Monday, October 31, 2005

Milton on libertarian freedom:

Granted, he doesn't call it that.

But his theodicy requires a free-will defense, so Milton puts one in the mouth of the Supreme Authority, God the Father, who tells us in Paradise Lost, Book 3.97-128 that he has created mankind with freedom so that mankind can freely remain loyal but that mankind will freely succumb to Satan's temptations and fall into sin and that mankind thus bears full responsibility for his freely chosen sin:
Whose [responsibility] but his own? ingrate, he had of mee
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all th' Ethereal Powers [ 100 ]
And Spirits, both them who stood and them who faild;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have givn sincere
Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love,
Where onely what they needs must do, appeard, [ 105 ]
Not what they would? what praise could they receive?
What pleasure I from such obedience paid,
When Will and Reason (Reason also is choice)
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoild,
Made passive both, had servd necessitie, [ 110 ]
Not mee. They therefore as to right belongd,
So were created, nor can justly accuse
Thir maker, or thir making, or thir Fate,
As if predestination over-rul'd
Thir will, dispos'd by absolute Decree [ 115 ]
Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed
Thir own revolt, not I: if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less prov'd certain unforeknown.
So without least impulse or shadow of Fate, [ 120 ]
Or aught by me immutablie foreseen,
They trespass, Authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge and what they choose; for so
I formd them free, and free they must remain,
Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change [ 125 ]
Thir nature, and revoke the high Decree
Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain'd
Thir freedom, they themselves ordain'd thir fall.
Milton describes a freedom that surely deserves the label libertarian, for God allows nothing to causally determine man's choices, for that would have man serving necessity rather than God, nor does God do anything to causally influence man's will in choosing, for that would place the onus for sin upon God. Thus, Milton's God insists:
I formd them free, and free they must remain,
Note, however, that Milton has God add the subordinate clause "Till they enthrall themselves." This is no offhand remark, though it sounds almost casual. Milton will need it as much later in his story as he needs libertarian freedom now. Mankind will enthrall himself to himself, precisely as the angel Abdiel informs the rebelling Lucifer:
Thy self not free, but to thy self enthrall'd; (PL 6.181)
Enslaved to his own self, mankind will require God's grace to lift him out of the pit into which he has fallen, thus initiating the entire Christian drama of redemption . . . which Milton only alludes to even in his follow-up poem, Paradise Regained.

But more on that another time.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hear my Decree!

Read this post or feel my wrath!

I probably should have included the crucial passage from Paradise Lost that prompted my query concerning divine decrees and modal logic, for some of you who read my blog might wonder which decree Milton's God actually uttered.

The archangel Raphael narrates to Adam and Eve the story of Satan's fall, how he rebelled against the authority of God's Son despite God's decree that those who disobey the Son will fall and remain forever fallen.

Here follows the passage, from Paradise Lost, Book 5, which I'm quoting from the 1774 edition, conveniently online at Dartmouth College's Milton Reading Room:

Hear all ye Angels, Progenie of Light, [ 600 ]
Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Vertues, Powers,
Hear my Decree, which unrevok't shall stand.
This day I have begot whom I declare
My onely Son, and on this holy Hill
Him have anointed, whom ye now behold [ 605 ]
At my right hand; your Head I him appoint;
And by my Self have sworn to him shall bow
All knees in Heav'n, and shall confess him Lord:
Under his great Vice-gerent Reign abide
United as one individual Soule [ 610 ]
For ever happie: him who disobeyes
Mee disobeyes, breaks union, and that day
Cast out from God and blessed vision, falls
Into utter darkness, deep ingulft, his place
Ordaind without redemption, without end. [ 615 ]

Line 602 announces God's words as an irrevocable decree, and lines 611-615 present the words that my query focuses upon (and note the word "ordaind," a synonym for "decreed"). If I may modernize the words of Milton's God using prosaic language:

Whoever disobeys the Son disobeys me and thereby breaks union with me and on that day will be cast from my presence, and thus from the blessed vision of the divine, to fall into the deep gulf of utter darkness, which will be his place, a place ordained without redemption for eternity.
From these words, one sees that God's decree fits the second case listed in my previous post:

2. God, prior to but knowing Lucifer's choice to fall, decrees that if any angel should fall, then that angel is to be punished eternally.
God doesn't single out a particular angel but refers generally to any angel who disobeys. In my formalized rendering of the case, I've ignored Milton's actual words, "his place / Ordaind without redemption," though I think that Milton is choosing these words very carefully. But more on that some other time.

Meanwhile, for those of you intrepid enough to visit his site, the Big Hominid has a response to my Milton query.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Paradise Lost: Milton and Modal Logic

I recently sent the Maverick Philosopher a query, and while I'm waiting for a reply, I've decided to post the same query here:
I'm working on an article on Milton's Paradise Lost, and perhaps you can clarify something for me.

Say that God creates Lucifer with libertarian free will and gives him a free choice between standing firm in heaven or falling into hell.

Say also that God knows by his foreknowledge that Lucifer will choose to fall into hell.

Query: Is there a difference between the following two cases:

1. God, prior to but knowing Lucifer's choice to fall, decrees that if Lucifer should fall, then Lucifer is to be punished eternally.

2. God, prior to but knowing Lucifer's choice to fall, decrees that if any angel should fall, then that angel is to be punished eternally.

My intuition is that the former case poses a problem for Lucifer's libertarian free will but that the latter case does not. I have this intuition because the former case specifies an individual, whereas the latter case refers to a class.

Is my intuition misleading me?
Some points might need clarification.

Libertarian free will indicates a free will not subject to any causal chain, either internal or external.

God's foreknowledge foresees all future free decisions but does not cause these decisions.

What God decrees for the future will certainly occur.

I'm posing this query at large here on my blog because others surely have far superior skills in modal logic than I do and can perhaps enlighten me on the differences between the above two cases.

If they do differ, which perhaps they don't.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ozark Mountain Jubilee

"If I can't be a favorite son, I'll be the prodigal one, 'cause I've been gone too long."

I received an email from family back home in the Ozarks. If you recall the story of the tornado, you'll remember this aunt and uncle and their family.

My aunt is writing this:

"Hello to all the family and you. Been a while since we heard from you. Guess all are busy as we are."

City folk imagine that country people take life easy, but farm work keeps one busy, and the animals don't take weekends off. Still, there are good times:

"Summer visitors all gone home. Fore Reunion and Stephens Reunion over and cousins back in place."

Every summer, family scattered across the States return to their Ozark roots. Sometimes, they just come on vacation. Other times, they plan family reunions. At those times, you might have thirty people in a small house. My brother Shannon once counted 27 kids sleeping on beds, sofas, and floors. My father had 12 siblings, so imagine their return with their large families in tow! These days, some of the far-flung relatives bring tents or campers.

I remember the Fore family. Like my mother's family, they had Cherokee blood, and my aunt -- born a Fore -- knew a lot more about wild herbs and edible plants than anyone else I knew.

My paternal grandmother came from the Stephens clan. I knew her brother, Horace, but for years didn't realize that we shared the same name because people pronounced it "Harse." He had a problem with his eyes -- could only distinguish dark from light, and once in a great while could see people as if looking at them though a long, narrow tube. I've always wondered what sort of blindness he suffered from. I spent time with him as a kid. He liked to have me read the Bible to him, and in turn, because he had a feel for wood, he made little wooden toys for me to play with. On his deathbed, he asked if "Horace Hodges" had come, and some thought he meant me, but I wonder if he meant my grandpa, from whom I got my name.

My aunt keeps a garden and loves to can the produce:

"I am still canning the last minute things like Green Tomatoe Pickles and Pumpkin and squash. Takes Woodrow and me both lately. Hey, we are getting old."

They are getting old -- in their seventies, I reckon -- and canning takes a lot of effort. I just hope that they're still healthy when we visit next year to show the kids my home. Sa-Rah and En-Uk have never seen the States, let alone the Ozarks.

Much of the family still lives there:

"Tim and Donna have the old home fixed up pretty. They all been down a couple times of late. Cris likes to fish."

My brother Tim took his family and returned to our boyhood home when mom retired from her job at the hospital and moved into a smaller place. The Cris who likes fishing must be the boy that Tim and his wife adopted.

"Hear Shannon is up North. Can't ever hear from him. Seen Pat at Old Timers this year."

Two more brothers of mine, both far more successful than I.

Shannon has his Ph.D. in counseling and administration . . . I think . . . and teaches in the Department of Education at Niagara University, not far from the famous Niagara Falls.

Pat works as a senior vice-president for the Federal Home Loan Bank in Topeka, Kansas and has his own blog . . . with occasional entries.

More family:

"Your Aunt Virginia has moved near. Down from Martha's. Velna still teaching. Martha retired from her job and keeps her Grandson Drew a couple days a week."

That Aunt Virginia would be my father's youngest sibling. Velna (yes, the spelling's correct) and Martha are siblings and the daughters of the aunt who sent the email.

More on Velna:

"Velna takes two of her grandkids to school. Rifle age three and Shiney age nine."

Rifle? I have a first cousin twice-removed named "Rifle"? Is that politically correct? Probably not, but he has no inkling of that yet, and he's already into 'hunting':

"Rifle went rabbit hunting last week with three beagle pups. Unknown to all, pulling a wagon. About half a mile away he walked up on the porch. They finally heard his name and called us, they thought they had heard that name. When they found him on the deck, he said 'Whats for supper? I'm hungry.' Had old Velna and Curren, Beth and Shinney running and calling until all were hoarse."

Beth would be Velna's daughter. I guess that Curren would be Velna's husband. But what's the correct spelling for the name of Rifle's sister: Shiney or Shinney? (Are these nicknames?)

Anyway, I can imagine the scene. Three-year-old Rifle took his little red wagon and three beagle puppies in it and headed off to 'hunt' rabbits. Half a mile down the road -- the equivalent of several miles in adult steps -- he's tired, thirsty, and hungry from pulling that wagon, so he stops at the first house and asks for food. The folks there don't know him and ask him his name.

"Rifle," he replies.

"Rifle?" they repeat, puzzled. "Okay, but what's your name?"

"Rifle," he replies.

"Yes, but what's your name?"


"Oh . . . your name is Rifle."

At that, I guess they recalled having heard of a little kid named "Rifle." I can't imagine anybody forgetting such a name. I'll certainly remember it, and look forward to meeting this boy with a famous name.

In his teenage years someday, he'll probably get drunk with his friends, who'll joke that "Rifle is loaded."

On to Martha and her grandson:

"Martha done Drews hair up with butchwax and had him look in mirror and he cried out 'I can't like this, I can't like this,' so she had to redo that job."

Butch Wax. I remember that stuff. The barbers used it to make our crewcut haircuts stiff. You probably know this haircut style as the "flat-top." In Drew's case, Martha probably just applied the thick wax to his uncut hair to make it stand up like a Mohawk. I imagine that I can't like that neither.

On that note, my aunt closes this letter:

"Hope this goes through. We think of you often. Love from Woody and me. Aunt Pauline"

There it is, a letter from home.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

If you love to hate...

. . . pretentious critical theory, or bullcrap of any genre, then get thee to Richard Nokes and his Unlocked Wordhoard post on "Pierre Mourier: (S)call(ion)s of (D)is(se)nt."

Here's how Nokes began it all:

One day I was sitting around the office with my friend (and fellow PhD candidate) Mike, and we were grousing about the [listserv] theory flamewar currently going on. What we found especially annoying was that it was clear to anyone who had actually studied the theorists that the participants did not know what they were talking about, and were simply throwing around the names of the Theorists of the Week Club as buzzwords. That's when we came up with the idea for a prank.

We invented a fake theorist by the name of Pierre Mourier, and started a flamewar between the two of us regarding his work...

Initially, those with pretentions to knowing critical theory lurk silently, unsure how to respond. After a week, however, they join in with remarks like "Well, my reading of Mourier is . . ." and proceed to argue for their understanding of what the nonexistent Mourier meant, not realizing that he doesn't exist. Soon, those in on the joke invent other nonexistent theorists to argue about, whom the pretentious also pretend to have read.

Ah, those literary tricksters, Richard Nokes and his gang. Alan Sokol couldn't have done it any better.

Of course, all joking aside, Nokes and his ilk ignore the fact that Pierre Mourier does exist. So do all of the other putatively nonexistent theorist who appeared on that listserv. I have found each one of them by Googling the Library of Babel. Moreover, their existence is supported by David Lewis's many-worlds modal realism.

You, Mr. Nokes, should be ashamed of your ignorance of Pierre Mourier et al.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Great BIG State of Texas...

. . . now has the world's smallest car.

Small must be really big these days if great big 'ol Texas is expressing pride in being the smallest. When I was studying in Waco, Texas at Baylor University many years ago, I noticed that one proud professor there in the math department had tacked to his wall a 'map' of Texas showing the equator running through the southern town of Laredo and the North Pole located just above Amarillo, in the upper panhandle.

Talk about big hegemonic desires . . .

In Arkansas, we used to make jokes poking fun at the Texan tendency to boast:

"There was this really big Texan who was so big that when he died, they couldn't find a coffin big enough to bury him in. Even a piano case wasn't big enough. They were about to bury him without any coffin, till they had the idea of poking a hole in him with a pin. With all his hot air gone, they buried him in a shoebox."

I wonder if the world's smallest car was produced by this same method . . .

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

KFC Tortures Chicks!

Poetry Break: "Tiger"

Coffee break's over. Get back to work!

Today, we are explicating the poem "Tiger," and when I say we, I mean you, not me. I wrote it. I already know what it means. You figure it out.

Now, don't give me any of that poststructernist Barthean crap about the death of the author -- I'm still here! And given the paucity of readers' comments, I'd say that most of you readers aren't here! So, maybe we should be talking about the death of the reader, eh?

As for those of you who did make it to class, I'm watching you, always watching . . .


Ember, ember, glowing tinder
—tiger's burning
eyes of ember.

Biting, fighting, burning tiger
—crazy blazing
flaming pyre!

Brighter, brighter, burning tiger
—burning flaming
flames rise higher!

Burning, churning, charnel turning
—flaming tiger,
ashes burning.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Possessed by...

. . . the demon bean.

Remember those famous before-and-after photos showing the effects of LSD on the web-spinning skills of spiders?

Well, caffeine has a similar effect, as these upper and lower images demonstrate. Contrast the normal web in the upper photo with the highly irregular web spun by a spider suffering caffeinism.

Indeed, caffeine's deleterious effect on webspinning even exceeds that of LSD and other drugs.

If the young Korean lady at Saturday's conference had only known of these scientific findings, she could have rejected my plea for stronger coffee by citing health reasons to support Koreans' consumption of weak coffee.

Had I, nevertheless, insisted on my right to strong coffee, she could have labeled me a "bean fiend" and sent me to The Caffeine Web for help in kicking the coffee habit.

None of this would sway me, for I'm already too highly caffeinated -- toxic even -- and amble about mumble-humming my "Java Jive" theme song:

I love java sweet and hot
Whoops Mr. Moto I'm a coffee pot (yeah)
Shoot me the pot and I'll pour me a shot
A cup, a cup, a cup (yeah)

Yeah . . .

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In my neverending struggle...

. . . for a cup of decent coffee, I fought the good fight yesterday.

Finding a cup of strong coffee in Korea takes patience, time, and persistance. I waited for years, and only the arrival of Starbucks has begun to wake Koreans up to the coffee bean's potential for producing something better than a cup of ersatz hot chocolate.

Yet even these days, one has to state up front that one does NOT want milk and sugar. Otherwise, one automatically gets coffee adulterated with milk and sugar, and I hate that stuff. Or I used to . . . until I decided to pretend that I'm drinking hot chocolate, which makes the concoction semi-palatable.

Yesterday's fight took a different turn. I was attending an international conference at Sungkyunkwan University on the British and American novel, the theme being:

"Dissemination and Resistance"

I wasn't contributing a paper, but eager to do my part, I sought out the coffee. To my surprise, two coffee pots were brewing real coffee . . . it seemed.

Can it be, I wondered, real coffee?

It smelled like the real stuff, so I waited until the brewing had finished and poured myself a cup. Even as I was pouring, my crest fell, for the 'coffee' looked like weak tea. Inevitably, it tasted no better than hot water.

This is where I decided to 'disseminate,' so I approached one of the graduate students responsible for the refreshments table and suggested that the coffee could be a bit stronger, perhaps by using double the amount of coffee grounds.

I received a gracious smile and affirmative nod, which -- I know from experience -- meant I don't know what you're talking about but the answer is no.

One could construe this as her native 'resistance' to my colonializing 'dissemination,' and that would fit the conference theme . . . but I just wanted a cup of real coffee.

Later, after lunch, I tested the afternoon brew to see if my suggestion had been acted upon. Of course, it hadn't. Nevertheless, the graduate student with whom I had spoken came up to ask me if everything was okay.

I replied that the coffee still tasted like water.

She smiled and 'reminded' me that Koreans don't drink strong coffee and that since mostly Koreans were attending the conference, the organizers had to brew weak coffee.

"You could brew strong coffee," I suggested, "and provide hot water for Koreans to mix with it if they want to weaken theirs."

Smiling, the student said, "No, that wouldn't work because Koreans want weak coffee."

"Yes," I insisted. "It would work. It's a good idea because it would satisfy the Koreans who want weak coffee and others who want strong coffee."

The student's smile faded, then forced itself to return as she repeated her view that "This wouldn't work because Koreans drink weak coffee."

"Then," I likewise repeated, "make strong coffee and provide hot water to weaken it. That would be a good idea."

Her smile faded again, forced itself to return, and she said, "No, it's not a good idea."

"Yes," I insisted, "it is a good idea, for it would provide coffee for everyone."

At that point, I headed into the conference room. I could have said some other things, too:

"Isn't this an international conference? Shouldn't those of us who like strong coffee have the possibility of drinking some? When you insist on weak coffee because Koreans prefer it, are you saying that Koreans are more important than the foreigners here? And aren't you assuming that no Koreans like strong coffee -- a dubious assumption, even a presumption these days. Besides, you've got two pots brewing. Why not use one for weak coffee, the other for strong coffee? Put up a sign to distinguish the two. Use your imagination, for God's sake!"

But I didn't say any of those things because I knew that the answer wouldn't change: "Koreans don't like strong coffee."

Dissemination met resistance . . .

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I get a new 'spouse'...

. . . along with about 1100 other people!

A few days ago, I decided to update my personal information in Baylor University's Alumni Directory and discovered that my spouse was no longer Sun-Ae Hwang but a certain "Benjamin Anthony Sowders."

Imagine my surprise.

I changed the name back to the spouse with whom I'm more familiar, then poked about in Baylor's Alumni Directory and also the internet to see if I could figure out how this happened.

I discovered two things.

First, I shared this spouse with another alumnus, "Benjamin Ramsey March." According to the Directory, Mr. March and I both had the same husband!

Second, as I learned from Googling, "Benjamin Anthony Sowders" is an uncommon name. Google found nobody with that name.

I took what little I had found and sent an email to Baylor's Alumni Association:

Dear Madam/Sir:

Greetings. I may not have the correct office, but this was the only related email address that I could locate.

I was just updating my profile in Baylor's Alumni Directory, and to my surprise, my spouse's name was listed as "Benjamin Anthony Sowders." I immediately corrected this to "Sun-Ae Hwang," but I am wondering how this man's name came to be entered into my profile as my 'spouse.'

I checked the name "Benjamin Anthony Sowders" in the Baylor Directory and found him also listed as the spouse of Benjamin Ramsey March. That also looks odd to me, so you might want to inquire if Mr. March really intended this, or if something similar has happened to his profile that happened to mine.

I wonder if "Benjamin Anthony Sowders" is even a real person. I have googled the name and found nothing. I did find one item for "Benjamin A. Sowders," but only in the cache site, the original no longer being on the internet.

It's all very strange.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges

Within a few days, I received this grateful reply from Mr. Alan Bowden, Director of Operations at The Baylor Network:


Thanks for your email, you actually helped out a ton more than you know.

I had a similar complaint from an alum, but instead of telling me what the name was, he just deleted all the info, then let me know. I didn't have much to go on. What we discovered was that the Print Directory project that is going on at this moment gave that same spouse to about 1100 people. We have now deleted all that and hopefully will have the correct spouses out there soon.

Again, thanks!


Do note that my helpfulness can be measured in tons -- whether long or short tons is not specified. Either way, I guess that I have done my Scouting good deed for the day -- for even 1100 days! I can now take one of those "moral holidays" that William James defended and "let the world wag its own way."

Anyway, glad to have been of service and to have back my Sun-Ae, I sent an email to Alan:

Dear Alan,

Well, I'm glad that I could be of help.

The spouse of 1100 people! That's greater than Solomon with his wives! I wonder how many concubines . . .

Anyway, I'm sure that everybody will be glad to have his or her spouse back.


Jeffery Hodges

For the record, I do not doubt that Mr. Benjamin Anthony Sowders is a fine person and far happier without two husbands and 1098 other spouses.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Well, I'll be damned!

This is verdammt unexpected. I'd better pack some warm clothes and find Charon, because I did promise to visit the Eternally Lost Nomad if this ever happened.

Happy Tenth Anniversary!

To Sun-Ae Hwang, the only woman . . .

-whose beauty could rescue me from self-destruction in lonely European cafés . . .

-whose grace could make an honest man out of me . . .

-whose love could produce two well-behaved children . . .

-whose charm could inspire me to write the toast of Seoul-Town . . .

-whose intellect could stretch my vocabulary . . .

-whose personality could make ten years of married life seem like the day we met . . .

Happy anniversary!

My wife read yesterday's 'words'...

. . . found them puzzling, and asked for an explanation.

I started explaining about "Word Verification" for Blogger comments, but she stopped me with, "Of course. I know that. But what's the point?"

"Uh . . . well, I'm being humorous," I explained.

"Why," she wondered "was it funny?" Meaning that it wasn't.

"Because," I explained, "the words don't come from heaven, and even not from hell, but seemingly from chaos."

"That part," she admitted, "was amusing, but what's the point of all these other words?"

"Well," I explained, "They're not really words because they don't appear anywhere, not even in google searches."

"So," she challenged, skeptical, "why's that funny?"

"Because," I explained, "Word Verification calls them 'words.'"


"That," I explained, "is part of the humor."

She gave me a look that said, "Isn't humor supposed to be funny?"

"Never," I explained, "mind."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Words, Words, Words . . .

I once invented a new word.

Actually, I do this rather frequently but usually keep my mouth shut about it. "Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt," as Lincoln . . . or Twain . . . or maybe Emerson is said to have said.

However, I did once utter an invented word of mine while conversing with my wife, who uses English as a second language, and when she didn't recognize it, she stopped me, asking to know what the word means. I provided a definition and mentioned that I'd coined it myself.

"What?!" she exlaimed, seemingly outraged -- and then demanded to know where I got the right to create new words.

"Where," I replied, "do you think new words come from . . . heaven?"

Most words don't stem from heaven, and a few may have escaped from hell, but lately, I've noticed a host of words rising from chaos.

Take a look at "Word Verification," which I've activated for the comments page to obstruct spammers, and see the sorts of things identified as words. Here's one:


Is this a word? Did somebody coin it just for the Word Verification function? Or was it borrowed from another language? I performed a Google search on zwalg and found that it does seem to exist in . . . Dutch? But an online Dutch dictionary gives no clue.

What about:


Surely, this is no word. Google turned up nothing but did provide the helpful tip that I remove the quotation marks. I hadn't been using any, but I removed them anyway and received the same message minus the tip:

Your search - evpbaukq - did not match any documents.


- Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
- Try different keywords.
- Try more general keywords.

The latter two suggestions don't apply, but the first might, so I rechecked my blog's comment page and found that, yes, I'd spelled evpbaukq correctly.

I've checked other 'words':




None of these turn up anything online, though the Google search for affnwijn asks if I meant "afonwen" and even links to the items that it found for that spelling. To me, though, affnwijn looks vaguely like some low-German dialect for "ape wine," i.e., "Affenwein" -- which does actually Google up three times . . . not that I'm eager to try any.

And pnugmpjy reminds me of a nonexistent disease in which a pneumonia infection gives the sufferer a gimpy leg.

The more enunciatable ohfazszl sounds like a euphemistic expletive: "Ohfazszl! My pnugmpjy leg is aching again. Maybe some affnwijn would help."

Perhaps I'll try these out on my wife.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Korean Sincerity? Hierarchy Demands It.

'Nuff said.

Okay, maybe not quite enough. So . . . here goes.

For some years now, I've been puzzled by the Korean emphasis upon sincerity. Don't misunderstand me -- I also think sincerity a good thing. But ask an American to name the most important virtues that a person can have, and I doubt that sincerity would appear near the top. Ask a Korean, however, and sincerity seems to get top billing . . . or thereabouts.


Yeah, I know -- Americans are superficial, so why would anybody expect them to value sincerity?

But I'm asking about Koreans. Why do they value sincerity?

"Do they?" you ask.

"Apparently," I reply.

For instance, at every one of Korea University's Nobel Laureate lectures, Dean Jae Chun Hyun extolled the value of "sincerity" in his introductory remarks. The Nobel Laureates -- we learned -- each possessed "creativity," "lofty goals," and "sincerity."

"Creativity?" Sure.

"Lofty goals?" Uh . . . well, okay, a Nobel Prize is pretty lofty.

"Sincerity?" Really? But a lot of these guys were Americans, and everybody knows that Americans are superficial.

So why this Korean obsession with sincerity?

The answer suddenly occurred to me just the other day (so it must have been percolating on a back burner of my mind ever since I first posed the question to myself years ago).

Koreans live in a hierarchical society in which loyalty to one's superiors imposes itself as a socially demanded duty. Consequently, Koreans conform to expectations and explicitly demonstrate their loyalty in various observable ways -- bowing, for instance, deeper bows expressing more profound subordination to a more elevated superior.

But do such things really demonstrate sincere loyalty?

Koreans never know for sure, so they worry about the question and elevate the virtue of sincerity by way of compensation.

Sincerity becomes imposed by the hierarchy -- another duty-driven virtue, but one even less easily gauged than loyalty.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

His Dark Materials

I'm not about to review Philip Pullman, though I've read his trilogy and the text Lyra's Oxford that Pullman has appended to it, making it an Adams sort of trilogy-in-four-parts (the last part being more like an afterthought).

I first became aware of Pullman in 1995 when I was living in and nearly leaving Tuebingen, Germany at the end of my European sojourn, already planning a stopover in the Ozarks to marry Sun-Ae there in an abandoned church in the woods before heading to Korea the first time.

I was reading articles in the Guardian and happened on a review of Pullman's The Golden Compass, then on one of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Both texts had come out in the same year, and the review of Rowling panned the book, disdainfully comparing it to the works of Roald Dahl before pointing to Pullman's text as example and exemplar of good children's literature.

Dahl, I'd heard of (and vaguely recalled reading as a child), but who were these upstarts, and why were they publishing and getting reviewed in the Guardian before I'd written my magnum opus! Or even my minimum opus.

The Guardian had an excerpt from Pullman that impressed me and stuck in my mind:

Lyra's heart was thumping hard, because something in the bear's presence made her feel close to coldness, danger, brutal power, but a power controlled by intelligence; and not a human intelligence, nothing like a human, because of course bears had no daemons. This strange hulking presence gnawing at its meat was like nothing she had ever imagined, and she felt a profound admiration and pity for the lonely creature.

He dropped the reindeer leg in the dirt and slumped on all fours to the gate. Then he reared up massively, ten feet or more high, as if to show how mighty he was, to remind them how useless the gate would be as a barrier, and he spoke to them from that height.

"Well? Who are you?"

The voice was so deep it seemed to shake the earth. The rank smell that came from his body was almost overpowering.

I had no idea why a bear could talk or received the personal pronoun "he" rather than "it" in this passage, but I knew that I needed to read this book someday.

I didn't expect to read anything about Harry Potter.

But Harry became famous while the Pullman characters fell into the penumbra of his shadow, eclipsed by Harry's fame. I forgot about them.

Until I started teaching Paradise Lost and heard rumblings of a modern author's reworking of Milton's themes. I followed up the rumors and rediscovered Pullman, finally reading him this past year.

What do I think? I'm both impressed and disappointed. The initial lines of the first book in the trilogy caught me immediately:

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table. The places here were laid with gold, not silver, and the fourteen seats were not oak benches but mahogany chairs with velvet cushions.

Who's Lyra? Why does she have a 'daemon'? Where is this luxurious place. Good beginnings raise questions that seek answers and promise fulfillment. Proof lies in the pudding. I read the first book with fascination, the second with declining interest, the third out of a sense of duty, and the fourth with a degree of boredom.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, has kept my interest.

Why? Maybe because Rowling promises less and gives more . . . and with humor. Pullman promises great things -- to demonstrate the injustice of God's ways to men and women -- but fails to fulfill.

Harold Bloom might disagree.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lost Nomad Truly Lost

Sunday, October 16, 2005: The Lost Nomad being ferried by Charon across the glowing, smoking River Styx to the Underworld, fit retribution for fishing on a Sunday morning.

So long, Nomad, and thanks for all the fish.

A visitor from Sarajevo

Several posts back, I blogged on the Islamist Ministry of Silly Soccer, and according to my site meter (see bottom of blog), somebody from Sarajevo noticed.

The site meter also informed me that this person found me by googling for "soccer rules" and "Islam" -- or something similar. The person even looked at my link to some damned humorous thing that my six-year-old son said.

I'd like to think that this Sarajevo searcher was a friend.

I used to be a friend of Sarajevo . . . not that I've ever been there. I was living in Europe in the early 90s and read daily in the papers about Sarajevo during General Mladic's attempt to destroy it and annihilate all of the Muslims in Bosnia. I identified with that city, which sounded graceful, beautiful, cosmopolitan, and beleagured.

Though I wasn't about to go there under the conditions of wartime and the threat of annihilation by Serbian paramilitary who were shelling the city, I admired Susan Sontag for going and directing Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot -- a most appropriate choice, given that the city had been waiting for Europe to show up with more than mere words.

I even felt strongly enough to write a poem for Sarajevo, one of my very few 'political' poems:


Scenes of fallen tranquility
And the silence that follows lies:
Words fail, would sound obscenity,
Would flail against uncaring skies
That answer not to your demise.
No answer give to your demise.

Yet other words betray you still,
Worn words so cheap, not worth a dime:
Thus even now they bode you ill,
This evening of your sad decline,
With promises of peace in time.
Peace in their own, serene, sweet time.

I had grown tired of the broken promises that European politicians kept offering Sarajevo, and I was appalled by the Euro-left's refusal to protest. I asked my leftist friends and acquaintances why they didn't call for intervention. Finally, one leveled with me:

"If we called for intervention, then NATO would have to do it, and we're against NATO."

Oh, I thought, I see. Anti-Americanism trumps human rights every time.

But for a misplaced sense of courtesy, I would have spoken these words out loud.

All of that now feels very long ago. I hope that the Sarajevan who googled and found me considered me a friend, but for all I know, the searcher may have been an Islamist looking for soccer according to shari'a but finding an infidel to hate.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Things Go Badder With Choke-a Cola

My head is an old jingles jukebox.

Does anyone else recall that Coca-Cola jingle sung by The Kingston Trio, "Things go better with Coca-Cola"?

Coca Cola Coca Cola
Things Go Better With Coca Cola
Things Go Better With Coke!
Life Is Much More Fun
When You're Refreshed
And Coke Refreshes You Best
It's The Refresh-ing-ness.
Food Goes Better With
Fun Goes Better With
You Go Better With Coke
The Real Life One
Puts Extra Fun
In You And Everything You Do
So Things Go Better With Coca Cola.
Things Go Better With Coke!

Well, I like the tune, but Coke always made me choke as a kid, and since it rots your teeth, causes kidney stones, and spawned that Dr Pepper ripoff, Mr. Pibb, I've come up with a parody that I sing to my kids to deter them from drinking the stuff:

Choke-a Cola

Choke-a Cola, Choke-a Cola
Things Go Badder With Choke-a Cola
Things Go Badder With Choke!
Life is Much More Pun
When You're Repressed
And Choke Represses You Best
It's The Repress-ing-ness.
Food Goes Badder With
Fun Goes Badder With
You Go Badder With Choke
The Real Life One
Puts Extra Pun
In You And Everything You Do
So Things Go Badder With Choke-a Cola.
Things Go Badder With Choke!

My kids love this jingle parody . . . but it seems to be turning them toward, not away from Coke.

Things really are going 'badder' . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Secret Agent Man

CONTROL Agent Michael J. Totten, our man in Lebanon, insists that he is not a spy:

Totten: "I am not a spy. Got that? I. Am. Not. A. Spy."

KAOS Agent: "Ah, but a spy would say that. Sorry, Mr. 'Totten,' but we'll need more proof."

Totten: "Spies don't pretend to be journalists."

KAOS Agent: "Ah, you admit pretending to be a journalist."

Totten: "All right, I admit that. I'm actually a blogger pretending to be a journalist. Bloggers don't spy. They just sit around at home in pajamas surfing the internet at 3:00 in the morning."

KAOS Agent: "True."

Totten: "If I were really a spy, I'd be out there pretending to be a missionary evangelizing tribal peoples."

KAOS Agent: "Good point. His Excellency President Chavez has uncovered this plot in Venezuela and expelled the imperialist spies. You are free to go, Mr. Totten."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Milton's "Prevenient Grace"

John Milton is always going on about something obscure . . . and so am I.

I'm currently puzzling my way through a passage from Book 11 of his Paradise Lost:

Thus they in lowliest plight repentant stood
Praying, for from the mercy-seat above
Prevenient grace descending had removed
The stony from their hearts, and made new flesh
Regenerate grow instead, that sighs now breathed
Unutterable, which the spirit of prayer
Inspired, and winged for heaven with speedier flight
Then loudest oratory: (11.1-8)

I'm quoting from Alastair Fowler's most recent, 1998 edition of Milton, but my query is most medieval.

Where does Milton draw his concept of prevenient grace? Methodists use the term to refer to that grace extended to all individuals that enables them to freely accept or decline God's offer of saving grace. In short it is a type of grace that prevenes (i.e., precedes) one's act of faith in accepting salvation. Its effect is to restore the free will in fallen humanity so as to enable individuals to choose freely.

I'm speaking generally and without checking sources on this point, so all you Methodists, feel free to correct me.

But John Wesley, the 18th-century founder of Methodism, used the term "preventing grace" -- by which he meant the same thing. The concept is borrowed, perhaps, from the 16th-century Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, who would have used Latin -- or perhaps sometimes the Dutch expression voorkomende ghenade, literally "grace coming before." I located this on page 625, line 15 of Joost van den Vondel's Grotius Testament of Hooftpunten. I don't know much about this text and can only painfully pick my way through the Dutch by using a mix of my English and German skills.

Anyway, the scholarly note to that line uses the Latin expression gratia proeveniens, an expression also used by Charles Hodge in discussing the varieties of views of grace, and he attributes the concept to the 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas, who is said to have held the view:

That a gratia preveniens, a divine influence which precedes any good effort on the part of the sinner is granted to men, by which they are excited, encouraged, and aided. If this influence be improved, it secures the merit of congruity, "Quia congruum est, ut dum homo bene utitur sua virtute, Deus secundum superexcellentem virtutem excellentius operetur." This divine influence is called "gratia prima," and "gratia gratis data."

I have this statement from Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1871), Volume 2, Section 7, "History of the Doctrine of Grace," under the heading "Scholastic Period" (and Hodge is citing Aquinas, Summa, II. i. qu. cxiv. 6). Note that Aquinas used not gratia preveniens but gratia prima, which means "first grace", and gratia gratis data, which means . . . what, "grace before the gift of grace"? Somebody enlighten my Latin.

Much earlier, the 5th-century theologian Augustine used the similar expression (and concept) praecederet gratia, which means "preceding grace," in book 2, section 10.22 of his Contra duas Epistolas Pelagianorum libri quatuor.

At various times in Christian theology, then, one finds the concept of a grace that precedes saving grace and assists the individual in accepting the grace that saves. Milton's expression "prevenient grace" comes closest to the Latin expression gratia preveniens that Hodge uses, but where did Hodge get it?

The 16th-century Spanish theologian Luis de Molina uses this expression "gratia proeveniens," or at least, J. Pohle does in discussing Molina's views in a Catholic Encyclopedia article on Molinism. And Molina's use is later mirrored by Arminius and Wesley in their works.

Is Milton indebted to Molina here, as he also seems to be for his use of Middle Knowledge?

Middle Knowledge? Yes scientia media . . . but that's another obscure and abstruse story.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bernard Haykel on Suicide Bombings

Bernard Haykel, professor of Islamic Studies at New York University, has written an informative article for the International Herald Tribune:

Among jihadis, a rift over suicide attacks

Haykel has expertise on modern Islam's Salafi movement, having co-edited with David Morgan a book, Revival and Reform in Islam: The Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani (Cambridge University Press, 2003), that includes analysis upon the links between al-Shawkani's reform of Islam in Yemen and the modern Salafi movement. Currently, Haykel is working on a study of Saudi Arabia's Salafi movement, otherwise known as the Wahhabi stream of Islam.

I'm here providing Wikipedia links on the Salafi and the Wahhabi movements, but stay wary of some details in these two articles, which sometimes receive editing that suggests influence by partisans of the two movements and therefore express tendentious opinions.

Problems with Wikipedia aside, let us turn to Haykel's IHT article, which gives evidence that jihadis are turning against "suicide attacks":

[G]rowing splits among jihadis are beginning to undermine the theological and legal justifications for suicide bombing. And as that emerging schism takes its toll on the jihadi movement, it could present an opportunity for the West to combat jihadism itself.

The simple fact is that many jihadis believe the war in Iraq is not going well. Too many Muslims are being killed. Images of that slaughter, conveyed by satellite television and the Internet throughout the Muslim world, are corroding global support for the jihadi cause.

There are strong indications from jihadi Web sites and online journals, confirmed by conversations I have had while doing research among Salafis, or scriptural literalists, that the suicide attacks are turning many Muslims against the jihadis altogether.

This sounds like a good development, but the jihadi critics of suicide attacks are not proposing peaceful debate:

To be sure, the alternatives these critics recommend are no less violent. Rather, many of the movement's dissidents suggest that jihadis diminish their efforts in Iraq and revert to spectacular attacks in the West, like those that took place on Sept. 11. These, such thinkers maintain, are singularly popular among Muslims and the only effective means of doing long-term damage to the West.

In other words, stop sucide attacks on Muslims and return to suicide attacks on infidels. The change, therefore, signifies a change in tactics but no alteration in the longterm strategy of using terror against infidels or any revision of views toward peaceful co-existence. Nevertheless, argues Haykel, these "internal debates about suicide tactics are a sign of weakness -- and of the fraying of the consensus Al Qaeda so carefully built over the last decade." Consequently, he advises "Western governments . . . [to] encourage the debate among jihadis because, if the promise of absolute salvation through suicide attacks is thrown into question by some within the jihadi movement, potential recruits may come to doubt the wisdom of engaging in such tactics."

I would like for Haykel's hopes to prove true, but to do so will require undermining the "prevailing jihadi theoretical [belief] that neither the innocent victims nor the bombers are doomed to suffer in hell." Yet, how could they relinquish this belief if doing so would effectively damn all previous suicide attackers to the fires of hell? More to the point, why would they reject the ideological justification for 'martrydom operations' since it sanctions suicide bombings against infidels even if suicide attacks against Muslims in Iraq are suspended?

And even if the jihadis should surprise us and denounce all suicide attacks, even those against infidels, we ought best not confuse such a change with a renouncing of hostilities, for jihadis would likely not consider infidels innocent and would remain at war by other means.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More than he bargained for...

Here's something that doesn't happen every day:

I was walking down the street in Philadelphia and a bum came towards me. I mean a dirty, filthy guy. He was covered with soot from head to toe. You couldn't believe how messed up he was. He had this huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in the beard. As he approached me, he held out a cup of McDonald's coffee and said, "Hey mister, want some of my coffee?"

I looked at his dirty, filthy personhood and said, "Thanks, but that's okay," and I walked by him. The minute I passed him, I knew I was doing the wrong thing, so I turned around and said, "Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee." I took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to him. I said, "You're being generous. How come you're being so generous today?"

And this bum looked at me and he said, "Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people."

I didn't know how to handle that, so I said, "Can I give you anything?" I thought that he would hit me for five dollars.

He said, "No." Then he said, "Yeah, yeah. I've changed my mind, there is something you can give me. You can give me a hug."

As I looked at him, I was hoping for the five dollars! He put his arms around me and I put my arms around him. And as I in my establishment dress and he in his filthy garb hugged each other on the street, I had the strange awareness that I wasn't hugging a bum, I was hugging Jesus. I found Jesus in that suffering man.

The bum may have been Jesus, but the man without the coffee was Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. I first heard the story a few weeks ago as related by Pastor Tim Swihart at Seoul International Baptist Church, a church that deserves a better website.

For any non-native speakers not familiar with the idiom, "to hit somebody (up) for some money" means "to ask somebody for some money." Campolo didn't fear that the bum was going to mug him for five dollars, just that the fellow would request that amount of money.

He got more than he bargained for.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Another Noble Nobel Lecture

The last in the series, if I'm not mistaken.

This one takes place tomorrow, October 12 (Korea Time), at 2:00 p.m. in Inchon Memorial Hall on Korea University campus -- as have all of them. Dr. Peter C. Doherty, 1996 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

You may recall that he was co-winner with Rolf M. Zinkernagel, whose lecture I announced on July 12 and attended on July 16. In his original Nobel banquet speech, Zinkernagel had called out to Doherty:

"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."

I liked the humor and concision of this remark. It also marked out the area of their research: "the rules of restricted immune T cell recognition." Prior to Zinkernagel's lecture, I expected him to describe how he and Doherty had specified how "immunological memory" works, but from his lecture, I learned that he questions the concept's explanatory value and clarity.

Explanatory: If the organism survives an infection, it doesn't need immunological memory; if it doesn't survive, it also doesn't need such a memory.

Clarity: Does it refer to "a special quality of T or B cells" or to "a low-level antigen-driven response."

I'm no expert, but as Yogi Berra is said to have said, "You can take your Merriam-Webster or other, more technical reference works and find more information about it."

Actually, he just said, "You can look it up."

But he meant what I said.

Meanwhile, back with Doherty . . . his lecture promises to "discuss the nature of the specific, or adaptive, immune response that is stimulated by vaccination, and consider the overall effectiveness of vaccination strategies in different infectious disease processes" (from "Abstract of the Lecture"). He particularly concerns himself with viruses that are extremely effective in eluding or 'fooling' the immune system, viruses like the HIV strains or influenza strains like the one that got me last week and still lingers on . . . so, I'm interested.

For more on Doherty, see his Nobel Lecture or his autobiography -- or come to his Korea University talk tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Life's Loose Threads

Last night, my wife trimmed my hair.

Ordinarily, I sit in silence and a bit of anxiety -- watching the scissors with a fear not entirely misplaced. I've been nicked a few times.

But last night, I talked with my wife. We'd both suffered recently from the flu that's going around Korea. My wife's bout was much shorter but more intense. The night before last, she'd felt nausea and lay awake in that discomfort that comes in waves. After one of those had passed, she felt better but found herself sensing the closeness of death. The experience was very intense, and she found herself realizing, "We're really going to die someday."

I responded with the usual remark that this fact should move us to live more fully the life that we want rather than somebody else's coveted life.

About that time, the phone rang, and my wife learned that a friend had died the previous night.

In that instant, our words seemed to open up dimensions of meaning uneasy to explore.

I thought of Lila, a woman in Germany whom Sun-Ae knew. Lila had worked as the departmental secretary for the German Literature Department at the university in Munich where Sun-Ae was pursuing her doctoral research. She invited us to dinner not long before we left Germany and told of her daughter's death. Her daughter had been traveling in Thailand and had suffered a terrible, fatal accident. At the very moment that she died, her mother back in Germany felt an intense pain and sense of loss, and knew that her daughter was gone.

I suspect that nearly everyone has heard stories like these. They often hang in the air like loose threads that we leave untouched lest in tugging them too hard, we unravel the fabric of our world.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Literary Break . . . The Children's Hour Revisited

The response to my previous story for children was so overwhelming that I feel compelled to offer another.

This one is also a story that I made up at the demand of my son. At the time, he was going through his terrible twos -- or possibly his threatening threes -- and often acted in very disobedient ways. He wanted a story. I gave him a story.

The Bad Little Boy
by Horace Jeffery Hodges

Once upon a time, there was a bad little boy living not so very far away from here. He never did anything that his mother and father told him to do. If they told him to go to the river, he went to the mountain. If they told him to go to the mountain, he went to the river. He always did the opposite of what his parents said.

But he had a good skeleton, and eventually, the skeleton could stand the bad little boy's bad behavior no longer. The very night of that eventual day, the skeleton unzipped the boy's stomach and ran away to do good deeds.

The next morning, the boy woke up and discovered himself unable to move . . . except for his eyes. He rolled them around as best he could and saw himself as flat as a pancake -- or flatter, like a crêpe. He tried to call out but found that he had no voice. In despair, he lay there staring at the ceiling and wondering what had happened to him to leave him so flat.

And he'd be lying there still if his parents hadn't begun to wonder why he was so late coming down for breakfast. Ordinarily, he would come bouncing down the stairs demanding whatever he felt like eating that morning. But not today. So, they went to investigate.

But when they opened the door to their little boy's room, they saw not their own little boy but instead a flat little boy who could neither move nor speak! Not recognizing their son, they did the humane thing and sold the flat little boy to the circus, which put him on display in the freak show and received invitations the world over from towns that wanted to see such a freakish little boy.

Meanwhile, the bad little boy's skeleton was finding very difficult his attempt to live a good life, for everyone who encountered him drew back in fear. He might try to help an old woman across the street, but from one look at him, she'd rush off into the traffic on her own. Or he'd offer to help a harried mother carry her bags of groceries, but she'd drop the bags and run screaming away. Or he'd offer to shine a man's shoes, but the man would take off so fast that he'd leave his shoes behind.

No matter how much good he tried to do, he seemed to create more bad.

So, he decided to return to the bad little boy and offer to crawl back inside his skin if he'd be good. He went back to the bad little boy's home and knocked on the door. When the parents answered, they first screamed in horror, but the bad little boy's skeleton quickly explained everything. After listening, the parents felt even more horrified to realize that they had sold their own little boy to the circus, even if he was bad.

"You mean!" they cried, "That was our own little boy?" And they, in turn explained everything that they had done.

At their words, the skeleton promised, "Don't worry. I will find your bad little boy and bring him back."

At last, something good for the good little skeleton to do. He went in search of the circus, but it had traveled far off into the world, and only after seeking long did he find it, in a distant land halfway around the world. There, the skeleton saw huge crowds gathered to see "The Freaky Famous Flat Little Boy," as the circus hawkers called him.

The bad little boy had apparently come into such fame and fortune that the skeleton at first imagined that the boy would refuse to leave. With such a thought in mind, the skeleton thought of leaving without talking to the boy.

But he also thought, "I have come so far. I should go to him."

Late that night, the skeleton crept into the flat little boy's room and awakened him. The little boy stared in alarm till the skeleton explained himself, then said, "I know that you cannot talk, but if you can blink, then one blink means yes, two blinks mean no. If you will promise to behave from now on, then I will crawl back inside your skin and we will run away from here and back to your parents. But you must promise to be good, and if you do not keep your promise, then I will leave again. Do you promise?"

The flat little boy blinked once, so the skeleton unzipped his belly, crawled back inside, and zipped it up again. Together, they jumped out of bed and ran off into the night and across the world back to the little boy's home.

After that, the bad little boy kept his promise and became known as the good little boy. He always did what his parents asked him to do. If they told him to go the river, he went to the river. If they told him to go to the mountain, he went to the mountain. He always did exactly what his parents said.

Consequently . . . they all lived happily ever after.

After hearing this story, En-Uk lay very quietly in his bed, reflecting. Then, he smiled. "En-Uk-ee good boy," he insisted.

As was proven the very next morning when he awoke, skeleton intact.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Islamist Ministry of Silly Soccer

In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building on October 6, President Bush stated that the Islamists want to "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia." This is, indeed, their goal. Bush points out, correctly, that "[w]e know the vision of the radicals because they've openly stated it -- in videos, and audiotapes, and letters, and declarations, and websites."

And in fatwas. Don't forget the fatwas, those ubiquitous legal rulings on . . . well, on everything from how to carry out an execution to how to clean oneself after passing feces.

And on the proper way to play soccer. Let's look at how soccer would be played in a revived Caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia.

According to a fatwa issued by Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Najdi in 2003 and published on an Arabic website, "Soccer is Forbidden Except When Played as Training for Jihad."

And how might one train in that way?

Well, first . . . okay, fifth, but getting dressed should come first. Fifth is proper attire:

"5. Play in your normal clothing, or in pajamas, or something like that, but not in colorful pants and numbered jerseys. Pants and jerseys are not appropriate clothing for Muslims. They are the clothing of the non-believers and of the West, and therefore you must be careful not to wear them."

Pajamas? I was wrong about getting dressed first? Okay, pajamas, but presumably not the colorful Western sort, especially not if adorned with images of such unclean animals as Piglet.

Islamists, after all, do know where to draw the line:

"1. Don't play soccer with four lines [surrounding the field], since this is the way of the non-believers, and the international soccer rules require drawing [these lines] before playing."

And watch your language on the field:

"2. One should not use the terminology established by the non-believers and the polytheists, like: 'foul,' 'penalty kick,' 'corner kick,' 'goal,' and 'out of bounds.' Whoever pronounces these terms should be punished, reprimanded, kicked out of the game, and should even be told in public: 'You have come to resemble the non-believers and the polytheists, and this has been forbidden.'"

Right. No 'foul' language or the like. Not even if you break a bone:

"3. If one of you falls during the game and breaks his hand or his foot, or if the ball hits his hand, he shall not say 'foul' and shall not stop playing because of his injury. The one who caused his injury shall not receive a yellow or a red card, but rather the case shall be judged according to Muslim law in the case of a broken bone or an injury. The injured player shall exercise his rights according to the shari'a, as [is stated] in the Koran, and you must testify together with him that so-and-so tripped him up intentionally."

No slackers in this sport. "Keep playing on that broken foot!" (Sounds like a coach that I once had.)

But who's to judge infractions according to Islamic law, a referee? Nope:

"10. Do not appoint someone who follows the players around and is called 'a referee', since, after canceling the international rules such as 'foul,' 'penalty kick,' 'corner kick' and so on, there is no need for his presence. Moreover, his presence is an imitation of non-believers, Jews and Christians, and constitutes adoption of the international [soccer] rules."

No referees running around? Fine, but does anyone sit in judgement? Perhap . . . a judge? The fatwa doesn't specify whether or not a judge should pass sentences on infractions of the rules . . . uh, laws of shari'a, but such would be consistent with point number three, above.

Does each infraction of the shari'a require a visit to an Islamic court? Or would a judge be required to attend each game? Does each player have a lawyer, or just each team?

Shari'a games could take a long time.

This sort of fatwa sounds like something out of Monty Python, the skit on the "Ministry of Silly Walks," for instance. It might even qualify as "The Funniest Joke in the World."

Except that they're dead serious.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Unite Against Terror: Follow-Up

The Bali bombings of October 1 show that the terrorists won't relent, so neither should we.

I recently received an email requesting that I ask others to sign on to a statement in solidarity against terrorism. I have previously blogged on this group's appeal, and some of you may have been moved to sign, but here's their recent letter:

Dear Signers of Unite Against Terror,

The Bali bombings of October 1, which killed 22 people, make it urgent to increase support for our statement and broaden it from being a response to the London attacks.

We have altered the introduction accordingly and would like you to send this call to all your contacts to ask them to sign. Three thousand did so very quickly. Please make a special effort to bring in support from all around the world and publicise it where you can:

The url is

In order to ensure that the site is maintained properly, it will be looked after by the Madrid11 website created by openDemocracy and the Club de Madrid. We are happy to have their support and hope you are too. The url will not change.

Best wishes, and thanks for your support,

Jane Ashworth

Alan Johnson

Adrian Cohen

Hak Mao

Harry's Place

Simon Pottinger

I know nothing about these people beyond the links that I've just found (which seem to place most of them on the strong left), but The Belmont Club posted their original appeal for support and noted that those signing on include well-known people on both the left and the right. I recognized such names as Christopher Hitchens and Marko Attila Hoare, among others, and signed on.

Take a look at the websites, use your own judgement, and decide what you think. If you have any further information, whether pro or con, add a comment.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

German precision engineering...

. . . of language about religion.

As promised, I attended Reiner Wimmer's lecture on "Reasonability and Believability of Monotheistic Religiosity," or more accurately:

"Vernuenftigkeit und Glaubwuerdigkeit monotheistischer Religiositaet"

Wimmer displayed the typical and therefore expected German seriousness about the subject at hand, and I like that about the Germans, but I'd come down with an ever-worsening case of the flu, so my brain wasn't up to the task of processing Wimmer's arguments.

Fortunately, he provided a handout with his lecture, so I'll read it at my leisure (i.e., never). For now, I can only provide a fragment to whet your appetite or sate you completely. Wimmer says that if we look at the religious orientation toward the reality forming the basis of the three main monotheisitic religions, then we see that:

Sie ist eine Einstellung, die sich nicht primaer und unmittelbar auf einzelne Situationen im Leben, in der Welt, sondern primaer und unmittelbar auf das eigene Leben im ganzen, die eigene Welt, die eigene Person als ganze bezieht, aber damit natuerlich, wenn auch indirekt, auf alles enzelne im Leben und in der Welt. Weil sich diese Einstellung auf das Ganze des Lebens, der Welt bezieht, nenne ich sie eine 'religioese' Einstellung zur Welt und zum Leben, wobei 'Welt' und 'Leben', 'meine Welt' und 'mein Leben' sowie 'die Welt' und 'das Leben' in diesem Zusammenhang als Synonyma zu verstehen sind. Somit werden diese Ausdruecke nicht individualistisch, sondern ganzheitlich und allumfassend verstanden. Sie sind keine Praedikatoren, weil sie, sich auf das ganze Dasein eines Menschen beziehend, nicht zu Zwecken des Beschreibens und Unterscheidens benutzt werden koennen.

And so wider. Do I understand this? The German? Yes. The philosophy? Not yet. I need to read the whole article. Will I do this? Maybe, when I recover and if I have time.

Sorry, Bill.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Kids say the damnedest things...

. . . again.

Yesterday evening, I was tutoring my son En-Uk in English, a necessary task since he attends a Korean kindergarten and speaks Korean most of the time. He was finishing the final story in a little book titled A Child's First Bible, whose antepenultimate sentence promises:

"The best thing is this: Jesus will come back someday!"

En-Uk closed the book, and as I took it away to place it on the shelf of books already read, I overheard him mutter:

"Jesus is always coming back, again and again. Coming and dying, coming and dying. Boring, boring, boring!"

I restrained myself from even chuckling in front of En-Uk, but my wife later burst into laughter at hearing me quote his words.

"But where," she asked after catching her breath, "did he get this idea?"

"Maybe," I speculated, "because there are four gospels. Jesus comes and dies, comes and dies, comes and dies, comes and dies -- four times! And then, promises to come again!

That sort of behavior could tend to get a little tedious.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

John Derbyshire admits that...

. . . Jerry Jeff Walker is not Bob Dylan:

I implied, because in the darkness of my ignorance I actually thought, that "Mister Bojangles" was written by Bob Dylan. In fact it was written by Jerry Jeff Walker . . .

It takes a big man to admit a mistake. Why, Derbyshire even appreciates my being kind enough to write and correct him:

. . . as 950,000 readers were kind enough to e-mail in and tell me.

You're right welcome, Mr. Derbyshire. It was no trouble at all. Glad to be of help.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rimmon-Kenan again . . . with humor.

I'm re-reading Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan's book on Narrative Fiction, which I blogged about in early September.

In the 1983 version that I have, she discusses the principles for combining events into sequences and sequences into stories. I assume that "event" is self-evident, but just in case it's not, here's Rimmon-Kenan's rough definition:

[A]n event may be defined without great rigour as something that happens, something that can be summed up by a verb or a name of action. (2)
Aside from the quibble that fictional events don't "happen," I can accept this definition.

Rimmon-Kenan tells us that the "two main principles of combination are temporal succession and causality" (16). To put it in less abstract terms, the former principle links events by "and then," whereas the latter links them by "that's why" or "therefore" (17). In practice, however, the two are often conflated in readers' minds. Mentioning that Roland Barthes has already noted this in his 1966 article "Introduction à l'analyse structurale des récits (Communications, 8, p. 10), Rimmon-Kenan paraphrases him to point out that "stories may be based on an implicit application of the logical error: post hoc, ergo propter hoc" (17). As an instance of this, she cites:

. . . the witty account of Milton's life where the humor resides precisely in the cause and effect relation which can be read into the explicit temporal succession. Milton wrote Paradise Lost, then his wife died, and he wrote Paradise Regained. (17)

I've read this witty sequence before but never thought of applying it to make a theoretical point about narrative construction and the distinction between temporal and causal combinations of events.

Nicely done.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

And how has it changed your life?

Cyberphilosopher Bill Vallicella asks me:

"Now that you have been blogging for a while, how has it affected your life?"

Well, for one thing, it's left me open to questions like this one.

But seriously . . .

I've become more earnest about writing. Before starting this blog, I kept putting off any real attempt to write for an audience larger than myself, the man upstairs, and whoever happens to find my journals lying in an attic someday.

Speaking of journals . . . I've been keeping a journal for nearly twenty years now, having started in the fall of 1986, during my first journey to Europe. A journey deserved a journal, I thought, so I started one.

Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that . . . even a little bit criminal. I was living in Fribourg with my college friend from Argentina, Tim Anderson, who was working illegally at archeological digs in Switzerland. The excavations themselves were legitimate, but his labor wasn't . . .

Some dodgy people had lived in the dodgy place that we shared, the fifth floor of a five-story structure located so close to the train station that freight trains passing at night shook the building like an earthquake. The city had bolted a metal band around the entire structure just below the level of our windows to keep the place from cracking in two. One dodgy person whom I never met had also worked in the digs and had left an unearthed skull in one of the bedrooms on an upper shelf, from where it peered down eyelessly.

I didn't inquire too closely about that.

Another somewhat dodgy person living there was a woman named Prazak. She was street-smart and attractive but unstable and took a liking to me . . . briefly. She also briefly held a job with the postal service in Bern, about 20 kilometers from Fribourg, and she would sometimes bring 'lost' mail home.

One time, she brought me a blank journal that she had 'found' at her job and offered it to me. That put me in an awkward position. I hate to decline a gift, but I knew that she had come by it dishonestly. I felt inner conflict, wavered, then made the wrong choice. I accepted the 'giftige' gift and began keeping a journal.

So, at the origin of my journal-keeping lies an original sin.

To atone for that, I've worked diligently at my journal writing -- though it has only marginal literary value. Too much of the writing is perfunctory. I set only two rules for my journal entries:

1) The entries must be written daily.

2) They must not use any sentence with "be" (or a conjugated form thereof) as the main verb.

Why these two rules? I wanted to impose on my writing at least a bare minimun standard that had to be met. The first rule is obvious. And the second? I wanted to avoid lazy writing. We revert to some form of the verb "be" far too often, at times when we should use a more powerful verb. Which sounds better:

"His fingernails were clean."


"He had scrubbed his fingernails clean."

I prefer the latter. Even if it's not especially better, it requires the writer to work just a little bit harder. I also decided to avoid using the passive voice in my journal since it usually produces wordy sentences and hides the active agent behind a preposition or even allows the agent to disappear:

"It has been decided not to pursue your application further."

Really? By whom? The "it" certainly didn't make this decision.

"It has been decided by the committee not to pursue your application further."

That's a bit better. Marginally.

"The committe has decided not to pursue your application further."

Best of all, except for the bad news.

Some of you may be thinking . . . "Doesn't this make a third rule?" No, not really. The passive uses some conjugated form of "be" a bit like a main verb, with the past participle acting somewhat like an adjective, so the passive is covered by my second rule.

Some might debate this. That's okay.

Most of you will have noticed that I don't impose the second rule on my blog writing. I do, however, try to write clear, active sentences with a light style. I strive to entertain, when that's appropriate. I attempt to write on a broad range of things, from brewing illegal whiskey to brooding about the Lord -- from low to high spirits, one might say.

But how has it changed my life?

Well, it does force me to get up at three every morning and try to think of something interesting to write about.

Sometimes, I succeed.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Jerry Jeff Walker is mentioned...

. . . not even once in John Derbyshire's NRO column on Bob Dylan.

Why should he be? Isn't the column about Dylan?

Well, yes, that's true. But Derbyshire makes the point that Dylan, like many musicians, is not especially articulate in speaking but does . . .

. . . sometimes have a way with words. A very literary person of my acquaintance, a published poet, once told me that he thought "the dog up and died" (from "Mister Bojangles") one of the loveliest lines in the English language. I could bring forth 100 better candidates for that particular award, but I do see my friend's point. If you write as many lyrics as Dylan, though, and have a musician's feel for the rhythmic properties of language, you are bound to come up with good lines once in a while.

Unclear in this passage is whether or not Derbyshire knows that the lovely song "Mr. Bojangles" was written not by Dylan but by Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker wrote and sang it in 1968 as a single release, but it only became a hit in its rendition by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1970 album, Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy. Here are Walker's lyrics:

I knew a man Bojangles
and he danced for you,
in worn out shoes.

With silver hair, a ragged shirt,
and baggy pants,
the old soft shoe.

He jumped so high,
jumped so high,
then he lightly touched down.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

I met him in a cell
in New Orleans,
I was down and out.

He looked at me
to be the eyes of age,
as he spoke right out.

He talked of life,
talked of life,
he laughed, slapped his leg a step.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

He said his name, Bojangles,
then he danced a lick,
across the cell.

He grabbed his pants for a better stance,
then he jumped up high,
he clicked his heels.

Then he let go a laugh,
let go a laugh,
shook back his clothes all around.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

He danced for those
at minstrel shows and county fairs,
throughout the south.

He spoke with tears of fifteen years
how his dog and him
traveled about.

His dog up and died,
he up and died,
and after twenty years he still grieved.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

He said, "I dance now
at every chance in honky tonks
for drinks and tips.

But most the time I spend
behind these county bars,
for I drinks a bit."

He shook his head,
and as he shook his head,
I heard someone ask him please,

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

The song was inspired by the legendary African-American tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949), and many well-known musicians -- e.g., Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis, Jr. -- have put out their own interpretations, but Walker himself did it the best and deserves recognition. Listen for yourself. Go and and click to hear a sample by 'Scamp' Walker himself at Amazon.

Walker deserves at least a mention.