Monday, June 30, 2008

Uncle Cran's Heady Claim

Uncle Cran's Head

My Uncle Cran sent me a photo of his enormous head. Just how enormous? Take a close look, comparing its size to that of the nearby ship, then read Uncle Cran's remarks and note a surprising 'fact':
This was made when I wasn't old, ugly, wrinkled, gray headed, almost bald, senile, and anything else you might add. My old ship is at the navy yard in south Washington, DC, if any of you ever get to go there.
Did you catch it? Read again. Note the words "My old ship." Get it? Uncle Cran claims to own this ship! Now, I know for a fact that this can't be true. Uncle Cran may own the farm on which he lives with Aunt Gay, but he doesn't own this Forrest Sherman-class destroyer!

If Uncle Cran were to 'own' the USS Barry DD-933, what would that entail? He would have to own the Washington Navy Yard, which actually belongs to the United States Navy and serves as the Navy's ceremonial and administrative center, overseeing naval operations and directing the Marine Corps Institute, among other things. To own all of that, he would have to own the US Navy!

In effect, Uncle Cran is claiming to own the United States Government.

But that can't be so because if it were true, Uncle Cran would have to be the entire US citizenry, for only the people of the United States can be said to 'own' the US Government, and I know for a fact that Uncle Cran is just one single individual living on a farm in the Arkansas Ozarks. Perhaps he's taken that line in Walt Whitman Song of Myself -- "I am large, I contain multitudes" -- a bit too literally.

However, I suspect that Uncle Cran is not truly serious. Rather, I think that he's just challenged me to an old-time hillbilly "lying contest," a traditional, downhome form of entertainment and artistry that achieves perfection in the time-honed lying skills of Southern Highlanders such as my Uncle Cran. You can read all about such lying contests here:
Ed Kahn, "Tall-Tale Lying Contest," Western Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1960), pp. 134-135
That link will take you directly to the article, which is very short and can be read for free. Don't believe the site if it states that "You are not currently authorized to access this article," for I have authorized you to access it. You can explain this to the editors. They know me there.

But to return to Uncle Cran's challenge . . . well, unlike Uncle Cran, I might not have a head as big as a factory, but I can fabricate some pretty decent lies if I'm given a bit of time.

While I'm reflecting on this, comments are open for the best lie...

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Mission Field...

Iranian Christians
An Official Church
(Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA)

Sunday morning has come, so what better time than now to look briefly at some intriguing but also imprecise reports on the 'growth' of Christianity in Iran (and elsewhere) -- since I happened just this morning to come across an article that got me to searching for more:
Farsi-language Christian broadcasts and websites are blanketing Iran with the gospel message 24/7 . . . . This kind of hearts-and-minds campaign is having significant results, notably among Iran's huge population of young adults unhappy with the current regime. According to Compass Direct News, house churches are growing rapidly. (Editorial, "Talk to Iran," Christianity Today, July 2008)
The expression "house churches," as you probably know, refers to the homes where Christians hold worship services in countries where religion, or often specifically Christianity, is suppressed. The spread of such churches in China is well known and accounts for the wildly differing 'statistics' on the number of Chinese Christians -- ranging from 30 million to 130 million, if I recall -- for nobody is keeping precise records. The lack of accurate official records in China had its obvious reasons in the past, but China is becoming more tolerant toward religious beliefs, so we might be seeing more accurate numbers there in the near future.

Iran, however, as with the Muslim world more generally, is a different story. One continues to hear of the 'growth' of house churches in Muslim countries, e.g., among the Berber people in Algeria's Kabylie region, who have reacted against the extreme Islamists and their jihadist violence, which has convinced them that "Christianity is life, Islam is death." But this Berber report dates from about 2000, and I've heard little since then other than imprecise reports about continued 'growth' and more recent reports in mainstream media about former Muslims being arrested for having converted to Christianity.

Something is going on in these areas, but I have no idea how to evaluate the reports. Muslim governments have an interest in suppressing not only house churches but also any reports of significant growth, and local Christians have an interest in keeping a low profile, so one might expect the true rates of growth to be higher than reported . . . except that mission reports back in the 'Christian' lands have an interest in citing higher rates to justify continued support for missions.

In one of my classes recently, I had an Iranian student. This person was a secular Muslim, so I asked about Iranian Muslims converting to Christianity. The student knew about this but like me also had no idea of the numbers.

I did find this article by Golnaz Esfandiari, "A Look At Iran's Christian Minority" (Payvand's Iran News . . .), dating from late 2004, and Esfandiari quotes an Iranian Protestant, Issa Dibaj on the number of Muslims in Iran who have become Christians:
Issa Dibaj is the son of reverend Hassan Dibaj, a Christian convert who was jailed and later found murdered in 1994. Issa Dibaj left Iran five years ago and now lives in the U.K.

"There is another Christian minority that people know little about, these are Iranians who are born as Muslims and then later become Christians," Dibaj said. "Their number is growing day by day. [There] may be around 100,000 [of them], but no one really knows the exact number."
The number 100,000 sounds impressive and would signify rather impressive growth . . . until one recalls that Iran has a population of about 70 million. But that was in 2004. What about today? Serendipitously, I found an article in Friday's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle on the topic of secret Iranian Christians:
Although there are no statistics on how many Iranians have converted to Christianity in recent years, officials at such Christian television stations as SAT-7-PARS say that in the past two years they have received a flood of e-mails and thousands of telephone calls from Iranians. With the advent of satellite television, they say, Christianity is on the rise, with some Iranians even undergoing clandestine conversions at Assyrian churches, said David Harder, communications manager at SAT-7-PARS' Cyprus headquarters. (Anuj Chopra, "Iranian Christians forced to worship in secret," San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 2008)
Intriguing details, but "no statistics" . . . so where does one find dependable numbers on such things?

Anybody know?

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, June 28, 2008

John Milton: "transcendentalizing the flesh"?

A transcendental sort of flesh?
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the Milton List recently, Professor John Geraghty made an interesting remark about Alexander Gill, John Milton's old schoolmaster at St. Paul's School, in which Milton enrolled at age 12 -- or did Geraghty intend Alexander Gill the Younger, a lifelong friend of Milton? Anyway, here's the remark:
I remember Alexander Gill referencing that God weaving himself into human flesh at Christ's Nativity sanctifies and redeems human flesh to the point it transcendentalizes it and makes it abhorrent to Satan.

I'd have to look up the reference again, if anyone is interested.
I need to ask him to look that up (and also inform me which Gill is meant), for another list member, James Rovira, observed that this:
Sounds like basic neoplatonic Christian theology.
I wasn't entirely sure about that observation, so I inquired:
Jim, could you (or anybody) elaborate a bit on this sort of Neoplatonism? What makes it Neoplatonic? I'm not challenging, by the way, just asking out of ignorance.

My understanding of the Platonic and Neoplatonic tradition is that it looks upon the body with disdain, spirit and body being fundamentally, dualistically opposed -- the body (soma) as tomb (sema).

The point about God transcendentalizing human flesh reminds me of what Raphael tells Adam about the human body as they discourse upon food in Paradise Lost 5:496-503
And from these corporal nutriments perhaps
Your bodies may at last turn all to Spirit,
Improv'd by tract of time, and wingd ascend
Ethereal, as wee, or may at choice
Here or in Heav'nly Paradises dwell;
If ye be found obedient, and retain
Unalterably firm his love entire
Whose progenie you are.
(Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room, June, 2008.)
This possibility seems counter to the Neoplatonic tradition to me -- though it seems to share the view that the spiritual is higher than the corporeal -- for it accepts an underlying commonality between spirit and body.

Ultimately, isn't this more consistent with the Jewish element in Christianity that emphasizes the resurrection of the body than the Platonic and Neoplatonic tradition, which disdains the body?

In other words -- to repeat my initial questions above -- could you elaborate a bit on this sort of Neoplatonism and explain what makes it Neoplatonic?
James Rovira replied:
I think this depends upon what you mean by "transcendentalizing the flesh." For example, you do acknowledge a hierarchy in the passage from PL, but don't you think the body/spirit opposition (hostility) is maintained in that quotation from PL? Our physical bodies are "transformed to spirit" and "improved." Depending on how you read this passage, this idea is very different from saying that our bodies are transformed from one type of body to another while our spirit remains something distinct from, though united to, our physical body, as described by Paul in 1 Cor. It appears to me in this passage that our body transforms into spirit, so that we exist as pure spirit when the process is complete. I should search other relevant context in PL, but these are my first thoughts on the matter.
The list discussion has since gone in other directions, but I wanted to remember my query in case I have some time to pursue it . . . so I'm inflicting it upon you readers of my blog.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 27, 2008

"And the leaves that are green..."

In 1967, I was ten years old, and my twenty-seven-year-old mother bought the Simon and Garfunkle album Sounds of Silence, which had just come out the previous year, and my four brothers and I played it over and over and over until we'd learned the lyrics to all eleven songs, so I had time to puzzle over the opening lines to Paul Simon's twenty-four-line song "Leaves That Are Green":
I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song
I'm twenty-two now but I won't be for long . . .
Turning those lines over in my ten-year-old mind until the words were almost tangible, as with a Zen koan, I wondered, "If he wrote the song at twenty-one, how can he 'remember' it as if he were twenty-two?"

I still puzzle over this.

Paul Simon was born in 1941. Did he write that song in 1962 or 1963? It was first released in 1965, when it appeared on a single's disk backing "I Am a Rock." Did he write it three years before then . . . or two?

Maybe I should just email Paul Simon and inquire personally . . . as I did with Philip Bobbitt. Anybody know Paul Simon's email address?

Meanwhile, go and listen...

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 26, 2008

John Milton: "How do you like them apples?"

Apple (malus) as Evil (malus)
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the Milton List yesterday, someone inquired about Milton's view of Adam and Eve's fall, specifically, the point at which they fell into sin, and since I've published on this, I posted the following:
On the falling process of Adam (and Eve), I've actually published an article that I'll send by attachment to anyone interested. Here's the title and abstract:
When Did Adam Fall in Paradise Lost?
Horace Jeffery Hodges
"Human love, the love of Adam and Eve, is mortal and sinful unto death." - Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

MEMES 17.2 (2007.11): 363-381
The specific moment of Adam's fall in Paradise Lost would seem unambiguous. It occurs at the moment that he accepts and eats the apple. One might object that these are two slightly distinct moments and that Adam is breaking two slightly different prohibitions, i.e., neither to touch the tree nor to eat the fruit, but Milton plays upon an etymological ambiguity in the word "taste" (="touch") to conflate God's two commands and Adam's two violations. Thus does one sort of ambiguity appear to resolve the other sort. If we look more carefully, however, the precise moment in which Adam falls dissolves into a process of falling that was prepared for through Adam's idolatrous worship of Eve, confirmed by Adam's inner assent to the evil of placing Eve before God by deciding to accept her gift of the apple, and completed in Adam's act of taking and eating the fruit of the tree. This process has the effect of stretching out Adam's sin, making his fall a process of falling, but it has the advantage of making understandable Adam's decision for Eve and death over God and life.
I don't, however, talk about Abdiel.
To this, Professor Salwa Khoddam remarked:
Jeffery, I don't think Milton uses the word "apple" in PL. Satan uses the term in order to trivialize it. N'est pas?
Professor Khoddam's remark isn't a quibble, for we cannot assume that Milton considered the fruit of the tree of knowledge an "apple" merely because Satan uses the term. Indeed, that would be reason for suspicion. So . . . I checked:
Salwa, that's an interesting point . . . though I don't think that it affects my argument . . . but I ought to be more careful, I suppose. Let me take a look:
Paradise Lost 9.584-588

[Satan tempting Eve:]

To satisfie the sharp desire I had
Of tasting those fair Apples, I resolv'd [ 585 ]
Not to deferr; hunger and thirst at once,
Powerful perswaders, quick'nd at the scent
Of that alluring fruit, urg'd me so keene.

Paradise Lost 10.481-487

[Satan bragging to his fellow demons:]

The new created World, which fame in Heav'n
Long had foretold, a Fabrick wonderful
Of absolute perfection, therein Man
Plac't in a Paradise, by our exile
Made happie: Him by fraud I have seduc'd [ 485 ]
From his Creator, and the more to increase
Your wonder, with an Apple;
Satan does seem to be trivializing the fruit, as you point out. On the other hand, Milton has the narrator of Paradise Regained refer to the fruit as an apple:

Paradise Regained 2.338-349:

[Narrator describing Satan's temptation of Jesus:]

Our Saviour lifting up his eyes beheld
In ample space under the broadest shade
A Table richly spred, in regal mode, [ 340 ]
With dishes pil'd, and meats of noblest sort
And savour, Beasts of chase, or Fowl of game,
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boyl'd,
Gris-amber-steam'd; all Fish from Sea or Shore,
Freshet, or purling Brook, of shell or fin, [ 345 ]
And exquisitest name, for which was drain'd
Pontus and Lucrine Bay, and Afric Coast.
Alas how simple, to these Cates compar'd,
Was that crude Apple that diverted Eve!
And there are Milton's famous words from Areopagitica:
"It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World."
But Paradise Regained and Areopagitica are not Paradise Lost, so I wouldn't want to press them for any significance, not without more thought devoted to the issue first.

Thanks for the information.

[All texts cited from: Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room,, June, 25.]
If I had my "Abstract" to do all over again -- since I guess that I don't "like them apples" -- I'd avoid the term "apple" and use simply "fruit."

Live and learn...

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Expat Living: "If you plagiarize, expect an 'F'"

"Effing A!"
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday's Korea Herald came early, but I was so busy grading that I failed to notice it until nearly 6 p.m., when I finally took a break from evaluating final essays and opened the paper to the "Expat Living" section, where I saw, in great big, bold letters:
If you plagiarize, expect an 'F'
"What sort of jerk would threaten that?!" I growled, my hackles raised at the challenge. Below which, of course, appeared my column. "Oh, that," I muttered, realizing that my editor, the recently-stabbed Matt Lamers, had survived long enough -- this week, at least -- to re-title my latest "Language Column," which I'd modestly titled "Netting the plagiarist" (or something innocuous). I guess that I'd better hold off on that glowing obituary that I've already written for him. Better luck next time, Matt. Anyway, here's what I wrote on language:
The academic plague called "plagiarism" has a fascinating etymology, as I have recently learned, for it penultimately derives from the Latin word for "kidnapping," plagium, from plaga, "net" - an obviously handy device for nabbing the unfortunate individual to be abducted and held for ransom. More directly, "plagiarism" stems from the Latin plagiarius, by way of the obscure English synonym "plagiary." A plagiarius was a kidnapper!

I had never realized that plagiarism was such a serious crime, but, armed with this borrowed erudition, I henceforth intend not merely to flunk plagiarists, but also to arrest and march them off to jail, where they can reflect on their crime and reform their behavior. Students shall learn that plagiarizing a term paper has dire consequences indeed.

Many plagiarists, however, believe themselves too clever to get caught. For instance, some who plagiarize from online websites, and imagine themselves cunning, will borrow a passage from one online source but cite a different one. Such individuals think that I will check only the cited source, see that the topic is the same, find no plagiarism, and therefore conclude that all is well. Such plagiarists misjudge me, and therefore make careless mistakes.

One such cyberplagiarist recently submitted a paper on vivisection that briefly summarized the history of this experimental science, mentioning the pre-Socratic medical theorist Alcmaeon, who lived in the Greek colony Croton on the southern Italian coast and vivisected animals to demonstrate that cutting their optic nerve left them blinded. The plagiarizing student cited a rather lengthy article on vivisection, perhaps thinking that I would not bother to read it.

Well, I did not bother to read it; I merely had my trusty computer search the article for "Alcmaeon," and the name did not appear. Obviously, the student had found that name in some other uncited source. My suspicions aroused, I selected a phrase likely to have been copied from a source, plugged it into Google's search engine, and quickly found it in a brief, four-paragraph encyclopedia entry on vivisection that happened to mention Alcmaeon of Croton. Reading through the entry, I found entire stolen sentences and determined that my piratical student had kidnapped Alcmaeon and netted much else from that single, short entry. Further investigation established that the student had not used the lengthy article at all.

I confronted my student with the proof. Usually, plagiarists bow to that evidence and confess. This one, however, proved cheeky and tried to deny the obvious. I called BS on that.

Seeing that I accepted no denials of what was so easily proven, the student turned truly cheeky, pointed to the grade of "F," and informed me: "I can't accept this."

Profoundly annoyed now, I retorted, "You have to accept it. Listen carefully. You are being held to global standards now. If this were an American university, you might be expelled from school. You would certainly get an 'F' for the course. Now, you stop complaining and go work on cleaning up this essay for the final draft. Get rid of the plagiarism, do the work yourself, and turn in a better essay."

The student protested against my unfairness because some students had submitted no first draft at all, so a plagiarized paper should at least receive a grade higher than "F."

"If you plagiarize, you get an 'F,'" I stated. "That's automatic for egregious plagiarism. But only the final essay counts toward your grade."

At that, all protest stopped, leaving only the plagiarist's irritation at getting entangled in his self-woven dragnet.

If only all student protests were so easily thwarted.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog, Gypsy Scholar, at - Ed.
I wrote that column by borrowing from a Gypsy Scholar blog entry of a couple of weeks ago, so I suppose that -- like Cheong Jean-gon -- I'm guilty of 'self-plagiarism'.

Now, back to grading final essays...

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spiritual Implications?

"In horror Jeff realised the old camp tales
of the invisible floating testicle were true!"
(Image and Caption Really from Neon Bubble)

I'm not entirely sure that this is a proper thing to post about, but in checking my site meter, I noticed the most unusual search string that I've ever yet seen:
"floating testicle and its spiritual implications"
Some person in Thailand, using "," plugged in that string of terms and found -- of all things -- my blog.

I presume that "floating testicle" describes some sort of medical condition that I know nothing about and have certainly never blogged upon -- nor even if I had would I ever have imagined any spiritual significance associated with the condition -- yet the individual from Thailand spent "6 minutes 26 seconds" viewing 8 pages of my blog.

I suspect that the one doing the search was a male, possibly a poor member of the species suffering from the very condition described.

I hope that the symptoms aren't painful . . . though I can't help but notice that the unfortunate's location is 'Bangkok'.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Literary Criticism: "play[ing] tennis with the net down"

Hoar Frost
The muse is a fickle mistress . . .
and criticism an ill-tempered husband.
(Image from Wikipedia)

I recently posted an old 'poem' of mine from my days living an absurd, freewheeling life as a wastrel in romantic Tubingen before I began paying my debt to society after meeting Sun-Ae. Here's that poem again:
Free Verse!
Free it from ironic cages,
Interwoven webs of language,
Patterns binding through the ages,
Meter, accent, feet, and beat. Wedge

A way. Scheme rhyme's end. And break all
Mind-deformed maniacals like
Those who'd have the udder gall
To bilk a bitter tense-peed bike

As though it took of bovine ilk!
So stand a stanza on its head,
Cup a couplet on the ear, milk
All metaphoricals! 'Nuff said.
Obviously nonsensical . . . and hardly 'free' verse despite its freewheeling style. My online friend Malcolm 'Malcontent' Pollack decided to express himself humorously about the poem's putative message:
"Tennis with the net down."
To which I retorted:
That's a frosty remark.
Thereby prompting Malcolm's quick quip:
Ah! Whose words these are, I think you know.
Thus inviting this response from me (the date just happening to be June 21st):
Though one might think it rather queer,
Indeed I do -- the words appear;
with clarity, I see your fake,
this brightest evening of the year.
Inspiring Malcolm to compose a reply in kind:
A lot of fun, this game has been,
Indeed, your latest made me grin.
But perhaps it's worn a little thin,
And so I think I'll pack it in.
But I wasn't quite finished yet:
Oh pack it in, then pack it out.
That's what this game is all about.
Let's call a tie -- there's been no rout.
We've proved we neither one's a lout.
And neither was Malcolm:
And so the ball went to and fro,
As it did 'twixt Borg and McEnroe.
With every serve, we scored an ace,
And we did it with the net in place!
I tried my hand one more time:
Time now to choose at forking path,
Where ways diverge in wood or grove,
Past apple-picking time, one hath
sun's golden apples for the rove.
And closed "[w]ith apologies to Borges, Frost, and Yeats" for that last endeavor.

I've heard nothing since from Malcolm, but perhaps that wandering aengus is off plucking, till time and times are done, some silver apples of the moon for golden apples of the sun.

But feel free to pick up the ball...

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Teaching a student a lesson...

Plagiary: Cross-Disciplinary Studies
in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification
I've discovered a new journal in which to publish!
(Image from Plagiary)

Regular readers might have noticed that I have somewhat of a mild dislike for plagiarism. But I very much enjoy tracking it down . . . as readers may also have noticed.

One of my recent composition courses was for first-semester students (the spring semester being the first semester here in Korea), and I figured that my task was to educate these students not only about writing but also about consequences.

Too many professors in Korea don't seem to take plagiarism seriously enough, thereby leaving their students with the impression that plagiarism will be lightly forgiven, so students invariably try to plagiarize in my classes -- only to be shocked at the result (as well as by my ability to uncover their copying).

Just yesterday, a student sent me his first draft -- three weeks late! -- and I looked at it briefly without bothering to correct it since it was so late. Also, much of it was intentionally plagiarized, and I never go to any extra trouble helping a student who has plagiarized.

For example, the student 'wrote' this:
Charles R. Walgreen 3rd transformed Walgreens into an exceptional company that outperformed Intel, GE, Coca-Cola, and Merck in the twenty-five years 1975 to 1999 -- its stock exceeded the growth of the market by fifteen times.
This doesn't sound much like the writing of a freshman, especially one composing in English as a second language. He offered a source:
University of Chicago Center for Research in Securities Prices data, all dividends reinvested and adjusted for stock splits.
Hmmm . . . no page number provided. Would I have to sift through all the 'data' to find the precise source? Nah, I wouldn't, because the student's source was in fact totally different, namely, page 92 of Good to Great, by Jim Collins.

To show this, I will again provide the student's 'writing' with some words highlighted in red:
Charles R. Walgreen 3rd transformed Walgreens into an exceptional company that outperformed Intel, GE, Coca-Cola, and Merck in the twenty-five years 1975 to 1999 -- its stock exceeded the growth of the market by fifteen times.
Now, check page 92 of Good to Great:
Consider the case of Walgreens versus Eckerd. Recall how Walgreens generated cumulative stock returns from the end of 1975 to 2000 that exceeded the market by over fifteen times, handily beating such great companies as GE, Merck, Coca-Cola, and Intel. It was a remarkable performance for such an anonymous -- some might even say boring -- company. When interviewing Cork Walgreen, I kept asking him to go deeper, to help us understand these extraordinary results. Finally, in exasperation, he said, "Look, it just wasn't that complicated! Once we understood the concept, we just moved straight ahead."

What was the concept? Simply this: the best, most convenient drugstores, with high profit per customer visit. That's it. That's the breakthrough strategy that Walgreens used to beat Intel, GE, Coca-Cola, and Merck.
Now, this was clever plagiarism . . . but not quite clever enough. I used the sequence "Intel, GE, Coca-Cola, and Merck" to track down this source via Google, but if the student had simply scrambled the sequence, he would have been more clever and have made my job rather harder.

Of course, the student could have attempted to bluff since he had been fairly clever, but he was also smart enough to foresee that I'd then simply prod him to supply me with the specific passage in the website for the University of Chicago Center for Research in Securities Prices where he'd gotten his data, and that would have been as impossible a task as any posed in "Scarborough Fair."

He therefore capitulated without protest, supplying the correct source, even adding in that citation that he'd borrowed not only from page 92 but also from page 32 of Good to Great. That was generous of him. Indeed, his paper had borrowed so much from Good to Great that the student had to provide seven separate footnotes citing the book.

The paper's bibliography, however, shrank a bit as we were forced to bid adieu to the following three 'sources':
Hoover's Online

University of Chicago, University of Chicago Center for Research in Securities

Walgreens, Walgreens Annual Report 1998
A sad good-bye to these witless 'witnesses', but three's a crowd when they don't belong. I now eagerly await the final, hard copy of this student's essay, which he will have to send by express delivery, for I don't normally grade essays by email.

I expect that this student has learned an important lesson in an exceedingly teachable moment.

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Student Extends Kind Remarks...

Maybe One of These?
Somssi: "Especially For You"
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some semesters, a class works out well. This past semester at Yonsei University's Underwood International College, I tried a new approach. For the first half of the semester, the students in my class on Islamism read assigned articles on the topic, the goal being to ground ourselves in a solid understanding of what Islamism actually is. Our shorthand formulation came to be worded as follows:
"Islamism = the political use of Islam aiming at a sharia-based state."
This "political use" might or might not involve the use of violence . . . though I think that at some point, force would be necessary if the Islamists were to gain power and seek to impose sharia upon those unwilling to submit. Anyway, that was the focus of our semester's first half . . . though, of course, our fuller characterization of "Islamism" was rather more complex and qualified, and differed somewhat according to each student.

In the semester's second half, students followed up their own interests to write a research essay on some issue related to Islamism. This latter process began with a thesis statement -- handed in by students during the midterm week -- expressing each student's argument about some aspect of Islamism in a single, logically formulated sentence.

During those latter weeks, students reported weekly on their findings as they researched and wrote their papers, handing in their first, drafts a couple of weeks ago. Most of the students responded well to this approach and did penultimate a lot more research than in a more micromanaged course because they grew intensely interested in their chosen topics.

Yesterday, I collected their ultimate efforts as they handed in the final drafts of their research essays, complete with citations and bibliography. One student also offered me a nice card in which she had written:
Dear Professor Hodges,

Thank you for such a wonderful course on Islamism this semester. You made learning so much fun & amazingly interesting for us. I am now fully interested in the subject of both Islam and Islamism!

Thank you!

Sumi Park
This was gratifying to read, and I think that she did, indeed, speak for much of the class, for all of the students appeared happy with the course as they handed in their final drafts despite knowing that I will be grading their papers very strictly (for I've already done a preliminary reading and grading of their first drafts).

Anyway, this semester's approach went so well that I intend to pursue the same approach next semester when I teach a couple of other topical courses: "Multiculturalism in Europe" and "The 'Trial' of Theoretical Curiosity."

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 20, 2008

Parmenides' Fallacy: Reply

Philip C. Bobbitt
(Image from UT Austin)

Regular readers -- or anybody who has read at least yesterday's blog entry -- will recall that I posed a question about Professor Philip Bobbitt's reference to Parmenides' Fallacy, which "compares present states of affairs not with each other . . . but with the past" (Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pp. 208). Here's a little reminder:
My sole reason for today's blog entry is to pose a simple question:
Who first identified this fallacy as "Parmenides' Fallacy" or as the "Parmenidean Fallacy"?
I've looked around a bit on the internet but haven't found a source identifying the origin of either "Parmenides' Fallacy" or "Parmenidean Fallacy."
I didn't receive many response. If I recall (counting on my fingers . . .), there were . . . uh, one of them. An old Ozark friend, Jeanie Oliver, suggested:
why don't you email him and ask him (Phillip Bobbitt)
Since Jeanie didn't end that sentence with a question mark, I took it as an imperative and did as she had suggested, writing to Philip Bobbitt and posing my query directly to him:
Dear Professor Bobbitt,

I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a simple query concerning the fallacy that you describe in your recent book, Terror and Consent:
"Who first identified this fallacy as 'Parmenides' Fallacy' or as the 'Parmenidean Fallacy'?"
I blogged this query but have received no answer . . . aside from a suggestion that I email you:
"Parmenides' Fallacy: Query"
This isn't a very important query, so ignore it if you have no time or interest.

At any rate, I'm learning a great deal from your book.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
To my surprise, I received within an hour a reply from Professor Bobbitt answering my query as to who first identified this error in thinking as the fallacy of Parmenides:
Actually, I did. See page 10, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002) and see "Today's War is Against Tomorrow's Iraq", New York Times, March 10, 2003, at A19.

It was perhaps unfair to use 'Parmenides' to name this Fallacy -- after all he isn't guilty of it, but I thought the name was sufficiently allusive to be helpful.

Thank you for asking. I hope you are enjoying the book and will let me know what you think of it.


Philip Bobbitt
That's a useful piece of information, to know that Professor Bobbitt coined the expression "Parmenides' Fallacy." To be frank, I had begun to suspect as much, for all of the online references -- of which there were not very many -- were extraordinarily recent.

Actually, I even found a reference to the "Parmenidean Fallacy" that differs from Professor Bobbitt's coinage and might signify a distinct unit of value having no clear exchange rate with Professor Bobbit's coin (but rather than try to fix an exchange rate, I'll leave that decision up to the marketplace of other people's better ideas):
Thomas Aquinas delivers a proof for the existence of God in which he first shows that there is something that necessarily exists, and then goes on to show that among the things that necessarily exist there must be something that derives its own necessity, and this "all men speak of as God." The main objection to Aquinas’ argument is that it contains a Parmenidean fallacy of substantial change. To counter this objection, we must salvage Aquinas' conclusion by reconciling parts of his argument with a natural philosophy of qualitative change. (David Siegel, "Aquinas' Argument for Necessary Existence," January 24, 2007)
This passage comes from David Siegel, an obviously bright young man studying computer science and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. By "Parmenidean fallacy," Siegel seems to mean a fallacy that Parmenides himself identified, for Siegel nods to "Parmenides' legacy by denying substantial change," which in the context appears to mean that Parmenides considered an appeal to "substantial change" (i.e., change in substance) to be a fallacy of thought.


Well, I've learned two things since yesterday, and these two bright spots of light are now circling each other like binary stars in the darkness of my ignorance, so I'll leave them to their brilliant dance of mutual attraction and go about my night, perceptively more enlightened.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Parmenides' Fallacy: Query

Bust of Parmenides
Frozen in time...
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently reading Philip Bobbitt's most recent tome, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Knopf, 2008), which I'll have to report on sometime, but for the moment, I simply want to call attention to a fallacy that he identifies in the following passage:
[A]s we look to the future, we must not simply ask whether our having invaded Iraq will result in our being worse off than we were before the invasion. This is Parmenides' Fallacy, which compares present states of affairs not with each other (the worlds that would be actual today if we had acted differently in the past) but with the past. For we do not have the option of holding time still. (Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pp. 208-209)
In a footnote to this passage, Bobbitt notes:
Sometimes called the "Parmenidean Fallacy," after the Greek philosopher who held that all change was illusion. This fallacy occurs when one tries to assess a future state of affairs by measuring it against the present, as opposed to comparing it to other possible futures. (Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, p. 592, n. 55)
I should admit, first off, to having been one of those who had wanted to see the weapons' inspections continue, for I thought that we ought to be more sure of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq before invading back in 2003. Nevertheless, based on Saddam Hussein's behavior, which seemed to be that of a man with something to hide, I actually believed that Iraq had a WMD program and expected chemical or biological weapons to be found, and I was thus surprised when no such weapons were located after the invasion.

But that's an issue for a different post. My sole reason for today's blog entry is to pose a simple question:
Who first identified this fallacy as "Parmenides' Fallacy" or as the "Parmenidean Fallacy"?
I've looked around a bit on the internet but haven't found a source identifying the origin of either "Parmenides' Fallacy" or "Parmenidean Fallacy."

Any suggestions?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Beef about the Protests in Korea: A Rambling Rant

Mad Cow Protest
(Image from Wikipedia)

I haven't written much about the ongoing Korean protests against American beef on the fear that it contains the prions that cause mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans.

I didn't want to enter the fray because even though I consider the fears irrational, given the extreme unlikelihood of contracting the disease, I didn't have the energy to collect all the wild, baseless rumors about American beef and look into all of the scientific details that would refute them.

A couple of weeks ago, a student asked me what I thought about the beef protests. I replied that the protests weren't really about American beef but about the left trying to manipulate young people in order to damage Lee Myung-bak and his rightwing policies. I added that since so many middle- and high-school students were protesting, they were likely being urged to do so by their leftwing teachers.

I didn't have any proof of this, but I strongly suspected it, for I know from experience how nationalistic and anti-American the leftist high-school teachers are here in Korea. When I was teaching at Hanshin University, I began teaching an evening class in the fall of 2001 for high-school teachers who were seeking a higher degree in education to enhance their teaching careers, and though I knew nothing of their politics or of the teachers' union and its rigorously leftist views, I soon discovered that many of the high-school teachers in my class were strongly anti-American. I've seen this elsewhere in the world, so I ignored it the way that one learns to ignore static when the radio reception is poor.

However, in the class following the 9/11 attacks, the static became much of the broadcast as several of the high-school teachers in my class expressed open satisfaction at the death and destruction. One woman described with a smile how her own husband, also a teacher, had smiled joyously as he watched the Twin Towers fall.

I listened to all of this without betraying any emotion, for I wanted to see how far this would go. There was talk of the 'American Empire' falling, and several in my class seemed ready to support Bin Laden as the American military geared up for war in Afghanistan.

Some of the teachers disagreed, I should add, arguing that the Al Qaeda attack was unjustified.

Most, however, seemed either to hold viscerally anti-American views -- probably stemming from their experience as protesters during the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee, when they blamed the United States for its support of Park -- or to care little that innocent Americans and other foreigners had suffered. Whatever their motives, those with anti-American views appeared hostile to other opinions, so I didn't bother to debate them, but I decided that I would offer a talk on 9/11 sometime in a more-official format, and that decision ultimately bore fruit as a presentation at Hanshin University on the religious roots of 9/11, which I reworked as a published paper: "Striving to Understand 9/11."

Although my Masters class didn't attend, for a year had passed by the time that I gave my talk, which took place on September 11, 2002, the reaction of many in attendance seemed scripted from anti-American positions carved in stone, especially given that this was after a traffic accident in the summer of 2002 in which a US soldier on duty ran over two teenage girls in his tank during military maneuvers because he couldn't see them around the curve as he raced along. Students in middle schools, high schools, and universities, along with the greater Korean left, had protested and spread vicious rumors about the soldier and the US military, calling the soldier a "murderer" and insisting that the 'accident' had been intentional and had been carried out because the US didn't like the leftist policies of President Roh Moo-hyun. I know this personally because that's what one student -- with the agreement of others -- insisted when one of my undergraduate classes wanted to discuss the deaths of the two girls.

From experiences like these with Korean anti-Americanism, I had little taste for arguing over the quality of American beef. I did discuss the issue with my wife, however, and seem to have convinced her that since only three people have died in America from vCJD out of some 300 million Americans, then one has, roughly, only one chance in 100 million of contracting vCJD from American beef -- even assuming that the three who died had contracted the disease from American beef, which they probably did not. I argued that attending the protests against American beef was far, far riskier to one's health than eating American beef. I added that Koreans don't even know if their own, locally produced beef is safer than American beef because they don't test for the disease. But the clincher to my arguments was that American beef is only one-fifth the cost of Korean beef and that many Koreans have to go without beef because they cannot afford the price, but that if American beef were allowed in, these same Koreans could afford beef at a low cost and use their extra money for something else, which would be good for the Korean economy.
"Why are Korean farmers so special?" I asked. "Shouldn't someone be thinking of the Korean consumers, too?"
My wife, being a Korean consumer, suddenly, and fully, agreed with me. I was rather surprised, but it sometimes happens this way.

That's about all that I have to say on the topic, but if you want some logic on American beef, go to Andy Jackson's article, "Rumors, Fear and US Beef," in the Korea Times (6/16/2008), and if you want some information on Korea's anti-American nationalism, go to Philip Bowring's article, "A potent, troubling nationalism," in the International Herald Tribune (6/16/2008).

I just hope that the nationalist emotions don't get out of hand in this country, or we may see more xenophobic attacks of the life-threatening sort that Matt Lamers experienced.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Poetry Break: "Entscheide"

Knife & Sheath

From a time in Europe before I met my Sun-Ae on that slow train through Germany, I had a few close encounters of the disappointing sort, and one of them inspired this good-bye poem:

And now, you're shied away from me...
my wild dear...
slipping into shadows' false freedom,
a lost kingdom of plants,

thick, tangled vines of the past,

the wood of would've been....
And a subjunctive blue mood lowers
like the folds
of a deep
covering this decision....
'cause you're shied away,
melting in purple shadows,
my dear,
Those days of good-byes are long foreby, and good bye to them . . . but I still rather like this poem of regretful longing.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Poetry Break: "Grin Zen"

Zen Smile

The time has not yet come for another poetry break, but have I ever been one to observe conventions? Unlike the walrus and the carpenter, therefore, let us talk of mini things:
Grin Zen
It borders on madness,
near the last place on earth,
by Lethe's quelled waters,
at the pinnax of worth:
but by all -- whether whole,
bent, or broken from birth --
one unparting lip sole,
one more limit less mirth.
In case anybody's wondering, I coined the portmanteau word "pinnax" from "pinnacle" and "climax." As for "grinsen," that's anybody's guess, but it dates from the early 90s, during my time in Germany.

Yet . . . why trouble oneself over such an absurd little nonsense poem?

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Expat Still Living

Not quite like this...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Matt Lamers, the man at the Korea Herald who asked me to write a language column for the paper, invited all of us Expat-Living writers to a Saturday afternoon meal on the patio of Watts on Tap, near Yonsei University, at four o'clock, and I arrived a little after four to find Matt waiting on the street, his left arm in a sling.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I got stabbed," he replied.

I truly hadn't expected that. "Stabbed? Really? With a knife?"

"No," Matt explained, "with a broken bottle."

At it turns out, Matt and another editor were sitting in a park near Hongdae a couple of weeks ago, and two [sic., three] college-aged Korean men approached them and threatened to kill them. Matt and his friend had laughed, thinking it a joke, but the two [sic., three] men attacked, and one of them broke a bottle and stabbed Matt in the arm.

That particular injury was 'accidental.' The man had aimed for Matt's chest, but Matt had raised his arm in self-defense. Otherwise, I might be without an editor.

Matt didn't bother to report the 'incident' to the police even though he'd lost a bit of blood, had seen three taxis refuse to help, and had endured the first hospital that he'd visited do little but send him on to another hospital.

"Why didn't you report it?" I asked.

"I've written enough articles about police inaction when foreigners are attacked that I knew nothing would be done," he explained.

I knew what he meant. When Koreans are attacked, the police do little, and even less for foreigners. Later in the evening, when I told Sun-Ae, she was indignant but also reluctant to believe that the police could be so unreliable. I reminded her of the 12-year-old girl attacked in an elevator whose ordeal had been captured on film, yet the police had done nothing until President Lee Myung-bak had reprimanded them when the video had become publicly available on the internet.

I then gave my opinion. "The old Confucian social ethic is almost gone, and nothing has replaced it except a sense of narrow, intolerant nationalism, so you see this sort of violence against foreigners."

I'm sure that there's more to it. My wife says the young people are simply empty-headed...

UPDATE: Matt Lamers has posted his own telling of the attack at Dave's ESL Cafe. Note also the report by Bart Schaneman, the man with Matt at the time of the attack, in the comments to this Gypsy Scholar blog entry.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Poetry Break: "Free Verse!"

A free, tasteful thief?
(Image from Wikipedia)

We haven't had one of these poetry breaks for a long time, but today's a good day because I'm feeling lazy, and poetry is meant for shiftless bohemians like me despite my having set sail from the marvelous coasts of Bohemia on a winter's day long ago, a tale that I ought one day tell.

Meanwhile, sing out with me the pomo-boho esthete's anarchic anthem to freedom:
Free Verse!
Free it from ironic cages,
Interwoven webs of language,
Patterns binding through the ages,
Meter, accent, feet, and beat. Wedge

A way. Scheme rhyme's end. And break all
Mind-deformed maniacals like
Those who'd have the udder gall
To bilk a bitter tense-peed bike

As though it took of bovine ilk!
So stand a stanza on its head,
Cup a couplet on the ear, milk
All metaphoricals! 'Nuff said.
Stand leeways when you sing this, for you need that comic margin of freedom, something that I myself needed back in the early 90s when I wrote this eccentrically drifting verse.

Yeah, yeah, I know. With great power comes great responsibility. There's always something to chain one down...

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 13, 2008

Religious Traditions: Kevin Kim on 'Switching'

Kevin's Stroll through the Country
(Image from Kevin's Walk)

Kevin Kim, a friend of mine who until recently taught English for several years here in Korea and had the advantage of being half-Korean and conversant in the Korean language, is a really big guy. Big as in football-player-size big. Big as in about six-foot-three-inches big. Big as in weighing nearly 300 pounds big.

Hence his blog, Big Hominid's Hairy Chasms.

Don't go there unless you're prepared for a 'hairy' experience, for Kevin has an unusual sense of humor. Anway, Kevin has put that blog on ice for the time being as he goes about the process of becoming a somewhat Medium-Sized Hominid through losing a bit of weight by walking a little more than usual.

He's taking a little stroll across the United States, starting from Washington State, where he touched the Pacific Ocean, and heading east, eventually to end up touching the Atlantic Ocean. He's calling this little constitutional Kevin's Walk: An Extended Inquiry into my Home Country's Religious Diversity.

Kevin is obviously more than your average English teacher. In fact, he has a master's degree in religious studies, and along his chosen path, he's visiting various religious sites -- churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and so on -- where he engages the devout and not-so-devout in discussions on spirituality and related topics and also asks for a bite to eat and a place to sleep in exchange for doing some chores. He then presses onward, ever eastward.

On Friday, June 6th, 2008 (for future reference), Kevin had an "Interview with Jay Rozendaal," the reverend of the Christ Episcopal Church of Blaine, Washington. In that interview, he learned that Jay had grown up Presbyterian and gone through a Buddhist phase before returning to Christianity. Kevin asked if Jay was also still a Buddhist, to which Jay replied no, but that led to discussion of Ann Redding, a professor at Seattle University who's an Episcopal priest as well as a Muslim. At this news, Kevin reflected on the words of one of his graduate-school professors:
I'll inject a remark here: back when I was in grad school, one of my profs, Father William Cenkner, said that it's not really possible to hold on to two religions at once in a purely integrated manner. In his view, the best one can manage is a sort of bifurcated stasis, where the two religious tendencies are held together in tension, not harmony, and the dual-adherent is obliged to "switch" from one religious mode to the other depending on the situation. I wasn't too comfortable with Fr. Cenkner's formulation, but I haven't had the chance to speak with people who openly proclaim themselves to be members of two distinct traditions. Given the subjective nature of religious belief, Cenkner's contention would be hard to test.
Let me interject my own thoughts here.

I think that many people do this sort of switching in the modern (and perhaps now postmodern) world between their religious selves and their secular selves, for these two selves are differently grounded. The Christian tradition's distinction between God and Ceasar, the church and the state, the religious and the secular, the sacred and the profane, the eternal and the temporal, and various other ways of expressing this duality makes room for such switching, which is perhaps necessary for believers (theocrats included) since they live in a secular world that is differently grounded than the religious world.

For Muslims, since Islam acknowledges no distinction between the religious and the secular, the problem posed by switching is particularly acute, which partly accounts for the rising influence of Salafi Islam in our contemporary world, for Salafis draw upon the srict Muslim doctrine of Tawhid, very rigorous monotheistic unity, to reject the secular, democratic state as inconsistent with true Islam because Muslim law, shariah, comes from Allah, whereas the laws of the democratic state come from human beings, which implies for strict Salafis that a Muslim who accepts a democratic state is associating something human with Allah and is thus committing shirk, the worst of all sins, and is effectively an apostate (cf. takfir).

The stakes can therefore be rather high for the believers in some religious traditions.

At any rate -- or, rather, at Kevin's rate -- the walk across America continues, and Kevin continues walking the talk, thereby increasing "in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (cf. Luke 2:52).

Though, to be upfront about it, Kevin is actually losing in stature as he gains in wisdom, for he is down to about 275 pounds.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And I complain about my students' plagiarism...


On the Milton List this morning, Professor Carolyn C. Hunt, of the College of Charleston, reported a case of egregious plagiarism that actually contained a spark of originality despite its multiple 'borrowings' from the World Wide Web (WWW). Nevertheless, the essay proved to be the last straw for the professor mentioned by Professor Hunt:
Last week I had coffee with a school classmate whom I had not seen since 1959. It turned out that she had spent several years teaching undergraduates, then retired early. Why?

The essay that sent her down that road, "Milton and Stan," crammed with (unacknowledged) borrowings from the WWW, extolled the essential humanity, the likeability, etc. of "Stan" for several pages. When my classmate mentioned the recurring typo to her student, he didn't see why it would bother her. "Whatever," he said.

Ah yes, good old Stan.
I would have pointed out to that student that 'Stan' was hardly likeable in Paradise Lost but actually rather rude, as evidenced by his abrupt departure immediately after receiving directions from the old anarch, King Chaos, who had explained the way that 'Stan' should take to arrive at his destination:

Now lately Heaven and Earth, another World
Hung ore my Realm, link'd in a golden Chain
To that side Heav'n from whence your Legions fell:
If that way be your walk, you have not farr;
So much the neerer danger; go and speed;
Havock and spoil and ruin are my gain.
He ceas'd; and Satan staid not to reply...
PL 2.1004-1010, The Milton Reading Room)

All that excellent advice from King Chaos, who surely seems more likeable than 'Stan', yet 'Stan' rushes off without even offering even a meager "Thanks"!

Likeable? I beg to differ!

Still, I must admit that 'Stan' has a masterful way with words, as in his famously quotable words from Paradise Lost 1.263: "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

John McCain: character or 'a character'?

John McCain
Republican Nominee
(Image from Wikipedia)

I can't say that I know a lot about candidate John McCain, but I suppose that now is the time to begin paying attention, so I've read a couple of articles on the man to try to get a sense of his character.

The first article, from U.S. News and World Report, presents McCain's first-person report on his five-and-one-half years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam: "John McCain, Prisoner of War: A First-Person Account" (May 14, 1973; posted online January 28, 2008).

In this account, McCain describes what happened to him from the moment that he ejected his Skyhawk dive bomber on October 26, 1967 until the moment that he boarded a U.S. Air Force plane on March 15, 1973, and a little bit more, so it's a long online article of 17 pages.

McCain doesn't boast about his experience, but his story is impressive, given that he survived beatings, torture, war injuries, poor nutrition, and bad health care for five and one-half years of imprisonment.

At the time of this article's publication, he had only been back to the US for two months, and he expressed gratitude for the support that his wife had given him through her faithful wait:
I'm proud of the part . . . my wife, Carol, played here at home. The temptation for the wives, as the years went by, was to say, "God, I want them home under any circumstances." When Carol was pressed to take this line, her answer was, "Just to get him home is not enough for me, and it's not enough for John -- I want him to come home standing up."

I received very few letters from Carol. I got three in the first four months after I was shot down. The [North Vietnamese] . . . let me have only one during the last four years I was there. I received my first package in May of 1969. After that, they let me have approximately one a year.

The reason I got so little mail was that Carol insisted on using the channels provided by the Geneva Convention for treatment of prisoners of war. She refused to send things through the Committee for Liaison with Families run by the antiwar groups.
And he tells us of what he learned about life:
I had a lot of time to think over there, and came to the conclusion that one of the most important things in life -- along with a man's family -- is to make some contribution to his country.
Pretty impressive, it seems to me.

I was thus rather disappointed in the McCain that I read of in the other article, published by Sharon Churcher in Britain's Daily Mail: "The wife U.S. Republican John McCain callously left behind" (June 8, 2008). Despite being a conservative paper, which might be expected to portray the Republican nominee more positively, the depiction of McCain as a family man is not very impressive. His then-wife, Carol, had suffered a horrendous accident at Christmastime of 1969 that had left her nearly crippled and a full 5 inches shorter that when he had married her:
When McCain -- his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton -- was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again.

But friends say privately he was 'appalled' by the change in her appearance. At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: 'I don't look so good myself. It's fine.'
Reportedly, however, McCain soon grew unfaithful to his wife, met Cindy Lou Hensley in 1979, pressed for a divorce with Carol, and quickly married Cindy. This didn't set very well with some observers:
Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans' rights, said: 'I have been following John McCain's career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is -- deceit.

'When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it.

'Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

'This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.'
I can't entirely agree with Mr. Sampley, for I think that any man who could survive five and one-half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam under the conditions that McCain endured surely has character . . . as a soldier. He simply lacked the character required of a husband. He was thus more right than he knew when he said, "I don't look so good myself."

I won't say that McCain is unfit for the presidency. Nobody's perfect, and many men have been unfaithful to their wives yet have managed to serve their country with distinction -- even as president -- and some men have managed to grow better in their maturity, having learned from reflecting on the things that they've done. Perhaps McCain has. I don't know, for my view is partial.

Yet, I do have a fuller picture of the man who McCain is, an impressive but flawed man, and I'll have to pay close attention, as election day draws near, to this increasingly fascinating campaign.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Terror Threat: Top-Down or Leaderless?

"International Terrorist Incidents, 2001"
US Department of State
(Image from Wikipedia)

The heading for my blog entry today is borrowed from an article, "The terror threat today: Top-down or leaderless," by Elaine Sciolino and Eric Schmitt in yesterday's International Herald Tribune, Seoul edition (June 9, 2008), and the article's implications are significant enough for the so-called 'War on Terror' that I wish to draw attention to the battlelines being drawn between Bruce Hoffman and Marc Sageman:
On one side is Bruce Hoffman, a cerebral 53-year-old Georgetown University historian and author of the highly respected 1998 book "Inside Terrorism." He argues that Al Qaeda is alive, well, resurgent and more dangerous than it has been in several years. In his corner, he said, is a battalion of mainstream academics and a National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer warning that Al Qaeda had reconstituted in Pakistan.

On the other side is Marc Sageman, an iconoclastic 55-year-old Polish-born psychiatrist, sociologist, former CIA case officer and scholar-in-residence with the New York Police Department. His new book, "Leaderless Jihad," argues that the main threat no longer comes from the organization called Al Qaeda, but from the bottom up -- from radicalized individuals and groups who meet and plot in their neighborhoods and on the Internet. In his camp, he said, are agents and analysts in highly classified positions at the CIA and FBI.
I'm linking to the online edition of the International Herald Tribune, which has a different heading: "Al Qaeda threat has analysts split into 2 opposing camps" (June 8, 2008), so the article can be read online there.

Depending on who is right, there are some broad implications. If Sageman is correct, then good, fairly inexpensive police work is all that one needs, for terrorist groups will be local and often not especially competent. If Hoffman is correct, then a large, expensive, international counterterrorist effort is still needed, for terrorist groups will often be linked to each other, be guided by terrorist masterminds, and be trained by experts at faraway camps.

I go with those who say that both approaches are needed, for even if Sageman is largely correct, can we risk the possibility that Hoffman is partly right? Al-Qaeda's training bases may have been eliminated in Afghanistan, but do we know that there are none in Pakistan's Northwest Terrtories? Do we know that there are none elsewhere in the world? Do we know what innovative ways that terrorist cells might have of training themselves? Should we assume that clandestine international organizations intent on carrying out terrorist acts can no longer prove effective? I don't know much about these things myself, but I don't want to assume that we need not worry about these things.

Anyway, read the article by Sciolino and Schmitt, and if you're still interested, go read Bruce Hoffman's scholarly article in Foreign Affairs (May/June 2008): "The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism: Why Osama bin Laden Still Matters," a review of Marc Sageman's Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-first Century, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Sageman will have a response in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs.

I'd like to analyze this better, but my internet connection was down most of the morning, and I'm sick with a sore throat from overwork reading and grading essays, so I have too little time and energy for doing more today.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 09, 2008

Korean Student Criticizes Corrupt Western Culture

Western Culture
"Corrupting the Globe since 1492"
In the tradition of Oswald Spengler...
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've received a student's late essay -- about three weeks late -- and have just finished marking it with corrections, advice, and an "F" . . . for being so late if for no other reason, but there were other reasons. For instance, what might this title mean?
Elenchus of Using Electric Bracelets for Sex Offenders
Baffled to the bone, I asked for the meaning from the student, who couldn't explain at all, ever an unfavorable sign of disastrous implications.

The online Free Dictionary defines elenchus as "a syllogistic argument that refutes a proposition by proving the direct opposite of its conclusion," so assuming that elenchus hasn't been mistaken for "ankles," I conclude that the student intended to refute the view that such electric bracelets work to reduce the rate of sexual offenses. Perhaps the title should have read:
Refutation of Using Electric Bracelets for Sex Offenders
However, the student's arguments against using electric bracelets are rather broader than a refutation of their effectiveness, for the grammatically challenged thesis statement reads:
Even though a electronic bracelet give some mental stability to many parents of a person under age or women doing guard sex offender, that bracelet should not carry out because it has many problems (like matter of basis materials, over-punishment and double punishment, human right problem, legal propriety and so on) as much as it's benefits.
As I came to understand from the essay's first body paragraph, the expression "like matter of basis materials" refers somewhat obliquely to the ineffectiveness of electronic bracelets in reducing repeated sexual crimes because, claims the student, repeat offenders are rare for this sort of crime. Whether this claim is accurate or not, I have no idea, but it doesn't really address the issue of effectiveness in cutting recidivism.

The other points listed in the thesis statement -- "over-punishment and double punishment, human right[s] problem[s], legal propriety" -- all refer to concepts developed in the Western legal tradition that the student is applying to the Korean criminal code, which itself is derived from the German legal tradition (hence 'Western'), thereby making extremely interesting a claim that appears in the essay's conclusion:
The problem is that as the west culture which is corrupted has overflowed at our societies, sex offends has increased.
Well, that's partly my fault, I suppose, since I'm a Westerner and have 'overflowed' like sewage into Korea's otherwise pristine culture. Or perhaps much like a mad cow, I've stumbled through the open gate of globalization and brought the bad prions of faulty Western thought to infect the minds of my students.

Maybe those thousands of Korean students protesting nightly in Seoul's city streets against importing 'degenerate' American beef are merely acting out a metaphor signifying the rejection of all things Western:
"Don't corrupt our minds!" they're demanding.
But given the mad rumors circulating through Korean society concerning the dangers posed by American beef, I think that the protests are years too late. The collective mind has already been poisoned.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Jihadi 'dialectic of enlightenment'

Osama Bin Laden
"Now look, this charisma thing has gone far enough!"
(Image from Wikipedia)

In "Anatomy of the Salafi Movement," Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 29, No. 3 (2006) 224-225, Quintan Wiktorowicz distinguishes among three types of Salafis: 1. purists; 2. politicos; and 3. jihadis.

One can arrange these three on two opposing scales, either from most knowledgeable to least knowledgeable (purist --> politico --> jihadi) or from most radical to least radical (jihadi --> politico --> purist).

As one might surmise, the distinction between expertise and activism could lead to questions concerning the legitimacy of jihadi actions. Because jihadis often felt that especially purists but even politicos did not understand the requirements imposed by the battlefield, they found themselves stymied by traditional sources of authority and began to look beyond those sources for others, as noted by Dr. E. Alshech, of MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), in his intriguing article for Inquiry & Analysis (Nr. 446, June 2008): "The Emergence of the 'Infallible Jihad Fighter': The Salafi Jihadists' Quest for Religious Legitimacy" (pdf):
For example, the jihadi Salafis sanctioned the use of extreme violence, and hastened to engage in takfir (i.e., to accuse other Muslims of heresy) -- positions that the politicos explicitly denounced. (5b)
Three ideologues present three different and increasingly radical positions:
Yousef Al-'Uyairi Al-'Uyairi then argues that a jurisprudent who wishes to rule on matters of jihad must consult the mujahideen, regardless of his own knowledge and qualifications. In fact, the article [that he wrote in 2003] presents the mujahideen as the only legitimate source of information on matters of jihad, and implies that in the absence of such information, the jurisprudent's ruling would be less well-grounded. (6b)
Here, the Salafi scholar, perhaps a purist, retains authority but must consult with the jihadi on matters of jihad. Some jihadis, however, are dissatisfied with this view:
A more radical opinion is presented by Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, a Jordanian scholar of Palestinian origin who is greatly respected by the mujahideen (and regarded as Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi's mentor). He does not only characterize the mujahideen experts on the reality of jihad, but claims that they posses divinely inspired insight. "The faithful mujahideen," he writes, "are among the most knowledgeable of persons, and possess superior insight. This, because the mujahid is forced to study the reality . . . around him [i.e. the circumstances of jihad] just as he masters the [theoretical religious] laws pertaining to jihad. [However, even] if he does not [adequately master the laws of jihad], but is faithful in his [efforts to wage] jihad, Allah grants him insight as a reward for his jihad . . . [and as a result,] his comprehension, knowledge, and grasp of the truth are much greater than [those of] other people [italics mine -- E.A.]." In support of his view, Al-Maqdisi cites Koran 29:69: "Those who fight for Our cause, We will surely guide [them] to Our path." He explains that in this verse, "Allah indicates that he bestows upon the mujahideen the ability to receive guidance to the truth, to prosperity, and to the right path to Him, [as well as] an understanding of Him and His way."

In Al-Maqdisi's view, then, the mujahid is not just an indispensable source of information on the facts and realities of jihad -- he is also endowed by Allah with special jurisprudential insight superior to that of other human beings. (6b-7a)
The jihadi thus receives divine perspicuity in Islamic legal rulings concerning jihad, according to Al-Maqdisi, but Hossein Ibn Mahmoud goes even further:
[I]n a highly influential article from 2003 by Sheikh Hossein Ibn Mahmoud, a respected legal scholar and prolific contributor to Islamist websites . . . takes Al-Maqdisi's argument one step further by describing the mujahideen as infallible.

In setting out his argument, Ibn Mahmoud first explains that the "enemies of Islam" use three methods to divert the Muslims' attention away from jihad: they arouse the Muslims' desire for this world and its pleasures, they cause them to fear death, and they plant doubt in their minds. Ibn Mahmoud then explains why these schemes will never work against the mujahideen: "With respect to the doubts, whoever . . . devotes his soul to Allah, Allah will render him immune [ya'simuhu allah] to the lies of the deceitful... For Allah said: 'Those who fight for Our cause, We will surely guide [them] to Our path [Koran 29:69].' This indicates that it is the mujahideen who are most likely to agree on the correct [view] . . ."

The reference to "agreeing on the correct [view]" in this passage is very revealing. Islamic tradition (hadith) maintains that the Islamic nation as a collective can never agree on a mistaken view, since the Prophet Muhammad said, "My nation will never agree on an error." Ibn Mahmoud, however, attributes this inability to err exclusively to the mujahideen, who, in his opinion, are uniquely invulnerable to deception and spiritual weakness. Accordingly, he maintains that the mujahideen have privileged access to "the truth."

Ibn Mahmoud reiterates this argument in a 2004 article titled "Resolutions and Ideological Principles of Jihad." In discussing the question of scholars who disagree with the mujahideen, he states: "Undoubtedly, whoever risks his life and rushes towards danger for the sake of his religion has total faith in the truth of his path and in the validity of his course of action . . . Whoever wishes to contradict the mujahideen in matters of jihad should first visit the fronts himself, witness the conditions [there], and taste the taste of [divine] grace [karama] on the battlefield for a few moments. Then he can issue a fatwa [based on] the inspiration he receives from Allah . . ."

According to this view, it is not erudition and scholarship that provide access to the truth, but the willingness to sacrifice one's life for the sake of Allah on the battlefield. (7b-8a)
What is happening here is something described by Max Weber nearly 100 years ago:
In essence, the texts cited above, and other like them, present a concept of authority that is grounded in charisma, defined by Max Weber as "a certain personal quality by virtue of which an individual is considered extraordinary and regarded as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least exceptional power or quality." The mujahid's authority, as presented in these texts, is not based on his scholarship or intellectual credentials, but is essentially metaphysical: it is anchored in a unique relation with Allah, which grants him at least some immunity from the human propensity to err. (8b)
As Alshech notes, this is a controversial development that even Bin Laden has protested against. But who can persuade these charismatic jihadis that they are wrong since they are . . . well, infallible?

Labels: , ,