Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Terrance Lindall's Latest Report from New York and Other Hurricane Reports . . .

Terrance Lindall

The avant-garde postmodern surrealist artist Terrance Lindall, who's illustrating my story, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, arguably a novella at over 20,000 words, has a new video on YouTube, where he notes:
A writer tries to tell the horrifying tale of how he sold his soul to the Devil for a bottle of beer that never runs dry, as he awaits with growing terror his fate!
In his email informing me of the video, he added:
We are in the midst of a major hurricane. I wanted to start on the next version of BBB but was stranded . . .
This was posted just minutes before the Frankenstorm "Sandy" sent an estimated 15-foot wall of water into New York, so I hope he's surviving . . .

Water Floods NYC Subway

There's some of that water rushing into a New York Subway about three hours after Terrance went offline. Rather different from the peaceful scene supplied by Carter Kaplan from a place further west, away from the storm, the photo of a little girl dressed up in Halloween trick-or-treatery and holding a book with the short story version of "Bottomless Bottle" that will soon appear for sale, or so says Kaplan.

Take it from a Little Witch...

That appears to be the actual anthology, so publication can't be far behind -- some time in November, I reckon. But I'm also looking ahead to the novella version, which will reach upwards of 100 pages when combined with Lindall's illustrations, and I'm inferring that he has a date around March in mind, given the fascinating 'trailer' he's posted at YouTube, which announces March 2013, though that might be Lindall's tricksterist joke, but click on that link and see what you think of Lindall's antics as he mimes reading my story for artistic inspiration. First, however, he has to pull through the storm, which has left scenes like this:

Flooded Subway

Obviously from several hours after that other photo of water gushing into the NYC subway system. Outside was even worse:

Flooded NYC Streets

Power is out in much of the City, as this photo by Alana Newhouse reveals:


I know readers can find photos on their own, so I won't post more, but just say that I know New Yorkers will make it, so the City will, too.

Meanwhile, keep Terrance Lindall in your thoughts, also my friend Malcolm Pollack, and any New Yorkers you might know.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Advice for Squabbling Couples . . .

Professor Keith Sanford
Looking a bit conflicted himself . . .
Baylor University

In my ongoing though nonexistent series on maintaining a good marriage, I cite today a professor from my old, beloved alma mater, Baylor University, whose research results first came to my notice in this autumn's 2012 issue of Baylor Magazine, presented in its Research Briefs under the heading "Anger in disputes . . .":
"[I]f your partner is angry, you are likely to miss the fact that your partner might also be feeling sad," said Keith Sanford, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences. His study -- "The Communication of Emotion During Conflict in Married Couples" -- is published online in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology.

Sanford found that while a partner will easily and immediately recognize expressions of anger, the spouse often will fail to notice the sadness.

"A take-home message is that there may be times where it is beneficial to express feelings of sadness during conflict, but sad feelings are most likely to be noticed if you are not simultaneously expressing anger," Sanford said. (page 21)
Good advice! Every couple has disagreements from time to time -- cross-cultural couples perhaps more often due to cultural misunderstandings -- but these are commonly expressed in agitation, even anger, when expressions of regret and sadness would communicate better what the problem is.

Keep that point in mind, whether in a bicultural marriage or not, and the next time you're yelling at your partner, be sure to scream out:
I'm so sad at you!
The message will be better understood that way. If you find expressing your more sensitive, vulnerable feelings in this manner to be rather difficult, you can always try first practicing in front of a mirror.

You see, reading this Gypsy Scholar's blog is worthwhile after all . . .

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Monday, October 29, 2012

The 'Evil' of Material Inequality . . .

I owe my friend Bill Vallicella a hat tip for this entry, for he blogged on it first, and I'm borrowing the Dennis Prager quotes from him. According to Prager, Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph (Broadside Books, 2012), there's a reason that the Left has so often entangled itself with totalitarian (and would-be totalitarian) regimes over the past hundred years or so:
The Left's great fight is with material inequality, not with evil as normally understood. Thus, the Left has always been less interested in fighting tyranny than in fighting inequality. That is why Leftist dictators -- from Lenin to Mao to Pol Pot to Ho Chi Minh to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez -- have had so much support from Leftists around the world . . . . (page 29)

This explains the Left's relative disinterest in creating wealth. The enormous and unsustainable debts facing the individual American states and the United States as a country from 2009 on have disturbed the American Right far more than the American Left . . . . The reason is that the Left is not nearly as interested in creating wealth as it is in erasing inequality. (page 29)
I wouldn't say that this understanding of evil as primarily material inequality characterizes all those on the Left, nor all liberals, but it captures well the Left's tendency toward judging the world this way and is thus a useful rule of thumb by which to evaluate Leftist statements. It definitely takes the measure of many Leftist arguments that I read here in South Korea when the 'Progressives' are defending North Korea. Indeed, they at times seem to worry more about inequality emerging from the small markets now permitted in the North than about the people's need for such markets in order to survive. Only yesterday, I proofread an article written by a scholar on the left who actually voiced this concern about rising material inequality if the North truly initiates reforms.

Anyway, as for the rest of Prager's book, I haven't read it and therefore have no opinion to offer . . .

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

The 'New' Obama . . .

President Obama
Michael Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
The Star

Jonathan Schell's article "Barack Obama has been brutalized by the presidency" (The Star, October 24, 2012) is the most insightful analysis of Obama's character that I've read in a long time. In response to some who claimed that the 'old' Obama was back after he had recovered the energy lacking in his lethargic first performance debating Romney, Schell demurs:
The Obama on display in the second debate -- and the third -- was harder, chillier, sadder, and more sombre. There was tension in the lines of his mouth. His speech was clipped, as if under continuous rigorous control. His rhetoric did not soar, could not soar. The smile was rare and constrained.

But his command of detail and argument was rock solid. His sentences parsed. He spoke with a cold, disciplined energy. In repose (as witnessed on the split screen in the reaction shots) he was often perfectly immobile, almost stony, as if posing for a portrait.

One word for all of this would be "presidential," in the sense of competent, seasoned, and sobered by reality. But that word also connotes the fearsome qualities of ruthlessness and brutality that any honest portrayal of the office of president of the United States must include in our day. Obama has inhabited the White House for four years; now the White House inhabits him.
The Obama schooled in reconciliation -- schooled in that through his own search for identity as one born and raised between races and between cultures -- has "gone forever," re-schooled and re-skilled in . . .
. . . violence and suppression of rights: drone strikes that have killed children as well as terrorists, the futile "surge" in Afghanistan, the continued operation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, reliance on military tribunals, an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers, and the assertion of a right to order the assassination of foreigners and Americans alike at his sole discretion.
Schell doesn't voice this word, but it's a postmodern tragedy: Obama, the man who would reconcile, confronted by "the long war" with an implacable foe and constrained to make pragmatic decisions that go against the grain of an identity he himself constructed, decisions that have shaved away so much of that old identity that only the hardest core remains.

No wonder he hates being the President. Who would ever want to be king?


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Muslims Ridiculing Christianity?

Virgin Mary by the Host
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Some readers may recall this protest by an Egyptian Muslim angered by the film critical of Muhammad titled The Innocence of Muslims:
"We never insult any prophet -- not Moses, not Jesus -- so why can't we demand that Muhammad be respected?" (David D. Kirkpatrick, "Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Angry at Online Video," New York Times, September 16, 2012)
What this really means is that Muslims never ridicule their own Muslim conceptions of Moses and Jesus, but they certainly ridicule Christianity and Christian images of Jesus, as revealed in the words of this Egyptian Cleric, 'Alaa Said, who ridicules Christianity:
Let me ask the reasonable among the Christians: Why do you approach poor people and little children with a cross in one hand and bread in the other? Kids just want a chocolate bar or biscuits . . . The boy wants money . . . [They give him] 200 Egyptian pounds every day . . . [They give money] to girls who have sex, and then the girls say: 'We have become Christians.' The [missionaries] say: 'The whole world is open to us. Where would you like to go? You want to go to Germany, America, or anywhere in Europe? We will take you. Do you want to be pampered? We will pamper you.'

This is your religion, and yet you dare talk about Islam?! You dare say that Islam coerces and harms people?! ("Egyptian Cleric 'Alaa Said Ridicules Christianity And Vows To Instate Islamic Law In Egypt," MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5026, October 25, 2012)
This accusation is almost pure fantasy. Possibly, it has some basis in the sex scandals of the Catholic Church, but it certainly does not reflect Christian teaching, nor most Christian practice. But not satisfied with this slur on missionaries, Said turns to the eucharist and Christology:
Let me ask you something. It's not a riddle. The bread in the Last Supper was not actual bread. It was flesh, and the wine was blood. Do you understand any of this? . . . You explain this me. The bread in the Last Supper is not real bread. The bread is flesh, the wine is blood, and three is one. Three is one, get it? . . . They say that Jesus is the only son of Allah. He was born, but not conceived. I'd like their leader -- what's his name? -- to explain this to us. What does 'born but not conceived' mean? Do tell us. No Christian is allowed to ask what this means. ("Egyptian Cleric . . .")
Said is an ignorant man. Contrary to his claim, Christians are certainly allowed to ask what the eucharist and the incarnation mean. Moreover, anyone, even Said, is allowed to ridicule these doctrines without fear of death (but just hint at criticism of Muhammad, and see what happens). Indeed, I researched and wrote an entire doctoral thesis investigating the meaning of food in The Gospel of John!

Said, however, isn't interested in pursuing knowledge, but solely in grinding his ax . . . as he gets ready to use it.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

A Career to Dream Of . . .

I recall this one-time Baylor professor for reasons obvious to those familiar with my personal story. My mother's maiden name was "Perryman," and the Perrymans tended to be smart people. My mother, in fact, scored at "gifted" level on some IQ test or other back in the 1960s . . . for whatever that's worth. Ray Perryman seems to have scored as an upper outlier on such tests as well:
When he left rural Lindale, Texas, after graduating high school, Ray Perryman was a National Merit Scholar, the first in his family to attend college and the first male to finish high school. By the time his first exam as a Baylor freshman was graded, Perryman had a job offer to become a college professor. Longtime economics department chair Jim Truitt gave Perryman his first test.

"A day or so later Dr. Truitt asked me to come to his office, and I didn't think that was good. I thought he was telling me I needed to go back to East Texas and work in the oil field pipe factory," recalls Perryman. "But he said, 'It'll probably take you four years to graduate, four years to get your Ph.D. At that time, I think I can pay about X number of dollars. What do you think?' Basically he offered me a job after my first economics test. That led me to think I might want to consider a career in economics and math." (Lane Murphy, "Ray Perryman," Baylor Magazine, Fall 2012, page 50)
That sort of thing doesn't happen very often, and I didn't know the story at the time that I was at Baylor, but I remember seeing the Perryman name in the school newspaper about the time that I was getting ready to graduate, around 1978 or 1979 (when he had started teaching at Baylor), and wondering if there was a connection to my mother's family -- and I even considered going to the man's office and introducing myself -- but the chances were slim, I figured, and I let the time slip by . . .

Now, I see that he's even been a nominee for the Nobel Prize in Economics -- what a career!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Plagiarism, Revisited . . .

I've not complained about plagiarism in a while, but I recently encountered a case of egregious plagiarism in a graduate student's paper that I was asked to proofread, and here is the worst paragraph that I noticed before stopping in annoyance:
However, with China playing the host, the first Six-Party Talks were launched in August 2003. The second and third Six-Party Talks were held in March and June 2004, respectively, giving momentum to the multilateral process. During the fourth Six-Party Talks, which were held from July to September 2005, the historic September 19 Joint Declaration was announced. In the Declaration, the six-parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Here, the purpose of the Six-Party Talks was proclaimed. Also, North Korea and the U.S. undertook to respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral principles. Both states pledged to improve bilateral relations. The six parties also undertook to promote economic cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and investment, bilaterally and/or multilaterally. The talks have merged security factors and economic factors into a political deal. As a security regime in Northeast Asia, the six-parties agreed to explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in the region. Above all, the Declaration proclaimed that the directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
It sounds good, but a bit too good, and it has some resonant echoes that roused my suspicions, so I Googled and found the quotes, which I've red-fonted:
However, with China playing the host, the first six-party talks were launched in August 2003. The second and third six-party talks were held in March and June 2004, respectively, giving momentum to the multilateral process. During the fourth six-party talks, which were held from July to September 2005, the historic September 19 Joint Declaration was announced. In the Declaration, "the six-parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the six-party talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Here, the purpose of the six-party talks was proclaimed. Also, North Korea and the U.S. "undertook to respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral" principles. Both states pledged to improve bilateral relations. "The six parties also undertook to promote economic cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and investment, bilaterally and/or multilaterally." The talks have merged security factors and economic factors into a political deal. As a security regime in Northeast Asia, the six-parties agreed to "explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation" in the region. Above all, the Declaration proclaimed that "the directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."
I wrote, "Here, you are quoting without quotes and without even citations, rather egregious instances of plagiarism." I didn't accuse the student -- NOT an Ewha student, incidentally -- of intentional plagiarism, but I did make very clear the consequences of getting caught, namely, the ruination of one's scholarly reputation. Unfortunately, that seems to be less often true these days.

As for the sources of these borrowed quotes, I leave those as Googling homework for interested readers.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Don't Blame the Taliban -- Islam Really is the Problem!

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Or so insists Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, the Pakistani journalist whom I wrote about several days ago, for he has posted another bold critique of Islamic ideology, "Don't blame the Taliban II," this one appearing in The Telegraph (October 19, 2012), where the original can also be read. But here's some of what he writes in the follow-up:
Which ideology can possibly justify killing a 14-year-old school going kid? . . . The Taliban claim that their ideology does . . . . The Taliban have defended the attack on Malala Yousafzai according to their scriptures and history . . . . Like for instance the case of Asma bint Marwan, a poetess whose murder was sanctioned in 2 AH[, i.e., two years following Muhammad's move from Mecca to Medina,] after she conspired against Islam and the Holy Prophet, as narrated by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa'd. And then there are Ibn Khatal's two slave girls Fartana and Qaribah, who used to sing songs against the Holy Prophet and were among the ten shortlisted to be executed at the Conquest of Makkah[, i.e., Mecca,] in 8 AH -- one of them was killed, the second managed to escape (Ibn Sa'd, Tabaqat - Vol 2). Women were ordered to be killed for conspiring against the religion by their ideological predecessors, and so is it entirely the Taliban's fault for taking cue and attempting to kill a girl who criticised their fundamentals; the fundamentals emanating from their 'authentic' religious scriptures? . . . [Moreover, a]ccording to Islamic teachings you're an adult and responsible for your actions when you reach puberty -- if a 9-year-old is considered old enough to get married [i.e., Aisha to Muhammad], a 14-year-old should be old enough for being condemned for 'conspiracy'. A plethora of Malalas under the pretext of threat to the religion bit the dust when the religion was expanding and therefore, if you're defending Islam as the ultimate truth you can't blame the Taliban for adopting violence as a means to assault the sceptics, unless you denounce the violence in 7th century as well and question the ideology.
There's much more that follows, wherein Shahid dismantles three critiques of the Taliban by moderate Muslims. His point seems to be that if you oppose the Taliban, you have to oppose Islam itself, for everything that the Taliban does can be condoned on the basis of Islam's fundamental sources. He closes his own critique by calling for voices to be raised against silence in the face of such barbarism:
Condemning violence but remaining shushed about its roots is not only hypocritical but pointless if you actually want to uproot the cause . . . . [L]ives are being taken every single day in our neck of the woods in the name of the 'religion of peace'. Considering the response to last week's piece there are many who are categorically against this ignorance -- how long do all of you plan on remaining silent about it?
I'm guessing that the man was shamed out of his own previous silence by the bravery of Malala Yousafzai -- even though he himself now must face the same threat of being shot . . .

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

More Vanity Googling . . .

Volume 5 Shown

I did some vanity Googling again and discovered my name . . . or sort of my name . . . acknowledged in Volume 2 in the series of which Volume 5 is depicted above: "Jeffrey H. Hodges":
Thanks also to Jeffrey H. Hodges at the University of Tübingen, for providing an additional collation of the text of the synopsis against the facsimile edition and the photographs of BG 8502, and for his many suggestions for improvements in the translation.
This was written by Michael Waldstein, with whom I worked for several months on the Gnostic text The Apocryphon of John, deciphering facsimiles of the Coptic original, a task exceedingly obscure! Michael had asked my assistance because I had not only mastered Coptic, I had constructed my own synopsis of the four copies of The Apocryphon of John, employing a scissors-and-paste method, the "collation" that he refers to, if I recall.

Despite getting my name wrong -- an error shared with so many other illustrious individuals -- Michael was quite helpful and supportive in our time at Tübingen, once leaning over in a seminar to whisper, "It's an interesting point," when I drew a link between a Gnostic text and a New Testament passage that our German colleagues tended to dismiss. Michael was Austrian. I don't know that his nationality made a difference, but I appreciated his support . . . though I no longer recall the point that I was making.

Maybe that poor recall accounts for the radically different direction that my career has taken . . . not quite good enough for religious studies.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

The De-Radicalization of Maajid Nawaz

Hey, that man on the far left looks like
my old friend Ben Sommer!

In "Maajid Nawaz: The Repentant Radical" (Newsweek, Oct 15, 2012), an article on former Islamist jihadi Maajid Nawaz, Christopher Dickey believes that he's located the Achilles heel of Islamism:
Nawaz's long path through the shadows of Islamic radicalism suggests that many others may yet be persuaded to abandon their belief in violent jihad. It is not a matter of faith. At the heart of the process is reason. Many of the brightest and most dangerous jihadis are perfectly rational. De-radicalization begins by understanding the logic they think is unassailable, then breaking it down until they have to start rethinking what they are fighting for and why. But that's hard to do when there is so much righteous intolerance to be had on every side of the debate.
Aside from the final sentence, which I find debatable -- given that much of what gets called "Islamophobia" is nothing other than a critical evaluation of Islam(ism) -- Dickey's suggestion is rather intriguing, but perhaps only for application to the Westernized jihadi, who will already have a commitment to rationality that an anti-jihadi can appeal to, and even then, the rethinking might come only if spurred by fellow Muslims who happen to be more moderate, which is the role the Nawaz's think tank, Quilliam, purports to play.

And even if that works, what is yet to be done with all those madrassa-indoctrinated fanatics who have no prior commitment to reason?

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy 17th Anniversary, Sun-Ae!

Sun-Ae on Cheonmasan
South Korea, 2012

I don't know precisely why Sun-Ae agreed to marry me, but she did, and I've been happy our seventeen years of marriage, plus the three years prior to that, making 20 years of happiness for me . . . and I hope for her, as well.

From a man hopeless in love to a man hopelessly in love . . . within the space of a few minutes on a train.

Thank-you, Sun-Ae, for making me so happy, still now, so many years later . . .

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

I intervene in an altercation . . .

Seoul Subway Station Hoegi

At about 5:30 on the subway home yesterday evening from teaching my final Friday class at Ewha, after I had changed trains at Wangsimni Station and had just passed Hoegi Station toward Jungnang Station on the Jungang Line, I heard a ruckus to my left . . . an ajeossi voice raised in command. But when I looked, I saw not a middle-aged man, but a harabeoji, a grandfather type who had been drinking, probably soju. The old fellow was trying to get a young African man to move to one side because he felt that the man was blocking people's passage from one set of exit doors to the other.

The African man was annoyed but trying hard to ignore the old man -- and in fact was listening to music on his earphones, so the old man removed them, poked the African man in his belly, and despite being much shorter tried to physically move the black man to one side, at which time, the latter pushed back, angering the old Korean man, who instantly expressed his upset emotions by further raising his voice.

I recognized the old man as an alcoholic who had two or three times accosted me, mumbling each time in Korean to ask me something that I couldn't comprehend, but I had always been polite, and he had each time relented, so I realized that I knew him well enough to intervene and therefore stepped between the two, taking the old Korean man gently by the shoulders and lightly restraining him while saying, "It's okay, it's okay . . ."

Remembering me, he settled down and complained less loudly, took my hand to shake it, and allowed himself to be mollified. A middle-aged Korean woman, an ajumma, then joined me, as did another Korean man, middle aged and therefore a real ajeossi, and among us, we calmed the old fellow down, though he pushed back a bit at them in his drunken state (but never pushed me).

When he was again stabilized and his attention directed elsewhere, I turned to the African, made the motion of downing a bottle, and received a nod in return, acknowledgement that he knew the man was drunk. I added, "He's spoken to me several times while drunk." The African man smiled and politely asked, "Has he?" I smiled in reply and nodded . . .

Mangu Station came a couple of stops later, whereupon, not seeing the Korean woman, I thanked only the other Korean man for his assistance and exited the train.

Not quite so exciting as that other altercation . . .

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Why The Youthful Turn From Religion?

God and Politics
Illustration by Gluekit
Joshua Ets-Hokin / Getty Images
Russell Tate / Getty Images

This week's Newsweek presents an article by David Sessions on "The GOP's Secularism Problem" (Oct 15, 2012):
The latest sign came in a Pew study released last week that found that one in five American adults now claims no religion, and that 34 percent of those younger than 30 consider themselves irreligious.
What's the Republican Party got to do with this?
The GOP's own base may be partly to blame. The data echoes a landmark 2010 study, American Grace, by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, which linked the new chilliness toward organized religion to the rise of the religious right. Other recent studies bear out their hypothesis: in March, Pew found that a majority of the electorate, including nearly half of Republicans, is uncomfortable with the amount of religious talk in political campaigns.
Not all Republicans like religion in politics, then, and the shift is linked to the battle over homosexuality in the culture war:
The shift away from religion is especially pronounced among those younger than 30, who began abandoning churches in greater numbers at exactly the moment conservative Christians made gay marriage their signature issue.
As I implied in a couple of previous blog entries, whereas the older generation of evangelicals sees homosexuality as a moral issue, the younger generation sees it as a human rights issue. Even Christianity Today has begun to recognize the crisis, for in "The Love We Dare Not Ignore," a book review of Justin Lee's Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (Jericho Books, 2012), Wesley Hill insists:
It's a profound mistake to neglect our gay brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
Justin Lee is a gay evangelical, and as one might well have guessed, Wesley Hill himself has come out:
Full disclosure: I am a celibate gay Christian. Like Lee, I grew up Southern Baptist. Like him, I discovered during puberty that I was exclusively attracted to others of my own sex.
These two gay evangelical Christians differ over the issue of celibacy, but both argue that Christians need to change their attitude toward homosexuals, and note well, these two are those of the younger generation who don't turn to secularism!

The issue isn't just about homosexuality, of course, but the larger tendency on the political right to mix religion with politics in an attempt to force people to be "moral," As the Newsweek article notes concerning the increasing secularization of America, "Some evangelicals are openly worried about the trend," and it cites "the late Chuck Colson, a religious-right leader, [who] said [shortly] before his death":
"We made a big mistake in the '80s by politicizing the gospel . . . . Now people are realizing it was kind of a mistake."
I vividly recall the so-called "Moral Majority" of the early 1980s, some of whose more unrealistic members wanted the federal government to pass laws against adultery and use police to enforce such laws! Neither they nor the evangelical right got all that they wanted, but they did succeed in re-branding Evangelicalism, which had previously emphasized persuasion, into a force that promised coercion.

Iranian theocrats found that the mixing of coercive religion and politics turned people against Islam, and something similar may be happening with Christianity in the US for mixing religion and politics.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stephen Louis A. Dillard's Good Literary Judgment

Good Literary Judgment

Milton scholar Jeffrey Shoulson, over at the Milton List, posted a message titled "A Judge with a Miltonic sense of humor" to share something one wouldn't ordinarily expect to find amusing, namely, a passage via link to the legal blog Above the Law, in which David Lat, in a post titled "A Fun Little Footnote" (October 11, 2012), has excerpted the following from Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard's remarks in Manhertz v. State, a decision handed down on October 9, 2012 by the Georgia Court of Appeals concerning identity theft enabled by a certain Nicole Joyner, a hapless lawbreaker:
Joyner explained that she met a [female] dancer at a strip club, who went by the stage name Paradise. After a brief conversation, Paradise asked Joyner how she was employed, and Joyner informed her that she worked as an assistant manager at an apartment complex. Paradise responded by informing Joyner that she had a friend named Kane, who would pay $1,000 for tenants' names, social-security numbers, driver's-license numbers, and copies of signed checks. Joyner agreed to do so and later provided Paradise with the requested information. However, Joyner asserted that she was never paid any money. And although Joyner claimed that she went back to the strip club on one or two occasions in an attempt to collect the promised payment, she was unable to find Paradise -- no doubt finding little comfort in the axiom that "solitude sometimes is best society."
As Mr. Lat points out, Judge Dillard has exhibited "a sense of humor and literary flair," for the quote comes from words spoken by Adam shortly before Eve goes off by herself to work alone in the Garden of Eden, but encounters the serpent:
John Milton, Paradise Lost 234, bk. IX, ll. 249 (G. Routledge and sons ed. 1905) (1674).
In response to the humor, Carol Barton posted:
Sounds to me as though Paradise got lost, Jeffrey [Shoulson] . . . thanks for the grin!
Appreciating Carol's pun, I added:
But Paradise gained . . .
To which Carol rejoined:
Yes -- right before she got lost!
The puns, just to make them obvious, are on Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Milton really ought to have written a trilogy -- Paradise Gained, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained -- the better to reflect my pun, but I suppose he wasn't prophet enough to foresee this future wordplay. Anyway, Carol and I had our pun-fun, though our humor doesn't really measure up to Judge Dillard's humorous use of the Milton quote, but neither of us can pass up an opportunity to pun . . . or, at least, I cannot.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Don't Blame the Taliban -- Islam is the Problem?

Malala Yousafzai

As most of my readers are probably aware, Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who harshly criticized the Taliban for closing girls' schools, was recently shot in the head by gunmen sent from that Islamist organization and left critically wounded, an atrocity raising near universal criticism, even in Pakistan. One fascinating article, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, was rather provocatively titled "Don't blame the Taliban" (Pakistan Today, October 12, 2012), and it says some correspondingly provocative things -- indeed, more than correspondingly provocative, as I shall make clear by bracketed specifications referring to Shahid's intended designation of Islam itself:
The Malala incident is déjà vu times million. You have religious 'extremists' manifesting brutality; the 'educated' class calls the act heinous, the 'intellectuals' label the offenders as beasts, the 'liberals' protest against the 'cowardly act' and while everyone is condemning the act, they remain shushed about the root cause of it all: the ideology.
Does Shahid mean Islamist ideology? No, he doesn't:
Throughout the past every single person who has denounced the Taliban has acted as an apologetic, justifying the religious ideology [of Islam itself!] and claiming how those 'uneducated morons' have 'unfortunately' misinterpreted the teachings of peace and tranquility -- no, they haven't, 'unfortunately' . . . . The poor chaps are only doing what their scriptures [of Islam itself!] -- the ones that the pseudo intellectuals extol, or don't have the cojones to criticize -- tell them to do.
Shahid offers several examples of what he says the Qur'an teaches Muslims and throws them in the face of Muslim liberals who venerate the Qur'an but condemn the very practices and acts that it condones and even exhorts:
When you are being taught, through the scriptures [of Islam itself!] that are universally recognized by the followers as 'authentic', that all the non-believers or threats to the grandeur of your ideology [of Islam itself!] should be killed, you will kill them, where is the misinterpretation here? [Or here:] Finding [ownership of] slaves or slave girls, repulsive; physically assaulting women, disgusting; cutting off hands for theft, inhuman; stoning people to death, beastly and then venerating the ideology [of Islam itself!] that permits this at the same time is hypocrisy of the very highest order. You sit there, criticize and mock the Taliban that follow your religion [of Islam itself!] in its true form while you live in oblivion with your extremely palatable, but simultaneously blatantly fallacious, brand of religion and then claim that the Taliban are misinterpreting and misapprehending your ideology [of Islam itself!]? Oh, the irony.
Shahid points to Islam's history -- in which even Muslim liberals take pride -- as filled with the same sort of atrocity as befell Malala Yousafzai:
The Taliban have defended the attack on Malala Yousafzai through scriptures and historic precedents. You can clamor all you want about how there is a lack of understanding [of Islam itself!] on the part of the Taliban, but how on earth can you refute clear messages of violence and historical evidence -- scribed by historians of your faith [of Islam itself!] -- depicting brutality on the part of some of the most illustrious people in the history of the religion [of Islam itself!]? It is easy to launch vitriol against the Taliban for attacking a 14-year-old girl, but it is also equally hypocritical and pathetic when you eulogize people from your history who did the same in the past, who massacred masses, destroyed lands, pulverized places of worship, raped women, just because they ostensibly did it in the name of your religion [of Islam itself!]. Don't blame the Taliban for following their lead, don't blame the Taliban for using violence as a means to cement religious superiority [of Islam itself!] -- something that has been done for centuries -- don't blame the Taliban for the fact that you don't have the guts to call a spade a spade even though it has been spanking your backside for centuries now.
Shahid calls for liberal Muslims to make a choice:
It's time our 'thinkers' stopped taking the easy way out and finally picked a side. You either follow a religion [of Islam itself!] in its true form or you're irreligious. The Taliban know which side they are on. Do you?
Rather bold. Kunwar Khuldune Shahid speaks like an irreligious 'Muslim' sounding a call to arms against the religion not of Islamism, but of Islam itself! I wonder how long before the Taliban go after him for . . . for . . . for saying that they're being faithful Muslims?

Not that I agree with him, of course . . .

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

And Citing My Doctoral Thesis on John's Gospel . . .

I thought that I'd long been forgotten by the world of religious studies, but as I was doing some vanity Googling, I stumbled upon this recent book, published only last year by Dr. Esther Kobel, that cites my doctoral thesis, Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts, rather extensively in fact, often with approval, though parting ways where I go too far . . . in Kobel's opinion. There's no need to take my blog readers through each citation, but the summary provided might be of interest . . . even if the Kobel does get my name rather radically wrong, e.g., "Jefferey H. Hodges," "Jeffery Horace Hodges," and so forth:
The challenge of considering all Johannine passages containing meal scenes and food issues has been met by Jefferey H. Hodges in a doctoral thesis entitled Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts. Hodges explores the ingesting images in various religious traditions including Gnosticism. To date, this is the most comprehensive study of Johannine food imagery and its symbolic interpretation. Hodges suggests that basically all food passages explored are to be understood as eucharistic. Hodges also identifies a synecdochical use of food in the Gospel of John, according to which food signifies and is part of the heavenly as well as earthly realms. This dualism related to food is then compared to dualisms in Gnostic texts and texts of late-antiquity Judaism and Early Christianity. Although there are obvious parallels between John's food-related dualism, and the respective dualism found in Gnostic texts, Hodges affirms that the latter significantly differ from the former. The Johannine understanding presupposes an ethical dualism: a righteous God and a world that has grown sinful. The Gnostic texts, however, presuppose the dualism to be ontological: a perfect spiritual realm, versus the evil, material world. Thus, Hodges suggests, there is a different meaning to Jesus' avoidance of food[,] different from the abstention revealed in Gnostic texts. Drawing on his investigation into early Jewish traditions, Hodges suggests that vinegar symbolizes the corrupted world. By accepting the earthly vinegar at the crucifixion, Jesus synecdochically consumes the entire world, and thereby eliminates its sinfulness. The fact that this happens willingly points to an irreconcilable difference when compared with Gnostic thinking. Johannine uses of food, Hodges argues, derive not from Gnosticism (despite the obvious parallels) but from Jewish traditions. (Esther Kobel, Dining with John: Communal Meals and Identity Formation in the Fourth Gospel in its Historical and Cultural Context, Brill Academic Publishers, 2011)
For any readers interested in pursuing this further, there's an online pdf copy of the book on Google Scholar, where one can use the search function to look for "Hodges" and see what Dr. Kobel says about my thesis.

I just wish I knew why my name is so difficult for everybody, for Kobel is neither the first nor that last to stumble over its spelling and the order of its first and middle names (and even my surname here in Korea) . . .

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Cracks are How Things Get In (and stuff gets out)

Leonard Cohen
Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images
New York Times

A. M. Homes has written a review, "Crazy for Love," of I'm Your Man, the recent Leonard Cohen biography by Sylvie Simmons (New York Times, October 12, 2012). I was struck by a couple of quotes from among the many things Cohen said or wrote:
"I had wonderful love, but I did not give back wonderful love . . . . I was unable to reply to their love. Because I was obsessed with some fictional sense of separation, I couldn't touch the thing that was offered me, and it was offered me everywhere."
That was borrowed by Homes from Simmons, who took it from a Swedish interviewer who spoke to Cohen in the mid-nineties. The other quote is from the 1992 song "Anthem", from Cohen's album The Future:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
I guess the man just didn't want to let that light of love in. Maybe, like that devil Woland in The Master and Margarita, he had to stuff rags in the cracks:
"One thing remains, perhaps: to procure some rags and stuff them in all the cracks of my bedroom."

"What are you talking about, Messire?" Margarita was amazed, hearing these indeed incomprehensible words.

"I agree with you completely, Messire," the cat mixed into the conversation, "precisely with rags!" And the cat vexedly struck the table with his paw.

"I am talking about mercy," Woland explained his words, not taking his fiery eye off Margarita. "It sometimes creeps, quite unexpectedly and perfidiously, through the narrowest cracks. And so I am talking about rags . . ." (Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, 1997, translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, page 131)
But light, mercy, and love finally do get in, though Cohen had to undergo some travails:
By 2004 Cohen had come down from the mountain and was living in Montreal when, Simmons tells us, he discovered that while he was gone [off on his Zen meditative years], Kelley Lynch, his business manager and friend, had stolen almost all of his money. Cohen ultimately got a judgment against Lynch, but most of the money could not be recovered. He was broke and forced back on the road, only to find that his fan base had continued to grow and that he'd gone from being a cult hero to an icon, especially in the United States, where there are now multiple generations of Leonard Cohen fans. With his children grown and with children of their own (Cohen became a grandfather for the second time in 2011, when his daughter, Lorca, had a child with the singer Rufus Wainwright), it seems that Cohen is ­finally able to allow the love in.
Which means that rags must have fallen like mercy-drops from those cracks, allowing not only love from others in, but some of the love-light in his own eyes out . . .

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cousin Bill's Oz Ark Home

An Ark in the Land of Oz?

I can't call it an "Ozark" home since it looks nothing like the Ozark homes of old, so I have to say that Cousin Bill's not quite the hillbilly type I had him pegged for . . . though he does have what you could call a "dog-trot" house.

Why, look! There's even the little dog Toto! This truly is the land of Oz! And much as Dorothy's home bore her and Toto safely upon the storm clouds to the Land of Oz, and Noah's Ark bore him and two of each kind of beast in the world (a bit crowded) safely upon the stormy flood to Mt. Ararat, so Cousin Bill's new home brought him, his little dog Toto, and his wife (or so he says!) safely through the headwinds of bureaucracy to a new land, where he -- again like Noah -- looked out of his Ark and saw where he had landed, and called it: "Arkansas." This may be God's Country, but it ain't no Garden of Eden, so Cousin Bill has to work by the sweat of his face if he wants his own garden of eatin':

A bit of a fixer-upper, seems to me. Speaking of fixer-uppers, Cousin Bill has 'repaired' his marriage, or so he says:
Relative to an earlier email circular regarding whether we were legally married or not . . . turns out we are . . . thought I'd put the tsk, tsk, tsk folks' mind at ease, as we received that "certified" copy of our marriage license from Kansas a week ago plus. Dang it . . . the idea of possibly being unmarried all the years made me feel . . . well, sinful.
I note for the record that Cousin Bill sent along no photo of this putative license, so I have to wonder if it exists in our three-dimensional reality. Sorry, Bill, but I'm as recalcitrant to your charming 'proof' of marriage as the bearded bureaucratic circus lady and therefore expect more than your mere word! Speaking of the hirsute one, she seems to have smiled more this time:
A benefit though . . . that marriage document allowed us to successfully procure our Arkansas driver's licenses. Gräbchen's Miss Jolly Smiley Face took her time scrutinizing that copy, as well as doing a thorough review of the other required "certified" items. The previous two weeks evidently hadn't been kind to her . . . we received another sneer accompanied by a jovial "Help you?" The process took another hour out of our lifespan. Prior to receipt of the DL, we had to sign a document stating we'd never text while driving, and if caught doing so, were subject to a $10K fine . . . you either sign the paperwork or you don't get the license. We didn't hesitate to sign . . . other states oughta do the same.
Hmmm . . . the lady suffering from frazonism appears to have accepted the validity of Cousin Bill's marriage (though I'd still like to see that license), but she exacted her revenge.
Our DL photos make us look like Miss Jolly's offspring. Thinking I might need a copy of my Kansas DL (to obtain a Kansas personal property tax refund), I asked for same . . . and received this reply: "Absolutely not, you surrender the Kansas license, and you get no copies, is that clear?" I muttered "Yes'm."
Once past that freak show in the Chamber of Horrors, Cousin Bill turned to pleasanter tasks:
I've included a few attachments of our "cabin" (yeah, I succumbed to Cheryl's insistence on running water, electricity and indoor toilets) and a couple of me "working" and "hauling."
We've seen some of those pictures, but here are some more, starting with the front of the 'cabin'.

Next, we see the entryway, from within looking back.

And since we glimpsed the dining room, let's take a fuller look.

Now, the living room, which perhaps ought to have come before the dining room . . . or not, for does one eat to live or live to eat, and more to the point, how would either principle determine the order of photographs. Leaving that conundrum aside for now, here is that already announced and much anticipated living room.

Moving right along, we come to the cooking room . . . sometimes called the kitchen, only coincidentally sounding like "The Kitsch Inn," a cupcake place in the city of Derry or Londonderry, Northern Ireland, but let's not get into that conflict.

Okay, what now? . . . maybe Cousin Bill's office?

No books? Must be that modern, paperless sort of office. After hours of hard work in his office searching for a sheet of paper, Cousin Bill will need to relax and re-energize in his sun room.

Wait a second -- this is the dog-trot room! Also called the doghouse, and I don't see no sun! Well, Cousin Bill can stay in the doghouse while we nosy on along to snoop into his "Master Bedroom."

Well, let the sun shine in! This looks more like a sun room! An excellent "Master Bedroom"! But where sleeps Cheryl, the supposed 'bride' of Cousin Bill? Is there no "Mistress Bedroom"? Maybe he's working on that. He's definitely working . . . leastways by his own account as he describes the work photo we've already seen above:
The "work" has entailed the clearing of brush, stick-tights, thorny wild blackberry plants, and seemingly miles of wild grape vines (one dealt a death sentence to a 50 foot sycamore . . . cut that down Tuesday). Another picture shows me and Molly ready for our 7th stump dump run with the (for now) last half load of dead timber. I've ventured approximately 40 feet into the forest (in back) and about 15 feet (on the west side). Immediately north of the yard (treed area) the terrain drops . . . similar to that of the downhill from Grandpa DeWitt's house to Big Creek. In other words . . . steep! And in cutting that dead sycamore, I stumbled and did a downhill roll . . . with the running chainsaw in my outstretched hand. I need to re-visit History Channel's "Ax Men" for tips on proper logging procedures.
Good idea, Bill, or you might end up an "Ex-Man." Is transgender an issue in Arkansas?
I also learned a quick lesson in what not to wear when cutting and pulling blackberry vines . . . you don't wear shorts and t shirts. I discovered too late such isn't proper attire for working in or around thorny vines. My lower legs and arms were promptly shrapnelized. I dressed in boots, jeans and long sleeves on day 2. Thorns smarten people up.
I reckon we've just been proffered proof that Cousin Bill ain't no true hillbilly, or he'd already've knowed that! But life goes on:
Today, we awakened to lightning and thunder and received a good rain . . . 4 and ¾ inches between 6 AM and noon. This afternoon peaked at a comfortable 71 with mostly sunny skies.
Hmmm . . . I did mention Noah, didn't I? But God willing and the creeks don't rise too much, Cousin Bill and his lady-friend have plans:
Arkansas craft shows begin next week, so expect I'll be required to accompany the wife to War Eagle, etc. Trees are beginning their transformation into yellows and reds, so we hope to begin sightseeing trips the following week.
I wonder what that "etc." entails. I always insist that my students fill in the details. But I suppose it won't include these two cultural activities:
Tomorrow offers laid back excitement . . . we'll miss both . . . Pea Ridge's 24th Annual Mule Jump and Bella Vista's 6th Annual Wiener Dog Races.
Afterwards, a weenie roast! Oh, wait, this is Arkansas, not Korea. Sorry. I'm so cosmopolitan and multicultural, I sometimes forget where I am . . . but here's a post scriptum from Cousin Martha, commenting on Bill's photos:
Your home looks beautiful! That back yard pic looks like you live next to a national forest, you don't do you? Shoulda had the loggers come and bid on those trees! Sounds like lessons with chain saws should be in your future!! I think your in the part of Ark that gets rain more,snow? Seems like that corner is in the news more anyway. Our part is always in the never rains, or power is out side. lol Your dog looks like a statue in the pic in the sun room. She's really cute. Well, you are too, but in a people way, not dog way. I've gotta go, I'm rambling.
Cousin Martha is rather less verbose than me and Bill, but she says the essential -- Cousin Bill needs some lessons in chainsaw manliness -- and that's enough!

And enough from me as well, but the poet Shelley has extra words of warning for Cousin Bill in the Land of Oz Ark . . .

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven?

Proof of Heaven?

Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who had an unexpected near-death experience that has convinced him of the afterlife, or what in Newsweek he calls "My Proof of Heaven" (October 15, 2012), the title of an article in which he describes his extremely vivid experiences undergone while lying unconscious in a coma for seven days, and not a near-death experience in just any coma:
I'm not the first person to have discovered evidence that consciousness exists beyond the body. Brief, wonderful glimpses of this realm are as old as human history. But as far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma.
He then expands upon this point:
All the chief arguments against near-death experiences suggest that these experiences are the results of minimal, transient, or partial malfunctioning of the cortex. My near-death experience, however, took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. This is clear from the severity and duration of my meningitis, and from the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations. According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.

It took me months to come to terms with what happened to me. Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma, but -- more importantly -- the things that happened during that time.
Dr. Alexander describes an intriguing experience, one worth reading about, but two things strike me from his words above, that he was "under minute medical observation" and "[a]ccording to current medical understanding of the brain and mind," no scientific theory exists to explain his experience, for these strong points that direct us to a mystery -- namely, how could his brain have generated such vivid mental activity that went unrecorded by the finest scientific instruments -- are also simultaneously weak points, for they depend on current medical technology, which is imperfect, and current science, which is incomplete, leaving open the possibility that this 'proof' is no better than what is called "the God of the gaps," an expression referring to the gaps in our techniques and our knowledge that are used by some as evidence for God's intervention in the world and thereby for God's existence.

In other words, Dr. Alexander is saying that because science and technology cannot currently account for his experience, then his experience must be real. Granted, it seemed real enough to convince him, and I can't exclude the possibility that a similar firsthand experience would convince me -- nor can I exclude the possibility that the book, with its "hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey," might convince me as well if I were to read it.

But I have to maintain a sensible skepticism, reflecting both creatively and critically . . .

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Schrödinger's Cat: Wanted - Dead and Alive!

Schrödinger's Cat

Schrödinger's Cat has finally been located -- in the studio of Hiroshi Sugimoto, a Japanese photographer who lives and works in New York City. Or at least I perceive it to be there, based on the description provided by Randy Kennedy, "'Fossilizing' With a Camera" (New York TImes, October 8, 2012):
[T]here is a small manmade object that Mr. Sugimoto fetched from a cabinet on a recent afternoon: an Egyptian cat sarcophagus from around 200 B.C., with the elegantly cast form of the memorialized feline perched atop the sealed rectangular bronze box.

He handed it to a visitor and told him to shake it. Something dry rattled around inside, making a sad, ancient maraca sound.

"It's in there but we'll never be able to see it," he said, smiling placidly.

Like many contemporary photographers, Mr. Sugimoto's work grapples with questions of perception and photography's claims to truth.
From Mr. Sugimoto's own words, "It's in there but we'll never be able to see it," we can see that he has Schrödinger's Cat in mind, for when he says we will never be able to see it, he's deferring to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which holds that a quantum state can exist as a combination of two states simultaneously, neither state being definite until the combination is measured, whereupon the combination collapses into a definite state, either the one or the other.

Schrödinger suggested that if we consider a cat in a sealed box within which the cat's life or death depends on a subatomic particle's state, then by the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat will be in a combined state, namely, both alive and dead at the same time. But we would never be able to see it alive and dead simultaneously, for opening the box would reveal a collapsed state of either alive or dead.

Until now.

In an article by Dennis Overbye, "A Nobel for Teasing Out the Secret Life of Atoms" (New York TImes, October 9, 2012), we are introduced to the two physicists -- Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland -- who have just won this year's Nobel Prize in physics for their mindboggling achievements:
Their work, the academy said, enables scientists to directly observe some of the most bizarre effects -- like the subatomic analogue of cats that are alive and dead at the same time -- predicted by the quantum laws that prevail in the microcosm.
I therefore suggest that we bring Mr. Haroche and Mr. Wineland together with Mr. Sugimoto and take a peek at the cat in that sarcophagus "ma"-cavity to see what a dead-alive kitty looks like!

Perhaps a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity . . .

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

European Trilemma?

Purple People Eater?
Illustration by Chris Van Es

I think I've previously blogged about Harvard professor Dani Rodrik's views on the problems faced by the European Union (EU), but why should that stop me from posting again? In an article "The Truth About Sovereignty," written for Project Syndicate (October 8, 2012), Rodrik explores what he calls the EU's trilemma:
That is where my political trilemma begins to bite: We cannot have globalization, democracy, and national sovereignty simultaneously. We must choose two among the three.
By "We," he means the EU. But why can't 'we' have all three? Does Rodrik mean that a democratic nation-state cannot participate in globalization? If so, then is he implying that a world government is necessary for globalization to take place? He seems to understand globalization in primarily economic terms, as a large-scale integration of the world economy. But for that to work, there must be rules that can be enforced by one political center, and that excludes democratic national sovereignty. The world is the EU writ large, it seems. But wouldn't globalization also exclude nondemocratic national sovereignty? You'll have to read the article to try to follow his argument.

I do think that the EU faces a trilemma, but I wouldn't use the term "globalization." I'd refer to "economic union," instead. If the EU wants economic union, then national sovereignty doesn't seem to fit, as we see in Europe's current economic difficulties. But that means that democracy at the nation-state level won't have much authority over fiscal policy, so to save democracy in the EU, the EU will need to ground democracy at the EU's political level.

But is globalization the same as economic union? Can any reader clarify this for me?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Clive James . . . Undead?

I learned in the NYT, courtesy of Sarah Lyall, "A Writer With Wit and Bite Proves He's Not Dead Yet" (October 7, 2012), that the writer, poet, critic, broadcaster, and memoirist Clive James is not dead . . . he's apparently, so far as I can judge, undead:
A few months ago the writer and broadcaster Clive James read with some alarm that he was about to die.
That would disturb my equilibrium as well! But still more uncanny:
While reports of Mr. James's imminent demise were dispiriting to him, they also gave him a rare opportunity that many dream of but few get to enjoy: the chance to read his own eulogies.
Eulogies, eh? If he read his own eulogies, he must really have died. And then un-died, else how could he have read them? Moreover, as Ms. Lyall points out, "few get to enjoy" their own eulogies, even if they've dreamed of doing so, perhaps because so many eulogies touch upon memories best forgotten, memories that might even be dispiriting enough to disturb the undead! That could spell trouble as "v-e-n-g-e-a-n-c-e" if those eulogies are more in the form of dyslogies:
And what eulogies they were. Admiring articles, blog posts and tweets poured out, celebrating the elegance and wit of Mr. James's cultural criticism, the restless, erudite breadth of his interests and ideas, and his uncanny knack for funny, deadly descriptions, such as the time he thrillingly compared Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Pumping Iron" to "a brown condom full of walnuts."
Whew! Thank goodness! Those'd put the undead himself in a good mood . . . I hope, given that even his humor has uncanny bite!

The article has more on Mr. Clive's un-demise, but I'll leave that occultated, a mystery for readers to delve into . . .


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sontag on "Camp" - Note 1

Susan Sontag

I was reading about Lisa Cohen's book All We Know: Three Lives, in a New York Times review by M. G. Lord, "More Notes on Camp" (October 5, 2012), when I was captivated by a partial quote from Susan Sontag on "camp," which she defined as:
"seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon."
I knew of Sontag's essay "Notes on 'Camp,'" maybe had even read it in my callow youth as a young graduate student at UC Berkeley in Martin Jay's class, but I wanted to see the entire quote, so I stopped reading and looked up the 1964 essay, discovering that the quote was taken from her first note on camp:
"Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization."
I think that's brilliantly right. Sontag is almost always brilliant, and too often brilliantly wrong, but she's brilliantly right this time. I'm sure I must have read that line in my youth and failed to be dazzled. I now know more, both intellectually and practically, even something about art, so I've come to appreciate what I must once have missed. So much of art is now identical with what Sontag termed "camp," aesthetic not in terms of beauty, but of artifice and stylization. I mean that purely as an objective point.

Speaking of "camp," I awoke this morning from a rather 'campy' dream of people dressed (and partly undressed!) in extravagantly stylized manner, caught up in a complex artifice of interrelationships, and engaged in seducing, betraying, and disappointing one another in various artful ways. This dream of great complexity ended with Lillian Hellman complaining to me that her memoirs were missing because her best friend had stolen the just-finished manuscript she'd left unattended while going to the kitchen to brew a strong cup of coffee. I wanted to offer words of comfort, but all I could come up with echoed Mary McCarthy: "But your memoir is a lie! Every word you write is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'!" I didn't want to insult her to her face, however, since she's long dead, so I disincarnated myself from the mechanics of that complex plot by waking up instead.

My deus 'exit' machina . . .

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Monday, October 08, 2012

"Pinball Wizard"

The Who

Way back in 1975, during my senior year in high school, I saw the The Who's 'Rock Opera' Tommy, though I'd been hearing the music since 1969, and I recall puzzling over the lyrics to "Pinball Wizard" because I couldn't figure out what "So hoe down to bright ton" meant . . . something agricultural? Well, let's see:
Ever since I was a young boy,
I've played the silver ball.
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all.
But I ain't seen nothing like him
In any amusement hall
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball!

He stands like a statue,
Becomes part of the machine.
Feeling all the bumpers
Always playing clean.
He plays by intuition,
The digit counters fall.
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball!

He's a pinball wizard
There has got to be a twist.
A pinball wizard,
S'got such a supple wrist.
How do you think he does it? I don't know!
What makes him so good?'

He ain't got no distractions
Can't hear those buzzers and bells,
Don't see lights a flashin'
Plays by sense of smell.
Always has a replay,
'N' never tilts at all
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball.

I thought I was
The Bally table king.
But I just handed
My pinball crown to him.

Even on my favorite table
He can beat my best.
His disciples lead him in
And he just does the rest.
He's got crazy flipper fingers
Never seen him fall
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball!!!
Older and wiser in the ways of the world and its cartography, I now know what "Soho down to Brighton" is talking about, and it ain't agriculture! But I couldn't have figured that out just from playing pinball in May's Cafe -- an old eatery owned and run by May Bassham (whom we called "Aunt May") back in my Ozark hometown of Salem, Arkansas -- not even after years of playing that silver ball.

Let's listen to the song . . .

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Vampires are long still the rage . . .

Zach Baron writes for the NYT of the novelist Justin Cronin in a review headlined "The Passage of Justin Cronin," thereby making a double play with the novel's title, The Passage. In the IHT, however, where I first read the review, the headline reads as "The reluctant vampire writer," an ironic allusion to the title of Roman Polanski's old film The Fearless Vampire Killers, I suppose. Anyway, Baron's review appears in the Times on October 4, 2012, and he notes that Cronin only reluctantly concedes that he's written a vampire novel:
Cronin, by all appearances, is an unlikely heir to America's genre-fiction throne. He has an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a PEN/Hemingway Award for his book "Mary and O'Neil," a meditative novel about love and loss told in a series of short stories. He has never read any of the "Twilight" books -- "I'm kind of not the demographic," he says. And "The Passage" is not only, or even primarily, about vampires: it spans nearly a hundred years and contains dozens of vividly voiced characters, from gruff, lonely F.B.I. agents and quasi-mystical nuns to chemically neutered pedophile janitors supervising shady government operations hundreds of feet underground. When he started formulating the book, he explains, the "vampire boom had not yet occurred."
What? Not yet the boom? Was he working on this even prior to Bram Stoker's Dracula? That'd put him at well over a hundred, yet he looks awfully young! Is Cronin himself a vampire? That could explain his reluctance to draw attention to himself as a vampire writer.
Justin Cronin is still a bit sensitive about the word "vampire." Yes, the supernatural bad guys in his sprawling, 766-page novel, "The Passage" -- about death-row inmates infected by the United States military with a rare Bolivian jungle virus, afflicting them with superhuman strength and a lust for human blood -- are recognizable as very close cousins of the fanged creatures who've torn a bloody swath through American pop culture . . .
Oh, I see, one more thing to blame America for . . . vampires. Well, then, I blame Baron the messenger for an abusive use of "supernatural" and "afflicted"! Be that all as it may, Cronin's sensitivity speaks volumes (two so far), though less about his putative status as a blood brother to the undead than about the hesitancy of a serious writer at getting caught up into a popular genre (though he seems not to have done quite that, either).

But he's made a lot of sudden money, "close to $3.75 million," and rather abruptly. Not a bad price for relinquishing one's sensitive hesitation about being famous as a quasi-genre writer.

Perhaps I really should play up the vampire aspect of my novella . . .

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