Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Most Egregious Plagiarism Ever!

Usually, when students plagiarize from online, they shape part of the downloaded essay to meet my essay requirements.

They know that I require a thesis statement of a very specific form, one having this logical form:
A --> B b/c A --> C
What does that mean? Here's a simple exemplar:
Socrates is mortal because he is human.
Most readers will recognize that a famous syllogism stands behind this exemplar:

Major Premise: All humans are mortal.
Minor Premise: Socrates is human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

The exemplar simply begins with the conclusion, grounds it in the minor premise, and leaves implied the major premise.

But students need not know all of that (although I explain it). They need only know how to make a claim and provide a reason:

The Enlightenment contributed to the French Revolution because it led people to question traditional authority.
From this example, you can see that my thesis-statement requirement does not demand too much intellectual sophistication. It merely requires that a student construct a simple argument expressing a claim and giving a reason AND making sure that these together have the logical form A --> B b/c A --> C.

Not too difficult. I daresay that some computer programmer somewhere has already formulated an algorithm for generating thesis statements.

But the algorithm in our brain should work well enough.

Thus, when a well-written paper by one of my students avoids presenting the requisite thesis statement at the end of its introductory paragraph, little alarm bells start ringing in my head.

Last night, I 'graded' such a paper. Here's the introductory paragraph:

This essay will illustrate why Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in the history of mankind. It will show the life of Napoleon from when he was a young boy, till he died in 1821. It will show how he deceived the French into giving him power, and how he used this power for his own interests. It will also reveal how Napoleon almost killed of an entire generation of France, and proved that all good things always come to an end.
Now, this might serve as an adequate beginning to an essay on Napoleon, but it doesn't fit my requirement, for it fails to reduce the central thesis to a single sentence with the logical form that I require.

Interestingly, the student had provided a thesis on a separate sheet of paper:

Thesis: Why Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in history even though he failed to maintain his military empire.
This might have worked if he had rewritten it and given a reason:

Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in history, even though he failed to maintain his military empire, because he mastered the strategies developed by previous generals throughout history and used brilliant tactics to carry them out.
I don't know if this is true, but it would at least fit the form that I require.

Anyway, since the student hadn't followed my very explicit instructions and yet seemed to have written a decent-enough essay (which I stopped reading after the first paragraph), I had my suspicions. So, I Googled a phrase and found this: Napoleon.

Exactly the same essay handed in by my student (except for a subordinate clause added to the thesis).

The website hosting this essay calls itself Essay Depot. Naturally, it presents a disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: This web site was made for research purposes! Don't turn these papers in, unless you wish to be failed for the act of plagiarism. These papers are to be used for ideas, which means you need to include them in your bibliographies. All papers located on this site are submitted by students so they're not all professional quality. Your teachers know about this site so be wary!
That gets the Essay Depot folk off the hook. And they're right. We teachers do know about this site. The disclaimer is disingenuous since the essays are not professional, don't belong in bibliographies, and exist only to provide cheating students with ready-made thesis papers.

Ironically, the Essay Depot staff also worries about cheating:
All images, coding, essays, and pages cannot be used without the prior written consent of this web site.Copyright © 1996-2005 . The Essay Depot. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy. Managed By: Hosting Bits.
I wonder if my student obtained the "prior written consent" required. Should I notify the website and inquire? Wouldn't that be an irony, asking the Essay Depot staff to investigate?

The adage "to catch a thief" comes to mind.

If my student did cheat the cheaters, would this ripoff-essay assay constitute the "Most Egregious Plagiarism Ever!"? I doubt it. Cheating students probably steal such essays every chance that they get.

My only remaining question is this: When I used "Google" as a verb, should I continue to capitalize the word or write it in miniscule?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Be sure to give me credit...

. . . when you 'borrow' my post on plagiarism.

My site meter, located at the bottom of this blog, shot up yesterday when Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica linked to my post on plagiarism.

Thanks, Jim, for the interesting distraction from the grind of grading essays. I had a lot of fun clicking on the site-meter readings to see whence came the people who were perusing what I had to say about the ease of catching online plagiarists.

I now expect that within a few days, I'll be able to Google-search a line from my plagiarism-post and find people citing me . . . or (irony of ironies) quoting me without acknowledgement.

Such are the pleasures and risks of a life online.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Folly of Online Plagiarizing

In this age of the cybernetic internet, where we can even find a link to Borges's infinite "Library of Babel," temptation becomes ever more alluring to "plagiarize," which I define as follows:
verb, transitive: 1. To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own. 2. To appropriate for use as one's own passages or ideas from (another).
verb, intransitive: To put forth as original to oneself the ideas or words of another.
These are my own definitions. Honest.

Just kidding. I've borrowed them from The Free Dictionary. But just in case I were trying to hide what I had borrowed, not citing my source, you'd need only copy a clause from 'my' definition --- say "To appropriate for use as one's own passages" -- and Google it. Instantly, up comes the online source . . . all 768 of them.

Obviously, I didn't use 768 sources, and you wouldn't know that I used specifically the online Free Dictionary, but one need not know specifically which source I used. Just knowing that I used an online source suffices for catching me in the act. Or after the fact, but just as caught.

My internet-savvy students (Korea being the world's most 'connected' nation) seem oblivious to the obvious: catching plagiarism is just as easy as plagiarizing.

Actually, it's easier.

Why? The plagiarist had to go to the trouble of locating a source relevant to some chosen theme and read it enough to see if it fits (though it almost never quite does fit since fitting it would require more work). I need not think about any of that but simply go to Google and type five, six, seven, or eight words in a sequence into the appropriate box, and Google finds what I'm looking for -- as we've just seen.

I bring this up because I've just finished grading 14 essays, 3 of which were egregiously plagiarized, especially the last one that I marked yesterday evening, which had multiple sources all woven together with hardly a word added by the student, aside from the occasional "and" or "the," which reminds me of Mary McCarthy's remark about Lillian Hellman:

"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

So listen well, students: if you plagiarize, you'll face a McCarthization from me like hell, man.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Moment of Prevenient Grace in Paradise Lost

On the Milton listserve that I belong to, we've recently been discussing postlapsarian free will, i.e., the free will that Adam and Eve possess after the fall that enables them to accept or reject saving grace.

I inquired online about the precise moment when prevenient grace -- that grace preceding saving grace -- confers the power of free will on Adam and Eve.

One candidate for such a precise moment occurs in Paradise Lost 10.220-223. However, it does not clearly say so. In this passage, the Son of God has covered Adam and Eve with a robe of righteousness, which perhaps extends them no grace (whether prevenient or saving) and thus has no effect on their hearts but merely acts as a shield against the Father's judgement:

Nor he their outward only with the skins
Of beasts, but inward nakedness, much more.
Opprobrious, with his robe of righteousness,
Arraying, covered from his Father's sight. (PL 10.220-223)

Although inward nakedness receives a covering, the reason given only concerns hiding the opprobriousness of sin from the Father's sight.

But I wonder if something of grace doesn't begin here. The robe of righteousnes comes as a gift, undeserved and therefore characteristic of grace. And by 10.1087ff, even though Adam only contemplates repentance in his mind, he would seem to differ from Satan, who also contemplates repentance mentally but never quite accepts it even intellectually.

Adam and Eve who awaken from sleep after their rough, postlapsarian sex in 9.1046ff seem to me to be totally depraved in the Calvinist sense, by which I mean that they are unable to turn spiritual eyes onto their own faults but ever blame each other. This continues up to the scene of the Son's judgement in 10.103-208, where they continue to blame each other (and the serpent) but are pitied by the Son, who then extends to them in 10.220-223 the covering robe of righteousness. The scene then shifts away from Adam and Eve for some 500 lines.

When we next meet Adam, in 10.720ff, he is blaming not only Eve but also himself. Eve, in turn, blames herself (rather than the serpent). Her appeal to Adam in 10.914ff that he not reject her and his compassionate response in 10.937ff set the stage for their common appeal to God for forgiveness (cf. Mt. 5:23-24) but also imply, along with the self-blame mentioned, that some good alteration has already taken place in their hearts.

Isaiah 61:10-11 perhaps stands behind the "robe of righteousness" of PL 10.222:

10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11 (AV))

Since the robe of righteousness here in Isaiah 61:10-11 doesn't just cover but also causes righteousness and praise to spring up, then similarly, the robe of righteousness mentioned in PL 10.222 may therefore have a more intimate effect than simply that of covering. Perhaps it initiates the process of grace and could thus be seen as the moment that prevenient grace begins to have effect.

If so, then this might be the moment when postlapsarian free will comes to Adam and Eve.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


No, not Michael. He can hit the road, Jack. I mean the real "Jackson":

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, I'm gonna mess around,
Yeah, I'm goin' to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand you big-talkin' man, make a big fool of yourself,
Yeah, go to Jackson; go comb your hair!
Honey, I'm gonna snowball Jackson.
See if I care.

When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow. (Hah!)
All them women gonna make me, teach 'em what they don't know how,
I'm goin' to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat.
'Cos I'm goin' to Jackson.
"Goodbye," that's all she wrote.

But they'll laugh at you in Jackson, and I'll be dancin' on a Pony Keg.
They'll lead you 'round town like a scalded hound,
With your tail tucked between your legs,
Yeah, go to Jackson, you big-talkin' man.
And I'll be waitin' in Jackson, behind my Jaypan Fan,

Well now, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper Sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went.
I'm goin' to Jackson, and that's a fact.
Yeah, we're goin' to Jackson, ain't never comin' back.

Well, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout
And we've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went...

I was watching the online video to this song very early this Saturday morning when my wife grumbled in, glanced at what I was doing, and muttered, "More Cash? You're obsessive."

I just smiled and said, "This ain't Cash," but she had already shuffled off to shower and wake up.

I turned my attention back to the video. And I admit that I lied about this being the real "Jackson." It ain't Cash and June at all, but Phoenix and Witherspoon, who happen to do a credible job on the song. Phoenix even has Cash's vocal and physical mannerisms down so pat that I find myself almost believing that Cash has returned.

If you're interested, click here, and when you reach the website, you'll find under "Videos" that you can click on "Jackson" and enjoy a performance from the film Walk the Line. First, though, you have to endure Kermit the frog challenge some cowboy-hatted guitarist to a contest of dueling banjo-and-guitar. That got a bit tiresome after the twentieth time that I'd sat through it waiting for "Jackson."

What? No, I don't consider listening to "Jackson" twenty times in a row 'obsessive' even if my wife, who is usually right about things, agrees with you on this.

I just wish that I had a video of the real Cash and June performing it. The only other song that compares with them doing "Jackson" is Ray Charles singing "Hit the Road Jack" with . . . uh . . . with . . . um . . . who the hell did he sing that with, anyway?

Friday, November 25, 2005

United States Nears 1,000th Execution

Criminals call for exit strategy.

As executions approach 1000, criminals are increasingly wondering why they're in America.

"What are we trying to accomplish here?" asks one high-ranking criminal who requested anonymity. "People don't want us."

"It's a quagmire," adds another, also off the record. "The longer we stay, the deeper we're stuck. I say we cut our losses and get out."

Only a dwindling number of criminals still believe that they have a role to play in American society. Among these, some point out that, historically, executions are low. The problem, they argue, is more one of perception than reality, and they insist that their message just isn't being heard.

"But maybe," one diehard criminal muses, "nobody wants to hear our message."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Down, down, down...

One of my first truly impressive childhood memories comes from riding in the backseat of a car moving down a country road through a black Arkansas night and hearing some deep voice rumble out of the radio, more speaking than singing, "Love, is a burning thing. And it makes, a fiery ring. Bound, by wild desire. I fell into a ring of fire."

I sat up, captivated. What was this? I'd heard radio evangelists on late-night radio preaching the gospel to insomniacs, promising divine love and threatening infernal hell, but this bottomless voice offered love as hell.

In that instant came the chorus, and I realized that the man was singing, but in a way that I'd never heard before:

I, fell, in, to, a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down,
and the flames, went higher,
and it burns, burns, burns,
the ring of fire,
the ring of fire.

Then those distant, unexpected horns, unlike anything that I'd ever heard in country music. This stuff sounded like country and gospel and something south of the border but transcending all of them. Who was this guy?

I soon found out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hairbrush Tines?

This morning, I was trying to increase my own fluency in English, something that I'm constantly working on despite having English as my native language.

I had been trying to post some nonsense in response to The Lost Nomad's "Girl Wednesday" photos and wanted to compare the model's stiff hair to "the bristles on a boar-bristle brush," a phrase that can twist your tongue into all sorts of tongue-twisting contortions.

But I didn't want to use "bristle" twice, and I began to wonder what to call those stiff . . . uh, bristles.

"Maybe 'tines'?" I mused.

So, I Googled "hairbrush tines." Up came two -- only two -- websites:
fem dom hypnosis... Female spanking male with hairbrush tines of his tongue cut out, so giggly and immature and I could her that time she was at the, isn't saving her it's just.

Open Forums of ExChristian.Net - Encouraging Ex-Christians... Keys and pens can be stabbed into places. So can hairbrush tines. Hairspray and perfume can be just as effective as mace and pepperspray.
I guess that I can be a bit obtuse, but I imagined that "fem dom hypnosis" had something to do with feminism and that I was seeing some lines of a poem, perhaps of a random, dadaist sort. I clicked and found myself caught in a "female domination" dungeon that I couldn't escape except by closing the browser. Serves me right, I suppose, for being careless, but the punishment of being trapped by dominant females in a "fem dom" dungeon must appeal to some men.

I opened a new browser and Googled "hairbrush tines" again. Of course, the same two items came up. This time, I avoided the former and . . . after some hesitation ("stabbed into places"?) . . . clicked on the latter. Fortunately, it didn't concern excessive sex by "ExChristians" but self-defense advice for ex-Christian women worried about being raped. Well . . . I suppose that one could classify this as "excessive sex."

So, what did I learn? That there are only three people in the world with enough imagination to call hairbrush bristles "tines" -- a sexual pervert, an infidel, and me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Japan's Xenophobic Manga

A fascinating if troubling article by Norimitsu Onishi appeared in yesterday's International Herald Tribune, reprinted from its appearance in the New York Times two days earlier: "Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan."

Onishi reports that recently, two xenophobic manga comic books have appeared in Japan, one denigrating Korea and the other denigrating China.

Of the anti-Korean one, Onishi states:
A young Japanese woman in the comic book "Hating the Korean Wave" exclaims, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" In another passage the book states that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of."
Onishi notes that this popular culture bestseller has some of the nationalist cultural leaders behind it:

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country's wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan's most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

"I wonder why they haven't grown up at all," Mr. Nishio said. "They don't change. I wonder why China and Korea haven't learned anything."

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. "Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China," Mr. Nishio said. "Economically, it's difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude."

Kanji Nishio is one of those Japanese nationalists who recently angered Koreans with their publication of high school textbooks that glorified Japan's role in World War II.

With a touch of irony, Onishi suggests that this avowedly nationalist comic book that glorifies Japan by denigrating Korea and Koreans also implicitly denigrates Japan and the Japanese:
But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan's conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.
I suppose that out of fairness, I ought to note that a similarly conflicted sense of identity exists here in South Korea, stemming from an inferiority complex betrayed by the widespread Korean use of plastic surgery to make Korean women look more Western.

Be that as it may, the troubling thing about these two manga comic books is that they achieved the status of bestseller, for this suggests that even though the recently published nationalist textbooks glorifying Japanese nationalism were adopted for use by only 1 or 2 percent of the schools, xenophobic attitudes toward Korea and China may be far more widespread.

None of this bodes well for the already conflicted future of Northeast Asia.

Monday, November 21, 2005

"I Walk the Line"

(Photo borrowed from Yahoo Music.)
One of my best friends, Scott Corey, used to argue that there were two cultures in America during the turbulent sixties, the counterculture, whose theme song was "Love the One You're With," and redneck culture, whose theme song was "I Walk the Line." Let's stroll toward that line down memory lane, pausing first at the countercultural cul-de-sac:
Love The One You're With
Stephen Stills

If you're down, and confused
And you don't remember, who you're talkin' to
Concentration slips away
'Cause your baby is so far away

And there's a rose, in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies, with the dove
And if you can't be, with the one you love
Love the one you're with.

Don't be angry, don't be sad
Don't sit cryin' over good times you had
There's a girl, right next to you
And she's just waitin', for something to do

And there's a rose, in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies, with the dove
And if you can't be, with the one you love
Love the one you're with.

Turn your heartache right into joy
She's a girl, and you're a boy
So get it together, make it nice
You ain't gonna need, any more advice

And there's a rose, in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies, with the dove
And if you can't be, with the one you love
Love the one you're with.
Parodying this song would be easy:

If you're down, and confused
And you don't remember, who you're talkin' to
Concentration slips away
'Cause you've smoked too much dope today . . .

But unnecessary. Any pop song whose chorus trills "And there's a rose, in a fisted glove" doesn't need a parody. And if you're missing all of the dit dit dits, then click on the link in the title above.

Or if you prefer deep authenticity, here's your man:

I Walk the Line
John R. Cash

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.
I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you're mine,
I walk the line.

I find it very, very easy to be true.
I find myself alone when each day is through.
Yes, I'll admit I'm a fool for you.
Because you're mine,
I walk the line.

As sure as night is dark and day is light.
I keep you on my mind both day and night.
And happiness I've known proves that it's right.
Because you're mine,
I walk the line.

You've got a way to keep me on your side.
You give me cause for love that I can't hide.
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide.
Because you're mine,
I walk the line.

This Cash song ranks as number 26 among the Top 100 Country Hits of All-Time. "All-Time"? How long has country music been around? And that hyphen kind of bothers me . . . but okay, I like the song, too. A more prestigious list has ranked it number 30 among The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "All Time" again? What hubris is this? Well, at least the offensive hyphen is missing. And the Rolling Stone site goes on to tell us:

Cash began work on this track while he was in Germany with the Air Force, years before he would ever enter a studio. He returned to it after [t]he hit with "Folsom Prison Blues," only to find that the tape he had made had gotten mangled. But Cash liked the strange sound and added a click-clack rhythm by winding a piece of wax paper through his guitar strings. "It was different than anything else you had ever heard," Bob Dylan told ROLLING STONE. "A voice from the middle of the earth."
"A voice from the middle of the earth" nails it exactly. Fall through a ring of fire, and you'll find yourself there.

To listen to Cash, go to his homepage, click on the "Man in Black," and wait a spell.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Poetry Break: Sei ruhig.

All this analysis of Medieval "reweth" and Early Modern "rueth" and their effect on "me" has reminded me (or should I say, "me remembreth"?) of a poem that I wrote about 15 years ago, while I was living in Tuebingen, Germany and still struggling with "The Awful German Language."

This must have been about the time that I encountered a man sitting alone in a student cafeteria, his table all to himself. In his early thirties, blond, and handsome in a rather dignified way, he suddenly began talking, very loudly . . . to the world at large. I don't recall his words because I couldn't understand most of them, given my poor German, but I understood that he felt aggrieved by the state of the cosmos, God's injustice, all of the evil in the world . . . and probably his girlfriend.

The din eventually grew so loud that one of the cafeteria ladies serving up the food called out, "Ruhe!"

At this call for peace and quiet, the man stopped in mid-sentence, reflected for a moment in silence, then replied: "Aber es gibt gar keine Ruhe!"

That, I understood: "But there is no peace and quiet." And I nearly laughed because of the unintentional irony -- of course, there was no peace and quiet with him talking so loudly. But I also felt a bit of sadness, imagining the poor fellow's unquiet mind. At the same time, I found myself somehow impressed, for the man was right -- there is no peace, no quiet in the world.

Whether his words entered into my deeper musing, I don't know, but around that time, I wrote this little poem, playing across languages with similar-sounding words:

With ruth my soul lies buried,
in dark, abandoned ground,
where rue, like dropping waters,
sheds astringent leaves around,
and rueful breath of God
lows with distant, hollow sound.

Copyright 1991
Horace Jeffery Hodges

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Me tarieth...

This is the third in a series of speculations about the "Me reweth" construction in this Middle English poem:

Nou goth sonne under wode --
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre --
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and the.

I previously mused on "Me reweth" as perhaps a middle voice use of the verb "rewen" (to rue), and upon learning of a category of verb use in Old and Middle English known as "the impersonal construction" (e.g., me reweth, him thynketh, us thyrsteth), I began to speculate on the possibility of an English middle-voice construction going back to Indo-European.

Before I get into that, I might ought (to use a Southernism, and what's the history of that?) to specify more clearly what the middle voice is. According to this site maintained by SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics):

Middle voice is a voice that indicates that the subject is the actor and acts upon himself or herself reflexively, or for his or her own benefit. In the case of plural subjects, the actors may, perhaps, act upon each other.
That might not entirely clarify things. Let's try Wikipedia:

Some languages (e. g. Sanskrit and Classical Greek) have a middle voice. An intransitive verb that appears active but expresses a passive action characterizes the English middle voice. For example, in The casserole cooked in the oven, cooked is syntactically active but semantically passive, putting it in the middle voice. In Classical Greek, the middle voice is often reflexive, denoting that the subject acts on or for itself, such as "The boy washes himself." or "The boy washes."
Perhaps I can sum up and clarify. In Modern English, we have no middle voice construction, but the sense of a middle voice emerges in certain intransitive uses of verbs, e.g., "bathe," as in "I am bathing." The verb "bathe" can be used transitively, as in "Let's bathe the dog," where the verb "bathe" has the object "dog." With "I am bathing," however, no object occurs because none is needed. We could force this into the reflexive construction and say, "I am bathing myself," but we would only do this to clarify that we're not, for instance, bathing the dog. As this example and the two explanations above imply, the middle voice and the reflexive overlap and express similar meanings, namely, that the subject of the sentence performs an action that acts back upon the subject itself.

Now, let me return to my quest.

In thinking about the impersonal construction (e.g., "Me reweth") as perhaps a middle-voice construction in Old and Middle English, I decided to do a Google search, looking for my -- lo and behold:

Ruth Möhlig

(University of Cologne)

The Old English impersonal construction: a middle voice pattern?

Abstract (pdf)

Old English did not retain the Indo-European inflectional category of middle voice, which expresses a verbal action that is performed by the subject but refers back to it and affects it (Beekes 1995:239-42). Previous studies (e.g. Fraser 1985, Hermodsson 1952, Ogura 1990: 43-4) asserted that Old English expressed middle situations primarily by lexical means instead. Thus, intransitive verbs like steorfan 'to die', but also transitive verbs in ergative use, such as openian 'to become open', and reflexively used verbs like ahebban 'to raise oneself' have been identified as verbs with potential middle semantics. The present article, however, proposes arguments for a semantic interpretation by which the OE impersonal construction (e.g. me-ACC/DAT hyngria? 'Iam hungry', him-DAT scamode 'he was ashamed', me-ACC/DAT thynceth thaet ... 'it seems to me that ...') may be regarded as a grammaticalized pattern which specifically coded the middle voice. This interpretation is based on theoretical foundations laid by Cognitive and Construction Grammar (e.g. Goldberg 1995, 1996; Kemmer 1993, 1994; Langacker 1991, 1996, 2000), which acknowledge that not only lexemes but also grammatical patterns or constructions have semantic content, that grammatical patterns are prototypically structured categories, and that lexical meaning and constructional meaning interact. The article will also discuss how the subsequent loss of the impersonal construction in the course of Middle to Early Modern English affected the English voice system (Allen 1995, van der Gaaf 1904).
Now, that sounded interesting, even if difficult. So, I wrote to Ms. Möhlig, explained my quest, my query, my elusive quarry -- and she replied:

Thank you for your message and for your interest in my work -- which is still in progress. The paper you refer to was a preliminary version of my ideas presented to a small circle of German Scholars at the "Studientag Englisches Mittelalter 2003" in Potsdam, Germany. It is part of my doctoral thesis (Working title: "The impersonal construction in early English reconsidered: A study of grammatical meaning and grammatical change") which will hopefully be completed in October 2006. For this reason, I am very reluctant in handing out this paper to wider circles, as I am not allowed to publish parts of my doctoral thesis before I have actually submitted it. Plus, as I said, the ideas presented in this paper were preliminary and I have revised and altered quite a bit in the meantime. I hope you will understand this. Nevertheless, I will probably be able to give you some more information about the impersonal construction (IMPc) as you found it in the poem.

The IMPc is a marked, though not totally uncommon, syntactic pattern in Old English (it is certainly of Proto Germanic origin, as also e.g. German and Old Norse/Modern Icelandic have it). It is grammatically marked, because the verb is always in the 3rd singular form, regardless of the person and number of the first argument [i.e., the position occupied by a noun or noun phrase]. Furthermore, the pattern is marked because there is usually no nominative noun phrase which could function as a grammatical subject. There are cases where a second argument coded in the nominative is present, but then this noun typically is semantically non-agentive, i.e. it is no good candidate for subjecthood, either. It is also often in verb-second position (i.e. in "object position"). The IMPc occurs (with several formal variants) with about 60 verbs in Old English, some of which are found almost exclusively in the IMP pattern (e.g. hyngrian, thyrstan) and others with which this syntactic use is very rare (e.g. genealeacan, fremian). Ogura (1986) gives a very detailed account of the syntactic uses of the pattern and the verbs with which it occurs in OE and early ME. It has been proposed that the IMP verbs assign accusative or dative case to their first argument lexically. Thus, from a structural point of view, the IMPc should be lost around 1250, because this is about the time when lexical case marking (i.e. the ability of verbs to assign, e.g. dative or genitive case for a direct object or accusative or dative for a subject) seems to disappear in English (see e.g. Allen 1995 on this). Interestingly, however,the IMP pattern flourishes in exactly this period. It is found with about 120 verbs in Middle English, c. 70 of these are not inherited from Old English (i.e. are loan words or new coinings), or are inherited from Old English but are not found in IMP use there. This has set me to the question whether there are other factors but purely structural ones which influence the development of this grammatical pattern. These factors, I am convinced, are semantic and discourse-pragmatic, i.e. they have to do with the particular meaning(s) or function(s) of the IMPc in early English. One of its meaning components (in fact the prototypical sense of the IMPc) is grounded in the cognitive middle domain, which in turn is closely related to the reflexive domain (see Kemmer 1993 on this). In fact, many of the ME impersonal verbs show reflexive and IMP uses side by side (ME rewen 'to rue' is one of them). These verbs are often borrowings from French reflexive verbs (see also Ogura 1990, 1991), and it is commonly noted that the reflexive construction in French is -- at least in parts -- a pattern expressing middle situations. Thus, it seems as if the "middle sense" of the IMP pattern was still quite alive when these verbs were borrowed into English. However, it seems that towards the end of the ME period, IMP uses get more and more idiomatized and sometimes rather formulaic. In the EModE period (from c. 1450 on) you find only few verbs in fossilized IMP uses, e.g. meseemeth, methinks.

I don't know whether this short account can help you with your question. The verb ME rewen certainly belongs to that group of IMP verbs which show this "middle sense". I would suggest that the most straightforward literal translation of the lines in your poem into ModE is probably "I feel pity for your son and yourself" or "Your son and yourself arouse pity in me". This will, certainly, not do for a poetic translation but may hopefully give you some help in deciding on its deeper sense. I hope to have been of some assistance to you. I would be happy to learn on which translation you have decided in the end.
I'm speechless with gratitude. There must be a middle-verb construction to express my state. Perhaps: "Me overwhelmeth"?

Yes, Ms. Möhlig, your generosity has helped enormously. I now know far more about a verbal construction that until recently, I was totally unaware of -- or aware of only as an idiomatized expression such as the fossilized "methinks."

Me thynketh thaet me moste muche thenken, and thus lang here, me tarieth.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Impersonal Construction

Three posts ago, I asked about the "Me reweth" construction in this Middle English poem:

Nou goth sonne under wode --
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre --
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and the.

Readers will recall my questions:

I assume that the Middle English means something like "It rueth me," but that doesn't quite work for me and also doesn't quite work for the poem. Or did the verb in "Me reweth" express a middle voice, something like a reflexive? Yet why then the "-eth" ending, which belongs to the third person singular form?
In a comment, Kevin "Big Ho" Kim noted the similarity to the Shakespearean "methinks" and promised to refer me to an expert friend of his. By email, Kevin kept his promise, notifying me of the existence of a Professor Kara Doyle (any relation to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?), who teaches in the English Department of Union College, in Schenectady, New York. I emailed her, and received this prompt reply:

In Middle English you have a few verbs used like this, especially in poetry. It [i.e., "Me reweth"] means "I rue" or "I regret." This is called an impersonal construction. Chaucer does the same thing in "Complaint to Pity": "Me lakketh but my deth and then my bere," which means "I lack only my death and then my bier." There's a simple overview of Middle English grammar (actually, Chaucerian grammar, but it's a good overview for ME) at the Harvard Chaucer website, if you are interested.

Another fine resource is the Oxford English Dictionary, available online, which will give you the history of the word from its earliest recorded uses forward to today, including any now-obsolete meanings. For instance, I looked up the verb "rue" and discovered that this impersonal use goes all the way back to King Alfred.
This is very helpful, especially the link to Harvard's Chaucerian Middle English site. I'll have to find that online Oxford English Dictionary and link to it. Ah, here it is. Hmmm . . . subscription required. Well, I do have the two-volume set that has, in miniature, eight pages of the original on each page, along with a magnifying glass to aid the optically challenged, but I didn't manage to find what Professor Doyle found. I'll check again when I'm next in my office.

I'll have to do some more research into this "impersonal construction" to make sure that I completely understand it. My first assumption, noted above, was that "Me reweth" meant something like "It reweth me," which seems to have been about right, but I still puzzle a bit over the line "Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and the," for the implied, singular "It" (i.e., "It reweth me") clashes with the explicit, plural "thi sone and the."

But maybe the impersonal construction simply works that way, always using the verb's third person singular form.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

And now, they plead for an "F"...

A student from my history course appeared at my office yesterday with an odd request: "Could you give me an 'F,' please?"

She looked a bit nervous, which puzzled me. Why the nervousness if she wanted an "F"?

I asked her name and looked at her attendance. She'd missed the past five lectures and hadn't handed in her thesis statement.

"You don't plan to turn in an essay?" I asked.


"Then," I observed, "why would you expect anything but an 'F'?"

"Some professors give a 'D' or a 'C' instead," she said.

"And those are worse than an 'F'?" I asked.

"Yes," she explained, "because an 'F' doesn't count."

"What do you mean?"

"An 'F' doesn't appear on the transcript," she clarified.

"I see. Then," I concluded, "an 'F' doesn't mean anything."

She agreed, and we sat in silence for a moment, which I broke by observing, "Well, if I had a position of power, I would change that policy. An 'F' should mean something. It should mean failure. Anyway, I assign grades that students earn. You've earned an 'F,' so you'll get an 'F.'"

She looked relieved and thanked me.

Students: an "F" for "Fantasy"

University: an "F" for "Folly"
Students imagine a world without consequences, and the university foolishly confirms their fantasy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Infidel's View of the French Riots

Infidel, who sometimes goes by other cognomens -- e.g., M. Junius Brutus or Joseph Steinberg -- but might consider also calling himself "Kafir" (just a suggestion), has on his website an interesting post about the recent troubles in France: Stupid Politicians.

In it, he takes issue with some of the speculations that I presented on Islam, Islamism, and the French riots in my post "Unrest Easing in France?" -- though he might also have had in mind another article of mine, "Millet System for France?" In both articles, I suggested that identity politics is playing a substantial role and that Islam provides at least a nominal Muslim identity, with radical Islamism offering the promise of a deeper identity that might appeal to the 'youths' alienated from French society.

Here's how Infidel summarizes and critiques my position:
Gypsy Scholar tried to make a case about the Muslim identity of the French rioters, including this nearly-anti-globalization conclusion: "Cellular phones, television, the internet — all of the modern media supposedly globalizing the world and bringing us all together is also transforming local grievances into world-historical forces capable of rocking entire nations, even entire continents."

. . .

The cultural and religious angle Gypsy Scholar is trying to accentuate doesn’t need emphasis, because the Chirac administration’s inept performance has abandoned marginalized second-generation Muslim French youths with that last resort. Into this condemnation we can also pile France’s role in frustrating trade liberalization talks because of its egregiously bloated farm subsidizations. I think we shouldn’t create another jihadi bogeyman, when there’s a failed political model squarely in our sights to discredit and destroy.
I think that by "last resort," Infidel is referring to "Muslim identity," though he might want correct me on this if I've misunderstood. Assuming that I've understood, then it seems that Infidel is arguing that the potentially Islamist identity that I write about in my article only factors into the political equation at the end, as the result of failed policies on the economy and integration.

Perhaps Infidel has the right analysis, though the argument distantly echoes the view that poverty lies at the root of terrorism, a problematic view since prominent terrorists like Mohamed Atta and Osama bin Laden come from the middle and upper classes of society.

But read Infidel's post yourself, and see what you think.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Nou Goth Sonne under Wode

Borrowed from Anniina Jokinen's Middle English Lyrics, this reproduction of Giotto's Crucifixion illustrates a lovely, early Middle English poem, its author forgotten, which reads:
Nou goth sonne under wode --
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre --
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and the.
Note the wordplay between "rode," which refers to the Virgin Mary's face but which can also mean "cross," and the words "wode" (wood) and "tre" (tree), both of which can refer either literally to trees or metaphorically to the cross. The University of Toronto's "Representative Poetry Online" gives the poem's composition date as 1240 and states:
The quatrain belongs to the text of Archbishop Edmund's Speculum Ecclesie, composed 1239-40 probably at [the abbey in] Pontigny, France and occurs at a point in the text where the Virgin Mary is given over to St. John at the cross.
The date 1240, then, can only be the latest possible date for its composition. Presumably, it dates earlier since, being an anonymous poem, the good archbishop did not himself write it. Interestingly, it first surfaced in France, where Edmund retired, but this shouldn't surprise us since the French Norman kings ruled England, having conquered it in 1066.

The poem as presented online suffers a rather wooden modern English rendering, perhaps by Carleton Brown, who included it in his English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932).

Now the sun sets behind the forest.
Mary, I pity your lovely face.
Now sets the sun under the cross.
Mary, I pity your son and you.

In my Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York / London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983, Third Edition, Shorter), a somewhat less wooden translation appears in a footnote:

Now goes the sun under the wood --
I pity, Mary, thy fair face.
Now goes the sun under the tree --
I pity, Mary, thy son and thee.

Wooden translations have their place in scholarship, I suppose, if they give insight into the original meaning of the words, but we could perhaps strive for something more pleasing to the ear:

Now goeth sun under wood --
I rue, Marie, thy fair, flushed look.
Now goeth sun under tree --
I rue, Marie, thy son and thee.

This doesn't quite work either, for "look" does not exactly rhyme with "wood," though it approximates the sound. My translation renders the Middle English poem into Early Modern English, which probably sounds archaic to most of you but which sounds modern enough to one like me, raised in the Ozarks at a time when people still offered up spontaneous prayers using King James English -- and got it right.

I suppose that I could have rendered "Me reweth" as "Me rueth," but I never heard anyone pray like that, using "me" before the verb. I assume that the Middle English means something like "It rueth me," but that doesn't quite work for me and also doesn't quite work for the poem. Or did the verb in "Me reweth" express a middle voice, something like a reflexive? Yet why then the "-eth" ending, which belongs to the third person singular form?

Any experts out there?

Monday, November 14, 2005

If I could take only a few books along...

. . . onto a deserted island, I'd include Thoreau's Walden Pond.

But I'd request the luxury of taking along the three major annotated editions:

Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer (2004)

Walden: An Annotated Edition, edited by Walter Harding (1995)

The Annotated Walden, edited by Philip Van Doren Stern (1970, 1992)

Corinne H. Smith, a reviewer at, suggests that:

"Lining up the three versions side by side is an interesting experiment, best conducted on a rainy summer day when no other work has appeal."
Assuming that my deserted island enjoys rainy summer days -- and thus isn't the desert island usually referred to in a which-books-would-you-take scenario -- then I would do this, too.


Why, to read in parallel the textual notes, scholarly additions clarifying the obscure and, sometimes, obscuring the clear (thereby necessitating notes to the notes).

Okay, I'm a bit obsessive.

For those of you who share my obsession, check out this annotated Walden from the cyberlibrary of Babel:

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Bookmark it for a rainy day.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

O Eve, in evil hour...

This third-century fresco from Rome's Catacomb of St Piretro and St. Marcellino shows Adam and Eve being tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent. For this image and others presenting various artistic renderings of the original sinners, see Alan Humm's website at the University of Pennsylvania.

I post this image as preface because I recently posed a query, on a listserve to which I belong, about Milton's depiction of Adam and Eve's sin, and while I'm waiting for their responses, I thought that I'd rework my query and pose it here as well.

The Milton scholar Christopher Ricks has cited Paradise Lost 9.1067, "O Eve, in evil hour...", and argued that Adam puns here on "Eve" and "evil" to "proclaim . . . that the word evil is derived from Eve, and that evil derives from her" (Ricks, Milton's Grand Style (Oxford University Press,1963) p. 103).

I have a question related to this: Has anyone noted the possibility of a double pun here?

"evil" = "Eve ill"?

Since Milton has used the term "ill" to mean "evil" just twelve lines earlier, in 9.1055, then the following sequence could be derived:

"evil" = "Eve ill" --> "Eve evil" = "Eve Eve ill" --> "Eve Eve evil" = "Eve Eve Eve ill" --> "Eve Eve Eve evil" . . . ad infinitum.

This sequence fascinates me for two reasons:

First, one can read the sequence as ontological but delving endlessly into levels of sameness, and thereby understand it to suggest a vicious regression in which evil has no ground other than evil itself.

Second, one can read the sequence as temporal and extending endlessly into the future, and thereby understand it to suggest that evil inevitably generates ever more evil from out of itself.

I propose that Milton intends for us to read his double pun both ways, for each of the two readings fits Milton's view of evil as a lack of being that generates ever more lack of being.

Incidentally, I don't think that Milton shares Adam's misogynistic view of Eve, for Adam is speaking as one fallen and equally to blame for evil.

But that's another story.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cho Se-mi on the 'Korean mindset'

Thursday's edition of The Korea Herald has an interesting article (Yang Sung-mi, "Fluency of English not enough to be successful at global firms," November 10, 2005) on Cho Se-mi, "a consultant who designs strategies" for international businesses "to attract and retain top talent."

Cho has written a book, 세계는 지금 이런 인재를 원한다 (roughly translated: The World Wants Talent Like This), and has some interesting insights on the problems that the Korean 'mindset' poses for Koreans working in international firms, and since the same problems show up among my university students, I thought that I'd post some of her views here.

Koreans lack initiative:

So what's wrong with the mindset of Koreans? Cho said Koreans are hard-working and excel in what they are asked to do. But they lack a sort of independent mindset, particularly a positive drive to take the initiative.
This confirms my experience. Korean students can work hard and excel, but they show little independent initiative and wait for someone in authority to tell them what to do and how to do it.

Koreans don't pursue excellence:
"And we also lack a sense of pursuing excellence. We tend to think that this is enough, and just try to compete with colleagues in a company, rather than seek excellence," Cho said.
Cho is referring to Korean business people who don't strive to meet international standards of excellence. I can't speak for the world of business, but I see a similar problem with many of my students, who seem accustomed to a lack of rigor in their academic work. When I return to them their corrected essays, which I have marked up with rivers of red ink, they look shocked and appear surprised that anyone would care about consistency in such things as punctuation and grammar or about concern with using proper footnoting and avoiding plagiarism.

Koreans don't think:
When global firms recruit new employees, they focus on whether job applicants have leadership, drive for excellence and problem-solving skills. And many Koreans fail on the logical and creative thinking.
Koreans really do have problems here. Although my students can usually draw conclusions in clearly defined problems requiring deductive reasoning, they tend to lose this ability if they have to define a problem for themselves. They also show weaknesses in using inductive reasoning, being unable to generalize from similar cases. I think that this latter weakness stems from weakness in thinking analogically. Many students lack ability to transfer insights gained in one case to another, structurally similar but superficially different case.

Koreans are closed-minded:
An open-minded attitude also matters. In some cases, there could be many answers, but some Koreans couldn't handle such open-ended questions creatively, she said.
Again, this fits my experience. Koreans expect a question to have one well-defined answer and a problem to have one well-defined solution. This stems from the Korean pattern of training students to memorize questions and answers, which becomes the model that Koreans apply to every type of learning. No room for creativity there.

Koreans don't listen:
When it comes to problem-solving skills, Koreans -- or any other applicants for global firms -- should sharpen their listening skills. "When we interviewed top talent at major universities in the United States and Europe, some people simply didn't listen to the questions we asked at the crucial moment," she said.
Cho finds this problem not just among Koreans, but in my experience from teaching and doing research in various countries, Koreans have the poorest listening skills. Many times, I have posed a crucial question only to see Korean students miss the point or even ignore the question entirely. Partly, this stems from the lack of a "culture of discussion."

Why no culture of discussion? Because of the culture of hierarchy, I say. Even the Korean language, which should promote discussion (else what's a language for?), works against it. Professor Choi Bong-young, of Hankuk Aviation University, could probably tell us a lot about this problem.

But that's another story.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Unrest Easing in France?

Or being clamped down?

According to an Associated Press article by Jamie Keaten, "Unrest Eases in France; Officers Suspended" (November 10, 2005):
Violence in France fell sharply overnight, the police chief said Thursday, one day after the government toughened its stance by imposing emergency measures and ordering deportations of foreigners involved in riots that have raged for two weeks.
Hmmm . . . well, if the French government has had to resort to emergency measures and threaten to deport foreigners 'involved' in the riots, then this 'easing' has been anything but easy.
The emergency decree empowers officials to put troublemakers under house arrest, ban or limit the movement of people and vehicles, confiscate weapons and close public spaces where gangs gather. For much of France -- including Paris -- the state of emergency had no perceptible effect.
No perceptible effect? Does this mean that the emergency measures did not 'ease' the rioting? That the rioting continues? That the rioting was already 'easing'? What? Oddly, the next very next paragraph implies that the measures had some effect:

But the fact that such extraordinary measures were needed...
Needed for what? 'Easing' the unrest? Anyway, this imperceptible "fact":
...has prompted national soul-searching about France's failure to integrate its African and Muslim minorities -- seen as a key reason behind the rioting. Rioters included the French-born children of immigrants from France's former colonies in North and West Africa.
African and Muslim minorities? Does the writer mean African and Arab minorities? Or just Muslim minorities? Or a mix of Muslim and Christian minorities? The Big Hominid, who has been posting on the riots and translating articles from the French, poses a relevant point:
If the riots in France have nothing to do with religion, we should be seeing some data about the gangs of disgruntled, unassimilated African Christians setting fire to everything.
Even if some such Christians showed up in the data, they would likely be what statisticians call "outliers" -- or in plain English, "exceptions." So, what does religion, i.e., Islam, have to do with the riots? That depends upon what one means by "Islam." From most reports, the young rioters are not particularly pious. They rebel not just against French society and the French state but also against their parents and their parents' traditional Muslim piety. So, they turn to other sources of identity, either criminal gangs or Islamist groups. Either way, their identity moves toward a radically Islamist one. Why? According to Michael Radu, "Europe, Fall 2005: Gangs in Search of an Ideology," Watch on the West (Vol. 6, Nr. 7, November 2005), the problem stems from alienation and extends beyond France:
The reasons for all this are often attributed to factors like "alienation from both parental roots and country of origin, and the society in which they live." Sociologists call this phenomenon re-Islamization, and it is increasing in intensity among second and third generation Muslims in Western Europe. Those young Muslims who were born in Europe lost their ties with the country of their parents, while at the same time their families suffered the same disintegration as their native ones, with parents losing control over their children, to gangs and/or Islamists. Hence, such youths are no more Algerians, Moroccans, or Pakistanis, but neither are they French or British. Therefore Islam, however understood or misunderstood, becomes the default identity.
In short, whether the alienated youths join a gang or an Islamist group, they share a Muslim identity by default, which suggests that the line between gangster and Islamist is rather thin. Illustrative of this, the picture drawn by Hugh Schofield, "Alienation and boredom root of youth riots in France," The New Zealand Herald (November 7, 2005), shows the fascination that Islamist violence holds for the gangster youth:
Karim, aged 15, pulled back his sleeves to reveal gold bracelets and then opened his shirt to show a gold chain. Both nicked (stolen), he winked. Another boy held a mobile phone. "Come and look," he gestured, laughing. It was a short film of a Chechen (Muslim) guerrilla cutting off the head of a Russian soldier.
How do these gang members justify their violence? They imply that they are the instruments of a vengeful Allah:
"I hate France, and the French hate us," said Abdelkarim. "The wicked get punished. See what happened after the Americans made war on Iraq? Allah sent the hurricane. We are getting our revenge."
Cellular phones, television, the internet -- all of the modern media supposedly globalizing the world and bringing us all together is also transforming local grievances into world-historical forces capable of rocking entire nations, even entire continents.

The clash of civilizations is coming to you.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jerusalem Conference on Narrative: November 27-30, 2005

I see that Narrative as a Way of Thinking, an International Symposium in Honor of Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, will be taking place November 27-30, 2005 at the Mt. Scopus campus of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

I mention this for two reasons.

First, I've read and am now re-reading Rimmon-Kenan's Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics, as some of you will recall. I have the 1983 version, but an updated version (2002) has more recently come into print. I like the book because I find it not solely a text to expand one's knowledge of literary theory but also a text that can guide the writer of fiction. I don't know if Rimmon-Kenan intended this latter use, but I've found that her analysis of fiction's structures can provide practical application for writing fiction because it breaks narrative down into units that one can work on separately prior to recombining them.

Not that I've tried this yet myself.

Second, I spent a year doing postdoctoral work as a Golda Meir Fellow at Hebrew University, albeit not in the Department of English -- though I've corresponded by email with Professor Sanford Budick, who generously sent me a copy of his Dividing Muse: Images of Sacred Disjunction in Milton's Poetry when I was looking into Milton's use of Jewish sources in Paradise Lost. As for my year in Jerusalem, I spent it working in Religious Studies with such scholars as David Satran and Michael Stone on research into the early relations between Christianity and Judaism, as reflected in religious texts from the first two or three centuries after Christ.

And my wife narrowly escaped being blown up by an Islamic Jihad terrorist bombing in the Mahaneh Yehudah Market on November 6, 1998.

Aside from these two personal reasons, I mention the symposium because it looks worth attending on its own merits. I can't make it, but perhaps next year in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Millet System for France?

We're constantly assured by much of the mainstream media that the riots in France have nothing to do with Islamist radicalism, but Amir Taheri, "France's Ticking Time Bomb," Arab News, November 5, 2005, disagrees:

The result [of the Muslim immigrants' failure to assimilate to French culture and society] is often alienation. And that, in turn, gives radical Islamists an opportunity to propagate their message of religious and cultural apartheid. Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be re-organized on the basis of the "millet" system that was in force in the Ottoman Empire. Under that system each religious community is regarded as [a] "millet" and enjoys the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.

In some parts of France [a] de facto "millet" system is already in place. In these areas all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist "hijab" while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheikhs. The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling wine and alcohol and pork products, forced "places of sin" such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters to close down and, seized control of much of the local administration often through permeation.

A reporter who spent last weekend in Clichy and its neighboring towns of Bondy, Aulany-sous-Bois and Bobigny heard a single overarching message: The French authorities should keep out!"

All we demand is to be left alone," said Mouloud Dahmani, one of the local "emirs" engaged in negotiations to persuade the French to withdraw the police and allow a committee of sheikhs, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate an end to the hostilities.

None of this sounds good to me. Either the state laws apply equally to everyone, or we've returned to Medieval feudalism's fragmented states -- or something much worse.

What is the millet system? According to the Wikipedia entry:

Millet (stress on the e) is an Ottoman Turkish term for a legally protected religious minority. It comes from the Arabic word milla (ملة) for confessional community.

. . .

The millet system has a long history in the Middle East, and is closely linked to Islamic rules on the treatment of non-Muslim minorities (dhimmi).

. . .

Each millet was under the supervision of a leader, most often a religious patriarch, who reported directly to the Ottoman Sultan. The millets had a great deal of power -- they set their own laws and collected and distributed their own taxes.

. . .

When a member of one millet committed a crime against a member of another, the law of the damaged person applied. The Muslim majority was seen as paramount and any dispute involving a Muslim fell under their law.

The entry ends with a dry observation: "Some observers deem that multiculturalism . . . also has some similarities to the millet system."

Taken to its logical conclusion, this would entail the disintegration of France as millet communities of Muslims govern their own affairs without interference by the French state. We should then expect to see the laws of Sharia applied, including those harsh hudud ones such as stoning for adultery or cutting off hands for theft.

France hasn't nearly reached that point yet, and the riots don't yet amount to civil war, but they do indicate serious danger lurking in the future if radical Islamism takes hold in Europe's growing Muslim population.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Poetry Break: "Big Bad Wolf Rap"

Here's one for the fans of rap music, especially those connoisseurs of hip-hop, Dennis Mangan and the Lost Nomad:

Big Bad Wuff Rap

I'm rough, tough,
full of hard gruff--
yuh best not bluff
if yuh test my stuff!

I'm rough, tough,
don' take no guff--
yuh gon' get 'nuff
if I make big huff!

I'm rough, tough,
no mean cream puff--
yuh haft' go snuff
from my hard sharp cuff!

I'm rough, tough,
the big bad wuff--
yuh call's song "fluff,"
well, off it I slough!

Horace Jeffery 'Bad Wolf' Hodges
Copyright 1995
Seriously, what do you guys have against rap music? The subject matter of some of it, or the genre itself?

In my opinion, rap's enormous popularity has contributed to the notable rise of interest in poetry among younger people. At the open mike poetry performances that I used to attend and occasionally participate in at Café Babar in San Francisco's Mission District back in the eighties, rap techniques supplied new energy.

But maybe you guys wouldn't have liked it.

Monday, November 07, 2005

To my surprise...

. . . scholars such as Michael Gilleland, Richard Nokes, and Michael Drout have linked to my post on Tolkien.

I'd rather enjoy all the attention . . . if I weren't receiving it for a post in which I was, basically, sounding the profound depths of my ignorance. Oh well, at least, I ate my humble pie at the offset, so I won't have to eat my words later.

Speaking of edible words, the "humble" in "humble pie" comes from "umbles," which the Free Dictionary defines as:
"The entrails and coarser parts of a deer; hence, sometimes, entrails, in general."
Entrails, eh? Is that stuff edible? The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us more:
umbles: "edible inner parts of a deer or other animal," c.1400, see humble.
Edible . . . well, if you say so. But let's not stop there. Let's follow this to the bitter end and see humble:

humble: c.1250, from O.Fr. humble, earlier humele, from L. humilis "lowly, humble," lit. "on the ground," from humus "earth." Senses of "not self-asserting" and "of low birth or rank" were both in M.E. The verb is c.1380 in the intrans. sense of "to render oneself humble;" 1484 in the trans. sense of "to lower (someone) in dignity."
From humus, eh? That could make for some nice intertextual, cross-lingual puns:
"Adam, ah Adam, man of earth,
T'were best remain a human humble."
But what's this to do with umbles? Just keep reading under "humble" to find out:
To eat humble pie (1830) is from umble pie (1648), pie made from umbles "edible inner parts of an animal" (especially deer), considered a low-class food. The similar sense of similar-sounding words (the "h" of humble was not pronounced then) converged in the pun. Umbles, meanwhile, is M.E. numbles "offal" (with loss of n- through assimilation into preceding article), from O.Fr. nombles "loin, fillet," from L. lumulus, dim. of lumbus "loin."
I see. Given my 'druthers, I'd rather have my humble pie in French. But even in English, better to have humble pie now than eat exultant crow later.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Milton Query Redux

In a recent post titled "Paradise Lost: Milton and Modal Logic," I posed a query for the Maverick Philosopher and anyone else with an interest in answering it:

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?
I then added some points for 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.

That was my query. I have since received a reply from the Maverick Philosopher:
I wouldn't call this a problem in modal logic since nothing in the logic hinges on possibility and necessity and related notions.

The problem is one of theological fatalism. In both cases, God knows that L. will choose to fall at some future time t. What God or anyone knows is true. So it is true that L. will choose to fall at t. The conflict, real or apparent, with L's libertarian freedom of the will is the same in both cases.

Suppose that Jones believes that every bachelor is unmarried, and suppose that Smith is a bachelor. It doesn't follow that Jones believes that Smith is unmarried: Jones may be unacquainted with Smith.

But God is acquainted with Lucifer. So if God decrees that any angels who fall will be punished, it follows that God decrees that if L falls, he will be punished.

Alles klar?
That last expression is German for "Everything clear?" The Maverick and the Gypsy have both spent time studying and researching in Germany and thus sometimes slip a German expression into our dialogue.

Unfortunately, a bit less is clear. I now see that the issue of theological fatalism raised by God's omniscience also figures into what I was asking about. Milton assumes that theological fatalism is false, and I intended this assumption as well. But maybe this issue of omniscience and fatalism would have to be resolved first and the issue concerning God's decrees afterwards.

Yet, if we could assume that theological is fatalism false (or better, prove that it is false), then we could return to my original question, which asked if God's decrees have a different effect in 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.
If I understand the Maverick's reply, then the second decree entails the first. This eliminates the distinction that I was attempting to make between God's decree concerning an individual and God's decree concerning a class.

My sole recourse, I suppose, would be to argue that even if the distinction does not hold, Milton thought that there was a distinction, which is really all that I need for my argument about Milton's views.

By the way, I see from the Maverick's opening remark that in calling this a problem of modal logic, I misconstrued things. I think that I see my confusion. I took the presence of the modal verb "should" to imply the need for modal logic.

Silly me.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Core and the Gap?

In "The 'Core' and the 'Gap': Defining rules in a dangerous world" (Providence Journal-Bulletin, November 7, 2002), military theorist Thomas P. M. Barnett sets out his analysis of the security problems facing the world and his strategy for securing a more peaceful future:
As globalization deepens and spreads, two groups of states are essentially pitted against one another: countries seeking to align their internal rule sets with the emerging global rule set (e.g., advanced Western democracies, Japan and Asia's emerging economies, Putin's Russia) and countries that either refuse such internal realignment or cannot achieve it because of political/cultural rigidity or continuing abject poverty (much of Central Asia, the Mideast, Africa and Central America).

I dub the former countries the Functioning Core of globalization, the latter the Non-Integrating Gap. If we count up U.S. military crisis response activity over the past 20 years, it quickly becomes apparent that the overwhelming majority of our effort was concentrated inside the Gap. In other words, the U.S. "exports" security to precisely those parts of the world that have a hard time coping with globalization or are otherwise not benefiting from it. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks did the U.S. national-security establishment a huge favor by pulling us away from the abstract planning of future high-tech wars against make-believe "near peers" into the here-and-now concrete threats to global order. By doing so, the geographic dividing lines between the Core and the Gap were made clear.

The United States faces three national-security tasks in its role as "system administrator" to globalization: 1) to bolster the Core's immune-system response to the sort of disruptive perturbations unleashed by 9/11; 2) to build a firewall to protect the Core from the Gap's worst exports -- namely terror, drugs, pandemics; and 3) to progressively export security to the Gap's worst trouble spots. These are three very different tasks, and each will demand very different levels of cooperation with other states.

Bolstering the Core's immune system is overwhelmingly a multilateral affair, in which the United States builds all sorts of transnational networks of mutual support across both the public and private realms. As a security issue, it is so much more than just the Defense Department's interest: It fundamentally involves the entire U.S. government. Protecting the Core from the Gap's worst exports is more bilaterally focused, meaning that the U.S. partners intimately with states lying on the bloody seam between Core and Gap. Think of our expanding security relationships with Russia or India, or our growing security aid to the Philippines or Indonesia. Finally, exporting security into the Gap's worst trouble spots will be largely unilateral, although we can typically count on Britain for assistance. Here we will play military Leviathan on a regular basis, enforcing the system's rules in a manner that no other state can possibly consider.
I haven't read much of Barnett's writings, but he appears to be 'the man' with the American military's ear these days, so we should all probably be reading him.

Given my ignorance of Barnett's many books and articles, I won't hazard an analysis, but I do want to focus on an assumption that underlies this article. Barnett assumes that the world's problems stem from those places (mostly Muslim) that globalization has not yet integrated into the global system of democracy and capitalism.

I wonder if this assumption is correct. Let me quote two others who have more recently written articles that implicitly question Barnett's assumption. In "A Year of Living Dangerously: Remember Theo van Gogh,and shudder for the future" ( Opinion Journal, Wednesday, November 2, 2005), Francis Fukuyama notes:

We have tended to see jihadist terrorism as something produced in dysfunctional parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Middle East, and exported to Western countries. Protecting ourselves is a matter either of walling ourselves off, or, for the Bush administration, going "over there" and trying to fix the problem at its source by promoting democracy.

There is good reason for thinking, however, that a critical source of contemporary radical Islamism lies not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe. In addition to Bouyeri and the London bombers, the March 11 Madrid bombers and ringleaders of the September 11 attacks such as Mohamed Atta were radicalized in Europe. In the Netherlands, where upwards of 6% of the population is Muslim, there is plenty of radicalism despite the fact that Holland is both modern and democratic. And there exists no option for walling the Netherlands off from this problem.

We profoundly misunderstand contemporary Islamist ideology when we see it as an assertion of traditional Muslim values or culture. In a traditional Muslim country, your religious identity is not a matter of choice; you receive it, along with your social status, customs and habits, even your future marriage partner, from your social environment. In such a society there is no confusion as to who you are, since your identity is given to you and sanctioned by all of the society's institutions, from the family to the mosque to the state.

The same is not true for a Muslim who lives as an immigrant in a suburb of Amsterdam or Paris. All of a sudden, your identity is up for grabs; you have seemingly infinite choices in deciding how far you want to try to integrate into the surrounding, non-Muslim society. In his book "Globalized Islam" (2004), the French scholar Olivier Roy argues persuasively that contemporary radicalism is precisely the product of the "deterritorialization" of Islam, which strips Muslim identity of all of the social supports it receives in a traditional Muslim society.

This is an interesting line of thought from Dr. Fukuyama, previously known for his "end of history" thesis, namely that the world has entered the final stage of history with democracy and capitalism triumphing over all competitors, including Islamic theocracy.

Fukuyama hasn't quite renounced his thesis. Globalization is still pressing democracy and capitalism toward what Barnett has called "the gap," but the victory begins to look hollow when one realizes that by undermining traditional guarantees of identity, globalization turns those alienated from their traditional identies toward the worst aspects of those traditions. Into the gap, says Fukuyama, steps Osama bin Laden:
It is in this context that someone like Osama bin Laden appears, offering young converts a universalistic, pure version of Islam that has been stripped of its local saints, customs and traditions. Radical Islamism tells them exactly who they are--respected members of a global Muslim umma to which they can belong despite their lives in lands of unbelief. Religion is no longer supported, as in a true Muslim society, through conformity to a host of external social customs and observances; rather it is more a question of inward belief. Hence Mr. Roy's comparison of modern Islamism to the Protestant Reformation, which similarly turned religion inward and stripped it of its external rituals and social supports.
Islamism offers the solution, a theocratic transformation of society in the image of an idealized early Islam. Serving as a utopian goal, it both comforts the believer and motivates him (usually him) to strive for the goal's realization.

Striving, as we have come to know, is one possible translation for the Arabic word "jihad." Muslims distinguish between inner and outer jihads, the former toward transformation of oneself, the latter toward transformation of society. In "The Suicide Bombers Among Us" (City Journal, Autumn 2005) the acute essayist Theodore Dalrymple shows how these two can come together in a dangerous way:
As is by now well known (for the last few years have made us more attentive to Islamic concepts and ways of thinking, irrespective of their intrinsic worth), the term "jihad" has two meanings: inner struggle and holy war. While the political meaning connotes violence, though with such supposed justifications as the defense of Islam and the spread of the faith among the heathen, the personal meaning generally suggests something peaceful and inward-looking. The struggle this kind of jihad entails is spiritual; it is the effort to overcome the internal obstacles -- above all, forbidden desires -- that prevent the good Muslim from achieving complete submission to God's will. Commentators have tended to see this type of jihad as harmless or even as beneficial -- a kind of self-improvement that leads to decency, respectability, good behavior, and material success.

In Britain, however, these two forms of jihad have coalesced in a most murderous fashion. Those who died in the London bombings were sacrificial victims to the need of four young men to resolve a conflict deep within themselves (and within many young Muslims), and they imagined they could do so only by the most extreme possible interpretation of their ancestral religion.
Like Fukuyama, Dalrymple notes the identity problem:
Young Muslim men in Britain -- as in France and elsewhere in the West -- have a problem of personal, cultural, and national identity. They are deeply secularized, with little religious faith, even if most will admit to a belief in God. Their interest in Islam is slight. They do not pray or keep Ramadan (except if it brings them some practical advantage, such as the postponement of a court appearance). Their tastes are for the most part those of non-Muslim lower-class young men.
But they need their identity, so they turn to Islam . . . sort of:
Even if for no other reason, then (and there are in fact other reasons), young Muslim males have a strong motive for maintaining an identity apart. And since people rarely like to admit low motives for their behavior, such as the wish to maintain a self-gratifying dominance, these young Muslims need a more elevated justification for their conduct toward women. They find it, of course, in a residual Islam: not the Islam of onerous duties, rituals, and prohibitions, which interferes so insistently in day-to-day life, but in an Islam of residual feeling, which allows them a sense of moral superiority to everything around them, including women, without in any way cramping their style.
I think that Dalrymple is onto something. Analysts have noted the odd fact that the terrorists often don't lead lives guided in detail by Islamic principles. Think of the reports that the 9/11 terrorists spent time drinking in bars and visiting prostitutes. Dalrymple offers a plausible analysis of the terrorist mindset:
Muslims who reject the West are therefore engaged in a losing and impossible inner jihad, or struggle, to expunge everything that is not Muslim from their breasts. It can't be done: for their technological and scientific dependence is necessarily also a cultural one. You can't believe in a return to seventh-century Arabia as being all-sufficient for human requirements, and at the same time drive around in a brand-new red Mercedes, as one of the London bombers did shortly before his murderous suicide. An awareness of the contradiction must gnaw in even the dullest fundamentalist brain.

Furthermore, fundamentalists must be sufficiently self-aware to know that they will never be willing to forgo the appurtenances of Western life: the taste for them is too deeply implanted in their souls, too deeply a part of what they are as human beings, ever to be eradicated. It is possible to reject isolated aspects of modernity but not modernity itself. Whether they like it or not, Muslim fundamentalists are modern men -- modern men trying, impossibly, to be something else.

They therefore have at least a nagging intimation that their chosen utopia is not really a utopia at all: that deep within themselves there exists something that makes it unachievable and even undesirable. How to persuade themselves and others that their lack of faith, their vacillation, is really the strongest possible faith? What more convincing evidence of faith could there be than to die for its sake? How can a person be really attached or attracted to rap music and cricket and Mercedes cars if he is prepared to blow himself up as a means of destroying the society that produces them? Death will be the end of the illicit attachment that he cannot entirely eliminate from his heart.
If Dalrymple is correct, then globalization undermines traditional Islam and attenuates Muslim identity in a way that produces alienated Muslim men who turn to a radicalized form of Islam in an attempt to prove their Islamic authenticity, even if they have to kill themselves to prove it.

Islamist leaders perhaps instinctively -- or even personally -- recognize this inner dynamic and make good use of such young men in a jihad that, as we can see, is increasingly a global one.