Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I've been tagged? Not for long . . .

There's a yellow tag on my ear and a radio transmitter around my neck.

Nathan Bauman did this to me. I think that he's working for that dastardly Willie Wirehand, who's been looking for me ever since I left the Ozarks long ago.

Ah, the Ozarks . . .

When I was a young boy, we didn't yet have running water. To get water for the day, we'd open a trapdoor in the floor of our kitchen. Just inches below was a pipe about one foot in diameter. Grandpa would lift its lid and lower into it by chain a long bucket with an ingenious mechanism that allowed the bottom to fold up into the bucket so that water would well up inside. Once filled, the bucket could be hauled back up without losing a drop as the bottom closed again from the water's weight.

No piped water also meant no toilet. We had an outhouse with . . . yes, a thick Sears and Roebuck catalogue. The old kind without the glossy pages. Perfect for the task.

That was in town, at my maternal grandparents' place.

Sixteen miles away, at the end of a dirt road and only five miles across the fields and through the woods from Norfork Lake was the farm of my other grandparents. The place still had the feel of the wild about it. A forest started at the farm's edge and continued, running by river valleys and over hills through national forests and along Buffalo National River all the way to the Oklahoma border and beyond more than 150 miles away. At night, we could sometimes hear cougars scream, and bears would occasionally amble in to threaten the hogs. Deer, bobcats, foxes, racoons, skunks, weasels, and more left their nocturnal tracks behind. In the sky circled eagles and hawks and buzzards and crows, looking down on us. Every time that we plowed the garden, the furrows turned up stone arrowheads, tomahawks, knives, and less recognizable things.

I wandered the wooded valleys and hills, fishing, swimming, just looking . . .

I still have a bit of the wild in me . . . so you'll understand if I scratch this tag off, shake the transmitter loose, and escape . . .

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Fast women, fast horses, and Jesus . . .

I used to hate American history.

No, that's too strong. I would've hated it if I'd had to study it, but I didn't have to, so I didn't hate it. Rather, I shared McDougall's earlier opinion, one that he still held -- if I recall -- when I knew him at Berkeley:

I used to disparage American history as a relatively provincial field of research. (Freedom Just Around the Corner, XII)

But even that degree of engagement with it was only if someone prompted me to pronounce judgement, which didn't happen too often since I moved in circles similarly disposed toward my views.

Mostly, I was indifferent. I simply had no interest in the American past. Studying American history was fine for other folks, but I was interested in the real past in all its glory, and America didn't have that.

Indeed, a mere 400 years ago, the United States of America did not exist.

That, however, is precisely the point. Only 400 years ago, this complex American civilization of some 300 million people that dominates the globe simply did not exist.

And that is interesting:

For if historians aim to explain change over time, then the United States is the most swiftly moving target of all, because nowhere else has more change occurred in so short a span. (XII)

Merely 400 years ago, it didn't exist, yet it:

today hosts the mightiest, richest, most dynamic civilization in history -- a civilization, moreover, that perturbs the trajectories of all other civilizations just by existing. (XI)

This dawning realization brought McDougall to conclude that:

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

Ironically, it is not a place that the Founding Fathers would have expected. Rough Jacksonian frontier democracy of men who liked boozing, brawling, and praying quickly overtook the more genteel visions of America's founders, whose emphasis upon proper education, concern with Greek and Roman history, appeal to enlightened views of Deism, and adherence to nobless oblige elitism were all being relegated to history:

Washington, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson had imagined the American experiment coming to all sorts of bad ends. They never imagined the Federal City overrun by frontiersmen who cared nothing for history and loved only cheap land and credit, whiskey, tobacco, guns, fast women, fast horses, and Jesus. (497)

"Not," adds McDougall, "necessarily in that order" (497).

Monday, August 29, 2005

It's rainin' mean, hallelujah!

It's rainin' mean, amen!

No offense meant to the Weather Girls, with their two tons of fun, but it was raining mean yesterday. Fortunately, I'd had the stratospheric foresight to take along some umbrellas despite those Girls' advice . . .

We'd left home on a mission from God at half past eight in the morning, caught a bus for the subway, reached Bonghwasan Station as the rain was barely starting, and exited Noksapyeong Station as buckets and even washtubs were being emptied from the heavens.

They must've had the devil washing up the mess that he'd made above because we were having a devil of a time below.

Theology aside, the elements were not working with us. Despite our umbrellas, we got soaked from the water falling in buckets, blowing in sheets, splashing in arcs, and running in clichés . . .

But nothing stops "The Incredibles"!

Like salmon swimming upstream, we pushed on through the rushing, surging waters of a river that used to be the street.

At the church door, our Sunday school teacher stared as I stopped to remove my shoes and pour out cups of dirty water.

He must have been impressed, for he later asked me to assist during the main church service with gathering the offering (though not in my capacious shoes).

At first, I demurred: "Well, I'm not really a member of this church."

Everyone present assured me, "No problem."

And the teacher added, "God didn't stop you at the door and keep you from coming in, did he?"

"He tried," I said. "That's what that rain was all about!"

Everybody laughed despite the potential of further divine intervention, and I helped with the offering plates for the first time since I was thirteen.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

How do I love thee? Let me count the days . . .

My little boy, En-Uk, is counting off the days until we visit Daegu:

"We have to sleep 13 more times . . ."

I'm tempted to ask him the consequences of a sleepless night. Would we have to leave a day later? Or what if we took a quick, afternoon nap -- could we leave for Daegu sooner?

Instead, I asked him why he so desperately wants to visit Daegu. He said:

"I want to play computer games. And video games."

So, that's his little game! Or games. And I had imagined that it was deep love for his maternal cousins or the mysterious, genetic pull of consanguinity.

I decided to torment him:

"Oh, there won't be time for that on this trip, En-Uk. We'll be busy hiking on that nearby mountain all day."

En-Uk's eyes grew wide with concern. He still remembers that terrible mountain where I refused to carry him and he cried all the way down. But he then caught the twinkle in my own eye and realized that I was joking.

"So . . . I can play?" he asked.

"En-Uk," I told him, "I reckon you can count on it."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Poetry Break: "Trail Home"

Trail Home

We left the hills of homeland,
Our faces set for west;
Blue soldiers rode beside us,
Old Hick'ry's truest best.

Behind us passed smoke mountains,
Dark forests, silver streams;
Down lay our dead in silence
To dream lone, bitter dreams.

We lingered by broad waters,
Till winter made them land,
Then crossed that father river—
Child, woman, man, in hand.

We reached the arc-cut mountains:
The soldiers said, "Yur home,"
Then rode away and left us...
Strict orders not to roam.

Some settled in a hollow—
Or drank themselves that way;
Some dove down deep, cold rivers;
Some wept in ash and clay.

Oh, hills hide bitter stories—
This land that now you till—
And stones hold acrid secrets
In ways you never will.

Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1993

Friday, August 26, 2005

Constitutional Consolidation

Writing a constitution is easy.

Well . . . maybe not so easy. The Iraqis are finding it difficult. In a recent Los Angeles Times article (August 19, 2005), Joseph J. Ellis calls them "Baghdad's foundering fathers."

But the American Founding Fathers also discovered its difficulty. Our Constitutional Convention officially began on May 14, 1787 and lasted until September 17, 1787, but the Constitution wasn't fully ratified until May 29, 1790, and the Bill of Rights wasn't added until December 5, 1791.

Still, writing a constitution was the easy part.

It's said that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked by several citizens what manner of government had resulted. His answer:

"A republic, if you can keep it."

That ability was long in doubt.

One significant aspect concerned the emerging attitude toward law -- the respect that might be shown for it. Or in the American case, the scofflaw attitude. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Americans had been inveterate scofflaws, ignoring the distant British government's rulings.

At the beginning of the new republic, therefore, Americans lacked the respect for the Supreme Court that they generally have for it today. Moreover, the first Chief Justice to the American Supreme Court, John Marshall, was not the sort of man whom one might expect to be up to the task of forging a court that would gain respect.

There's an anecdote told about him. He loved wine, had his own wine cellar, and made a rule of uncorking a bottle at court for himself and the other justices whenever they had to meet on a rainy day. One bright sunny morning, he popped a cork and started to pour the wine. Justice Joseph Story pointed out that the sky was blue. Marshall adopted his pose of Chief Justice and intoned:

"Such is the broad extent of our jurisdiction that by the doctrine of chances it must be raining somewhere." (McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, 462).

Justice Story dropped his dissent.

Now, such a trait, this willful defiance of an accepted rule, might also characterize a scofflaw or a corrupt lawyer, but look carefully at what Justice Marshall was doing with those words -- justifying the right of the Supreme Court to respond to new circumstances by appealing to the extent of its legitimate jurisdiction based upon a reasonable interpretation of the power granted it by the Constitution.

In other words, he gave a legal ruling. He appealed to law.

Critics of Marshall argued that his court "arrogated to itself the power to interpret the Constitution and overrule state legislatures and courts" (McDougall, 462). This seems like an odd charge today, but largely because we have inherited a Supreme Court that bears Marshall's stamp.

Like Franklin, Marshall remembered that republics have a habit of degenerating and dying. Marshall's aim was to interpret and adjust the law to increase the American republic's chance of survival. Toward this aim, the Marshall Court invoked memory and the Constitutional Framers' original intent, using four strategies:

First, the justices pored over the Constitution like theologians or literary critics, teasing from words such as "contract"' and "commerce" legal principles of universal and timeless validity. Second, the Court rendered decisions in non-Constitutional cases with an eye to their implications for Constitutional ones. That way new social or economic disputes might be adjudicated so as to reinforce first principles. Third, Marshall established prerogatives and procedures the Supreme Court has employed ever since, including secret, collective deliberations, the quest for consensus, and opinions expressed in non-partisan language. Fourth, Marshall drew on eighteenth-century precedents to establish the novel American doctrine of judicial review. When overlapping legislative jurisdictions resulted in contradictory laws, whether among the thirteen colonies or between the states and the federal government, only the courts could decide which laws violated the Common Law and/or Constitution. In all things the Marshall Court's calling was to resist demagoguery, to tame the wild horses of social change with bridles of principle. In the early nineteenth century the wild horses were state governments, hence Marshall lectured Americans (fellow southerners most of all) that their federal polity was a compact of the people, not the states. (McDougall, 462-463)

Note that Marshall appealed to the Constitution's preamble in his emphasis upon the people's compact:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union . . .

Marshall's overall stategy was one based upon the dual principles of legitimacy and legality, for by emphasizing the people, his Court drew upon the legitimacy conferred by a democratic republic and the legality conferred by a basic law.

Marshall didn't always succeed, for there were sometimes scofflaws in high office. When Marshall ruled in favor of the Cherokee against the Georgia state court in 1832, President Jackson (who supported a policy of Indian removal) is reputed to have said:

"John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"

Whatever was actually said about enforcing the Supreme Court ruling, Jackson wouldn't, Marshall couldn't, and Georgia thought it shouldn't.

No system is perfect.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Willie Wirehand Seeks Revenge: The Shocking Truth

He tried to kill me.

No, this isn't paranoia. Everyone who's read Gravity's Rainbow knows that electrification grids are part of a vast system of control and that anyone who sees the real truth about this is in mortal danger.

Okay, maybe it is paranoia, but as Delmore Schwartz pointed out, "even paraniods have real enemies."

Enemies like Mr. Willie Wirehand.

This story took place sometime after I had begun to doubt Willie's benevolence, glimpsing the malice beneath his genial mask . . .

My brothers and I lived with our maternal grandparents in a sandstone house that our grandpa had built in the 1930s, before electrification. Wiring, therefore, had to be added later. But they failed to wire the basement.

Our home's basement long remained a pre-modern space inaccessible by night. But as we five boys grew bigger, we required more sleeping room, so my grandma rigged up an extension cord stuck through a crack in the floor. This allowed us to plug in one light bulb.

This bulb dangled from our basement's low ceiling and enabled us to find our beds at night. But that wasn't enough for us boys. Our grandparents had one of those old pre-WWII radios the size of a stove. It had a big speaker in front and a phonograph turntable on top. None of this worked anymore. The only sign that electricity still coursed through its system was a tiny red light that glowed in the darkness like an evil eye.

We moved it to our basement where it could glow in that blackest night.

There was one problem. To see the red light, we had to uplug the bulb before plugging in the radio. In between, we were plunged into profound darkness.

Well, I was always the crazy one, so I volunteered to plug the radio in despite a darkness so deep that I could see neither the plug nor the extension cord even though I held both in my hands.

My first attempt failed.

Although I managed to maneuver the plug's prongs into the extension's outlet, a spark of electricity briefly illuminated the night, and I dropped the two cords in alarm without completing the connection. But we didn't hear them fall to the ground, and I realized that they were linked and hanging somewhere in the darkness before me.

I went groping for them and closed my right hand directly on the bare prongs. A wave of power surged through my body, I saw more light than I had ever seen, and I screamed. Another wave and light. I screamed again. A third time. I screamed and collapsed, breaking the circuit.

Too weak to move, I lay face-down on the dirt floor of our basement and thought that I was dying. My brothers thought that I was already dead.

But I didn't die. Slowly, strength enough returned for me to pull myself up onto a nearby bed, where I lay for some time before recovering enough to stand. Even then, my brothers had to help me outside . . .

At the time, I considered my brush with death a careless, stupid accident. Years later, though, the thought struck me. That was a plug. And what is Willie Wirehand? That's right: a plug. Look at his legs -- they're . . . prongs! Prongs on a plug!

What sort of a plug?

A plug for electrical co-operatives set up by the United States government to bring rural areas still outside of their control into a vast electrification grid. Willie Wirehand is the genial corporate symbol of all that.

A corporate symbol, yes, but also a signifier become signified with a vengeance.

I'd begun to see the truth behind Willie's smiling mask. That's why he tried to kill me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Genial Face of Mr. Willie Wirehand

Willie looks friendly as all get-out, but be wary about Mr. Wirey.

Willie Wirehand: Friend or Fiend?

He appeared on REA Day.

No, not like "Leah"! "R-E-A"! Get it right.

REA was short for "Rural Electrification Administration" -- but I doubt that any of us kids knew that. What we did know was that every summer on what was officially called "REA Day," big tents would go up on the large grounds of the local Rural Electrical Co-operative in Salem, popcorn and snow cones would be hawked to quicken and quench thirst, grilled meat would be splattered onto paper plates, new electrical contraptions like the microwave oven would mystify the masses, and gospel music would come belting out of big speakers -- all brought to us courtesy of Willie Wirehand.

The entire population of Fulton County, Arkansas seemed to show up for a meeting that despite its official name went on for several days, from early morning till late at night.

As a kid, I worked at the popcorn and snowcone stand and dreamed of escaping town with Willie Wirehand, joining him in his travels around the country and enjoying REA Day every day.

I was a little confused. I must have imagined that the REA was a kind of circus . . . or like a carnival, rolling around with the seasons.

But what drew me to Wille? What can I say -- he had an electrifying personality. He was Lord of the Dynamos and could work miracles.

I saw some with my own eyes -- like the bacon slice inexplicably frying on an unheated paper plate in that microwave contraption. If that was 'technology,' it was indistinguishable from magic.

And they said that Willie turned water into electricity.

That part was a bit worrisome. I had seen Norfork Dam, where the transformation took place, and we sometimes swam in that lake. What if it all suddenly turned to electricity?

That would be hell.

Surely, Willie wouldn't do something like that.

Would he?

I decided to stay in Salem, town of peace, and keep my distance from Willie . . . just in case.

You can never be too careful.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Excursus: The Biblical Tradition of the Kinsman-Redeemer

Anyone totally uninterested in literature or literary criticism should stop reading right now.

You have been warned!

I mentioned that I'm working on an article on William Langland's Piers Plowman. As my many readers (yes, all three of you) will recall, my preoccupation with this article occasioned my apology for not providing more details about the scientific work of the three gentlemen who'll be lecturing this Thursday at Korea University on their Nobel-Prize-winning research.

Those of you who read Maverick Philosopher might have seen my inquiry there about the type of argument in logic called modus tollens. I applied the argument to a statement in Passus 18 of Piers Plowman. In the fuller passage, which occurs during the harrowing of hell, Christ notes his kinship with mankind through the incarnation and uses this kinship to promise universal salvation on Judgement Day for all those remaining trapped in hell after he has freed the Old Testament saints:

And my mercy shall be shown to many of my half-brothers,
For blood-kin may see blood-kin both hungry and cold,
But blood-kin may not see blood-kin bleed without his pity:
I heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
But my righteousness and right shall rule all hell
And mercy rule all mankind before me in Heaven.
For I'd be an unkind king unless I gave my kin help,
And particularly at such a time when help was truly needed.
Enter not into judgment with thy servant. (Langland 2000, 18.408-416)

And my mercy shal be shewed to manye of my bretheren;
For blood may suffre blood bothe hungry and acale,
Ac blood may noght se blood blede, but hym rewe.
Auaivi archana verba que non iicet homini loqui.
Ac my rightwisnesse and right shal rulen al helle,
And mercy al mankynde bifore me in hevene.
For I were an unkynde kyng but I my kyn helpe --
And nameliche at swich a nede ther nedes help bihoveth:
Non intres in iudicium cum servo tuo. (Langland 1978, 18.394-400)

What follows below is a speculation on the biblical concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer as applied to Langland's view of the significance of kinship in Christ's promise of universal salvation.

Excursus: The Biblical Tradition of the Kinsman-Redeemer

In the Old Testament scriptures, from which Langland quotes liberally, we find the concept of the kinsman with the duty to redeem (Hebrew: ga'al) and therefore called a kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew: go'el). In Israelite custom, a kinsman-redeemer was a prominent male relative with responsibility for an extended family:

The Hebrew term designates a male relative who delivers or rescues (Gen 48:16; Exod 6:6); redeems property (Lev 27:9-25) or person (Lev 25:47-55); avenges the murder of a relative as a guiltless executioner (Num 35:9-34); and receives restitution for wrong done to a relative who has since died (Num 5:8). The unique emphasis of the redemption/salvation/vindication associated with the kinsman-redeemer is the fact that this action is carried out by a kinsman on behalf of a near relative in need. (Bramer 1996)

Leviticus 25:47-48 sets out the law for a kinsman-redeemer to follow in redeeming an enslaved kinsman:

Now, if an alien or temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien residing among you or to a member of the alien's clan, redemption (g'ullah) remains (possible) for him after he has sold himself. One of his kinsmen may redeem (g'ale) him. (translation mine, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Edited by Rudolf Kittel, Wilhelm Rudolph, and Hans Peter Ruger. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984)

The concept of the kinsman-redeemer also has a theological aspect, for God is often portrayed as Israel's go'el, (e.g., BHS: Job 19:25; Ps. 19:15; 103:4; Jer. 31:11) a father who will redeem them (ga'al) from the consequences of their sin (Bramer 1996; Hubbard 1991). We see something similar applied to Gentile Christians in 1 Peter 1:17-19:

Now, if you invoke as Father the one judging impartially according to each person's deeds, (then) conduct (yourselves) with fear during the time of your exile (from God). You know that you were redeemed (elutrothate) from your futile manner of life handed down from (your) fathers not by perishable things, (such as) silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ, as of an unblemished and unspotted lamb. (translation mine, Greek New Testament, The United Bible Societies. Fourth Corrected Edition, 1993)

Although not made explicit, Christ here implicitly acts as a kinsman-redeemer for those Gentile Christians who invoke God as Father. Worth noting is that the Vulgate Bible, which Langland often quotes from, uses the same Latin verb for "redeem" in Leviticus 25:48 (redimi, redimet) and 1 Peter 1:18 (redempti). One should perhaps then note that Langland uses the Latin word "redempcio" in having Truth prooftext the Vulgate's Job 7:9 to demonstrate that there is no redemption in hell (Langland 1978: 18.149). The figure of Truth turns out to be mistaken, for ten verses after Christ's statement that he'd be an unkind king if he didn’t give his kin help,Langland borrows from a medieval hymn (Langland 2000, p. 345, n. 7) to have the angels sing:

Culpat caro, purgat caro, regnat Deus Dei caro. (Langland 1978, 18.409)

Flesh sins, flesh purges, flesh reigns as God of God. (translation mine)

Langland, shortly before the passage on kin helping kin, also has Christ inform Lucifer that he does:

. . . by right and by reson raunsone here my liges. (Langland 1978, 18.350)

. . . by right and by reason here ransom my liegemen. (Langland 2000, 18.360)

The translation given here is "ransom," but Mayhew and Skeat offer "redeem" as another possibillty (Mayhew/Skeat 1888). Either way, the term lies within the semantic field proper to the Old Testament concept of the kinsman-redeemer. Did Langland intend this? The evidence is merely circumstantial -- as befits an excursus. Perhaps this excursion overinterprets the evidence, but as Umberto Eco has noted, even an "overinterpretation is fruitful" (Umberto Eco, "Reply," Interpretation and Overinterpretation: Umberto Eco with Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler, Christine Brooke-Rose, edited by Stefan Collini. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992., 143).

Bibliographical note: My Piers Plowman sources are these two:

Langland, William. The Vision of Piers Plowman. Translated by E. Talbot Donaldson. In The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Vol. 1A: The Middle Ages, edited by Alfred David et al., 317-48. 7th ed. New York and London: Norton, 2000.

Langland, William. The Vision of Piers Plowman (B-Text). A Critical Edition of the B-text based on Trinity College Cambridge MS B.15.17. Edited by A.V.C. Schmidt. London and New York: Dent and Dutton, 1978.

Monday, August 22, 2005

International Law: Unlike Domestic Law

Yes, I'm still posting on this boring topic.

I want to quote again from Joseph S. Nye's Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, this time on how international law differs from domestic law:

Domestic law is the product of legislatures and customs, sometimes called common law. Domestic law involves provisions for enforcement, adjudication for individuals (you can go to court yourself and bring suit), and orderly revision by legislation. (162-163)

Law within a state thus ordinarily requires a government with executive, judicial, and legislative powers. In America, we're aware of these as the three separate branches of government, each of which can 'check and balance' the other two. Not every state separates the powers in this way, but the three powers must exist for a legal system to function.

Nye points out that "[i]nternational law is not like domestic law" (162) even though there may exist a rough parallel to the legislative power of a state:

Public international law is similar in the sense that it consists of treaties, which are agreements among states, and customs, which are the generally accepted practices of states. (163)

I previously quoted this statement about treaties and customs in my posts asking and answering what international law is. In these two posts, we've already seen some of the problems with international law in this 'legislative' sense.

Nye notes other problems, specifying two ways in which international law differs from domestic law:

[I]t differs dramatically in enforcement and adjudication. On enforcement, there is no executive to make a state accept a court decision. International politics is a self-help system. In the classic ways of international law, enforcement was sometimes provided by the great powers . . . . Adjudication in international law is by states, not by individuals . . . . Instead of any of the world's billions of citizens bringing cases to the international court, only the states can bring cases, and they are unlikely to bring cases unless they want to get them off their dockets or think they have a reasonable chance of winning. (163)

And even if a state lost, it could simply ignore the international court -- and probably would unless a stronger state intervened with force.

What are the consequences of these dissimilarities and weaknesses? Nye tells us:

International law basically reflects the fragmented nature of international politics. The weak sense of community means there is less willingness to obey or restrain oneself out of a sense of obligation or acceptance of authority. The absence of a common executive with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force means that sovereign states are in the realm of self-help and in the realm of force and survival. And when matters of survival come up, law usually takes second place. (164)

So . . . is the international system a Hobbesian one where life is "nasty, brutish, and short" (Leviathan, Chapter 13)? Not quite, for agreements among nations do exist. But we shouldn't have any illusions about the 'international community' since that cloaks the self-interest of states, nor should we imagine that a system of 'international law' similar to domestic law regulates international relations.

We might hope for the day of a legitimate international law grounded in a democratic community of democratic nations, but that day is long off.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

International Law: What it is.

Ask a question, get an answer.

Two days ago, I quoted Joseph S. Nye's Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History to answer my question of what international law is:

Public international law . . . consists of treaties, which are agreements among states, and customs, which are the generally accepted practices of states. (163)

Then, I remembered Wikipedia. Here's what it says on the sources of International Law:

International law has three primary sources: international treaties, custom, and general principles of law.

This statement lists one source more than Nye does: general principles of law. But what are "general principles of law"?

General principles of law are those commonly recognized by the major legal systems of the world. Certain norms of international law achieve the binding force of peremptory norms (jus cogens) as to include all states with no permissible derogations. Legal principles common to major legal systems may also be invoked to supplement international law when necessary.

The word "derogate" means "to take away a part so as to impair" and is probably being used here in its strictly etymological sense:

from Late Latin derogatus, past participle of derogare, from Latin, to annul (a law), detract, from de- + rogare to ask, propose (a law)

But what would be examples of such peremptory norms, standards of such overriding authority as to preclude annulment? Again, Wikipedia provides the answer. Peremptory norms, having the status of a jus cogens (compelling law), include such things as:

. . . prohibitions on waging aggressive war, piracy, genocide, slavery, and torture.

From my admittedly hazy understanding of the history of legal thought, these peremptory norms stem from the Western legal tradition, so I wonder if a competing legal system would consider them peremptory.

The various Muslim systems of law known as shariah, for instance, might not consider all -- or even any -- of these prohibitions to express valid norms. Islamist legal thinking certainly appears to have no compunction about violating them.

I therefore see serious, fundamental problems ahead for international law if the force of Islamism continues to grow.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Korea University: Nobel Laureate Lecture Series VI

Coming up on Thursday, August 25th, 2:00 p.m., at Inchon Memorial Hall, is the sixth in Korea University's series of lectures by Nobel Laureates.

Three speakers will participate, all three winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry, albeit from different years: Alan J. Heeger (2000), Yuan T. Lee (1986), and Ryoji Noyori (2001).

I'm curious how this marathon event will be handled. The earlier lectures usually took about an hour each, plus around a quarter hour for the introduction and a half hour for questions. Let's say an hour and a half. That would put next Thursday's event at four and a half hours.

Such a session would be rather long, so I presume that the format will be different.

I'll be attending, but since I'm currently researching and writing an article on William Langland's use of "kinship" in Passus 18 of Piers Plowman, I won't have much time to read up on their work or think about questions to pose concerning chemistry -- a great loss to the discussion time, no doubt.

For any Seoul residents who read this blog and are planning to attend, here are the lecture topics:

Alan J. Heeger: "Risk and Innovation in Science -- A Personal History of the Journey to the Nobel Prize"

Yuan T. Lee: "Energy, Environment and Responsibilities of Scientists"

Ryoji Noyori: "Molecular Catalysis: Today and Tomorrow"

Given my interests in the history of science and in teaching my students to think creatively, I expect that Heeger's lecture will appeal to me most. Here's what he promises:

I will focus on creativity in science and the close association of creativity with risk-taking in scientific research and in the development of technology. Semiconducting and Metallic polymers are known as the Fourth Generation of Polymer materials. I will recount the early discoveries and the subsequent development of this field all the way to commercial products. The magic of the Nobel Ceremony and festivities will be a highlight of the lecture. I will close with a summary of "life after the Nobel Prize" including a description of some of my current activities in science and technology.

For more about Heeger's life and ideas, see the Nobel Prize site for his biography and his Nobel Lecture.

I don't want to neglect the other two speakers, so here are what they promise. First, Yuan T. Lee:

During the long history of mankind, the planet of earth used to be an infinitely large place. But after the industrial revolution and especially during the twentieth century things have changed dramatically. World population increased from 1.5 billion to 6 billion and the earth has shrunk in relative terms. This sudden transition from "unlimited earth" to "limited earth" has extremely significant consequences, yet the development of human society, moving along the track of infinity for a long time, has not seemed to be able to adapt to the new reality that the earth is "limited." On the "limited earth," perhaps the most important challenges for scientists are problems related to the use of energy and the impact on our living environment. The "developed" countries' patterns of growth, obviously are not ideal models for "not yet overdeveloped" countries to emulate. We need to find a new, sustainable way of development for entire human society on earth, paying special attention to harmonizing the relationship between humankind and nature. This is the first time in human history that all human beings on earth have been faced with learning to work together and live together as one family in a global village. Our future depends entirely on how effectively the entire world would function as a community. This is a necessary awakening -- vital for the survival and sustainable development of mankind.

This sounds like a worthy topic, but Lee might want to consider getting an editor to go over his writing. For those interested in Lee's life and ideas, check again the Nobel Prize site.

Finally, we have Ryoji Noyori:

Chemists are proud of their ability to create highly valuable compounds from inexpensive materials. Our health and daily life rely largely on man-made substances produced by multi-step chemical conversions of petroleum- or biomass-based feedstocks. However, the current standards of chemical synthesis need to be much improved. Many existing chemical processes, though beneficial, produce unwanted wastes along with target products, and inefficient recovery of solvents is an environmental problem. Every reaction should proceed with a high atom-economy, and the overall synthesis must be accomplished with a low E-factor, thereby minimizing the cost of waste disposal. Without such approaches, chemical manufacture is unsustainable in the 21st century. Molecular catalysis plays a key role in achieving this goal. Our research efforts along this line will be discussed.

Another worthy cause. For those interested in Noyori's life and ideas, check again the Nobel Prize site. I probably won't post on this again until after the lectures.

Friday, August 19, 2005

International Law: What is it?

Because I teach a two-semester course in Western civilization that starts with prehistory and comes up to the present, I'm trying to increase my understanding of international relations by reading more on political theory. Currently, I'm slogging through Joseph S. Nye's Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History.

Nye is that "soft power" guy that you've heard of.

I'm reading the fourth edition, but I see that a fifth edition is already in print. I presume that they do not differ much, but more recent is usually better if you're interested in seeing how political analysis is applied to contemporary cases. I'd be interested in reading how Nye analyzes the recent Iraq War in terms of its legitimacy based on international law. One of the charges against the American invasion has been that it was "illegal."

I have generally assumed that "illegal" here implies "against international law." But what does this mean? Don't misunderstand me -- I'm earnest about this question. What is international law?

Nye first tells me what it is not:

If we imagine the U.N. General Assembly as the equivalent of Congress, it is a very strange kind of legislature. It is based on the principle of one state, one vote, but that is not a principle that reflects either democracy or power relations in the world. Democracy rests on the principle of one person, one vote. In the U.N. General Assembly, the Maldive Islands with 100,000 people in the southern Indian Ocean has one vote and China, which is a country with over a billion people, has one vote. That means that a Maldive Islander has 10,000 times the voting power of a Chinese in the U.N. General Assembly, which does not fit well with the democratic criteria for legislatures. Nor is it a very good reflection of power, because the Maldive Islands has the same vote in the General Assembly as the United States or India or China. So there is an oddity about the General Assembly that makes states unwilling to have it pass binding legislation. U.N. General Assembly resolutions are just that: resolutions, not laws. (162)

Interesting. This means that in ignoring a U.N. resolution, a state breaks no laws. This doesn't mean that there are no consequences, but merely that the issue is not of a legal nature.

There is, of course, an international judiciary, the International Court of Justice, which Nye identifies as responsible for adjudicating claims based on international law:

[T]he International Court of Justice . . . consists of 15 judges elected for 9-year terms by the United Nations, but the International Court of Justice is not a world supreme court. States may refuse its jurisdiction, and a state may refuse to accept its judgments, even if the state has accepted the court's jurisdiction. (162)

So even if the International Court of Justice ruled that some state's act is 'illegal,' the ruling would not be binding upon that state unless that state agreed to make the ruling binding -- a rather unlikely scenario.

Moreover, courts don't make law; they interpret it. So . . . where does it come from? Nye locates the source of international law in the customs and agreements that regulate relations among states:

Public international law . . . consists of treaties, which are agreements among states, and customs, which are the generally accepted practices of states. (163)

Note that this sort of law lies outside the United Nations and depends upon the power of states for enforcement. One could try to appeal to the International Court of Justice to adjudicate a claim that another state has broken a treaty, but this returns us to the problem already noted, i.e., that the International Court's rulings are not binding.

So . . . is 'international law' really law?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Silent Cyclone

One summer, a tornado passed over.

My aunt saw it first as the storm's black cloud encroached on the farm:

"Oh, my Lord, there's a tornado in that cloud!"

It had arrrived from the west on a late summer afternoon, unexpectedly, its approach obscured by a large hill. Dust, already rolling in waves, swept over my uncle running from the field where he had been plowing. Cousins, brothers rushed with our aunt for storm-cellar safety as the cloud overtook us.

In a moment of calm, as my uncle lifted open the cellar door, I raised my eyes to the cloud and saw it.

Only a hundred feet above ground, directly overhead, the funnel held me mesmerized in its turning, turning my excitement to fear, transfixing me in that spot.

Then, it was gone.

We hadn't even had time to descend into the musty dark cellar, so quickly did the storm pass over. No rain, no hail, no lightning, not even the expected, deafening roar.

Just dust, a cloud passing over, and silence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Federalism as an 18th century American "innovation" . . .

I've not been able to track down the specific exhortation, but Tom Paine is said to have urged the British colonists in America to "make laws for themselves."

Once Americans began doing this, claims McDougall:

[T]hey produced three astounding innovations in the ways people related to each other, their government, and the human race. The first was religious liberty, the second federalism, third free immigration. (Freedom Just Around the Corner, 312)

The word "astounding" is rather bold. I presume that McDougall wants to jolt us into recognizing that Americans were sailing into uncharted territory. The old, 'tried and true' political cartography was abandoned, and charting a safe passage into this new political future were no maps, just speculations.

Thus, Americans had to innovate. Two of these innovations -- religious liberty and free immigration -- are clear enough for me to grasp without having to grapple. But federalism is not so immediately clear, so perhaps we need to get a firmer grip. Here's what McDougall tells us:

Federalism based on overlapping sovereignties was a stunning innovation that defied Old World logic and appeared cumbersome, if not self-destructive. It remains a novel and fragile experiment even today. But the Federalists meant somehow to reconcile both order and freedom and empire and liberty in a way that Rome and Great Britain had not. They attempted it not only because they were eager to gobble up North America, but because they realized an America "too free" to defend itself in an imperialist world would soon cease to be free at all. (312)

In the background to McDougall's remark about the "Old World logic" of the 18th century lie the two European traditions of feudalism and monarchy. From historical experience, Europeans knew the centrifugal tendencies of the former and the centripetal tendencies of the latter and saw the two as driven by conflicting, irreconcilable forces that could not stably coexist within the same political system.

Federalism proposed to bring them together in a sytem modeled upon the Copernican cosmos:

[T]he U.S. Constitution was drafted and ratified. It made the nation an elegant solar system in which the federal government attracted and glowed life into the states without consuming them in its central fire. The states in turn gave the sun glory precisely because they were free to spin in their own orbits. Checks and balances kept the spheres in proportion, their celestial music in harmony. (320)

Wikipedia's entry on "Federalism" puts this more succinctly:

Federalism is a system of government in which power is constitutionally divided between a central authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces). The two levels of government are interdependent, and share sovereignty.

Also worth looking at is Wikipedia's entry on U.S. Federalism, which distinguishes among three different federalist political movements in American history:

During the 1780s, Federalism was a movement whose governing philosophy was that national government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak. Its adherents pushed for a convention to revise the Articles, and, when this convention proposed the Constitution of the United States, they pushed for its ratification. Their opponents were called the "Anti-Federalists".

. . .

From about 1790 to 1820, Federalism referred to the policies of the Federalist Party. Its opponents were called "Republicans".

. . .

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Federalism refers to the policy of devolving power from the federal government to the states. It is often identified with Conservatism, and indeed there is a large overlap between the adherents of the two movements.

The Wikipedia entry then observes:

The third movement appears to be almost diametrically opposed to the first two in that the third seeks a weaker national government while the first two movements sought a stronger national government.

The opposition is perhaps only a matter of perspective. Federalism proposes a balance between center and periphery. Thus, pushing for a more powerful central authority or pressing for strengthened peripheral powers can both be consistent with federalist political philosophy.

Consistency depends not upon appealing to the national center or the outer provinces but upon maintaining the federal system's balance.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A brief moment of nostalgia . . .

As a kid in the Ozarks, I always looked forward to our town's annual carnival.

This wasn't the time of parades and street-dancing before Lent but the autumn week that the funfair 'Carnies' came to town. They arrived in that indefinite period between the end of the Little League baseball season, when the ballgrounds were emptied of players and could be filled with rides, and before the weather grew too cool in the evenings.

Sometimes, these carnivals occurred in conjunction with the harvest festival and fair, when farmers would display their finest, fattest livestock and women their best fruit preserves.

Well, I could look at a pig any day of the week that I cared to, and a jam sandwich could be had for free at home, so I'd avoid those sights and tastes and head straight for the rides.

Since our family was poor, I had to choose rides with care. Naturally, I selected the very rides that I would most avoid today -- the Stratospheric Ferris Wheel of Decompression, the Whirling Octopus of Oblivion, the Careening Coaster of Collision.

Okay, I made those names up, and the rides probably only seemed big to a small boy, but they were fun.

But what most sticks in my mind now were the songs that played. At these carnivals, I first heard such classics as Johnny Rivers' Secret Agent Man (1966) and the Hollies' Long Cool Woman (1972), the kind of songs that promised anonymous danger and mystery.

Precisely what I wanted from the carnival.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Masons rule America!

Well . . . that's what I was told.

Honestly, people did try to convince me of this back in the early 80s. The Masons were part of an Illuminati elite bent on subjugating the world.

Or maybe it was the other way around: the Illuminati were part of a Masonic elite bent on subjugating the world. Either way, some group behind the scenes was manipulating things to its own advantage.

My interlocutors had proof. They whipped out their wallets and showed me the American dollar with its Great Seal of the United States. I wasn't very impressed by this and dismissed it as mere symbolism.

Turns out, I was wrong. According to McDougall:

The Great Seal of the United States, adopted in 1782, was a Masonic amulet with the now sacred number 13. The obverse depicted thirteen stars, the thirteen letters of E pluribus unum, and an eagle (the highest stage of the soul) with a thirteen-striped shield. The arrows and olive branch in its talons invoked a fighting faith, but one whose purpose was brotherhood. The reverse depicted the all-seeing Eye, the thirteen-letter motto Annuit Coeptis (He favors these undertakings), and the unfinished pyramid of the Novus Ordo Seclorum (New Order of the Ages). (Freedom Just Around the Corner, 331)

And the man who in 1793 guided the procession to the groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. capitol and led the Masonic ceremony declaring the unity of Freemasonry with the republic "in the thirteenth year of American independence . . . and the year of Masonry, 5793," was none other than George Washington (333).

Okay, so I was wrong about the Great Seal, but so what?

Many of the men on the maternal side of my family were Masons, and I recall one of my uncles performing a beautiful Masonic service at my maternal grandather's graveside after the Baptist minister had ruined the Church's funeral service through issuing an altar call for the benefit of any of those who wished to become Christians now that they had effectively had the hell scared out of them by the presence of death.

So, I don't worry about the Masons.

It's the Ultranomians that concern me because nobody has ever heard of them. Until now.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Significance of the American Revolution

Or perhaps it was 'only' a rebellion.

But a rebellion was a "Big Thing" in the 18th century, and according to Walter McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner, this rebellion was especially significant for Americans by "making them aware of the 'new men' they had become":

Americans ceased to behave and self-consciously started to act. (312)

What does this mean? Think of "behave" in the sense that a behavioral psychologist might use the term: conditioned behavior. Or in the sense that parents use in telling their children: "Behave yourself!" With the great rebellion, Americans stopped behaving and started self-consciously acting up -- or acting out a new role as citizens of a republic rather than subjects in a monarchy.

What was different about Americans, compared to Europeans? Several things:

American sons and daughters increasingly left their homes and hometowns, married whom they pleased, changed churches, and chose their own trades. Americans as a whole rebelled against the metaphor of a "mother country" nurturing her colonial children. The men of 1776 were in most cases the first of their families to obtain a college education, wealth, or social prestige. They imagined something Europeans considered outrageous and, in their settings, impossible: that every man might aspire to education, wealth, prestige, and power. Just as shocking was the founding Americans' concept of virtue. To be sure, their views of human nature were derivative, but they carried into practice the astounding proposition that what others damned as sin or vice might "have the virtue" of enriching lives, expanding liberty, and fostering the pursuit of happiness. Commerce was "next to religion in humanizing mankind" . . . [and] Americans craved equal opportunity, equal rights, and a broadly expanded franchise. (311)

In other words, Americans differed from Europeans in demanding the freedom to choose their own lives as individuals in a democratic republic whose legitimacy was based on the concept and practice of equality before the law and whose expansion was based on commerce as a source of power and prestige.

Not everybody benefited from these things. American women were freer than European women but still derived most of their advantages through their husbands and sons, American Indians lost out as white Americans took more and more land without the restrictions imposed by the British crown, and African Americans gained nothing from the new system beyond the dubious 'distinction' that each African-American male had come to possess through being worth 3/5 of a man.

Yet, this new political system contained this seeds of greater liberty and justice for all.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is is just me?

Or is there currently a problem accessing Blogspot and Typepad in Korea?

One year ago, Korea's MIC (Ministry of Information and Communication) quietly ordered these two internet domains blocked to prevent people within Korea from viewing online videos of Kim Sun-il's beheading at the knife-wielding hands of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad, the violent Islamist guerrilla and terrorist network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that operates in Iraq.

That block lasted about a month.

Since yesterday, I've been unable to access either Blogspot or Typepad. If the problem were just with my access of Blogspot, I'd assume that this domain is having temporary difficulties. But there's that disquieting problem with Typepad, too.

One year ago, when Blogspot and Typepad were being blocked, I encountered difficulty in carrying out my academic research since I rely on the internet to access much of the primary and secondary sources that I need, for not only Blogspot and Typepad were blocked but also various other domains. Here's the letter of mine that was published in the Korea Herald at the time (July 14, 2004):

As many of you are aware by now, the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) is blocking millions of websites. As justification for this censorship, the MIC has explained that its intention is to block access to the video of Kim Sun-il's beheading at the hands of radical Muslims. Apparently, the MIC's aim has failed since many Koreans are reportedly sharing the video privately through other cybernetic means.

Many netizens have commented on the MIC's inconsistency in blocking the Kim Sun-il video while allowing videos showing the beheadings of foreigners such as Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Paul Johnson. Netizens have also argued for total freedom of access to the internet as integral to the right of free expression. Roughly, the argument is that a free society depends upon free speech, and therefore upon free access to information.

The MIC might counter that blocking websites showing the beheading of Kim Sun-il poses no special threat to internet access and that there is an overriding need in this case to prevent emotional trauma to Kim's family. The fallacy in this argument is twofold. First, as already noted, the MIC has failed to stop many Koreans from viewing the video. Second, the MIC is not blocking just specific websites; it is blocking entire domains, millions of websites.

Censorship on this scale does pose an implicit threat to a free society. Take my situation. I am an assistant professor at Korea University, and my research interests are rather broad. Korean libraries do not always have the English-language sources that I need for my research, but thanks to Korea's cybernetic sophistication, I have been able to use the internet to meet most of my scholarly needs. Consequently, I have published on John Milton, Islamic radicalism, and the worldwide growth of Christian evangelicalism, among other articles. Recently, I have worked with scholars from Hanshin University and Yonsei University on a project investigating the problematics of Korean unification, for which I was almost totally dependent upon internet resources. In all of my research, I had always been very satisfied with my ability to access online articles.

Currently, however, I am encountering a problem. As I continue my research on various topics, I find that the blocking of domains has cut off access to many, many websites. A websearch process that once took only seconds is now impossible. I am merely one individual, but if we multiply my case by hundreds, thousands, even millions of others, then the danger to a free society becomes clearer.

Korea's deserved status as a modern society and its stated goal of becoming an economic hub for Northeast Asia will increasingly depend upon individuals having broad internet access. I therefore call upon the MIC to lift the blocking of domains and again allow free access to the internet.

Horace Jeffery Hodges, Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Korea University

That was one year ago, and the block was eventually, and quietly, lifted -- probably not in response to my letter. As for my current lack of access to parts of the internet, I can't see any reason for the MIC to be blocking websites since there's no ongoing controversy about any major issues . . . right?

Well . . . there is that remark by Unification Minister Chung Dong-young about South Korea's negotiating position in the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear programs:

Our position is that North Korea should justly have the right to use nuclear (sic) for peaceful purposes such as agriculture, medical use and electricity generation as its general right. (Lee Joo-hee, "N.K. has right to peaceful nuclear use: Chung," The Korea Herald, August 12, 2005, 1B)

But we know that there's no controversy here over Chung undermining the American position at the six-party negotiations by publicly revealing to North Korea a major policy difference between the South Korean and the American allies, for the Americans have quickly reassured everybody that there is no controversy:

"There's no rift between the United States and South Korea. We are close allies. We are close partners in a broad bilateral relationship and particularly in our common approach to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman of Washington State Department said Thursday. (Lee Joo-hee, "Washington stresses no rift with South Korea," The Korea Herald, August 13, 2005)

You see, nothing to worry about, for the differing South Korean and American positions are actually the same because the two allies share a "common approach to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula" even though they don't mean the same thing by "denuclearizing."

One might be concerned over such discrepancies, but I've decided to stop worrying about this rift. It's now big enough to take care of itself.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Deadlines and Storylines

Yesterday morning, I took time off from my academic work and visited the Da-Il Community's Angel Hospital, a Christian-funded hospital that provides free medical care for the poor.

I've previously mentioned that my wife and I are translating a book by Pastor Choi Il-Do (최일도):

최일도: 밥짓는 시인 퍼주는 사랑. 시인목사 최일도의 아름다운 세상찾기.

We've -- rather tentatively -- rendered the title as: A Poet Making Rice, Scooping Love. Our visit to Angel's Hospital yesterday was for discussing our nearly finished translation and clarifying some facts.

Pastor Choi Il-Do himself was at a different Da-Il center, so we spoke with his wife, Kim Yeon-soo who answered most of our inquiries. Some of our questions concerned obscurities in the book's chronology.

The story in the book begins about 25 years ago with Choi Il-Do first falling in love with Kim Yeon-soo, who was a Catholic nun at the time. This -- as you can imagine -- posed a problem for Choi, who made a turbulent trip alone to Gasa Island off the southern coast of Korea to deal with his feelings. His experience there forged his resolve to seek Kim's heart against great odds.

This part of the tale was enthralling, for Choi fell deeply enough into despair to seriously consider throwing himself from the ship into the sea.

Yet, something was missing, as if part of the story had been left out.

When I finally began editing the preface -- which I received last because my wife translated it last -- I discovered that there had been a prior trip to Gasa Island and that Choi had written love letters there daily for a month, sending them to Kim at her convent. She had never received the letters, however, for one of her superiors had intercepted and destroyed them.

This seemed rather significant to me, and I wondered why this part of the story had been left out of the narrative but mentioned in the preface.

So . . . my wife and I asked Kim Yeon-soo about this.

Originally, she explained, Pastor Choi had included it in his larger narrative, but the Korean publisher had edited it out:

"Too repetitious," the editors had said.

Well . . . yeah, Choi did repeat the journey, and I can understand that some readers might find this redundant . . . but the book is autobiography, not a novel. The earlier Gasa trip really happened. And it was a significant journey.

I wish that I had read this preface earlier, for I would have encouraged Pastor Choi to integrate the first Gasa trip with the larger narrative. There's no time for that now, so I'm advising him to drop it from the preface entirely since its presence there would raise questions about its absence in the text.

But someday, a scholar writing on Pastor Cho Il-Do and his Christian social work for the poor will notice the discrepancy and ask, "Now, why was this left out . . ."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Poetry Break: No Sympathy for the Devil?

If you're offended by offensive language (and tautologically speaking, who isn't?), then you'll definitely want to forego reading this 'poem' unless you like being offended.

If you insist -- albeit forewarned -- in reading what follows, then keep in mind the distinctions between author, narrator, and protagonist. In other words, don't assume that either the narrator or the protagonist speaks for me as poet.

Not that such distinctions did Rushdie any good . . .

Hell's Bells

Once, when he thought to sit a spell,
Satan sat on his pointed tail,
which pained his downside sharp as hell --
a shooting shot! A red-hot nail!

At once, Old Scratch shot up in pain --
the point had worked its way way in --
he grabbed his tail and pulled in vain,
then screamed for help from wayward kin.

"This ain't no scratch!" the devil swore,
as damned and demons stood to stare.
"I'm pricked as deep as f--kin' whore
or stallion-mounted, staggerin' mare!"

Then, damned and demons did their best
to unhook Satan from his butt,
but all they did at his behest
did only carve a deeper cut.

"G-ddamn you all!" he thundered loud
(an otiose curse, one might well add).
Then, poor Old Scratch, his head down, bowed,
began to cry, for he felt bad.

"O Lord," he prayed, "what have I done
that I should suffer to the bone?
Oh why not have respect for one
who's served you in the breach alone?

As loyal opposition, I
have labored, lo, where e're I be,
to gather in poor souls to fry
that you might save them then from me.

You must admit," the devil sighed,
"I make your grace the more complete.
So, why do you go pierce my hide?
You'll also pierce my hands and feet?

One crucifixion was enough --
or, do you think you need a sub?
You need not tell me life is tough;
I know it well -- 'aye, that's the rub.'

Just let me do my job with class --
not force me to some bare-assed task.
In other words -- this may sound crass --
Lord, save my ass! That's all I ask."

The Lord then heard Old Scratch's call
and sent His power down to hell,
which healed the devil from this fall
but also changed his balls as well.

And now, when Satan roams the lands,
loud ring out clear damnation's knells,
for where once slung his odious glands
now hang what foul-mouthed call "Hell's Bells!"

Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1995

If you did read this far, I hope that you were more amused than offended at this poetic exercise in folk etymology. But if you were offended, then remember Flip Wilson's excuse:

"The devil made me do it!"

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Special Announcement: Registration Now Required

Due to the large number of spamful comments that I've been busy deleting today, I've switched over to the registration system.

Initially, I was tolerating the spam and trying to respond in a lighthearted and -- I hope -- humorous manner, but since I receive an email announcement each time that someone comments on one of my blog entries, too many spamful emails were beginning to pile up. I got tired of deleting comments -- once from my email box, another time from my blog entry -- so I decided to make the shift.

I realize that the registration system will inconvenience people who wish to comment, but I ask for your understanding.

Also, I apologize for this boring if informative blog entry.

Western Individualism and an Ordered Society

For me, one of the really big historical questions is this one:

How has the West succeeded in liberating the energies of the individual without causing social chaos?

I'm still reading Freedom Just Around the Corner, and McDougall deals with this question within an American context, so I'll supply a few relevant passages to mull over. The first passage raises the question, albeit obscurely cloaked in the garments of national survival for the liberated American colonies -- no longer colonies, of course, but 13 free and independent states united in an imperfect union under the Articles of Confederation and in need of a more powerful central authority:

The chances [of granting any power to a central authority in the absence of war] were slim unless the states and people could be scared, bribed, bullied, duped -- or persuaded -- into believing their local liberties and private pursuits of happiness required a national government. But that was only the prelude to two harder tasks. The first was to design a national government that did not repress and indeed harnessed the raw human nature of a free people. The second was to wrap that naked statue of wrestling interests in such resplendent rhetorical raiment that Americans could feel good about doing well, indeed make their nationhood a sort of religion. The British and French could not imagine such a thing. To them raw human nature was the solvent of order. That is why they concluded from America's sloppy war effort these "United States" could not long survive. If instead they had asked how Americans managed to win despite their untidy behavior, the truth of [Edmund] Burke's lesson to Parliament might have sunk in. A people so loving of liberty, steeped in religion, rife with smart lawyers, and "full of chicane" [cf. 230-231] would figure out how to make even vice the servant of virtue. (278-279)

McDougall looks to the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment's views about human nature in the American construction of a system that would place vice at the service of virtue:

[T]he Scottish savants arrived at truths eluding most of their peers in Europe. They saw human beings as a volatile mixture of reason and passion. They observed how men and women both made history and were made by it. They learned to temper dreams of what humanity might become with an appreciation of the immutability of human nature. They looked at themselves and wild Highlanders alike, admitting even the most erudite scholar could err and even an ignorant herdsman grasp truth. They became, in short, consummate realists who imagined no stylized states of nature or utopias crafted by man. They believed instead in what [the philosopher Thomas] Reid called common sense: the innate power common to all human beings to apprehend reality through the senses, mind, intuition, and conscience and then exploit that grip on reality to advance what [Francis] Hutcheson called the pursuit of happiness. A perfect society was impossible, but common sense taught that the least bad society was one that freed each person's passion for improvement and so made possible a measure of freedom and progress for all. (281-282)

That "least bad society" was one of divided, balanced powers, as the American 'founding father' Alexander Hamilton learned from experience, reflection, and his reading of that Scottish philosopher David Hume:

In a series of 1781 articles written under the nom de plume [pen name] "The Continentalist," Hamilton seized on Hume's notion of "divided sovereignty." Before 1776 the British crown and Parliament had mocked the colonies' protests [for their own lawmaking, self-governing authority within the larger British system] on the grounds that divided sovereignty was a contradiction in terms. But Hamilton saw what the colonists wanted then -- local representative government within an empire led by a strong executive -- was exactly what the thirteen states needed now if they were to survive. Yes, the states were sovereign in a sense, but would soon lose their freedom unless a strong "common sovereignty" acted on behalf of them all. Nor was there any contradiction in that because Congress and the states alike derived their authority from the people. Finally, Hamilton found in Hume and his critics the clue to effective government: do not pretend human nature to be something it's not (that is, forget "republican virtue") and do not attempt to suppress human nature. Rather, fashion government so as to encourage individual greed for money, power, prestige under sturdy legal procedures that do not dictate what people should strive for, but only how they must play the game. Thus did he devise a political counterpart to Adam Smith's "invisible hand." Thus did he seek to make corruption creative and -- insofar as a reputation for honesty is an asset in business and politics -- perhaps gnaw away at corruption over time. (285)

In short, America is a utopian experiment in the self-rule of free individuals founded upon conservative principles about the dangers of an immutably selfish, power-hungry human nature.

And that's why America works.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Toast of the Town

I make the best toast in Seoul.

This puts me ahead of 10.3 million people (as of 2003).

How did I accomplish this? As you know, I rise early -- normally (abnormally?) around 3:00 a.m. -- and spend about three hours reading and blogging.

You didn't know that? Pay attention!

Anyway, being the first one up, I am responsible for preparing breakfast. Over the years, one gets better at details.

"But," you retort, "isn't toasting bread a rather simple thing?"

Well, no, not if you do it right. I've spent years mastering the Maillard process, getting the sugars and amino acids to bind properly.

Why have I bothered?

Because every morning, I make a toast for my wife:

"Ah, toast of the town," I tell her, "you are perfection itself and deserve only the perfect toast."

I then raise a mug of coffee in her honor -- appropriately enough, for the "toast" in "to raise a toast" was originally a metaphor:

. . . referring to the beautiful or popular woman whose health is proposed and drunk, from the use of spiced toast to flavor drink, the lady regarded as figuratively adding piquancy to the wine in which her health was drunk.

The spiced toast mentioned here refers to the slices of toast typically used as sops with the spiced punch served at Christmas celebrations. The spiced drink itself is known as wassail, a word going back to Old English "wes hál," which means "be in good health." The "hál" here is related to the still-known if rarely used English words "hail" and "hale" as well as to the very common English words "heal" and "whole" -- all four being cognates of the German "Heil."

Yes, as in "Sieg Heil," but don't blame the word "Heil," which is also related to "heilig," the German cognate to "holy."

None of these are related etymologically to the word "hell," which is -- one assumes -- an unholy place. And it's been said by William Congreve that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." And if you end up in hell, you're toast!

Which brings us back to the perfect toast that I make every morning for my perfect wife. How do I do it? Put the toast in the toaster and let it brown lightly. Remove it from the toaster, take a serrated knife, slice the toast cross-sectionally (so as to make two, thinner slices), turn the toasted sides to face each other (so that only the untoasted sides are exposed), and place the toast back in the toaster to let the untoasted sides toast.

The result: exquisitely toasted bread. Excellent with butter, honey, jam, cream cheese, nutella, or whatever topping you prefer.

Monday, August 08, 2005

An Insightful Use of Reader-Response Literary Theory

Stanley Fish doesn't need my praise, but I'll praise him anyway. Or, rather, his writings.

But maybe I'm just praising myself, given the assumptions of some variants of reader-response literary theory:

Reader-response criticism is a group of approaches to understanding literature that have in common an emphasis on the reader's role in the creation of the meaning of a literary work . . . . Some take the position that there is no objective literary text at all, that the entire meaning of a literary work is in the reader's mind, and that the reader's personal biography, physical status, and psychology lay therefore at the center of a literary text (Wikipedia, "Reader-response criticism")

Yet, I don't agree with this radical variant, and neither does Fish -- not the later Fish, at least:

In Is There a Text in This Class? (1980) Fish acknowledges that his earlier work treated his own experience of reading as the norm, and goes on to justify this position by introducing the idea of 'interpretive communities.' This meant that he was trying to persuade readers to adopt 'a set of community assumptions so that when they read they would do what I did.' (Raman Seldon, Peter Widdowson, and Peter Brooker, A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (London & New York, etc.: Prentice Hall, 1997), 60)

Now, I haven't read this work by Fish, but if he's arguing that some community assumptions are better in that they lead to a fuller understanding of a particular text, then I agree. Not every reader's response is equally valuable. Some responses have no value at all beyond their usefulness as bad examples.

Speaking of bad examples, the fall from innocence in Milton's Paradise Lost is interpreted by Fish through a judicious, insightful use of reader-response literary criticism. In Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, Fish begins as follows:

I would like to suggest something about Paradise Lost that is not new except for the literalness with which the point will be made: (1) the poem's centre of reference is its reader who is also its subject; (2) Milton's purpose is to educate the reader to an awareness of his position and responsibilities as a fallen man, and to a sense of the distance which separates him from the innocence once his; (3) Milton's method is to re-create in the mind of the reader (which is, finally, the poem's scene) the drama of the Fall, to make him fall again exactly as Adam did and with Adam's troubled clarity, that is to say, 'not deceived'. (1)

I'm indebted to Fish for some of my own thoughts on Milton's achievement in bringing us to an intimate knowledge of our fallen condition:

Everything, of course, depends upon Satan's cooperation. Milton ensures this by making Satan both convincing and appealing through portraying him as all too human. We identify with the devil and his plight. Can anyone read of Satan blazing his path through the realm of chaos without secretly urging him on and covertly wishing him success? His subsequent actions may make him appear less heroic, but he still has the power to win our sympathies. (Hodges, "Free-Will Theodicy (pdf) . . ." Milton Studies of Korea 13.2 (2003.11), 348)

Paradise Lost is therefore a very dangerous poem, for it is dangerous "to re-create in the mind of the reader . . . the drama of the Fall" (Hodges, "Like One of Us . . . ," 299):

Why is this dangerous? Because Milton has intentionally intangled readers in an act of original sin. Fish refers to the re-creation of the Fall as taking place in the "mind of the reader," which might lead the casual hermeneut to think that the sin re-enacted is of a purely conceptual nature. Nothing could be further from the truth, for Fish means that Milton intends "to elicit the experience of fallenness in the reader" (Ruby 80 (Ruby Ryan, "Reclaiming Paradise Lost (pdf) . . ." Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, 1 (2003) 79-88)). Given Milton's assumptions, the knowledge of evil that he intended for us to bear is of an experiential kind, for the evil does not merely come into our minds and go, unapproved, leaving "[n]o spot or blame behind" (5.117-119). Rather, we assent to it. No mere conception, it leaps like Sin from our brows and seduces us further (cf. 2.746-767). Consequently, Milton's purpose in pursuing "Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme" (1.16) is a profoundly ironic one, for while the knowledge of sin obtained may open our eyes in surprise, it also darkens our minds. Not only "Milton is . . . too full of the devill" (John Beale, qtd. in Forsyth 1 (Neil Forsyth, The Satanic Epic (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2002))). Thanks to his poem, so are we. (Hodges, "Like One of Us . . ." Milton and Early Modern English Studies, 14.2 (2004.11), 299-300)

With all of this 'self-quoting,' I might seem to be "just praising myself" after all. Be that as it may, I hope that my readers gain something of value other than my possible usefulness as a bad example.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Impossibility of Translation

The word "translate," from the Latin translatus, literally means "carried over," but it loses this concreteness in its 'translation' from Latin to English.

My wife and I have begun translating books from Korean into English. Rather, my wife translates, and I edit her translation. We try very hard to translate well . . . but what does this mean?

To help myself understand what this means, I'm currently reading Susan Bassnett's Translation Studies, first written in 1980 but revised in 1991 (London and New York: Routledge). Bassnett draws from Hilaire Belloc, On Translation (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1931) to explain one of the difficulties of translating well:

The translator should not 'plod on', word by word or sentence by sentence, but should 'aways "block out" his work'. By 'block out', Belloc means that the translator should consider the work as an integral unit and translate in sections, asking himself 'before each what the whole sense is he has to render'. (116)

Translating is a type of traveling, so you have to know where you're going if you want to get there. The "whole sense" of a section is your next destination. But different languages map out differently. Here's a problem described by Cathy Porter for those who might want to translate Russian:

Russians have a first ('Christian') name, a patronymic and a surname. The customary mode of address is first name plus patronymic, thus, Vasilisa Dementevna, Maria Semenovna. There are more intimate abbreviations of first names which have subtly affectionate, patronizing or friendly overtones. So for instance Vasilisa becomes Vasya, Vasyuk, and Vladimir becomes Volodya, Volodka, Volodechka, Volya. (Alexandra Kollontai, Love of Worker Bees, translated by Cathy Porter (London: Virago, 1977), 226)

Bassnett cites Porter's note on page 118 and observes that this information "is of little help during the actual reading process," for if a translator "retains the variations of name," then "the English reader is at times confronted with the bewildering profusion of names on a single page all referring to the same character." This complexity is made still more complicated because:

[T]he naming system can indicate multiple points of view, as a character is perceived both by other characters in the novel and from within the narrative. (Bassnett, 119, borrowing from Boris Uspensky, A Poetics of Composition (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973))

Translating from Korean poses its own peculiar problems. The hierarchical nature of Korean society is reflected in the varying ways that characters in a book speak to each other, but the degree of courtesy and formality expressed naturally in Korean will sound artificial, stilted if rendered in English:

"Honored older brother . . ."

People simply don't speak like this in English. Bassnett cites Robert Adams on page 119 to show that this problem also pertains to translating from French into English:

Paris cannnot be London or New York, it must be Paris; our hero must be Pierre, not Peter; he must drink an aperitif, not a cocktail; smoke Gauloises, not Kents; and walk down the rue du Bac, not Back Street. On the other hand, when he is introduced to a lady, he'll sound silly if he says, 'I am enchanted, Madame'. (Robert M. Adams, Proteus, His Lies, His Truth (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973), 12)

Bassnett sums up the problem and her approach to its solution:

In the discussion of equivalence . . . it was shown tht any notion of sameness between SL [Subject Language] and TL [Target Language] must be discounted. What the translator must do, therefore, is to first determine the function of the SL system and then to find a TL system that will adequately render that function. (119)

In my experience, this is at times simply impossible in a literary text. Something -- often very much -- is lost in translation. One could, of course, retrieve it in a footnote, but this is scholarship, not literature.

Shaping a translation thus requires a subtle negotiation between precision and style, and translators, like diplomats, must be well-versed in the art of finding a graceful compromise.