, performed by Al Wilson.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Foreigners and Foreignness in Korean Eyes

Essential Foreigner
But a 'Multicultural' Friend?
(Image from The Free Dictionary)

Brian Deutsch, over at his blog Brian in Jeollanam-do, asks an interesting question about the Korean word for "foreigner": 외국인 (wei-guk-in).
Can wei-guk-in ever refer to a Korean?
The question arises because we non-Koreans expats here in Korea receive the impression that wei-guk-in refers only to non-Koreans. Brian cites a passage from an article by David Kosofsky, "Exploring Korean Culture Through Korean English," which appeared in Korea Journal nearly 20 years ago (Volume 30, Number 11, November-December, 1990, pages 69-83). Brian directs our attention to page 75 for Kosofsky's experience with the Korean concept of "foreigner" (transliteration and translation added):
[I]n a Korean restaurant in San Francisco, . . . I was eating dinner with a young Korean man doing graduate studies at Berkeley. Pointing to a group of non-Asian diners at a nearby table, he remarked, "A lot of foreigners come to this restaurant." It was all I could do to continue chewing my 냉면 (naeng-myun, i.e., "cold noodles") without blurting out, "You're absolutely right, Mr. Kim, and you're one of them!" Apparently there is a dissonance between the English word, foreigner, and the Korean conceptual model.
Kosofsky then adds:
In English, the word refers to an abstract relationship, not an intrinstic attribute. Nobody is inherently a foreigner; anyone can become on simply by crossing a national border. Foreignness is a question of context, not essence.
The implication here is that Koreans consider foreignness an essential quality of non-Koreans. This sounded plausible, but I wondered if it were true, so I asked the first two native speakers of Korean that I could find and posted the results in a comment at Brian's blog:
I asked my wife and daughter about this, and they insist, as native speakers of Korean, that 외국인 (wei-guk-in) can refer to Koreans, too.

Some Koreans might have intellectual difficulties with this concept of Koreans as 외국인 (wei-guk-in), but I admit to calling various Europeans 'foreigners' while I was in Europe -- usually, but not always, as a joke.

I think that this is more an issue of provincialism than of semantics, for if my wife and daughter are correct, then 외국인 (wei-guk-in) can refer to a Korean outside of Korea.

Perhaps we need to ask more Koreans about this.
I therefore left Brian's blog and emailed a couple of Korean friends. First, I asked Dr. Suh Ji-moon, noted translator and a professor of English at Korea University about this, and she replied (parenthetical details added):
As for your query, I myself would never refer to an overseas Korean as a 'foreigner' (외국인, wei-guk-in), except as a figure of speech, so to say -- for example, 'why, he's almost a foreigner' (i.e., "almost a wei-guk-in"). But of course . . . young people may have a different concept of the word.
I therefore also asked a somewhat younger professor at Korea University, Dr. Moon Hi-Kyung, also of the English Department, and she wrote (transliterations and other parenthetical remarks added):
About your query -- an intriguing point. I would say that 외국인 (wei-guk-in) is a term which is used ambigously and could have two different meanings: it is used mostly to indicate a racial difference, so even if you (i.e., meaning not ethnic Koreans) are Korean nationality, you would still be a 외국인 (wei-guk-in). But of course in a stricter sense and when one is talking about nationality, then we talk about 외국인 (wei-guk-in, i.e., outside-country-person) and 내국인 (nae-guk-in, i.e., inside-country-person). But the former (i.e., racial) category is more usual in everyday conversation, I think.
Meanwhile, back over at Brian's blog, the discussion had continued. The learned Gomushin Girl wrote (referring to me in her comment as "HJH"):
Etymologically, it breaks down thusly:

外/외/wei/outside (same as in 외출: outing and 외도: go astray/wrong course)



The question is whether the 國 component should be seen as possessive, as "my country" in reference to the speaker. In that case, then yes, calling all non-Koreans "foreigner" would be the correct way to use this word. However, I'm inclined to agree with HJH in that this use is unthinking and provincial, and not intrinsic. There are Koreans who are linguistically cautious and avoid using the word indiscriminately, and then there are Koreans for whom it works for any non-Korean, anywhere, anytime.
I note in passing the connection between being "foreign" and "going astray" -- but this is a point peculiar to the original Chinese term (and observe the irony that 외국인 (wei-guk-in) is a foreign term, borrowed from the Chinese language). Gomushin Girl's main point is that the term 외국인 (wei-guk-in) does not intrinsically refer to a non-Korean.

The equally learned Sonagi, however, differs a bit on this point (transliterations and translations added):
Your wife and daughter are correct that the dictionary definition allows for this usage, but I have only ever heard or read Koreans using the words 외국인 (wei-guk-in) and 외국사람 (wei-guk sa-ram, i.e., "foreign person") to refer to non-Koreans. Even ethnic Korean residents and citizens of foreign countries are usually distinguished as 한인 (han-in, i.e., Korean person), 한국계 (han-guk-gye, i.e., "ethnic Korean"), 교포 (gyo-po, i.e., "overseas Korean"), and 동포 (dong-po, i.e., "overseas Korean").

Unlike English speakers, Koreans will refer to a non-Korean as a "foreigner" even when the nationality is known. While retelling experiences abroad, Koreans have called Australians, Canadians, and Americans "foreigners." The Koreans knew these people were locals. An English speaker would refer to a German, a Japanese, or a Mexican as such and never use the word "foreigner" to refer to specific person of a specific nationality. Koreans will, too, but they will also call specific persons of a specific known nationality "foreigners."

The general Korean worldview can be thought of as a Venn diagram. In one circle are ethnic Koreans with Korean citizenship. In the other, are non-ethnic Koreans with foreign citizenship. In the middle are ethnic Koreans with foreign citizenship and Korean citizens with partial or non-Korean ancestry. Because your wife and children are part of a multicultural family, their worldview is probably not representative or typical of Koreans.
Sonagi may be correct about my wife and daughter, but I have also asked my class of about 25 students at Ewha Womans University, and these young native speakers agreed that 외국인 (wei-guk-in) can refer to Koreans as well as to non-Koreans, so the younger generation might hold more flexible views. (Or they might have been telling me what they thought that I wanted to hear.)

Language use reflects how people think, I suppose, and while many (perhaps most) Koreans may still speak as if "foreignness" were an essential quality of non-Koreans, the term 외국인 (wei-guk-in) can be used more flexibly (as the Chinese linguistic roots demonstrate) and is perhaps coming to be used to refer to Koreans in some contexts . . . but more investigation is needed on this intriguing point.

I lack the Korean linguistic skills for this sort of research endeavor, but I think that a good, concrete question to ask individual Koreans would be the following (composed with the help of my daughter, Sa-Rah):
Could you, as a Korean visiting a non-Korean country, say, "이 나라에서 나는 외국인이다" (e nara-esuh na-nun wei-guk-in e-da, i.e., "I am a foreigner in this country")?
With appreciation to my daughter Sa-Rah for the Korean sentence, apology to Korean experts for my poor transliteration, and appeal to everyone interested for their additional insights on this vexed cultural-linguistic issue.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nominee for "Best Blog about Korean Culture in General, 2008"

Surprise Nominee

I have received an unexpected note in yesterday's blog-entry comments from fellow blogger Roboseyo alerting me to a potential danger:
Hi there. Your blog was nominated for an award for the best Korea blogs of 2008, at The Hub Of Sparkle. Go check it out if you like.
Naturally, I thanked him for the warning:
Thanks, Roboseyo, for the alert. It certainly is alarming to hear that my blog has been nominated for "Best Blog about Korean Culture in General, 2008" . . . along with seven others. Fortunately, the other seven are all more deserving, and one of them will win, so I won't need to make any speeches or anything like that.

Readers, please go to The Hub Of Sparkle and vote for some blog other than Gypsy Scholar.
I thought that I'd better repeat this appeal in a special blog entry since a mere comment to yesterday's blog entry might be insufficient to gain the attention of my readers to this possible danger.

The other seven blogs, far more deserving than my own, actually deal extensively with Korean culture. Check them out:
Ask A Korean!

Frog in a Well

Gord Sellar

The Grand Narrative

Gusts of Popular Feeling

Seoul Podcast

The Western Confucian
Given the high quality and Korean focus of these seven blogs, I'm fairly certain that there's no great danger of my blog winning this particular competition. Now, if the category were "Best Blog about Culture in General, 2008" (rather than "Korean Culture in General"), I might be more worried, for I have written a great deal on such general, high-cultural topics as moonshine, water slides, and Uncle Cran's adventures in the Ozarks.

Nevertheless, some danger does exist, so let me again urge my readers to visit The Hub Of Sparkle and vote for some blog other than Gypsy Scholar.

I suggest Gord Sellar.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Making the Best of Your Moments

Shan and Shoshanna in Bali

I recently received an email from my sister-in-law Shoshanna Cogan and my brother Shan -- better known to Shoshanna as "Shannon" -- telling of their Indonesian trip:
Shannon and I recently arrived back from our trip to Indonesia and are transitioning from a tropical 85 degrees to near-zero temps. We've decided winter is much more fun when you're cross-country skiing, so we're grateful for the fresh snow.
As you can see from the photo above, Shan and Shoshanna are both athletically inclined, and I can now add "cross-country skiing" to the list of their activities, among other things. Here's what they did in Bali:
Highlights of the Indonesia trip included leading successful pro-bono workshops for the Balinese at an alternative college (we even did one training together for the first time ever), snorkeling (and scuba diving for Shoshanna) with giant turtles and iridescent fish in the gorgeous Gili Islands, rice paddy massages for $6, sponsoring some young folks for their education through the Bali Children's Project and Karuna Bali Foundation, mountain biking (see photo) down from the volcano December 25th through village ceremonies, white water rafting (especially dropping down the waterfall at the end), hanging out at Monkey Forest Sanctuary (see photo of one napping on my head), and most of all, connecting with the overwhelmingly friendly Balinese people.
That's quite a sentence -- and quite a photo of that sacred monkey in all its shining glory! Quite a trip too, though it doesn't compare with the trip that my family and I took last Saturday to "Water Joy" in downtown Bucheon, near Seoul. We had the experience of a lifetime enjoying a raft trip on artificial waves that swept us along in a circular path that one could repeat all day long! I didn't, of course, for there was also the attraction of drinking beer outside in the bitter cold while sitting in a hot pool and enjoying the steam rising from the water's surface. Not to mention the "Black Hole Water Slide," a ride that I expected not to survive, given certain well-known facts about singularities . . . . In some miraculous way, however, due to the marvels of modern technology, I passed through that "Black Hole" and came out the other side suffering only from a bump on my head and a concern that I might be trapped in a parallel universe in every respect exactly like the one that I had always known, a rather discouraging prospect, but I faced my fear like a man and made the courageous decision to do the best with my time remaining in this less-than-perfect world in which I've found myself.

Enough about me. Back to Shan and Shoshanna:
Bali, unlike the rest of the Indonesian islands, is Hindu and unique to the region in ways only a visit can demonstrate. I used to say that the Fijians were the warmest people I've ever experienced; now I may change that to the Balinese. They may well be the most photogenic too (see attached pic of elder woman in ceremonial garb).
Other events of 2008 include: To our amazement, we paid off our house; Shannon had another successful year (his 8th) at Niagara University and is in process of getting another professional book published, through the American Counseling Association; Shoshanna co-facilitated with some fabulous colleagues at an international conference in the Netherlands, followed by a great family visit to France; we completed our first Sprint Triathlon to celebrate turning 50 (even received 3rd place in my age division).
Publishing a book! Oh no, another successful brother! Like my brother Pat, but successful in the academic world! My world! Well, at least I turned fifty first, and nobody can take that away from me! Except for older brother Pat. Well, I'll always be your older brother, Shan, no matter how much more successful you are at a younger age.

But I'm willing to bask in the glow of others' success, especially when they are so generous with warm feelings:
We are grateful for each of you in our lives, for good health never to be taken for granted, and for continual opportunities to make a small difference in the lives of others. Our hope is that 2009 be overflowing with abundance, radiant health, and contagious joy, for you and for our precious world.
They don't realize that this world is in a universe parallel to another one from which I came last Saturday, and if there are two of a kind, the precious quality diminishes in value. That's a hard truth of the marketplace, but it needs to be pointed out to people who haven't read an economics textbook like I have.

Nevertheless, one has to make the best of one's moments, much as Shan and Shoshanna have been doing.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Right Moment

Professor C. William Thomas

In my Baylor days, I never took a course in business and rather disdained business courses as unworthy of academic study, which should better focus on literature, history, philosophy, religion, and other courses in the humanities -- or at least on courses in the sciences.

That was sheer ignorance on my part, and over the years, I've come to realize just how important an understanding of business is for understanding our world, so I've read an economics textbook on my own and try to read a bit from the business pages in newspapers.

But in my days at Baylor, I steered clear of the Hankamer School of Business, thereby never taking a course under Professor Thomas, but he does look familiar, so I may have passed him on campus many times. I call attention to him today because an article written by him, "Standing on Tall Shoulders," appears in the current issue of Baylor Magazine (Winter 08-09, Volume 7, Number 2). I noticed it while checking to see if the promised article by Lane Murphy on Baylor's Honors Program has yet appeared presenting my words of wisdom. It hasn't, but I found some other interesting words that turned my thoughts to reflection on the vagaries of life. Professor Thomas, like me, came from a poor family, but he arrived at Baylor one decade before I did, embarking on his academic study as a freshman there in 1965 and using his facility with numbers to pursue a degree in accounting, which led to something rather unexpected:
After graduating with a bachelor's degree, I embarked on a career with a large accounting firm in Dallas. Although technically competent, I lacked passion for the job. I returned to Baylor after only 13 months to enroll in the MBA program, a decision that proved life-changing. When I graduated a year later, undergraduate enrollments in my field were exploding and qualified faculty were in short supply. Baylor came through with the opportunity of a lifetime, an offer to join the faculty of the accounting department. When I stepped into the classroom, I knew I had found my calling. The classroom was the perfect blend for my natural abilities -- the technical skills I had learned in the Baylor classroom, and the ability to communicate.
Thirty-two years later, he looks back on a career of teaching at Baylor that has brought him special honors and seen him declared a Master Teacher, but what strikes me is the fact that he found himself at Baylor University and in possession of an MBA at the precise moment when "undergraduate enrollments in . . . [his] field were exploding and qualified faculty were in short supply."

By contrast, coming along near the end of the baby-boomer generation as a freshman a decade later, in 1975, when circumstances were soon to be changing, I was to find myself by 1980 entering graduate school in history at a time of declining enrollment among students for history courses and an expanding search for diversity among faculty, which together combined to limit the openings for positions and to increase the competition for those positions. I therefore took my time in graduate school, delaying as I read widely and took my circuitous intellectual path. The job market didn't get much better, and while my life has been very interesting, and personally fulfilling, I haven't yet found myself where I'd wish to be in my career.

Whether the 'right moment' will come or not, I cannot know, but I'll go on making the most of the moments that do come.

Congratulations to Professor C. William Thomas for making the most of his.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Total Depravity?

(Image from Wikipedia)

I heard a sermon a couple of weeks ago on "total depravity," and the preacher was for it. Of course, he was also against it.

That nexus of views is unsurprising. Surprising was the fact that I heard the sermon from the lips of a former Methodist turned Southern Baptist. The former denomination stems from Arminius, who emphasizes a prevenient grace that restores free will in humanity, and the latter denomination speaks so little about total depravity that I've never otherwise heard a sermon on this topic in a Southern Baptist church.

To my further surprise, given his break from Calvinism, Arminius himself seems to have accepted the doctrine, for I've found him cited as accepting it in volume 1, page 252, of The Writings of James Arminius, translated by James Nichols and W.R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1956). Not having seen the actual words of Arminius, I infer that he means that individuals are totally depraved outside of the effects of prevenient grace, but since everyone receives this sort of grace, which restores free will, then no one remains totally depraved.

John Calvin, on the other hand, argues that everyone remains totally depraved and that no individual can freely choose to accept salvation. Perhaps someone can set me straight on this point of Calvinist theology. Does "total depravity" refer only to the will?

I ask because the expression itself seems to imply far more -- a total depravity of every aspect of every human being. But that seems to me to be empirically falsifiable, so I must not understand the term, for people naturally seem often to respond positively to "the good" and negatively to "evil."

As an example of "total depravity," the preacher whom I referred to above told of an alcoholic who had forgotten his 9-year-old daughter in his truck outside a bar in extremely cold weather while he drank for hours inside, only to find her later so severely frostbitten that she lost fingers, toes, and ears. The man attempted to push this experience from his memory, but when later confronted with how he had destroyed his daughter's life, he broke down into tears of bitter regret.

But if this man were totally depraved, as I would most naturally understand the expression, then he would have been indifferent to what he had done . . . so my natural understanding must be wrong.

I'll need to look into this point more closely, but perhaps some generous reader could briefly clarify the point.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Breaking News: Birth of Democratic Culture

"A 1644 printing
of John Milton's 'Areopagitica,'
a protest of censorship."
(Photo: Andrew Councill for The New York Times)

Edward Rothstein has an interesting article, "When the News was New," in The New York Times (January 23, 2009) about an exhibition in the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.: "Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper." The image above comes from the slideshow presenting some of the exhibits.

Rothstein makes an intriguing point about what was being brought forth in this birth:
Look carefully, and it is really the birth of the modern West that we see taking place here: snippets of news and sensation helped define a shared experience of the past and present, as political debates laid the foundations of democratic culture. If the Reformation is often credited with having turned the West toward the Enlightenment, another such force must be the growing taste for news and its multiple retellings. While other cultures were arguing over the interpretations of sacred texts, England’s was arguing over the nature of government in print. We are the beneficiaries.
What was going on in the process by which newspapers and journals developed was the rise of democratic culture . . . though I'd demur about the implied contrast between "other cultures . . . arguing over the interpretations of sacred texts" and "England's [culture] . . . arguing over the nature of government in print." England's populace was also "arguing over the interpretations of sacred texts," as Milton's Areopagitica itself partly testifies, and we are also the beneficiaries there in our freedom of speech and opinion on religious matters, especially our right to criticize religion -- an inheritance that we also now once again need to vigorously defend, as is becoming increasingly obvious from the many violent religious acts that we currently witness and the threats (at times, the death threats) directed at those who speak up.

Of course, free speech has its downside, as in newspapers prefiguring the National Enquirer, which also got their start:
Mixed in with political argument were other morality tales. There were reports of the skies raining blood in Rome, or, in London, "A True Relation of a most desperate Murder" from 1617. There were accounts of beheadings, bizarre births and conjoined twins ("a Prodigious Monster").
No mention of alien abductions, though demons probably sometimes spirited away with unfortunate victims. Invented stories, exaggerated rumors, and wildly inaccurate reports expanded to reach a national audience in this new age of print.

But even scholars sometimes lack care for complete accuracy, as shown by this exhibit, titled "'Mercurius Rusticus: or, the Countries Complaint,' 1646":

The image, originally photographed by Andrew Councill, shows this paper's subtitle as "the Country's Complaint" -- or do my eyes deceive me?

Awaiting confirmation of my vision from readers . . .

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Esquire Magazine Officially Presents: Professor Jeffery Hodges, Fan-Death Expert

Flailing Fan of Fatality!
(Image from Esquire Magazine)

Okay, I'm now officially famous, for Esquire's 'interview' with me on "Fan Death" has finally reached the internet.

The 'interview' is posted this week (specifically, on January 22, 2009) as a reply mediated by Esquire's "Answer Fella" to the question "Why Do Koreans Think Electric Fans Will Kill Them?"
This week, Esquire's Answer Fella dispels an urban myth that may or may not leave you with hypothermia.
The 'answer' -- which I'll get to in a moment -- was in response to a query directed to the "Answer Fella" from some newcomer to Korea:
I just arrived in South Korea, and my colleague says that I can die if I sleep in a closed room with a fan on. He insists that "fan death" is an actual danger. What the hell?
In response to the reporter from Esquire who contacted me as an 'expert' because of my voluminous writings on "Fan Death," I provided my rather detailed thoughts on the topic, which Esquire pared down to the following:
"I'm told that every Korean believes that fan death is real," Jeffery Hodges, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, tells AF. "I've heard as explanation that the belief originated at a time when Koreans were first able to purchase electric fans and used them to such an extent that electrical systems were burdened, so the government spread a rumor that running them overnight was potentially fatal."

Hodges also shared the following passage from the government-issued Cultural Guide for Migrant Workers in Korea: "In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from oxygen deficiency, hypothermia, or fire from overheating." "Some Koreans," he adds, "give outlandish explanations about how the whirling blades of a fan can sever oxygen molecules."

So far as AF is able to determine, no scientific literature exists to support the existence of fan death, nor does it seem to be a perceived threat in any other country but Korea. File it -- like the faith of the French in the healing power of Rochebaron cheese smeared on the testicles -- under "Urban Myths, Foreign Dolts."
I actually expressed my words quoted within the above passage in a more qualified way during the 'interview', as readers of this blog will already know:
I doubt this explanation [about a government-inspired rumor]. It fails to account for the strangeness of the belief. The government could have just explained that fans were burdening the electrical system -- or have warned about fires from faulty wiring in fans.
I say more, of course, but I don't want to repost what is so easily read at the link.

I must confess, though, that I do fear that with this 'interview', I may have harmed my chances for being awarded the prize in the category "Best Blog for Dire Warnings in Defense of the Absolute and Horrifying Truth Concerning Fan Death!"

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Great Lines in World Literature: Jane Austen

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently re-reading all of Jane Austen's novels, and with far more understanding than thirty years ago, when I was still quite ignorant and rushed through every line. I'm still somewhat ignorant, but I've learned to go slowly amidst the bustle of this world . . . in reading great literature, anyway.

In other areas, I wish that I were faster.

Another reason that I read slowly is that I have no unbroken time for reading. I can read on the subway to Ewha Womans University, and on the way back home, or I can read while 'riding' my stationary bike, and while drinking a beer afterwards. Those are about the only times, so I find myself focusing very closely upon the text to understand it -- stopping often to recall a details or re-reading a passage to ensure that I comprehend.

I'm now about seventy-five pages into Mansfield Park and often laughing at Austen's wit, sometimes out loud (thereby ensuring myself plenty of room on the subway). Last week, while reading of Maria Bertram's engagement to the landed and wealthy Mr. Rushworth, I had to laugh at the words that Austen put into Tom Bertram's thoughts regarding his sister's engagement:
He could allow his sister to be the best judge of her own happiness, but he was not pleased that her happiness should centre in a large income; nor could he refrain from often saying to himself, in Mr. Rushworth's company -- "If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow." (Austen, Mansfield Park, Chapter 4)
Which is, of course, a way of saying that Mr. Rushworth is a very stupid fellow while also remarking upon the social fact that stupid rich people are nevertheless often regarded as more clever than stupid poor people.

Austen's point? If you want to raise your IQ, just get yourself some money. Nah, just kidding. Austen was ignorant of IQ testing . . . for the simple fact that there was no such test at that time. Lacking any means of assigning numerical scores to people's intellectual faculties, Austen would simply have meant that a quantitative increase in wealth results in qualitatively superior intelligence. Nah, I'm still kidding. She really just meant that having more money doesn't make you smarter.

But does it make stupidity more tolerable? And how much more tolerable did Mr. Rushworth's twelve-thousand pounds a year make him? What would that be worth in today's money?

In other words, how 'smart' is Rushworth?

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sindbad and Crusoe: An Inchoate Query

Illustration by Stefan Mart
(Image from Stefan Mart Website)

Above, you see yet another illustration by the mysterious 'Stefan Mart', this time from voyage four of the Sindbad series, a tale in which Sindbad is shipwrecked on a island and encounters enormous, blue man-eaters like the one depicted in the image reaching out toward the unfortunate Sindbad and us and reminding me for all the world of the terrifying purple people-eaters that my older cousin Velna used to frighten me with.

Be that as it may, I have noticed another, minor 'mystery', more of a question, actually, that occurred to me as I read the opening of this shipwreck story:
Wisset, ihr edlen Herren, daß meine vierte Reise einzigartig ist und ohnegleichen. Wieder war ich auf dem Meere. Meine ruchlose Seele mußte mit dem Seeteufel ein Bündnis geschlossen haben; er hatte mich wieder hinausgezogen, um mit mir in seinen unberechenbaren Launen weiterhin Schindluder zu treiben. In guter Fahrt ging es eine Reihe von Tagen, bis ein gewaltiger Sturm über uns hereinbrach, der unser Schiff zerschlug und die Trümmer wie ein Klafter Kleinholz auf eine Insel warf. Die meisten der Kaufleute waren mit ihrem Hab und Gut im Meer versunken. Ich selbst schwamm fast einen ganzen Tag im Wasser, bis Gott, der Erhabene, mir mit drei anderen Leidensgefährten Gelegenheit gab, festes Land zu erreichen.

Noble gentlemen, my fourth voyage was unique and without parallel. I went to sea once again. My wretched soul must have entered into a pact with the sea devil, as he managed to lure me out again in order to torment me with his unpredictable whims and to subject me to further suffering. For a number of days all went well, but then a terrible storm broke over us, smashed our ship and threw what remained of it like a bundle of firewood on to the shore of an island. Most of the merchants had disappeared into the deep with all their worldly goods. I myself had been struggling in the water for almost a whole day before the good God had mercy on me and allowed me and three of my companions to reach land.
If you followed the links, then you noticed that I didn't translate the German myself this time -- unlike other posts on various topics where I did have to do the translation -- which explains why the English rendering above is so much smoother.

But that wasn't the 'mystery'.

Instead, I noticed a similarity to the story of another shipwreck:
That evil Influence which carryed me first away from my Father’s House, that hurried me into the wild and indigested Notion of raising my Fortune; and that imprest those Conceits so forcibly upon me, as to make me deaf to all good Advice, and to the Entreaties and even Command of my Father: I say the same Influence, whatever it was, presented the most unfortunate of all Enterprises to my View; and I went on board a Vessel bound to the Coast of Africa; or, as our Sailors vulgarly call it, a Voyage to Guinea.
Eventually, this "evil Influence" driving the writer to sea leads him to shipwreck, somewhat as the "sea devil" (Seeteufel) led Sindbad to his shipwreck, whereby both encounter 'man-eaters'. This latter passage, of course, comes from Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

Hence the little 'mystery' and my inchoate question: Is there some sort of influence, one way or the other?

I don't know if there's any influence of the Crusoe story upon Stefan Mart's re-telling of the Sindbad story, or if Defoe was influenced by the original Sindbad tale, but as one might expect, some scholars apparently think that Defoe received influence from the Sindbad series, or so says Martin Nick in "The Thousand and One Nights: Arab Contribution to World Culture," Issue 47 (July-August 2002) of Al Shindagah:
Sindbad the Sailor is the other celebrity in The Thousand and One Nights. He tells of his voyages in seven different stories where he either survives a shipwreck or is abandoned by his crew after having had put out to sea with merchandise. He manages to come out of the desperate situations either by wit or good fortune, or both, and returns home with loads of riches.

Sindbad's stories are made exceptional in part by the references to fantasy creatures on several occasions. In his third trip, for example, Sindbad's ship is sunk by an enormous roc -- a monstrous bird which released massive rocks onto the vessel. In his fifth voyage, hairy apes attack the ship and abandon Sindbad and the crew on an island. Furthermore, the voyages are an interesting source of information on maritime business for that period, probably the early Abbasid era from around 750 to 850 BC. In spite of the fact that Sindbad's experiences were exaggerations of real-life dealings of traders, they are indeed well telling of different aspects of historical eastern life. As a case in point, in his stories Sindbad tells of the riches he takes home, namely precious metals, precious stones, sandalwood, and ivory to mention but a few. The overall imagery in Sindbad's miraculous experiences has, according to some scholars, played an important part for the formation of later world classics such as Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels.
Martin, however, does not cite these scholars, and I have no time today for following this wild hare down some rabbit hole.

See you tomorrow.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Mystery of Stefan Mart

Stefan Mart, Tales of the Nations

Yesterday, I discovered a mystery, and if you liked the wonderful image of Don Quixote that appeared in my blog, then you may also have gone on to discover the same mystery.

That image of Don Quixote was borrowed from the Stefan Mart Homepage, which was set up in 2004 and from which the above image is also taken, but the book itself appeared in Germany in 1933. It was loved by millions of children but, apparently, suppressed by the Nazis as Hitler's political star rose because the book "seemed to respect other cultures." After the war, the book again rose in popularity among children.

Oddly, nobody seems to know who Stefan Mart was, and the name itself seems to have been a pseudonym.

This is a mystery, for the artist -- whoever he was -- exhibits great technical skill, fine attention to detail, expressive use of color, lively ability with perspective, and unforgettable mastery of caricature. Rainer Würgau, who maintains the website, says it better:
So who was Stefan Mart? For the moment all we can say is that he is the master who created Tales of the Nations. We do not know whether he wrote and illustrated other books under this name, or created other works, nor can we exclude the possibility that the tales and pictures are the work of two people. But we do know that the illustrator of the tales was an outstanding graphic artist and painter who struck out on a path all of his own making. He obviously had first-rate training, but he made such original use of everything which can be learnt during a course of studies in art that one has the impression he learnt his craft effortlessly. The caricature is the centre of his talent: the representation of facial expressions and gestures. He is an actor with brush and crayon. His style is versatile: he is a parodist; he is familiar with the world of European painting and with the various genres -- landscape painting, still lifes, anatomical painting, costumes, architecture, seascapes and above all animal studies. He is aware of the value of his knowledge and skills: he neither allows himself to be carried away by modernism, nor does he remain fettered by tradition. He achieves the remarkable feat of directing these two very divergent forces as it were into one river bed. The garish, loud, abstract and crazy elements of modern art have their place in this pictorial language; at the same time it remains true to the principles of naturalism: represents and imitates expressions and gestures of man and beast with profound empathy. The result transcends the limits of the book as medium and that of the static image. The artist is fully aware of this and is striving towards new horizons: towards the motion picture, the cinema, in particular the animated cartoon: Stefan Mart is a pioneer of the modern cartoon.
A pioneer, but also truly great at what he did, yet he is almost totally forgotten. I urge readers to go to the website and take a look. Here's another sample, from an 'American' story titled "Bobby Box" that Stefan Mart himself seems to have created.

Although Stefan Mart sometimes allows his caricature to slip into stereotypes in depicting people of the 'nations', I don't have the impression that the artist intended anything demeaning. He simply seems to be having great fun.

You will, too.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"To dream . . . the impossible dream . . ."

Like the good Don Quixote, I was looking over my books and writings this morning, checking details in my search for the ultimate meaning of the small mole on the great Don's back, trying not to make so big a mountain of a mole that the mountain won't come to me in a size that I can't handle . . . but perhaps I have faith enough to toss it into the sea.

Speaking of that mole, I spoke of it earlier in noting the mole on the back of the the Muslim conquistador Tarif, who invaded Spain during the initial stage of the Arab Muslim conquest, citing a scholar on this issue:
In the article "De la autoría morisca a la antigüedad sagrada de Granada, rescatada al Islam," Mercedes García-Arenal has noted the connection between the mole on Tarif's back and the 'mole' on Muhammad's back (but does not note a link to Don Quixote):
Luna introduce en su libro, . . . otro pronóstico claramente emparentado con las qisas al-anbiya’: una mujer se acerca al conquistador árabe, el capitán Tarif, recién desembarcado en la península y le reconoce como aquél del que habla un pronóstico que le había transmitido su padre, según el cual un hombre milagroso había de ganar la península y su seña había de ser «un lunar peloso, tan grande como un garvanco, . . . situado sobre el hombro de la mano derecha».:" Esta historia está claramente inspirada en la del monje Bahira, que aparece en todos los compendios de «historias de los profetas», un monje cristiano que fue el primero en reconocer la calidad profética de Mahoma al ver que tenía sobre el hombro derecho un lunar, la marca de la profecía. (García-Arenal, 564)

In his book, Luna introduces . . . an omen clearly related to the al-qisas anbiya' [sic. qisas al-anbiya', i.e., "Stories of the Prophets," adapted from the Qur'an]: a woman approaches the Arab conquistador, the captain Tarif, who has recently landed on the peninsula, and she recognizes him as the one spoken of in an omen handed down by her father, according to which a miraculous man would gain the peninsula, the sign being "a hairy mole, as big as a garbanzo . . . located on the shoulder of the right hand." This story is clearly inspired by that of the monk Bahira, which appears in all compendiums of "Stories of the Prophets," the tale of a Christian monk who was the first to recognize the prophetic qualities of the Prophet Muhammad, for this monk was to discover a mole on his right shoulder, the mark of prophecy. (my translation of García-Arenal, 564; corrections would be appreciated)
García-Arenal notes the allusion in Luna's passage concerning the mole on Tarif’s back to the Bahira story of the 'mole' on Muhammad's back. Muslim sources, however, generally locate the mark not on Muhammad's right shoulder but on his left shoulder or between his shoulder blades. If any Muslim sources speak of the mole being on Muhammad's right shoulder, then I would appreciate knowing the sources.
I still have no solid hadith that places the mole on Muhammad's right shoulder, but I wonder if there are a few, for I have found that Khwaja Kamal-ud-din mentions the mole being on Muhammad's right shoulder in his 1925 biography of Muhammad:
[Muhammad's] back was broad, and near his right shoulder-blade was a mark like a seal, and in it there was a black mole, somewhat yellowish, around which there was some thick hair. (Kamal-ud-din, The Ideal Prophet: Aspects of the life and qualities of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Lahore: Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at, 1996 [1925]), page 12)
Unfortunately, Kamal-ud-din provides only a general reference to Bukhari (page 11) as well as to Tirmizi (Shamdtail) and Ibn Hanbal (Musnad Muslim) (page 11, note 1). If anyone knows what hadith are meant, please post the information in a comment and thereby assist me in realizing my impossible dream of publishing a scholarly article on Don Quixote, despite being no Cervantes scholar.

That's all for today. The day threatens . . .

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Upcoming: 15 More Minutes of Fame!

(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm jumping the gun on this one, but since I've already been made famous through Esquire Magazine, I might as well prefigure the upcoming fame that I'll receive from a Baylor Magazine interview. I recently received an email from a certain Lane Murphy, a writer for Baylor Magazine, who had some questions:

Greetings from Baylor! I hope you had a fine holiday season. I'm working on an article for the next issue of Baylor Magazine celebrating the 50th anniversary of Baylor's Honors Program. If you have five minutes or so over the next few days, I'd like your feedback if possible. I certainly understand if you are unable to help. If your schedule allows, you are welcome to call or email me.
Well, we already know from the previous blog entry just how well those international phone calls work, so I decided to email Mr. Lane Murphy and provide answers to the eight questions that he had included in his communication:

Thank you for your email. I'm pleased to see that I'm not entirely forgotten at Baylor though I didn't leave so much behind to be remembered by. I'll try to respond as best as I can to your questions.

Current hometown:

I have been in South Korea since 1999 and currently live in Seoul, where I have been living now for about four years, but my real hometown will always remain the small Ozark town of Salem, Arkansas.

Current occupation/employer/school:

I am currently a full-time professor at Ewha Womans University (yes, the spelling is correctly incorrect), where I have been employed since the Fall 2008 semester and where I have, so far, taught research-based writing to undergraduates and a graduate course on John's Gospel and Gnosticism.

A career highlight or two:

One highlight that surprised and honored me was the UC Berkeley Eisner Prize that I received in Poetry for 1985. I had only been writing poems for about 6 months, so that came not only as a prize but as a surprise. I have continued to compose poems but have entered no competitions . . . not that I recall, anyway.

I suppose that one highlight of my academic career was obtaining a Fulbright Fellowship in 1989 for doctoral research in Tuebingen, West Germany . . . which quickly became Tuebingen, Unified Germany after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. I remained until 1995 in Germany, where I met a Korean woman on a train (in 1992) and married her (in 1995).

Another academic highlight was obtaining a Golda Meir Fellowship in 1998 to Hebrew University in Jerusalem . . . though my wife, Sun-Ae Hwang, was nearly blown up in a suicide bombing in Mahane Yehudah Market in November of 1998. She was pregnant at the time, but the baby was safely delivered six months later in a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem.

Year graduated from Baylor:

I graduated in 1979 but never fully left the place. If I were teaching at Baylor, I would wish to be like the professors that I admired when I was an undergraduate. I am certainly as rigorous as they were . . . everywhere that I have taught.

BU degree:

I obtained a BA in English Literature. Actually, I was a double major, in English and Psychology. I lack one two-hour lab course for my Psychology BA but can't even claim a minor in Psychology since Baylor didn't have minors at the time. I don't suppose that Baylor would simply grant me a BA in Psychology now . . . or?

Highest degree earned/school(s) after undergrad:

I have a PhD in History from UC Berkeley.

How did your experience with the Honors Program at Baylor prepare you for your life/career after college?

My Honors Program experience best prepared me for graduate-level seminars because through the program's upper-level courses, I was already familiar with discussion sessions in which we Honors students would intensively discuss important books with committed scholars, both from Baylor and from elsewhere.

But the greater preparation that the Honors Program provided was a confirmation that I could achieve something academically, and be recognized for that, despite having been . . . well, nobody in particular.

What was particularly memorable or worthwhile about Honors at Baylor (maybe something about a mentor, a certain class, the thesis process, etc.)?

I can say that several professors at Baylor had a positive influence upon me, sometimes through the Honors Program, sometimes through non-Honors courses. I will mention a few names: Morse Hamilton, Wallace Daniel, Robert Baird, James Vardaman, Thomas Hanks, and Philip Martin.

I took several courses with all of these men, and I could say a great deal about all of them, for they all were fine Baylor gentlemen who inspired me in one way or another. I feel led, however, to remember Mr. Martin -- not because he had more influence, but because he was also a kind man who was less well-known but who deserves remembrance. I had Mr. Martin for German my Sophomore year, and I was dreadful in that language though I eventually learned to speak it. My first course with Mr. Martin had me enrolled as an Honors student, but I did nothing 'honorable'. Indeed, I received a "C" though I probably deserved a "D" if not an "F." I was terrible. But I had perfect attendance and was never late for my 8:00 a.m. class, and Mr. Martin appreciated my consistency . . . even though I was consistently bad in German.

I took his course again in the spring of my Sophomore year and did even worse . . . but still received a "C." That semester, we each had to give presentations in German, and I tried to describe my bicycle trip from the Ozarks to Waco -- a trip that I had undertaken to prove to myself that I could ride my bike 500 miles and reach Baylor in time for school. I succeeded in that trip but failed so miserably in my German presentation that Mr. Martin had to ask me to switch to English in order to understand precisely what I had done . . . and when he came to understand that I had ridden a bicycle, not a motorcycle, he was completely won over to my side for the rest of my Baylor career . . . even though I didn't know much German. He even asked me to take his Goethe course, and I did. I received an "A," by the grace of Mr. Martin and the fact that I could write my papers in English.

Mr. Martin treated me to lunch in off-campus several times, a great boon for a poverty-stricken student like me. I should have thanked him for that. Perhaps I did . . . but hardly enough.

In closing, I ought to remember Professor LeMaster, poet and scholar in the English Department, who guided my senior Honors' thesis and confirmed that I could write well creatively. Without his willingness to accept me as his student, I would not have succeeded, nor would I have finished the Honors Program.

I hope that I have answered your questions sufficiently. If you have any further questions, please feel free to inquire.

You can also learn a lot at my blog.

Thanks again for the email. It gave me an excuse to write about myself . . .
In a follow-up email, I provided a confession that I wasn't entirely upstanding during my years at Baylor:

By the way, did I mention that I was a member of the Honorable NoZe Brotherhood? Some might consider that worth knowing.
Some readers will remember previous posts on the NoZe Brotherhood. As for Mr. Lane Murphy, he seemed satisfied with my response, which I suppose that he will mine for his article on Baylor's Honors Program:

You have provided a wealth of information.
And he added some information of his own:

As for how I found you, I contacted the development office, and they gave me a database of people who had completed the Honors Program. I think sifted through about 700 names and pick 15 or so that had listed diverse locations, careers, graduation dates, etc. I’ve had about five responses thus far. The Honors College is now trying to stay in better touch with its alumni. This is the 50th year of the Honors Program, which made it an opportune time for the magazine to cover Honors at Baylor.
I am . . . ahem, honored. Speaking of honorable mentions, here -- courtesy of Wikipedia -- is a partial inside view of that honorable building depicted above, namely, Armstrong Browning Library:

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Esquire Magazine Presents: Professor Jeffery Hodges, Fan-Death Expert

"She calls her poor father a squire..."
(Image from Esquire Magazine)

Yesterday -- or was it the day before? -- my helpful friend Malcolm posted a thoughtful announcement of my return to the blogosphere:
Thanks to the kind and generous efforts of my friend Bob Wyman over at Google, Jeffrey Hodges' blog, The Gypsy Scholar, is on the air once again. Go pay a visit.
Being the sort of beast that bites the hand that feeds me, I retorted:
Yes, it’s good to be back. I've been gone so long that Malcolm's forgotten my name! (It's "J-e-f-f-e-r-y," Malcolm.)
But to make up for the painful snap, I imparted some of my wisdom -- implicitly providing a defense of the liberal arts in the process:
I made the most of my time away from the blogosphere, using it to read much of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The novel has helped me get in touch with my feminine side . . . you know, my feelings. It's also helped me to understand the situation better. But I couldn't quite figure out if Google was Wickham or Darcy. For now, I'm going with the Darcy interpretation.
See how useful and relevant literature is? But despite the power of the literary word, my name continues to be a problem, for in a following comment, "the one eyed man" noted:
Jeffrey Hodges is quoted in this month's Esquire (Ask AnswerFella) regarding the mysterious subject of fan death.
Yet, I was suddenly out of the mood for arguing orthography or making snarky remarks about somebody possibly needing a monacle, so I merely inquired:
What did I say?
Not -- unlike Uncle Cran -- that I had been drinking and couldn't recall. Rather, the interview was several months ago, and the details therefore hazy.

In his generosity, "the one eyed man" posted the passage with quotes from the interview:
Jeffery Hodges, a professor at Ewha Women's University in Seoul tells AnswerFella, "I've heard as explanation that the belief originated at a time when Koreans were first able to purchase electric fans and used them to such an extent that electrical systems were burdened, so the government spread a rumor that running them overnight was potentially fatal."

Hodges also shared the following passage from the government issued Cultural Guide to Migrant Workers in Korea. "In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from oxygen deficiency, hypothermia, or from overheating." Some Koreans, he adds, "have outlandish explanations about how the whirling blades of a fan can sever oxygen molecules."
Yes, it all comes back to me now. But I distinctly recall carefully calling Esquire's attention to the correctly incorrect spelling of my current university: "Ewha Womans University." I wonder if "the one eyed man" mistakenly altered that to the incorrectly correct spelling.

The Esquire interview was originally supposed to be conducted by phone, but when my interviewer -- the lovely Ms. Brenna Ehrlich -- attempted to reach me from the States, her call wouldn't go through, so she interviewed me by email, and as you will see, the information that I provided was somewhat more extensive because Ms. Ehrlich asked several questions:
1. When did you first hear about fan death?

I heard of it relatively late, sometime early in this decade -- perhaps around 2002. I first read of it on a blog by some Western expat in Korea. Oddly, none of my Korean students had ever mentioned it to me.

2. What is it?

Supposedly, fan death is the fatal consequence of sleeping in a closed room with a fan running all night.

3. Is it widely believed in Korea? How so if it is?

I'm told that every Korean believes that fan death is real. In reality, some doubters surely exist, especially among Koreans who have lived abroad and spoken to many skeptics. Also, an occasional skeptical report will be published in the papers, so some Koreans are doubtful, it seems.

I'm not sure that I understand your latter question. "How so if it is?" People believe in fan death and warn against letting fans run all night. Do you mean "Why do people believe in fan death?" That's a good question. I'll speculate further below.

But if you mean why is belief widespread . . . I don't know, except that Koreans tend to be far more uniform in their opinions that Americans are. Koreans will often agree on many issues where Americans would express a range of opinions.

4. Does the government warn against it? Fan manufacturers? Schools?

Yes, the government does. For instance, the Cultural Guide Book for Foreigners in Korea, put out by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, warns of fan death:
Dangerous electric fans

In summer, many go to bed with a fan on. In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from oxygen deficiency, hypothermia or fire from overheating. A fan with a timer can help prevent such dangers: you can set the timer before going to bed for one to two hours' run. Do not forget to have the windows open for ventilation. [I linked to the original source, which states this on page 33, but that link is broken]
I don't know if businesses or schools do, but my wife, a native-born Korean, doesn't think that schools do.

5. How often is it in the papers?

Warnings about fan death usually appear in newspapers during the hot months -- late May to early September -- often in conjunction with a 'fan-death' fatality. Someone will have been found dead in bed in a closed room with a fan on (or so we're informed), and this news report will cite Korean doctors or scientists who have 'evidence' for the reality of fan death. This sort of report gets printed several times a year. I guess that some Koreans just aren't careful about setting those timers for that recommended one to two hours' run! Or perhaps only foreigners are informed about that recommended daily dosage of fan-propelled air.

6. What do you think of the idea?

I'm extremely skeptical about most of the fan-death 'information'. Of course, one has to be concerned about any electrical convenience overheating and causing a fire -- as the Cultural Guide Book for Foreigners warns in the case of electric fans -- but that's not fan death.

The warnings about oxygen deficiency and hypothermia, however, are typical fan-death 'information'.

Supposedly, fans can deplete oxygen. Some Koreans give outlandish explanations about how the whirling blades of a fan can sever oxygen 'molecules'. I suppose the idea is that single oxygen atoms are useless, that only oxygen atoms bound together into an O-2 molecule can be breathed and utilized by our bodies.

Or . . . fans cause hypothermia by cooling a body down too low. I think that the room would already have to be quite cold for this to occur, but in that case, who would use a fan?

Or . . . conversely, fans cause heat stroke because they dehydrate the body. I am doubtful that this would be at all common, but I concede that if one is already severely dehydrated, a fan might cause further dehydration. But I am skeptical even of that.

Keeping windows open for ventilation is usually a good practice, of course -- so long as the windows have screens to keep out mosquitoes -- so that one bit of advice from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is useful, I suppose. We should thank them for that.

"Thanks." Deep bow to the Ministry.

7. Had you ever heard of it in the US?

Never, but I left the US in 1989 and came to Korea the first time in 1995 almost directly from Germany. Oddly, my wife never mentioned fan death to me until I asked her about it, and we'd been in a relationship since 1992. I think that she just wasn't a 'fanatic' about the belief.

8. Do you know where it originated?

No, not as a matter of fact. I've heard as explanation that the belief originated at a time when Koreans were first able to purchase electric fans and used them to such an extent during hot weather that electrical systems were burdened, so the government spread the rumor that running them overnight was potentially fatal.

I doubt this explanation. It fails to account for the strangeness of the belief. The government could have just explained that fans were burdening the electrical system -- or have warned about fires from faulty wiring in fans.

I wonder if the belief in fan death might have more to do with Korean superstitions about wind. Koreans believe that even a gentle breeze can harm a baby if the baby's head is uncovered. Also, women who have just given birth are supposed to stay indoors and away from wind. My wife told me of this latter superstition, then added darkly that Koreans have a lot of superstitions about the dangers of wind . . . but she didn't elaborate, and I had to hurry off to work this morning.
In other words, I provided a lot to select from, and what they actually selected might imply that I think that the explanation about the government-spread rumor to be the likely origin of the fan-death superstition -- despite my explicit skepticism -- but I suppose that AnswerFella likes to keep quotes short. I still haven't seen the copy of Esquire, for I couldn't find it online, so I cannot link to the AnswerFella column.

By the way, Ms. Ehrlich has her own fine blog, Watching the Detectives, on which she posts material on crime in her hometown of Chicago, among other places, but that link doesn't work for me anymore. Let me know if it works from inside the States, for it looks as though it's still being updated.

Oh, and thanks to Ms. Ehrlich, to research editor Robert Scheffler, to the AnswerFella, and to anyone else involved in this Esquire article. After all my years of studying the Coptic language in order to read the Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic codices, I'm honored to have finally been considered an authority on . . . fan death.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Uncle Cran's True Confessions...

Miller Lite
For 'Lite-Wait' Drinkers
(Image from Wikipedia)

Uncle Cran has sent me another post documenting his long, slow backslide into substance abuse, which has come to dominate his life so totally that he even . . . well, you'll see (and would have seen already one week ago if not for Uncle Cran's having reported me to the Blogger authorities for "Terms of Service" violations!):

Recently Jeffery suggested I submit my confession regarding an event that caused a mild sensation at son James' Pin On Ceremony at his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. I have swallowed my pride, in much the same was as I did the Miller Light, in one large gulp:

Uncle Cran means "last" in the sense of "most recent," but let's not delay his confession:

It is with much trepidation that this confession is being made to a cynical and unforgiving nephew, and thus to my kinfolk, who exhibit the same traits.
Note that Uncle Cran is accusing our entire extended family of sharing his weakness for the bottle.
After all the receptions to my true, honest and compelling stories, you would think that yours truly would have learned to keep things to himself.

But the desire to bare my sins, and by so doing, pointing others to the straight and narrow way, and keeping them from the same pitfall, compels me to relate this incident.
Notice that Uncle Cran would rather "bare" his sins than "bear" them. One would almost imagine that he enjoys it.

Not to mention the mild thrill of another five minutes of fame in an otherwise drab and dreary existence.
It's nice to be right rather than vain in my imaginings.

I remember this incident, as it occured nearly three years ago, during the Ides of March, bringing to mind the downfall of a certain Julius Caesar, of Roman fame.

With great anticipation my wife Linda Gay and I departed on our great adventure. First a drive to Kansas City, then a flight directly to Reagan International Airport, where we were taken to be with James, his wife Julee, and sons Jefferson, Bryson, and Anderson. Why did all three have the addition of "son" to their names? Well, it sounds better than Sonjeffer, Sonbry, and Sonander, in my opinion.
Note: Uncle Cran is trying out his humor on us. Humor often fails to cross cultural boundaries -- such as the cultural boundary between Uncle Cran and normal people. Please humor him by laughing.

We had a good visit in their home. Then the great day arrived. James and a fellow officer were both being promoted from the grade of Major to Lieutenant Colonel, which is considered a major step for an officer. The event was hosted at the headquarters of Major General (2 star) Fox, whose title is THE CIVIL ENGINEER OF THE AIR FORCE. This is the highest position for one who is in the Civil Engineer field of the Air Force.

We all put on our best clothes, and arrived at General Fox's headquarters. Before the ceremony, we were ushered into General Fox's office, where we were introduced to the general and his wife They were very gracious hosts.

From there we were escorted into the reception room for the ceremony, to await the ceremony. After a brief wait, we were called to attention, General Fox and the two officers being honored came in, and we were seated.

It was an impressive ceremony. General Fox read the awards and honors James and the other officer had earned, then the families of the two did the pin-on ceremony. Following was the reception, with food and drinks provided. Everyone was having a good time visiting and meeting James' fellow officers and attending dignitaries. Then things kind of went downhill for yours truly.

I selected some delicacies, got myself a bottle of Dr Pepper, and was having a good time. After awhile I was visiting with one of the officers, and set my drink down while we were talking. I took a bite of my food, and without looking down, picked up a bottle and took a good, long swig. I swallowed, and immediately thought, "WHAT AM I DRINKING?"

I looked down, and lo and behold, I had a bottle of Miller Light in my hand. The officer laughed, I looked around and another group of officers were looking at me. General Fox's aide, a female Lt. Colonel was gazing wide eyed at me, and said, "YOU'RE DRINKING MY BEER!"

I did the only thing I could think of . . . I replied, "Maam, I'm so sorry. Go get you another one, and I'll just slip into another room and pray for forgiveness."
Just listen to the man! First, he drinks some woman's beer, then orders her to go get another one!

It was too late! The story made the rounds . . . "THE REVEREND DRANK THE COLONEL'S BEER!: I had to endure a good bit of teasing about this, and it was kind of the highlight of the evening.
Now, Uncle Cran's proudly claiming that he stole the limelight from his own son!
Even Linda Gay laughed about it. But I made the best of the situation, and joked with the others.

When we got home I wrote General Fox to thank him for the kindness he and Mrs. Fox had shown us, and how we appreciated the evening. I asked him to relay to his Aide-de-Camp how much I enjoyed "sharing a beer" with her.
I think that Aunt Gay had better keep a close watch on Uncle Cran. This sort of thing starts with 'wine', then leads on to women and song!

The beer incident didn't seem to hurt James' reputation, because three weeks later, with the sponsorship of General Fox, Lt. Colonel James was promoted to command the Civil Engineer squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, one of the largest bases in the Air Force, at Anchorage, Alaska, where he served with distinction for two years, before his present assignment at Nato headquarters in Germany. Plus he was recently notified of his selection to full Colonel, and will be one of the youngest with this grade in the Air Force.
Now that I've got a first cousin in high places, I'm expecting a job promotion myself, i.e., a tenured position at Harvard University, at least, or possibly a post as liaison between President Obama and Colonel James Hodges, who seems now to be in charge of Nato since he's on assignment at Nato headquarters in Germany. Moreover, given my six years in that country, I can liaise between Nato's English-speaking and German-speaking staff. I surely deserve such a high grade and a corresponding salary. Back to James and his genuinely illustrious career (and I am not being ironic):

Being one of the youngest, he received an "under the wire" promotion. He has accomplished this for Major, Lt. Colonel, and full Colonel, putting him 3 years ahead of some of his classmates. He was listed in the USAF Academy magazine as one of 33 from his Class of 1991 to make Lt. Colonel early, from a graduating class of 969. The list is likely smaller for full Colonel.
Uncle Cran, all irony aside, you've certainly earned bragging rights for the things that James has achieved. For those not in the know, a US Air Force Colonel is only one rank below Brigadier General.

But let's finally return to Uncle Cran's gripping story of alcoholic decline, which ends in a borrowed moral . . . or what passes for a 'moral' in Uncle Cran's lengthy tome of longsuffering and lamentation:

Thus finished my confession, and as another fellow sufferer at the hands of his friends once said:

But Job answered and said,
"Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations,
Suffer me that I may speak and after that I have spoken, mock on" (Job 21:1-3).
Or as David Essex sang, "Mock on, oh my soul . . ."

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Return of the Native: Hardy Gypsy Scholar is Back!

Return of the Native
DVD Cover for 1994 Film
Starring Catherine Zeta Jones
Adaptation of Thomas Hardy Novel
(Image from Wikipedia)

Well . . . that was weird. I woke up Friday, January 9th, 2008 and couldn't access my blog. From here at my apartment in Korea, all I reached was an official Blogger site with a message in Korean that I couldn't understand.

At first, I assumed that my blog was simply inaccessible, perhaps due to high internet traffic, a slow connection, or some other technicality. However, when I checked my email inbox, I found several concerned emails by friends who could not reach my blog and were asking why they could only reach a message that said:
Sorry, the blog at has been removed.
"Removed?" I wondered.

I tried to reach some official Blogger page to report the problem but found access impossible due to some sort of glitch with my internet provider at home. However, when I got to my university office, I was able to reach a site for reporting the problem. Since I had been sick with the flu and exhausted from the intensive teaching on Thursday, January 8th, when I had written a blog entry that I intended to post officially the following Friday, I wondered if I had accidentally pressed some fateful button that had deleted my blog, so I reported to Blogger that I had accidentally deleted my blog. Separately, my friend Kevin Kim, located in the States, helped report this problem just in case my message from Korea should fail to reach Blogger.

Upon looking into the problem further, however, I discovered that I was facing a bigger problem, for I found a webpage titled "The Real Blogger Status," where I learned that as of "mid January 2008, Blogger [had] started to do something about a major problem -- blogs established in BlogSpot, in massive numbers, for illegal purposes -- hacking, porn distribution, and spam distribution." Of course, my blog fit into none of those categories, but the timing of my blog's removal fit the date mentioned. Further down on the page, I found the problem: "Blog Removed For TOS Violation." The acronym "TOS" means "Terms of Service," and a violation was implied by the message "Sorry, the blog at has been removed."

For readers who enjoy reading long, boring legal documents, go read about Blogger Terms of Service and Blogger Policy Content Boundaries. I had glanced over these when I first started my blog in 2005, but I now looked into them more carefully with an eye to my problem. I had to assume that Blogger thought that I had violated one of the "Content Boundaries," but I couldn't see how . . . aside from the many 'insults' that I had directed toward my poor, longsuffering Uncle Cran.

Clearly, this removal was a mistake.

The webpage titled "The Real Blogger Status" explains why this can happen:
As Blogger tries harder to reduce the population of illegal blogs, and based upon the massive size and deviousness of that population, more legitimate blogs are going to be falsely flagged as illegal.
My blog somehow got caught up in that flagging process. Perhaps somebody -- possibly Uncle Cran -- had felt insulted by one or more of my blog entries and reported my blog as an abusive one. A "Flag Blog" button can be found at the top of every blog hosted by Blogger, so reporting 'abuse' is as easy as a click on an icon. If a dedicated icon-clicker clicks away, perhaps my blog would be flagged as illegal.

But I'm guessing, and I really have no solid clue as to what happened.

I do, however, know whom to thank for getting Gypsy Scholar returned to the internet. Actually, I need to thank two people.

I should first of all thank Malcolm Pollack for his interest in my case. I know Malcolm only through the blogosphere, but we've become cyber-buddies due to our overlapping interests. Malcolm not only provided advice, he decided to contact a friend of his who works high up in the hierarchy at Google, the company that owns Blogger.

That friend is Mr. Bob Wyman. Now, I'd heard of Mr. Wyman from way back in my early history-of-science days at Berkeley, which takes me back to the early 1980s. Mr. Wyman received a phone call from Malcolm early this week and promised to see what he could do about getting my blog restored. He came through, and here I am.

Thank you, Malcolm Pollack and Mr. Bob Wyman. Thank you very much.

Now, I suppose that my latest Expat Living article, which appears in today's Korea Herald, is (ironically) already out of date:
Amputation of my internetic articulation
As the official "language" columnist for Expat Living, I am rarely without words, but since Jan. 9, I have been rendered speechless.

As of that date, or possibly even Thursday the 8th, my blog, "Gypsy Scholar," no longer exists on the internet. Try visiting it, and you'll receive this alarming message: "Sorry, the blog at has been removed."

Most readers will find this message less alarming than I do, and some might respond with complete equanimity if not utter indifference. Well, such is the way of the world, and I accept its ways, for I am no more indispensable than any man whose blog's demise entails no corresponding demise of the world.

Some online friends of mine knew of my bloglessness before I did. Malcolm Pollack, who maintains his own fine blog, "Waka Waka Waka," wrote an e-mail of proleptic commiseration: "When my site goes down even for an hour or two ... I completely freak out, and feel existentially paralyzed ... (and) too small without it."

My cyber-friend's words sparked some uncharacteristically serious, cyborgian thoughts of my own concerning the extension of our selves through internetic articulation.

"I know exactly what you mean," I told him, "by being suddenly small, contracted to ... (a) mere physical self. Interesting, isn't it, how our identities have expanded to encompass so much. I feel as though something has been amputated. More precisely, it's as though most of me is now missing, (as if) an expanded body that made 'quasi-sensory' contact with so much else out there has been surgically removed. I feel no physical pain, but a deep sense of loss."

Malcolm agreed: "Yes, that's a good way of putting it. Through my website I have an extension into this other dimension that encompasses, in principle, the entire human community, and for the feeling when that's taken away, 'amputation' is not too strong a word, I think. It is as if a sensory organ had been removed, or something. It is extremely uncomfortable and distressing."

Minus my blog, I am thus even less than wordless with irony. I am a far-less-articulated, much-reduced self, an entity something like Newton's God minus His sensorium of space. Without the internet space as sensorium for my blogiated self, I lose much of my power, my presence, and even my much-vaunted benevolence. Indeed, I feel, deep within my bowels, the definite stirrings of malice toward whoever bears responsibility for the disappearance of my blog.

But whom to blame?

Perhaps a Maxwellian Demon, working for greater order in the internet, found cosmic justification in blocking my blog? Or possibly, some Orwellian Big Brother found political justification in reasons of state? Or maybe some unwell individual disgruntled by one of my posts reported my blog as a hate-speech site? Or just possibly, some purely stochastic cybernetic oscillation occurred, thereby placing the onus on nobody in particular?

I simply do not know.

As a language columnist, however, I consider myself duty-bound to offer a few choice words of merit that might subtly express the finer shades of my feelings: Great profanated balls of execrating dysphemistic maledictory cacophemisms!

I know, I know. Profanity is a sign of poor vocabulary, of a weak mind trying to express itself forcibly.

Well, I did warn you that I was speechless.

Jeffery is a professor at Ewha Womans University and can no longer be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at - Ed.
Malcolm saw this article before I did, and wrote:
Now I'm famous! Thanks. As for that maledictory eructation about your "feelings" toward the end of the piece: I should remind you that ladies, and children, read this paper too.
I felt chagrin at the rebuke:
Oh, you saw that article? I had no idea that you subscribed to the Korea Herald! But if you're famous, then so am I. How famous am I? I'm sorry about the profane language at the end of the article. It just kind of slipped out. You know how it is . . . words picked up from one's parents when they stub their toe or hammer the wrong nail.
I'll try to restrain myself in future Expat Living columns.

I'd like to say a few kind words for Google, the company that owns Blogger (as noted above). I appreciate much of what Google does, for I rely upon their services daily. I use Google's Advanced Search Engine, Google Books, Google Scholar, and various other of Google's services, and I am very happy about these conveniences. Without Google, I would be unable to pursue my scholarly career here in Korea, for the hard-copy resources that I would need are largely missing.

I am a bit concerned, however, about the recent problem that my blog encountered. Let me be clear. Google has the legal right to remove a blog without warning at any time for any reason. That right is quite clearly stated in the agreement, and I am not complaining. One can hardly complain when Blogger is free and the conditions so clearly stated, but I think that I must, with some regret, look for a different host for Gypsy Scholar and actually pay for the service under different conditions that offer more protection to me and my blog and more recourse if a problem should occur.

I would hazard some advice to Google. Offer bloggers an option of paying Google to host their blogs, and if the conditions are good enough, serious bloggers will pay. I would prefer to pay Google and stay with Blogger than go to the trouble of moving all my files to a different blog host, and I suspect that other serious bloggers with Google would prefer to do the same.

Just a suggestion.

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