Sunday, July 31, 2005

Vicarious Swimming and Skiing

My son En-Uk prefers catching frogs and minnows to learning how to swim.

We were spending one night and a day for some swimming and skiing on the North Han River, where I discovered that my daughter loves to swim and ski but that:

1. My son has no desire to learn to swim.

2. I have no desire to learn to ski.

I had wanted to ski. I've long considered it an unfinished business and had intended to waterski at least once in my life.

Why? Because even though I grew up near Norfork Lake in the Ozarks, I was too poor for the lifestyle that included skiing.

But I thought, "Someday . . ."

I did have one chance when I was about 23. The boat pulling me, however, lacked the horsepower (seahorsepower?) to get me up out of the water. Yesterday, I had my chance to rectify this failure, but I failed this time. I guess that it's my age, for the North Han River was too cold on my old bones. I couldn't catch my breath, so I gave up soon after entering the water.

I even decided to give up the idea entirely and live vicariously through my children. My eight-year-old daughter, Sa-Rah, took to the water and the skiing -- but wasn't big enough for real skiing and had to be satisfied with halfway steps such as holding onto a pole fixed horizontally from the side of the training boat as it skimmed along on the water. Sa-Rah wanted to learn more but will have to wait until she grows a bit.

My wife and I heard some rather loudly expressed dissatisfaction from her about that. Our fault for not having reproduced a few years earlier . . .

En-Uk, on the other hand, had no wish to ski . . . and little desire to swim. At first, he tried the water near the dock but wouldn't go further. To encourage him, my wife got into the water and took him out further against his will. Wrong move. En-Uk screamed to return, and someone had to toss a lifepreserver out to haul him and Sun-Ae quickly back to dock.

En-Uk then spent the entire Saturday collecting bottles for rescuing minnows and tiny frogs from life's dangerous waters, and I spent the whole day watching him do this.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

China's Geopolitical Interests in the Korean Peninsula

I finally found time to read all of the Issues & Studies article "China, a Unified Korea, and Geopolitics," by Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes.

They note that Wang Chun, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, published an article, "The DPRK Nuclear Crisis and China's Security," in the June 23, 2003 issue of Jingji guancha bao (i.e., Economic Observer News), in which North Korea is presented as a buffer for China:

China will not and cannot look on unconcerned at major issues on the Korean Peninsula. Should the chaos of war appear on the peninsula, leading to the collapse or breakup of the present DPRK government or its coming under the control of others, becoming a bridgehead for other great powers in East Asia, China will lose a strategic buffer zone, and the resulting problems will be very difficult to resolve. (p. 148)

Yoshihara and Holmes also cite Professor Gao Zichuan, of the People's Liberation Army Navy Command Academy, who published an article, "An Analysis of the Basic Situation of China's Peripheral Security Environment," in the January 1, 2004 issue of Dangdai Yatai (The Contemporary Asia-Pacific), the monthly journal of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, assessing security threats on China's periphery:

[T]he hidden perils and threats to security in the sea direction are greater than those in the land direction. Looking at the hidden perils to security . . . in the sea direction there are the actual and potential hot spots of the Korean Peninsula problems, the Taiwan problem, and the Nansha [ . . . Spratly Islands] problem, and so on; in particular there is the danger of large-scale conflict breaking out in the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan. Compared with the India-Pakistan conflict, the impact on China's security interests of the Korean Peninsula is much more conspicuous. The Korean Peninsula is the strategic buffer for northeast China's security; tension on the peninsula will wreck regional peace and stability and will also seriously affect China's modernization process; China's modernization cannot be finally realized without Korean Peninsula security. (p. 148)

I think that we can assume that both Chun and Zichuan are presenting views close to the hearts of those who make China's foreign policies. China continues to see the Korean peninsula, in geopolitical terms, as a buffer zone.

In geopolitical terms, China is thinking realistically, and their reality is that the Korean peninsula has a strategic role as a buffer zone crucial to China's security in its important northeastern provinces.

Korean reunification will not come easily.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Islamic Terrorism or Islamist Terrorism?

Political correctness must be dead after all.

Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst have written a provocative article on "The roots of Islamic terrorism" in the July 28th issue of the International Herald Tribune. Here's how the article begins:

Most commentators argue that Islamic terrorism is a fanatical perversion of Islam which deviates from its true teachings. They call for a Western-style modernization of the Muslim world, hoping thereby that radical Islam will be tamed.

This analysis misses the point. The nature of the terrorist threat is unambiguously Islamic and is not so much a deviation from Muslim tradition as an appeal to it.

Not so long ago, the IHT would not have printed such a boldly 'unorthodox' current of thought, but I suppose that it's now flowing in the mainstream.

But what do Blond and Pabst mean by stating that the "nature of the terrorist threat . . . is not so much a deviation from Muslim tradition as an appeal to it"? Couldn't it both deviate from and appeal to Islam?

Unclear to me from their article is whether or not they consider terrorism to be rooted in the nature of Islam itself. They state:

When extremists say they are killing in the name of Islam, they are in part appealing to Islamic traditions of long standing.

Well, yes they are, but did those traditions themselves advocate terrorist attacks? Blond and Pabst do not clarify this point.

I know some of the texts that they might be thinking about:

Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers! (Qur'an 3:151)

Let not the unbelievers think that they can get the better (of the godly): they will never frustrate (them). Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. (Qur'an 8:59–60)

Here in the official Yusuf Ali translation, we find the word "terror," and the means of terror include but are not limited to war. And there's also a hadith from Bukhari:

Allah's Apostle said, ". . . I have been made victorious with terror." (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)

I think that we can clearly infer from these sources that Islam has no scruples about terrorizing its enemies, but this does not necessarily imply that Islam encourages terrorism. Note that although the Qur'anic verses do speak of terrorizing the enemy, e.g., during military jihad, they say nothing explicitly about terrorist action, and the hadith from Bukhari provides no clarifying context at all. These sources may mean nothing more than that Allah Himself brings the enemy into a state of terror.

Thus, it would take enormous hermeneutic effort for such sources as these to justify the large-scale terrorism of our technological age, since for seventh-century Arabia, terror accomplished by slamming commercial airliners into skyscrapers or by bombing train stations in the heart of a city was thoroughly unimaginable.

But I'm not sure that Blond and Pabst mean quite this anyway. They note that modern Islamist terrorism like that of Al Qaeda "draws on two traditions to legitimize itself: one classical, the other modern."

For the classical tradition, they point to the prophet himself:

The Prophet died a successful military leader who created a single Islamic polity that expanded -- through warfare -- all over the known world. The caliphate combined the double logic of a religious community and an imperial state.

For the modern tradition, they point to such Muslim thinkers as the 18th century Arabian figure Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, the Indian Muslim Abu Ala Maududi (1903-1979), and the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966). These last two appear to be the intellectual progenitors of current Islamist terrorism:

Like Maududi, Qutb fused the history of Mohammed's travails with a revolutionary vanguard-type ideology that removed medieval limits on warfare by championing a modern death cult in the quest for a revivified caliphate.

The crucial point here is that these two "removed medieval limits on warfare" -- though I'd be very interested in knowing just what these limits were.

Blond and Pabst also note that:

Al Qaeda sympathizers avidly read European fascist literature and pursue religious ends via atheist methods.

This remark is interesting because it suggests that the inspiration for Islamist terrorism might come from a non-Islamic source, assuming that I'm reading correctly what they mean by "atheist methods," i.e., terrorism?

Yet, they also say:

The essentially Islamic nature of this terror demands nothing less than a reformation in the name of an alternative Islam.

This assumes that the Islamist terrorism is an essential part of Islam. So, we're still left wondering: Is Islam itself the problem?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Korea: Economic Hub of Northeast Asia?

In yesterday's Korea Herald (July 27, 2005), I read an interesting article, "There is no such thing as 'Korea Discount'" (A Reader's View), by Joonho Um that explains why foreign investment is so low in Korea.

Um argues against the common Korean complaint that Korean stocks automatically suffer a 'Korea Discount,' i.e., that the stocks are underpriced on the market because Korean companies are "listed in a nation not well recognized in the West" (19e).

He acknowledges that "Korean companies' stock prices are [the] lowest in Asia and among the lowest in the world," but he argues that they should be this low because:

The market is intelligent enough to know that companies in Korea in general have extremely high insider ownership structures and therefore lack the necessary transparency needed to make the right investment decisions by outsiders. (19e)

Korean businesspeople should therefore not complain about the lack of foreign investment, says Um, because:

Korean listed companies have shown many times over that when times are good and earnings high, they will most likely NOT share the fortunate results with ALL shareholders but resist decapitalization and invest in needless and inefficient new entities in order to place their relatives, friends and often incompetent children in positions of power (e.g. president, CEO, etc.) and to launder/divert money. Of course, when times are bad and failure looms, ALL shareholders lose, including the outside individual holders who were left clueless of the upcoming demise in the first place. (19f)

This is pretty damning, but for anyone who's lived in Korea and paid even cursory attention, it shouldn't be surprising.

The similarly unsurprising result of this is that "most sane people" will "only speculate, not invest" in Korean companies (19f). A larger consequence is a poor stock market for Korea (hence the 'Korea Discount' complaint). A modern, democratic nation needs a rich stock market, Um explains, because:

A strong stock market creates jobs for new ideas and therefore creates a society that is low in unemployment and a society that value[s] and encourages individual contributions to society. (19g)

Um strongly implies that Korean society does not do these things, and I think that he's right.

I would also add that until it Korean society does do these things, it will never attain the Roh administration's goal of making Korea an "Economic Hub of Northeast Asia."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Chinese Food for Thought

Well . . . Chinese food rehashed by Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, whom I quoted yesterday. I still haven't found time to read their article, but I've skimmed some parts. Here's something to chew on:

The prospect of Korean unification would introduce an additional complicating factor into China's political and strategic calculus. Allowing Taiwan to remain in unfriendly hands while Korea, the northern terminus of the first island chain, drifted toward the United States could well be an intolerable situation for Beijing. This would be especially true were American forces to remain on the peninsula after reunification, preventing China, in Lim's words, from reverting "to its historic role as suzerain of the peninsula." Chinese statesmen might well act to head off such an unpalatable state of affairs. (p. 139)

Unpalatable, eh? I like that -- it complements my food puns.

Anyway, to unpack this paragraph, I'll need to read the whole article, perhaps today, and report back. One possible implication is that China would give up North Korea if it could have Taiwan. But the part about American forces on the peninsula and China's historic suzerainty over Korea suggest a different implication, the one spelled out in the conclusion that I quoted yesterday:

It is even conceivable, if unlikely, that China would launch a limited military intervention in northern Korea in an effort to enhance its bargaining power over the future of the U.S. military presence. (p. 163)

This is conceivable if China thinks that it has the historical right of suzerainty over Korea.

I think that most Koreans have a presentiment of this Chinese attitude. Last night, I sat with my wife in our apartment's parking lot -- which had been transformed into a mini-carnival with food, drinks, kiosks, and even a 'Viking' ride -- drinking beer with several Korean couples who also live in this area. They discovered that I've been working on a project about Korean unification, and one of them discussed this with me:

"I think," he said, "that America does not want Korean unification."

"I've heard many Koreans say this," I replied, guiding the conversation toward a somewhat disingenuous question, "and it has always puzzled me. Why do Koreans think this?"

"America makes money from selling weapons," he explained, implying that we need a division of the Korean peninsula to keep our military-industrial complex running.

"Not that much money," I countered, without really having any idea how much it amounts to. "Besides, even if Korea becomes unified, the Korean and American alliance would continue because Korea needs it. Without America, who would be on Korea's side? China is a huge and rising power, and Korea will need a friend."

At this, the man nodded agreement. Koreans might not feel especially warm about the American alliance, but they're not as unrealistic as some commentators imply. Recall the many protests demanding revision of the SOFA rules? Note that -- as Norman Levin points out -- the protestors were "calling for treaty revision, rather than abrogation" (Yoshihara and Holmes, p. 158).

Not that there weren't some voices demanding abrogation . . .

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Defining China's Interests

Over at the blog Basshole, Gar has an interesting post on his analysis of what the six nations involved in the six-party talks want.

Or should want.

Political analysis is often as much prescriptive as descriptive. Gar argues that for reasons both economic and military, but primarily economic, China should drop support for North Korea:

Though having North Korea as a buffer between them and the ever-expanding United States military presence in Asia has probably given [China] . . . some insulating comfort throughout the years, [the] reality is [that] China's economy relies greatly on all of its Asian neighbors and the United States too. A new arms race in their backyard does nothing for stabilizing anyone's economies, including their own. They can't afford to take the North's side in any future Korean War, as they'd have too much to lose economically, and would automatically be pitted against not only the US, but Japan and S. Korea to name a few, all economic powerhouses intertwined in the Chinese economy.

This type of argument is common in political analysis because it is so reasonable:

Country X will not pursue policy Y because policy Y is not in Country X's interests.

Unfortunately, we analysts don't often get to define how Country X sees its own interests. Occasionally, a Kissenger gets a powerful advisory role and can make his description prescriptive, or vice-versa, but this is pretty rare.

Gar's analysis is based on how he sees China's economic interests, but suppose that China sees things more from the perspective of long-term geopolitical interests. The future is hard to calculate, but the prize often goes to those willing to take risks, particularly if one has the patience to endure shorter-term losses for longer-term goals.

In the most recent volume (June 2005) of Issues & Studies, Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, "China, a Unified Korea, and Geopolitics" (Abstract, pdf), argue that China sees its interests in geopolitical and geo-economic terms that might even compel it to intervene militarily in North Korea. I've only skimmed the article, so I can't yet report on the details of their argument, but here's what they conclude:

This study has demonstrated that scholarly analysis of Chinese calculations toward the geopolictics of Korean unification has not been attempted in any sustained or systematic fashion. The findings above suggest that a united Korea would likely impose high geopolitical and geo-economic costs and risks (both perceived and real) on China. Consequently, Beijing is likely to be actively engaged in policy planning designed to keep the negative repercussions emanating from a united Korea to a minimuum. As such, U.S. policymakers cannot accept at face value China's professed openness to unification. Indeed, Washington should expect China to seek veto power over the fate of the Korean Peninsula, and it should view China's current, active particpation in multilateral efforts to resolve the nuclear crisis in this light.

More importantly, U.S. policymakers should anticipate that Beijing might feel compelled to use all of the tools of statecraft to induce Washington and Seoul to accommodate its strategic interests on the peninsula. It is even conceivable, if unlikely, that China would launch a limited military intervention in northern Korea in an effort to enhance its bargaining power over the future of the U.S. military presence. In short, the foregoing geopolitical analysis should spur Western policymakers to think ahead about China and Korean unification -- and to do so in geopolitical terms.

Note that they introduce their own prescriptive advice in the second paragraph: what the U.S. should do.

I'll need to read their article more closely, but it sounds similar to my own concerns about China. I see China as a resurgent great power with a long history as a great power. I think that the Chinese leadership is currently using nationalism to maintain the legitimacy that it might otherwise lose with the decline of communist ideology. Nationalism raises people's expectations, and if the Chinese come to believe, for example, that Goguryeo was Chinese territory (a fairly recent issue between South Korea and China), then they have grounds for arguing that, historically, the northern part of Korea is 'rightfully' Chinese land. I don't want to overemphasize this point, but it's part of the fuller picture . . . and perhaps a subtle indicator of China's fundamental attitude concerning the Korean peninsula.

I would like to think that the reasonable economic arguments are correct and that China will dump North Korea, but I worry that despite China's increasingly capitalist economy, we might not find that sort of 'bourgeoise' reasonability in its foreign policy.

Monday, July 25, 2005

McDougall: The Invention of Capitalism . . . and America

Some of my readers might recall an earlier post or two about my old Berkeley professor Walter McDougall, now doing quite well at the University of Pennsylvania.

Well, here he is again, writing Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828 (New York: Perennial, 2004), this time explaining how a capitalist society emerged in 16th-century England:

In the century preceding England's overseas expansion something unique occurred there: the invention of the first free market or "capitalist" society. It was invented in the sense of being a human artifact, but also in the sense of not being inevitable. That assertion flies in the face of the Classical Liberal assumption to the effect that human beings are natural traders who needed only to be freed from the chains of feudalism to fashion a market society. It also flies in the face of the Classical Marxist assumption about bourgeois capitalism being a natural stage in the technical and social dialectic of history. It even appears to fly in the face of the evidence suggesting [that] local and long-range exchanges of goods by profit-seeking merchants have characterized every known civilization. But the relevant fact is that at no time and no place -- not in the ancient Mediterranean, the Middle East, China, India, pre-Columbian America, or medieval Europe -- was an entire society organized by market exchange. Likewise, although we associate the emergence of capitalism with cities such as Venice and Amsterdam and techniques such as joint-stock companies, insurance, double-entry bookkeeping, and floating debts, such mercantilism involved small numbers of people dealing mostly in luxury goods. A true market society could only emerge in the countryside, where over nine of ten people lived and earned their daily bread. (pp. 17-18)

This is an interesting argument because it overturns our intuition that capitalism should have emerged within cities since that's where the long-range trading was going on in the high Middle Ages.

Well, that turns out to be all wrong. Capitalism emerged -- or was 'invented' -- because the English landed nobility had given up on feudalism in the wake of the bubonic plague and was trying to find a way to maximize revenue through appropriating common lands, enclosing those fields and pastures for cultivation or sheep-raising, renting or leasing this land to farmers, and seeking "larger profits through more efficient husbandry, cost-cutting, and specialization" (pp. 19-20). This increased the incentive for expanding the amount of land devoted to innovative agriculture, and, says McDougall:

A whole society began to move from a system based on communal rights and responsibilities to one based on property rights and contracts. (p. 20)

The picture that McDougall sketches is not a pretty one:

Since proprietors of whatever rank had to concur in the disposition of commons, lords intimidated, bought out, or found reason to dispossess as many rights-holders as possible, then negotiated the terms of enclosure with the rest. Neighbors were pitted against neighbors, even those linked by marriage or kinship. (p. 20)

Not pretty or gentle, but it brought forth the most productive system that the world had ever seen, and the greatest of its products was America:

The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years. (p. XI)

That's a rather impressive production record, and McDougall -- in this first volume of a planned trilogy -- shows how it happened. Briefly, it happened because the shift to a capitalist society in England created a nation of hustlers, and the most hustling of them went to America, where they hustled everybody else -- the Indians, the Spanish, the French the Dutch, the British -- and even each other. Constantly.

Otto von Bismarck . . . or maybe Stephen Leacock, but who the hell cares about him . . . is supposed to have said:

God takes care of fools, drunks, and the United States of America.

It seems, however, that Americans have always been taking care of themselves. Individually.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


I've just finished reading Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, written by Bat Ye'or.

Ye'or argues that a huge cultural shift has resulted in Europe due to the support by the European Economic Community (EEC) -- precursor to the the European Union -- for a Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD), which was started in 1973 on the advice of France and the Arab League in response to the oil crisis brought on through the decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to refuse to sell oil to Western countries that had supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

The cultural shift was toward European dhimmitude, the attitude -- under Islamic supremacy -- of 'protected' non-Muslims who recognize Islam's superiority and must live in a condition of gratitude for the 'tolerance' granted them by Islam.

Ye'or thinks that this attitude was a mostly unintended consequence of the Euro-Arab Dialogue -- though Europeans should have been foreseen that the Islamic world would never accept the multicultural view that all cultures are equal but would use this view to its advantage in pressuring the EEC/EU for Muslims' right to maintain their own Islamic culture within Europe.

In effect, argues Ye'or, the EAD opened European countries to large-scale Muslim immigration but denied these countries any right to require the immigrants to assimilate. Combined with a declining native European birthrate and a high immigrant birthrate, the immigrants' Islamic culture looks set to become a powerful force throughout much of Western Europe by late in this century. In France alone, Muslims constituted 7% of the population as of 2003, which may not sound like much, but the numbers are more significant when broken down by age groups. According to Michel Gurfinkiel ("Islam in France: The French Way of Life Is in Danger," The Middle East Quarterly, March 1997, Volume IV, Number 1), already by 1997:

The birthrate of Muslims being three to four times higher than that of non-Muslims, the proportion of children, teenagers, and young adults in urban France is . . . a very impressive 33 percent or so.

Timothy M. Savage ("Europe and Islam: Crescent Waxing, Cultures Clashing," The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2004, pdf) notes that some population projections put Muslims at 25 percent of the entire French population by 2025 -- and a majority there and even in the whole of Western Europe by mid-century.

This is enormously significant for the future not only of France and French culture but of the entirety of European culture. Savage expresses hope that Islam can be channeled toward effecting a positive change in European society, but he also foresees the dark potential for a clash of cultures. Ye'or argues that this darker vision is more likely.

Currently, most evidence supports Ye'or and her pessimistic view.

But is she right about how Europe got itself into these circumstances? Her view that an EAD elite has manipulated the EEC/EU bureaucracy to transform European culture into a Eurabian one does not entirely convince me. I am persuaded by her primary sources that the EAD has urged the EEC/EU to increase Muslim, especially Arab immigration, instruction in Arabic, support for Arab culture, and a number of other such policies, but I am not persuaded that the EAD has actually had much effect.

Why not?

In the European recovery from the devastation of WWII, the countries of Europe faced a labor shortage due to the loss of population, the low birthrate, and the revival of the economy. Since the Cold War shut off Eastern Europe as a source of labor, to whom could Western Europe have readily turned other than Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey? These areas were experiencing rapid population growth in a stagnant economy and thus could afford to export labor.

Moreover, the ideology of multiculturalism has not been limited to Western Europe, for it is found in the U.S., Canada, and Australia as well. If multiculturalism has been more successful in Europe, that may well be because . . . well, Europe is multicultural. Nearly every one of those European nations has its own language and culture. Europe as an entity is inherently multicultural. Such may have left it more open to the introduction of yet another culture, namely, an Islamic one.

Note that I'm not saying that the economic and ideological causes behind the rise of Islam in Europe mean that the decisions by particular countries to increase Muslim immigration were wise decisions. Given the current problems that Europe faces with Islamist radicalism, the decisions appear rather shortsighted and unwise.

In short, while I am not fully convinced by Ye'or on the EAD's leading role in these decisions, I do worry that she is correct about the rise of European dhimmitude as Islam's demographics force a transformation in Europe.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Fighting Terrorism: My Nonexpert Speculations

Let me be upfront: I have no expertise in this area, so I'm speculating . . . or maybe doing some of that brainstorming that I refer to above.

We're aiming our weapons at the terrorists, but they're a moving target. I see three stages to their organization:

1. Pyramid:

This was Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. Bin Laden and a few others at the top headed a structure that was organized in a hierarchy controlled by its 'executives,' who made plans, gave orders, and distributed funds.

The U.S. military devastated this organization.

2. Network:

With the loss of hierarchical control, Al-Qaeda devolved into a network of cells that coordinated to make plans, give orders, and distribute funds.

International intelligence work has made this kind of organization difficult.

3. Freelance:

With the pressure put on terrorist networks, 'Al-Qaeda' has further devolved such that it is no longer Al-Qaeda but small, self-organized cells of terrorists who make their own plans, take no direct orders from anyone, and need little money to carry out their plans.

Detecting such cells in advance of their attacks will be very difficult, somewhat like trying to stop petty criminals in advance.

So . . . how do we now fight terrorism?

We could begin by openly acknowledging the ideological sources -- Islamist networks that use madrassas, mosques, and media to teach and incite hatred of non-Muslims and moderate Muslims. We need to study Islamist texts and teachings and subject these to critical scrutiny -- and use our knowledge to undermine Islamism's intellectual credibility.

Will this work? I don't know, but at least we'll understand what we're confronted with.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Unite Against Terror

I recently received an email from a group, "Unite Against Terror," formed for the purpose of stating its opposition to terrorism. I knew nothing about the group but left the email undeleted in my files while giving myself time to consider its request that I sign on in solidarity. Only after reading more about it in The Belmont Club did I decide to add my name.

I've now been contacted with this request:

Please send us your 200 word statement explaining why you signed up.

Hmmm . . . well, I suppose if busy men like Christopher Hitchens and Marko Attila Hoare can take the time to do this, then I can, too.

But I'm going to cheat a little on mine by quoting something that I said on September 11, 2002:

One year ago on a late Tuesday evening, I finished teaching my graduate conversation class, caught an Osan bus home, rocked my two-year-old son to sleep, turned on the television, and saw a huge passenger plane slam into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and explode into an enormous fireball. Within seconds, janitors and executives, secretaries and managers, waitresses and cooks, people who had been drinking a cup of coffee or chatting with a co-worker or mentally preparing for another work day, were leaping from the flames and plummeting, some hand in hand, for a thousand feet to the sidewalks and the streets and certain death. Then, a second plane, into the South Tower. Another horrendous fireball. More bodies falling in a gruesome rain. Then, the thundering collapse of those two massive skyscrapers. Finally, ashes and silence.

That moment of silence was necessary, but its time is long past, and that's why I signed on.

I have no illusions that Islamist terrorists have any interest in what we think, so I don't expect much impact on them. What I do hope is that the various 200-word statements explaining why people signed on will serve to counter those on the hard Left who are effectively allied with the Islamists. I say this because, as Wretchard points out, "many of these authors are men of the Left."

It's about time that they spoke up.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I just can't be (completely) serious . . .

People groan at my puns, but I can't seem to resist playing around with words. Maybe this stems from my childhood in the Arkansas Ozarks, for I've always enjoyed wordplay.

If I were a comedian, I would use this one-liner:

"When I was a kid, we were so poor, we had only words to play with."

The follow-up:

"At Christmas, I'd find words in my stocking. If I'd been bad, I'd find even more words."

Further followed up by:

"For Thanksgiving, we'd always have 'turkey': Noun. 'a large North American gallinaceous bird . . . domesticated in most parts of the world.'"

We weren't alone in our poverty:

"The whole town was poor. At Halloween, the kids would go around trick-or-tricking."

"Come Fourth of July, our town would sing sweet freedom's song: 'Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.'"

Poor, yeah, but rich in humor. And to be honest, we had more than humor. As Sam Levenson would probably have put it, "We weren't poor. We had everything but money."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Heroic Code or Humble Christ?

I recently read Mark Edmundson's Why Read?

I don't agree with everything that he says -- such as his view that great writing can fill the absence left by the departure of religion -- but Edmundson has many good insights into the reading and teaching of great literature.

I'm particularly indebted to him for citing (p. 70) a passage from C. M. Bowra on the heroic outlook of the Greeks:

"The essence of the heroic outlook is the pursuit of honour through action. The great man is he who, being endowed with superior qualities of body and mind, uses them to the utmost and wins the applause of his fellows because he spares no effort and shirks no risk in his desire to make the most of his gifts and to surpass other men in his exercise of them. His honour is the centre of his being, and any affront to it calls for immediate amends. He courts danger gladly because it gives him the best opportunity of showing of what stuff he is made. Such a conviction and its system of behaviour are built on a man’s conception of himself and of what he owes to it, and if it has any further sanctions, they are to be found in what other men like himself think of him. By prowess and renown he gains an enlarged sense of personality and well-being; through them he has a second existence on the lips of men, which assures him that he has not failed in what matters most. Fame is the reward of honour, and the hero seeks it before everything else."

Edmundson borrows this passage from Bowra's The Greek Experience (New York: Praeger, 1957), apparently from pages 20-21, if I can trust the online citation that I tracked down.

After citing Bowra, Edmundson briefly contrasts this heroic code with the Christian one:

"Jesus' originality lies partly in his attempt to supersede admiration for the ambition and self-vaunting of Homer's heroes -- an admiration very much alive in the Roman empire Jesus is born into" (p. 72).

Edmundson's point is that the Christian's belief "in doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, in turning the other cheek" (pp. 71-72), along with the "Christian aspirations to modesty and grace" (p. 73), do not fit very well with the pagan values that we've also inherited in the West.

I find this interesting because I deal with the the two codes -- the heroic and the Christian -- in teaching Medieval and Renaissance English literature. Read The Hymn of the Rood and see one of the early attempts in Anglo-Saxon literature to bring the two codes together. Here's Charles W. Kennedy's translation (Cambridge, Ontario: In Parentheses Publications, 2000) of a central passage in which the rood, i.e., the cross, describes a heroic Christ:

"The Hero young -- He was Almighty God -- did off His raimant, steadfast, stout of heart. With valour, in the sight of many men, He mounted up upon the lofty gallows, when He would fain redeem mankind. I trembled when the Hero clasped me. Yet dared I not incline unto the ground, nor fall upon the face of earth, but I must needs stand firm" (p. 3).

This presents Christ as hero and the cross as Christ's loyal thane. As my cyber-friend Ed Tyler once noted on a Johannine Literature listerve (Yahoo! Groups):

"The Anglo-Saxon poem "Dream of the Rood" pictures Christ at the Passion as a Teutonic warrior (rinc) who mounts the cross with the same verb (astigan) with which a warrior mounts his steed or a boards his ship."

One of my Korea University students, Sun Bok Bae, attempted in an assignment to explain how this Anglo-Saxon image of the heroic Warrior Christ can fit the New Testament image:

"If this is an odd, awkward image of Christ, then is it contradictory to the Bible? I am trying to prove that it is not so. There is not only the image of [a] weak, tender, and peaceful Christ but also the image of [a] willing, determined, and warrior-like Christ in the Bible. First, there is possibility that the authors of these texts are overlapping the image of [a] second-coming Christ in the Book of Revelation with the image of Christ of the four Gospels because this second-coming Christ has always been believed to be the same Christ who first came in the four Gospels. Then, it is less strange that we give the crucified Christ the images of the texts we've been looking at.'

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.' [Revelation 19:11]

Here, 'a rider who is called Faithful, and True' reminds us of the image of a knight as in Ancrene Riwle.'

With justice he judges and makes war . . . . Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.' [Revelation 19:11, 15]

Here, I think there is no problem to overlap this image of making war, using sword, expressing the fury of the wrath, and so on with the image of Beowulf who boldly fights with terrible monsters. Further, in the Book of Revelation, Christ is expressed as[:]

'the Lion of the tribe of Judah.' [Revelation 5:5]

As we know, the image of Lion is very valiant, violent, aggressive, and strong, so we have no problem to match this image with the images we have discussed in The Dream of the Rood, Beowulf, and Ancrene Riwle, such as the images of a knight and warrior who fights."

I had directed this student, Bae, to The Book of Revelation for passages presenting a warlike Christ, but he went me one better in noting a passage that already in the New Testament presents the crucified Christ in heroic terms:

"[T]he [Medieval] authors may know a victor's image of Christ on the cross. Traditionally, in Christian culture, from the age of Apostles on, the death of Christ on the cross was regarded as a victory. Let’s look at Colossians, which was written by the Apostle Paul:

'He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.' [Colossians 2.13-15]

Here, [the] Apostle Paul expresses the death of Christ on the cross as a triumph. Traditionally, the powers and authorities are interpreted as evil powers. Christ was not passively attacked on the cross. It was . . . [a] real battle, and he was waging an invisible battle with evil powers on the cross. John Stott, a famous English theologian, says that the image of Christ on the cross shows the picture that Christ is being attacked and besieged by dark power[s], but he is disarming them. [The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 232-233] This view about the death of Christ on the cross is dominant throughout the New Testament and was broadly accepted by early churches. This reminds me of the scene [where] Beowulf and the dragon fight . . . together. I think this view about the death of Christ on the cross can be well applied to the images of Christ in The Dream of the Rood, Beowulf, and Ancrene Riwle."

I think that Bae is right. Paul does present Christ here in the heroic guise of a warrior who disarms his foes and thereby triumphs over them. Even if Paul did elsewhere seem to glory in the humiliation of the cross, which he acknowledged was "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23), his words in Colossians 2.13-15 imply a need to present Christ's actions in undergoing crucifixion as consistent with a conquering role that people would expect of a great hero.

A great civilization survives through its ability to impart meaning to everyday life, to produce wealth that can undergird cultural achievements, and to motivate its members to defend it from attack. The West, with its Christian and Classical heritage, has always had to deal with the tension between a clearly pagan ethos of the heroic achievement against an enemy and the clearly taught Christian ethic of love for the enemy. From the interaction of these two value systems came the rules of Chivalry and, ultimately, the guidelines of Just War theory.

The tension also, I think, lies behind the West's ambivalence about war, its critical self-reflection, its deeply divided soul.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Scrutinizing a Genealogy

Eminent British philosopher and defender of traditional conservatism Roger Vernon Scruton, whom The Independent has called "The patron saint of lost causes," has recently published his autobiography, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts From a Life.

An excerpt, "The curse of Scrofa," appears in the June 25th issue of The Guardian and is worth reading for anyone ever cursed with an unwanted name. Here's the red-haired Scruton on "Scruton":

"One such [unwanted] name is Scruton -- Scrofa's Tun -- named for a Viking chieftain whose distinguishing feature was not red hair but dandruff. The sound can be rectified by no efforts of elocution. In whatever tone of voice Scruton sounds mean and censorious. Scourge, Scrooge, Scrotum and Scrutiny all tumble like black scarabs from the mouth that utters it. I am convinced that the hostile reception encountered by even my most forgiving works has been due, not to the conservative voice that speaks through them (which is Vernon's voice, not Roger's), but to the scraping steel of this scalpel-like surname."

Yet . . . not everyone felt this way. When Scruton had just published his book Sexual Desire (1986) and had traveled all the way to Adelaide, Australia to find the rare audience open to hearing his views on conservatism, he also found there a fan of all things Scruton:

"The first thing I saw on emerging into the arrivals hall was a placard on which SCRUTON had been written in bold gothic letters. I had to fight the urge to apologise for this name, which had begun to sound in my ears like the growls of a bogeyman. To my surprise, however, a middle-aged man emerged from behind the placard and apologised for nobbling me. He wore blue plastic sandals, khaki shorts and a hideous orange shirt, above the open collar of which his leathery neck stretched and gobbled impatiently. On top was a large Anglo-Saxon head, precariously balanced, in which the pink-veined blueish eyes stared fixedly like headlights.

'Mr Scruton,' he cried as he shook my hand. 'Welcome to Adelaide. I just had to come to meet you. I am a Scruton aficionado, a Scruton fanatic. I collect everything to do with Scruton -- everything!'"

The fellow then thrust before Scruton's wary eyes a large green folio with the lettering "The Scruton Estate." Inside were the details of the estate's auction, the selling off, in 1953, of the woodlands, fields, farm, house, village, and surrounding cottages -- the entire legacy of a place called "Scruton," now razed to the ground.

The encounter moved Scruton to look into his family history and engage in a bit of creative genealogy:

"Returning to England I decided to investigate my right to the Scruton name. I discovered that my grandfather was described on his birth certificate as Lowe, which was his mother's unmarried name. She had called her illegitimate child Scruton for reasons that she never imparted, being permanently drunk by the time anyone thought to inquire of her. I made up a story that would connect me to that precious document in which an English village -- my village -- was offered for sale. My grandfather, I put it out, had been conceived in Scruton when my great-grandmother had been in service there. She had drifted to Manchester, pregnant and rejected, in search of support."

The fabricated story, says Scruton, "gave me the kudos of bastardy, the glamour of poverty and a wonderfully succinct family tree."

Thus did Scruton come to terms with "Scruton."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Poetry Break: Don't Read This!

Stop now, or you'll read to the end . . . and perhaps be offended by my linguistic offense.

Last chance. Stop.

Too late. Might as well continue.

My friend Bill Vallicella concerns himself with words and their distinctions, such as the difference between "where" and "whence," but also suggests that he's not so extreme as that underground grammarian Richard Mitchell.

Mitchell -- who, by the way, is now literally underground -- held a low opinion of poetry, considering it "a little worse than shoplifting," so he'd probably call the police on me if he were still around. But as one of the "unacknowledged legislators" of the world, I can revoke old laws and pass new ones, so no formal structure, no "prison-house of language," would hold me for long.

I now commit my crime of indifference:

Semantic Drift

"Wood" now no longer sounds crazy,
While "stout" only scarcely seems strong;
"Foul" connotes nothing of lazy,
And "sin" suggests nothing much wrong.

Words molt old meanings like feathers,
Make speaking a spiel of dumb luck,
Bring us all to the ends of our tethers,
Leave us all without giving a f**k.

Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1993

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Zinkernagel Speaks, I Remain Silent

Yesterday, I heard Rolf Zinkernagel speak on immunological memory in his lecture:

"On Anti-Viral Immunity and Vaccines," Hyundai-Kia Nobel Laureate Lecture Series V, July 15, 2005, Inchon Memorial Hall, Korea University.

As it turns out, he's skeptical about the analytical and practical usefulness of the expression "immunological memory," though at a very general level, he accepts the expression, for he presupposes its meaning in his lecture:

"Immunological memory describes the fact that humans infected once with measles-, pox-, or polio viruses are subsequently resistant against disease caused by re-infections" (13a).

At this general level, the 'memory' is nothing but another word for "resistance," and since the people in the field do use the expression, Zinkernagel does as well.

However, he notes the possibility that the expression "immunological memory" implies something that might not really exist, the creation of a "memory" of a disease in the immune system that enables it to "recall" an infecting agent and fight against it. Why might it not exist? Because:

"[I]f a naive host survives a first infection, this host basically does not need immunological memory to survive the second infection. Vice versa, if a host does not survive the first infection, he certainly does not need immunological memory thereafter" (13a).

Even assuming that there is such a thing as immunological memory, Zinkernagel notes that the expression is used in two very different ways, to identify:

1. "a special quality of T or B cells that have acquired a new status of 'memory' when compared to naive cells or effector cells" (11b),


2. "a low-level antigen-driven response, consequently protection immunological memory eventually disappears without antigen" (12a).

Given this ambiguity in the meaning of the expression, much work remains to be done in order to clarify precisely what is going on in our immune systems that allows us to survive re-infections.

I won't attempt to say more than that since the lecture was extremely technical, and I'm too ignorant of this field to speak without saying something foolish.

I would, however, like to focus on an offhand remark made by Zinkernagel. He noted in passing that from the perspective of evolutionary biology, we need not live past 25 since by that time we will have reproduced and thus have no further benefit to the species, so our extra 50 years are merely a "luxury."

Now, I assume that he was using a bit of deflating irony in this remark, perhaps to remind us that the evolutionary process doesn't care for us as individuals, but he also seemed to assume the correctness of this view -- as a piece of biological wisdom.

I think that it's wrong.

It seems implausible to me that a 'luxury' of 50 extra years would be endowed on a species if these extra years had no survival benefit in terms of an evolutionary process. I would argue that the extra 50 years enable our species to embody an enormous "cultural memory" that greatly enhances our fitness in the struggle for survival and that this cultural memory can only be effectively passed on from generation to generation because of our 'luxury' of having so many extra years.

And I would have made this point, too, except that after I had raised my hand toward the end of the question period, the dean announed that given the shortness of time, the remaining questions should be posed by persons working on research in the field of immunology.

Excluded from the ranks of those qualified to speak, I held my tongue.

Friday, July 15, 2005

This is not what I expected . . .

. . . when I opened my blog this morning. Why is my sidebar so far down?

Damn, I need a drink.

Except that I'd now have to climb all the way down to my sidebar to get one . . .

But seriously, folks, does anybody know what's wrong with my sidebar? I inquired of a fellow blogger using blogspot and experiencing the same problem, and here's what that Basshole Gar said:

"No idea. It just happened one day in the middle of a post, and not being net savvy like the Nomad (plus it's free), I just go with it. I've noticed some other blogs using blogspot that are way high-speed, but I don't know how they do it. I'd like to be able to add links and stuff, but am too lazy to figure out how."

Me, too, Gar (except for the links thingy), and we're both being punished by the blog gods for our laziness. Well, there's nothing quite like punishment for concentrating the mind, so I'm ready to overcome my intellectual indolence and learn.

Can anybody teach me how to fix this problem?

UPDATE: Problem solved, thanks to Baron Bodissey. Now for that drink from my sidebar . . .

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Yoon Pyung-joong on President Roh

My friend and old Hanshin University colleague Yoon Pyung-joong, an expert on political philosophy and a former student of Shin Il Chul, has recently published an article that has been translated from Korean for the English edition of the JoongAng Daily (July 11, 2005):

"The dilemmas of democracy"

The central "dilemma" that Yoon points to is a fundamental problem often noted:

"A democracy can blossom and draw strength from the dynamics of public participation, but it can also fall for the same reason."

Technically, this isn't a classic dilemma, for we're not presented with a choice between two, equally bad alternatives. The term "paradox" isn't quite correct either, though it comes to mind and is also used by Yoon:

"The paradox, in other words, is that the collapse of democracy can be hastened by the very public participation that is one of democracy's core ideas."

I think that rather than dilemma or paradox, the expression "inherent irony" might better get at what Yoon is thinking about.

At any rate, the full, practical impact of Yoon's article only becomes clear at the end:

"Though they have inherited the tradition and brilliant achievements of Korean democracy, the incompetent and self-righteous behavior of President Roh Moo-hyun and his 'participatory government' show the dilemma of democracy very clearly."

Yoon isn't suggesting that Koreans overthrow democracy, but he is implying the need for something to be "thrown over" the side of Korea's democratic ship of state.

Yoon's words are significant because they signal deep dissatisfaction with President Roh among some of those who were strong supporters early on. Yoon originally had high hopes for the Roh presidency, but these now appear to have been dashed against the rocks.

I just wish Yoon article had been a bit more specific about the instances of incompetence that he sees in the Roh administration.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Memory Cells

Beyond my intellectual horizens, entire fields of knowledge have been cleared, sown, and made productive.

In trying to learn more about what Zinkernagel has accomplished, I focused a websearch on "immunological memory" and uncovered something called a "memory cell."

I don't recall learning about those in college biology, and most of what I've picked up since then comes from Ozzy and Drix.

Fortunately, memory cells do their work despite my ignorance, memory lapses, and lack of seriousness. Here's what Wikipedia tells me about a type of memory cells called "memory B cells":

"Memory B cells are B cells that although activated by the immune system . . . are stored inside the circulatory system for later use, for long periods of time, possibly a whole lifetime. Like other cells such as helper T cells, killer T cells, and plasma cells[,] they never become directly involved in the immune response to foreign objects in a living body. If a pathogen [that] the body has already encountered invades, memory B cells can recognize the pathogen and start to divide. Quickly, they form a new generation of cells, and memory cells. The new generation kills off the pathogen so quickly [that] the body does not become noticeably ill."

I'm not sure what this wiki means when it says that "they form a new generation of cells, and memory cells." Possibly, this is badly edited, which happens with Wikipedia since it's the product of a multitude of hands (to which I've now added my own). My first guess is that it means that "they form a new generation of memory B cells." Yet if "they never become directly involved in the immune response to foreign objects in a living body," then it would have to mean something like "they form a new generation of antibodies to fight the pathogen, and new memory B cells are also formed." But I'm really only guessing, so don't take this as gospel.

Also, memory B cells are only one kind. There are also "memory T cells," about which, Wikipedia has nothing to say . . . except:

"Wikipedia does not yet have a page called Memory T cells."

Thanks for letting us know.

But a dead end is never the end. Just re-Google. I did and found this nice layman-friendly page by Peter Stevenson, who likes to use hyphens in telling me:

"There are two types of immune response: cell-mediated (CMI) associated with specialised blood cells called T-cells, and antibody mediated associated with specialised blood cells called B-cells. Both immune responses act on substances called antigens."

Belonging to the T-cell sort are:

"Memory T-cells -- which recognise the original invading antigen. When the antigen returns thousands of memory cells are available to initiate a far swifter reaction than occurred during the first invasion."

Got it. Now for those B-cells:

"B-cells that are activated but do not differentiate into plasma cells remain as memory B-cells, ready to respond more rapidly and forcefully should the same antigen reappear at a future time."

This helpful little article also informs us that whereas the T-cells move around throughout the body, B-cells stay put.

I guess that I'm more peripatetic T-cell than homebody B-cell myself, being a Gypsy Scholar and all, and as a historian, part of my job is to remember the past and prepare for the future.

Else what's a memory for?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rolf Zinkernagel: Nobel Laureate Lecture Series V

The fifth in Korea University's Nobel Laureate Lecture Series is coming up this Friday.

With all of my reading about and then blogging on the Islamists' London bombings, I had nearly forgotten the world's more inspiring achievements.

Like those of Rolf M. Zinkernagel.

You say that you've never heard of Rolf M. Zinkernagel? Really!? You've never heard of Rolf M. Zinkernagel? Never heard of Rolf M. Zinkernagel? Rolf M. Zinkernagel?

Well, neither had I. I know that I hadn't because his is not a name that I'd forget. For those who know German, "Zinkernagel" sounds as if it would mean something like "zinc nails."

The thought of zinc nails reminds me of my icy winter stay in Fribourg, Switzerland about 19 years ago, when I spent bitingly cold days on my hands and knees using a claw hammer to wrench nails from the exposed, snow-swept floor of a house that friends and I were 'deconstructing.'

And this anecdotal musing is appropriate because . . . well, it's not. But Rolf M. Zinkernagel is Swiss.

He's also important, having won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1996, along with his Australian friend, Peter C. Doherty.

You can learn more about Zinkernagel by reading his biography at the Nobel site. I almost feel that I should know him, for the paternal side of his family comes from Tuebingen, Germany, where I studied for six years, and Zinkernagel himself was born near Basel, where I stayed for nearly half a year during my time in Switzerland.

Zinkernagel seems to have enjoyed a rich childhood and adolescence. In his biographical reminiscences, he tells us about his years from 12 to 16:

"During that time I had a great number of hobbies: I was introduced by a chemist and collaborator of my father's -- who is also a gifted painter -- to the prehistory of the Basel region. This was extremely interesting, because during the last glacial period this area was not covered with ice, so that many sites of the previous inter-glacial period have survived. At the same time I also attended several handicraft courses, learning cabinet-making and smithing, as well as enjoying dancing and going to the mountains with the Swiss Alpine Club. My father sent my brother and me on a holiday exchange program to England to learn English. I read a lot and was allowed to do a fair amount of travelling through England, France and the Scandinavian countries, between the ages of twelve to sixteen."

It sounds idyllic.

But you're wondering what he and his friend Peter Doherty accomplished that got them a Nobel Prize. Here's what Zinkernagel -- addressing Doherty in his banquet speech -- says:

"Peter, let us face it: We have been very lucky! Had we not found the rules of restricted immune T cell recognition, somebody else would have later."

Humility and humor, I like that. Concise, too: "the rules of restricted immune T cell recognition."

Not that I know what this means. Wikipedia describes it as "how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells." That doesn't say much to me either, but Zinkernagel's Nobel Lecture tells us more, and if I have time, I'll read it more carefully and report back on it.


Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this: the immune system has a 'memory,' and we inherit its capacity to 'remember' infections. However (and Zinkernagel uses cows and calves to make this point), we aren't born with any immunological memories:

"Calves are born without antibodies because, as for all vertebrates, the immune system is not yet mature enough to produce its own antibody response . . . . In addition, in calves, maternal antibodies cannot be transmitted because of the completely doubly layered placenta. All protective antibodies are transmitted via colostral milk from the mother within 24 hours of birth. If this does not happen, the calf dies within a few weeks as a result of common bacterial infections."

Now, I see why young babies are so prone to infection -- and the importance of breastfeeding! This involves, it seems, a primary function of "immunological memory":

"[The] transfer of immune antibodies of the mother to protect offspring [occurs] during the phase of maturation of the immune system after birth."

No, I don't quite understand this, but I guess that along with Bob Hope, we can all say thanks for the mammaries . . . uh, memories.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Islamist Imperialism?

On the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, I presented a paper for Hanshin University's Humanities Research Institute titled:

"Striving to Understand 9/11: Some Religious Dimensions of the Attack."

A few of you may have noticed the link in my sidebar. For some reason, the margin specifications are screwy in the official online site that I've linked to, so if that's too hard to read, try a google-search link.

In that presentation, I attempted to make clear to a generally leftist Korean audience that the issues were not so clearcut as they imagined.

What did they imagine?

That the 9/11 attacks were an inevitable anti-imperialist reaction to America's imperial foreign policy.

I began by acknowledging that Islamists don't like American foreign policy. That much is rather obvious. I spent the rest of my presentation in trying to show that the leftist 'analysis' of the attacks was inadequate because it was utterly unaware of the imperialist aspect of Islam.

The primary reaction to my paper was silence. I think that a lot of people were simply baffled. The great majority didn't know the material that I was referring to and had no frame of reference by which to judge it.

I should have expected this. In preparing for the event, I worked with the chairman of my department, who was going to present the response. This was a man of the left who took an active interest in world politics . . . or so I thought. But in my discussions with him about the issues, I came to see that his reading of world events was refracted through the lens of political analysis by the Korean left, which focuses on America's role in all political events, and followed this logic:

Anyone who attacks America is anti-imperialistic.
The 9/11 perpetrators attacked America.
The 9/11 perpetrators were therefore anti-imperialistic.

I suppose that this is a pretty tight argument if one accepts the basic premise, but it's simply untrue that anyone attacking America is anti-imperialistic.

I should have asked this Korean professor if the Pearl Harbor attack was an anti-imperialistic act and if the Japanese imperialists had therefore been anti-imperialistic despite their colonization of Korea and their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

But there was little time for irony.

I was occupied with gently explaining to him that, no, the United States has no military bases in Israel and that Bin Laden's reference to American troops in the land of the two holy mosques was not an allusion to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with its Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque but a reference to Saudi Arabia and its two holy places of Mecca and Medina.

Then, he floored me with this question:

"Well, are there any of these sorts of attacks elsewhere in the world and not against Americans?"

Speechless at first, when I found my voice again, I asked:

"Are you serious? Is this a rhetorical question?"

He assured me that he was serious. So, I said:

"Have you never heard of the jihad in Sudan, the attacks in Nigeria, the attacks in Indonesia, the conflict in the Philippines . . . and many other places, all of which have little to do with America?"

"And these have nothing to do with politics?" he asked.

"There is always politics," I replied, "but you cannot ignore the factor of religion, especially in Islam, which encompasses politics within religion."

If I had possessed the resources at the time, I could have pointed him to this sort of statement by Sheikh Wajdi Hamza Al-Ghazawi in his sermon on October 6, 2001 at the Al-Manshawi mosque in Mecca:

"The [kind of] terror [in Arabic, "striking of fear"] that Islamic religious law permits is terrifying the cowards, the hypocrites, the secularists, and the rebels by imposing punishments according to the religious law of Allah . . . . The meaning of the term 'terror' used by the media . . . is Jihad for the sake of Allah. Jihad is the peak of Islam. Moreover, some of the clerics . . . see it as the sixth pillar of Islam. Jihad -- whether Jihad of defense of Muslims and of Islamic lands such as in Chechnya, the Philippines, and Afghanistan, or Jihad aimed at spreading the religion -- is the pinnacle of terror, as far as the enemies of Allah are concerned. The Mujaheed who goes out to attain a martyr's death or victory and returns with booty is a terrorist as far as the enemies of Allah are concerned . . . . Accordingly, the believer must not use this word . . . . Jihad, oh believers, is an integral part of our religion. The word 'terror' is used to damage this mighty and blessed foundation . . . ."

Sheikh Ghazawi's point? That the non-Muslims might call it "terror" but that Muslims should call it "jihad" and that it can be used not merely defensively to protect Muslims but also for the violent appropriation of "booty" from the unbeliever and the effective spread of Islam through war.

Whether Sheikh Ghazawi was defending the 9/11 terrorists or simply making an academic point, I do not know, but he was certainly making an explicit, unapologetic statement in defense of Islamist imperialism.

Let's keep Ghazawi's statement in mind as we strive to understand the 7/7 attack in London.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Amir Taheri: What the London Terrorists Want

Amir Taheri is an Iranian exile who has written many books and articles on the resurgence of Islam and its implications for the modern world.

Taheri has written an excellent article for The Times, a British newspaper. It is available online in the July 8th edition of the Times or reprinted for Taheri's webpage at the Benador Associates website.

Being an expert on Islam and politics, Taheri was contacted for interviews again and again after the recent London bombings. Those requesting interviews posed one recurring question about the terrorists:

"What do they want?"

With ordinary terrorists -- and there's an expression that I never expected to use -- the aims are limited. Withdrawal of an occupying force. Autonomy for an ethnic province. Liberty to an oppressed nation. These are their usual strategic aims.

Taheri emphasizes that strategic aims such as these are not the goals of those who planned the London bombings, nor were they the aims of those who plotted the World Trade Center attacks. The Islamists behind these attacks do not have the strategic aims of ordinary terrorists.

They do have grievances, of course, and they will express these in ways that imply limited aims. Withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Self-determination for the Palestinian people. Autonomy for the Uighurs. Freedom for the Chechens. Liberty for the Achehnese. Independence for the Kashmiris.

These Islamist aims, however, are merely tactical ones. Addressing their grievances and complying with their demands in response to bombings will alter nothing. Why not? Because the Islamists' strategic aims are all-encompassing. They want everything.

Here is how Taheri expresses our situation:

"[Y]ou are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you."

Total control is the strategic aim of the Islamists. They will settle for nothing less than our dhimmi souls or our kufr deaths.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Kang Chol-hwan in the Fishbowl of Seoul

On my way to the recent Society of Biblical Literature's International Meeting in Singapore, I picked up Kang Chol-hwan's memoir, The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, which I found in the Incheon Airport, and read most of it on the plane trip down.

Kang doesn't much care for the South Korean left. Having escaped from North Korea and arriving in the South to tell his story of 'life' in the North's prison camps, he was met with skepticism by those on the political left. Of a news conference at the Seoul Press Center a month after his arrival, he recalls:

"I found the journalist from the newspaper Hangyore particularly irritating. What place did his skepticism leave for the victims? Millions of people were dying or suffering from hunger, an entire population was being deprived of its freedom, and his only concern was our credibility" (223).

Later, he had an unpleasant experience with a university student:

"One day a discussion with a student member of Hanchongnyon, the university's leftist organization, grew rather heated. I was being bombarded with would-be intellectual arguments about class, domination, and imperialism, featuring references to people such as Pierre Bourdieu. Onlookers had surrounded us. Whose side were they on? Did they agree with my interlocutor when he said that I had a 'subjectivist' point of view and that my personal experience was no basis for a global condemnation of North Korean politics" (228).

The charge of "subjectivism" used to be a typical rhetorical tactic used by the old left in arguments of this sort. I heard it at Berkeley, too, but it was already at odds with the intellectual temper of our times, which places more more emphasis upon personal experience, subjectivity, than upon the old left's materialist arguments appealing to the scientific laws of history, the historical inevitability of socialism, the objectivity of Marxist historical analysis -- that sort of thing.

Oddly, despite the Hanchongnyon student's critique of "subjectivism," which sounds so old left, he appeals to figures like Bourdieu, who is more at home in the new left. Bourdieu himself would likely have taken issue with the Hanchongnyon student's mixing of old left and new left analysis.

But I suppose that any argument at hand is useful for those inclined to defend North Korea. I once listened to one elderly South Korean man on the left defend the North's incarceration of all Christians in the prison camps as necessary because they were agents of American imperialism.

Yet, this man taught at a Christian university in South Korea. Such are the contradictions of capitalism.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Balance of Power 101

This is Political Science 101, so skip it if you've taken the course.

In an attempt to understand the intricacies of President Roh's foreign policy (and to prepare for teaching my modern history course this fall), I've been reading Joseph S. Nye's classic textbook, Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History (Fourth Edition, 2003).

In my history courses, I often refer to the "balance of power'' in my attempts to explain to my students why nations do something . . . or nothing.

It's right up there with "national interest" as an all-purpose tool of political analysis.

But I sometimes feel like I'm applying a Phillips screwdriver to a slotted screw. Now, I know why.

As Nye points out (pp. 58-67, esp. 61-66), the expression "balance of power" can have at least three meanings:

1. Distribution of Power: any existing distributon of power among states, no matter how unbalanced.

2. Policy of Balancing: the actions of a state intended to prevent some other state from obtaining a preponderance of power.

3. Multipolar System: a roughly equivalent distribution of power among states.

Obviously, these are related.

To oversimplify: A multipolar system is a special case of distributions of power, and a policy of balancing is a strategy for keeping a system multipolar.

In a sense, though this will be misleading, the limiting case of a multipolar system is a bipolar one -- as was characteristic of the Cold War, where the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were engaged in parallel policies of balancing (which presupposed that each considered the other to be engaged in a policy of 'imbalancing').

Using these tools, we can now identify President Roh's thinking. Although he may wish for a multipolar system, he assumes a bipolar one with the U.S. and China as opposing poles, and Korea's foreign policy is to act as balancer, shifting toward one pole or the other to keep the system balanced.

Yeah, I know, everybody knew that already. Well, I never said that this post was going to be profound.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Planting a Tree

Regular readers (hah!) will recall that a couple of weeks ago, I noted a rabbinical anecdote by Walter Kohn:

Then, . . . [Kohn] gave a rabbinical lesson.

About 2000 years ago, there was a young farm worker in the Holy Land who was moving about the land to find work. He passed an old man planting an olive tree.

"Grandfather," he called out, "why are you planting that tree? It won't bear fruit for many years."

"All the more reason to plant now," replied the old man.

This is the sort of parable that crosses ethnic, national, and religious boundaries. When Kohn recounted it at his talk, I was reminded of a similar story told of Martin Luther -- and I'll return to Luther in a moment -- so I decided to dig around a bit to find the origins of this story.

A true scholar always goes to the original sources.

I went to google.

I found a number of online variants. Here's one (doc file) from a Christian organization that is pretty obviously drawing on a Jewish source:

A Rabbi was walking down a road when he came upon an old man planting an olive tree. The Rabbi stopped and asked him, "How many years will it take for the tree to bear fruit?"

The old man stopped work, straightened up his back, paused and answered him, "I think around forty years if the summers are good and the rain comes."

The Rabbi questioned him further, "And are you so fit and strong that you expect to live that long and eat its fruits?"

The old man answered, "I found a fruitful world because my forefathers planted for me, so I will do the same for my children."

A Muslim website draws from what is obviously the same tradition but in a form that has transfered the context to Persia:

There is a famous story of a Persian King that passed by an old man planting an olive tree. The King asked him "Will this tree benefit you? And you'll die before it comes to fruition" ( a good olive tree takes several decades to produce).

The old man replied "They planted before us and we ate, we therefore plant so others can eat."

The king was impressed and said "This tree already benefited me!" He gave the old man a reward.

Now, let's return to Martin Luther.

I had heard a number of times that Luther is supposed to have offered this retort to those who in their millenarian fervor wanted to drop all worldly concerns and await the imminent return of Jesus:

"If I knew that Jesus would return tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today."

Online, I found a non-millenarian variant of this that has been dismissed by Luther scholar William R. Russell:

Luther probably never said, "If I knew I was to die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today."

Interestingly, this 'quote' has migrated to a different Martin Luther:

"If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today."

Martin Luther King Jr.

It has also been attributed to Stephen Girard:

"If I knew I should die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today."

Stephen Girard

And if you don't know who Stephen Girard was, then go to this biographical site on Girard.

None of these online sources are especially scholarly, but we can at least see that the story has migrated, sometimes as a one-line remark, across all sorts of boundaries. I'll bet that if I were to dig further, I'd find that some Church Father also said it.

But there's no end of digging, just as there's no end of planting, watering, and reaping. I may not know where this tree story came from or who first planted it, but it has certainly borne a lot of fruit.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The West: Eccentric Culture?

I've recently finished reading Rémi Brague's Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (2002). As the author's name perhaps implies, the book appeared first (1992) in French, where it bore the title Europe, la voie romaine.

That would translate literally as "Europe: The Roman Way." Imagine why the title was altered for an American readership.

Irony aside, I come not to inter Brague on the internet but to praise him on this page. The book is fascinating . . . at least for people like me who muse about little things like civilization. It's not everyone's cup of tea, I know. But for those sipping a cup poured from Huntington's tempest in a teapot, Brague's book is essential reading.

Brague argues that the central characteristic of Western civilization is its "secondarity." Unlike, for instance, Islamic or Confucian civilizations, the West finds its identity in something other than itself -- indeed, in two other cultures to which it is secondary, those of ancient Greece and ancient Judaism. Thus, the West's founding texts are in Classical Greek and Biblical Hebrew and by requiring repeated translation have kept the West aware of its borrowed identity.

This means that -- postmodernist critiques notwithstanding -- the West, at its core, is open to "the other."

Something very important follow from this: the West preserves sources.

Not every civilization does.

Brague notes that Islamic civilization absorbed the civilizations that it conquered by translating into Arabic the texts that it found useful, then used the translations and almost never returned to the originals. Why not? Because Arabic, being the perfect language chosen for Allah's revelation, perfected the originals. The translated texts were considered better in Arabic.

This is not to deny that Islam achieved a high level of culture. It did. But by denying itself repeated access to original, it closed off recognition of its own cultural borrowings. Thus, it shielded itself from self-critique.

The West, by contrast, in preserving sources and returning to them, checks itself critically against the other at its core.

Eccentric civilization.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Poetry Break: Souvenirs

About 20 years ago, my Marin County friend Carla Koop and I took the BART train from Berkeley to San Francisco and stolled about the North Beach area with no aim beyond enjoying the brilliant sun and cool sea breeze.

We stepped into a store selling antiques. Carla tried on a pair of old, wireframe eyeglasses and gazed into an antique mirror.

Despite her youth -- she was only 21 -- Carla suddenly seemed so 'ancient' that I was inspired to write this:


You look upon the world with antique eyes,
through intense lens, with more than innocence,
but only in this moment circumscribed
by shelves and shelves of other people's lives.
Let's peer into this mirror, you and I,
clear through the old and darkened glass. What past
perhaps reflects obscurely back on one
behind the silver-surfaced other side,
who gazes here with solemn, antique eyes?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Post-Post SBL Conference: Monday

I seem to be stuttering. Or is that stammering?

And incidentally, are these terms politically correct? I wouldn't want to offend the stutterers and stammerers among us. Oops . . . I mean the . . . um . . .

Let's see, according to the online Merriam-Webster, stutter is "akin to . . . Gothic stautan to strike," and stammer is related to "Old Norse stemma to hinder, damn up."

So . . . stutterers and stammerers could be . . . something like . . . "the violent" and "the damned"?

This simply won't do. I say that we put an immediate stop to etymology. That's my politically correct position from now on. I even have a slogan:

"Root out etymology!"

Okay, that's out of the way. Now, down to business. Mark Cheeseman has completed (it seems) his SBL entries:

We're still waiting for that 'promised' surprise, Mark. As for Tim Bulkeley (I keep wanting to say "Berkeley"), he hasn't yet added any posts for the sessions after Wednesday, but I'll keep you posted if he does.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Civilizational Fault Lines Analyzed

An article on the Huntington "clash of civilization" thesis within the context of East Asia, written by me and my friend Myongsob Kim, of Yonsei University, will soon appear in the June 2005 edition of Issues & Studies:

On Huntington's Civilizational Paradigm: A Reappraisal

This is such 'breaking news' that as of today (July 3), the link to our abstract still isn't working. You're probably wondering why I use the future tense "will soon appear" to refer to the "June 2005" edition since we're already into July 2005.

Good wonderment.

The short answer is that this happens all the time in the scholarly world. The long answer is . . . I don't know the long answer. (Hmmm . . . my long answer is even four words briefer than my short answer.)

For the curious among you harboring other wonderments, Issues & Studies is published by the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan's National Chengchi University.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Post SBL Conference: Saturday

I've returned to Seoul and reported back to my wife on all of the goings-on that have now gone on by. She and my two kids are each now one tee-shirt richer than before I left, so they got something out of this conference, too.

I finally had time to look up and read the other two SBL bloggers. Here are the links for Mark Cheeseman's blog posts on Deinde:

Mark hasn't yet blogged for Friday's session, but he has promised a special surprise for us all . . . I think.

Now for links to what Tim Bulkeley has written on his SansBlogue site:

His blog only continues to Wednesday, and I don't know if he intends to blog more on the conference. Meanwhile, I've added him to my blogroll.

Today's post won't amount to much, for I can barely keep my eyelids propped open with cinnamon toothpicks. I flew out of Singapore at nearly midnight and touched down in Seoul (Incheon, actually) at 7:30 a.m. for a trip of six and one-half hours (subtracting the hour due to crossing time zones).

Naturally, I couldn't easily sleep -- and the offer of a 4:30 a.m. meal didn't help me in my resolve to catch some shuteye. Plus there was a lot of turbulence, enough to have the fellow next to me muttering something to God. It sounded more like a muted conversation than a prayer, but it got us through the rough air patches.

Incidentally, I happened to meet David Clines and Heather McKay at the airport yesterday evening, so I invited them to drink a juice with me while they waited for their gate to open. This provided me an opportunity to ask a bit more about David's paper.

I inquired about the word for "design" in Job 38:2, namely 'etzah, and the significance of the fact that God took the trouble to show up for Job's question. Clines reads God as showing up simply to put Job in his place, not to comfort him by revealing concern. He doesn't think that 'etzah would encompass "justice," not for human beings anyway, for God's examples all have to do with the natural world -- nothing at all said about people.

That was about all that we had time for. I've still got questions, but mostly inchoate ones . . .