Sunday, September 30, 2007

Some excellent news about beer...

So have one or two ... or even more!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Malcolm Pollack has directed our attention to some excellent news published in a recent issue of Scientific American (September 26, 2007): "Don't Forget: Drink a Beer -- Or Two -- Daily!"

Since the research reported on in the article indicates that "alcohol consumption may actually enhance memory," we should perhaps note that drinking a beer or two will actually enable us to better recall the importance of drinking a beer or two. Or is it three? I'd better have another beer to help me recall. Maybe actually reading the article would also help. Here's what one of the researchers states:
"There are human epidemiological data of others indicating that mild [to] moderate drinking may paradoxically improve cognition in people compared to abstention," says Maggie Kalev, a research fellow in molecular medicine and pathology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and a co-author of an article in The Journal of Neuroscience describing results of a study she and other researchers performed on rats. "This is similar to a glass of wine protecting against heart disease, however the mechanism is different."
Oh, yeah -- wine, too! Right, gotta remember to keep these benefits distinct. But still, is it only one or two beers a day that I'm allowed in addition to that glass of wine? Reading further:
According to Kalev, it is hard to relate the alcohol the rats consumed to human quantities, but "based on their blood alcohol levels, the 2.5 percent ethanol diet was equivalent to a level of consumption that does not exceed [the] legal driving limit. This may be approximately one to two drinks per day for some people or two to three for others, depending upon their size, metabolism or genetic background."
Right! There it is. Not just one or two beers but even two or three! Possibly even four, depending on one's metabolism? The article doesn't explicitly say four, but I do believe that we're allowed the hermeneutic freedom to infer that meaning -- and likely even more than four. That's what's meant by the words "depending upon their size, metabolism or genetic background," and given that our precise empirical data is still so sparse in this area, then one can only determine one's own personal, recommended Dietary Reference Intake of alcohol through rough experience.

I've already forwarded the results of this study to John Wells, author of the weekly Official Size & Weight EBeer ENews Email -- about whom and which, I've previously reported. John is already conducting some independent research to confirm this report of alcohol's beneficial effect on memory:
If I've ever read that, I don't remember. Clear evidence as to my next move. I'm off to the refrigerator.
Me, too. And thanks to Malcolm Pollack and his Wild, Wacky Website for directing me to this excellent -- nay, this truly most excellent -- news. I'm already celebrating with him, as you can see from a comment that I'm posting to his blog report:
This is excellent news, far beyond my wildest dreams. Beer actually does make people smarter! My old joke about how it made bud wiser is even true!

I’ve already informed my skeptical wife and am celebrating this profoundly unexpected, wonderful news with a beer.

I just had another beer.

Jus’ had another.

An’ another.



Wha’sa ‘ell I cel’bratin’?

Jefry ‘odg’s

* % @

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The 'Gypsy' talks with an old friend...

Not that we're getting old...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Regular readers may recall that through a series of somewhat remarkable coincidences, my old Baylor University friend Margaret got in touch with me last year. We've since kept in contact, giving news about events and our respective families, occasionally engaging in idle banter about old times mixed with idle chatter about new times ... plus the occasional brilliant insight, of course.

Because Margaret currently works in the loan business, despite her degree in chemistry, she and her family have been affected by the recent subprime crisis, and for a couple of weeks, I hadn't heard anything but had been too busy to check in, so she checked in with me herself when she found some space to breathe. I'd like to post here the dialogue that ensued between us, partly to save it for my own interest, partly as a reflection on friendship -- about which I'll make a few remarks after the posted dialogue.

Anyway, listen in on our conversation as it moseys along and muses on our friendship and related things ... or opt out if it gets too boring, for not all dialogue is consistently scintillating:
Margaret: "Holding on and moving forward" (9/18/2007):

To bring you up to date, I recently had my resume worked on by a friend who is a resume writer, and will be aggressively sending it out starting this week. I will continue to work mortgages at night and on weekends, and whenever else I am free, but need a predictable cash flow. I am a little scared and excited at the same time of what the future holds.

Gypsy Scholar: "Keep on a-Holding on ... and moving forward (which tends, unfortunately, to stretch one's arms ...)" (9/18/2007):

Thanks for writing. I've been busy but was thinking only yesterday that I ought to write and find out how you are doing.

I've taken a look at your resume. Your friend managed to get a lot of information onto two pages without the result looking cluttered. Maybe I need to find a resume expert for myself...

Anyway, seeing the scope of your development was interesting for me. All those years that we didn't have much contact, you were doing various things. That sort of revelation always makes me feel oddly out of touch -- as though I'm living in the past because my memories are of another time. This must result from moving around a lot and retaining somewhat static images of other people's lives from a brief stage in their lives. I only really knew you for about 9 months, I suppose, and that seemed like a lot at the time, but its really a very tiny fragment of your life.

Moving around a lot, as I've done, one lives on the surface of things. A life in depth comes from being in one place for years, perhaps. But if I dwell on these thoughts too long, I'll grow too somber. I've chosen my way, and it has its rewards...

I have no doubt that you'll find a good job ... in whatever area you're looking for one. This is the right time to start looking for something else since the housing market may be depressed for a while, and your talents and skills are broader than the work that you've been doing, I suspect.

I have to stop now. I'm teaching two interesting courses today -- one on British and American Culture (focus on multiculturalism), the other on War, Religion, and Civilization (on Western, Islamic, and Jewish Civilization) -- so I need to prepare. Not that one can really prepare for such courses...

Margaret: "Definitely stretching" (9/18/2007):

When I look back over my life, and consider the choices I made, the direction I took, a whole lot does not make sense. What ever possessed me to think that I should get a degree in science? Then to stick with it for about 15yrs after college! I must be crazy. Yours appears to make more sense, and a bit more adventuresome. Please don't get somber on me. I hope your classes went well today, and that the students were engaging, you deserve nothing less.

Gypsy Scholar: "Your crazy, scientific mind trumps my crazy, unscientific mindlessness ..." (9/19/2007):

Well, I always admired you for you scientific mind even if you eventually came to see that you had other interests and abilities. Of course, I thought that you were a genius and could do anything...

That doesn't preclude your being crazy, of course, and I wouldn't want to contradict you if you're really sure that you "must be crazy." My mother was crazy and brilliant. I inherited some of the former and little of the latter. Fortunately, my strong willpower got me through by brute force...

My life makes sense? Yeah, in the sense that every development followed from the one before, but there were some serious missteps...

But enough of that...

My classes went well enough but need to go better. I hope that your day was productive. Perhaps you'll even strike it rich by playing the stock market. If so, teach us how.

Margaret: "Mr. Noze brother" (9/20/2007):

I always thought you were the genius, Mr. Noze brother. I like to be around people who are more intelligent than me, it gives me something to reach for beyond my limitations. It's odd to me that you thought I was the genius, and could do anything. Well, I grew up thinking I could do anything, that is what my parents always told me my whole life, but I failed miserably in my own efforts to succeed at everything I put my whole heart into in college. I thought I was going to be a pediatrician, but could not get accepted to medical school, therefore I was a failure in college .... but anyway how we define success in our own mind is critical. I am still trying to frame a definition of what success means to me personally. I ... desire to be set free of every wrong thought that has shaped my perception of me and my life. I also, tend to accomplish a lot by my tenacity, so we have a lot in common.

Funny you would joke about the stock market, I want the savvy to dabble there. Of course, any insight I gain is yours, I promise.

Hope your students rise to your expectations today.

Gypsy Scholar: "My diagnosis ..." (9/20/2007):

I believe, Ms. Spelling Bee Semifinalist of Texas, that that's spelled "NoZe Brother" ... but that's just my 'judgement' of the matter, and who's checking anyway?

As for your 'failure' at Baylor... At the time, of course, I believed you when you said that you wanted to get into Medical school and become a doctor, but your desire to become a doctor didn't seem that strong to me even then. You didn't seem driven by it. In fact, you seemed to be searching for what you really wanted to do. So, I don't think that you really failed in that, for I doubt that you really, strongly desired to become a doctor.

At any rate, I'm sure that your parents had full reason to be proud of you. You resisted your innate rebelliousness (as you once called it) and finished your degree, not an easy degree, either, and you had your life ahead of you. They were right to have pride and confidence -- and to believe in you. Life isn't easy, and some of us don't get the lucky breaks but life's hard licks. You've overcome a lot of adversity, and I'm sure that your parents would both be proud of you today. I don't doubt that you'll overcome the remaining hard challenges, for you have the strength, the intelligence, the drive, and the winsome character to do so.

Margaret: "Doctor, Doctor ..." (9/20/2007):

I presume you are keeping a record of my really know how to cut me down to size. Now, if you knew soo much, why on earth didn't you tell me that I was delusional about becoming a doctor....

On a serious note, you have a lot of heart, and I was touched by your kind diagnosis of healing words.

You really are a good friend and a rare gem.

Gypsy Scholar: "My sincere apologies ..." (9/20/2007):

Yes, I keep lists of everything. Just kidding. I'm hardly anywhere near so organized at that.

Let's see, now ... you're complaining because I didn't call you delusional? Schizophrenic? Bonkers? Crazy? A space cadet? Well, I thought that you knew! I'm really sorry about that. Growing up with a delusional mother, who once told me of having watched dancing mice cavorting around a toilet, I just assumed that everyone was delusional now and then, so I thought nothing of it. I expected you to grow out of it. Soon. If only I had known...

But I'll be sure to let you know in the future. For the moment, you seem to be facing up to the reality principle rather directly.

Except for calling me a "gem," that is. That's hardly realistic. Well, okay, I am an Arkansas diamond in the rough, but merely a flawed stone -- one cracked by the Gymnasium of hard knocks.

I wish that I were better, smarter, easier on the eyes, but I'm stuck with the Jeff that I am...
Despite these limitations, which one of my own brothers unsubtly implied, I still managed to get the good, brilliant, and lovely Ms. Sun-Ae Hwang interested in me. One just has to read the right literature and use the right lines, I suppose, but for that story, you'd better click that unsubtle link.

Anyway, in reflecting upon friendships made in college, I did some websearching and came upon a 'finding' by Purdue University communication expert Glenn Sparks:
"Friendship that begins during college days last for a lifetime, a new study has revealed."

[F]or those no longer in college, Sparks says there is indirect evidence from this study that lapsed friendships may be restarted successfully even after a lull in communication for years.
That's reassuring, I suppose, and perhaps sheds some light on why Margaret and I are still close friends after all these years, but I'm not especially impressed by the good doctor's remark that "making friends is like managing a bank account," though if I'm charitable, I can read Sparks as meaning that one must nurture a friendship carefully. True care, however, can go far beyond the attention given to one's bank account:
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
Would one lay down one's life for a bank account? But rather than read too much into the analogy made by Sparks, I prefer to reflect upon the definition of friendship proposed by Cicero in his treatise "On Friendship":
Now friendship may be thus defined: a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual goodwill and affection. And with the exception of wisdom, I am inclined to think nothing better than this has been given to man by the immortal gods. (Section 6, Marcus Tullius Cicero, "On Friendship," translated by E.S. Shuckburgh)
Cicero, I take it, is speaking of the closest of friendships, the rare case of a complete accord on all subjects, but I think that we can relax his restriction to allow for some differences of opinion among friends. At any rate (and I don't mean interest), a friendship is not really comparable to a bank account.

I would add that a good friendship, along with close accord on many subjects, also requires a shared sense of humor, as the dialogue above perhaps reveals...

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Sympathy for some devils...

Satan Unbowed
(Image from IndyPlanet)

One of the scholars who posts to the Milton List -- Margaret Thickstun, the Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English at Hamilton College (Clinton, New York) -- left this message today:
A student of mine has produced a graphic novel version of Book 1 of Paradise Lost (24-pages, three-colors, professionally printed) that is available for $3.13 at IndyPlanet, if anyone is interested. I will be bringing copies to Murfreesboro as well, where I will also be talking about the project and process -- a very interesting pedagogical experience. Here's the link to see the cover.
Or you could just look above at the image of Satan in all his borrowed glory. A view of Satan falling from that glory is accessible through Hamilton College, which also tells more about Stephen Orlando, the student and graphic artist himself:
As a recipient of last year's Steven Daniel Smallen Memorial Fund for Student Creativity Grant, Orlando started working on his first self-published book, a graphic novel adaptation of Milton's Paradise Lost: Book One. While completing the 24-page anthology, Orlando worked closely with Hamilton Professor of English Margie Thickstun who helped check his script for accuracy. Thickstun plans to present the finished book at this year's national Conference on John Milton, to be held in October in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Orlando seems to have collaborated with a number of other students: Hugh Vogt, Blake Wilkie, Matty Ryan, and Jeff Spokes. Or so the Indyplanet webpage says. By the way, here's the IndyPlanet blurb for John Milton's Paradise Lost:
Follow Satan as he is cast out of heaven and raises himself and his army from the lake of fire. When all appears lost for him, it is the strength of his army's support that renews Satan's drive as he establishes his kingdom in Hell, and discovers a new purpose in life: the constant opposition of good.

Having raised an army in Heaven and lost the battle against his creator, Satan vows an eternity of revenge. From the ashes of his former defeat he is renewed with his goal of tainting all that his creator has molded, and sets his sights on the fledgling work called Earth.
My children adore graphic novels, so they'd doubtless love this one, too. At only 3 dollars and 13 cents, it may be too cheap to pass up, so I may have to get them a copy. I just hope that it doesn't raise too much sympathy for the devil, in whose rebellion against authority they just might glimpse a dim reflection of their own little rebellions against my authority.

Speaking of sympathy for outcasts, I confess to having felt a twinge of sympathy for President Ahmadinejad himself despite my having absolutely no sympathy for his views and my having been opposed to Columbia University's invitation for him to speak -- and I see that I'm not alone in thinking that Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, stepped across an important line last week by inviting Ahmadinejad to speak as a guest but then openly insulting him as "a petty and cruel dictator" who is "either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."

The conservative Stewdog, of What's the Rumpus, had this to say:
I read the reports of the event and frankly am just as troubled by the treatment of "Rock My Dinner Shed" as I am by Columbia's decision to invite him. If you are going to invite a head of state to your campus, he is your guest and no matter how despicable he might be, he is entitled to be treated with courtesy and respect. The opening remarks and the behavior of the University's representatives were anything but civil. In my opinion, the guy deserves all he gets, but there is a time and a place. Columbia is clueless!
And the liberal Jacob T. Levy, of the New Republic's Open University, expressed similar misgivings:
I hesitate to say this ... because there's an obvious sense in which Lee Bollinger is the hero of the hour, ... but I can't get over the sense that he did exactly the wrong thing. One can refuse to invite. One can invite, and treat courteously, while relying on the general principle that such an invitation does not imply endorsement of the views expressed. But I'm not sure that inviting-and-insulting is the right thing to do; I was astonished to find myself in a bit of sympathy with Ahmadinejad's objections in the name of hospitality. The rules of hospitality are of a very different kind from the rules of intellectual discourse and debate -- but they're old and deep rules, not conditional on the extramural behavior or character of the guest, and I'm very uncomfortable with seeing them thrown overboard.
Stewdog and Levy are right, and Levy speaks the truth especially well: the rules of hospitality are old and deep rules, not to be lightly tossed aside.

I might point out that on this score, the Muslim world is usually far more sensitive than Westerners, for Muslims are famously hospitable, and I suspect that they'll remember this gratuitous lack of hospitality on Bollinger's part.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

One African-American's Thoughts on Obama

Hathor, Luxor Museum, Egypt
(Image from Wikipedia)

My online friend Hathor, who maintains her own blog, Hathor-Sekhmet, wrote me an email a few days ago to give her thoughts on Barack Obama, about whom I've previously posted and whose book Dreams from My Father Hathor and I have both read.

I found the email very interesting because it clarifies a sense among the African-American community that Obama isn't 'black' enough, and Hathor has given me permission to post her email here at Gypsy Scholar.

Hathor begins with a reference to a recent incident that I've somehow missed, probably due to my living in Korea, which leaves me abstracted from a lot of American domestic news, but Hathor provides some links for international readers like me, and I've added some links of my own on other points (as well as some interjections):
I don't know if you have been following the news about the assault in Jena, Louisiana; here's a link an another link in case you haven't and commentary . Barrack Obama is being called to task by some in the black community for not being more involved with this issue. When you mentioned to me about Obama appearing to be an outsider, I thought about that now. Even though he understands how it is to be black and feels the rage, he doesn't have the history in his soul, not as a Kenyan or as an American black. I think he should have made a statement about Equal Justice. Personally, I would not have required that he go to Jena or associate with Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Regardless of what type leaders Jackson or Sharpton are, they do understand the symbolism of nooses. They both understand how quickly that symbolism can bring violence and Jesse had certainly seen enough during the 60's working with the SCLC.

I don't think growing up as a child Obama had the constant reminders of what not to do, the unspoken words of what had happen to an uncle or some distant relative in the past, or the stories or news of violence to blacks from some offense of forgetting. There has not been sorrow or the struggle passed down. I am not blaming Obama, because you could not expect that from his mother or her parents. Unfortunately his father didn't feel the need for his son to be with him. I sort of understand how he feels when he goes to Kenya and his other family explains to him about his father. The feeling I had when my mother's sisters were telling me about how my mother was before she got sick, which meant nothing to me, because her impact on me was only from the person when she was sick.
Allow me to interject some remarks here.

For those unaware of Obama's personal history, you should know that his father was a black African from Kenya, and his mother was a white American living in Hawaii. Obama's father returned to Kenya when Obama was very young and had little direct influence on Obama's childhood, and Obama's time in Hawaii and Indonesia sheltered him from the strong black-white racial division of the time but also cut him off from the black community in America, a separation reinforced by the fact that he had no black relatives in the United States.

Hathor's observations here clarify what I referred to in my prefatory remarks above, namely, that a lot of African-Americans sense that Obama isn't 'black' enough. When she says that she doesn't "think growing up as a child Obama had the constant reminders of what not to do, the unspoken words of what had happen to an uncle or some distant relative in the past, or the stories or news of violence to blacks from some offense of forgetting," I finally understand the point. Part of being 'black' in America means having a familial link and a personal family memory to those who suffered under the South's Jim Crow laws, or who suffered comparable discrimination outside the South, including racist attacks and even lynchings.

One reason that I understand better is because I know how profound an adult's words to a child can be. My own great-grandmother told me when I was five years old to always remember that I was part Indian and not to forget how the Indians had suffered. She didn't relate any personal stories, and I don't know if her husband, who was half-Cherokee, suffered discrimination (though their daughter my grandmother hinted that he might have encountered some prejudice in Oklahoma), but even without personal stories, the memory of my great-grandmother's words remains with me.

But let's return to Hathor's remarks:
I wish he could express his earlier self, while running for president. He needs to express his vision with passion. Also he needs to get rid of some of his campaign advisers. I think the people can deal with more openness and honesty. I don't really worry about his experience in government. He has had to make decisions in life and in other positions, which I think prepares any one to govern. I thought one of the few new things this country was meant to abolish was a ruling class and dynasties. Quite a few people in their lifetime will have to act on a life and death decision, and 9/11 wasn't so extradinary that one would have to be groomed in order to make decisions. Sometimes, the event can bring out the brilliance and other times it brings out a response in fear. We never know.
I know what Hathor means. Who, for example, would have expected Mayor Giuliani to be a hero and a healer? Yet, there he was, on 9/11, an unexpected source of comfort and courage who said exactly the right things when so many others did not.
That quote in your post, in which Obama described his feelings as a youth, isn't resolved in this book. I think it is pushed back into the unconscious. His actions as a representative and his ideas about race are probably determined by his upbringing. In some ways his upbringing clashes with his own reality. Unfortunately he was not light enough to be perceived as something other than black. Being African was a problem because there were no African relatives he could spend time with, family outings, etc. Hawaii and Indonesia were not places where that was a lot of black-white conflict and not a lot of rhetoric pertaining to race, so his mother's views would be internalized more. This is just my opinion.
It's my own view, too, as I've noted above. But Obama had his own 'black' experiences, as the quote from Obama that Hathor refers to makes clear:
I had begun to see a new map of the world, one that was frightening in its simplicity, suffocating in its implications. We were always playing on the white man's court, ... by the white man's rules. If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher, ... wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had power and you didn't. If he decided not to, if he treated you like a man or came to your defense, it was because he knew that the words you spoke, the clothes you wore, the books you read, your ambitions and desires, were already his. Whatever he decided to do, it was his decision to make, not yours, and because of that fundamental power he held over you, because it preceded and would outlast his individual motives and inclinations, any distinction between good and bad whites held negligible meaning. In fact, you couldn't even be sure that everything you had assumed to be an expression of your black, unfettered self -- the humor, the song, the behind-the-back pass -- had been freely chosen by you. At best, these things were a refuge; at worst, a trap. Following this maddening logic, the only thing you could choose as your own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat. And the final irony: Should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger. (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, page 85)
Such was Obama's reaction as a young black man to some experiences of racial difference even in multiracial Hawaii of the 1970s.

At any rate, Hathor concludes with an explanation of her previous, lengthy silence about Obama:
I had intended to post about him, but I've been really too lazy to follow his campaign. Since Pennsylvania is one of the last primaries, the candidates who lose early hardly stay in the race till they get here. I think Obama has enough money to stay in. This is not to say I would vote for him, but it is too early for me to get engaged or hopeful about a candidate.
I also don't know enough about Obama's position on issues to know if I'd vote for him or not, but based on his extraordinary book, I rather like him personally.

Oh, one last remark from Hathor:
You are really disciplined, to be able to post everyday.
Thanks, Hathor, for the kind words, but I suspect that I post daily not from discipline but from an insane obsession to raise my voice in the wilderness, as if it could be heard among the some 200 million other bloggers out there in the same, tame, overcrowded wilderness.

Anyway, there it is, Hathor's email providing her interesting thoughts on Obama.

Thank-you, Hathor.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Al Qaeda reads my blog!

Slytherin House Crest
"You knew I was a snake
when you took me in!"
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some folks say that blogging is bad for your health. Ted Olsen, writing for Christianity Today in an article ominously titled "The Death of Blogs" (9/25/2007), quotes Michael Parsons on the rigors of blogging:
"Good bloggers work like dogs," says Michael Parsons, editor of the tech site "You can't expect readers to show up unless you show up. And the Internet never closes.... Every successful blogger I've come across is the same. Eat, sleep, and drink the work. No time out; no holidays."
As Olsen notes, "That's not a recipe for healthy living, especially if you're working a day job that's not paying you to blog."

Blogging about Islamists probably isn't a recipe for healthy living either, no matter what one's day job might be.

Recently, I posted an entry on "Islamists: Mismanagement of Savagery?" in which I noted Michael Totten's report that Al Qaeda's savagery in Iraq's large western, Anbar Province had turned the insurgent tribes there against Islamists and into cooperation with the American military.

This morning, I found the following comment by a certain 'Donald':
Very funny ! ! How could someone well educated like you still bleive U.S.A media ! ! Al Qaeda or ABU NAJI never said People couldn't shave or smoke. never did action for that. The most of what you said are from G Bush media witch is made for stupid American People.
My friend 'Donald' linked his name to "Jihad Watch," in irony (I suppose) since that site is antijihadist. Anyway, I replied:
'Donald', I don't know what a "G Bush media witch" is, but your entire comment sounds rather 'occult' and therefore hard to understand. Anyway, I was reading Michael Totten, not George Bush.

Not smoke or shave? The smoking ban was news to me in Totten's report, but the shaving ban wherever Islamists come to power is well-known.
Now, I don't know that my friend 'Donald' is really Al Qaeda, but he certainly sounds like an Islamist sympathizer. He's not an American, nor is he a native speaker of English despite the fact that he's based in the U.K. (and I have his IP address). He reached my site through a Google search for "Abu Bakr Naji," author of The Management of Savagery, an Al Qaeda blueprint for ruling over areas conquered through military jihad, and he spent 24 minutes (and one second, but who's counting?) reading my blog, even troubling himself to take five page views. That shows dedication and a desire to judge my blog on its merits rather than an impulse to react in outraged indignation.

Fifty points for Slytherin!

However, given the low quality of my friend's comment -- the conspiratorial worldview, the immature name-calling, the ungrounded claims -- I must, regrettably, deduct 60 points, thereby resulting in a 10-point loss for Slytherin.

Sorry about that, 'Mouthboy'...

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

God's advice: "swerve not too secure"

That swyving swerve...
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the Milton List, Professor James Fleming posed a very interesting query about Paradise Lost 5.237-8:
I have always loved God's instruction to Raphael: "Whence warn him [Adam] to beware he swerve not too secure." What the heck does that mean, anyway?
Okay, you might not find this so damned interesting, but it's a fascinating question for Milton scholars to ponder, however boringly ponderous others might find it. And it has occasioned a lot of discussion, including about the use of "secure" (rather than "securely") as an adverb.

I hadn't posted on this topic until just this morning, and since I'm running late today, I'll inflict my speculations on all of my Gypsy Scholar readership.

But first, I need to quote what Professor John Rumrich suggested:
My suspicion is that, "swerve" here deliberately recalls Lucretius's notion of clinamen in a context where the indeterminacy of animate matter in motion is a function of free will rather than of an inexplicable fact of nature.

Someone else may have already said as much and I missed it. If so, apologies for the repetition.

By the way, the OED lists numerous instances from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of "secure" being used as an adverb: from Marlow, Shakespeare, the AV, and Massinger among others.
Now, finally, my speculations, spurred by Professor Rumrich's post:
I had a similar thought about "swerve" as being linked to the "swerve" in Lucretius, but more as an indeterminacy of inert matter in motion serving two functions: as the precondition of the atoms departing from their straight-line free fall and coming into contact to form larger associations of matter and as the precondition of human free will.

Note that I wrote 'inert'. That's my memory of Lucretius from about 30 years ago. Professor Rumrich refers to "animate matter." Did Lucretius's De Reum Natura assume matter to be animate? Perhaps I'm conflating the earlier, Greek atomists with the Roman Lucretius?

Either way, Lucretius introduced the "swerve" for two reasons, one being the precondition for human freedom. And free will is partly what the passage in Paradise Lost concerns:

Go therefore, half this day as friend with friend
Converse with Adam, in what Bowre or shade [230]
Thou find'st him from the heat of Noon retir'd,
To respit his day-labour with repast,
Or with repose; and such discourse bring on,
As may advise him of his happie state,
Happiness in his power left free to will, [235]
Left to his own free Will, his Will though free,
Yet mutable; whence warne him to beware
He swerve not too secure: tell him withall
His danger, and from whom, what enemie
Late falln himself from Heav'n, is plotting now [240]
The fall of others from like state of bliss;
By violence, no, for that shall be withstood,
But by deceit and lies; this let him know,
Lest wilfully transgressing he pretend
Surprisal, unadmonisht, unforewarnd. (PL 5.229-245)

Adam and Eve have been given only one command, the negative prohibition concerning the tree -- neither to touch it nor to eat its fruit. For all else, they must rely upon their free will guided by reason not misinformed by imagination, inattention, fallacy, or some other mistake that would lead them into making the wrong choice.

Now, the Garden is such and their perfection is such that Adam and Eve would ordinarily encounter no difficulty in choosing correctly. Left free to their own choices, they would freely choose the right.

Yet, they have certain inclinations that they have to be wary of in Eden's changed circumstances, for an evil presence has entered their world, even into Paradise. They cannot leave themselves so much freedom as before. That is dangerous. Thus, when Adam admits to an overwhelming love for Eve, a love that leads him to elevate her to a height beyond himself, despite his knowing better, Raphael advises him to take care and to judge rightly. As we know, he does not do so, but allows his love for Eve to mislead him into accepting the apple from her hand. Eve also 'swerves' too freely in her sense of security. She wishes more latitude from Adam, less constriction, more freedom to work alone, which suggests dissatisfaction with being subordinated to Adam, and that inclination, which would ordinarily lead to nothing evil, leaves her open to temptation in the Garden's altered circumstances. We know what happens.

Adam and Eve both "swerve ... too secure," i.e., they freely choose too securely in their changed circumstances, and thus freely choose to act in ways that lead them to their fall.

That's how I read this phrase "beware / He swerve not too secure."
The Miltonians have yet to respond, but I promise not to report back on this unless I receive an overwhelming response from Gypsy Scholar readers. I think that would mean that at least three of my five readers would have to express interest.

That would overwhelm me...

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Saudi Cleric Salman Al-Odeh Slams Osama bin Laden

Ex-friend of Bin Laden?
(Image from Islam Online)

I've been sitting on this old news because I didn't know enough about Salman al-Odeh (aka Salman al-Oadah aka Salman al-Ouda aka Salman al-Awdah).

I first read of al-Odeh's condemnation of Osama bin Laden's terrorism in an article at MEMRI:
"I say to my brother Osama [bin Laden]: How much blood has been shed, and how many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed, displaced, or banished in the name of Al-Qaeda? Would you be pleased to meet Allah while you bear responsibility for hundreds or even millions of people?" ("Saudi Cleric Salman Al-Odeh Slams 'Brother' Osama bin Laden," MEMRI, Special Dispatch Series, September 20, 2007, No. 1717)
According to Fawaz A. Gerges, writing for Yale Global:, this is a first for al-Odeh:
"Although al-Oadah and other senior Muslim scholars condemned the 9/11 attacks, they had refrained from direct criticism of bin Laden. With al-Oadah's new frontal assault on the elusive Al Qaeda leader, any ambiguity vanished. He holds bin Laden personally accountable for the occupation of Muslim lands in Afghanistan and Iraq, displacement of millions of Iraqis, killings of thousands of Afghans, internment and torture of promising and deluded young Muslims, and a tarnished image of Islam all over the world." (Fawaz A. Gerges, "Disowned by Mentor, Bin Laden Seeks New Pastures," Yale Global, 19 September 2007)
Gerges says that al-Odeh had previously "condemned the 9/11 attacks," but I haven't yet seen that condemnation, so I cannot comment upon it. Al-Odeh's current criticism seems clear enough:
"My brother Osama, what happened on 9/11 was the killing of several thousands, maybe less than 3,000, who died aboard the planes and in those towers, whereas there are unknown preachers, through whom Allah has guided hundreds of thousands of people, who have been enlightened by the light of Islam, and whose hearts have been filled with the love of Allah. Is the difference not clear between one who kills and one who gives life?" (MEMRI)
Al-Odeh may be concerned for his own soul, for he writes further, asking Bin Laden:
"Are [you] determined to come to power, even if it is over the bodies of thousands and hundreds of thousands of policemen, soldiers, ordinary Muslims, or innocent people who are sometimes killed -- and then you say that they will be resurrected according to their intentions. Indeed they will, but the question is how we shall be resurrected, and how we shall appear when we meet our God, when so much blood has been shed under our patronage, whether we like it or not." (MEMRI)
Gerges quotes al-Odeh as pleading to Allah:
"O Allah! I plead my innocence to You from what Osama is doing, and from those who affiliate themselves to his name or work under his banner." (Gerges, "Disowned by Mentor")
One wonders what has taken al-Odeh so long to condemn Bin Laden, especially since he seems so concerned here about the blood "shed under our patronage." Perhaps he only gradually came to his conclusions, for he was one of the 26 Saudi scholars signing a fatwa in November 2004 that endorsed resistance in Iraq:
Without a doubt, fighting the occupiers is a duty of [all] who [are] able. It is a "defense jihad," and it comes under the law of rebutting the aggressor. It does not require a jihad of initiative or demand. It [defense jihad] does not require leadership but is employed as much as possible, as God said: "Be as pious as much as you can." (cf. the ninth signatory Salman Ben Fahd Al Awda to "Open Sermon to the Militant Iraqi People," Frontline (Third Summary Point))
Even earlier, prior to the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, al-Odeh is said to have been aligned with Bin Laden:
The clerics, Safar Hawali and Salman Ouda, were identified in the first World Trade Center bombing trial as spiritual advisers to bin Laden. (Susan Schmidt, "Spreading Saudi Fundamentalism in U.S.," Washington Post, October 2, 2003, Page A01)
Moreover, a report by Dan Darling in The Weekly Standard suggests rather close relations:
While al-Ouda has long been characterized as a "friend" of Osama bin Laden, federal investigators told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in March 2003 that he and al-Hawali "have direct contact" with Osama bin Laden. In a number of al Qaeda propaganda videos, bin Laden has praised al-Ouda for "enlightening" the Muslim youth as well as for his support of jihadi causes. (Dan Darling, "Jihad TV," The Weekly Standard, March 24, 2006)
Darling also notes:
There is evidence connecting al-Ouda to one of the suspected masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. In September 2004, El Mundo and Corriere della Sera reported that Rabei Osman Ahmed, a former Egyptian army explosives expert and one of the purported masterminds of the bombings, was quoted in conversations wiretapped by Italian authorities as saying that al-Ouda was "Everything, everything" to him and that "I worked for him [al-Ouda] in Spain. I did really well in that period, in which I earned 2,000 euros ($2,400) a month. There were days I earned 1,000 euros ($1,200)." (Darling, "Jihad TV")
I suppose that all of this is hearsay, rumor, circumstantial evidence, and lack of proof, but it doesn't seem to leave clear distance between al-Odeh and Bin Laden. Sheikh al-Odeh, therefore, may be concerned about more than his soul in his recent attempt at a clean break from Bin Laden.

I wonder, as well, if the Anbar Awakening phenomenon has influenced al-Odeh. Al-Qaeda tortured and killed so many Sunni Muslims in the western, Anbar region of Iraq that the former insurgents there have turned against Al-Qaeda and aligned themselves with the Americans for the purpose of eliminating Al-Qaeda from Anbar. Sheikh al-Odeh cannot expect much influence among Iraqi Sunnis so long as his name is tainted by an association with Bin Laden and his organization. Moreover, al-Odeh may now be deeply concerned about a potential loss of Sunni power to the Shi'ites in Iraq and the entire Gulf region unless the Sunnis concentrate less upon ideological purity and more upon Realpolitik.

Meaning: explicitly ditch Bin Laden, implicitly support the Sunnis, and discreetly quieten down about the Americans ... for a while.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

9th International Milton Symposium: July 7-11, 2008

Bane of chronologers everywhere...
(Image from Wikipedia)

John Milton was born 399 years ago.

Well, not quite, but he will have been born 399 years ago on December 9, 2007, for he was born on December 9, 1608.

Actually, that's also not quite correct, for it ignores a calendrical complication known as the Gregorian Calendrical Reform, which Great Britain adopted in 1752, when eleven days were skipped as Wednesday, September 2nd was immediately followed by Thursday, September 14th.

Just for curiosity's sake, let's recalculate. Since eleven days were skipped, we have to add 12 to reach the true date. The actual 399th anniversary of Milton's birth will be December 21, 2007.

I'm moved to ponder these things in my heart because I was recently reminded of the upcoming 9th International Milton Symposium, which will celebrate the 400th anniversary of his birth next ... albeit somewhat early, from the 7th through the 11th of July. (Or as we actually know, from the 19th through the 23rd of July.)

What happened to remind me? A Milton List email specifically conceived, written, and sent forth with the aim of reminding scholars of a call for papers for this ninth Milton Symposium.

Thank you, Milton List. Should anyone have missed that reminder, here's the email:
Dear colleagues,

The deadline for submissions to IMS9, the International Milton Symposium, "Milton and London", has now passed, but we can still accept submissions until 1 October. So far we have received about 150 submissions for papers and panels. Proposals to [Professor Martin Dzelzainis].... We hope to have registration forms with information about fringe events, accommodation in London, and other details about the conference by December. For your information, the Call for Papers is enclosed. Hope to see you in London.

Best wishes,

Warren Chernaik
This email was composed on September 19th, so I'm assuming that Professor Chernaik was making sure to allow for those of us still operating on the old Julian Calendar by adding another 12 days (though he was being even extra generous since the original deadline was September 15th).

Anyway, all you Milton aficionados, you have a grace period until October 1 to get those applications in.

And remember, if you were born before your homeland adopted the Gregorian Calendrical Reform, then to calculate your true birthday, assume that you were actually born 12 days after you were born.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Paul Bracken on why 9/11 had little financial impact...

Osama Bin Laden
Economics Lesson for Osama...

In the aftermath of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden exulted in what he considered America's weakened condition:
America was hit by God in one of its softest spots. America is full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. (Mark Tran, "Bin Laden makes defiant TV appearance," Guardian Unlimited, October 7, 2001)
I can recall many different emotions from that confusing time. Some fear and anxiety. A lot of sadness. A great deal of anger.

But I don't remember many Americans worrying about economic or financial collapse, though Bin Laden seemed to believe that his terrorists had struck at this 'soft' spot, for I recall other statements by him urging further attacks on the U.S. economy, which he thought was tottering.

Bin Laden seemed to assume that the U.S. economy was centrally directed and that all one need do was knock out its center, which he apparently thought had been accomplished. I suppose that he's learned something since then, namely, that modern economic and financial systems are not centralized but are widely decentralized systems highly resistant to attacks.

Recently, I read something on this point in a paper by Paul Bracken, Yale professor of Management and Political Science:
[T]errorist attacks beginning with 9/11 have had little economic or financial impact. After 9/11, the NYSE was closed for only four days. Within a year, the job market on Wall Street (and the New York City real estate market) was again booming. Even the New York firms hardest hit showed extraordinary resilience. Cantor Fitzgerald, Aon, and Marsh & McLennan lost hundreds of employees in the WTC attacks. Yet they all came back, most in weeks, some in months. The resilience of markets and business is not to be underestimated. (Paul Bracken, "Financial Warfare," Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 7, 2007)
Still, one might wonder why the effects of that were so small. Bracken explains that the America was already prepared:
One reason Wall Street responded so quickly after 9/11 was that planning for a possible attack had been undertaken earlier. In 1997, a war game of a Wall Street attack was played. Leaders from the White House, Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community came together with leaders of Wall Street's largest financial institutions to simulate a terrorist attack designed to disrupt the U.S. economy. The game was played in the WTC's north tower, and some of the actual players were working there on 9/11 and were killed in the attack. The terrorist scenario was nothing like what actually happened on 9/11. The war game attacks focused on key nodes, like computer clearing houses and telephone switching centers, whereas on 9/11 a primitive yet highly effective attack was launched. Nonetheless, the lessons drawn from this game included the need to disperse key facilities away from lower Manhattan, as well as to back up important data at remote locations. All of this proved highly useful to the quick restoration of Wall Street on 9/11.
Since 9/11, this dispersal of key facilities has been further implemented, though much remains to be done in decentralizing the electrical and telephone grids upon which America's decentralized financial system is dependent:
Since 9/11 the concern to reduce the U.S. financial system's vulnerability to terrorist attacks has greatly increased. Virtually every major U.S. bank and financial institution has thought through its vulnerabilities. In addition, the Treasury Department has taken major steps to ensure that financial systems are more redundant and hardened and that back-up alternates are ready to take over in case of disaster. Sarbanes-Oxley and other legislation require financial institutions to monitor carefully their internal processes. Basle II, from the Bank for International Settlements in Basle Switzerland, reinforces this trend by requiring banks to reserve capital against so-called operational risks, i.e. internal process breakdowns such as those from cyber attacks or inside theft.

In addition, the pattern in the New York financial industry is to disperse back office operations to New Jersey and elsewhere. The hedge fund business is concentrated in nearby Fairfield County, Connecticut. The pattern from San Francisco to Miami is to shed high-cost downtown locations as much as possible. These trends have the combined effect of reducing the U.S. financial system's vulnerability to terrorist attack. However, interdependencies among the financial system and other complementing systems remain. The electrical and telephone grids, in particular, are essential for the smooth operation of the financial system. One of the peculiar features of the New York financial market is that 40 percent of the workforce uses mass transit to get to work. In the event of a bio-attack in New York, this might be a major vulnerability. But in sum, the U.S. financial system is getting much harder to take down.
Here's an irony that Bin Laden has perhaps missed, namely, that his attack upon the World Trade Center has resulted in a strengthening of America's financial system against attack.

It might get taken down by the subprime crisis, however.

Perhaps Bin Laden is now sitting in some room in Pakistan's Northwest Territories, reflecting on the current financial news and thinking, "If only I had trained Al Qaeda's terror cells to apply for those subprime loans with the aim of defaulting to bring about America's financial collapse..."

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Terrance Lindall's Paradise Lost Project

Terrance Lindall, A Dungeon Horrible
"At once as far as Angels kenn he views
The dismal Situation waste and wilde,
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible" (PL 1.58-63)

About a year ago, I posted an entry on Terrance Lindall, the former Heavy Metal illustrator who has also done some illustrations for Milton's Paradise Lost.

I don't know if he saw that, but he apparently lurks at my favorite academic listserve, the Milton List, where I sometimes post messages, and he seems to have visited my blog, for he wrote me a note two days ago asking my opinion on a topic related to Milton and mentioned this:
I have been following your comments on the Milton Lists. I also appreciate your essays referencing philosophers such as David Hume. The breadth of your cultural interests and your sense of humor are great attributes.
My "essays" would likely be my published articles, which I've linked to on my sidebar, unless Mr. Lindall meant my blog posts, but I'm guessing that he meant my articles, for in one of them, I cite David Hume's comment on a passage from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Anyway, since Mr. Lindall was so thoughtful as to contact me, I'll offer a brief plug for his work. Here's what I noted about a year ago:
I recently discovered that the Heavy Metal illustrator Terrance Lindall published a number of illustrations in 1982 as homage to Paradise Lost, one of which you see above and several of which you can see online at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center's Gallery, which had a Terrance Lindall Retrospective some years back (May 13-June 11, 2000) and which still maintains some of these images online.
Mr. Lindall is still very active, for he tells me that he is arranging a "voiceover recording of PL [i.e., Paradise Lost] for the DVD [that] the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center is making."

This DVD project is connected with John Milton's 400th birthday, which is coming up in 2008, for he was born on December 9, 1608, and the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center has a number of Milton events scheduled for next year in honor of Milton.

You can read about that at the link provided and also find further links to preliminary work toward the DVD, which is described as follows:
We are also working on a DVD presentation of Paradise Lost. It will have a famous Shakespearean actor reading it with a musical background and will be completely re-filmed, but here is some Rough "pilot" footage:

The Fall of Satan

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve
If you click on either of those two links, you'll find Mr. Lindall's preliminary work for the DVD, including him reading selections from Milton's Paradise Lost to accompany images that he's painted to illustrate that epic poem.

Lindall's voice is a bit thin, which perhaps explains why he's looking for a Shakespearean actor to do the voiceover. But see -- and hear -- for yourself.

Anyway, to Mr. Lindall's request for my opinion, I offered my limited 'expertise', which wasn't especially expert, I'm afraid, but he thanked me anyway:
Thanks for the response! Good considerations for our team. Best regards, Terrance
So, there it is. I never would have expected an email from Terrance Lindall, but something unexpected happens every day ... if we just take the time to notice.

Though occasionally, the unexpected is hard to miss.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Modern Medievalism: The St. John's Bible

Frontispiece: The Gospel of John
"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God." (NRSV)
(Image from Christianity Today)

Speaking of imagery ... Jennifer Trafton goes beyond the mere cosmos to its precosmic source in an article for Christianity Today, "The Bible in Brush & Stroke," her report on a 'Medieval' project by Saint John's Abbey and University that has commissioned "Welsh calligrapher Donald Jackson to create a 'Bible for the 21st century'":
It is made with medieval techniques, but uses the NRSV translation (including the Apocrypha) and incorporates contemporary allusions in the art and modern technology in the planning.

By the time the Bible is finished (scheduled for 2009), the 1,150 handwritten pages will represent a decade of conversations and labor by artists, theologians, and scholars on two continents. Eventually, the pages will be bound between boards of Welsh oak into seven volumes and displayed in the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library on Saint John's campus.
Now, that's something that I'd like to see, given my neo-Medievalist leanings. Worry not, dear readers, for I also have neo-Modernist leanings. Some neo-Ancient leanings as well. Even a few neo-Postmodernist leanings. I lean in several directions. Like Whitman, "I am large, I contain multitudes." It's a balancing act that keeps me fit and, um, 'lean' ... despite being large.

Anyway, this isn't about me but about the St. John's Bible, which will be an illuminated manuscript. In the image above from "the frontispiece to the Gospel of John, a Christ who is pure gold steps out of the cosmos that was created through him." How is it done? Like this:
A scribe bends intently over a worktable in his scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales. The page before him is vellum -- calfskin sanded to a velvety smoothness. His goose quill pen has been hardened in hot sand and cut with a knife to hold ink and to create a precise line. He dips the end into vermilion pigment mixed with egg yolk for luminosity and begins to shape the first capital letter of a new chapter of the Bible he is copying.

Finishing this page will take a day. If he makes a mistake, he will have to scrape the vellum and write the word or line over again. The pressure is greater because the other side has already been illuminated -- biblical themes spun into a visual tapestry of brilliant colors, evocative imagery, and radiant gold.

But the scribe's hand is guided by long experience and a clear idea of the words' pattern on the page. The line length has already been worked out by computer to ensure a perfect fit. The accompanying illustrations are the result of months of e-mail messages between the scribe and those who have commissioned him, discussing theological interpretation and symbolism. Medieval artistry with a modern twist: That's the achievement and the challenge of the Saint John's Bible, the first handwritten, illuminated Bible in 500 years.
And it's a tough job, as Jackson, the Welsh calligrapher, makes clear in deed and word:
Jackson created a new script for the Bible that could clearly and beautifully express the unique rhythms of the English language. Each large capital letter at the beginning of chapters is unique -- he designed more than 70 versions of the letter T for the Pentateuch alone. He and his team of calligraphers copy text on handmade vellum using hand-cut quills and hand-ground paints. It takes seven-and-a-half to ten hours to write 108 lines in two columns -- a single page. "You can't keep it up, physically," he says. "It's like playing the violin for ten hours at a stretch. It takes absolute concentration."
"Life is short. Art is long." The words of Hippocrates are appropriate here, a man of antiquity whose words could be speaking for this Medieval project. But why go to all the trouble? Why not just use computers and printers and avoid the cost and the time? Well, it's a labor of love for which the artists sacrifice time, a lot of time, to give what they offer a personal effect. Christianity Today, being "a magazine of evangelical conviction," feels a need to explain the reason for images, especially of the sort that recall icons, for Protestantism has often been iconoclastic in its emphasis upon scripture as God's word, so Trafton offers this analogy:
A good reader of the Sunday Scripture passage will not read it in monotone. She will alter her tone, facial expressions, and even body language to bring out the verses' emotion and significance. Calligraphy does all that in ink.
For an excellent example of the sort of expressive reading that draws forth the emotion and significance of scriptural verses, watch what Ryan Ferguson does with Hebrews 9 and 10. From watching him 'preach' those two chapters, I can echo the Catholics and Protestants who have already looked at some of the text's illuminated pages, and exclaim, "Now I understand this verse so much better!" I'd need to see a lot of these illuminated pages myself to discover whether or not I'd have the same reaction to the painted image as to the expressive word, but I probably won't get to do so.

If you live in the States, however, you might have a chance to see some of the finished pages for the St. John's Bible before they're bound in manuscript form:
Saint John's has taken the unfinished Bible on a national tour called "Illuminating the Word." Its 2005 debut at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts drew 60,000 people. Since then it has traveled to various parts of the U.S. and is scheduled to hit Arizona, Canada, Washington, and Alabama in 2008. (See for the schedule.)
Meanwhile, you can see a few images online at Christianity Today. I wish that the site had presented more images and in a larger and brighter format, for I'm not entirely sure what I think of the results, based on what I've looked at, but see for yourself.

Update: I should have checked earlier, but another online exhibition has even more images.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Milton's Cosmos?

Milton's Cosmos?
As sketched by Merritt Hughes?

On today's Milton List, a link was provided to the cosmic vision above.

That sounds rather grand, I suppose, but I'm merely referring to the sketch of Milton's 'cosmos' at the top of this post, which I've borrowed from D.F. Felluga's Purdue website -- specifically, the pages for his Fall 2000 course on "Great Narrative Works," which must have been a very interesting course indeed. Take a look for yourself.

Anyway, as I noted, the link was provided on the Milton List, and one of the list members posted a note that leads me to believe that Felluga borrowed this image from Merritt Hughes's edition of Milton's Complete Poems and Major Prose, on page 180 of the 1957 edition (New York: Odyssey Press). Perhaps someone could confirm this?

While I love sketches of this sort, I wonder how accurate it is. As Dennis Danielson remarked concerning the term "Cosmos":
[T]hat whole cosmos ("this pendent world") is an almost indiscernibly small point of light when viewed from far out on the fringes of Chaos. Thus we need some word more encompassing than "cosmos" to describe Milton's heaven, hell, chaos, and (relatively speaking) tiny cosmos.
I agree. The image above is far more than the 'cosmos'. Moreover, it makes everything look rather 'round', whereas Milton seems to depict something indescribable by any limited three-dimensional shape. Chaos, for instance, would seem to extend indefinitely down, as suggested here in PL 2.890-897, where Satan, Sin, and Death first glimpse chaos:
Before thir eyes in sudden view appear [890]
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold [895]
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand. (PL 2.890-897)
Chaos would seem to extend far below the region of hell, for after Satan finally steels himself to brave the dangers of chaos and leaps into the abyss, he soon finds himself plummeting downward:
...At last his Sail-broad Vannes
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoak
Uplifted spurns the ground, thence many a League
As in a cloudy Chair ascending rides [ 930 ]
Audacious, but that seat soon failing, meets
A vast vacuitie: all unawares
Fluttring his pennons vain plumb down he drops
Ten thousand fadom deep, and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance [ 935 ]
The strong rebuff of som tumultuous cloud
Instinct with Fire and Nitre hurried him
As many miles aloft: (PL 2.927-938)
A "league" is about three miles, and a "fathom" is about six feet. We don't know how many leagues Satan ascended, but his fall was precipitous, dropping him some 60,000 feet instantly, it would seem, and he would have been plummeting still if not for the "ill chance" of being lifted by some 'flatulence' from deep within chaos.

Lucky, plucky Satan, who could perhaps supply us with a more accurate depiction of the cosmos and what lies beyond ... if only it were in his interest to do so...

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rémi Brague: Roman 'Secondarity' as Civilizing Process

Rémi Brague: The Eccentric European?
(Image from Amazon Books)

A good review often brings forth the meaning of a book more clearly than our own reading did and expresses it better than we can.

I've been looking again at a book that I first read about two years ago and quoted from yesterday, Rémi Brague's Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization. I'm drawing upon it for a course on war, religion, and civilization that I'm teaching this semester for Yonsei University's Underwood International College. I don't require my students to read Brague's book itself, however, but merely to read a couple of reviews that bring out the book's basic thesis.

One of the two reviews selected, Mark Shiffman's best summarizes and explains Brague's argument, beginning with his review's title: "Neither Greek nor Jew" (Modern Age: A Quarterly Review, Volume 47, Number 2, Spring 2005, pp. 160-163).

Let me quote from Schiffman:
It has been said that the core of the spiritual vitality of the West is the fundamental tension between Athens and Jerusalem. True as it may be, this claim leaves in complete obscurity the character of the West that enables it to harbor and sustain such conflicting sources, a character which cannot be explained by recourse to one of the two poles without rendering the tension between them something less than fundamental. According to Remi Brague's Eccentric Culture, this omission finds its remedy in reflection upon a third city: Rome. (Shiffman, 160B)
I should perhaps here note that the original French title to Brague's book is Europe: La Voie Romaine, which would translate literally as Europe: The Roman Way. The English title, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, is thus a bit misleading, for Brague is not writing of Western civilization but about the identity of "Europe."

Europe, argues Brague, is Roman. But what does that mean?
"Romanity" is the name Brague gives to a salutary inferiority complex at the heart of European culture. In the original case, the Romans recognized the Greeks as their superiors in attainment of the true and the beautiful and in suppleness and vigor of language. "To be 'Roman,'" Brague remarks, "is to have above one a classicism to imitate and below one a barbarity to subdue." (Shiffman, 161A)
Shiffman is quoting from page 39 of Brague's book, and the expression "a barbarity to subdue" sounds rather crass -- a casual justification of Roman imperialism -- until one recalls that Brague was speaking of a being "stretched between a classicism to assimilate and an inner barbarity" (Brague, 39). The barbarity is one's own, and the remedy is a liberal education that will act as a civilizing process. Shiffman means to suggest precisely this, of course, for he goes on to emphasize that the aim of a liberal education has "is always a soul-forming education in the language and literature of peoples other than one's own" (Shiffman, 161A), an inner struggle against one's own barbarity.
Thus Rome, for Brague, is not another cultural content to be compared to Athens and Jerusalem. Rather, it is the form of cultural appropriation that allows Athens and Jerusalem to be the content of an education. (Shiffman, 161A)
Now, we generally think that "cultural appropriation" means 'stealing' someone else's culture and appropriating it as one's own, but this is not what the expression means here:
What most characterizes Romanity is the consciousness of "secondarity," the consciousness that one's cultural origins and points of reference do and ought to have their source in another culture. As Brague puts it: "To say that we are Roman is entirely the contrary of identifying ourselves with a prestigious ancestor. It is rather a divestiture, not a claim. It is to recognize that fundamentally we have invented nothing, but simply that we learned how to transmit a current come from higher up, without interrupting it, and all the while placing ourselves back in it." (Shiffman, 161A, quoting Brague, 91)
In this sense, "cultural appropriation" means that one acknowledges having borrowed from another. This is the peculiar identity of Europe -- and I would extend it to Western identity more generally -- the sense of itself as secondary, for the sources of its identity, both cultural (Greece) and religious (Jerusalem), come from outside itself.

"'Eurocentrism' is a misnomer," Brague argues, for "no culture was ever so little centered on itself and so interested in the other ones as Europe" (Brague, 133-4).

Hence the nicely ambiguous English title: Eccentric Culture.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

More Political Theology: Rebecca Goldstein on Mark Lilla

Yesterday, in Seoul's weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune, I read a delightful article, a review by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein of Mark Lilla's recent book The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West.

Goldstein, herself the author of Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, has an intellectual's grasp of the issues and a literary stylist's turn of a phrase.

Hence my delight.

Goldstein's article bears the title "The Enlightenment and its limitations," a topic dear to my innermost, twisted heart of hearts not because I am against the Enlightenment but because I am for the Enlightenment project in the manner advocated by Jürgen Habermas.

But that's peculiar to my biography and is merely the flip side of a coin that usually lands with its ad hominem side up.

The intellectual territory mapped by Lilla and Goldstein has over the years had various landsurveyors measuring its dimensions, and I'm simply a chainman on a surveying crew that sometimes works with Habermas, sometimes with Hans Blumenberg, and sometimes with Pope Benedict XVI, but I pick up a few artifacts now and then from that labor, which therefore goes beyond autobiography.

Goldstein has noticed something about our postmodern circumstances, or at least our current, late modernist conditions:
Some of us have been taking the European Enlightenment a little bit for granted. We've assumed that, just as natural philosophers like Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler ultimately prevailed in overturning the geocentric model of Ptolemaic cosmology, so, too, moral philosophers like Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke ultimately prevailed in removing ideas of divine revelation and redemption from politics. Progress in both spheres, the scientific and the political, was not only analogous and linked, but also, in some sense, inevitable, at least once rigorous standards of clear thinking were adopted.
This Enlightenment assumption -- that scientific and political secularization go forth hand in hand like Adam and Eve from the Medieval garden into "The World ... all before them, ... and Providence thir guide" no longer (cf. PL 12.646-7) -- has come into question:
We've assumed the matter has been thankfully settled, at least in the Western intellectual tradition. No wonder, then, that recent years have brought a spate of incredulous "neo-Enlightenment" books -- along the lines of Christopher Hitchens's "God Is Not Great" -- all of them barely able to contain their dismay that they even have to be arguing what it is they are arguing.
I've noticed that, too. And to some degree, I've shared the dismay, siding with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others when they're arguing for the separation of church and state. My sense is that most Westerners, even most Western Christians, recoil from theocratic visions when they take the form prescribed by Islamists like Osama bin Laden, for the visions remind us of what is at stake, of what we learned from our Western experience in Jean Calvin's Geneva and in our 16th- and 17th-century wars of religion.

Well ... how did we get here?
In Lilla's telling there was, first of all, nothing inevitable about the Great Separation. In fact, it is political theology that comes most naturally to us: "When looking to explain the conditions of political life and political judgment, the unconstrained mind seems compelled to travel up and out: up toward those things that transcend human existence, and outward to encompass the whole of that existence. . . . The urge to connect is not an atavism."
This is where the tale becomes interesting:
Indeed, this urge is so irresistible, Lilla argues, that only highly unusual circumstances can compel us to give it up. Those unusual circumstances were provided by Christian theology, but not, as some recent religious apologists have argued, because the Judeo-Christian framework itself promotes rationality and tolerance. Rather, it is Christianity's own fundamental ambiguities -- torn between a picture of God as both present and absent from the temporal realm, an ambivalence powerfully represented by the paradoxes of the Trinity -- that made it "uniquely unstable," subject to a plurality of interpretations that became institutionalized in sectarianism, and hence to several centuries' worth of devastating upheaval.
I'm not quite yet ready to give up the Pope's argument for Christianity as a rational faith that married Jewish religion to Hellenistic philosophy, thereby joining the two houses of Jerusalem and Athens, but I recognize the plausibility of Lilla's argument as set out by Goldstein.

Goldstein demurs when Lilla "cautions against drawing up universal prescriptions":
"Time and again we must remind ourselves that we are living an experiment, that we are the exceptions. We have little reason to expect other civilizations to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique theological-political crisis within Christendom."
To this, Goldstein responds:
Some readers may want to challenge Lilla's inference regarding Christian specificity and the limits of the lessons of the Enlightenment. Contemporary Japan and India, among other non-Christian countries, have also embraced the Great Separation. It's not so clear that the Christian West is exceptional in anything except for first proposing the answer that has gradually gained momentum almost everywhere except in the Islamic Middle East.
Goldstein does acknowledge that:
Lilla offers a cogent explanation for why Christian Europe got to the Enlightenment first.
However, Goldstein insists that a solution that arose in the West's peculiar circumstances can have universal application:
It doesn't follow that the Enlightenment's solution to the political problems religion universally poses is not a thing to be universally recommended. Nor does it follow that particular historical contingencies are a necessary feature of the solution. One can read Lilla's story and draw precisely the opposite normative conclusions from the ones he asks us to draw: that the West's experimental testing and retesting of political theology, trying to see if there is any safe way of mixing politics and religion, has delivered an answer from which all may learn. Separating church and state works; mixing them tends toward disaster.
This is, implicitly, an argument against radical multiculturalism that reminds me of a similar conclustion reached by Rémi Brague in his fascinating reflection on our Western, Eccentric Culture:
What would be serious would be if Europe considered the universal it carries (the "Greek" of which we are "Romans") as a local particularity valid only for Europe, one which has no extension to other cultures. Now, one sometimes hears it said, for example, that liberty, the rule of law, the right to bodily integrity, would not be good for certain peoples whose tradition, supposed to merit an infinite respect, is for despotism, for official lying, or mutilation -- as if liberty and truth were local idiosyncrasies, to be considered on the same level as the wearing of a kilt or the eating of snails. (Rémi Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, pages 185-186)
Brague, of course, argues for Christianity's rationality in the sense intended by Pope Benedict XVI, but one can take some comfort in perceiving that regardless of whether Christianity is rationally clear or fundamentally ambiguous, it has led us to a particular solution with universal application, namely, the separation of church and state.

Now, we just have to persuade the Muslim world...

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy: on "the prerogative of a leader"?

Another Charismatic 'Extralegal' Thinker?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still trudging through Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's tome, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, and I've just read a passage that could have come from Carl Schmitt's thoughts in his writings on "political theology" concerning the primary characteristic of "the leader":
"Sovereign is he who decides on the exception." (Schmitt, Political Theology)
Rosenstock-Huessy also presents the necessity for a 'commanding' leader during times when a population faces an existential threat:
In such times the prerogative of a leader is indispensable. Without his iron grip on the country all standards would become debatable, doubtful and dissolved. The dilution of faith caused by the emergency forces upon the leader the responsibility of uttering the cry of alarm and commanding, brutally and harshly.

We can even say that he who commands efficiently in such times is or makes himself the leader, even though legal procedure may not take account of him. Timely prerogative creates and restores actual government, legalizes conquest and force. To be sure, the legitimation of brute force is never to be found in its external success. Tyranny remains tyranny, and iniquity is never bleached into the genuine white of sacred authority. Nay, the test of domination is not "success" in an abstract sense, that of a man's being called Emperor or President or leader by intimidated slaves. It is the success in this emergency, and in this particular emergency only. In one special and definite emergency the new government will rise or the old government will be regenerated. Its test, then, is this particular emergency. If it succeeds in its fight against this enemy, this dilution of faith and standards, this famine, people will feel gratified and support or tolerate it in spite of all its other faults. (page 384)
I'm not especially well-read in Schmitt's views on the supposed extralegal political authority necessary for the state to act decisively in legally murky situations. I suppose that there's a genuine issue here in that states are confronted by unexpected circumstances in which decisions must be made despite the state having no clear legal authority to act. Reasoning clearly on this, however, has been tainted ever since Germany's experience of National Socialism (Nazism), for Schmitt's thinking was used by the German state to legitimize Hitler's acts -- and fully with Schmitt's approval, too.

Rosenstock-Huessy, being ethnically Jewish, was no fan of Hitler. I don't know what he thought of Schmitt, but I doubt that he was drawing directly upon Schmitt's writings. Rather, the seeming parallels may stem from a more general movement of thought about sources of political authority. One need only recall Max Weber's analysis of the "charismatic authority" vested in an extraordinary leader to see that various thinkers of the early 20th century were struggling with the issues of legality, legitimacy, and leadership in connection with circumstances of emergency.

I have no special insight on this issue and merely post this out of a curiosity that might bear fruit under the care of others with more knowledge than I.

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