Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Expat Living: The Spitting Image of 'Globalization'...

It really does look like a 'glob'
(Image from Wikipedia)

Once again, my "Language Column" has shown up in The Korea Herald -- yesterday, to my surprise. I simply wasn't expecting it . . . but there it was.

I'm not displeased, obviously, for I'm pasting and posting it here, which leave me time for other, pressing pursuits, e.g., correcting Sun-Ae's literary translations from Korean into English, grading thesis statements, reading on Islamism, that sort of thing...

Anyway, here it is, my column on 'glob-alization':
"Facing up to globular reality," The Korea Herald, April 29, 2008

Everyone these days talks about "globalization," but how many of us have truly reflected very deeply upon its meaning even though we expatriates living here in Korea face globalization every time we step outside?

Some of us may rail against this globular reality that we encounter on Korean streets, some of us may even defend it, but all of us recognize its presence and that we can do little but adjust.

Expatriates from lands that have already experienced globalization should not look down on Korea for only now beginning to deal with this globular issue. Indeed, we need only look to our fairly recent pasts to discover that Korea is the spitting image of Western nations.

In America, for instance, Salinas, California still has a law to prohibit spitting on a sidewalk, and South Haven, Michigan even saw fit to legislate against spitting "on any sidewalk or on the floor or seat of any public carrier, or on any floor, wall, seat or equipment of any place of public assemblage," just in case anyone should consider giving in to an urge to spit.

As these examples suggest, spitting was very common even among Westerners not so long ago and only began to decline through pressure exerted by the medical profession, city ordinances, and disapproving peers. Some backwoods regions continued the habit of spitting well into the twentieth century.

As late as my adolescence in the Arkansas Ozarks, for instance, I recall seeing plenty of spittoons -- though usually intended for people who chewed tobacco. And folks did spit. Especially in barber shops, one could find some excellent spitters -- men who had sufficient skill for a sure shot from ten feet away.

Spitting contests of that kind, incidentally, might explain something that had previously puzzled me. One of my uncles tells the anecdote of his induction into the military during WWII. He and others from the Ozarks were sent to Little Rock before heading on to boot camp, but these new draftees first had to get medical exams to test their fitness. They were told to strip down to their birthday suits and stand near the back wall of the room. A sergeant came in with a bottle, held it up for all to see, and began to explain what the men had to do:

"Men!" he barked, "I want you to piss in this bottle."

To which, in utter seriousness, one of the men from my hometown responded:

"From back here?"

Now, maybe this hometown hillbilly was skilled at hitting spittoons, or perhaps he had even been in a few pissing contests, but he was absolutely sincere in his question -- my uncle swears to it!

Anyway, as for spittoons themselves, I'm sure that some spitters used them for oral fluids other than tobacco-enhanced saliva, but most Americans remain unaware that the habit of public spitting has only fully disappeared in the last generation or two. If we just knew a little more about our own relatively recent "nasty" habits, we might be more understanding of the spitting that we see among Koreans.

Finally, for those readers who wish to know about the more technical aspects of globalization, note that the word "glob" derives from the Latin globus, meaning "globular mass."

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog, Gypsy Scholar, at - Ed.
You can read this at the Korea Herald's website, of course, but you have to go looking through the "Expat Living" posts to find it.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Letter from Theresa...

A missive from America?
(Image from Wikipedia)

At times, I fear that I labor in distant obscurity here in what used to be called the Far East, but occasionally, I receive an email letting me know that I am noticed:
Dear Prof. Horace Jeffery Hodges:
Now, that's the way to address me. Some fine individual has noted my high status and taken the trouble to write me on some important issue:
My priest L.A. Archdiocese in the church asked me to sleep with him to give me some money out of the church account. I agreed that I will do but unknown to him that I can never do such a thing because my body is the temple of Christ and can never do such a nasty thing because of money.
Agreed. Money is never the reason to do a "nasty thing." Wait until he offers you some power. Of course, if he has little power as merely a lowly priest, you might have to settle for money. How much is he offering:
I have know option than to collect the money US$500,000 from him, and he gave me a date 30th of April, 2008 to sleep with me in one of the hotel outside my base.
Hmmm . . . 500,000 US dollars. How much is that in real money these days? I'm afraid that it can't be very much for a lady of your obvious virtue. Couldn't you ask for 500,000 Euros? That's buys a lot more stuff and seems like a more stable currency in our troubled times.

Any priest clever enough to arrange a meeting outside your base is clever enough to understand these financial affairs. Don't let him abuse your innocence . . . but I see that you won't:
Due to short time scheduled to sleep with him and pressure mounted on me, I have to bravely and hurriedly move the funds to a safe institution as a cargo to avoid any trace. Pls help me to secure this funds in your able and sincere care until i will come and meet with you to start a new life.
Well, you certainly shouldn't have to endure pressure or anything else mounted on you -- and definitely "No capon priest" pounding away! I admire your courage in bravely moving those funds to my "able and sincere care." And hurriedly:
Help urgently before the priest understands my wise plan.
A wise plan like yours will never be detected in advance. Nevertheless, you should act quickly to send me that money! But don't feel that you must move to the Far East with me "to start a new life." I don't think that my wife would approve. I will simply hold the funds for you until you find a place where that base priest's 'tentacles' (as my son might phrase it) can never reach your body. You are also wise not to specify too precisely your exact location:
You can also reach me here: Theresa F. Rodrigues. U.S.A. (prudence . . . AT
Ah, sainted Theresa. How good of you to turn to me. And how clever of you to email from Germany despite being on your base in L.A. of the U.S.A. And how prudent of you to choose the email name "prudence."

Yes, dear Prudence, I will play . . . but I do admit to a few rising doubts. For instance, I wonder why a Catholic priest in Los Angeles would offer 500,000 dollars -- even if merely U.S. money -- for sexual favors from the psychiatric social worker appointed by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard to the Albany Diocese in New York State "as victims/survivors coordinator to assist in efforts to counter the impact of sexual abuse by priests." That seems a bit of a thickheaded thing for your priest to do. Couldn't you simply report him to Bishop Hubbard? I find this part somewhat odd...

These doubts welling up in my heart would be instantly quelled, of course, if I were to receive that 500,000 in 'cargo' from the skies.


Monday, April 28, 2008

When students aren't paying attention...

Paying Attention . . . or Playing at Attention?
Disclaimer: No Koreans Depicted in this Photo
(Image from Wikipedia)

Last week was midterm week, and though I don't give tests in my writing classes, I do require a thesis statement to be handed in during classtime -- as both the syllabus and I myself clearly state. Last week, I even required attendance to both classtimes because the university expects professors to make up missed classes even if these were missed due to official holidays -- and our class falls upon a couple of holidays this semester, so I'm planning ahead.

Some, students, however, don't pay close attention:
"I am so sorry for not being in class on monday. I was under the impression that there is no classes this week."
To this crippled 'excuse', I replied:
If you were under this impression, then you really weren't paying sufficient attention in class, for I repeatedly explained why we would have class on both Monday and Thursday during midterm week.
I was also concerned about this student's 'attention' to my specific requirements for a thesis statement:
Concerning this 'thesis statement', you also seem not to have paid close attention to what was required, for you wrote:
"Although each culture or each society possessed its own rationality and coherence in terms of which its customs and beliefs were to be interpreted, which means there is no superior culture or inferior culture, culture is one of the concepts we need to give a critical view of especially when we accept them because people like and want to continue the way of life they grew up and cultures surrounding people can change their ways of life."
Two problems:

1. This is not a thesis statement of the type required, for it lacks the logical structure of A --> B b/c A --> C. What you've written has the form A --> B b/c C --> D. If you try labeling it, you will see the error.

2. This statement says nothing about whether multiculturalism is good or bad for society, nor does it even say anything about multiculturalism, let alone distinguish between radical and moderate multiculturalism.

You must, therefore, rewrite your thesis statement to fit these two requirements. Please do so very, very soon.
I hope that this student is paying attention to my words this time.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

A long delayed beer blog...

Stone Brewery Logo
Brews to keep the demon rum at bay!
(Image from Wikipedia)

For two months now, I've owed beer expert John Wells a blog on beer.

Over one year ago, my old Ozark buddy and wine expert Bruce Cochran notified those on his wine email that a friend of his would be sending out weekly email reports on fine beers. That friend was John Wells, master of fine beers.

Master of "fine beers" might sound like an oxymoron to some of the fine-wine crowd, but Bruce (obviously) isn't one of those who see any contradiction in referring to "fine beer." Nor do I, having spent six beer-years in Germany -- Tuebingen, in fact -- where I enjoyed fine pilsner beers, fine Hefeweizen (i.e., wheat) beers, fine heavy dark beers, and various other fine varieties that tax the data banks of my beery brain.

At the moment, for instance, I'm experiencing the subtle effects of a Cass Red's 6.9% alcohol -- a bit more than I prefer, actually, but the extra alcohol dulls the taste enough to make the wretched stuff palatable.

It ain't the strongest beer that I've had lately, to tell the truth. One week ago, I spent an entire day correcting my wife's translation of Korean into English and was rewarded with an Oettinger Super Forte with 8.9% alcohol. Last time that I drank anything in that range of alcoholic power, I was in Singapore for a Society of Biblical Literature conference and staying in a Chinese-run hotel in the Muslim quarter of the city, where I ignorantly purchased a tall can of something that turned out to be about 12% alcohol. Tiger-something-or-other. I couldn't drink it, for it tasted like harsh, bitter whiskey on my neophyte tongue. Most of that wretched stuff disappeared gurgling down the sink . . . and undoubtedly worked as well as draino.

Anyway, the Oettinger Super Forte was a bit super-strong for my tastes, but the Oettinger Hefeweissbier (i.e., wheat beer) went down better. As mentioned above, I drank a lot of wheat beers in Germany, enough to get rather weary of that sour aftertaste. Pilsner was my favorite, despite my having to wait about five minutes for the beer-on-tap to pour and the thick, creamy foam to form perfectly to the brim. Those Germans were experts at that.

But that's all in the distant past. In the nearer past, I have had a few brews with John Wells.

I had previously corresponded with Mr. Wells online to lament the poverty of my beer selection here in Seoul, South Korea. Now, an American shouldn't talk about poor beer selection . . . or so one might think, but one would be thoughtless to think so, for actually, the available selection range in the US was already beginning to expand before I left Berkeley in 1989, for the Triple Rock Brewery and Pub was already open to do good business in the mid-eighties, and I used to meet my good friend and housemate Scott Corey and my good female-just-friend Natalie Macris for drinks there and imbibe the Pale, Red, and Black Rock brews . . . quite good, too.

And that was just the beginning, as I've since learned from Mr. Wells, whose weekly newsletter has led me to understand that the US now offers the best beer selection in the world. I wish that I could spend a year in the States testing that claim.

But I had only one evening in February, during the trip home to Arkansas that I took with my family.

My wife and I had spent an evening with my wine friend Bruce on the evening before, February 15, in Little Rock for an afternoon and evening of food and drink -- about which I must also one day report -- during which we first met John and his wife offline, and a very fine time we had.

The next day, early, Sun-Ae and I headed back north for the Ozarks and my hometown of Salem, followed some hours later by Bruce and John, with beer in tow . . . though not literally. Merely liter-ally. The beer, I think, was in the trunk. Anyway, they dropped by my family's place in Salem, briefly, to meet my kids and visit with my brothers and their wives, before heading on to Bruce's farm. I was to join them later for an evening of mild dissipation and intensive learning.

The afternoon and evening turned stormy -- as I briefly reported at the time -- with rain, wind, fog, and some lightning to keep me entertained on my dark, six-mile drive from Salem's low valley up to the higher land where Bruce's farm lay. Actually, I recall it as his grandfather's farm, but time has moved on, things have changed, and land has passed down into the hands of children and grandchildren.

Eventually, after first missing the dirt-road turnoff in the stormy darkness, I found my muddy way to the farm, where Bruce and John sat waiting, beers in hand. My initiation into the sacred mysteries of finer beers was about to begin.

Bruce cut and laid out on some butcher paper several slices of venison-and-pork sausage as an appetizer to go with the pure, fine beers waiting patiently in a sacred ice chest nearby. John opened a bottle called Bosco's Flaming Stone Beer. As John explained, and the website confirms:
"Red-hot pieces of pink Colorado granite are heated to 700 degrees in Boscos wood fired oven and lowered into the wort (unfermented beer) during the brewing process. The resulting steam and sizzle caramelizes sugars in the wort. The result is a sweeter, softer tasting beer with a caramel undertone."
That about gets it. I tasted a somewhat sweet yet still somewhat bitter beer. I used to imagine that all beers were bitter, but John's newsletter has taught me otherwise. Anyway, I told John that I liked the Flaming Stone Beer (which I wrote down as "ale" but which the website calls "beer"), but asked if he had something more bitter.

He had, but first came another slightly sweet brew.

From the holy ice chest, John drew forth a drink brewed by a brewer with a name that will forever live in blessed memory: He'Brew. Not that it's dead. It's quite alive, in fact. What John specifically drew forth and poured for me was He'Brew's Genesis Ale, which is described as by the He'Brew website as:
"Crisp, smooth and perfectly balanced between a west coast style pale and amber ale, with a supple malt sweetness and a pronounced hop flourish."
I recall the sweet flavor along with the bitter hops, but the best thing about Genesis Ale is the label, the humor, and the Talmudic scholarship. I understand that a couple of rabbis have three or four opinions about this drink, but we won't know the truth until HaMoshiach comes. Not bad in my book, but still a bit too sweet for me. L'chaim, anyway.

John noted my craving for bitterness and next drew forth a brew from the fallen earth, this cursed realm in which we live, Unibroue's Maudite. This red ale from Quebec, Canada was more to my taste, heading into the bitter realm due to the strong hop flavor. The website notes that the word "maudite" means "damned," and I believe that it can also mean "cursed," but Unibroue supplies some more details about the choice of this name:
The word 'Maudite' has many meanings in Québécois culture. Here, it refers to the Legend of "Chasse-Galerie," a tribute to the early lumberjacks of Nouvelle-France. The legend tells of eight daring woodsmen who, during winter, yearned to be home for the Holidays. They conjured up the devil and all of them pledged their soul in return for flying them in their canoe to their village. As they sailed across the moonlit sky, one of them managed to free himself from the pledge by invoking the name of God, which caused the canoe to come crashing down to earth. They were never seen again.
Never seen again? Perhaps not, but they must have been heard from again, or we wouldn't have this story! Unless somebody made this tale up . . . . Anyway, note that the Hebrew theme from He'Brew has carried over into this Legend of "Chasse-Galerie," for the "name of God" would be YHWH (יהוה), God's 'unpronounceable' name -- or possibly pronounceable if one knows Hebrew, hence leaving open the possibility that one of the "eight daring woodsmen" was a rabbi.

But let's tread carefully around this name-of-God stuff, for the holy ground might become profaned by our impure feet, thereby provoking divine wrath and the end of the world.

Speaking of the eschaton, La Fin du Monde, also by Unibroue, was drawn from the chest. At 9% alcohol, it was slightly more powerful than the Oettinger Super Forte mentioned above, but it proved to me that I can like an ale with a mighty punch. I liked its spicy, hoppy flavor, but I was still craving that extra bitterness.

John looked at me, then drew forth something called "90 Minute IPA" brewed by Dogfish Head Brewery. Not a 90-minute man myself, this is the sort of brew that I'd pass over (there's that Jewish theme again!) if I saw it in a liquor store. Well, I would have done so in the ignorance of my benighted past, but since being enlightened by Mr. Wells, I'd gladly select this brew to drink. The "IPA" stands for "India Pale Ale," and like La Fin du Monde, above, it had a strong punch -- 9% alcohol. It, too, was spicy and hoppy.

I'm afraid that I'm not especially articulate about the subtle gradations of taste, for my taste buds aren't yet sufficiently trained, but John didn't give up on me.

Reaching into that wonderful chest of miraculous brews, John next drew forth a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Actually, this one seemed familiar to me, and I wondered if I had drunk it before, perhaps last century, in the 1980s, when I was living in Berkeley. Anyway, it was definitely hoppy -- and also strong, at 6.8% alcohol, but more to my liking at that lower percent (though my tastes could shift). John had me taste from two or three bottles of this Celebration Ale, for he wanted to see if I could distinguish any difference, depending on the year brewed. I don't think that I passed that test, but the years were 2006 and 2007.

Finally, from that icy chest with its neverending supply of ales came a brew with an auspicious (or perhaps ominous) name: Arrogant Bastard Ale. If not taken too literally, that could be a maudite cast in my direction -- I'm a condescending ol' bastard myself, is what ails me, it is. Brewed by Stone Brewing Company, this Arrogant Bastard Ale comes with a warning, then warns you again:
This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory -- maybe something with a multi-billion dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it's made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. perhaps you think that multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you are mouthing your words as you read this.
Uh . . . well, I do admit that I was mouthing my words in reading this, but I learn better that way, and despite my unworthiness, I very much liked this very bitter brew. I don't even know what percent alcohol this one was, but its bitterness would have taken the bite out of moonshine (which Bruce also generously supplied that evening, just for a taste). But imbibing Arrogant Bastard Ale was reportedly child's play compared to drinking Stone Ruination IPA, the heavy metal of ales. John lamented that he hadn't brought that one along because he'd now become curious if I were really, truly worthy.

I'm not, of course, but you can read John's account of the evening here.

Many thanks to John Wells for the experience, and I hope for further instruction, even if merely vicariously.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

He Qi, Abraham and Three Angels

He Qi, Abraham and Three Angels
Based on Genesis 18
(Image from Christianity Today)

I'm a bit pressed for time this morning, but I always blog faithfully about something, so I give you this fine, rainy morning an image of golden light, "Abraham and Three Angels, based on Genesis 18," from a slideshow of Old Testament scenes painted by the Chinese artist He Qi (pronounced huh-chee) that Christianity Today has made available through an article on this contemporary artist.

Here's what the slideshow says about the image above:
Abram and Sarai stand in the darkness of their tent, about to serve their mysterious guests. He Qi's depiction of the three faceless angels -- with three feet among them -- is reminiscent of iconic depictions of the Trinity. He portrays their spiritual essence by the near-iridescence of their clothing and the light that glows upward on their faces. ("Slideshow Image Nr. 2," from Susan Wunderink, "The Dragon in the Belly: Patriarchs, Judges, and Kings," Christianity Today, April 2008)
Wunderink notes the evocation of the Trinity in this image, and regular readers will recall my series of blog entries on Trinitarian icons of this very scene. Alexander Boguslawski has written on this very theme, as I've also reported.

See you tomorrow.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

An unfortunate manner of expression...

When David Met Goliath
About to get those rocks off?
(Image from Wikipedia)

One of my students is writing an essay advocating that homosexuals be treated with respect, which of course is correct. They should be.

This student, however, apparently feels the need to draw attention to some respectable homosexuals, so she grabs her Bible for a handy reference:
Among human societies, there have been many homosexuals. According to the Bible, Jonathan fell in love with David, who beat off Goliath.
I've got to hand it to my student -- she doesn't mince words.

Still, I don't recall 1 Samuel 17:54 describing David's encounter with Goliath in quite the way depicted here . . . though there was that business in 1 Samuel 18:27 concerning the foreskins of the Philistines, and 2 Samuel 1:25 does speak of Jonathan and David sharing a love surpassing the love of women -- but an act between David and Goliath as described by my student would likely be forbidden by Genesis 38:9-10!

Such an idiosyncratic use of scripture to erect a private hermeneutic, I maintain, would be hard to sustain...

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Expat Living: Assay at an Essay

Writing that Essay
It's all so logical...
(Image from Free Dictionary)

My most recent language column appeared in yesterday's "Expat Living" section of the Korea Herald (April 23, 2008), a newspaper -- as you will recall -- that does not allow links to specific articles, which provides me at least one good reason for posting the article here on Gypsy Scholar.

You'll find no poetry in this particular language column . . . sniff. Yes, it's sad, but I was asked to tone down the poetry since most people don't generally read poetry because they find it difficult to understand.

Well, that's what they said. They also said that people are bitter, cling to their guns, their religion, their xenophobia (oops, foreign, elitist word), and their anti-trade sentiment (um . . . somewhat of a mixed message, that). Who ever knew that poetry could be so alienating.

So, anyway, I wrote the following, very prosaic piece on 'logical' writing:
"The what and the why of theses"

Because students learn best through writing, I require my students in nearly every course to write a research essay supporting a thesis.

People often complain about difficulty in composing their essay's thesis statement, but the basic statement is really quite simple. On some topic that you have chosen, ask yourself two questions: "what?" and "why?"

That might sound obscure, so let me provide an example.

Put yourself in Aristotle's shoes and suppose that you want to write some piece debunking Socrates, your philosophical rival's teacher, whom your rival portrays as having faced death courageously by anticipating an afterlife.

Reflecting upon these views, you ask yourself what you think and then, because you are Aristotle, you reply with the claim that Socrates is mortal. Next, you ask yourself why you think so, and you give as your reason the fact that Socrates is human.

You then compose your thesis statement by conjoining your claim to your reason: "Socrates is mortal because he is human."

Note that this has the following logical form: A is B because A is C.

That sounds fairly reasonable, but a concessive clause might further establish your reasonability: "Although Plato defends the soul's immortality, Socrates is mortal because he is human."

Not an especially impressive example, perhaps, but one of my students has already accounted for the statement's intellectual deficiencies by noting that we often fall short of using our 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.

To help this student use his own brain well, I have tidied his grammar and spelling, but I suspect that he needs to do some hard, brainier thinking before this thesis statement can capably sustain a semester-length research essay.

I will grant that his thesis statement has the proper logical form, but that alone does not suffice, as two more examples demonstrate. For instance, one student, perhaps having considered the oft-expressed comparison of sports to battle, takes that comparison perceptibly 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 this argument's redundancy, though I am not quite clear on what "position" means . . . but at least my insufficient understanding means that I still have something to learn from this student.

The other example -- a thesis statement that I rather fancy -- comes 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.

I have noticed this myself. March was noticeably warmer than February, and if this trend continues through April and beyond, I expect that we will be suffering considerable heat by early July and utter destruction by early August.

If this student and I are truly lucky, the foretold destruction might occur even before grading.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at - Ed.
Regular readers will recognize that I have again cannibalized a previous Gypsy Scholar post. Once again, I defend myself with the justification that the work put into my blogging ought to have some practical benefit for me.

So there.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to really annoy your professor...

Typical Crazy Student Behavior
"Hey, prof, got a psych test,
so I can't make your midterm."
(Image from Wikipedia)

Early this morning -- early because I rise early, but what if had I risen late? -- I received this email from some student:
Apologies for the sudden news, but LST students cannot make it to your writing tut class tomorrow (23 April) due to a sudden time shift in the Chemistry exam. If you have any queries, please contact the Chemistry professor, or any of the other LST students.
This morning, of course, is the morning of April 23rd. Annoyed, I retorted:
I have 125 students and teach at two universities.

I do not know what an LST student is, nor do I know which course of mine you are referring to, nor do I know which university you are talking about, nor why I am finding out this information on April 23rd, nor why a chemistry professor has the right to schedule a midterm during my own midterm time.

Please clarify.
I've since figured out the class referred to by the student through reflecting upon the student's reference to my "writing tut class."

Initially, this was a baffling reference because I'm teaching five courses in which I emphasize writing, three of which are officially writing courses, and I have four classes on Wednesdays, including these three official writing courses.

And what the hell was a 'tut' class, I wondered. Perhaps 'tut' as in: "Tut, tut, class. Now pay attention."

Or was this some archaeology student who had mistakenly informed me that 'my' LST students cannot attend 'my' putative lecture on King Tut's Tomb?

Eventually, I realized that "tut" was the student's abbreviation for "tutorial."

That clarifies everything . . . except why a chemistry professor can reschedule a midterm exam at the expense of another class that could, conceivably, be having a midterm exam, so I've inquired about this at the college that set up my writing course.

One expects a modicum of professional courtesy.

Update: The student was not being entirely forthright about the chemistry exam, which had, in fact, not been rescheduled at the time of my class but merely at the end of my class . . . hence providing me a teachable moment.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Garbage in . . . garbage out?

(Image from The Independent)

I usually stick to my strengths in the subject matter that I discuss here at Gypsy Scholar, but some news is so astonishing that it simply refuses to be ignored.

Islamism may be a problem that we face, possibly even an existential threat as we move into a near future of readily attainable WMDs, but other problems are equally daunting, such as the growing food crisis in poorer parts of the world as prices currently rise so steeply, but what has really caught my attention these past couple of days is a news report that Sonagi linked to at The Marmot's Hole over the weekend by posing this question:
An Ecological Riddle: What's twice the size of the continental United States and contains 100 million tons of plastic?
That link led to an article by Kathy Marks in The Independent titled "The world's rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan." A "tip" in this British context means "dump," as in "garbage dump." Anyway, Marks writes:
A "plastic soup" of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

The vast expanse of debris -- in effect the world's largest rubbish dump -- is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.
Reflect on that for a moment. Whatever one might think about environmentalism as an ideology -- its tendency to depict apocalyptic scenarios in fearsome, lurid colors -- a 'soup' of plastic twice the size of the United States cannot be a thing to take lightly (assuming that this hasn't been exaggerated, a possibility to keep in mind).

Such debris must be dreadful for animals dependent upon the sea:
According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.
The article does not explicitly state that these birds and mammals regularly encounter the continental-sized mass of floating plastic, but a garbage dump the size of a continent must be difficult to avoid. Even we land-based creatures may face effects from plastic floating in the seas:
Dr Eriksen said the slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles -- the raw materials for the plastic industry -- are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea. These pollutants act as chemical sponges attracting man-made chemicals such as hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. They then enter the food chain. "What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It's that simple," said Dr Eriksen.
That doesn't sound good, and it's a reminder that we do face enormous ecological problems that have to be dealt with. Perhaps some entrepreneurial soul will figure out a use for all that plastic and develop a means of 'mining' it from the seas.

But I won't hold my breath.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Islamism . . . or Tribalism?

Richard Landes

Richard Landes -- son of David Landes, who wrote The Unbound Prometheus, a classic on the rise of technology and capitalism -- has posted a blog entry, "Salzman on Tribal Islam: Insights of an Anthropologist" (4/7/2008) at Augean Stables commenting on a long article by Stanley Kurtz, "I and My Brother Against My Cousin," The Weekly Standard (4/14/2008, Volume 013, Issue 29), in which Kurtz asks, "Is Islam the best way to understand the war on terror?" and suggests that "Tribalism may offer a clearer view of our enemies' motivations."

The Salzman in question is Philip Carl Salzman, who has written a book -- titled Culture and Conflict in the Middle East (Humanity Books, 2008) -- that applies the anthropology of tribes to an understanding of the Middle East. This is a neglected aspect of the reality that we face in our encounter with friends and foes in, for example, Afghanistan and Iraq -- as I've begun to perceive through the success that the US Military has had in destroying Al Qaeda in Iraq through allying itself with the tribes that had come to detest Al Qaeda, as in the Anbar Province of western Iraq, for example.

I won't attempt to summarize the entire article, but you can read it at Augean Stables for the benefit of comments interspersed by Landes -- a very bright fellow whom I got to know on a listserve about First-Century Judaism a couple of years ago (though he'd likely not recall me).

The post offers some rather hard-hitting views. Here's Kurtz applying Salzman's anthropological findings:
Arab tribesmen are preoccupied with maintaining deterrence and prepared to use force preemptively, if necessary -- rather like über neocons. The ironic but very real parallel is a function of the de facto stateless anarchy in which Arab Bedouin live -- and the de facto global anarchy that hawkish conservatives rightly believe to be the underlying reality of the international system. Saddam Hussein's interest in being taken to possess WMDs, whether or not he actually had them, makes sense in light of the link between deterrence and reputation. The emboldening effects of America's pre-9/11 retreats in Somalia, Lebanon, and elsewhere show the reverse of the medal. Although this is a familiar litany, I'd argue that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the rage against the Muhammad cartoons, the killing of Theo van Gogh, and a host of related acts of intimidation ought to be placed under the heading of pro-active deterrence as well.
Landes comments:
And the Western response as an invitation to further aggression. What's interesting is how the demopathic spokesmen for this side scream hysterically at "unprovoked" or "excessive" response by the Israelis or the Americans, and how well that plays before a Western audience driven by both PCP and resentment of those in the West who do fight back.
Interestingly, however, Kurtz sees tribalism, despite its honor-shame culture, as more flexible than Islam:
While tribalism is in one sense culturally pervasive in the Middle East, tribal practices are less swathed in sacredness than explicitly Koranic symbols and commandments -- and are therefore more susceptible to criticism and debate. Even jihad and suicide bombing can be interpreted through a tribal lens.
Landes, by contrast, sees more positive value in an Islam that has shed its honor-shame aspect:
Indeed, in my reading, all demotic monotheism is against honor-shame, including demotic Islam. Monotheism in the grip of honor-shame, as much of political Islam, is imperialist. But Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, has a profound core of respect for the individual soul and the willing acceptance of the yoke of heaven (i.e., ethical restraints), rather than the denominational imposition of their interpretation of that yoke -- that coincides spectacularly with the fundamental democratic notion that the social contract will only work, and democratic elections will only succeed as a means to choose leaders, if the polity has a critical mass of honest, self-regulating, morally autonomous adults. Then you have the key ingredients in civil society -- voluntarism, commitment to respect for the "other," ability to restrain one's own desires.
I wonder if this is true. Does Islam have "a profound core of respect for the individual soul and the willing acceptance of the yoke of heaven," or is it fundamentally theocratic and therefore at odds with democracy?

Either way, all three guys -- Landes, Kurtz, and Salzman -- are highly intelligent scholars worth engaging with. Read the entire, rather long post at Augean Stables.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Islamist Distrust of Human Reason

From my reading on Islamism this semester as I lead discussions with my students, I've learned that Salafi Muslims would have some objections to human curiosity and the knowledge that it seeks. Indeed, the Salafists objections are far more radical than any objections formulated by St. Augustine, and I suppose that we need another Blumenberg to explore the "trial of theoretical curiosity" in Islam.

I'd like to quote a passage from Quintan Wiktorowicz, "Anatomy of the Salafi Movement," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29:3 (2006), 207-239:
Perhaps the most dangerous challenge to pure Islam, from the Salafi perspective, is the application of human intellect and logic to the original sources ("rationalism" in the Salafi lexicon). Salafis operate as though the Qur'an and hadith are self-explanatory: if the scholar has enough training and knowledge, then the vast majority of derived rulings are clear and indisputable. As a result, there is no need to apply human systems of logic. The scholars are, in a sense, reduced to the archeology of divine texts: their function is to simply unearth the truth that lies somewhere in the Qur'an and Sunna. In this understanding, there is really no such thing as interpretation -- the sources either sanction or prohibit particular beliefs, choices, and behavior; there is a single truth, as revealed by the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad; and there is no room for interpretive differences or religious pluralism. Any time humans attempt to apply their own logic or methods of reasoning (the scientific method of Sir Francis Bacon or Ibn Khaldun, for example), they open the way to human desire, distortion, and deviancy. Approaches that are guided by human logic will necessarily fall foul of human desire, which will lead to the selective and biased extrapolation of religious evidence to support human interests rather than religious truth. (Wiktorowicz, "Anatomy of the Salafi Movement," page 210)
Wiktorowicz is describing the suspicion with which Salafi Islamists view any use of reason in interpreting the Qur'an or the hadith, but since the problem lies specifically in how human desire misleads reason, then this distrust of our reasoning powers would seem also to apply in all realms of knowledge.

Well, that's Salafi Islam, a Sunni form of Islam. What about Islamist views in Shia Islam? From reading Matthias Kuentzel's article "Antisemitism, Messianism and the Cult of Sacrifice: The Iranian Holy War," SPME Faculty Voices (April 10, 2008), I learn that Iranian Shi'ite Islamists have a similar distrust of human reason, as several passages from a subsection entitled "Reason as sin" will demonstrate:
For us, the employment of reason is the most self-evident thing in the world. For Islamists the use of reason -- apart from in the natural sciences -- is an expression of arrogance -- hence our castigation as the "World of Arrogance" -- and an offence against God. Their starting point is that the Koran must be interpreted and applied literally. But evidently, any kind of reason-based doubt undermines such an approach to the Koran. As a result, doubt and conjecture are opposed.
I'm not sure why Kuentzel exempts the "natural sciences," but let's see what else follows:
For Islamist academics, the term "Western imperialism" refers not so much to economic aggression, but first and foremost to an "intellectual invasion" of the world of Islam. In the words of the Islamist Syed al-Attas, "The contemporary challenge of Western civilization . . . is the challenge of knowledge . . . which promotes scepticism, which has elevated doubt and conjecture to 'scientific status' in its methodology." The primary goal of academic Islamism is to "de-westernize" the sciences, i.e. to free them from the principles of doubt and conjecture.
So far, Kuentzel is talking about Islamism generally, not specifically Shi'ite Islamism, for he quotes the Sunni Muslim Syed al-Attas (Syed M. N. al-Attas, cited by Bassam Tibi, Islamischer Fundamentalismus, moderne Wissenschaft und Technologie (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1992), page 139). However, Kuentzel supplies evidence that Shi'ite Islamists think similarly:
At Columbia [University] Ahmadinejad clearly articulated his aversion to the Western concepts of "reason" and "reality". According to him science is permitted only to the strict believer: "Science is the light which illuminates the hearts of those who have been selected by the Almighty . . . . Science is the light and scientists must be pure and pious" . . . . Ahmadinejad is here laying down the criteria to be followed in purging the teaching body of Iranian universities.

At the same time Ahmadinejad also showed in [his speech at] Columbia that he defines his notion of "reality" in religious terms. What is real is the message of the Koran, while "material desires place humans against the realities of the world." And so, just as only the "pure and pious" can be a scientist, so only those who have fully subordinated themselves to the Koran can grasp what "reality" truly is. At Columbia Ahmadinejad said: "Corrupted independent human beings resist acceptance of reality and even if they do accept it, they do not obey it."
Now, Kuentzel may be using the term "science" here in the German sense of "Wissenschaft," which is broader than our English use of the term "science," but since "Wissenschaft" would include both the natural and the human 'sciences', then I suspect that for Shi'ite Islamists, using reason to pursue knowledge leads to corrupt knowledge if one is a "Corrupted independent human being," namely, if one is not a Muslim who has submitted reason to Allah's revelation in the Qur'an. At any rate, the denigration of human reason seems to apply pretty broadly for Shi'ites, for Kuentzel suggests that the submission of reason applies in the realm of power as well:
This rejection of human reason also affects how power is understood. The very word Islam means "submission", in the sense of subjection to God. If people cannot achieve knowledge through reason, all the less so are they capable of shaping and determining their own fate. While the secular answer to the question "can people rule themselves" is positive, from an Islamist point of view it is a priori negative: only God is the sovereign, only God can rule via the Caliphate. To sum up: the second characteristic of the new religious war is its goal: the replacement of individual and social self-determination by a sharia dictatorship.
I wish that Kuentzel had cited Shi'ites other than Ahmadinejad, but from my own, broader reading, I think that Kuentzel is probably right.

And if Pope Benedict XVI is correct in his Regensburg address on "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections," then not merely Islamism but Islam itself has profound doubts about human reason.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hug Mundinger: A Clarifying Anecdote on the Artist as a Young Man

Hug Mundinger
Standing before a large-scale airbrush painting
made using templates and spray cans
Hug Mundinger vor einem seiner großformatigen Spritzbilder
hergestellt mit Schablonen und Spraydosen
(Image from

I've previously written about my friendship with the German artist Hug Mundinger, but my memory of some details concerning what he told me about his life has required some corrections.

I had written about how he had lost both hands and one eye in a wartime explosion, but I didn't know all the details of that, so a couple of weeks ago, his son Stefan Mundinger wrote to add some things that I hadn't known:
In ihrem Blog von 25.3.08 schreiben sie, daß sie leider keine farbigen Bilder meines Vaters sehen können. Das wäre sehr bedauerlch da mich interessieren würde ob ihnen die vielen verschiedenen stile und techniken die mein Vater benutzt hat gefallen. Konnten sie die Bilder bei Art Channel sehen. Oder nun bei via Google?

Kurz noch zur Geschichte der Kriegserlebnisse meines Vaters nach dem granaten Angriff und der Verletzung wurde er in ein Feldlazarett gebracht, ob von amerikanischen Soldaten oder deutschen weiß ich nicht. Ich vermute es waren Deutsche, denn ein paar Tage später wurde er mit einem kranken Transport von der umkämpften Front weiter ins Hinterland verlegt.

Dieser Krankentronsport (Eisenbahn) wurde von gegnerischen Jagdfliegern angegriffen. Als schon einige Verletzte getroffen wurden beschloß der Sanitäter aus dem fahrenden Zug zu springen. Mein Vater wollte ebenfalls springen, aber der Sanitäter sprang alleine ab, denn mein Vater war erst ein paar Tage zuvor verletzt worden war natürlich am ganzen Kopf verbunden und konnte natürlich auch nicht sehen.

Als der Mann der neben meinem Vater auf dem Boden saß einen kopfschuß erlitt und starb entschied mein Vater alleine aus dem fahrenden Zug abzuspringen. Dies gelang, da er aber nichts sehen konnte tastete er sich an den Bahngleisen entlang bis er an eine kleine Bahnstation kam. Er konnte später nicht mehr sagen ob er einen halben oder ganzen tag oder in der nacht gegangen war, aber dort in der Bahnstation (in Holland) wurde er freundlich aufgenommen und später in ein Krankenhaus gebracht.
I will translate these German passages, adding a comment or two:
In your blog of March 25, 2008, you write that, unfortunately, you are unable to see any of my father's paintings in color. That would be very regrettable, for I would be interested whether or not my father's many different styles and techniques appeal to you. Would you able to see paintings at the Art Channel? Or perhaps at via Google?
Unfortunately, seems inaccessible from Korea, or perhaps one has to be a member, but seems to work. Is that the same website? I typed "Mundinger" into the "Suchen" slot and located 75 paintings by your father. The Art Channel also seems to work fine, at least for now, and I've located the page with some of your father's works. I'll have to take a closer look at both websites when I have more time, but the images look good, and I'd encourage readers to click on the links and see for themselves. The image above, of course, comes from the site.

Now on to the interesting and clarifying anecdote supplied by Stefan Mundinger -- and keep in mind that his father had just two days before lost both hands and one eye to an exploding grenade:
Now briefly concerning the story of my father's war experience: after the grenade attack that wounded him, he was brought to a field hospital -- whether by American or German soldiers, I don't know. I suspect that it was German soldiers, for a few days later, he was put on a transport heading from the front lines for the hinterlands.

This railroad transport of injured soldiers was attacked by enemy jet fighters. Because some of the injured had been hit, the orderly decided to jump from the moving train. My father likewise wanted to jump, but the orderly had jumped out alone, for my father had been injured only a couple of days before and had his entire head bandaged, of course, and was also naturally unable to see.

When the man sitting next to my father on the floor suffered a headshot and died, my father sprang alone from the moving train. He succeeded, but since he could see nothing, he felt his way along the railway tracks until he came to a small train station. He later was no longer able to say whether he had been walking half a day, or the entire day, or into the night, but there in the train station (in Holland), he was received with kindness and later taken to a hospital.
I had no idea of just how difficult Hug Mundinger's experience had been, but now that I read these details, I find his survival simply amazing.

Those of you who don't know about Hug Mundinger might want to read my earlier blog entries about him.

Many thanks to Stefan Mundinger for supplying these extra details.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Curiosity as a Vice: Three Aspects

Gilbert Meilaender
Lutheran Theologian

I'm still following the paper trail on the trials of theoretical curiosity that Hans Blumenberg first introduced me too many years ago when I read his Legitimacy of the Modern Age, and I've recently come to see three distinct aspects to a critique of curiosity as a vice.

In "Mastering Our Gen(i)es: When Do We Say No?" (Christian Century, October 3, 1990, pp. 872-875), Gilbert Meilaender argues for limits to curiosity that derive from the unpredictability of those things that we would wish to control:
In That Hideous Strength, "a modern fairy tale for grownups," C. S. Lewis imagined a National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E) which is undertaking an ambitious attempt to control and shape nature. Filostrato, a slightly mad clergyman who is a member of N.I.C.E., says at one point that he awaits a more rational day when artificial metal trees will replace natural ones. Then, if we tire of a tree in one place, we simply move it elsewhere. "It never dies. No leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests, no muck and mess." Applied to human beings, Filostrato's hope is equally sanitized. "What," he asks, "are the things that most offend the dignity of man?" Answer: "Birth and breeding and death." To take control of them is, we must admit, part of the Human Genome Initiative -- indeed, still more, part of the modern project whose "legitimacy" and "curiosity" have been defended by Hans Blumenberg in his provocative (if Teutonic) book The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. What Blumenberg does not pay much attention to, however, is that the rise of the modern project was interwoven with renewed interest in magic and esoteric religion, with the thirst for control and mastery of the secrets of the universe. Still today that thirst is present: to get control of our genes and thereby, perhaps, of the elusive genies whose very unpredictability and unreliability threaten efforts at mastery.
I don't think that this "unpredictability and unreliability" of things that Meilaender thematizes in this article provide the material for his more fundamental objection, for our curiosity to understand might lead to information sufficient for us to know predictably well the consequences of our "efforts at mastery." Only if something is intrinsically unpredictable or unknowably complex would our curiosity for control need to be curtailed -- if the objection is merely that something unforeseen might go wrong.

This particular critique of curiosity as a vice if directed toward that which exceeds our grasp is thus merely a stopgap measure, not a profoundly serious critique, for an object of our curiosity might be illegitimate at one time but legitimate at another.

In "Curiosity as a Moral Virtue" (International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Fall 2001), Elias Baumgarten cites Meilaender to distinguish between two distinct albeit related critiques of curiosity as a vice:
Meilaender's religious perspective may help to spell out a concept of debasing curiosity, that which is beneath proper human inquiry. It also expands inappropriate curiosity to include a domain that is above and beyond proper human concern, and it suggests the possibility that both share a common flaw, a controlling and possessive spirit of curiosity that knows no limits, in contrast to a spirit of receptivity and humility.
Baumgarten then quotes Meilaender:
Many possibilities may pique my curiosity -- I may wonder how my neighbor's wife performs in bed; how human beings respond to experiments harmful to their bodies, or even to suffering; how the development of a fertilized egg could be stimulated to produce a monster rather than a normal human being; how to preserve a human being alive forever. I may wonder, but it would be wrong to seek to know . . . because I cannot possess such knowledge while willing what is good . . . . To love the good and to possess what we love are, in this life, not always compatible. (Gilbert C. Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), p. 140)
Although Baumgarten suggests that Meilaender is speaking here of "human overreaching" and holds that Meilander therefore "puts this form of curiosity together with voyeurism as a vice rather than a virtue," I think that voyeurism applies only to curiosity employed in such things as wondering "how my neighbor's wife performs in bed," which would constitute something "beneath proper human inquiry," as Baumgarten has previously expressed it, for to know such a thing would be debasing to dignity and respect. This is not so much overreaching as 'underreaching'. I suspect that many of us would agree that curiosity of this sort would be debasing . . . though pornographers have made an enormously lucrative business out of it.

Overreaching, by contrast, would be to direct one's curiosity toward that which is "above and beyond proper human concern," and this is the "theoretical curiosity" that Blumenberg was centrally focused upon in his Legitimacy of the Modern Age. This would be curiosity employed not toward objects that immodestly debase us but toward those things that would improperly exalt us. I am, however, rather at a loss to know what things fall into this category. Presumably, such things would be those that lead us into hubristic pride, but would knowing "how to preserve a human being alive forever" be one of these things? Maybe. But in what sense? Is there some harm in knowing? Or only in acting on that knowledge? Or does the problem lie in a potentially prideful attitude?

I'm not much of a moral philosopher, but I've managed to identify three aspects to the so-called 'vice' of curiosity (exceeding, debasing, and exalting), so I'll just step back at this point and let others weigh in.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

To Die For!

Omar Al-Sweilem
Miniscule Saudi Cleric
"No Nivea, no vaseline. No nothing!"
(Image from MEMRI)

In a video clip made available at MEMRI (Clip No. 1741), Saudi Cleric Omar Al-Sweilem . . . . Uh, is that pronounced "swell'em"? Anyway, this guy gets physical about the sensual traits of that "slender but busty babe" of the afterlife! Did I say "babe"? "Babe" ain't the half of it. Why there'll be a whole flock of those angelic babes! Swell'em promises, and he's got an authority to back him up:
Harith Ibn Al-Muhasibi told us what would happen when we meet the black-eyed virgin with her black hair and white face . . . . What hair! What a chest! What a mouth! What cheeks! What a figure! What breasts! What thighs! What legs! What whiteness! What softness! Without any creams -- no Nivea, no vaseline. No nothing! He said that faces would be soft that day. Even your own face will be soft without any powder or makeup. You yourself will be soflt, so how soft will a black-eyed virgin be, when she comes to you so tall and with her beautiful face, her black hair and white face . . . . Just feel her palm . . . How soft will a fingertip be, after being softened in paradise for thousands of years! . . . He told us that if you entered one of the palaces, you would find ten black-eyed virgins sprawled on musk cushions . . . . When they see you, they will get up and run to you. Lucky is the one who gets to put her thumb in your hand. When they get hold of you, they will push you onto your back, on the musk cushions. They will push you onto your back . . . . He said that one of them would place her mouth on yours. Do whatever you want. Another one would press her cheek against yours, yet another would press her chest against yours, and the others would await their turn . . . . He told us that one black-eyed virgin would give you a glass of wine. Wine in Paradise is a reward for your good deeds. The wine of this world is destructive, but not the wine of the world to come.
"Do whatever you want"! Hallelujuh for those earthy heavenly babes! I could just break into song! An old Babe-tist hymn comes to mind:
When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see houris,
We'll sing and shout the victory!
Not exactly my Baptist grandma's view of heaven, though. She was against wine, and I can't imagine what she'd think of the babes waiting there.

But I know what a young man would think, and if some sexually frustrated but horny young Muslim lad gets brainwashed by stuff like this, he doesn't need a political reason to blow himself up -- he just needs to be desperate enough to want to get laid at all cost.

And I used to think that stories of alien seduction were weird...

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fatal Attraction: The Garfield Version

Garfield, April 15, 2008, by Jim Davis
Click image to enlarge.
(Image from

I don't usually like Garfield, but this one struck a funny bone.

I read this in yesterday's issue of the International Herald Tribune but had difficulty locating the comics page online, so I searched elsewhere. In looking for this particular strip, I discovered that Garfield appears in Hungarian, among other languages, and that somebody has even come up with a Garfield Minus Garfield version of Garfield -- apparently for those of us who want our daily "comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life" . . . but without a cat getting in the way.

That's the strip for those of us who hate Garfield but like the ennui.

If you ever wondered why Garfield is so often unfunny, then read Chris Suellentrop's article, "Why we don't hate Garfield," in Slate Magazine (June 11, 2004), which tells of the 'effort' exerted by Jim Davis to make his cat comic successful:
[In 1982,] Davis admitted to spending only 13 or 14 hours a week writing and drawing the strip, compared to 60 hours a week doing promotion and licensing.

Garfield's origins were so mercantile that it's fair to say he never sold out -- he never had any integrity to put on the auction block to begin with. But today Davis spends even less time on the strip than he used to -- between three days and a week each month.
The strip's huge success thus comes not from the minimal humor but from the savvy marketing. Only in America could a relatively untalented man like Jim Davis plagiarize a formula perfected by Charles Schultz and make millions of dollars within the first three years.

If only I'd thought of that...

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"The pontiff will call for terrorists to convert to Christianity"!

Apostolic Journey to the US 2008
(Image from Christ Our Hope)

Or so The Telegraph has recently reported.

Calling for Bin Laden to repent, turn to Christ, and enter the Church would constitute a rather provocative act for even this Pope . . . but what does Pope Benedict actually plan to say?

When we read further and find the actual words that the Pope intends to utter in his prayer at Ground Zero, the spot where the World Trade Towers once stood, nothing quite so provocative is planned:
"Turn to Your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred."
What I explicitly read is the Pope praying for God to turn the hearts of terrorists away from hatred and toward love, but for Malcolm Moore, "Pope will pray for terrorists at Ground Zero," (The Telegraph, April 14, 2008), apparently, this amounts to an obvious, provocative call for the conversion of Islamist terrorists to Christianity, a call that will inflame the Muslim world:
The prayer is likely to further incense the Muslim world, which has already attacked the Pope for publicly converting Magdi Allam, a journalist and one of Italy's most high-profile Muslims, at Easter.
Likely? I find this unlikely. If the Pope's innocuous prayer will "incense the Muslim world," then what wouldn't enrage 'Muslims'? I don't expect the Muslim world to take much notice of the Pope's prayer, and I suspect that Mr. Moore was simply trying to drum up interest in his own journalism. But don't take my word for this. Read the prayer in its entirety:
"Pope will also pray terrorists 'turn to the way of love'," Catholic News Agency (April 12, 2008)
Nothing there that explicitly calls for terrorists to convert to Christianity. What about implicitly? On that, Mr. Moore has a point, and if one reads between the lines, then -- speaking theologically -- the Pope will be doing precisely what the reporter claims, namely, calling for Islamist terrorists to convert to the true faith.


Because that's the operative distinction between these two world religions: Islam demands the way of submission; Christianity offers the way of love. That's surely how the Pope sees things. I can't precisely quote this pontiff on that, but I have no doubt that he holds these views.

The reporter for The Telegraph therefore understood the Pope too well, but I don't expect Muslims to do so.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Niall Ferguson on Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent

"Gunsight Fixed on Terrorist"
Christoph Niemann

On Sunday this past weekend, I read Niall Ferguson's review of Philip Bobbitt's recently published book on Islamist (and other) terrorism, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (Knopf, 2008). The review, "Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent: Rethinking the future on fighting terror," can be read online in the International Herald Tribune (April 11, 2008).

Ferguson, a rather credentialled guy himself ("a professor at Harvard University, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford") tells us just how credentialled Bobbitt is:
Philip Bobbitt . . . divides his time among Austin, Texas; New York, where he teaches law at Columbia; and London, where he has lectured in war studies . . . . Bobbitt was an associate counsel to President Jimmy Carter, legal counsel to the Senate's Iran-Contra committee and a senior director on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 2 and 4)
I wonder what Bobbitt does in Austin . . . oh, he's at UT's School of Law. Okay, well, at any rate, from some of those biographical details, one would expect to encounter a liberal Democrat (and maybe one does), but whatever his politics, he certainly sounds like a maverick thinker insofar as Ferguson accurately describes Bobbitt's views:
Bush's instinct was not wrong. In this war, we do need pre-emptive detention of suspected terrorists; we do need a significant increase of surveillance, particularly of electronic communications; we do need, in some circumstances, to use coercive techniques (short of torture) to elicit information from terrorists. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 13)
Hmmm . . . I'll have to read this book myself to see Bobbitt's specific arguments.

Now, if you're thinking that you've heard of this guy Bobbitt . . . somewhere . . . as was I, then Ferguson will remind you:
In his last book, "The Shield of Achilles" (2002), Bobbitt advanced a bold argument about the history of international relations since the time of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). His central argument was that, in the aftermath of the Cold War, the traditional post-Westphalian ideal of the sovereign nation-state had become obsolescent. In the increasingly borderless world we associate with globalization, something new was emerging, which Bobbitt called (and continues to call) the "market-state." ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 5)
As a trained historian who hangs around with political scientists, I'm certainly familiar with the argument, if not the author, of this earlier book. Perhaps my friend poli-sci friend at Yonsei University, Myongsob Kim (Kim Myong Sob), has even cited it for one of our co-authored papers, for we do note the decline of the "post-Westphalian . . . sovereign nation-state."

So, what is this new "market-state" up against in our post-post-Westphalian world? Ferguson explains Bobbitt's view:
Bobbitt's central premise is that today's Islamic terrorist network, is like a distorted mirror image of the [post-]post-Westphalian market-state: decentralized, privatized, outsourced and in some measure divorced from territorial sovereignty. The terrorists are at once parasitical on, and at the same time hostile toward, the globalized economy, the Internet and the technological revolution in military affairs. Just as the 14th-century plagues were unintended consequences of increased trade and urbanization, so terrorism is a negative externality of our borderless world.

The Black Death was, of course, a natural disaster. Al Qaeda is different. Its members seek to undermine the market-state by turning its own technological achievements against it in a protracted worldwide war, the ultimate goal of which is to create a Shariah-based "terror-state" in the form of a new caliphate. Osama bin Laden and his confederates want to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Precisely because of the nature of the market-state, as well as the actions of rogue nation-states, the key components and knowledge are very close to being available to them. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 8-9)
This sounds like an excellent book to read before embarking on a course that I may be teaching at Yonsei University next fall that I've tentatively titled "Multiculturalism in Europe: Political Implications" and described as follows:
In his book Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Robert Kagan argues that Europeans believe that "Europe is turning away from power . . . [and] moving . . . into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation . . . . a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel kant's 'perpetual peace'" (page 3). But is Europe's self-perception realistic, or merely self-delusion? European integration has drawn into the EU a collection of distinct nations, each with its own unique culture, making the EU a genuinely multicultural political entity. These various nations, however, largely share the same civilizational identity, as Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations) would observe and Rémi Brague (Eccentric Civilization) would seek to define. Yet, continuing, large-scale immigration from various parts of the world may be introducing a more radical version of multiculturalism as communities with other than Western civilizational identities begin to emerge and to practice, if not outright demand, cultural autonomy. Do these emerging communities pose political difficulties for the European paradise of peace? Are the Paris riots a harbinger of multicultural -- perhaps even civilizational -- conflict to come? This course will focus upon these and related questions.
Bobbitt's arguments about the direction that history seems to be taking as it leads us toward the future are worth knowing about for a course that intends to look carefully at the post-post-Westphalian Europe of self-effaced nation states.

Some intellectuals have seen in this decline of the nation-state a shift of power from the Atlantic -- the Western-centered age of "Atlantic man" -- to someplace further East as Asia rises in power and influence, but not Bobbitt:
Philip Bobbitt . . . is Homo atlanticus redux . . . . His new book, "Terror and Consent," is in many ways a manifesto for a new Atlanticism, not just a reassertion but a reinvention of the dominant role of the trans-Atlantic alliance. ("Philip Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, para. 8-9)
Seeing how that turns out will be interesting, but meanwhile, I think that I'll have to read this book.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Universal Right to Freedom of Expression?

Salman Rushdie
(Image from Wikipedia)

In this week's Spectator Magazine, Matthew d'Ancona interviews Salman Rushdie in "We have been wimpish about defending our ideas" (Wednesday, April 9, 2008) and finds that the novelist has some interesting things to say.

They're discussing Rushdie's recent novel, The Enchantress of Florence -- I haven't read it and have no literary opinion -- but slide over into other issues, largely because the novel is, in part, a novel of ideas. Rushdie wants to defend some ideas that he considers universal:
"The part of this book that deals with ideas -- I suppose there is an unsaid subtext here, which is that there are such things as universals. There are ideas which grew up in the West, and in a slightly different form they grew up as well in the East -- the idea of freedom, of open discourse, of tolerance, of sexual freedom even to the level of hedonism, these are things which human beings have come up with as important ideas everywhere that there have been human beings. So to say that that we must now consider them to be culturally specific . . . is a denial of human nature. If there is an author's message in this book, it was actually the discovery that I made that the worlds of the book were more like each other, than unlike."
Concerning Rushdie's views, d'Ancona observes that "[t]he corollary of this recognition, . . . [Rushdie] thinks, should be a much more robust defence of the core values that offer the only chance of global co-existence -- notably freedom of expression."

I guess that Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Munajid would disagree with Rushdie, for in a talk that aired on Al-Majd TV on March 30, 2008, he 'argues' against journalists in his country who want to reinterpret Islam:
The problem is that they want to open a debate on whether Islam is true or not, and on whether Judaism and Christianity are false or not. In other words, they want to open up everything for debate. Now they want to open up all issues for debate. That's it. It begins with freedom of thought, it continues with freedom of speech, and it ends up with freedom of belief. So where's the conspiracy? They say: Let's have freedom of thought in Islam. Well, what do they want? They say: I think, therefore I want to express my thoughts. I want to express myself, I want to talk and say, for example, that there are loopholes in Islam, or that Christianity is the truth. Then they will talk about freedom of belief, and say that anyone is entitled to believe in whatever he wants . . . If you want to become an apostate -- go ahead. Fancy Buddhism? Leave Islam, and join Buddhism. No problem. That's what freedom of belief is all about. They want freedom of everything. What they want is very dangerous. ("Saudi Cleric Muhammad Al-Munajid Warns: Freedom of Speech Might Lead to Freedom of Belief," MEMRI, March 30, 2008)
I think that Rushdie would be entirely unfazed by this Saudi cleric's argument. In fact, he would largely agree with some points. The debate about free expression is one not only about freedom of thought but also, inevitably, about freedom of belief -- which entails the freedom to criticize other people's beliefs . . . and even to ridicule, as Rushdie goes on to note in a not-exactly-oblique allusion to the recent "Muhammad-Cartoon" controversy:
"We have to get thicker-skinned. If we end up going on being this thin-skinned, we're going to kill each other. So we need to have the ability to hear unpalatable stuff. What would a 'respectful' cartoon look like? The form itself requires disrespect -- so you either have the form, or you don't . . . I think we're being extremely wimpish at the level of ideas. People must be protected from prejudice against their person. But people cannot be protected from prejudice against their ideas -- because otherwise we're all done."
"And who, exactly," asks d'Ancona, "is being 'wimpish'?" Rushdie replies:
"[T]he idiotic Archbishop [of Canterbury] who says there can't be one law for everyone. That slide into cultural relativism is very, very dangerous. This is supposed to be a really intelligent man. Yet that was a schoolboy mistake. How could anybody who knew the history of this country seriously offer the thought that there should not be one law for everyone, that people would not be equal before the law? It seems to me that the basic principles on which any free society is based are freedom of expression and rule of law -- that's it. If you have those, then you have the foundations of a free society and if you don't have those, you don't. So to say 'we will voluntarily give up one of those pillars' and not to see that it brings the whole house tumbling down is stupid."
Now, I met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in 2003 at The St Andrews Conference on the Gospel of John and Christian Theology (which misspelled my name as "Horrace Jeffrey Hodges"!), and I liked the man, but I have to side with Rushdie on this point, and I can't imagine what the Archbishop was thinking when he argued that shariah could be allowed to rule over some issues in the lives of British Muslims, defending his view with the argument that there can't be one law for everyone.

I suppose that I ought to read the Archbishop's talk before I object too strongly . . . but not at the moment.

Anyway, I'm with Rushdie on this one, as I was with him on the Satanic Verses controversy in 1989 -- though some, as d'Ancona recalls, were not:
The Rushdie Affair was the terrible warning that most of the world ignored: some, outrageously, blamed the author himself for his predicament, not grasping the scale, depth and ferocity of what he was up against. He was the canary down the mine into which the whole world tumbled on September 11.
Some four years later, about 1993, in a small seminar that I was attending in Tübingen, I heard Hans Küng criticize Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. To Küng's credit, he did defend Rushdie against the Khomeini's fatwa. But not strongly enough, in my opinion, for Küng thought that Rushdie should have anticipated the violent reaction . . . and should have avoided the entire mess, Küng implied, by submitting in advance.

That submission would have been prudent, I suppose, but in the longer run unwise.

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