Monday, March 31, 2008

Fitna to be tied?

Omar Bakri
Moderate in his extremism
(Image from BBC News)

Fitna offensive?

Apparently not for some Muslims, as reported by Michael Steen, Andrew Bounds, and Ferry Biederman in "Muslim reaction to Dutch film is muted," Financial Times (March 29, 2008):
Omar Bakri, the Libyan-based radical Muslim cleric who is barred from Britain, did not think the film was very offensive. "On the contrary, if we leave out the first images and the sound of the page being torn, it could be a film by the [Islamist] Mujahideen," he said.
Since Bakri himself is an Islamist (and based not in Libya but in Lebanon), we can perhaps conclude that except for the opening and closing images and commentary, some 14 minutes of the 15 minute film could be used as recruiting video for jihadists of the sort that Bakri himself supports.

By the way, the "15 minutes" refers to the official countdown in the film, for Fitna is longer than 15 minutes if one includes the credits.

I'd write more, but I'm still feeling under the weather. Perhaps tomorrow...

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Throwing a Fitna?

John Hinderaker
Speaking truth to Power Line
(Image from Power Line)

I've got a sore throat and stuffy head this morning, so I'm taking it easy today with the blogging and leaving you all with a puzzle to solve concerning reactions to the film Fitna, a conundrum that John Hinderaker has articulated in response to the news that "LiveLeak, which apparently was the main source of the film online, has taken it down in response to threats of violence":
So, let's see: Fitna says that a propensity to violence is inherent in Islam, a deeply controversial proposition. The film can't be shown anywhere because people are afraid of . . . something. So instead, the film is posted online, where millions of people view it. But after 24 hours or so, the film is taken down because threats of violence are made by . . . someone. I dunno, it's really puzzling. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that it's ridiculous to think that Muslims can be violent. So the headchopping threats must be coming from . . . someone else.
You'll find Hinderaker's remark at Power Line, and something about the man himself here. Other than this, I know nothing about him or about Power Line.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a respected Islamic scholar who has studied at Cairo's Al Azhar University, has a popular al Jazeera program called "Shariah and Life," and has co-founded the website IslamOnline," has an answer to Hinderaker's puzzled query:
Sheikh Qaradawi, the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, regretted that many Muslims project a distorted image of their religion though their wrong understand[ing] of the Qur'an.

"We ask them to better understand the Islam's message of peace, mercy and human brotherhood," he added.
Qaradawi's own understanding of that message allows him to justify suicide bombings in Israel.

Anyway, back tomorrow...

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Saturday, March 29, 2008


Qur'an, Sura 8, Verse 60
The film Fitna depicting 9/11
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've just watched the short anti-Qur'anic film Fitna by Geert Wilders, which one can find online at various places, such as, Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch, Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs, and . . . well, you can just Google the word "Fitna" along with the name "Geert Wilders" and find multiple sites online. Update: has removed Fitna, but the film has already 'gone viral' at Gates of Vienna.

Though some of the images are graphic and disturbing -- a jumper from the burning World Trade Center, Jack Hensley being decapitated -- the film itself is relatively tame. From the hype beforehand, I was expecting images and words more incendiary toward Islam.

Instead, we see and hear incendiary images and words from Islam.

The technique employed is rather simple. The film shows a violent quote from the Qur'an in both English and the original Arabic, reads it in Arabic, then follows the reading with images of Islamist atrocities accompanied by statements by radical Muslims. This sort of sequence is repeated about five times.

At the end, a hand is shown turning a page of the Qur'an, followed by a blank screen and a ripping sound, as though that page were being torn out, then by a caption stating that "The sound you just heard was a page being torn from the telephone book."

Why a phone book?

No deep message there, I think. Just a way of emphasizing that non-Muslims don't bear responsibility for removing violent verses from the Qur'an. Muslims do.

What's the film's aim? I doubt that Wilders expects Muslims to edit the Qur'an. I think that he instead aims to put Muslims into a bind by depicting Islam as an inherently violent religion and thereby dare them to prove him wrong by responding with reason rather than reacting with threats.

What's the bind?

If they respond with reason, then they have to begin engaging with non-Muslim deconstructions of the Qur'an. If they react with violence, then they serve only to demonstrate his point.

For the committed Muslim who prefers neither horn of the dilemma, pious silence would be the best strategy.

I don't think that we'll enjoy very much of that.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Ibn Taymiyyah: Significance for Current-Day Islamism?

Ghazan Kahn (1271-1304) Converts to Islam (1295)
. . . but fails to satisfy Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328)
(Image from Wikipedia)

For my course on Islamism, I've recently read Shmuel Bar's article "Jihad Ideology in Light of Contemporary Fatwas" (Hudson Institute, Monographs Series No. 1, Paper Number 1, August 15, 2006), published by the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World, which also offers many other articles on contemporary Islamism.

I've found Bar's article very useful in clarifying the role that fatwas, i.e., Islamic legal rulings, play in justifying the violent actions carried out by Islamist militants. Bar explains a central point that can easily escape our notice if we imagine that we can appeal to ethical arguments to dissuade jihadist violence, for "questions that are commonly deemed 'moral' and 'ethical' are subordinated to legal casuistry" (page 1a).

Bar notes that Islamists interpret jihad primarily in military terms and enjoin it as a duty:
According to this viewpoint, not only is jihad a duty, but at least under the present circumstances it may only take the form of a Military jihad, and cannot be interpreted as a spiritual struggle. Furthermore, military jihad -- and of course martyrdom -- has added both spiritual and temporal value. It "implies all kinds of worship, both in its inner and outer forms. More than any other act it implies love and devotion for Allah, [Who is exalted,] trust in Him, the surrender of one's life and property to Him, patience, asceticism, remembrance of Allah and all kinds of other acts [of worship]. And the individual or community that participates in it finds itself between two blissful outcomes: either victory and triumph or martyrdom and Paradise."
According to Bar's footnote 20 (page 17), this quote comes from Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Siyaasa al-shar'iyya fee Islah al-raa'ee wa al-raa'iyya (Governance According to Allah's Law in reforming both the ruler and his flock).

On a website maintained by Ted Thornton, I have found the same passage, albeit in more complete form (cf. the phrase "Who is exalted" in brackets above), citing pages 47-49 of Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996). Perhaps Bar is borrowing the quote from Peters and if so ought to give credit, but perhaps some citations were abbreviated when Bar crafted this article to summarize his book, Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).

Be that as it may, Thornton quotes Ibn Taymiyyah further:
"Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God's entirely and God's word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought." (page 49 of Peters)
These quotes from Ibn Taymiyyah begin to clarify for me the importance that this Muslim scholar has for contemporary Islamist thinking. Another quote supplied by Thornton clarifies Ibn Taymiyyah's significance for the Wahhabi Islam practiced by Saudi Arabia:
"The religion of Islam turns on these two principles: worshipping God alone and worshipping Him by what He prescribed. He is not served by innovation . . . . It is not permissible when guilt has been established by proof or by witness to suspend the legal punishment, whether by remitting it or by substituting a fine or any other thing: the hand of the thief must be cut off, for the application of the punishments is one of the acts of religion like the jihad in the Way of God."
Thornton borrows this quote from John Alden Williams, The Word of Islam (Austin, Texas, 1994), 164f). This fits with Bar's point that in Islamism (or broader Islam itself?), "questions that are commonly deemed 'moral' and 'ethical' are subordinated to legal casuistry" (page 1a). To think beyond what Allah has prescribed, which would require ethical rethinking, constitutes innovation, such that one is no longer worshipping Allah properly. Ibn Taymiyyah's influence on Ibn Wahhab may be at work here, for the Wahhabist form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia is of this strict sort.

One begins to suspect that the individual in Islamist circles is not encouraged to think at all but merely to listen and obey.

I suppose that there's always a reason for everything, and Thornton gives his speculation for the rigidity pervading Ibn Taymiyyah's views:
Possibly behind much of the conservatism, literalism, and fundamentalism in his thought are the following facts. The Islamic Middle East had just passed through one of its severest ordeals: it had for two centuries been menaced from the West by the Crusaders (eight waves of them). Moreover, the Mongol threat from the East had been neutralized only three years before Ibn Taymiyya's birth in Harran (in Mesopotamia).
The threat re-emerged in the 1290s, despite the Kahn's coversion to Islam. Hence my decision to post the above image of Ibn Taymiyyah's archenemy, Ghazan Kahn.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Salafi Islam and Islamist Radicalism in Europe

European Religions Map
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've recently read an informative introductory article about the influence of Salafi Islam on radicalizing Muslims in Europe.

In fact, that's more or less the title:
"Middle East Salafism's Influence and the Radicalization of Muslim Communities in Europe"
The article, which appears in The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA, Volume 10, No. 3, Article 1/10, September 2006), is authored by Juan José Escobar Stemmann, a Spanish diplomat stationed in Jordan and an expert on "Islamism, democratization in the Arab world, and terrorism."

Stemmann's article is useful for clarifying the way in which "Radical Salafism merged with ultra-intransigent Wahhabism" and developed today's violent "Jihadi ideology" (cf. pp. 3-4). I hadn't thought of these as three distinct movements, but the article traces them as such. Here is a sample passage that follows Stemmann's remarks on the role played by the Gulf War in radicalizing some Salafi Muslims:
The 1990s saw the emergence of a clear split between reformist or academic Salafism (Salafiyya al-ilmiyyah) and fighting or "jihadi" Salafism (Salafiyya al-Jihadiyyah). The origin of the split was the Gulf War. Saudi Arabia responded to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by inviting U.S. troops onto its soil. This decision ended the fragile internal balance in the country while also helping radicalize the most important sect of Saudi Islamism (al-Ahwa al-Islamiyya), whose most prominent representatives, Salman al-Awda and Safar al-Hawali, targeted not only liberal intellectuals or the religious establishment in their sermons, but also the State and its institutions.[9]

Some Salafi scholars, until then engrossed in apolitical pietism, turned radical. The fight against the non-believers (kafir) became a religious obligation and the main leitmotiv of this sect. The concept of takfir (declaring someone to be non-believer) became the major source of conflict among Salafis, causing a rift in the movement throughout the Arab world.

Reformist Salafis consider that all applications of takfir require a clear and proven violation. Muslim leaders, they argue, cannot be declared to be non-believers, because there is no clear evidence proving that they have ceased to be Muslims. Consequently, a jihad against Arab regimes is not permitted. The most radical Salafis base their interpretation of jihad on the writings of Ibn Taymiyya[10] and, like him, they consider that actions by governments that are contrary to Islamic law can be considered proof in order to declare them non-believers. The takfir thus became an instrument that could be used to oppose any regime whatsoever through armed struggle.

The main advocate of this new approach was 'Isam al-Barqawi, better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Jordanian who -- during his stay in Afghanistan in 1984 -- published a book entitled The Creed of Abraham (Millat Ibrahim) in which he outlined the doctrine of jihad based on the Wahhabi tradition. Radical Salafism merged with ultra-intransigent Wahhabism. In 1991 al-Maqdisi, who had links with the most radical circles of Saudi Islamism, published a book called Proof of the Infidelity of the Saudi State, which was distributed widely in the Arabian Peninsula. In 1992, he left Peshawar for Jordan, where he headed the Salafi organization Bay'at al-Imam until he was detained by the Jordanian authorities in 1996 and accused of plotting to kill the negotiators of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. His work influenced the principal ideologists of fighting Salafism in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s.[11]

In tandem with the evolution of Salafism, jihadi ideology gradually gained ground in Afghanistan and eventually merged with Salafism. Its chief proponent was Abdallah Azzam, who in 1984, founded the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), an office for recruiting Arabs to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Azzam was to have a decisive influence on Usama bin Ladin. In his work, The Main Obligation of Muslims is to Defend the Land of Islam, Azzam writes that jihad is a moral obligation for all Muslims, the sixth pillar of the faith. Using an epic and mystic language, he sets out a vision of the world based on strict Salafism and on calls to martyrdom, stressing the permanent state of humiliation suffered by the umma, as a result of the actions of "crusaders and Zionists." His work was to have a decisive influence on the jihadi radicalism of the 1990s.[12] (pp. 3-4)
Note, for the development of radical Islamism, the significance of takfir, for this radically Islamist practice of "declaring someone to be non-believer" places many Muslims in the category of non-Muslim. Stemmann traces this practice back to Ibn Taymiyya, a Sunni Muslim of the Hanbali school in the 13th and 14th centuries who argued for purification of Islam through returning to the only authentic sources, the Qur'an and the Hadith:
Ibn Taymiyya lived during the times of the Crusader and Mongol invasions, a circumstance that conditioned his theories on the jihad. When the Mongols invaded Dar al-Islam they eventually converted to Islam. The dilemma arose as to whether the war against them should be considered a jihad or a war between two Muslim entities. In his fatwa on the Mongols, Ibn Taymiyya acknowledged that they practiced the five pillars of Islam, but this did not automatically make them true Muslims. The mainstream view was that under the Shari'a they were Muslims, but Ibn Taymiyya introduced a new evaluation criterion: Whether or not they respected the five pillars, if someone did not follow one of the precepts of the Shari'a, they ceased being Muslim and could therefore be declared kafir. (p. 12)
To declare some Muslim kafir, of course, is to pronounce takfir. What these developments imply is that any Muslim arguing against violent Islamism will likely incur a deadly takfir rather than promote any peaceful moderation.

Promoting moderation is made even more difficult by the informal networks through which Salafi Islam is organized:
In order to understand the role played by Salafism in the process of radicalization of Muslim communities and how this process operates in Europe, one must first examine its characteristics as a movement in the Arab world. In contrast to other formal organizations, Salafism lacks hierarchical structures. The Salafi network structure is decentralized and segmented. The different groups are led by sheikhs or scholars with varying degrees of knowledge of the science of the hadiths, but not necessarily having ties with each other. There is also some element of competition between the sheikhs, each defending his interpretation of the Salaf, or true path, as the correct one. The most important scholars enjoy considerable support among students, who often recommend them to others on account of their vast knowledge of religious issues. There exists only an informal hierarchy based on the reputation of the different sheikhs recognized by the Salafi community. The proliferation of sheikhs means that there is no elite or clearly-defined leadership. This decentralized and cellular structure, in which anyone with religious knowledge can claim leadership of a group, explains how easy it has been in Europe to create groups or autonomous cells willing to blow themselves up without the need for direct orders from a higher authority. (pp. 4-5)
Recently, this informal network has grown even more decentralized, for even mosques are no longer central to networking:
Mosques are losing their importance in the radicalization process that leads Salafis to become terrorists, whereas religious courses in private homes, visits by itinerant radical recruiters, and Internet are all gaining importance in the radicalization and recruitment process. This situation should make us reflect on the true nature of the threat we currently face. There is no doubt that barring radical ideologists from entering Europe or arresting them is not enough to prevent the violent actions that ensue when young and not necessarily disenfranchised people come into contact with the jihadi ideology. (p. 9)
Stemmann is describing this situation from his context as a European, but we can picture a similar process going on in the United States -- and even here in Korea, albeit on a much smaller scale.

I have my own informal ways of knowing the Korean scene . . . though purely anecdotal, of course.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hug Mundinger: Follow-Up

Hug Mundinger (1925-2005)
(Image from Kunst für alle)

In yesterday's entry on Hug Mundinger, I openly wondered what he meant by his remark on the "multivalenz des raumes und der zeit," which I translated literally as the "multivalence of space and time."

His daughter, Ms. Angela Mundinger-Tausch, sent me an email with a bit of context to her father's remark:
He had written his doctor [thesis] about Picasso and Braque. He studied a lot about cubes. He was interested in Bauhaus. He had met Kahnweiler -- a friend from Picasso. These were the influences he had had whilst studying arts in Stuttgart. The movement, the relations of cubes, the space and time and life within were his themes. He always connected cubes, dimensions and figures in his paintings. These relationships within them fascinated him. Sometimes he drew figures upon his cubes, sometimes he added life-like things to the cubes.

By doing so he more and more thought about what "Time " (Zeit) means. Space also fascinated him What does it mean? "Raum-Zeit-Kontinuum" [i.e., "Space-Time-Continuum"] and so on were many of his themes on his paintings. Then he connected these meanings in his painings.
This information from his daughter suggests to me that Hug was drawing a great deal from the Cubist preoccupation with space and time, which doesn't exclude an interest in modern physics, of course, for Cubism drew upon that as well -- and Hug's fascination with the "Space-Time-Continuum" implies some interest in relativity theory. Yet, perhaps more to the point in understanding Hug's interest is that the Cubists experimented with multiple perspectives in their paintings, and I suppose that such could imply multiple temporal moments as the perspectival eye moves from one point of view to another, all in one single painting (which is what makes Cubist paintings so disorienting).

Hug's daughter has corrected some of what I wrote about her father and also provided more information. First, the corrections:
He was wounded and walked on his own to the hospital . . . . In hosptal in Holland he asked the nurse to tie a pencil to his right fist (we always said fist to his injured arms), and he thus started drawing. (He could not hold it at that time, for the fists had bandges.)
These corrected details provide an even more impressive picture of Hug Mundinger. Imagine walking to a hospital after losing your hands and an eye!

Now, the additional information:
His own daddy was a worker (a plumber) working in the small village Löchgau, having a shop there and repairing everything. Hugo was his only son, and 2 sisters. As he came home from war, everybody said: you can't work any more. But he said: "Now I'll learn and study for I have my head and this is not injured." So he finished A- level in Ludwigsburg and then wanted to start studying arts in Stuttgart. They did not accept him first . . . [but eventually did so.]

He finished his studies in Stuttgart Kunsthochschule, married my mother, studied German in Tübingen (I was born) and became a teacher for arts in Gymnasium [i.e., high school] in Tübingen. He had his hobby everyday, painted every day throughout his life . . . [and developed] different styles.
Hug's daughter also provides a resume of his accomplishments. Among these were the doctoral dissertation alluded to above, "Die Landschaft im Kubismus bei Pablo Picasso und Georges Braque" [i.e., "Landscape in the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque"], and studies and exhibitions in such varied places as Tübingen, Kernen, Stuttgart, Straßburg, Paris, Rome, Perugia, Moscow, Jerusalem, New York, and Ann Arbor.

An impressive man, an impressive life.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hug Mundinger Remembered Again

Hug Mundinger Sketching Self-Portrait
(Image from Kunst für alle)

About a year and a half ago, I posted an entry on Hug Mundinger, an artist whom I met while living in Tübingen, Germany, where I was conducting research for my doctoral dissertation and teaching English on the side to support my studies.

Hug was one of my older, private students.

I was again reminded of him because his daughter, Ms. Angela Mundinger-Tausch, read my blog entry and generously offered to provide more stories of her father, who was -- as she put it -- "a great personality." He certainly was that! He was humorous, irrepressible, open, and amazing -- especially amazing, for if you look closely at the photo above, you'll see that he is sketching his 'self-portrait' without any hands . . . and despite having only one eye. How? I once asked him:
He told me that he had been a young soldier in World War II and that a grenade had landed and exploded in front of him. When he regained consciousness some minutes later, his hands were missing, and his eye was hanging out of its socket.

American soldiers found him and put him in a military hospital for treatment. During his recovery, he made the decision not to give up his dream of becoming an artist, so he practiced his drawing by holding a pencil tightly between his two wrists and sketching that way.

"But how do you perceive dimensions?" I asked him. "Isn't everything flat with just one eye?"

"I stand like this," he explained, standing in one place, "then like this," he added, having shifted himself slightly to one side.

He had taught himself to see in perspective by using his one eye to look at the same object twice, from two different positions -- something that the rest of us do automatically by virtue of our two sound eyes.
The image above also includes a biographical 'sketch' that touches on these points:
Selbstporträtmalerei in jeder form hat mich schon als jugendlicher begeistert. selbst nach der amputation beider unterarme und dem verlust des rechten auges durch eine kriegsverletzung hat mich die malerei nie losgelassen. ab ca. 1969 entwickelte ich eine eigenständige mal-und spritztechnik: multivalenz des raumes und der zeit. ab dieser zeit widmete ich mich auch großformatiger räumlicher darstellungen wie z.b. "DIE GROßE ZEITMASCHINE" (360x560 cm). während der beschäftigung mit derart großen formaten bis hin zum "UNENDLICHEN BILD" habe ich mich immer auch kleineren formaten gewidmet und viele verschiedene techniken benutzt z.b. lithographie aktmalerei aquarell und sprayfarben.
Translated, this more or less reads:
Paintings of self-portraits in any form have inspired me since my youth. Even after the amputation of my lower arms and the loss of my right eye through a war injury, painting did not abandon me. Starting about 1969, I developed my own independent painting and spraying technique: multivalence of space and time. Since then, I have devoted myself to large-scale spatial depictions such as "The Great Time Machine" (360 x 560 cm). During my engagement with this sort of large format, up until the time of my "Unending Image," I have also always dedicated myself to smaller formats and used many different techniques, such as lithography, nude portraits, watercolor, and spray painting.
That's my rough, rushed translation, so feel free to improve on it. Perhaps somebody could explain what Hug meant by "multivalenz des raumes und der zeit," which I've translated literally as "multivalence of space and time" -- an instance of my understanding the words but not the larger meaning.

I'd link to more colorful online illustrations of Hug Mundinger's art, but the links that I've received from his family don't seem to work from here in Korea, so all that I can provide are links to black-and-white images on the same website as the one above.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Yonsei University: Taking "the victim's point of view"?

Innocent Child Blowing Bubbles
(Image from Wikipedia)

On Friday, every instructor received a brochure describing Yonsei University's official policy on sexual misconduct, but I didn't look at it carefully until later.

From having now looked at it more closely, I have to wonder who wrote this policy, for it's very poorly worded. Here is the definition of sexual misconduct:
"Sexual misconduct refers to all forms of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse that violate an individual's personal rights and the right to sexual autonomy."
Personal rights? What are those? The term is left undefined, but the scope of personal rights is surely very broad and would include things unrelated to sexual autonomy.

Even worse is the "Principle of Victim-Centrism":
"The procedure of responding to sexual misconduct, including investigation, deliberation, hearing and disciplinary action, will be based on the victim's point of view."
Think about that for a moment. Investigation of the sexual misconduct will be based on the victim's point of view. Shouldn't an investigation ordinarily aim first at determining if there has been any actual sexual misconduct? Without such misconduct, there has been no victim. Or rather, there has been a victim -- the one falsely accused.

The required investigation noted later in the brochure inspires scarcely any greater confidence in the procedure:
"The Committee has the obligation to review and determine whether or not the act of the accused person is a form of sexual misconduct."
At least the "accused person" is not labeled "the perpetrator"! But an "act" is assumed to have taken place. Shouldn't the Committee first attempt to establish whether or not the supposed 'act' has in fact occurred?

But, of course, no 'victim' would ever lie.

Finally, for those readers wondering what the image above of an innocent child blowing bubbles has to do with this post, I say, "Good question." I had the same reaction to the brochure itself, which displays on its cover a cartoon image of an infantilized female student blowing bubbles and standing under a rainbow. This seems wildly inappropriate for an official statement of university policy on sexual misconduct . . . until one realizes that this image perfectly conveys the brochure's depiction of the student as innocent, childlike victim.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Obama: "A More Perfect Union"

Barack Obama
On race and America...
(Image from CNN)

I have finally listened to Barack Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech.

While I do not entirely agree with every specific point that he makes, for he is more to the left than I am, I nevertheless sat transfixed by a nearly forty-minute experience of powerful political rhetoric, and I mean that in the good sense of the word.

I don't ordinarily have much patience with political speeches, but I found myself responding to Obama's extraordinary speech somewhat as one of my Berkeley mentors did to Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention:

Hearing Obama give the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was one of the most electrifying experiences of my political life. "Who is this person?" I thought. How is it possible for anyone today to formulate the very best of the American tradition in such eloquent terms? . . . . What impressed me during the last long year of campaigning was not so much his stand on particular issues . . . ; it was the way Obama framed where we are today and how we can move to a better place. In other words, what I first heard in 2004 has only become clearer in the past year: Obama, like no one I have heard in a very long time, understands our political tradition, how it has been distorted in recent years, and how we can return to it at its best.
Those are the words of Robert Bellah, written for the Catholic magazine Commonweal (March 14, 2008, Volume 135, Number 5).

While I also do not agree with Bellah on every political issue -- for instance, we have differed in our analysis of the roots to the Islamist attack on America on September 11, 2001 -- he is a friend, and I share with him a wholehearted response to Barack Obama's eloquence.

How, you may ask, can I wholeheartedly respond to these eloquent words of Obama, given his refusal to personally jettison Reverend Wright, who has uttered such inflammatory words?

Because Obama is right on this point.

If we don't choose our friends on the basis of ideology, if we don't select whom we will draw near and whom we will keep at arm's length on the basis of political correctness -- regardless of views leftist or rightest, whatever we consider 'correct' -- then we must acknowledge that we have people whom we love, people who have loved us and given us help and hope, who nevertheless hold views that we cannot accept.

That, I think, is what Obama was saying about Reverend Wright.

One of my great-grandmothers denigrated African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, utterly unlike my unprejudiced grandmothers reactions. Should I have jettisoned my prejudiced great-grandmother for that? She herself had married a man who was half-Cherokee and often commented on the injustice of America toward the American Indian.

Whose lives are not riven with such contradictions of the heart?

Now, that might sound like special pleading, but let me emphasize that I had left my judgement on this particular case in abeyance until I had listened to what Obama had to say, and in listening, I found myself nodding in response.

Does this mean that I'd vote for Obama this fall if he should be the Democratic candidate? Perhaps not, for I don't agree on everything that he says that he stands for -- restrictions on international free trade, for example -- and I'll never reveal my vote anyway, for reasons previously noted here at Gypsy Scholar, but I will acknowledge that Obama's unifying words appealed to my better nature.

Not that I expect that reason to be particularly compelling to others...

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Typical British Islamist terrorist: "terror as a 'playground dare'"

London Bombers
July 7, 2005
(Image from Wikipedia)

In an interesting article written for The Spectator (Tuesday, 18th March 2008), "Al-Qa'eda's secret UK gangs: terror as a 'playground dare'," Fraser Nelson reveals this about the typical British Islamist terrorist:
After 12 thwarted plots and three failed ones, the picture of the enemy has never been clearer. The typical British terrorist is not angry about poverty (as Cabinet Office guidance suggested four years ago) but is usually an apparently well-integrated Muslim who is likely to have a degree, often in engineering. Frequently, however, he will be in a relatively low-prestige job and may find a macabre attraction in the profile of a suicide bomber. What is common to all is a psychological trait it is all but impossible to screen for: the need for a substitute family, a willingness to be brainwashed by al-Qa'eda.
Nelson tells us that the "typical British terrorist is not angry about poverty," and that point shouldn't surprise us because we've been hearing experts repeatedly come to this conclusion over the past several years.

Nelson's remark about the typical terrorist having "a relatively low-prestige job" fits my perception that much of what drives Islamist radicals psychologically is their sense of frustrated entitlement. These are individuals with a heightened view of their own superiority confronted daily by their actual insignificance, which resonates with the Islamist insistence on the obvious superiority of Islam contradicted by Islam's actual inferiority. Islamist ideology 'explains' to them why they are so 'humiliated'. Nelson doesn't develop this specific point, but only an analysis of Islamist ideology and its influence can clarify why terrorism is an overwhelmingly Muslim enterprise in our times even though young Muslim men are not the only young men whose sense of exaggerated self-worth is contradicted by hard reality.

How do these young Britist Muslim men fit into al-Qa'eda, which is the Islamist organization that they usually identify with? Nelson explains:
The Foreign Office . . . believes the group has essentially a tripartite structure. At the top is what it calls 'core AQ': people like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his reputed deputy, who make proclamations and distribute videos. The second tier is affiliated groups, which take instructions from the core al-Qa'eda but are not directly linked.

But the third and largest part comprises the self-starting groups which have, as one official puts it, 'bought into the al-Qa'eda franchise'. They are groupings of like-minded aspirant terrorists who will act in bin Laden's name, but on their own initiative.
How does this 'initiative' develop?
The more common British pattern is for a group of like-minded young men to group together, start talking, raise the stakes progressively until one of them broaches the subject of a terrorist attack. They discover that they have particular talents or resources (money, materials, cars). Their behaviour then resembles that of a playground gang and their bond becomes something close to the psychology of a group dare. None wants to be the first to abandon the project -- and thus it develops its own murderous momentum.
Nelson's analogy to a playground gang connects with his previous remark about these young men's "need for a substitute family," but beyond noting that this "is all but impossible to screen for," he doesn't tell us much about why they need a substitute family in the first place. Are Muslim families in Britain weak?

And why should a playground dare develop "murderous momentum"?

Psychological dysfunction surely plays a role in the decisions that these young men make, but perhaps not more so than in many other young men who don't turn to terrorism, especially suicide terrorism.

On this point, only Islamist emphasis upon particular Muslim doctrines can provide an explanation, as Nelson suggests:
In this conflict, the [Islamist] enemy believes he is destined for Paradise if he completes his deadly mission. Worldly incentives do not compete so easily with transcendental promises.
Quite so. The alluring feminine scent from that garden of unearthly delights promised in the sacred texts. But these young toughs aren't PW'ed by the promised houris; they're also 'promiscuous' holy warriors of the internet setting off on a mission from God:
The government is up against an enemy promiscuous and cunning in its techniques: al-Qa'eda propagates its mediaeval message using 21st-century techniques. It has mastered the web and was quick to cotton on to the power of viral ads -- giving its movement more credibility and an underground edge. With just a few clicks of the mouse you can find videos persuading Muslims to enlist in a holy war. 'I hate to say it, but their videos are incredibly powerful,' says one minister. 'How do we respond to that?'
Good question. We may be able to identify the young men who are drawn to radical Islamist terrorism and stop them before they strike, but how do we weaken Islamism's drawing power when the Islamists can use the internet better than 'we' can?

To that point . . . what the hell is this 'powerful' thing called a viral ad?

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Narnia's War Drobe?

The Wardrobe in Question?
Photo/Courtesy of The Marion E. Wade Center)

I seem to be the one coming late to this point, for others have already commented on it, but as I was doing some light reading in children's literature yesterday, I came upon a passage in Edith Nesbit's 1908 story "The Aunt and Amabel" that made me wonder about C.S. Lewis's possible literary debt to Nesbit.

Rosemary Lake, who has written children's stories of her own and maintains a website devoted to fairy tales, mentions this possibility of Lewis's debt to Nesbit and provides the specific scene from Nesbit's story that I had also noted in my reading. The main character, Amabel, has just been banished to a spare bedroom for having done something that she ought not to have done:
She was to spend the whole day alone in the best bedroom, the one with the four-post bed and the red curtains and the large wardrobe with a looking-glass in it that you could see yourself in to the very ends of your strap-shoes.

The first thing Amabel did was to look at herself in the glass. She was still sniffing and sobbing, and her eyes were swimming in tears, another one rolled down her nose as she looked -- that was very interesting. Another rolled down, and that was the last, because as soon as you get interested in watching your tears they stop. [.....]

Then she looked round the room for something to read; there was nothing. The old-fashioned best bedrooms never did have anything. Only on the large dressing-table, on the left-hand side of the oval swing-glass, was one book covered in red velvet, and on it, very twistily embroidered in yellow silk and mixed up with misleading leaves and squiggles were the letters, A. B. C.

'Perhaps it's a picture alphabet,' said Mabel, and was quite pleased, though of course she was much too old to care for alphabets. Only when one is very unhappy and very dull, anything is better than nothing. She opened the book.

'Why, it's only a time-table!' she said. 'I suppose it's for people when they want to go away, and Auntie puts it here in case they suddenly make up their minds to go, and feel that they can't wait another minute. I feel like that, only it's no good, and I expect other people do too.'

She had learned how to use the dictionary, and this seemed to go the same way. She looked up the names of all the places she knew -- Brighton where she had once spent a month, Rugby where her brother was at school, and Home, which was Amberley -- and she saw the times when the trains left for these places, and wished she could go by those trains.

And once more she looked round the best bedroom which was her prison, and thought of the Bastille, and wished she had a toad to tame, like the poor Viscount, or a flower to watch growing, like Picciola, and she was very sorry for herself, and very angry with her aunt, and very grieved at the conduct of her parents -- she had expected better things from them -- and now they had left her in this dreadful place where no one loved her, and no one understood her.

There seemed to be no place for toads or flowers in the best room, it was carpeted all over even in its least noticeable corners. It had everything a best room ought to have -- and everything was of dark shining mahogany. The toilet-table had a set of red and gold glass things -- a tray, candlesticks, a ring-stand, many little pots with lids, and two bottles with stoppers. When the stoppers were taken out they smelt very strange, something like very old scent, and something like cold cream also very old, and something like going to the dentist's.

I do not know whether the scent of those bottles had anything to do with what happened. It certainly was a very extraordinary scent. Quite different from any perfume that I smell nowadays, but I remember that when I was a little girl I smelt it quite often. But then there are no best rooms now such as there used to be. The best rooms now are gay with chintz and mirrors, and there are always flowers and books, and little tables to put your teacup on, and sofas, and armchairs. And they smell of varnish and new furniture.

When Amabel had sniffed at both bottles and looked in all the pots, which were quite clean and empty except for a pearl button and two pins in one of them, she took up the A.B.C. again to look for Whitby, where her godmother lived. And it was then that she saw the extraordinary name 'Whereyouwantogoto.' This was odd -- but the name of the station from which it started was still more extraordinary, for it was not Euston or Cannon Street or Marylebone.

The name of the station was 'Bigwardrobeinspareroom'. And below this name, really quite unusual for a station, Amabel read in small letters:

'Single fares strictly forbidden. Return tickets No Class Nuppence. Trains leave Bigwardrobeinspareroom all the time.'

And under that in still smaller letters:

'You had better go now.'

What would you have done? Rubbed your eyes and thought you were dreaming? Well, if you had, nothing more would have happened. Nothing ever does when you behave like that. Amabel was wiser. She went straight to the Big Wardrobe and turned its glass handle.

'I expect it's only shelves and people's best hats,' she said. But she only said it. People often say what they don't mean, so that if things turn out as they don't expect, they can say 'I told you so,' but this is most dishonest to one's self, and being dishonest to one's self is almost worse than being dishonest to other people. Amabel would never have done it if she had been herself. But she was out of herself with anger and unhappiness.

Of course it wasn't hats. It was, most amazingly, a crystal cave, very oddly shaped like a railway station. It seemed to be lighted by stars, which is, of course, unusual in a booking office, and over the station clock was a full moon.
C.S. Lewis wouldn't have been borrowing extensively, but consider this famous scene of the Pevensie children deciding to explore the old house where they've been billeted during the war, a scene occurring early in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and conveniently supplied from a website titled The Chronicles of Narnia:
Everyone agreed to this and that was how the adventures began. It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures, and there they found a suit of armour; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out on to a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books -- most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church. And shortly after that they looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door. There was nothing else in the room at all except a dead bluebottle on the window-sill.

"Nothing there!" said Peter, and they all trooped out again -- all except Lucy. She stayed behind because she thought it would be worthwhile trying the door of the wardrobe, even though she felt almost sure that it would be locked. To her surprise it opened quite easily, and two mothballs dropped out.

Looking into the inside, she saw several coats hanging up -- mostly long fur coats. There was nothing Lucy liked so much as the smell and feel of fur. She immediately stepped into the wardrobe and got in among the coats and rubbed her face against them, leaving the door open, of course, because she knew that it is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe. Soon she went further in and found that there was a second row of coats hanging up behind the first one. It was almost quite dark in there and she kept her arms stretched out in front of her so as not to bump her face into the back of the wardrobe. She took a step further in -- then two or three steps -- always expecting to feel woodwork against the tips of her fingers. But she could not feel it.

"This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!" thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. "I wonder is that more mothballs?" she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. "This is very queer," she said, and went on a step or two further.

Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. "Why, it is just like branches of trees!" exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.
In both stories -- the Nesbit short story and the Lewis novel -- we encounter a 'big wardrobe' in a 'spare room' that leads to a magical world.

Others who have noted this possible source include Paul F. Ford, who has several web pages devoted to Lewis and who writes of the connection to Nesbit in his article "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe at 50: A Celebration (and a Worry)" (pdf), pages 3-4:
What came across strongly to me on this re-reading was how the narrative tastes of the children's books of Edith Nesbit. We know that Lewis loved her Bastable books (and even refers to the Bastable family in the second paragraph of Chapter One of The Magician's Nephew) and how some motifs from her stories The Magic City (1911) and "The Aunt and Amabel" (in The Magic World, 1912) went down very deep in Lewis’s imagination, only to come up in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The omniscient author's perspective, with a touch of the avuncular (all the talk about not shutting the wardrobe door) is alive in Nesbit and in Lewis. Lewis was saying a great deal when he told Chad Walsh in the summer of 1948 that he was "'completing a children's book he has begun "in the tradition of E. Nesbit",' when he had finished Surprised by Joy. (C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics (1949), p. 10.)"
In her Journey into Narnia (Pasadena, CA: Hope Publishing House, 1998), Kathryn Lindskoog notes the connection to Nesbit, as reported by Sarah J. Fodor in "Journey into Narnia" (Find Articles BNET), Anglican Theological Review, Spring 1999:
Providing a resource helpful to teachers, Lindskoog identifies a central theme for each book, summarizes key events, discusses a key symbol, and explains unusual vocabulary (such as the wooses in The Lion, from ouzel meaning blackbird, p. 106). She also includes a "Factual Quiz Just for Fun" and questions to encourage personal reflection. In her discussion of each book's background, Lindskoog notes the influence of Lewis's early reading of E. Nesbit's fantasies on his later writing. An appendix features a Nesbit story "The Aunt and Amabel" (1908), about a girl who embarks from the station Bigwardrobeinspareroom on a fantasy journey of reconciliation. Nesbit's story may have given Lewis the idea for the wardrobe in The Lion.
The Christian Broadcasting Network has posted an excerpt from "Chapter Seventeen: Into Narnia" of George Sayer's Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis (Good News Publishing):
The thought that he might write a children's story occurred to Jack in September 1939, but he did not complete his first one, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, until almost ten years later. The evacuated children staying at the Kilns provided his original inspiration. One of them showed an interest in an old wardrobe, asking if she could go inside and if there was anything behind it. Her request triggered his imagination. Perhaps he was reminded, too, of a story he had read as a child, The Aunt and Amabel, by E. Nesbit, in which a magic world is entered through a wardrobe in a spare room. He had read and loved the books of Edith Nesbit, but had given them up when he went away to prep school for fear of seeming childish. Now he thought of writing a story for and about the evacuated children, because he was concerned about how poorly developed their imaginations were and how little they read.
The same Christian Broadcasting Network offers an excerpt from Devin Brown's Inside Narnia:
Lucy finds a second row of coats behind the first and the wintry land of Narnia behind that. In making a wardrobe the entranceway to another world, Lewis unconsciously used a device from "The Aunt and Amabel," a story by Edith Nesbit published in 1908 that he would certainly have come across as a child. In the summer of 1948, Lewis is recorded as making a remark to Chad Walsh about completing a children's book which he had begun writing "in the tradition of E. Nesbit" (Walsh 1979, 129). Green and Hooper argue that it is likely that Lewis had come across "The Aunt and Amabel" when it appeared in Blackie's Christmas Annual for 1909 [cf. different image from 1904 issue, noted by Gypsy Scholar], when Lewis was ten, but they also point out that he "had forgotten the Nesbit story entirely until reminded of it" (1994, 250–1).

Amabel, like the Pevensie children, has been sent away from home. In Amabel's case, she has been sent to stay with a great aunt, not because of air raids but because of "measles or a new baby or the painter in the house" (Nesbit 1994, 192), and in her room she finds a "large wardrobe with a looking glass in it that you could see yourself in" (194).

On the dressing table in the spare room where she is staying, Amabel finds a strange timetable for trains, and in it she sees a station named "Bigwardrobeinspareroom" (Nesbit 1994, 196), a name which will perhaps be echoed in Mr. Tumnus's references to the land of "Spare Oom" and the city of "War Drobe" (TLWW, 13, 21). We are told that Amabel, thinking that she will find only hats inside, "went straight to the Big Wardrobe and turned its glass handle" (Nesbit 1994, 197). Nesbit then writes: "Of course it wasn't hats. It was, most amazingly, a crystal-cave, very oddly shaped like a railway station. It seemed to be lighted by stars, which is, of course, unusual in a booking office, and over the station clock was a full moon."
Scholars even argue over the specific wardrobe that influenced Lewis, as noted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in "Which one opened door to Narnia?" (Dec. 8, 2005), written by Tom Heinen, who also mentions the Nesbit story:
Lewis may have been influenced by author E. Nesbit, whose works he loved. In "The Aunt and Amabel" short story, a girl enters another world through a wardrobe. Lewis did not recall reading it but told a friend it must have helped trigger him, Mead said.
Another article, this one by Steve Chawkins in his article "Colleges both claim famous wardrobe" (January 3, 2006), offered online in the Lincoln Journal Star, reports on the same wardrobe war:
David Colbert, author of a guide called "The Magical Worlds of Narnia," contends that Lewis' wardrobe "was one of his many borrowings from E. Nesbit, one of Britain's favorite authors."

"The description of the wardrobe and the room and the world just beyond are almost direct borrowings from Nesbit's 'The Aunt and Amabel,'" Colbert said, "though, of course, Lewis' story quickly heads in another direction."
The debt to Nesbit is mentioned in passing by Mark Stibbe in his article "The Magic of Narnia" (August 2006), written for the British magazine Christianity:
And then there's the wardrobe. For all Lewis's indebtedness to E. Nesbit's The Aunt and Amabel, this remains one of the most brilliant liminal images in children's fiction (one which lesser children's writers in our own time have sought but failed to emulate).
It seems that a lot of people have noticed the Nesbit wardrobe but can't entirely agree upon its degree of influence on Lewis. The influence looks rather strong to me, and I suppose that most of the writers above would agree to this general observation, but the details get complicated when dealing with writers as erudite as C.S. Lewis.

At any rate, Lewis's debt to Nesbit is interesting to consider, at least for me . . . and perhaps also for you if you've read this far.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

A hermeneutic of suspicion...

Too Expensive?
A textbook case...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Readers will recall my recent mention of a Professor C. Cox, the Milton List participant who criticized the 'tyranny' implicit in my remarks about "licentiousness" and "liberty" that I had written for a humorous column about language in the Expat Living section of the Korea Herald two weeks ago.

Professor Cox also dislikes something that he thinks that I wrote on the Milton List itself . . . but you'll need some context.

Several scholars on the listserve were discussing whether or not students are displaying "greed" by purchasing used books instead of the new ones ordered specifically for the course.

A certain Professor Flannagan thought that "inverse greed" motivates students, and even professors, to buy cheaper, used books, by which he must have meant that such customers were being miserly.

In response to Flannagan, a Professor Logsdon disagreed with the view that "professors and students tend to be driven to used copies of texts by inverse greed, to get something for nothing," and he asked:
But where does the simple fact that life is f**king expensive come in? Who can blame a student or professor for still wanting to still be able to make ends meet after the book expenses are all tallied up? My USED copy of Hughes was over $60!
Since I concurred with this point, I wrote:
I agree with Prof. Logsdon, life is swyvend expensive.

I might be able to afford an expensive book these days -- or until my contract runs out -- but as a student, I had no money left after tuition except for what I got by working 20 hours a week for less than minimum wage on a "work/study" job at the university cafeteria as dishwasher.

There must still be a lot of students who struggle financially and are driven by a budget rather than greed.
Professor Cox found something to dislike in what I'd written, so he quoted the offending words and commented on them:
Horace Jeffery Hodges wrote: "There must still be a lot of students who struggle financially and are driven by a budget rather than greed."

Carrol Cox wrote: "Don't even make this comparison. Greed (decently defined) consists in accumulating more money (from the work of others) than one would need for personal expenses. If you want to talk in ethical terms (though I think it rather unintelligent to do so in this contex), then the student who buys the cheapest text available is practicing the virtue of prudence."
Was the man trying to insult me? He certainly sounded annoyed. I chose to respond concisely rather than to repeat words that he'd already misconstrued:
Well, Carrol, my words were chosen to express polite disagreement with Roy Flannagan, but thanks all the same for the lessons on vice, virtue, intelligence, and the subtle art of gracious opposition.
Professor Cox retorted:
I don't think attacks on the right to survival deserve a polite or gracious response. I was deliberately ungracious.
At least his intention to insult was now clarified. I replied:
In that case, Carrol, you were surely thinking of some post other than mine since my post protested against the charge that students are greedy for buying used books.
I suppose that this exchange will go on, but I doubt that my words will sway Professor Cox, who seems locked into a hermeneutic of suspicion when reading Words Posted By Horace Jeffery Hodges, thereby leading to a total misconstrual of whatever I happen to post.

At least the misreadings give me something to blog about...


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Students whose "words have no forked lightning..."

Dylan Thomas
Advice to students considering
whether or not to drop my course:
"go gentle into that good night"
(Image from Wikipedia)

At Kyung Hee University this semester, I'm teaching two composition courses that were originally set up to allow no more than 15 students each but that ended up having nearly 40 each.

I don't know why the additional students were allowed to register, but putting more than 20 students who use English as a second language into a writing course means that individual students won't receive the attention that they need for their writing to improve.

Some of my students cannot even understand a simple sentence spoken to them and have to turn to fellow students for a translation, thus making the course even more taxing for me to teach.

I suspect that some of these students will drop the course as it moves into high gear when they have to conduct research and provide citations and bibliography, but I'd prefer that they drop now and save me the extra time and effort that I'll be wasting on them. Every semester, I endure students who 'work' until they have written the first draft of their essays and then give up when they receive a very low grade (such as an F minus) after I've gone to the trouble of making copious corrections and giving additional advice.

I've just spent a hard two days reading and marking thesis statements written by some of these students, so I can already see which ones might not stick around until the bitter end, but I've also had some moments of amusement at the positions that some students want to research and defend in their semester paper.

Here's one by a student who's concerned about those of us who fall short of using our innate intellectual gifts to their fullest:
Although humans have good brains, many people don't use their brains well because they don't recognize the importance of using their brains well.
In an effort to help him use his brain well, I've cleaned up his grammar and spelling, but I suspect that he will need to force his brain to do a bit more hard thinking before this thesis statement is capable of sustaining a semester-length research essay.

Another student, perhaps having reflected on the oft-expressed comparison of sports to battle, takes that comparison just a little further:
Although military strategy and position are different from soccer strategy and position, soccer is similar to war because it has strategy and position.
I rather like the redundancy of this argument, though I'm not quite clear on what is meant by "position" . . . but at least my insufficient understanding means that I still have something to learn from this student.

My favorite thesis statement came from a student with ecological concerns:
Although many people say that it is not too late to prevent global warming, the earth will be destroyed because it is already getting hotter.
Yes, I've noticed this myself. March has been noticeably warmer than February, and if this trend continues, I expect that we'll be suffering considerable heat by early July and utter destruction by early August.

If the English of these three samples seems better than expected, that's because I've corrected the errors, but when the students get these thesis statements back, they'll face a bit of frightening red ink and a lot of stern advice.

For that matter, every single student in these two classes will face the ink and the advice that will either make them or break them...

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Expat Living: "Dictating language to so and so"

"I've seen the furniture,
and it lurks (on the horizen)."
- ad blurb written for IKEA,
while riding a train through Sweden
(Image from Wikipedia)

Today's the day that I get to be 'lazy' and just post my latest from the Korea Herald, a column written in response to a reader who didn't like my previous article there on "Mucking up the English language" and accused me of speaking like a tyrant.

I know the guy from the Milton List. He's one of those old unreconstructed Marxists from the 1950s whose readings of what I and others post on that literary listserve are similar to what you'll see below in the quote that I provide from his 'critique' of my previous column:
Dictating language to so and so

I take delight in reporting a most passionate response to my recent column, "Mucking up the English language." Fellow Milton scholar Professor C. Cox has troubled himself to quote me briefly and comment upon my words:

"Horace Jeffery Hodges (in his column) wrote: '. . . Licentiousness, regrettably, is not liberty,' which as Lincoln Steffens magnificently argued, is not just not true, it is viciously untrue. This false contrast of Licentiousness and Liberty, and not (as Milton argued) necessity [and liberty] is the true plea of the Tyrant."

Thank you, Professor Cox. I take heart in having attentive readers and appreciate the gallant corrective, but you have neglected the context, which begins: "Lest pedants once again correct me on a point that I know full well . . ."

I myself would hardly be earning my own keep as official pundit pedant if I failed to draw attention to the unorthodox capitalization of "Licentiousness," "Liberty," and "Tyrant." Professor Cox is either reverting to seventeenth-century orthographic conventions, as perchance befits a Milton scholar, or he is committing the fallacy of misplaced abstraction, perhaps reading my frivolous remark as some Grand Pronouncement.

Or possibly, in hastening to correct me, the good man has simply erred in capitalizing these three common nouns. Well, hasten slowly, sir, so as not to sow the wind, for a stitch in time saves nine, else your white canvas doublet will sully! But not too slowly, either, for indolence begets indigence. Let me word it so:
So ...

I s'pose you know
It's best to sow
Than be a lazy so and so!

Though even the lazy sow and sow
If forced to, though.
I s'pose that's so.

When I say "sow,"
I don't mean "sew"!
If I meant so,
I'd tell you "sew"!

It's just, you know,
We'd better sow
To be in dough -- don't you think so?

Although, of those who sew and sew,
I s'pose also
It's also so.
I trust that I have made myself as vehemently clear as professor Cox has made himself. Vehement, that is; not clear.

For instance, I am not quite certain what the professor means by referring to the "false contrast of Licentiousness and Liberty." By "false contrast," does he mean that licentiousness and liberty are not altogether opposite in meaning? If so, I agree, for licentiousness even derives from a Latin word for freedom: licentia. Or does he mean, instead, that licentiousness and liberty are identical in meaning, having no contrast at all? I would find that problematic, for licentiousness entails the flaunting of rules, whereas liberty covers rather a broader range of meanings, including the freedom that one gains through following rules.

Similarly puzzling in its manner of expression is the professor's larger assertion that the "false contrast of Licentiousness and Liberty . . . is the true plea of the Tyrant." In identifying a "false contrast" as a "true plea," professor Cox might appear to be asserting a contradiction, but I think that I understand his meaning. The expression "true plea of the Tyrant" should be read as "true Tyrant's plea." The professor means that I expressed myself with the voice of a genuine tyrant when I wrote these words:

"Licentiousness, regrettably, is not liberty, and trapped in this prison house of language, I reflect upon my own linguistic crime of passion and perceive that I stand guilty of the very thing for which I have accused Larkin."

Professor Cox is right. I have been tyrannical in judging myself so harshly. I deserve amnesty, and as tyrant, I hereby declare myself pardoned.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at -- Ed.
Well, judge for yourself my putative tyrannical character. I expect that Professor Cox will.

Meanwhile, can someone direct me to where Lincoln Steffens argued so magnificently about licentiousness and liberty?

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Lee Won-bok's Book: No Antisemitic Passages?

Map of South Korea
A close inspection of this map gives no evidence
of widespread antisemitism in South Korea
(Image from Wikipedia)

The issue of antisemitism in Korea has again surfaced . . . but only here at Gypsy Scholar.

An anonymous Korean has recently read my post of about one year ago on a number of antisemitic remarks by Lee Won-bok and has posted mild disagreement:
Lee's book is very famous book in Korea such as Harry Potter. I am Korean and I read that book. Lee's books are large scale series. japan, german, france, england italia, holand, ..... the book about U.S.A. is only a small part of that book. and to critisie jewsh is only a very small part.

As a whole perspective Lee's book is not anti-semitism book

it is outragous to this book is regarded as antisemitism.

there is no jews and no islam in korea. unlike U.S.A. Jews has no economical political powers in Korea. unlike U.S.A. Europe Russia there is not exist wide spread antisemitism.
I replied, also mildly:
The fame of Lee's book in Korea has no logical connection to the question of whether or not it contains antisemitic statements.

The book does express some antisemitic statements, as has been documented.

As for your following remarks:

"there is no jews and no islam in korea. unlike U.S.A. Jews has no economical political powers in Korea. unlike U.S.A. Europe Russia there is not exist wide spread antisemitism."

No Jews? There are some Jews in Korea, though very few. Anyway, the absence of Jews does not stop people from being antisemitic. Japan also has few Jews but antisemitic books have sold well there. I hope that you are correct about the lack of widespread antisemitism in Korea, but I have seen some antisemitism here, and the political left in Korea tends to express it more than other sectors, in my experience, although some Christians do so as well.

No Islam in Korea? There is a small community of Korean Muslims here in Korea, and there has been since the Korean War due to the influence of the Turkish troops who were part of the UN forces. There are also the foreign workers, many of them Muslim. But what's the connection to the issue of antisemtism? The term "antisemitism" is used to refer to prejudice against Jews.
I haven't yet heard a reply, for I've only just posted my comment at that blog entry, but in case people are interested in recalling this old issue concerning Lee Won-bok or in learning about it for the first time, please visit the following blog entries:
Lee Won-bok: Far Countries and Close Countries (February 17, 2007)
Antisemitism in Korea: Follow-Up (February 18, 2007)
Antisemitism in Korea: Second Follow-Up (February 20, 2007)
Gypsy Scholar Receives a Threat... (February 27, 2007)
"Korean comic author: Jews rule U.S." (February 28, 2007))
These two posts might also have relevance:
'Foreigners' in Korea (April 4, 2007)
Dong-A Ilbo: "America: 2% Jewish, but Manipulated by Jews" (December 17, 2007)
Judge for yourself if Lee Won-bok's statements were antisemitic and if antisemitism is present or absent in South Korea.

UPDATE: Just after posting this entry, I came across two relevant online sites: Sonagi at Marmot's Hole on Rhie (Lee) Won-Bok and an article on an Islamic school in Korea.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Two Hearts"

"Two Hearts"
(Image from Wikipedia)

Damn! Sometimes, only a simple expletive undeleted makes sense of the serendipity.

For years now, I've been calling to mind a story that I read back in 1975 in The Last Whole Earth Catalog, an odd, hippie-type book-length mishmash of ecology, philosophy, and hucksterism inspired, in part, by the 'thought' of Buckminster Fuller as refracted through the psychedelic sixties.

When I say "calling to mind," I mean without recalling, precisely, the author of that story.

The story was Divine Right's Trip, and I read it because my high school friend Pete Hale showed me the catalog, which was the strangest thing that I'd ever seen, but also strangely compelling. I even read Plato's allegory of "The Cave" in that weird, motley book.

Anway, I couldn't recall the author, but I do have trouble with names, always have had, so I'd long ago given up trying to dredge that from the dregs of my memory, but then what happens? I pick up a book that my mother gave my daughter Sa-Rah for Christmas -- Peter S. Beagle's Last Unicorn, the deluxe edition with "Two Hearts" and also an interview conducted by Connor Cochran -- and read it through over the course of a week or so while exercising on our stationary bicycle, and what do I discover in the 2007 interview, "A Conversation with Peter S. Beagle"? This reminiscence by Beagle about the gaggle of writers whom he met during a year at Stanford on a Stegner Fellowship in 1960:
An amazing gang. I admit that at times I felt completely overwhelmed. There was Larry McMurtry, the first friend I made there, known now for Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show and the screenplay to Brokeback Mountain. He was only a couple of years older than I was, and really talented. He wrote most of Leaving Cheyenne during our session. There was a 25 year-old Ken Kesey, at that point working on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. There was Judith Rascoe, who was the niece or great niece of a very influential critic named Burton Rascoe; Judith went on to write stories and some very good screenplays. There was a Scottish guy named Robin MacDonald, whose wife, Joanna Ostrow, was Bronx Jewish like me. Robin was the one with the fellowship, but Joanna turned out to be the real writer. She would sit in on the class and years later, after the class was long over, she published an excellent novel called In the Highlands Since Time Immemorial. There was Chris Koch, an Australian writer whose best-known work over here is probably The Year of Living Dangerously. He started that one while he was at Stanford. But my closest friend in the class was Gurney Norman, from Hazard, Kentucky. Gurney and I took to each other immediately. As we've often said, he was my first redneck and I was his first City Jew. We used to sit up nights comparing childhoods. We're still in touch today. In fact, I visited him in Kentucky a few years ago and wrote all about it in the forward to The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche, my first collection from Tachyon Publication.
"'Gurney Norman' . . . now there's an echo of some name in my memory," I thought but couldn't place him. Other names were immediately recognizable. Larry McMurtry? Yeah, I read Lonesome Dove when I was living in Tübingen. Ken Kesey? Yeah, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest when I was in high school and later even shook hands with him when I was in Berkeley. Chris Koch? Well, I've not read his work, but I saw the film version of The Year of Living Dangerously while I was living near Stanford. But Gurney Norman? Something struck me as familiar about this unplaceable name. So, I looked him up . . . and there he was, the man who had written Divine Right's Trip!

What do I think of that story? I don't know anymore. At the time, I liked it because its story of a hillbilly hippie from the Appalachians made sense to me, a hillbilly 'hippie' in the Ozarks. But I might be as disappointed with it now as I was upon my second viewing of Bootleggers, a movie that I had greatly enjoyed upon first seeing it in high school, probably because it was filmed partly in Calico Rock, Arkansas and showed those high White River bluffs that you can also see in some of the photos from my Ozark photoblog.

But to get back to Peter Beagle and his friend Gurney Norman among the Stegner fellows . . . that must have been a fascinating bunch of writers to have had as a cohort! I suppose that they didn't know that they'd all find success, of course, and maybe only the reminiscence makes it sound so great.

But it nevertheless says something touching about the potential for unexpected connections forged between two hearts across profound differences . . . and I know a bit about that.

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Out on the town...

Mount Everest
You didn't know Everest was in town?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I got up two hours later than my habitual 3 a.m. because of a night out on the town and have had to spend nearly an hour and a half responding to comments posted while I was away neglecting my self-imposed blogging duties.

I soon have to get my kids out of bed, fix them breakfast, and kick them out the door in the direction of school, so this entry will be mercifully short.

But you're wondering about my "night out on the town," I suspect. Well, it's not what you suspect.

After my Yonsei writing course was over at 6:40 p.m., I hurried to Dongdaemun Subway Station, Exit 3, to meet my family and head for "Everest," a nearby Nepali restaurant.

In fact, the only nearby Nepali restaurant, and there cannot be many in Seoul, either.

My wife, kids, and I all found the food very tasty and remarkably similar to Indian food, though not quite so spicy as what I've eaten at Indian restaurants in London.

Anyway, Sun-Ae and I recommend the place, which is quite close to Dongdaemun Subway Station, Exit 3, just a few steps down the street, I think, but I was merely following my wife and keeping an eye on our two children, so I'm not certain.

Perhaps some of my Seoul readers can give more precise directions...

UPDATE: I've located a website for Everest Restaurant, so here's a map from Exit 3. By the way, the Nepal-Korea Friendship Society lists eight Nepali Restaurants.

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