Thursday, August 31, 2006

Satan: nowhere to place his feet?

(Image from Wikipedia)

On an email list that I belong to, Larry Swain -- occasional blogger and regular Medievalist -- posted a query about Aelfric of Eynsham's remark that Satan fell from heaven because he found nowhere to place his feet:

The source is Aelfric of Eynsham's Libellus Veteri et Novo Testamenti and the language is Old English. Aelfric treats the fall of the angels several times in various works and sermons, and it is only in this particular one that he makes the claim that Satan found nowhere to place his feet, though he comes close in another. This is one of his later works, so it isn't as if he knew no better, but there are a few later works that also treat the fall of the angels in which he does not make this claim. In his Hexamerone composed (not merely translated) shortly after the Libellus he also makes the for Aelfric (and I stress the "for Aelfric) claim that Satan fell on the sixth day of creation, the day on which God made Adam and Eve. I can trace precisely where he derived that idea from, unique detail in his texts though it is. By analogy I'm attempting to track down the unique detail in the Libellus. I know most of his sources: the Bible, Augustine, Gregory, Martin of Bragda, the homiliary of Paul the Deacon, known in England in a manuscript collection known as Pembroke 25 of which I have a microfilm copy, Bede are his chief sources and influences. Neither Augustine nor Bede include that detail. I'm checking the other two but thought I'd ask to see if anyone on list had encountered this idea previously anywhere.
I'd never heard of this view, but it struck a chord -- an overtone perhaps -- so I pointed to a possibly related depiction of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Regained:

I'm interested in your question because I wonder if Milton is obliquely alluding to it in Paradise Regained 4.550-580, where Satan places Christ at the pinnacle of the temple and challenges him to stand on that precarious spot. Christ stands there, but Satan falls.
Although I didn't do so on the email list, allow me to quote here that passage in its context, the last of the three temptations that Satan subjected Christ to in the desert, which begins here with Satan speaking:

Therefore to know what more thou art then man,
Worth naming Son of God by voice from Heav'n,
Another method I must now begin. [ 540 ]
So saying he caught him up, and without wing
Of Hippogrif bore through the Air sublime
Over the Wilderness and o're the Plain;
Till underneath them fair Jerusalem,
The holy City, lifted high her Towers, [ 545 ]
And higher yet the glorious Temple rear'd
Her pile, far off appearing like a Mount
Of Alablaster, top't with golden Spires:
There on the highest Pinacle he set
The Son of God, and added thus in scorn: [ 550 ]
There stand, if thou wilt stand; to stand upright
Will ask thee skill; I to thy Fathers house
Have brought thee, and highest plac't, highest is best,
Now shew thy Progeny; if not to stand,
Cast thy self down; safely if Son of God: [ 555 ]
For it is written, He will give command
Concerning thee to his Angels, in thir hands
They shall up lift thee, lest at any time
Thou chance to dash thy foot against a stone.
To whom thus Jesus: also it is written, [ 560 ]
Tempt not the Lord thy God; he said and stood.
But Satan smitten with amazement fell
As when Earths Son Antæus (to compare
Small things with greatest) in Irassa strove
With Joves Alcides and oft foil'd still rose, [ 565 ]
Receiving from his mother Earth new strength,
Fresh from his fall, and fiercer grapple joyn'd,
Throttl'd at length in the Air, expir'd and fell;
So after many a foil the Tempter proud,
Renewing fresh assaults, amidst his pride [ 570 ]
Fell whence he stood to see his Victor fall.
And as that Theban Monster that propos'd
Her riddle, and him, who solv'd it not, devour'd;
That once found out and solv'd, for grief and spite
Cast herself headlong from th' Ismenian steep, [ 575 ]
So strook with dread and anguish fell the Fiend,
And to his crew, that sat consulting, brought
Joyless tryumphals of his hop't success,
Ruin, and desperation, and dismay,
Who durst so proudly tempt the Son of God. [ 580 ]
So Satan fell... (PR 4.538-581)
There are some obvious echoes of the Redcrosse Knight's defeat of the great dragon in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, with its repeated use of "fall" and "fell" to emphasize the magnitude of the fall. I'm not interested in that point at the moment, but just in case you are:
So downe he fell, and forth his life did breath,
That vanisht into smoke and cloudes swift;
So downe he fell, that th'earth him vnderneath
Did grone, as feeble so great load to lift;
So downe he fell, as an huge rockie clift,
Whose false foundation waues haue washt away,
With dreadfull poyse is from the mayneland rift,
And rolling downe, great Neptune doth dismay;
So downe he fell, and like an heaped mountaine lay. (FQ Bk I, Canto 11, Stanza 54)
As you see, the great dragon fell, and rather resoundingly. But back to Milton and my own email list query about Milton's source for Satan:
John Carey's footnote [John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems (London: Longman, 1968, 1971)] to line 560-561 [of Paradise Regained, Book IV] notes that "In visual art ... it was quite common for the artist to depict Satan as reeling or falling."

Unfortunately, Carey gives no examples, so I'm not sure if he's speaking just about the iconography of Satan tempting Christ but himself falling or of iconography showing Satan's first fall.

The image of Satan 'reeling' in iconography suggests Satan's difficulty in finding footing (but that's Carey's descriptive wording).
That was what I wrote in reply to Swain's original query. Now, I admit, the possibility is remote, but I still wonder if Milton is perhaps making an oblique allusion to Satan falling by failing to find a place for his feet at the temple's spire, whereas Christ can stand there.

Suggestions welcome ... on any of these points.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Speaking of the highly gifted...

Lim Jeong-Hyun
"Another Youthful-Looking Experimentalist"

Check out the video showing what this young, South Korean guy known as "funtwo" can do playing Pachelbel's Canon on a guitar!

The young native of Seoul, South Korea is 23-year-old Lim Jeong-Hyun, who has recently become famous enough to make the August 27th edition of the New York Times in Virginia Heffernan's article "Web Guitar Wizard Revealed at Last."

To my surprise, Lim hasn't been playing guitar so long:

Jeong-Hyun Lim ... [is] a 23-year-old Korean who taught himself guitar over the course of the last six years. Now living in Seoul, he listens avidly to Bach and Vivaldi, and in 2000 he took a month of guitar lessons.

Six years doesn't seem very long to me for someone to become so dexterous with a guitar, but I suppose that Lim's both highly gifted and hardworking.

How did he come to make his video and get it on YouTube?

It started with a 25-year-old Taiwanese guitarist, Jerry Chang, who last year did a rock version of Pachelbel's Canon on video, called it "Canon Rock," and uploaded it to his band's website. Soon, a lot of wannabees started testing their skill against Chang's, and one of these was Lim:

"First time when I saw JerryC's 'Canon' video, it was so amazing, I thought I might play it," he wrote. "So I practiced it by myself using tab and backing track from Jerry's homepage." On Oct. 23, 2005, he uploaded his video to a Korean music site called Mule. From there an unknown fan calling himself guitar90 copied it and posted it on YouTube with the elegant intro: "this guy iz great!!!"

I recently watched the video and was impressed but also a tad skeptical because I could hear backing and because Lim's finger movements sometimes looked out of sync with the sound. Well, there's a reason:

Repeatedly newcomers to the comments section on YouTube suggest that the desktop computer visible on the right side of the video is doing all the playing, and that funtwo is a fraud. They point out that there is a small gap in timing between the finger work and the sound of the video. These complaints invite derision from those in the know. (Funtwo's use of a backing track is no secret, and as for the gap, he says he recorded the audio and video independently and then matched them inexactly.)

Derision, eh? I'm glad that I didn't post any doubts over at YouTube. I hate being derided. Lim, however, despite shyly obscuring his face with the brim of a baseball cap in the video, doesn't seem to mind derision, for as Heffernan notes:

[E]ducational imperative is a big part of the "Canon Rock" phenomenon. When guitarists upload their renditions, they often ask that viewers be blunt: What are they doing wrong? How can they improve? When I asked Mr. Lim the reason he didn't show his face on his video, he wrote, "Main purpose of my recording is to hear the other's suggestions about my playing." He added, "I think play is more significant than appearance. Therefore I want the others to focus on my fingering and sound. Furthermore I know I'm not that handsome."

My wife thinks that Lim looks fine, and while she can't be trusted -- for she says the same thing about my appearance -- in this case, she's right. Lim does look fine.

Plays fine, too.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

David Galenson on Genius: Two Types?

"A Youthful-Looking Experimentalist"

A young man named "Nathaniel" who is studying literature and has recently started his own blog happened to read my entry on "Prodigies" and post a comment:
I think you might be interested in a story Wired did last month called "What Kind of Genius Are You?" It's basically a comparison of two styles of creative achievement: the conceptualist variety that hits people when they're young, but exhausts itself early (examples are Picasso and Ezra Pound); and the experimentalist type that's slow to mature and rises "asymptotically" (the article points to Cezanne and Robert Frost here).
Nathaniel was right -- I was interested. I've passed the link on to others, including the novelist Olen Steinhauer over at Contemporary Nomad, who found the article "[r]eally interesting," probably because he and the other nomads and blog readers had been discussing whether or not Orson Welles was a genius, a discussion triggered by an LA Times article, "Delusions of genius," by Richard Schickel, who argued that Welles was no genius because:
...he could not submit his wayward spirit to institutional discipline.... The rebel pose makes for fine romantic copy, but the fact is that genius in the movies is the antithesis of genius as Welles flightily defined it. It is akin to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Every great director I've ever known spends months in the editing room, more months on the dubbing and scoring stages, driving themselves and everyone around them crazy with their slavish devotion to detail. When they're not doing that, they're wheedling money out of their backer or fending off suggested improvements. It is how great movies are made.
I didn't enter into this debate over Welles's putative genius because although I've seen and appreciated Welles's great film Citizen Kane, I've never been a Welles fan. I remember too clearly those commercials that he did for Paul Masson Winery back around 1979, authoritatively intoning:
"Paul Masson will sell no wine before its time."
Welles sounded convincing, but he was a talented actor, so of course, he sounded convincing, but it's still a ridiculous thing to say.

But I digress. My point was about the two types of genius that Nathaniel indicated, the conceptual and the experimental. The article to which he linked, "What Kind of Genius Are You?," was written by Daniel H. Pink about the Chicago economist David Galenson, who has worked out a theory of genius in his recent book, Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (Princeton University Press, 2006):
What he has found is that genius -- whether in art or architecture or even business -- is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. "Conceptual innovators," as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there's a second character type, someone who's just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group "experimental innovators." Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers. Galenson maintains that this duality -- conceptualists are from Mars, experimentalists are from Venus -- is the core of the creative process. And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, from painters and poets to economists.
Note that Welles makes the cut and is classed among the conceptualists, which suggests that Richard Schickel is a bit one-sided in his criticism because he faults Welles for not fitting a category of genius that sounds more like Galenson's experimentalist sort.

Anyway, these finding by Galenson are fascinating -- and his conclusions cohere with my own impressions over the years about two different styles of learning -- but I wonder if some geniuses might encompass both conceptualist and experimentalist styles and thus constitute a third category. Milton, for instance (whom, you may recall, I've occasionally blogged about), strikes me as fitting both categories. He showed extraordinary ability from an early age and wrote some excellent, groundbreaking poetry as a young man and would have been remembered as a great literary figure even if he had died young, but because he lived on to an old age and wrote the epic Paradise Lost, he's remembered for that work of genius more than for his youthful ones.

So ... perhaps Galenson still could do some experimental tinkering on his conceptual scheme...


Monday, August 28, 2006

"Ontology, a branch of philosophy based on capitalism..."

(A Self-Image from Wikipedia)

I learn something new every day. Just yesterday, I happened upon an article, "One's true image is what others see," by Lee Se-jung, business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo. Lee has been reading some writings by Sungkonghoe University Professor Shin Young-bok, a man who had the unfortunate experience of being arrested by the Park Chung-hee regime in 1968 and sentenced to life imprisonment for "being involved in a political party that a North Korean spy had formed to make South Korea communist."

The prison didn't take all of his life -- after all, he's been teaching at Sungkonghoe University -- but it took twenty years until his release on August 15, 1988. The very next year, he began teaching at Sungkonghoe, where he is "an expert on Marxist economics and ... Eastern classical literature as well."


Well, what does Professor Shin have to teach us? I don't directly know. But here's what business news editor Lee summarizes:
Probably because he has gone through all manners of hardship, Professor Shin emphasizes relations with other people. He goes beyond ontology, whose goal is to maximize each individual's or each group's interests. He instead emphasizes relations and argues that relations with others and other creatures or objects are the core of human life.

Ontology, a branch of philosophy based on capitalism, always demands competition and winning. Mr. Shin maintains that an emphasis on relationships is a new alternative to build a more humane society. He also explains that a basic factor of European modern history is ontology, while Asian society is based on relationships.

Ontology is based on capitalism, demands competition and winning, and aims to maximize interests?


Professor Shin may be an admirable man, but if Lee's summary is accurate, then his students have some un-learning to do.

Ontology is not based on capitalism, does not demand competition and winning, and does not aim to maximize interests.

That would be rational actor theory.

Ontology, rather, is the study of being or existence.

If that sounds rather abstract, it should, for ontology is abstract, so abstract that any links between its abstract, etherial realm and the concrete, material realm of competing, winning, and maximizing interests will be rather tenuous.

As for the remark that "a basic factor of European modern history is ontology, while Asian society is based on relationships," this sounds like a variant on the claims asserting the superiority of group-based "Asian values" over individualistic Western values, which we heard a lot about back in the 1990s ... until the market crash of 1997. But Shin also seems to be taking a page from the volumes of criticism indigenous to the modern West itself that blame, for instance, Descartes's ontological dualism for everything from the mistreatment of animals to the evils of capitalism.

Korea's relationship-based society, of course, treats animals very well and is not at all competitive.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

"And knew not eating Death"

"And knew not eating Death" (PL 9.792)
(Image from Wikipedia)

In Paradise Lost 9.780-794, Eve -- having concluded that she can "feed at once both Bodie and Mind" (PL 9.779) -- decides to take the fruit proferred by the serpent:
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour [ 780 ]
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck'd, she eat:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. Back to the Thicket slunk
The guiltie Serpent, and well might, for Eve [ 785 ]
Intent now wholly on her taste, naught else
Regarded, such delight till then, as seemd,
In Fruit she never tasted, whether true
Or fansied so, through expectation high
Of knowledg, nor was God-head from her thought. [ 790 ]
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
And knew not eating Death: Satiate at length,
And hight'nd as with Wine, jocond and boon,
Thus to her self she pleasingly began. (PL 9.780-794)
Milton plays on an ambiguity in the phrase "to her self," for the next line will show her addressing the tree ("O Sovran, vertuous, precious of all Trees" PL 9.795), but for a brief moment, we read her as addressing "her self" in an act of self-worship ... which, of course, she implicitly is.

But that's not my point today.

Rather, I'm curious about the expression "eating Death" in line 792. Scholars have long noted the double meaning in the wording, which can mean either that Eve is eating death or that death is ravenous (which it is, cf. PL 2.845ff), so the expression "eating death" has been pretty well looked into, I suppose. At any rate, I was led to a possible source for Milton's expression by way of Regina Schwartz, who writes:
Michael Lieb comments that Adam and Eve become unclean upon violating God's command, noting that seventeenth-century commentators also made the connection between the forbidden fruit and the unclean food of Leviticus. In The Forbidden Fruit: Or a Treatise of the Tree of Knowledge (1640), Sebastian Frank writes that the fall was an "offense" to God, causing man to become "unclean": we shall become clean again only when we "doe vomitt up the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evill" (14-16). Lieb's interest is in the prohibition a "extralegal and dispensational" -- not in any of its commemorative impulses (Lieb, Poetics of the Holy, 114-18). (Schwartz, Remembering and Repeating, pp. 113-114, n. 18)
This point concerning the "connection between the forbidden fruit and the unclean food of Leviticus" sounds fascinating, and I, obviously, need to read Lieb's book closely. Meanwhile, who is this Sebastian Frank -- or actually, "Franck," as I discovered through an online search that located his book with a lengthy title typical of texts back in the heroic days of printing:
The forbidden fruit, or, A treatise of the tree of knowledge of good and evill, of which Adam at the first, and as yet all mankinde do eate death moreover, how at this day it is forbidden to every one as well as to Adam, and how this tree, that is, the wisdome of the serpent planted in Adam, is that great image, and that many headed beast mentioned in Daniel and the apocalyps, whom the whole world doth worship : lastly, here is shewed what is the tree of life, contrary to the wisdome, righteousnesse, and knowledge of all mankinde : with a description of the majestie and nature of Gods word
This website lists the author as Sebastian Franck (note the "c") and gives the following bibliographical information:
London: Printed by T.P. and M.S. for Benjamin Allen ..., 1642
Franck actually published under a pseudonym (August Eleuthenius) and originally in German (Vom dem Baum des Wissen Gutes und Böses), as I discovered through yet another website:
41. August Eluthenius Forbidden Fruit.

Forbidden Fruit or Tree of Knowledge writ by August Eleuthenius

Ed. Note: Full Citation: Sebastian, Franck (1499-1542), pseud. August Eluthenius, Vom dem Baum des Wissen Gutes und Böses, translated, The Forbidden Fruit: or, A Treatise of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evill, of Which Adam at the First, and as Yet All Mankinde Do Eate Death . . . (London: Printed by T. P. and M. S. for Benjamine Allen, 1642)
Most interesting for me is this phrase in the title: "the tree of knowledge of good and evill, of which Adam at the first, and as yet all mankinde, do eate death." Eating death -- as we've already noted above -- is how Milton describes Eve's act of eating the fruit, so I'd like to know more about Franck's views and whether or not Milton was aware of them. Likely, Milton did know since the English translation was published in London in 1642 (also 1640?), but I'd need confirmation.

Wikipedia, by the way, has a useful entry on Sebastian Franck, who was a German and Reformer in Luther's time, but though it lists the book that I'm interested in (as The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), it doesn't say anything about Franck's views on the subject.

That remains for another time...

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Miltonian Excursus: Chaos and Evil

Satan's Excursion through the Realm of Chaos
"With head, heads, wings, or feet, pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies" (2.949-950)

I'm still working on my Milton article, which mainly concerns the meaning of "sacred fruit" in Paradise Lost 9.924 (cf. 9.904), which occurs in the passage quoted a couple of posts ago:

Bold deed thou hast presum'd, adventrous Eve
And peril great provok't, who thus hath dar'd
Had it been onely coveting to Eye
That sacred Fruit, sacred to abstinence,
Much more to taste it under banne to touch. [ 925 ]
But past who can recall, or don undoe?
Not God Omnipotent, nor Fate, yet so
Perhaps thou shalt not Die, perhaps the Fact
Is not so hainous now, foretasted Fruit,
Profan'd first by the Serpent, by him first [ 930 ]
Made common and unhallowd ere our taste;
Nor yet on him found deadly, he yet lives,
Lives, as thou saidst, and gaines to live as Man
Higher degree of Life, inducement strong
To us, as likely tasting to attaine [ 935 ]
Proportional ascent, which cannot be
But to be Gods, or Angels
Demi-gods. (PL 9.921-937)
In my article, one of the points that I focus upon is the meaning of "unhallowd" (9.931), which can mean either "made common" or "made impure." I construct an argument (which I won't go into here) for concluding that Adam means it in the former sense but that Milton means it in the latter sense.

This leads by "wandering mazes lost" (PL 2.561) from the link between impurity and chaos into an excursus on "Chaos and Evil," which I render in its sublime impenetrability below.

My view that impurity is linked to the "infernal" dregs of chaos (PL 7.238) touches upon an issue that has received some attention, namely, whether or not chaos is evil. Nearly 60 years ago, A. S. P. Woodhouse located Milton's view of chaos within the Neoplatonic tradition and argued for a basically good chaos but in a footnote acknowledged that "it is difficult to escape the inference ... that this disorder is, or at all events has some affinity with, evil" (A. S. P. Woodhouse, "Notes on Milton's Views on the Creation: The Initial Phase," Philological Quarterly, 28 (1949), 229, n. 30). Over 40 years ago, A. B. Chambers drew upon Hesiod, Plato, Greco-Roman atomism, and Genesis to argue, in "Chaos in Paradise Lost," that "Chaos and Night are the enemies of God" and that "Chaos is as true an exemplar as hell of that state which everywhere prevails when the laws of providence are set, when the ways of God to man are opposed and overturned" (A. B. Chambers, "Chaos in Paradise Lost," Journal of the History of Ideas 24 (1963), 65 and 84). Similarly, Regina Schwartz, in her generally illuminating book Remembering and Repeating: On Milton's Theology and Politics, argues that chaos is evil by virtue of its impurity in not respecting boundaries (Schwartz, 17). Moreover, she argues that God's creation is itself holy:
With [his] ... emphasis upon boundaries, Milton subscribes to that rich category of thinking on the sacred and profane, pollution and purity, that informs Biblical thought. As the creation is first hallowed by separations, so it is remembered and sanctified by observing those original distinctions. (Schwartz, 14; cf. 12: "creation is sanctified by its divisions")
In my opinion, Schwartz's views -- that chaos is impure and that creation is holy -- are mistaken. Creation is not hallowed by separations. It is kept pure in this way, but purity is not synonymous with holiness in biblical thinking, and I see no evidence supporting the view that Milton differed from the Bible on this point. As for chaos, while Milton does present it as not respecting boundaries, this in itself is not enough to qualify it as evil. Chaos does not respect distinctions within its realm because God has not imposed any distinctions upon it, yet only in a system of distinctions can one talk about impurity. This objection also meets the argument presented by Chambers above. God's laws and ways are not opposed by chaos, for they have never been imposed upon chaos. Chaos can be put to evil use, and the great tempter Satan even manages to lure Chaos into league against God, but this simply means that Chaos and his realm can also 'fall' (PL 2.968-1009). Thus, I agree with Robert Adams ("A Little Look into Chaos," Illustrious Evidence: Approaches to English Literature of the Early Seventeenth Century, edited by Earl Miner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 76) and Michael Lieb (The Dialectics of Creation: Patterns of Birth and Regeneration in Paradise Lost (Amherst, 1970), 16-17) that chaos is -- at minimun -- neutral. Milton even calls it "good" in Christian Doctrine (Christian Doctrine, in Complete Prose Works of John Milton, Volume 6, edited by Don M. Wolfe (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973), 308), which I take to mean that chaos fulfills God's purposes unless misused. I therefore concur with John Rumrich's rejection of the view, tentatively suggested by Woodhouse and Chambers and asserted by Schwartz, that chaos is evil (John Peter Rumrich, "Uninventing Milton," Modern Philology, Vol. 87, No. 3 (February, 1990), 256).

This excursus deserves an entire article itself, which I might get around to doing next time.

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Friday, August 25, 2006


Colors Delineate One Standard Deviation
(Graphed by Wikipedia)

Wednesday's hardcopy of the International Herald Tribune (Seoul) featured Matthew Gurewitsch's NYT article, "A 14-year-old composer's sophisticated debut" (August 23, 2003), on the young musical prodigy Jay Greenberg, who already has his own CD:

A first CD on a major label is validation a classical composer may never live to see. For Jay Greenberg, the big day has come. Last week, Sony Classical released his 34-minute Symphony No.5, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra under José Serebrier.
That's quite impressive. Child prodigies fascinate me, perhaps because my older brother Pat was something of a prodigy. According to my mother, Pat was speaking very early, and one of my uncles, who was skeptical upon first hearing that Pat could speak, confirmed that Pat was speaking understandable sentences at 6 months.

My brother has gone on to become quite successful as a "senior vice president and director of Housing, Technology and Planning" for the Federal Home Loan Bank in Topeka, Kansas. I knew that his job often requires him to travel to the East Coast -- sometimes to New York City, sometimes to Washington, D.C. -- to confer with banking officials and legislators, respectively. I just didn't know his precise title until I looked my brother up on the internet. According to the same site, Zoom Information Inc., my brother has done "post-graduate work in finance at Princeton University." Princeton, eh? I didn't know that. My brother did mention to me that he has a masters degree and several credit hours toward a Ph.D., and he's done this without trying very hard even as he's pursued his fulltime banking career.

Pat found his career almost by accident. He and a couple of other dropouts from college left Arkansas for Springfield, Missouri to seek work. They noticed that a local bank was hiring. Pat wasn't interested, but his two friends were. Those two got all serious, prepared for the interview, spruced themselves up, and were heading out the door when Pat decided that he'd tag along and do the interview, too, just for the experience.

He got the job.

At first, he worked as a teller, but his employers recognized his potential before he did and gave him more responsibilities. At some point, they asked him to write a report. Word came back to him that the bank president had been "very impressed" with his report. My brother was surprised because he hadn't put much work into it. He re-read his own report and thought, "No, it's nothing special." But it was far beyond what his co-workers had produced, and the very positive reaction of his employers came as a revelation to him.

He decided to see how far he could go. Good decision, too, for it led him to his current success.

Odd, to think that a whim of the moment landed him his job. Just a chance opportunity. Almost random. But given his chance, he had the intellectual gifts to learn quickly things that I'd never master even after years of study. I sometimes wonder what my brother might be doing if his pronounced mental abilities even as an infant had been supported with education from an early age.

Even the gifted need direction. Gurewitsch's article on the 14-year-old musical prodigy makes the point that even he needs to be taught by the right people:

Whatever Greenberg's symphonies may sound like in his head or in electronic approximations, there are lessons only live musicians in real time can teach him.
Gurewitsch then asks:
How far will Greenberg go? "Some prodigies become better and better," said Serebrier, the first conductor of Greenberg's Fifth Symphony, "and others disappear."
Indeed, that's the danger, as Grady M. Towers notes "three sorts of childhoods and three sorts of adult social adaptations made by the gifted" in "The Outsiders" (Gift of Fire, Issue No. 22, April 1987; hat tip, Dennis Mangan):
The first of these may be called the committed strategy. These individuals were born into upper middle class families, with gifted and well educated parents, and often with gifted siblings. They sometimes even had famous relatives. They attended prestigious colleges, became doctors, lawyers, professors, or joined some other prestigious occupation, and have friends with similar histories. They are the optimally adjusted. They are also the ones most likely to disbelieve that the exceptionally gifted can have serious adjustment problems.

The second kind of social adaptation may be called the marginal strategy. These individuals were typically born into a lower socio-economic class, without gifted parents, gifted siblings, or gifted friends. Often they did not go to college at all, but instead went right to work immediately after high school, or even before. And although they may superficially appear to have made a good adjustment to their work and friends, neither work nor friends can completely engage their attention. They hunger for more intellectual challenge and more real companionship than their social environment can supply. So they resort to leading a double life. They compartmentalize their life into a public sphere and a private sphere. In public they go through the motions of fulfilling their social roles, whatever they are, but in private they pursue goals of their own. They are often omnivorous readers, and sometimes unusually expert amateurs in specialized subjects.


And finally there are the dropouts. These sometimes bizarre individuals were often born into families in which one or more of the parents were not only exceptionally gifted, but exceptionally maladjusted themselves. This is the worst possible social environment that a gifted child can be thrust into. His parents, often driven by egocentric ambitions of their own, may use him to gratify their own needs for accomplishment. He is, to all intents and purposes, not a living human being to them, but a performing animal, or even an experiment.
The gifted composer Greenberg seems to fit the first category, but my brother doesn't seem to fit any of the three. My mother once told me that Pat's IQ had tested at over 160, but she found it unbelievable even though her own IQ was also very high. Now, I'm not especially impressed by high IQ scores, but they do say something about high intelligence despite the fact that some kinds of intelligence escape quantitative measurement. Anyway, having a gifted mother would put Pat in the first category, but being from a lower socio-economic class would put him in the second. He's pretty clearly not the third category despite at one point being a dropout.

In short, my brother doesn't fit any of the three categories, but that shouldn't surprise us since -- as everybody knows -- child prodigies and geniuses are misfits.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Milton's Tree of Knowledge: Sacred Fruit?

(Framed by Wikipedia)

In Paradise Lost, 9.921-937 Adam speculates about the fruit from the tree of knowledge that Eve is offering him:
Bold deed thou hast presum'd, adventrous Eve
And peril great provok't, who thus hath dar'd
Had it been onely coveting to Eye
That sacred Fruit, sacred to abstinence,
Much more to taste it under banne to touch. [ 925 ]
But past who can recall, or don undoe?
Not God Omnipotent, nor Fate, yet so
Perhaps thou shalt not Die, perhaps the Fact
Is not so hainous now, foretasted Fruit,
Profan'd first by the Serpent, by him first [ 930 ]
Made common and unhallowd ere our taste;
Nor yet on him found deadly, he yet lives,
Lives, as thou saidst, and gaines to live as Man
Higher degree of Life, inducement strong
To us, as likely tasting to attaine [ 935 ]
Proportional ascent, which cannot be
But to be Gods, or Angels Demi-gods. (PL 9.921-937)
I'm in the middle of writing a paper on this passage, so I can't go into great detail right now, but I find fascinating that Milton has Adam call the fruit from the tree of knowledge "sacred fruit" (cf. 9.904). We might suspect that Adam is mistaken, that Milton is presenting him as falling into false reasoning as he falls into sin, but Milton himself elsewhere calls the tree sacred:
It is, however, a principle uniformly acted upon in the divine proceedings, and recognized by all nations and under all ... that the penalty incurred by the violation of things sacred (and such was the tree of knowledge of good and evil) attaches not only to the criminal himself, but to the whole of his posterity.... God declares this to be the method of his justice. (Christian Doctrine = CE 15.185) (cited in Hosch, Truth in Our Practice, pp. 275-276)
I'll have to check this quote more carefully, for I have it from a secondary source, Braden J. Hosch's Truth in Our Practice: Representing Justice in Milton's Poetry and Prose (University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2003, online Ph.D. thesis, pdf), which cites Milton's Christian Doctrine as CE 15.185, a citation that I assume refers to volume 15, page 185 of The Works of John Milton (18 volumes in 21), edited by Frank Allen Patterson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1933) ... but I'll have to find the original myself.

The question that I'm attempting to answer in my paper -- or one of the questions, anyway -- is precisely what the term "sacred" means when used by Milton to describe the tree of knowledge and its fruit. In biblical thought, "sacred" can mean either "set apart from profane things" or "imbued with a divine, dynamic power" (or both), so which one of these two possibilities does Milton mean?

I have an opinion, but I want to publish the article first ... and before that, I have to finish it.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"the former things are passed away..."

(Framed by Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I received an anonymous comment to the post "My father's story...," but doubtless also in reaction the other post on my father, "Self-Reliance." Clearly, this anonymous individual knew my father, for the comment contains my father's name, "Bradley," which I did not use in my posts. Here's the comment, followed by my direct response:

Anonymous said...

You don't even know Bradley. Go to Hell!!!

Anonymous, you say that I don't even know my father and then tell me to go to hell? I trust you're not implying that I'll get to know my father better there! I'm hoping, instead, that we'll all meet in a better world, one in which:
God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4, KJV)
That would be a far better place to meet my father, a place where all will be made clear:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV)
In this world, however, we see but darkly. You've chosen to stay in the shadows and comment anonymously, and perhaps that's for the best, for I would be very disappointed if you should happen to be someone whom I know.

But to address your point ... you say that I don't know Bradley?

True enough. I didn't know my father well. I've said as much in my posts. I could hardly get to know him since he appeared only rarely in my life. But I do know some things that you don't know, and I know them from firsthand, very personal experience. I haven't posted those things on this blog, and I won't.

Instead, I've attempted to provide a balanced picture of my father despite not knowing him well. Here's an example from a comment that I left in response to a reader's remarks:
A tough father is no problem if he's also a good father. I can't say that my father was a good one. For one thing, he didn't fulfill his role as father to me or my brothers since he had little to do with our lives beyond our earliest years. Also, even in those early years, partly due to his youth and immaturity, he didn't know how to be a father and acted to assert his authority in arbitrary, harsh ways that I don't want to recount in this blog.

But let me leave his memory on a positive note. At his funeral, hundreds of people from the Missouri town where he lived came to express their grief. Apparently, many people liked him a lot because he was so friendly and helpful. So, he must have matured some as he grew older and developed his better qualities.
I think that most people reading this remark as well as my two blog posts would agree that I've been pretty fair to my father.

To whom I now say: "Bradley, requiescat in pace."


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sometimes, it takes a paddling...

(Framed by Wikipedia)

My daughter Sa-Rah and my son En-Uk love Cartoon Network, and En-Uk especially loves Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends -- and, in particular, the sarcastic, wisecracking, unreliable character Blooregard Q. Kazoo, better known as Bloo, who looks rather like a friendly cartoon ghost that accidentally got washed far too long in the hot water cycle with a big load of new blue jeans.

Anyway, En-Uk decided yesterday that he wanted a paddle ball toy just like Bloo's ... except that these things are not easy to find in Korea, and I told him so.

He decided to make one ... which means that I had to make it. I grumbled but 'helped' him cut a paddle from stiff cardboard, strengthened by doubling the cardboard and slipping a chopstick between the two pieces before we taped it all together. En-Uk added a rubber band and a hard superball about the size of a ping pong ball, taping these together and then to the paddle with insufficient tape, so I reinforced it with stronger tape and left En-Uk to his toy.

After some time spent practicing, he returned to me, trying to show off, but he played with no more skill than poor Bloo, who couldn't even hit the ball one time (if I recall correctly from the cartoon episode).

After repeated failures, he handed it to me and said, "You do it."

Drawing somehow upon the force of physical memory, maybe the same that recalls how to ride a bicycle even after too many sedentary years have passed, I tilted the paddle at a 45 degree angle to the floor and paddled:

bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam ...

En-Uk, his jaw dropping, stared in disbelief. (I was a bit surprised myself.) Then, his face broke out in a grand smile, and he ran to tell Sa-Rah and mama in that high-pitched, excited little-boy voice.

Now, he's convinced that I have super powers...

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Monday, August 21, 2006

"Some knowledge is too heavy..."

(Borrowed from Corrie ten Boom Museum, Haarlem, Holland)

I've never read anything by the Dutch Protestant Christian Corrie ten Boom (1892 - 1983), although I have heard of her well-known autobiography, The Hiding Place, for most of my life. I know that she sheltered Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland (hence the book's title), so I've always admired her without knowing much detail about her.

Yesterday, however, I heard an anecdote from her life that sent me websearching because it relates to the theme of fatherhood, which has concerned me on this blog lately. Corrie's father, Caspar ten Boom, worked as a watchmaker who made and repaired watches but also sold watches made by others and whose work sometimes required him to travel by train from his home in Haarlam to the larger city of Amsterdam to obtain watches and watch parts. On these trips, he took his daughter Corrie along, and she liked to accompany him because she could ask him questions about anything and receive honest, thoughtful answers.

In The Hiding Place, she recalls one conversation with her father on the return trip from Amsterdam in 1902 or 1903:

Oftentimes I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me, since anything I asked at home was promptly answered by the aunts. Once -- I must have been ten or eleven -- I asked Father about a poem we had read at school the winter before. One line described "a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin." I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and Mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century sex was never discussed, even at home.

So the line had stuck in my head. "Sex," I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and "sin" made [her aunt] Tante Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine. And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sexsin?"

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

"Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

"It's too heavy," I said.

"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you." (The Hiding Place (Bantam, Reissue Edition, 1984) 26-27)

Corrie's father understood that honest questions need genuine answers but that children sometimes are not ready. I don't know the poem that Corrie refers to and thus don't know precisely what is being referred to by the unusual term "sexsin" -- written as a single word in English, so I wonder if it has been taken over directly from the Dutch poem (though I haven't found the word in a Dutch dictionary). However, I imagine that this word in the recited line, "a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin," referred to premarital sex and meant that the man was still young enough to be without sexual experience. While we might not these days consider that an overly difficult thing to explain to a girl of 10 or 11, the principle remains valid. Some knowledge is too heavy.

Corrie was fortunate enough to have a father who not only understood this but who also knew how to illustrate the principle concretely.

Fathers need to carry burdens too heavy for children not yet self-reliant enough to carry them alone ... just as a father sometimes needs to pick up and carry a child.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Poetry Break: "Folk Song"

Sauron Forging the One Ring
(Fiendishly Borrowed from Wikipedia)

Since I have a lot to do this morning, I'll post for your consideration this poem, which one can interpret in today's context as an expression of self-deception on the part of Sauron and his followers:

Folk Song

We rain down ire,
Celestial fire:
We are a fiery folk.

And when we've done
What we've begun,
Our fiend's gone up in smoke --
Oh, our fiend's gone up in smoke.

Thus rain down, fire,
Form heaven's pyre
Of all earth's fiendish folk.

So when we're done,
All we've begun
Shall be celestial smoke --
Oh, shall be celestial smoke.

It actually stems from around 1994, when I was living in Germany and reacting to the siege of of Sarajevo, among other things, but the poem could readily apply to wars and the common inhuman tendency to imagine one's own side as blameless, even as fighting in God's cause ... which is not to suggest that there's no right or wrong side, or that there's no just war.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Wine Lesson Revisited

"wine, wine, wine, do yer stuff ..."
(Sampled at Wikipedia)

My old Ozark drinking buddy and wine expert Bruce Cochran read the post on my Beringer 'blush' experience and had some interesting remarks. First, he consoled me on my ignorance about the typical white zinfandel:

Jeff, we're all learning as we continue down the path of wine experience.

He then informed me of something surprising about the Boone's Farm 'wines' -- the wretched stuff that he and I used to drink on the sly, thinking we were clever:
Here's one more note about the infamous Boone's Farm "wines". Boone's Farm, technically, is no longer a wine, but beer. I mean that the alcohol is malt based rather than fruit based. There are two reasons for the change, taxes and grocery stores. Taxes are lower on beer than on wine, and grocery stores that can sell beer but not wine can sell Boone's Farm as it is made today.

I'd long ago stopped thinking of Boone's Farm products as wine, so this is ironic but welcome confirmation.

Be that as it may, for anyone who's never lived in a 'blue-law' state, the restrictions that Bruce notes about grocery stores being allowed to sell beer but not wine are probably part of the legal tangle stemming from the aftermath of prohibition's repeal. The U.S. Constitution's 18th Amendment prohibited alcohol from 1920 to 1933, an experiment in social engineering that failed miserably and encouaged widespread scofflaw attitudes because people refused to stop drinking. When the amendment was repealed in 1933, some states maintained particular restrictions -- and the counties of some states (such as my own Fulton County, Arkansas) simply outlawed alcohol altogether, aside from small amounts allowed in privately for personal consumption. Anyway, these laws restricting alcohol are informally known as "blue laws."

Thus, we have the Boone's Farm 'wine' that's not really wine -- or vodka that's not really vodka, rum that's not really rum, and various sorts of subterfuges noted by Bruce:

The same process is used for the same reasons in the category of drinks called RTD's ("Ready to Drink"). It may seem a bit cynical, but drinks like Smirnoff Ice don't contain Smirnoff or any other vodka, but beer (as with Boone's Farm they don't have that yeasty beer flavor, only the alcohol). Captain Morgan Rum made one, sans rum. This was a popular category for a while, reminiscent of the old 'pre-mixed drinks' of the 1970's. So many new things aren't new at all, just old things brought back.

Next time you're thinking that you're drinking vodka or rum in that RTD, better think again and check the label. At times, however, the alcohol base is from something better than you'd expect. Bruce notes the irony in RTDs with alcohol from unexpected sources:

And finally, because of the warmer weather in recent years, some of the alcohol in the RTD's are now coming from $100 a bottle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Warmer weather has resulted in higher sugar levels in grapes, which means higher alcohol levels, which means wines that aren't as food friendly. So, some people remove a portion of the alcohol through a process called reverse osmosis (a membrane that allows alcohol to pass through), or with a more distrurbing method called the spinning cone. The spinning cone dissembles wine into its various components, which are reassembled in the desired proportions. I call it Frankenstein wine. It seems to work.
"Frankenstein wine." I like that -- a name that not only rhymes but also says what it means. I don't think that Bruce means that he coined this expression, merely that he uses it.

By the way, I think that Bruce is talking about two different things in this last passage, but he elides from one to the other, so let me clarify. First, he's informing us that some of the alcohol in RTDs these days comes from an excess siphoned off from very high-quality wines. That's his first point, and it occasions his explanation of two different technical processes used to remove alcohol. This technical explanation reminds him of another use for the spinning-cone technology, namely, to separate wines into their various components and then recombine the components in desired proportions -- hence the term "Frankenstein" -- which is his second point. In short, he's explaining how RTDs using excess alcohol from real wines are made but also how the original wines are put back together.

Quite a lesson I've learned ... and all from drinking that dreadful White Zinfandel.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Anti-Americanism in Korea

Anti-American Film?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some of you may recall that my friend Kim Myongsob and I co-presented a paper, "The Two Koreas and the Clash of Civilizations in East Asia," at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Korean Association of International Studies in Seoul, May 12-13, 2006.

For those interested in reading a bit on Myongsob's views, see an article published by him in yesterday's Korea Herald: "Anti-Americanism: Two faces of one coin?" (August 17, 2006). The title strikes me as a bit obscure -- anti-Americanism on each side of the coin? Or "anti" on one side and "Americanism" on the other? The article, however, clears the point up:

[T]here has been a general tendency to see South Korean nationalism and anti-Americanism as two faces of one coin.

Interestingly, Myongsob's own scholarly work suggests the opposite:

Contrary to this widespread [two-faces-of-one-coin] hypothesis, however, a nationwide survey that the author has conducted with Dr. Choi Jun-young (from March 7 to March 19 in 2005) indicates that South Korean nationalism based on enhanced national self-esteem increases trust in the United States and may contribute to attenuating anti-Americanism in South Korea.

This point, plus a number of related ones, will also be noted in the published version of our KAIS paper, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the Korea Observer ... some time in October, I think.

For those of you concerned with the current state of the American-Korean alliance, take note that Myongsob's Korea Herald article is the second in a 14-part series dealing with Korea-U.S. relations, and this looks to be a very interesting set of reports by various scholars.

By the way, yesterday's Herald also contained a related article by Jasper S. Kim: "How superpowers might treat Korea" (August 17, 2006). Remarking on the popularity of the anti-American film The Host (Gwoemul), in which a monster (괴물) spawned in the Han River by U.S. military base pollution attacks Koreans, Kim notes the current "wave of anti-Americanism" rolling across Korea and engages in a bit of counterfactual thinking in hopes of countering this wave more successfully than British King Canute countered the waves of the English Channel. Kim suggests that we imagine an East Asia in which some nation other than the U.S. (e.g., Japan or China) had dominated the Korean peninsula in the latter half of the 20th century. His point is to argue that

... relative to other possible superpowers, the United States is a relatively benign (yet robust) superpower, and thus, should be given its due respect for not exercising its might and will upon other nations, including Korea, as other superpowers probably would have chosen to do.

Kim then drives this point toward his conclusion that "anti-Americanism [is] really [not] what would benefit Korea's national interests" because driving the American's out of Korea might be tantamount to inviting somebody else in.

And that 'somebody else' might be the real monster (괴물).

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

I drink a 'bad' wine ... and learn a good lesson.

White Zinfandel
(Image from the Bacchanalians at Beringer)

A couple of weeks ago, my wife bought some Beringer White Zinfandel to surprise me ... and it did.

As longtime readers know, I like a dry wine, and red zinfandel is definitely a dry one. I therefore expected the 'white' -- actually, rather pink, what used to be called "rosé" but is now often called 'blush' -- to have the dry quality as well.

Unfortunately, for my tastes, this white zinfandel was sweet and undrinkable ... which didn't stop me from actually drinking it. After all, I'm striving for expertise, so even a bad wine can do good service as a bad example.

Anyway, curious about this discrepancy between the red and the white zinfandels, I finally emailed my old drinking buddy and current wine expert Bruce Cochran and asked him about it yesterday:
[M]y wife recently bought some Beringer Zinfandel (rosé), and I was surprised to find it sweet and ... well ... bad. Surprised because the deep red zinfandels are usually fairly dry. Is this sweetness normal for a rosé zinfandel? Or is Beringer trying to get in on the unsophisticated Asian market, which still likes sweet wines?
This morning, I heard from Bruce:
As for the Beringer White Zinfandel, it's always been sweet. Some people in the trade call it a "bridge wine", meaning it's made from grapes (unlike Boone's Farm, etc.), but is sweet enough to appeal to those who haven't yet begun to enjoy dry wines. Most people begin with sweet wines and gradually move toward drier wines. I tell my wine class students that one mark of experience with wines is to know that zinfandel is a dry red and white zinfandel is a sweet blush. Congratulations, Jeff, you've reached a certain level of wine maturity! I'm sure, also, that you are correct about sweet wine being sent to Asia.
Interesting that Bruce refers to Boone's Farm wine, for it's some of the wretched stuff that he and I used to drink together back in our Honky Cat days. Beringer's White Zinfandel is at least not as bad as any of the Boone's Farm selection ... though not appreciably better, either, from where I now stand.

My ignorance about white zinfandels, however, implies that I haven't yet progressed very far along to path of wine experience, and thus don't yet stand where I should, so Bruce is just being kind and decent in congratulating me on a level of wine maturity that I should have reached years ago.

Which perhaps explains why we're still friends after all these years...


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My father's story...

(From Wikipedia)

Everyone has a story, I suppose. Of my father, I can't give an entire account, nor do I know precisely why he grew up to be a hard man, but he did tell me one thing that provoked my reflections on his own tough childhood, and I can extrapolate a bit to arrive at my own view.

When he was bedridden with leukemia, back in 1995, I took my wife -- whom I had just married -- to visit him in the Missouri hospital where he was undergoing chemotherapy. My wife was impressed by how strong he looked despite his illness, and he mentioned that the last time that he had been out of the hospital, he had chopped a lot of wood for his stove, so he seems to have retained his extraordinary physical strength long into his illness.

He also mentioned that he would like to get out of the hospital soon so that he could do some pheasant hunting. I asked him if he liked to deer hunt, too, but he told me, "No, I don't like to kill animals." I then recalled his curious tendency to say "animals" when he meant "large mammals," which I think was what an older generation of Ozarkers used to say.

I also recalled that he was a good shot with a .22 rifle, and asked if he recalled shooting a bluejay in distant flight on his mother's farm back when I was a small kid. He didn't especially recall it, but the shot had probably been nothing exceptional for him.

Thinking about that, I asked him how he had gotten to be such a good shot.

"When I was a kid, my brothers used to send me out to hunt squirrels for dinner. They'd give me three bullets and say, 'Come back with three squirrels. Don't waste any bullets, or else.'"

The unstated threat was a thrashing.

Perhaps the threat was just an idle one. I've met my uncles, and none of them seem like violent men. But as a kid, my father took them to be in earnest. And times were hard. Their father had died in a timber accident when the tree that he was felling had twisted unexpectedly and crushed him, so the many kids and their mother had initially had to fend for themselves. They had little money and needed something on the table at night. Responsibility fell to my father ... at some point.

He therefore must have wandered the woods by himself as a kid in a lonely hunt for squirrels, burdened with the onus for putting meat on the table, cut off from returning without successfully using all three bullets, and forced to become an unerring shot with a .22 rifle.

I imagine that might have been harder than running home barefoot across burning streets and sidewalks, and I suppose that I could feel some empathy for that small kid that my father was.

But I don't. Not much, anyway. He didn't teach me that.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"The wind bloweth where it listeth..."

It took a bit of faith ...
... and a big box kite for Lawrence Hargrave and James Swain
to demonstrate how 'man-lift' was achieved.
(From Wikipedia)

Recently, I was asked to write about my "religious views" -- and this within a context where I couldn't refuse and even had to elaborate a bit -- so I thought that I'd post the piece here ... if for no other reason than that I'm short on time this morning.

"The wind bloweth where it listeth,
and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh,
and whither it goeth:
so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
John 3:8 (KJV)

Trying to describe one's religious views can be like catching the wind in a box. Too successfully boxed, the wind no longer blows and becomes mere air, without power to move. But if I send the box up as a kite, it catches and is caught in the wind, like a kite flying so high that it nearly disappears into the apophatic heavens.

This is the image for my faith. An essential, tensed link between heaven and earth, tugging to draw me higher even as I keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.

But if I myself am to be boxed in, then one box is Baptist. I was raised in the Arkansas Ozarks as a Southern Baptist, I attended Baylor University, a Southern Baptist school, and I currently belong to Seoul International Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church.

I have attended the churches of various denominations, however, such as Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian ones, among others. Thus, a larger box is Protestant.

A larger box still is Western Orthodoxy, but with openness to other Christian traditions. I therefore find inspiration in great thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas as well as in the early Church Fathers and even Copts like Shenouda or Syrians like Ephrem.

A yet larger box is the Judeo-Christian tradition, which encompasses not only the Hebrew scriptures and rabbinical writings but even Jewish commentaries written today on the Bible. I therefore find that I receive a great deal by reading, for example, the commentary on Leviticus by Jacob Milgrom.

All of these boxes rise or fall like kites on the wind, which "bloweth where it listeth."

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Monday, August 14, 2006


Author of "Self-Reliance"
(Relying on Wikipedia)

My father was a big, powerful, hardworking man of little education and no particular interest in the life of the mind. He drove a truck to pay his bills but didn't pay many of mine when I was growing up because he and my mother had separated. He therefore had little influence on me but once recounted how he had saved my life when I was about a year old by getting me off the baby formula, which I couldn't keep down, and starting me on regular food.

He said that he had looked at me, weak and skinny, and told my mother, "I believe that boy's starvin' to death."

He threw out the formula and scrambled some eggs, which I quickly ate while crying for more. After that, they fed me and fed me until I grew fat ... not obese, but fat in the way that babies should be. Apparently, I liked eating because I would eat and eat and eat and eat until I couldn't swallow any more but would grab the table and bawl for still more food if anyone tried to take me from my meal.

I suppose, then, that I should feel grateful to my father for making his lifesaving decision to change my diet ... except that I don't recall the incident, so any gratitude on my part will have to remain abstract.

On the other hand, I do recall his method of toughening me up for life and making sure that I became self-reliant. Only five years old, I was playing barefoot outside with other boys while my father stood talking to some neighbors who were laying concrete for their patio. A dump truck parked in their driveway contained sand for the cement mix, and as the day grew progressively hotter with the sun climbing ever higher in the sky, heating the streets, the sidewalks, the driveway, the ground, and the sand in the dump truck where I happened to be playing, the soles of my feet started to burn.

I climbed down from the truck, burning my feet even more on its hot metal, and ran to my father, asking him to pick me up. He refused.

"But my feet are burning," I told him, hopping first on one foot and then on the other.

"Go home, put some shoes on," he retorted, not offering to help.

I went, running alone from shade to shade, until I reached our empty house, where I rinsed my feet with cold water to quench the fire...

I asked nothing of my father after that, which was perhaps his intention, and I grew up without his influence, which was perhaps not his intention.

Last Saturday, my wife and I took our kids swimming at some pools here in Seoul, and the day grew fairly hot ... for Korea, anyway. I don't like the sun, so I stayed under our umbrella most of the time, reading, but my turn eventually came to swim with my seven-year-old son. As we were walking to the pool, I noticed that the concrete was getting a bit hot, and I asked my son if his feet were burning. He said yes, so I picked him up and told him the story of my burning feet.

Later that evening, my wife and I decided to treat the kids to a meal in a restaurant. As reward for my own good-parenting behavior and to quench my powerful thirst, I received a pitcher of ice-cold beer along with a deep-frozen, frosty mug.

I had just reached the bottom that pitcher when my son began telling my wife the burning-feet anecdote. After he had finished, he asked, "Why did the bad man marry the good woman?"

He had never met my father, and knew only this 'bad' story, but he had met his grandmother and liked her. Hence, his question.

My wife -- who had met my father on what, ultimately, became his deathbed -- began to explain that he wasn't a bad man, just a tough man. She asked for my confirmation, but I found myself unable to speak ... for a couple of long minutes. When I could talk again, I spoke of other things and said nothing about my silence until Sunday afternoon, when I reminded my wife of the incident.

"Ironically," I remarked after we had discussed my father, "his refusal to help me did have the effect that he wanted, in part. It toughened me up and made me more self-reliant ... but it left him without much positive influence on me. I wouldn't recommend his approach."

My son can become self-reliant when he's grown old enough to understand what self-reliance truly means, namely, when he's old enough to read and understand Emerson: "Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet."

Even if the ground does get a bit hot sometimes...

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ozark Hay-Hauling

(From Farm Folk at Wikipedia)

I have five brothers, and one summer they never saw me because I was hauling hay all day every day.

A local Salem boy my own age, Tim Harris, had his own truck with a large loading bed and a hay loader that could attach to its side and follow along behind a hay baler and grab bales as quickly as the baler could transform them from loose, windrow hay into heavy, packed square bales, which meant that I didn't have to run alongside the truck tossing the bales up but that I did have to stack a lot more quickly.

Tim was paying me two cents a bale, which wasn't much money, but as he pointed out, I could be making a lot of money per hour if I'd just work really fast. Well ... as my two little kids could inform you, this sort of deal is a bit like that scene in Dexter's Lab where Dexter tells his robots, "Okay, maybe 24 hours a day is too much, so I'll cut your hours in half if you work twice as hard."

So, I knew that deal was a crock, but I liked working with Tim and remember good breaktimes jumping into South Fork River to cool off during the heat of the day or the camaraderie of working in the 10:30 twilight of midsummer's eve to beat the approaching thunderstorm that was threatening to douse the fields and ruin the bales.

Nostalgic memories, I guess, but I don't actually miss the work. Ozark summer temperatures regularly topped 100, with humidity over 90 percent, the field dust got up my nose and into my lungs, loose straw got down my shirt and into my jeans, and the labor left me bone-tired at day's end.

So, no, I don't miss it, but the experience has helped me to keep in perspective the other jobs that I've held ... such as working for Wells Fargo. But that's another story.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006


Image Source: David Manthey
(Chain-Linked via Wikipedia to David Manthey)

Back in the hot, humid Arkansas summer of 1976, I worked for Jim Scott as a chainman.

Scott was a mathematician and surveyor who also had musical and artistic talent and could draw well and even paint despite his red-green colorblindness. He also had (and still has, I presume) an IQ of nearly 190 ... whatever that implies, some sort of high intelligence, certainly.

Scott was a tough boss but fair-minded, and I learned a lot about intelligent self-reliance -- in contrast to my innate contrariness -- by observing him and reflecting over the years on what I had observed.

The first thing that he taught me was how to 'twist-fold' a chain ... and not really a chain, either, despite the image above. What we used was a 66-foot metal band to measure off land in the wilds of the Ozarks. He then showed me how to use a surveyor's spirit level, the old, hand-held type for judging how high the other chainman should hold the chain.

Such as: "Hold the chain about pecker high, right about the knees!" Or so the older hillbilly working the other end of the chain used to call out whenever the slope of the ground that he was standing on had brought him so low.

That hillbilly was a humorous fellow. Once, when our head surveyor offered me a chew of tobacco that I declined, my fellow chainman suggested that the next time I got offered a chew, I should reply, "No thanks, I don't even chew horsesh-t."

Most of the time, though, we were not chewing even the fat but lugging around our chain, surveyor's level, hatchet, plumb bob, hammer, laths, stakes, and other equipment through thickets where we had to cut a line, and up and down hollows that forced us to measure off shorter segments (increasing error) or much longer segments at angles (increasing labor).

One tough place was on an isolated part of the Spring River valley, where we were looking for a corner marker to set up the surveying instrument and where I learned a new old Ozark word. Trying to get our bearings, we asked an old hillbilly -- in his 70s, I reckon -- if he knew where the marker, a metal spike driven into the ground, was located.

"Yeah," he replied, his face wrinkling with concentration, "but you got to go antigogglin over that hill to get there."

Anti-what!? I thought. But it was pretty clear what the word meant -- the way wasn't straight, which was what we had figured all along.

At home, I asked my grandmother if she knew the word antigogglin, and I explained the situation.

"Yes," she said, "I know it."

"What does it mean?" I asked.

"It means that you have to go all over the place to get somewhere," she told me, explaining its meaning in the context.

I took that word with me to college and have used it ever since.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Monster House

Arkansas Outhouse Built in 1947
Rosie, Arkansas on Highway 14
(Photo from J. Searing)

This Arkansas outhouse stands just outside the small town of Rosie, which lies southeast of Batesville, an old White River town located where the Ozarks meet the flatlands. My maternal grandmother grew up partly in the White River Hills, the hollows where some of our Cherokee ancestors had found isolation and security, but mostly in the small, remote town of Zion, about 25 miles into the Ozarks from Batesville and not far from Melbourne. For a visual tour of the general area, see the Exploring Izard County blog.

But don't be fooled by the quaint photo above or the lovely scenes on the Exploring Izard County blog. The Ozark outhouse was truly a monster house.

Within its darkness awaits a gaping hole emanating the odor of evil and threatening to swallow your most vulnerable parts, but that's hardly the worst of it. No, the worst arrives when your eyes have adjusted just enough for you to glance up and dimly perceive, nestled against the ceiling over your head, watching you ... closely, intently, viciously, wasps.

Sometimes the heavy dull-red kind that you'd watched circling the sanctuary air during those hot Sunday preachings, other times the more agile black-and-yellow striped kind that could fly like hot darts at your eyes ... from nests as big as a large frying pan.

And all you could do in self-defense was remain gravely still ... like some poor dead mensch sitting.

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