Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Train-of-Death ride? So that's what became of Sonia Nazario!

Sonia Nazario atop Mexican "Train of Death"

Back when I lived in 'Evanstar House' on that Berkeley-Oakland border called Alcatraz Avenue, Scott Corey, Charles Weathers, and I had a variety of flatmates over the years from 1985 to 1989, when I also became one of those boarders who left for good.

Some left for even better.

Sonia Nazario, for example. Even when she first came to board in 'Evanstar House', she had a career. I didn't realize it at first because Sonia was quite modest. Not that she tried to hide her career as a journalist, but she also didn't trumpet her success, so I initially failed to pick up on it -- and not merely because I'm obtuse. I was distracted at the time by a girlfriend in Switzerland whose charms had me back and forth between that landlocked, mountain country and the San Francisco Bay. I think that I was underway in a European airport when I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and saw a familiar face and name leap out at me: Sonia Nazario.

"Hey!" I cried aloud, "That's my flatmate."

None of the strangers around me knew what I jabbering about. Neither do I, now, for I can't recall the article itself, but I did, at the time, suddenly understand Sonia's jokes about her mother's Hispanic pronunciation of the Wall Street 'Urinal'.

Sonia had a rather complicated ethnicity. Her mother was a Jewish woman who had met her husband, a Christian Arab, in Israel. Sonia, the complex offspring of that unusual union, grew up partly in Argentina and spoke fluent Spanish . . . and equally fluent English. Technically, she was both fully Jewish (matrilineally, from her mother) and fully Arab (patrilineally, from her father) . . . but also entirely Hispanic, I suppose.

I see from her website that she now writes for the Los Angeles Times and for her journalism has won a Pulitzer Prize, among other impressive awards.

I don't read the Times much, for I subscribe to the International Herald Tribune, so I've largely missed her career as a journalist, but I recently had occasion to recall Sonia joking about her mother's Hispanic pronunciation of "journalist" as "urinalist." That pronunciation came to mind because I happened to be searching for the proper term to describe a journalist whom I recently encountered, a fountain of misinformation perhaps accurately referred to as a 'urinalist' . . . but I rejected that bathroom humor as beneath me.

Anyway, Sonia appears to have hit the bigtime with a book on Enrique's Journey, which seems to have been published in 2006 or 2007 and is available at Amazon.com as well as other places. I've not read it, though it sounds interesting -- the story of a Hispanic boy's trip from Honduras to the US to find and reunite with his mother, which was apparently a difficult and dangerous trip that included riding the "Train of Death" . . . though Enrique seems to have survived.

Sonia must have survived her own Train of Death ride, which is probably not as much fun as it appears in the photo above.

Adios again, Sonia.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Corporal 'Punishment' in Korean Schools?

I've been debating whether to post on this issue of corporal punishment in Korean schools, for I've not researched it and am not sure what to say in general, but from things that my daughter has told me, I think that I ought to post something on this issue. I don't want to post a lot of images, but I did find a website with some photos, e.g., the two below -- the first of a boy, the second of a girl -- showing students in Korea being subjected to corporal punishment:

The site is Corpun: World Corporal Punishment Research, and it seems to consist merely of reports and images, including videos, but offers no opinion, pro or con, on the issue. I looked at some of the videos showing corporal punishment in Korea, and the ones that I viewed didn't portray the worst that I have seen elsewhere on the internet. In fact, the punishment that I viewed on Corpun was only a bit harsher than what my own Ozark school imposed when I was attending way back in the 1960s and 1970s.

What my daughter has told me of 'punishment' in her school is far worse and shows some teachers out of control.

Let me begin with the least objectionable. One young female teacher told her class never to ask the question "Why?" My daughter, surprised, innocently asked, "Why not?" She received ten stinging slaps with a ruler upon her open palms. Now, this sort of punishment was never inflicted in my school, and it seems worse to me than being paddled on one's butt . . . but that might be because I've only been paddled and never struck on my hands.

Paddlings are applied in Korea, of course, as the images above make clear. But these blows with a stick can land not only on the buttocks but also upon the upper legs and even the calves. The buttocks provide some padding for protection, but blows against the legs can damage blood vessels and therefore seems far more like abuse to me . . . and thus even worse than a mere ruler applied to the open palms (though everything depends upon the severity of the blows).

Worse than either of these two are the blows with a hand or even a stick to the upper body and particularly the head, including the face. My daughter has received only the ruler to her hands but has observed these other 'punishments'. Often, the teacher who strikes on the upper body with hand or stick is reacting suddenly, emotionally, and at times uses fists rather than just slaps.

Far worse than these are reports from my daughter of a particular male teacher who attacks student not just with slaps, fists, and sticks but even by knocking them down, stepping on them, and kicking them -- as well as generally humiliating them, for example, by forcing them to lie under his desk for an hour while he 'teaches'. Incidently, he 'teaches' social studies, a subject that includes the social ethics of proper behavior.

I asked my daughter what the other students think about all these 'punishments', and she tells me that they don't like any of it but that they think that it's normal. Only Sa-Rah seems to question it, perhaps because Sun-Ae and I have raised her to ask questions and think for herself.

I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to be the 'troublemaking' outsider who causes 'problems', nor do I want to draw attention to my own kids, who are already different enough by being half-Korean. But this man who teaches social studies really has no business dealing with children since he can't restrain himself from striking and kicking them. My wife asked another mother about this man, and she said that she'd heard nothing but promised to ask her son, who subsequently confirmed what my daughter had reported. I think that Korean parents ought to be the ones to act, but they seem not to show much interest in this issue, being focused almost entirely on the grades and test scores that their children receive.

Even worse, according to my daughter, very many of the children receive the same kind of physical punishment at home, so they don't imagine that the world can be different . . . and I suppose that this also implies that their parents don't imagine this either.

For those readers who live in a very different world and have trouble imagining the sort of abuse that Korean students too often face, here's a 38-second video on You Tube to clarify the sort of thing that I'm writing about.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

How 'Iranic': Koreans Protest at Iranian Embassy

South Koreans Protesting Against 'Iran'
Photo by Lee Jae-Won, Reuters
(Image from Yahoo)

I must admit to an error in judgement. On Tuesday the 23rd, I had lunch with my friend Dan Ernst, who teaches philosophy and international relations at Ewha Womans University, and we discussed the demonstrations that were even then going on in Iran. Dan asked me if South Koreans were protesting against the violent and even murderous repression being used by the Iranian government. I laughed and replied:

"Are you kidding? Koreans aren't interested in protesting against Iran. Protests against anything that America does, yes -- for that, Koreans would protest. But this? No, because it has nothing to do with America."
Well, I eat my words. Only two days later, on June 25, South Koreans protested, as the photo above and the passage below make clear:

Activists chant slogans at a rally denouncing what they say is the Iranian government's repression on the people in front of the Iranian embassy in Seoul June 25, 2009. Iranian police and militia have largely succeeded in regaining control of the streets after the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, touched off by the disputed June 12 presidential election. Some 20 people are reported to have been killed in the demonstrations.
I was touched at this display of Korean solidarity with oppressed Iranians yearning for democracy, and I nearly shed a tear . . . until I looked more closely at a protest sign in English:

The US and Western Governments, the Butchers of Iraqis and Afghans, You Don't Have a Right to Talk About Iran's Democracy
My daughter and wife then looked at a sign in Korean:

이라크 아프간의 학살자: 미국과 서방정부는 이란 민주주의 말할 자격 없다!

With their help, that translates as:

Butchers of Iraqis and Afghans: America and Western Governments Don't Have the Right to Talk About Iran's Democracy!
The writing is far more clear in this JoongAng Daily copy of the photo if you click on it to enlarge:

This clearer copy of the photo (in an even more distinct black and white) appeared in the JoongAng's June 26th issue; otherwise, I might have missed the actual significance of this image showing Koreans demonstrating against the Iranian government, namely, that even this protest is really against the United States . . . well, and against 'Western Governments', too, but since "Western" includes the US, then why does America get such top billing as to be especially singled out? Oh, right, because anything wrong in the world must somehow be America's fault.

Perhaps I need not eat my words just yet . . .

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Attempted Witness-Tampering?

Lady Justice
(Image from Wikipedia)

Readers of this blog who looked at the comments to Thursday's blog entry about my 'nonexistence' will have noticed the reference to "witness tampering." My friend Sperwer -- who knows a 'little' about law -- had asked what the fight between the two men was about. I replied:
Sperwer, I never found out what the fight was about. Both the victim and the defendent contacted me by phone to try to get me to change my testimony in favor of one or the other. I was so annoyed with the two of them that I hardly cared what they were fighting about -- or didn't care enough to inquire since I'd then have to listen to them abuse each other verbally.
Sperwer observed:
Witness tampering, eh. You should have dropped a dime on both of them.
I responded:
That would have meant dealing with both of them even more, and I hope that this is finished.
Even if I had been inclined to "drop a dime on both of them," I would have had no evidence or witnesses -- just my word against theirs. But since I'm not naming either the defendent or the victim, I'll briefly note the two phone calls.

The defendent contacted me last autumn. I don't know how he found my home number, but since he had discovered my name, then perhaps getting my number wasn't difficult. At that time, he spoke to my wife and asked her why I was acting as a witness. He tried to impress her with how important and powerful he was and that he was a 'friend' of foreigners. The other, defaced side of that coin would be that he could also be an 'enemy' of foreigners. She finally got him off the phone, and I advised her that with such a call, she should just hang up, but he contacted me the next day while I was teaching. I felt my cellular phone vibrate during my lecture, so during the break, I called back, not knowing who had called. I reached his secretary, who put me briefly on hold. The defendent then came on the line and tried to get me to retract my testimony:
"Are you sure," he asked, "that you saw me that evening of the reception?"

"Your phone call is inappropriate," I told him.

"Are you sure," he repeated, ignoring my warning, "that you saw me that evening of the reception?"
He then quickly rattled off his importance, his 'friendship' with foreigners, and the fact that the other fellow was a bad man who was just using me. I interrupted him:
"Listen to me very carefully," I warned. "Your phone call is highly inappropriate. I am going to hang up now. Do not call back."
I then hung up, and to my relief, he did not try to call again. But the evening before the case went to court, the victim called me on my cellular phone while I was at home and asked if I were going to show up and act as witness. I said yes, of course. He seemed to want to talk about something, so I gave the phone to my wife since the man wasn't being completely clear. He begain complaining about the testimony that I had given to the police nearly two years ago. He called it a 'mishmash' -- or so my wife translated. He was particularly concerned that I had not stated that the defendent had struck him using fists. My wife, clearly annoyed, informed him that I had not observed anything like that. He protested that my testimony wasn't of much help to him without that. My wife, even more annoyed, angrily told him that I would testify to what I had seen, not something that I hadn't seen -- and she hung up.

Next day, just outside the courtroom, the defendent again tried to tell me that the 'victim' was a dishonorable man. I told him, "I do not wish to talk to you," and I then entered the courtroom, where I encountered the victim, whose greeting I barely acknowledged.

And as for the rest . . . you already know.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The Scapegoat in Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ursula K. Le Guin, and William James?

(Image from Wikipedia)

In re-reading Dostoyevsky's greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov, I came upon the 'scapegoat' passage quoted below not long after reading of the character Ivan Karamazov describing cases of abuse practiced upon children -- including that of a very young child 'punished' by having excrement smeared upon its face and in its mouth and being locked in a privy, where she beats her fist against her breast and cries out to God for help -- and shortly before reading of Ivan recounting his story of "The Grand Inquisitor":
Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? (Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, New York: Vintage, 1950, translated by Constance Garnett, page 291)
Although the word "scapegoat" does not appear here (and indeed surfaces only once in my English copy, on page 780), I instantly knew from where Ursula K. Le Guin had drawn the inspiration for her short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," which tells of a utopia mysteriously founded upon the suffering of one innocent young victim locked in a dark basement closet where it sits in its own filth, a 'scapegoat' somehow necessary, metaphysically, to the perfect lives of all the inhabitants of the city Omelas (although her story does not use the term "scapegoat"):
In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is.

The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room, a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes -- the child has no understanding of time or interval -- sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked; the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother's voice, sometimes speaks. "I will be good, " it says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, "eh-haa, eh-haa," and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery. (Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, edited by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006, pages 21-212)
One of my students a couple of years ago wrote on this story and argued that it was perhaps a critique of Christianity, for the story takes the problem of evil and intensifies it by implying that the suffering of the scapegoat Jesus cannot be justified by the perfect world to come in the eschaton precisely because that suffering is innocent. The student pointed out, of course, that a significant difference between the two cases is that in the New Testament, Jesus is presented as a willing victim. The student didn't know of Le Guin's source in Dostoyevsky, but he could have cited the response of Ivan's brother Aloysha:
"Brother," said Aloysha suddenly, with flashing eyes, "you said just now, is there a being in the whole world who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!'" (Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, page 292)
Aloysha's point is that the willing victim can forgive and therefore justify. That might simply kick the metaphysical can further down the road, but let me take this blog entry in another direction. When I decided to look into this point today, I discovered that some folks at Wikipedia have already noted the connection between Le Guin and Dostoyevsky, for in the entry on "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," an editor notes that Le Guin gave a hint in an interview in which she told of seeing a road sign for Salem, Oregon in a car mirror (from which came "Omelas"):
"[… People ask me] 'Where do you get your ideas from, Ms. Le Guin?' From forgetting Dostoyevsky and reading road signs backwards, naturally. Where else?" (X. J. Kennedy, An Introduction to Fiction, Longman, 2004, page 274)
I haven't yet found this interview online -- though I recall reading somewhere about the road sign. Perhaps a reader can supply some link.

The Wikipedia entry also led me to a passage in an essay by William James, "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life," which was originally an address to the Yale Philosophical Club but was published in the International Journal of Ethics in April 1891 (although, again, the term "scapegoat" is not used):
"[I]f the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, . . . [would we not] immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?"
One might imagine that James had read Dostoyevsky's novel, but a mere decade had passed since the novel's Russian publication in 1880, so this is unlikely. Besides, the problem of evil posed in terms of innocent suffering has been posed before, so the similarity of James and Dostoyevsky in these two passages should not surprise us.

But are the three writers even thinking of a scapegoat's role in the problem of evil since none of them identify the suffering innocent one as a scapegoat? This would require some reflection on the meaning of scapegoat, and now that I consider it, a scapegoat seems rather a different creature -- similar in bearing the 'sins and impurity' of others but not a condition upon which a utopia is to be founded, and not even Jesus would seem to have been portrayed as a scapegoat (for a sacrificial victim is different).

But enough of that. I'll just note in closing that while the strictly logical problem of evil has been answered -- in the sense that an all-powerful, benevolent, omniscient deity might have a good reason for allowing evil even if we human beings remain ignorant of that reason -- our moral revulsion at concrete instances of innocent suffering might give some of us reason to balk at the conditions for taking even the initial step of faith.

Perhaps that was why "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" walked away from Omelas.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Mr. Hodges was not present."

Seoul Central District Court
(Image from Mentorland)

Some readers with long memories might recall my blog entry of September 15, 2006: "An exciting evening among the diplomats." This was my report on a special reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel to which I was personally invited by fellow SIBC member Ambassador Kuma Aua, who had handed me a card of official invitation for the September 14, 2006 reception: "On the Occasion of the 31st Anniversary of the Independence of Papua New Guinea." Here's a photograph from the Seoul Times article, "Papua New Guinea Marks Its National Day in Seoul," which provided a brief report on the event:

Standing in the center of this Seoul Times photo from September 2006 is Ambassador Kuma Aua, flanked to the left and the right by various other VIPs, none of whom I knew. If readers recall my blog entry on this reception, then they will also recall my report on a particular altercation that I witnessed:
I had an . . . exciting encounter with a journalist from the Korea IT Times. I happened to be alone for a moment, sipping an Australian shiraz . . . when a Korean man approached me to introduce himself. He was a perceptive fellow, for he already had me pegged as a professor and asked if I taught literature.

In our ensuing conversation, he learned that I had previously taught at Hanshin University. At this point, he became animated and informed me that he had majored in German at Hanshin. I responded by switching to German, and he impressed me not only by replying in German but also by continuing our talk in that language.

I say "impressed" because many Korean students in Korea are not especially serious about their major, and one often meets people here who know very little about the field that they 'studied.'

Anyway, I was just about to hand him my card, when a rather burly fellow who was clearly deep into his cups came over, grabbed the journalist, spoke some angry words in Korean, and began pushing the poor fellow. Astonished by this sudden irruption, I could only stare as my conversation partner was pushed halfway across the room. Other people intervened to separate the two, the aggressive man was escorted out, and my journalist returned to accept my card and supply his own before exiting with determination in his eyes.
As I noted, an exciting evening. Readers might also recall a follow-up blog entry a little less than a year later (on Sunday, July 22, 2007), which reported on my trip to the police to offer my testimony on what I had seen . . . and what I had not seen:
I had described the aggressor as having pushed the man who had asked me to testify on his behalf.
The policeman asked, "Did the alleged aggressor strike the victim with his fist?"

I replied, "I did not see this happen."
The policeman asked this more than once. Each time, I testified that I had not seen that sort of violence. At length, the policeman appeared satisfied.
Apparently, the victim (and I noted that the police didn't say "alleged" victim) had maintained that he had not only been pushed but also struck. I simply didn't see that, which turned out to be a crucial point when the case came to trial nearly two years later, in a trial yesterday at the Seoul Central District Court, for the question was again posed several times. Every time, I testified that I had not seen any fisticuffs.

Only one other witness was called. Interestingly, he was also a Westerner. No Korean wanted to testify, I suppose, although several Koreans were present at the time of the altercation. This Westerner, whose name I didn't catch, stated that he works as a journalist and reports on diplomatic issues and related topics. His testimony differed from mine in that he maintained that he had heard some yelling, that he had turned and seen the victim grab the lapels of the defendent (i.e., the one whom I recognized as the aggressor) and that both had pushed each other. I hadn't seen that, but my line of sight might have been obscured by the defendent, who had been pushing the victim away from me.

The most interesting point in the other witness's testimony came when he was asked:
"Was Mr. Hodges present during the quarrel?"
He replied:
"No. Mr. Hodges was not present."
My wife gasped. I had to smile at the man's confidence -- overconfidence, really. He was asked again, and he repeated his point, then added:
"The party was restricted. Only diplomats and other officials would be invited to such an event because of security concerns."
What followed was also interesting, at least for me, for by revealing the other witness's less-than-perfect memory, it tended to call into question the precision of his testimony:
"How many people were present?"

"About 10 to 15."

"And did you know everyone present?"

"Yes. I am familiar with them all. I know them."

"Can you identify them by name?"

"I can identify them by their diplomatic titles."

"Do you know their names?"

"No, I don't recall their names."
Because of the discrepancy in our testimonies, I was called back to the witness stand and asked if I had really been present. I explained that I had genuinely been present, that I had been invited by Ambassador Kuma Aua, the Papua New Guinea ambassador to South Korea, that I know him from my Sunday Bible study class, and that not only I but the Bible study leader and his wife, the pastor and his wife, and a number of other church members had also been invited. I added that I judged the number of individuals present at the time of the altercation to be about 20 or 25.

The court appeared baffled at our different testimonies, so I was asked to re-enact what I had seen. I explained that I had been drinking a glass of wine at a high table when a Korean man had approached and drawn me into conversation. I related how I had discovered that he had studied German at Hanshin University, where I had taught for a couple of years, and that we had therefore switched to German to speak further. I then re-enacted what I had seen transpire, namely, that the defendent had approached, grabbed my conversation partner by his lapels, and pushed him across the floor.

The judge then intervened to request that I draw the room and show what had happened -- and he was very astute in asking that I do this first, before the others were asked, for my testimony was the one in question. I made a rough sketch of the room's layout -- its stage, its wine table, the high table where I had been standing -- and used points and arrows to show the action . . . a bit like a coach sketching a strategy by the time I had finished.

After the judge inspected the sketch, he sent it to the other witness, who acknowledged that my sketch was roughly correct, though I think that he moved the stage more to the center and added some snack tables. After that, the sketch went to the victim and the defendent, who more or less agreed with what we had drawn. The judge -- apparently concluding that Mr. Hodges was present -- then decided that the other witness had missed the beginning of the altercation and had seen only the part where both victim and defendent were struggling and that our two testimonies were therefore consistent.

That seemed to me to be the correct solution. I had not thought that the other witness had been lying -- though that other witness was clearly certain that I had been lying since he insisted that I had not been present and that I could not have been invited. To my mind, merely his accuracy, not his veracity, was at stake. However, while he may have been sincere, I do believe that a professional journalist such as he ought to be more cautious in reporting on who was or was not present somewhere and more careful in reporting facts about what could or could not have happened someplace.

But perhaps this journalist had a 'teachable moment', for he must surely have learned just how wrong wrong can be -- since his report of my 'nonexistence' had been greatly exaggerated.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

North Korea: Slow-Motion Collapse?

North Korea Today Header
(Image from NKT)

On June 7th, I asked if a "North Korean Collapse [is] Already Underway?" I think that the evidence points to this, for I daily receive updates on North Korea from the US Army's open-source intelligence gathering, which offers unclassified information to interested individuals, and this service has alerted me to the North Korea Today website, an excellent source for stories from the daily lives of North Koreans that reveals how deeply dsyfunctional the North Korean system has become, so dysfunctional that many North Koreans are openly skeptical of their government. Let's look at some recent excerpts.

Kim Nam-joong, a North Korean man in his seventies, was meeting with a group of friends, and one of his friends offered a remark about the government's goal of achieving economic parity with other nations by 2012:
"I hear the gates to a strong nation will be opened in 2012 and our nation will become as wealthy as any other nation."
To this, Mr. Kim responded:
"I would like to see the gates open just a little bit, if not open fully." He then continued, "Do we deserve our present lives? Can anyone open the gates to a strong nation?"
Mr. Kim was arrested when his words were repeated by informers. Interestingly, people in his village raised questions about the necessity for this arrest, prompting a party leader in Pyongyang to respond:
"The Central Party is aware of what is said about the current dire situation at people's private gatherings. Little complaints are considered the seed of social instability. This is why they started cracking down on people."
Now, this might be interpreted as meaning that the North Korean government continues to exert full control, but let us note some intriguing points. The government itself acknowledges its dire economic state and fears social instability if people begin to criticize governmental policy. Mr. Kim's criticism was mild, by our free, democratic standards. Indeed, it would be no offense at all. But he had openly questioned the ability of the government to achieve its economic aim.

Or take the case of Han Duk-soo, also a man in his seventies, who seems to have been drinking a bit of alcohol and to have complained about the current hard times, apparently saying:
"During the Arduous March[, i.e., the North Korean famine of the latter 1990s], many people died in this part of Hamheung and, for some reason, people continue to die. Even collecting grassroots and tree bark requires making a long trip into the mountain. Old people like me would die on the road [if we tried to make such a trip]. If our children were relatively well off, it would be alright, but even they have nothing. I think the best solution would be for me to die as early as possible for the sake of our children. Even though the Party now claims times are good, things were not even . . . [so] bad as this during Japanese rule."
Mr. Han was arrested and interrogated for three days, then released. Interestingly, his eldest son, Han Kyung-bo, rather than being cowed by the events, angrily criticized the police for their treatment of "a weak old man," who had been caused "to suffer a great deal."

Or consider the case of a female food peddler in her forties, reporting under the pseudonym Lee Kyung-ok, who stated her opinion of governmental policy:
"They talk about opening the gates to a strong nation, but I am not convinced the gates will be opened. I don't see it. The way things are going, I do not believe we can become a strong nation. As usual, our Party will be the party of empty talk."
Her words were reported, and she was interrogated along with two others who had listened to her, but nothing could be proven about her use of "Reactionary Words," so she was released. What I find interesting in her case was that even though she is younger than the two elderly men -- being merely in her forties -- she openly and harshly expressed her disbelief in governmental policy . . . and yet escaped punishment.

At times, the criticism breaks out into the open, as in a recent case in which a group of women who had been mobilized for farming protested to the Democratic Women's Union that some people had paid bribes of 20,000 North Korean won to be exempt from mobilization:
"Why is solving the nation's food crisis the job only for the poor? Those who are rich and eating well must have the strength to work much better than us. Is 150-Day Battle a battle to offer money? How come those with money do not have to work while those without have to work so much?"
One woman is reported to have yelled:
"How can a poor person survive in this unjust world?"
The protests lasted an entire day and prevented any work. This case indicates that people recognize several things about their North Korean society. The economy is ineffective. The system is corrupt. The mobilization effort is unjust.

What these cases reveal from the daily lives of North Koreans is a system breaking down so completely that people are voicing their criticisms despite the possibility of arrest. These protests are not violent demonstrations aimed at overthrowing the North Korean government, but they are protests expressing profound skepticism about the governmental policy, and such criticisms appear to be widely held under economic suffering that seems endless.

There can be little remaining loyalty to the government or to the communist party, for indoctrination cannot feed anyone, and people know that other countries are wealthier. Indeed, even the government's own aim of "opening the gates to a strong nation" by 2012 presupposes that North Korea is economically weak. Added to this the poor health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the difficulties in promoting the succession of 26-year-old Kim Jong-un to a position of real power, and the North's military belligerence that has angered even its ally China, one could readily conclude that the confluence of economic and political crises have rendered North Korea unstable. I won't make any predictions, but I would suggest that if the succession difficulties turn serious as Kim Jong-il declines, a power struggle could break out within the ruling elite that would utterly destabilize the entire country as the nomenklatura fragments into factions.

The next year of two may be very interesting . . . perhaps a bit too interesting for comfort if observed from a position as close to the North as where I live.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reuel Marc Gerecht: "The Koran and the Ballot Box"

Edward G. Shirley
Reuel Marc Gerecht
(Image from FDD)

Reuel Marc Gerecht, whose columns I recall reading shortly after 9/11, is an intelligent and informed hardliner on Iran and the Middle East. Around that time, I believe, he was with the Neo-Conservative Project for the New American Century, working as director of its Middle East Initiative. Earlier, he had served in the CIA as a specialist on the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iran, it seems, for he wrote Know Thine Enemy: A Spy's Journey Into Revolutionary Iran (1997), which -- despite the title -- was an ex-spy's journey into Iran (albeit written under the pseudonym Edward G. Shirley). He now works for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies as a senior fellow. I think that I should note, perhaps not just in passing, that he has defended "physically coercive techniques" used to extract crucial information on imminent terrorist actions, a defense that you can read about in his exchange on this point with Andrew Sullivan.

Make of him what you will (and opinions will no doubt differ), Gerecht has written a very interesting article, "The Koran and the Ballot Box," for the New York Times (June 20, 2009). He argues that we are seeing " the unraveling of the religious idea that has shaped the growth of modern Islamic fundamentalism since the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928," or more precisely, two incompatible ideas combined in Iran: "that God's law . . . would rule, and that the people of Iran had the right to elect representatives who would advance and protect their interests." As a new generation grew up and got educated, a systemic contradiction developed, for "God's will and the people's wants were no longer compatible."

Gerecht therefore believes that we are currently "witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule," as "Islam's categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims --'commanding right and forbidding wrong' -- is being transformed." Gerecht notes that this imperative was, historically, "understood as a check on the corrupting, restive and libidinous side of the human soul," but that "modern Islamic militants," also known as Islamists, have used it as "a war cry" and as "a justification of the morals police in Saudi Arabia and Iran, of the young men who harass 'improperly' attired Muslim women from Cairo to Copenhagen." The implications are thus far-reaching and wide-ranging, and therefore clarify why "Ayatollah Khamenei will try to stop a democratic triumph in his country, since real democracy would allow men, not God and his faithful guardians, the mullahs, to determine right and wrong." Even if the Ayatollah stops Iran's democratic movement, the world can see the significance, says Gerecht:
Westerners would do well to understand the magnitude of what is transpiring in the Islamic Republic. Iran's revolution shook the Islamic world. It was the first attempt by militant Muslims to prove that "Islam has all the answers" -- or at least enough of them to run a modern state and make its citizenry more moral children of God. But the experiment has failed.
Gerecht acknowledges that we cannot be certain what the opposition leader "Mr. Moussavi thinks about democracy," but he believes that Moussavi is "willing to entrust the people with more power than was [a previous opposition leader] Mr. Khatami," a reformer who "could neither really break with his ruling clerical brethren, nor free himself from the age-old Islamic belief that the faithful need clerical supervision."

Previously, the Islamic Republic of Iran has managed to depict itself "as a virtuous state with a workable level of democracy -- just enough to give the regime legitimacy and stability," but Gerecht holds that "the clerical regime can no longer make this argument," for "Iranians have come to know theocracy intimately," and "secularism has become increasingly attractive." Indeed, Gerecht states that "Iran now produces brilliant clerics who argue in favor of the separation of church and state as a means of saving the faith from corrupting power." In effect, the "Iranians are on the threshold of turning the Koran's ethical injunction into a democratic commandment: nothing good can be commanded without a vote of the people."

Moreover, though Iran is a Shi'ite Persian state, Gerecht thinks that Sunni Arab fundamentalists will "will surely see the awesome power of democracy" and "will probably conclude . . . that God cannot be the sole legislator of the laws and ethics that good Muslims want to live by."

Well, this all sounds enormously positive, and I hope that Gerecht is right, but we'll just have to see how this plays itself out in Iran. Repression might work for a long time. The Soviet Union lasted 70 years, long enough to destroy a great deal and thereby wreak enormous damage upon the peoples whom it ruled, and the great difficult labor of repair will continue for a long time. Even if the current demonstrations overturn the Shi'ite Islamist system in Iran, would the Sunni Islamists truly learn a lesson about the necessity for democracy? Why would the 'orthodox' learn from the deviations of the 'heretical'? We can hope that Gerecht is correct and that history will limp to the right . . . but only time will tell.

Meanwhile, here's a good site for updates on Iran: Radio Free Europe.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

"Leaked Memo" on Iran's Election Revisited

Iran Behind the Mask?
(Image from New York Times)

On June 18th, I expressed open skepticism about a memo supposedly written by the Iranian Minister of Interior, Sadegh Mahsouli, and sent to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, providing the actual results on votes cast in the recent presidential election in Iran. My suspicions were based partly on a pre-election poll conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, who told us in their Washington Post article, "The Iranian People Speak" (Monday, June 15, 2009), that Ahmadinejad was far ahead, and because of that poll, I conceded that the vast majority of Iranians may actually have voted to return this current, hardline president to power.

However, I asked for clarification from experts and received a response from an Iranian, one of my former political science students at Yonsei's Underwood International College, who openly questioned the official election results (though he did not express a decided opinion on the memo's authenticity). Also, a regular reader offered a link that questioned whether or not the opinion poll by Ballen and Doherty offered accurate predictions. Moreover, a recent opinion piece, "A Different Iranian Revolution," published in the New York Times (June 18, 2009) by a certain "Shane M.," a student in Iran who has adopted this very 'Western' pseudonym, argued that even if the opinion poll were accurate when it was taken, the percentages could well have shifted radically by the time of the recent election:

Let's also forget the polls, carried out in May by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, that have been making the rounds this past week, with numbers that showed Mr. Ahmadinejad well ahead in the election, even in Mr. Moussavi's hometown, Tabriz. Maybe last month Mr. Ahmadinejad was indeed on his way to victory. But then came the debates.

Starting on June 1, the country was treated to an experience without precedent in the 30 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran: six back-to-back live and unscripted debates among the four presidential candidates. Iranians everywhere were riveted, and the poll numbers began to move.

By the Wednesday before the election, Mr. Moussavi was backed by about 44 percent of respondents, while Mr. Ahmadinejad was favored by around 38 percent. So let's not cloud the results with numbers that were, like bagels, stale a week later. (And let's ignore the claim that polling by Iranians in Iran is "notoriously untrustworthy." A consortium of pollsters and social scientists working for a diverse range of political and social organizations systematically measured public opinion for months before the election.)

Such a major shift has happened before. A month before the 1997 elections, the establishment candidate, Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, was trouncing his opponents in surveys. Then, a week before the vote, the tide changed, bringing to power a reformer, Mohammad Khatami.

The reason for this fluidity in voter preference is simple. Iran has no real political parties that can command a fixed number of predictable votes. With elections driven primarily by personality politics, Iranians are always swing voters. So Mr. Moussavi, hampered by a lack of access to state-run news media and allowed only two months to campaign, began to make inroads into Mr. Ahmadinejad's lead only during the final days leading into the election, his poll numbers rising with his visits to provincial cities and the debate appearances.
These details -- offered by one who sounds as though he knows what he's writing about -- put the memo in a very different light. It may indeed be fake (as the usually politically astute JK insists), but it might also nevertheless offer analytical results calculated by some Iranian willing to put forward projections at to the 'real' details and deciding to publicize them in a way guaranteed to get attention.

Or the memo may really be authentic.

I await more comments -- on the memo, the election, and the direction that events are taking us -- but I note in passing that if voter preference is so fluid and personality-based as "Shane" maintains, then perhaps nobody, not even the Iranians, can tell us where they are going (though this direction would be welcome).

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

David Lynn Jones: Snapshot from 1988

Washington Post Logo
(Image from Washington Post)

I sent an old Baylor friend the link to my most recent blog entry on David Lynn Jones, and she thought that she recalled having "read an article in the Washington Post a year or two back on David Lynn Jones" that referred to his turn-around.

I was skeptical about that and suspected that she might have confused David Lynn Jones with some other country musician named "Jones," but I took the opportunity to search the Washington Post archives and thus happened across an old article from May 27, 1988 by Mike Joyce, "David Lynn Jones, Riding High," that offers a snapshot of David Lynn at a crucial moment in his career not long after his number one hit for Willie Nelson, "Living in the Promise Land," and at a time when he was trying to reach a larger audience for his own albums.

Apparently, he had recently played at the well-known music club "The Birchmere," which has launched many a music career, and Joyce begins by citing a humorous opening remark by David Lynn:
"You better be nice because we outnumber you," country-rocker David Lynn Jones told the audience at the Birchmere Wednesday night.
Nice line, for the audience was rather smaller than the capacity 500 seats, but David Lynn performed his best anyway:
Actually, the crowd was about five times the size of his eight-piece band, but Jones played flat-out anyway, turning in one of the most impressive shows staged at the club in recent memory.
Joyce goes on to say some things about David Lynn's voice and music:
Raised in Arkansas, Jones has a powerful, grainy voice that occasionally brings Guy Clark to mind, and one of his best known songs, "High Ridin' Heroes," bears a strong resemblance to Clark's "L.A. Freeway."
But that's all that the internet combined with the Washington Post archives offered minus a subscription or purchase. I'm curious what Joyce had to say about David Lynn in the other 60 to 70 remaining words, but perhaps some fan can provide the rest.

Meanwhile, it gives us something to reflect upon . . . maybe about life's opportunities that sometimes don't take us where we expect to find ourselves, but also -- given some more recent developments in David Lynn's life -- something about second chances.

UPDATE: John B has graciously provided the remainder of Mike Joyce's review:
Raised in Arkansas, Jones has a powerful, grainy voice that occasionally brings Guy Clark to mind, and one of his best known songs, "High Ridin' Heroes," bears a strong resemblance to Clark's "L.A. Freeway." But just as Clark's influence seemed obvious one moment, it vanished the next, as Jones and his band tore into some galloping, visceral rock tunes, including a couple of songs from an upcoming album. As rousing as these performances were, though, nearly every tune expressed a personal and often sobering viewpoint.

Local singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Allen opened with a genial and crisply performed set of original material, rounded out by a couple of choice cover tunes.
Thank you John B.! David Lynn Jones fans owe you one. Have a beer on me sometime when you're in the neighborhood.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Absence Present in the Text"

The Abstract Text
1 Belly band and 2 Flap
3 Endpaper and 4 Book cover
5 Top edge and 6 Fore edge
7 Tail edge and 8 Right page, recto
9 Left page, verso and 10 Gutter
(Image from Wikipedia)

I learn something new every day, even when I'm not looking to . . . as in several of those ten things above.

But that's not what I'm blogging about this fine morning. No. Rather, I merely intend to post another exchange that I had with the impressive E. Bruce Brooks, a scholar of Chinese who has made a foray into New Testament studies to test his principle of inconcinnity (and related principles) for finding layers in the growth of texts.

Professor Brooks recently remarked on the Synoptic Listserve (i.e., a scholarly listserve focusing on the textual interconnections among Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that "rejecting a source is one way of using it" -- by which he meant that an author can be aware of a source and yet reject it, and that this can tell us something about the author's views.

I was struck at the point made by Professor Brooks and commented (Synoptic-L Message #2245):
Is there an ambiguity about "source" here? If an account is not drawn upon by a writer, is it a source?

This gets us up to some rarefied heights. For instance, I publish a lot on John Milton (to such depths have I fallen), and I read many articles that I do not use. But what if -- and this has never happened -- I really hated an article by some scholar and refused to 'use' it even though I was implicitly arguing against it. Would that article be a source?

Are there three sorts of sources:
1. sources used (presence in text);
2. sources not used, ignored (absence in text); and
3. sources rejected, but not ignored (absence present in text)?
Number one is what I ordinarily consider sources. Number two is what I ordinarily do not consider sources. But number three? I haven't thought about this before, not very carefully, at least.
Professor Brooks replied (Synoptic-L Message #2248):
I had suggested that other texts which a later writer decides not to incorporate are sources of a sort.

JEFFERY: But what if -- and this has never happened -- I really hated an article by some scholar and refused to 'use' it even though I was implicitly arguing against it. Would that article be a source?

BRUCE: Absolutely. It is something out there which shapes the thing that is in here. If you hate your father, and arrange your whole life to be the opposite of what your father represents, are you being influenced by your father? The psychoanalytic profession, here (for once) with support from myself, would unhesitatingly say so.

JEFFERY: Are there three sorts of sources:
1. sources used (presence in text);
2. sources not used, ignored (absence in text); and
3. sources rejected, but not ignored (absence present in text)?
Number one is what I ordinarily consider sources. Number two is what I ordinarily do not consider sources. But number three? I haven't thought about this before, not very carefully, at least.

BRUCE: I very much like the phrase "absence present in text." And I don't promise not to use it in other contexts.
Professor Brooks goes on to make several more even more profound points, but I don't want to give him too much credit since my point in today's blog entry is to glorify myself.

I trust that I have succeeded . . . even if merely through a bit of reflected glory.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Kevin Kim might appreciate a visit . . .

Kevin's Mom
June 12, 2007
In stonger days . . .
. . . during Kevin's book signings.
(Image from Big Hominid)

Some of my readers will already know of Kevin Kim from his days teaching English in Korea and blogging in his inimitably salty way as The Big Hominid. He took a break from that routine last fall (2008) to return to America and begin a long, hard walk from the West Coast across the States and write about the walk in a blog billed as Kevin's Walk, his intention being to report on the religious lives of the various people whom he met along his way toward the East Coast.

That walk has recently taken him onto a different, untoward path, one harder to tread.

Kevin's mother has fallen ill with GBM (glioblastoma multiforme), an aggressive type of neural cancer . . . and the prognosis is not good at all, as you can determine from the Wikipedia link. Only a couple of months ago, she was apparently as healthy as in the photo above, but very recently, Kevin, his brother Sean, and their father had to work in concert to help her onto her couch, which Kevin describes:
We got Mom onto her couch, settling her into her favorite corner. She slumped there, shoulders sagged, staring at the floor and panting from the experience of being awkwardly carried, obviously thinking hard about something. Finally, after a few quiet moments, it came out:

"It's pretty bad, isn't it?"

I could have broken down then, I admit, but I was buoyed by this evidence that Mom was starting to grasp her own situation. I feigned ignorance:

"What's pretty bad, Mom?"

Mom didn't look up from her contemplation of the floor.

"All of it."

I sat down next to Mom and took her hand.

"Yeah, it's pretty bad." I squeezed her fingers. "But that's what we're here for."
Whether you know Kevin or not, you might think about going to Kevin's Walk and leaving a word or two of encouragement on one or another of his recently posted entries.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Leaked Memo on Iranian Election?

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over at The Marmot's Hole Blog, a commentor going by the handle "Nix" left a very interesting comment (#70) on June 17, 2009 at 5:04 a.m. From an Iranian friend, he obtained a rough, unedited translation of a supposedly "leaked memo" of June 13th that had originally been intended for Ayatollah Ali Khameni and supposedly gave the real results of the recent Iranian election. Here's the original memo, provided online at a site titled "Iran Election was Rigged":

Here's the rough, unedited English translation:
To: The Supreme Leader, Hazrat (similar to sir) Ayatollah Khameni

Salam Alaikon

due to your express of concern to the results of the tenth election and (your) very own discretion to retain Mr. Ahmadinejad as the President at this sesetive times, the plans are set so that the results that will be published would be expedient to the regime and the revolution, and all the necessary measures have taken for the likely events following the election, the head of the parties and candidates are under heavy suvaliance.

so, only for your information, we present you with the real results of the election.
the sum of the ballots: 42,026,078

Mir Hossein Musavi Khamene: 19,075,623

Mehdi Karrubi: 13,387,104

Mahmud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417

Mohsen Rezai Mirqaed: 3,754,218

Invalid (Blank, Unreadable, etc.): 38,716
Minister of Interior
Sadegh Mahsouli
Is this memo authentic? Are these numbers genuine? If so, they put Ahmadinejad a distant third in the vote. But there could be much reason to doubt, for Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty tell us in their Washington Post article, "The Iranian People Speak" (Monday, June 15, 2009), that a poll conducted by them prior to the election supports the official vote tally in Iran:
The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin -- greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election.
Moreover, they strongly insist that their poll produced valid statistics:
While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad's principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran's provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.
What, then, are the correct results? We do know that Ayatollah Ali Khameni -- under pressure from the enormous demonstrations -- has agreed to a recount. But why? Because of his certainty? Or his uncertainty? I would tend toward skepticism on this memo, for I doubt that Ahmadinejad could have done so poorly. The memo shows the two candidates considered reformist far in the lead, which looks suspect to me. But what do I know?

Perhaps one or two of this blog's Iranian readers could offer comments, for I know that some Iranians do occasionally read Gypsy Scholar.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kim Jong-un: Brilliant Comrade's First Brilliant Act?

Kim Jong-nam
'an ample target'
(Image from Yahoo Korea Gallery)

An odd report has appeared in The Korea Times: "Kim Jong-nam Survived Assassination Attempt" (June 15, 2009). According to the report, which the Times got from the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS):
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's first son Kim Jong-nam survived an assassination attempt, according to South Korean news network KBS Monday.

KBS reported that the attempt was spearheaded by aides of the North's heir apparent Kim Jeong-un [Kim Jong-un], the 26-year-old third son of Kim who was recently designated to succeed the North's head.

However, the plot that was tried out without the knowledge of Kim Jong-il failed as China foiled the attempt. KBS said Kim Jong-nam had maintained a close relationship with senior officials of China.

KBS said Kim Jong-nam could [sic: "was able to"] save his life with the help of China and added he might seek asylum in the world's most populous country [i.e., China].
This is an odd report, and I'm inclined to doubt not only its accuracy but even its veracity. It seems unlikely to me that the young son Kim Jong-un, a mere 26 years, would have garnered enough power to attempt the assassination of his eldest brother, Kim Jong-nam. Even if 'Brilliant Comrade' Kim Jong-un has amassed sufficient power already, I can't imagine that his father, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, would be happy to find out about such an attempt (whether successful or not) even if Kim Jong-nam is a big fat embarrassment to the nation -- recall that in 2001, he was detained in Japan for trying to sneak into the country to visit Disneyland. Moreover, does anyone take Kim Jong-nam seriously as a potential leader for North Korea . . . so why even go to the trouble of trying to assassinate him? But even if Kim Jong-nam does have some support -- whether in North Korea or in China, or in both countries -- why risk embarrassing powerful China, North Korea's only 'friend'?

The report thus raises many questions, but I see that The Chosun Ilbo, in "N.Korean Heir Apparent Linked to Assassination Plot" (June 16, 2009), is also reporting this and adds some details:
The plan was foiled when the Chinese government found out about it early last week. "The Chinese government warned North Korea to stop the assassination attempt, and sent intelligence and military officers to Macau and spirited Kim Jong-nam to a safe place," the sources said.
However, The Chosun Ilbo is also citing KBS, so the source is the same as for The Korea Times. I'll wait for some other confirmation before I believe this. But the rumor alone is blogworthy, and if it turns out to be untrue, I'll nevertheless be proud to have done my part in a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining North Korea's odious nomenklatura.

And just to get into the act, let's amuse ourselves by imagining not only that there was an assassination attempt but that it also got just a little bit closer than has been reported, namely, that the aides actually reached Macau and managed to fire off a few shots at Kim Jong-nam, but missed, and that an exasperated young Kim Jong-un is even now confronting his aides in disbelief:
"You missed? You missed Kim Jong-nam? How could you possibly miss hitting Kim Jong-nam?"
Missing an ample target like that would be hard to picture.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

David Lynn Jones: June 13th Performance in West Plains

David Lynn Jones
Illa Jones
Not from the concert.

You see above one of the most recent photographs of David Lynn Jones, which I've borrowed from the website of a certain "Jamie," a lady who lives in Spring Lake, Arkansas . . . which I assume is not far from Cave City, Arkansas, where David Lynn currently lives. I hope that she doesn't mind my borrowing this photo, for it's 'stolen' in a good cause. Kind of like Robin Hood . . .

I suppose that the image itself ain't 'zackly politically correct, what with David Lynn smoking a cancer stick, but it's real, and the man is back. Yes, back . . . or at least on his long-delayed comeback. Here's what was posted about one month ago by a different "Jamie," a fellow in West Plains, Missouri by the name of "Jamie Denton" (cf. My Space link with loud country music):
Hi, my name's Jamie and I'm putting on a benefit concert for the late Mark Sallings, who was a member of David Lynn's band, and David Lynn Jones is scheduled to appear on June 13th (a Saturday night) at the avenue theatre in West Plains MO. Tickets go on sale June the 1st at 10 a.m. at West Plains Music Store, and range from 10.00 to 25.00. We would love to have all of Lynn's fans out to see him.

The concert for Mark Sallings mentioned in the above comment will be June 13th 2009, at the Avenue Theatre in West Plains, MO. I just wanted to confirm this is a 2009 date!
I checked this out with Jerry Bone (link with softer, blues-style music), who knew of the event but couldn't with certainty confirm it, so I asked around but couldn't get any firm information. Nevertheless, the concert did take place, as I have just yesterday learned, and David Lynn Jones did in fact appear, as Jamie Denton has now confirmed:
Hi, this is Jamie Denton once again, and I wanted everyone to know that David Lynn Jones did perform in West Plains on the 13th, and his set was awsome. He did 3 songs -- 2 new ones, and "Living in the Promiseland" -- I hope some of your readers made it to the show. It was a real treat to hear Jones singing again!
I imagine that it was a treat. I don't know that any of my regular readers made the concert, but I am happy to receive any and all reports on the performance. I'm gratified to hear that David Lynn not only sang his number 1 song from the late 80s but also performed two new ones!

I hope that a tape has been made and will be cleared to listen to on You Tube or on David Lynn's My Space site. Meanwhile, here are some links to remind us of why we love David Lynn's voice and songs:
High Ridin' Heros

When Times Were Good and You Were Mine

Bonnie Jean (Little Sister)

Here in My Heart
That last link, David Lynn's My Space site, includes a message from Craig, a fellow musician who seems to have been at the West Plains concert, for he says, in a message dated June 15th, 2009 (3:14 a.m.), "Great set last night. Enjoyed visiting with you." I infer that Craig was referring to the June 13th concert in mentioning "last night" even though he happened to be posting at a point when June 14th had stretched into June 15th. At any rate, that bit by Craig about David Lynn's "Great set" sounds good -- and probably refers to "Living in the Promiseland" along with the two new songs that Jamie mentioned. I expect that we'll soon be hearing more from David Lynn.

In the meantime, here are a couple more reports about the West Plains concert that have posted while I was writing this blog entry. Jamie Denton writes again to tell us:
I'm sure there will be a follow up with some of the local newspapers! And Dennis Crider, former West Plains Quill photographer took pics of all the artists, so I'll keep you informed, when these come available. As for a recording, we weren't able to get that all set up, but who knows -- someone may have snuck in a recorder. They always do! So I'd keep my eyes open for that too just in case!
And an anonymous comment comes from one who attended the concert and seems to know David Lynn quite well:
I attended the concert in West Plains, Mo. Saturday evening and agree with Jamie that David Lynn had a tremendous performance. I told him that it may have been the best that I had heard him sing. He was extremely gratified with the great reception and response he received. The quality of the sound with his acoustic style revealed the vintage David Lynn. I updated him on the great following and support he has received on Gypsy Scholar. You can expect to hear more from David Lynn in the future as he makes a few changes.
More people seem to be reading this blog than I had realized. I'm glad that it has provided a forum for various people who appreciate the music of David Lynn Jones. From my site meter, I've not only seen folks from Canada and Australia logging on to one or another of my blog entries on Jones, I've even seen someone from Russia searching for a Jones CD and ending up here . . . though not leaving a message.

I'd therefore suggest that David Lynn Jones still has a sizeable fan base waiting for him to return.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Vicarious Dining . . .

Shy Chef 'Maria'
(Image from Shy Chef)

I've not visited Berlin for about 15 years, I think, for I last went (perhaps) in the early 90s. Prior to that, I had visited the city shortly after the wall had come down, when the two Germanies were still separate. I liked noisy Berlin, but I preferred the quiet little town of Tuebingen and probably wouldn't have met my lovely Sun-Ae if I'd gone to live in what became the new capital of unified Germany because I would likely have missed that fateful train.

But if I could visit the city now, I would seek out the Shy Chef 'Restaurant', which I've just now read about in the International Herald Tribune offline but found online at the New York Times website in an article, "Berlin's Hidden Restaurants" (June 14, 2009), by Gisela Williams:

Situated on a quiet residential street in Berlin's bohemian neighborhood of Kreuzberg, the restaurant was actually in someone's living room, decorated with fresh flowers and colorful artwork.

The eight guests -- including a couple from Finland, two young women from Ireland and two radio journalists from Berlin -- had never met before. Nor had they met the host, Maria, who calls herself the Shy Chef. (Like other underground restaurateurs who operate without a license, she did not give her full name for fear of being shut down.)

Maria has been inviting strangers into her home for dinner since March, as a kind of guerrilla-style restaurant. Patrons that night enjoyed a six-course meal that included a vodka-marinated salmon, a fine selection of wines and the warm company of fellow guests.

It felt like a dinner party given by an eclectic and extroverted new friend, except that those present scored invitations online (at The Shy Chef) and chipped in 50 euros each ($72.50 at $1.45 to the euro).
Well, I can't go to shy Maria's restaurant, but I can make a vicarious visit by means of her blog's "Welcome":

If you've just found us via the New York Times, welcome -- pleasure to have you here! We're a small secret supper club in the heart of Berlin, serving up a five-course meal for absolute strangers every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There's a little more information about us here, and you can read what other guests have to say about us here. And if you’d like to make a reservation, just go here!
Absolute strangers? I can't even take my wife? That is Bohemian! And a temptation. I learned a bit about tempation yesterday in the SIBC's Sunday morning sermon: "Tackling Temptation" (June 13, 2009), which I here summarize in Byronic fashion:
Albeit all human history attests
That happiness for man -- the hungry sinner --
Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.
Lord Byron was right about dinner, as Margaret Visser has also shown. Ever since the Garden of Eden (whether taken as literal or metaphor), temptation has promised to satisfy the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the lust for this life's worldly abundance. That 'Big Apple', Berlin, appeals to all three of these, including by way of the Shy Chef 'Restaurant'. If only I could take my wife . . . rather like Adam, in a palindromic role reversal, inviting Eve: "Madam, I'm Adam." The world might turn out better then, since munch depends on diner.

But since I can't go, perhaps you can, my anonymous friend? The food must be good . . . to please the eye, satisfy hunger, and bring wish fulfillment.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dostoyevsky's Kantian 'Proof' of God

Immanuel Kant
'the immortal Kant'
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some readers may recall that I recently re-read Mikhail Bulgakov's magnum opus, The Master and Margarita. If so, those readers will surely recall the passage that I cited on Kant. Berlioz and Bezdomny had been speaking of Christ just before the novel's opening scene, when they were suddenly joined by the devil, i.e., Woland, who was extraordinarily interested in their atheism:
"But, may I ask," resumed the guest from abroad after a moment's troubled reflection, "what do you make of the proofs of God's existence, of which, as you know, there are five?"

"Alas!" answered Berlioz regretfully, "all of those proofs are worthless, and mankind has long since consigned them to oblivion. Surely you would agree that reason dictates that there can be no proof of God's existence."

"Bravo!" exclaimed the foreigner, "Bravo! You've said just what that restless old sage Immanuel said about this very same subject. But here's the rub: he completely demolished all five proofs, and then, in a seeming display of self-mockery, he constructed a sixth proof all his own!"

"Kant's proof," retorted the educated editor with a faint smile, "is also unconvincing. No wonder Schiller said that only slaves could be satisfied with Kant's arguments on this subject, while Strauss simply laughed at his proof." (Bulgakov, Master and Margarita, translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor, pages 7-8)
Kant's proof, proposed in his Critique of Practical Reason, held that even though one cannot demonstrate the existence of God as an idea of pure reason, the idea of God is inextricably bound up with the link between happiness and morality, for only God can guarantee immortality as reward for moral virtue. Therefore, absolute morality, the gift of immortality, and the existence of God are all essential postulates of practical reason even though they cannot be grounded in pure reason. Or something like that.

Bulgakov may have been reflecting not only upon a passage in Kant but also upon a scene in The Brothers Karamazov, for in an early passage in the novel, Dostoyevsky -- or, at least, his omniscient albeit mortal narrator -- has Pyotr Alexandrovitch Miüsov recount something that Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov had said a few days earlier:
"I will tell you instead, gentlemen, another interesting and rather characteristic anecdote of Ivan Fyodorovitch himself. Only five days ago, in a gathering here, principally of ladies, he solemnly declared in argument that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbours. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality. Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That's not all. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognised as the inevitable, the most rational, even honourable outcome of his position. From this paradox, gentlemen, you can judge of the rest of our eccentric and paradoxical friend Ivan Fyodorovitch's theories." (Dostoyevsky, The Brother's Karamazov (New York: Random House, 1950), translated by Constance Garnett, page 78)
Obviously, Ivan -- and therefore Dostoyevsky -- had in mind Kant's sixth proof of God's existence, the moral argument in which God is a postulate of practical reason necessary for guaranteeing the ground of morality, namely immortality. Thus does Ivan hold that "whole natural law [of love for others] lies in . . . the belief in immortality," without which, "nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful."

Dostoyevsky may also have been alluding to the legendary founder of the mysterious but ruthless Assassians, Hasan-i-Sabah, a rather unorthodox Muslim who reputedly stated, "Nothing is true, everything is permitted," perhaps based on an extreme interpretation of Surah 3:54 (cf. 8:30) in the Qur'an, which according to some translations states that "Allah is the best of deceivers" ("Allahu khayru al-makireena," the lexical form of makireena, i.e., makara, having as one of its meanings "to practice deceit" [cf. Miim-Kaf-Ra; also Edward William Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon (pdf)]).

But God knows best . . . even if He isn't telling.

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