Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reconstructing Words of Jesus in Aramaic?

Not how I learned it!
(Image from Wikipedia)

I take part not only in discussions on the Milton List but also on the Synoptic List, a listserve that focuses upon the literary connections among the gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Lately, scholars on that list have been discussing whether Aramaic sayings of Jesus can be reconstructed from the Greek. Mr. Jack Kilmon thinks so, and he has some plausible arguments based on possible mistranslations from Aramaic into Greek that result in some of the "hard sayings of Jesus." For instance, Mr. Kilmon suggests that we look at Luke 14:26:

If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (RSV)

εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρός με καὶ οὐ μισεῖ τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τὰς ἀδελφάς ἔτι τε καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής (mGNT)
As Mr. Kilmon points out, the Greek word for "hate" is "misei" (μισεῖ), but he suggests that the Aramaic work was "sana," and that Jesus was using an idiom: "This is a mistranslated idiom where the Aramaic word for 'hate' (sana) means to 'set aside'." Professor Mark Matson of Milligan College liked Mr. Kilmon's suggestions on recovering the Aramaic words of Jesus:

Here I can only join with an Amen. I think the gospels were clearly written in Greek. But the traces of Aramaic material do show in a number of places. Whether these are "sources" as we might imagine (e.g., written), or very strongly remembered oral remembrance I am not sure. It would be interesting to explore that.
Mr. Kilmon replied by means of analogy:

Mnemonic devices such as alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, rhyme and meter appear in back translations of "Jesus stuff" to his native Aramaic. These devices are very effective for accurate transmission. If I were to say:

"Roses are red, violets are blue;
You better be good or the devil will get you"
. . . you would remember it and pass it on fairly pristine. At some point, my profound saying would be written down but it would still preserve the syntax of orality.
Mr. Kilmon's suggestion on the Aramaic term "sana" has a certain plausibility and may very well be correct, but I wonder if the power of mnemonic devices ensure accurate transmission and if we can be certain of recovering the actual Aramaic. On the Synoptic List, I mostly just lurk and listen in on these learned discussions, but this time, I stood up on my hind legs and expressed my doubts publicly:

Jack Kilmon wrote:

"Roses are red, violets are blue;
You better be good or the devil will get you."
This is, of course, not only poetic but also wise . . . yet I think that an oral culture would very quickly 'improve' on it:

"Roses are red, violets are blue;
Better be good or the devil with you!"
The original would be forgotten, and any attempt to get back to the actual words of the historical Kilmon would be frustrated . . . though nobody would realize this.
Professor Bruce Brooks, of the University of Massachusetts, chimed in with a powerful amen:

I think Jeffery's point is very well taken. Rhyme may be a mnemonic aid, though whole traditions including the Homeric seem to have gotten along nicely without it, but when present, it does not protect the maxim in question from literary abrasion and change. The most famous poem of the Chinese poet Li Bwo, a little thing of four short lines, can be shown by early copies to have been worn down and trivialized from what is more likely to have been its original form to the form in which millions can recite it at the present moment. In much the way that Jeffery's improvisation suggests. Quotations, rhymed as well as unrhymed, from the early Chinese classics in the later Chinese classics, are sometimes inexact, not to mention quotations in less exalted contexts. Mediterranean examples might be multiplied as well.

For one reason and another, some types of material may survive repetition and transmission better than others, but there can be no guarantee, whether by genre or by form, of invariance under repetition and transmission. Life is simple, but not *that* simple.
And so it stands . . . next to me, still on my hind legs. I'd better get back down (such a stance being unseemly because seamy), but while I'm standing here, I'll offer a bit of mnemonic advice: remember to spell "mnemonic" with its silent "m" by recalling that "m" comes directly before "n" in the alphabet.

Oh, by the bye, William Wallace Denslow's illustrated version above of that rosy Mother Goose rhyme is obviously not the illustrious original because mnemonics favor the one that I grew up with: "Roses are red, / Violets are blue, / Sugar is sweet, / And so are you." Though there's something to be said for an anonymous competitor:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
Wish I were dead,
For you're not true.
I've even heard of a version having the "I" replaced by "you" . . . but such violence is foreign to true-blue, red-blooded, rosy-hued Mother Goose lyrics (as we all know from infancy).

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kim Jong-il: Little Boy Syndrome?

Kim Jong-il
"Little Photo Shoot"
(Image from You Tube)

Technically, that's "Little Man Syndrome," but since Kim Jong-il wants a real nuclear weapon rather than the two 'unclear' weapons that he's exploded so far, I think that "Little Boy Syndrome" fits. But first, let's give the Dear Leader his due:
When General Kim Jong Il was born
the clouds opened up
and he came down from heaven,
and then there was a huge avalanche.

When General Kim Jong Il shouts out loud
storms always happen.
"Let's go! Let's go!"
"Let's go! Let's go!"
Kim Jong Il shouts to the mountains.
You can watch this North Korean personality-cult propaganda on You Tube, courtesy of Marcinmoka, who has posted the video with these lyrics translated -- though whether from the Japanese subtitles or the Korean soundtrack, I know not (but now corrected by my Korean-language-expert daughter). Anyway, the video is quite amusing, and -- unlike the North Koreans -- you only have to waste 35 seconds of your life watching General Kim Jong-il astride a white horse and bumping plumply upon the saddle as he rides fatly by.

But this 'Little Boy' has a great big throbbing tool of destruction to rival even his great big shout of meteorological cataclysm. Or maybe not. Rod Liddle thinks little of Kim Jong-il's little rod:
There is something vaguely likeable about North Korea’s attempts to convince the world that it is a nuclear power to be reckoned with . . . . I do not for a moment doubt that Kim Jong-il is a deluded, paranoid, psychopathic megalomaniac and, were it within his power, might blow the world to kingdom come, given the tools to do so . . . . [But] there is something very comforting about North Korea's nuclear programme; they have yearned, for years, to have nuclear capability and have at last succeeded in producing a device which almost -- almost -- matches the destructive power of the primitive weapon which the US used against Nagasaki some 64 years ago. Furthermore, they do not seem to have any delivery system capable of depositing their nuke very much further than the boundaries of their own benighted, grass-eating, basket case of a country . . . . We are told that Kim now has sufficient fissile material for four bombs, at most -- and the capability to chuck them a few yards over the South Korean border. (Rod Liddle, "Something comforting about North Korea's nuclear weapons," The Spectator, May 27, 2009)
Comforting? Possibly, given the unimpressive size (hardly a great big throbbing tool after all). But I'd still feel more comforted if the General were not just unclearly nucleared but clearly neutered. And since the General's little nuclear incapability is so small, perhaps he could be persuaded to part with it . . . if he could just get America's attention and a few concessions to assuage his dignity, as some 'experts' think. B. R. Myers, however, disagrees:
It is no longer possible for anyone to go on claiming that everything Kim Jong-il does is an effort to get America's attention, or that he just wants to go into the next round of disarmament talks with a stronger hand. Nor can anyone seriously argue that all these hugely expensive exercises are aimed at securing more economic aid . . . . North Korea's nuclear and military provocations and the escalating belligerence of its rhetoric are motivated by domestic political considerations instead . . . . [T]he elite are wedded to the same paranoid, race-based nationalism, without which the country has no reason to exist at all. (B. R. Myers, "North Korea Will Never Disarm," The New York Times, May 28, 2009)
No reason to exist without its "paranoid, race-based nationalism"? Well, a nomenklatura can always find reasons to exist. Rather than "reason," I'd suggest the term "legitimacy," which is what I think that Myers meant. North Korea's extremely weird nationalism provides that country its only legitimacy for existing. It must compete with the South for the status of authentic heir to the great history of the Korean people. It can't succeed to this position by virtue of its economic achievements, so it emphasizes its Korean identity, its purer blood, which must be aggressively defended at all cost.

The lesser Koreans down South, after all, are mixing their blood with outsiders like the disreputable Gypsy Scholar.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

'Surprised by Sin' Again

Universal Pictures
(Image from New York Times)

I sometimes recycle for Gypsy Scholar material that I've posted on the Milton List, especially when it gets ignored there because the other scholars fail to recognize my genius, a failure that, writ large, perhaps explains my largely failed career.

Recently, I read a review of Sam Raimi's new film Drag Me To Hell and noticed a remark by Raimi that reminded me of the central theme in Stanley Fish's great work, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. As some readers will know -- or will recall from earlier posts on this blog -- Fish argues that Milton depicts Satan as a heroic character with seemingly admirable qualities so that we will identify with him and sin along with Adam and Eve through taking Satan's side until we learn, too late, that we have been misled.

As I noted on the Milton List:
Sam Raimi must have been boning up on Stanley Fish's magnum opus. His recent film, Drag Me To Hell, tells the morality tale of what happens when a young and ambitious loan officer turns down an old woman's application for a mortgage extension. The old lady puts a curse on the ambitious young woman . . . and we're also implicated. Look at this review -- "After Spidey, a Return to Hell" -- by the much maligned Charles McGrath in the New York Times:
The torments the poor young woman suffers sometimes seem a little excessive compared with the relative smallness of her crime -- she's hardly a Bernie Madoff -- and that's part of Mr. Raimi's intention. "This is a young woman who thinks she’s a good person, but she acts out of greed," he explained. "That's what seems relevant -- the greed. I tried to make her someone you identify with, because at the moment she has to make her choice, I want the audience to make that choice with her. They sin with her. They know they’re culpable, and now" -- he lowered his voice so it sounded like the voice-over of a horror movie trailer -- "now they know they’re going to be punished."
That really sounds like Piscean twist to my learned ears. Stanley, have you been tutoring Raimi -- or did he bite into that fruitful lemon twist on his own?
I address Stanley Fish directly because I know that he subscribes to the Milton List and sometimes even posts there . . . but neither he nor any other scholar responded. Perhaps some didn't like my allusion to Charles McGrath, who was heavily criticized on the list by a few scholars last autumn for 'erroneous' remarks about John Milton in a review of Terrance Lindall's WAH Center's exhibit on Milton in the lead-up to the center's Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball. Actually, I'm joking in suggesting that my Milton List post was ignored because of the reference to McGrath . . . just in case anyone was taking that as a seriously snarky remark.

Incidentally, while I have enjoyed Raimi's Spiderman films, I've not seen any of his horror films and don't intend to, for I have a wild imagination and would suffer nightmares if I watched (as readers will understand).

Why, I won't even watch the trailer to Raimi's hellish film.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dorothy Sayers: 'It's a mystery...'

Dorothy Leigh Sayers
'Mystery Writer'

Thirty years ago near Stanford University, living as a boarder in the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Rosenfield, an octogenarian who had a lovely Atherton house with a large library and an even larger garden, I helped that elderly lady raise tomatoes and helped myself to reading her personal copies of all the 'mystery' novels written by Dorothy Sayers, creater of the unforgettable British gentleman detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

This morning, I was reminded of all that by a quote from one of the apologetics books written by Sayers in 'answer' to the question -- posed as part of a 'cathecism' -- "What is meant by the Atonement?":
God wanted to damn everybody, but his vindictive sadism was sated by the crucifixion of his own Son, who was quite innocent, and, therefore, a particularly attractive victim. He now only damns people who don't follow Christ or who have never heard of him.
According to Philip Yancey, in "Surveying the Wondrous Cross" (Christianity Today, May 27, 2009), this was the caricature of classical theories on the atonement drawn by Dorothy Sayers 60 years ago, apparently as her opening words to the section on atonement in Creed or Chaos? And Other Essays in Popular Theology.

I've never read that book, and doubt that it was in Mrs. Rosenfield's library, but I'm curious how Sayers walks the reader back through the astonishing clauses and provides her own solution to a 'mystery' worthy of the talents vested in Lord Peter Death Wimsey.

Have any visitors to this blog read Creed or Chaos?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Laughter, the best medicine?

Shakespearean Humor
(Image from Wikipedia)

As an old man now, I must lean on a rickety false staff to support myself with good humor as I continue this pilgrimage of mine through life, still climbing up along my chosen career path despite the many detours that I've taken.

But my humor often gets misread, as my longsuffering Uncle Cran has reported since yesterday's humorous blog entry. For instance, in his anecdote concerning the high school reunion where everyone present was expected to offer a brief biography of life's events since graduation, he originally related:
When I got to the part about meeting Gay and our marriage, I stated, "When we got married, we were both young, shy, inexperienced, and inhibited."

Then I continued, "Our first son was born 10 and 1/2 months later," and I heard someone, (who will not be identified), make the snide remark, "Sounds like Cran got over his inhibitions!"

There were a few (shall we say, sniggers?) as those two near but unconnected comments of mine were somehow mis-applied. This demonstrates that this lady, and perhaps others of my classmates, still had thoughts in their minds not exactly appropriate for such a gathering. But I will forgive and try to forget! As only I should.
That was Uncle Cran's summary of his brief remark, and he now reports in a circular sent out to those who might have misconstrued:
Some of our classmates have written, thanking me for my report on the 52nd class reunion. One (or more?) thought I might have had my feelings hurt about the cute remarks and giggles following my account of my and Gay's marriage and son's birth. That was actually intended to elicit such a response, and is a demonstration of my twisted humor.
Others, apparently, were worried that my gentle ribbing of my dear Uncle Cran throughout yesterday's blog entry might have been intended as harsh sarcasm or as some sort of criticism

Uncle Cran, however, has reassured them:
Nephew Jeffery has again placed my account on his blog. We have a good time doing this, and all comments are meant to be funny, as he is afflicted with the same family trait of wry (some would call 'strange') humor.
I've replied to Uncle Cran:
I can well imagine that some readers might lack the [peculiar] sense of humor . . . to recognize that we are just kidding. People have often thought that my posts on fan death are serious, a severe misreading that I cannot fathom. So . . . I sometimes wonder if we should be less 'humorous'. Except that it entertains the two of us and makes my blog more interesting . . . I think . . . . As for the comment made at the reunion itself -- the one about your loss of inhibitions -- I suspected that you'd been fishing for that. Yes, we share a sense of humor, unfortunately. Both our humors are radioactive, it seems, for when your humor and mine meet on my blog, there's a nuclear reaction. We ought to threaten North Korea.
As an aside, I'd note that humor probably would be felt as a threat by the Beloved Leader, General King Jong-il.

Anyway, speaking of humor, that 'paramour of scholarly virtue', Wikipedia, offers some theories on how humor works. One of these is the "superiority theory," which says that we laugh at the misfortunes of other people because such misfortunes imply our superiority to others in their failings. Superficially, this seems to be my humor at Uncle Cran's expense, and some people might read my humor this way and take offense on Uncle Cran's part. Those people are not in on the joke, so let me explain to any who haven't understood -- my jokes about Uncle Cran do not belong to this category of humor. A different theory better conveys my meaning, the "incongruity theory," which is a bit more complicated to explain, but this theory basically says that humor is conveyed through the incongruity between what is said and what is meant. What makes my humor at Uncle Cran's expense difficult to catch is that I pretend to laugh at his misfortunes (superiority) but depend upon readers to understand that I surely don't mean what I seem to be saying (incongruity). But, as I noted, not everybody is in on the joke. Well . . . I suppose that they now are.

Humor is often complex when it occurs in literature. Take the case of Falstaff. Are we intended to laugh at him? Or with him? Our reason for laughing says something about us. On the Milton List a couple of weeks ago, a question was raised about humor in Paradise Lost. Several scholars gave examples, and I offered a line by Eve in which she responds to the serpent's multiple, excessively over-the-top compliments on her wonderful qualities by doubting that the forbidden fruit truly conveys wisdom:
In my opinion, Eve has the funniest line in Paradise Lost. Immediately after Satan in serpent form has praised Eve with excessive compliments, she retorts:

Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The vertue of that Fruit, in thee first prov'd: (PL 9.615-6)

I always have to laugh when I read Eve's remark. But is she aware of the humor . . . or is this solely Milton's joke?
In a recent offlist email, I received a belated response to my question from the scholar David Ainsworth:
Nothing like this time of year for a delayed response.

I think unquestionably that there's a joke here, on several layers. If Eve doesn't mean the contradiction, then she must be using "prov'd" in the sense of being tested or made trial of. Milton would unquestionably appreciate that this other usage of the word aligns itself not just with testing but with *tasting* in particular. The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] doesn't list many usages specific to tasting, but the quibble on test/taste was common enough even outside circumstances like this one.

I suspect there's plenty of bilingual or trilingual plays on words in Milton's poetry which slip past readers.

As for Eve's awareness -- I guess that depends on how close to falling one believes her at this moment. The more she's chiding Satan for praise which she has secretly embraced, the more calculated this response will seem. For me, part of what I appreciate about lines like these is that Eve can mean the joke regardless of how she's taking in the situation, but that the purpose of the humor shifts -- she's either expressing false humility by affirming the serpent's judgment by affirming the fruit's virtue, or she's genuinely chiding the serpent.

Sadly, I suspect in context that Eve's doubt of the fruit must be seen as her humor, deployed precisely in a situation where Satan's overpraising genuinely ought to lead her to genuine doubt.
I take Professor Ainsworth's point to be that Eve only pretends to doubt the fruit's power to bring wisdom, for she secretly enjoys the serpent's attentions and wants to believe the serpent truly wise and therefore correct. As Professor Ainsworth notes, the humor can work on several levels. One possibility is that the reader will react as the superiority theory might predict -- with a sort of judgemental humor, as though one felt superior to Eve and were silently thinking I wouldn't fall for that flattery! Milton, however, thinks that we would fall for it -- if Stanley Fish is right about Milton tempting the reader to fall into sin along with Eve and Adam by encouraging us to identify with Satan. If so, there comes a moment of grim, ironic incongruity as we recognize that Milton is not merely describing Eve but also describing us. If such is the case, then echoing Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, I can say, "That is a failing indeed, . . . [but] I really cannot laugh at it."

And with those words, I must now exit this stage and begin my day.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Uncle Cran returns for some schooling . . .

Viola High School
"Home of the Longhorns"
(Image from VHS Website)

Uncle Cran is again up to his old antics -- antics old enough to be 'antiques' -- for he recently visited Viola High School for the Reunion of the Class of '57! I was born that year! So, let's see . . . 52 years since 1957 . . . plus the 57 years already noted . . . makes Uncle Cran 109 years old, according to my calculations.

At any rate, Uncle Cran visited the "Home of the Longhorns" in the 'barn' depicted above.

(Parenthetically, I should confess that since my very own Salem High School is the "Home of the Greyhounds," then I suppose that I'll be visiting that 'kennel' one of these old days.)

As I was saying, Uncle Cran visited the old barn for his 52nd High School Reunion, and he -- of course -- has a report:
We have had a busy weekend.
This information tells us that Uncle Cran usually lazes about on his weekends, despite being a farmer who should be doing the same chores every day. The cattle don't take weekends off! But let us follow Uncle Cran along his wayward path:
Friday night Gay and I attended the annual Alumni Homecoming at Viola High School. There were several people there at the Friday evening homecoming who came to me and said they had read my tales that nephew Jeffery puts on his blog, Gypsy Scholar. Some were folks I hadn't met before. Gay told me later I need to be careful in the future about what gets revealed. Jeffery, a PhD professor in a university in South Korea, takes my tales, analyzes them, corrects and grades them, rips me apart, and publishes them with insightful, but disrepectful comments. I always forgive him, and whenever a past event drifts into my thoughts, I write it down, and the process continues.
I must thank Uncle Cran for his Christian attitude of forgiveness -- and for supplying this blog with an unending source of not-quite-Christian tales that have expanded my audience in ways that I hadn't known. Welcome to all Longhorns! You are about to read another of Uncle Cran's little misadventures:
It was good to see old acquaintences. Bobby Bridges, a classmate, called me over and asked me, "Do you know who this lady is?" I looked at her, and said, I know the face, but can't put a name to it." Turned out it was a former classmate, known to us as Marie Shelton. She had always gone by her middle name, and her name tag had her first name, so that threw me off. But I immediately recognized her as soon as she told me who she was. I hadn't seen her since my high school days.
Listen to Uncle Cran's excuses. He couldn't put a name to Ms. Shelton's face even though the lady was wearing a name tag! Uncle Cran surely learned something in school, but apparently not reading! Which might explain the malaprops we often encounter in his reports to Gypsy Scholar. But on to the reunion:
Then on Saturday from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm. we had a class reunion. Some classmates didn't come, but those of us who were there had a good time. We ate, drank (coffee & sodas only), visited, and exchanged some gifts, and even took a test to see what we could remember from our graduation year of 1957.

The highlight of the day was the return of a classmate, Larry Wasson, who brought his wife and son. I hadn't seen him since June, 1957, when he and I and another classmate were in basic training in Great Lakes Naval Training Center, in Illinois, near Chicago. He had changed less than any of us. As the old timers . . . (us) . . . would say, "I'd know that hide in a tanning factory." He has had an interesting life, and has done very well since our school days.
But notice that Uncle Cran does not tell us much about this Mr. Wasson, a man who has apparently been quite successful in life -- more successful than somebody, it seems -- and whose story would likely be interesting to hear. Instead, Uncle Cran talks about . . . himself, mostly, although occasionally mentioning others present:

I think I said more words during this time, than all 12 years of our school days, from 1st through 12th. Everyone had a good time, and Drucilla (Crotts) Tiliakos had the program well planned. She and Lois (Cantrell) Daniel deserve a lot of credit for all their effort to organize the day.

There was only one minor incident that slightly marred it for me . . . I will describe it:

Each classmate gave a resume of our life since graduation. It was interesting to hear each give his or her life story, and everyone enjoyed this.

Then my time came.

When I got to the part about meeting Gay and our marriage, I stated, "When we got married, we were both young, shy, inexperienced, and inhibited."

Then I continued, "Our first son was born 10 and 1/2 months later," and I heard someone, (who will not be identified), make the snide remark, "Sounds like Cran got over his inhibitions!"

There were a few (shall we say, sniggers?) as those two near but unconnected comments of mine were somehow mis-applied. This demonstrates that this lady, and perhaps others of my classmates, still had thoughts in their minds not exactly appropriate for such a gathering. But I will forgive and try to forget! As only I should.

Well, you were telling the story, Uncle Cran. Your audience was merely making explicit the connection that you had intended but left implicit. Uncle Cran now concludes his salacious tale, and closes with a reminder of one of life's two certainties, which he posted about on the Sunday morning of his busy weekend:
Today we will go to the Decoration Day (as we have always called it) at Elizabeth cemetery. I usually see someone at this annual event whom I haven't seen in years.
That would be Memorial Day, but I too recall it as Decoration Day. Incidentally, at Uncle Cran's advanced age of 109, he ought to be staying far away from cemeteries. No need to tempt fate and perhaps find oneself meeting a good many more individuals whom one hasn't seen for years and years.

Uncle Cran did add one final note, asking me to go easy on his misspellings and grammatical oddities . . . though he seems to have little hope of such:
But knowing you well, I suspect you will do your usual, and point out my flaws and twisted prose. My fate is once again in your hands. I would ask for mercy, but now realize that someone with a reptilian heart and cold natured disposition has no feelings of sympathy or remorse, and that such a plea would be disregarded; so no such plea will be offered.
I leave to my many readers -- especially my Longhorn readers -- to judge for themselves if I have treated with fairness a man who would label my warm heart a "reptilian" one.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Melissa and her 'Fusion' Baby visit Gypsy Scholar and Family

Melissa, who blogs at Expatriate Games (but secretly calls herself 'Korean Goldfish'), brought her little fiery three-year-old daughter Hayden on a visit Saturday afternoon and became more personally acquainted with the man and his family behind the Gypsy Scholar masquerade, i.e., me (Jeffery Hodges), my wife (Sun-Ae), and our two children (Sa-Rah and En-Uk).

Actually, Sa-Rah was missing at 3 in the afternoon when Melissa and Hayden arrived by taxi from Seoul's world-famous Bonghwasan Station. My daughter is only nearly a teenager but is precocious enough to already be acting like one, so she was out galavanting about with her 13-year-old friends -- jejune cartoonists all -- and leaving younger brother En-Uk responsible for entertaining Hayden.

He did a remarkable job, for the most part steering little Hayden along the relatively strait-and-narrow, if circuitous, one-true-path path on our walk up 'Mt.' Bonghwa, about which we'd promised would offer a panoramic view of Seoul . . . or at least our small portion of it . . . but we'd failed to reckon on either the rights of spring, with its explosion of leaves, or the year's lapse since we'd last hiked the easy summit -- and consequently discovered that much of the previous view had been blocked by upgrown treetop greenery, even for me when I had clambered atop the reconstructed signal-fire chimney. Almost nothing was visible, aside from the river where we sometimes bike, but as a lookout had been constructed precisely for that view, all five of us were able to gaze at least upon that tiny outlook.

Melissa was gracious anyway, despite lack of the promised panorama, and Hayden seemed not to mind. She was too busy enjoying the attentions of 'older brother' . . . namely, En-Uk.

By the time that we arrived again at our apartment, Hayden was wholeheartedly devoted to En-Uk, who had shown her insects, pebbles, and even works of art along the path's wayside, and she followed him around in the apartment to see his landcrabs, his jumprope, and his etchings. Well, his colorful drawings, anyway.

Eventually, we settled down to our meal, and after we'd enjoyed Sun-Ae's success with her world-famous pumpkin soup, followed by her equally successful and equally famous dishes of salad and of curried chicken, we greeted Sa-Rah as she finally returned late to belatedly eat what we'd saved for her -- and made up for her tardiness by entertaining us afterwards with some classical guitar:

En-Uk, not to be outdone by Sa-Rah's musical talent, regaled us with his ability to devour fruit yogurt:

Retiring from that performance, En-Uk sneaked off to watch Kung Fu Panda on DVD while Sa-Rah did her part to make up for her late arrival:

Following an arduous experience with the stuffed animals, Hayden tried to nap on the couch, using one of our cats, Goya, as a pillow:

Our other cat, Angi, would have served adequately as a blanket but had read the signs well and had thus retreated to his perch high above the room, on a ledge far beyond Hayden's reach.

While all of that was going on, Melissa, Sun-Ae, and I were drinking a 2005 Vincent Saincrit Bourdeaux and enjoying our conversation, which ranged over the places we'd lived and the lives we'd led. Melissa comes from a Nova Scotian Catholic town (and I had thought Nova Scotians to all be Scotch-Irish Protestants, yet the province is 37% Papist!), but traveled a year in the States -- starting in Alaska and ending up in Florida -- studied a year for a TESOL certificate in Great Britain, and ended up teaching English here in South Korea, where she picked up a Korean husband (temporarily) and her fusion baby, Hayden (permanently).

Melissa had also recently visited friends in Shanghai and returned with some Delirium Tremens -- no, not the illness, but the famous Belgian beer brewed by Brasserie Familiale Huyghe. She brought along a bottle for me to try, but I didn't open it until Sunday afternoon. It's a pale ale -- and a strong one, too, at 8.5% alcohol, but the bottle was only 330 ml, so I didn't get tipsy. Actually, I didn't even notice the high alcohol because of the beer's fresh, zesty aroma and flavor -- somewhat fruity but certainly not sweet -- followed by a fine hoppy bitterness that quickly sets in to offset the fruitiness but add to the zest. I wished that I had a second bottle, for the one that I drank was too quickly empty.

But back to Saturday evening, which -- like that later ale -- had to come to an end. Babies get tired, as I know from experience, and they sometimes become cranky, so Melissa left before that could happen with Hayden. The little one in fact was a 'delight' and hardly complained about anything. Indeed, she was so attached to En-Uk and Sa-Rah that she insisted on our family coming along to her home. I followed outside as far as the sidewalk but managed to persuade Hayden that I needed to return home to wash the evening's dishes, which she graciously allowed (thus failing to read this sign of impending disappointment). From the various reports later provided, Hayden was content until she and Melissa got into the taxicab without En-Uk, Sa-Rah, or Sun-Ae and realized the bitter truth that none of them were accompanying her all the way home. She then finally cried, stretching out her hand in a gesture of despair at realizing the truth, too late, that she had been misled.

Good parenting is the subtle art of misdirection, and Melissa is a good parent, but we'll find a way to make things up to Hayden for our deception -- as Melissa doubtless already has.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roh Moo-hyun Dead

Roh Moo-huyn
Ex-President of South Korea
(Image from SBS News)

As everyone is doubtless already aware, Ex-President Roh Moo-hyun commited suicide yesterday by leaping from the 30-meter-high Owl Cliff on Mt. Bongha near his home in the village of Bongha, which lies in the southeast of Korea not far from Busan. Apparently, he jumped around 6:40 in the morning, was taken to Seyoung Hospital by 7:00, was tranferred to Pusan National University Hospital by 8:13, and was pronounced dead a little over an hour later, around 9:30.

My wife was checking the news on her computer around 9:45 and saw a rumor of Roh's death by suicide but found nothing certain. I suggested that we turn on the televised news, and after convincing En-Uk that Saturday morning cartoons on the Disney Channel were not the most important thing at the moment, we switched channels and watched early reports of Roh's death on national news. Since I needed English-language news, I went to the Marmot's blog and saw that an entry had been posted at 9:50, so I left a message at 9:54 asking for details, then another at the updated blog entry at 10:49 to inform others that the online reports seen by my wife had mentioned the strong possibility of suicide and that the televised news was reporting a suicide note.

That all turned out to be true, and Sonagi has employed her Korean expertise to post an entry at the Marmot's blog offering an English translation of Roh's suicide note:
I am indebted to so many people.
A lot of people have suffered because of me.
I can't fathom their suffering more in the future.
The rest of my life will only be a burden.
I can't do anything because of my poor health. I can't even read or write anything.
Don't be too sad. Life and death are naturally one.
Don't be sorry. Don't hold grudges against anyone. It's fate. Cremate me and erect a small gravestone near my home. I've thought about this for a long time.
Since he says that he had "thought about this for a long time," I guess that he was the only one not surprised by his suicide, but in retrospect, this fatal decision was predictable, for a lot of prominent Koreans who lose face commit suicide, and Roh was under investigation for corruption -- a mortal blow to his image as Mr. Incorruptible.

According to Robert Koehler, host of the Marmot's blog, "Roh apparently asked his bodyguard Lee Byeong-choon for a smoke right before he jumped." Somehow, perhaps because this was the last personal contact sought out by Roh -- privately soliciting a smoke for a penultimate moment of quiet reflection -- that final request personalizes his death for me.

I wonder what he was thinking in that moment. That he'd failed as a statesman and as a person? If I'd been there on that precipice and privy to his thoughts, I'd have asked him if he really wished to cap his failures with the ultimate admission of defeat. Despite his suicide note, this last step into history wasn't fate. Roh could have chosen to go on living and thereby face his problems with dignity. And who knows how he might have been judged in ten or twenty years? Even Richard Nixon, a far more corrupt politician, eventually achieved the standing of elder statesman.

I feel sorry for his family and friends, and I also feel sorry for South Korea. I can't feel especially sorry for Roh because he left family and friends behind to clean up his mess, but this death is tragic, and I do feel sad about that.

Anyway, rest in peace, Roh Moo-hyun.

UPDATE: The guard has altered his story a couple of times, once saying that he left Roh to accompany a hiker down the mountain path but now saying that Roh asked him to see if the local Buddhist monk was in the mountain temple, so the entire truth might be yet to emerge.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finding Fraud Behind Facade: Google-Mapping North Korea

"A Glimpse at North Korea"
Glimpse of? Glance at?
(Image from Wall Street Journal)

Although I've used Google Maps to locate my family home back in the Ozarks and check the unimpressive elevations of some of the local knobs and high points around my hometown and even to look at some of the old swimming holes in the creeks where I used to play, I'm not truly proficient.

Not like Curtis Melvin.

Melvin is a doctoral student at George Mason University who uses Google Earth to download photographs of sites in North Korea.

Sites like the palatial mansion of North Korea's 'Beloved Leader' Kim Jong-il:
The vast complexes of Mr. Kim and other North Korean leaders are visible, with palatial homes, pools, even a water slide . . . . Mr. Melvin says the images also make clear the gulf between the lives of Mr. Kim and his impoverished people. "Once you start mapping the power plants and substations and wires, you can connect the infrastructure with the elite compounds," Mr. Melvin says. "And then you see towns that have no power supply at all." (Ramstad, "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide")
We've long known about this sort of thing in North Korea, but looking at the images gives focus to one's anger at an elite that lives in huge mansions and passes its leisure time on enormous playgrounds as the common people starve because the country can mass produce only empty rhetoric about its egalitarian paradise.

For the visual evidence, go to the slideshow, and take a look there at the elite's water slide (Nr. 3), at Kim Jong-il's own personal golf course (Nr. 7), and at one or another of King Kim's palatial homes (Nr. 8).

You can see all this and more by way of Evan Ramstad's article "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide: Citizen Spies Lift North Korea's Veil," which appears in the Wall Street Journal's May 22nd issue. How do Curtis Melvin and his band of citizen spies create these maps? Ramstad tells us:
Mr. Melvin is at the center of a dozen or so citizen snoops who have spent the past two years filling in the blanks on the map of one of the world's most secretive countries. Seeking clues in photos, news reports and eyewitness accounts, they affix labels to North Korean structures and landscapes captured by Google Earth, an online service that stitches satellite pictures into a virtual globe. The result is an annotated North Korea of rocket-launch sites, prison camps and elite palaces on white-sand beaches. (Ramstad, "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide")
Mr. Melvin is an astute observer who notices details in unexpected ways and uses these to fill in his map:
The recent report of Mr. Kim at the hydroelectric station in Wonsan, for example, showed Mr. Kim looking at a painting of the complex. Mr. Melvin studied the painting, noticing it depicted a unique pattern of roads. He then spotted the roads on the satellite image, along with the giant pipes, and added the station to his map. (Ramstad, "Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide")
Mr. Melvin and his associates call what they do "democratized intelligence." They are accomplishing some of the more important work in what is being done among the bloggers and other internet users all over the world who are engaged in unofficial distributed intelligence work.

You can learn more about Mr. Melvin's project by going to his website, North Korean Economy Watch, which I have only just learned about through Sonagi's report over at the Marmot's fine blog -- so a big hat tip to Sonagi, the Marmot, Joshua Stanton, Evan Ramstad, Curtis Melvin and all those involved in exposing the fraud behind the facade in North Korea.

Now if we can just persuade South Korea's 'progressives' to look through this 'telescope' and see the truth.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Christopher Caldwell - Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West

Revolution in Europe?
'There Will Be Blood'
(Image from

John Vinocur, who writes the "Politicus" column for The New York Times, has written a timely article, "Downturn Draws a Veil Over Islam," alerting his readers to the imminent publication of a new book by Christopher Caldwell that I'll definitely have to read: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.

Here's what Vinocur reports on Caldwell's book:
Christopher Caldwell has written a dense and important book about whether Europe's identity (itself an uncertain issue) can absorb or survive a fast growing Muslim population, in part deeply engaged in Islam. It is called "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe" and is published in London by Allen Lane and by Doubleday in New York.

Its most cutting insights, rather than on Muslim immigrants' capacity or motivations to assimilate -- I'd say they turn on Europe's will to establish more demanding standards for their integration -- deal with the Europeans themselves.

Mr. Caldwell, who is an editor at The Weekly Standard in Washington and writes a weekend column for The London Financial Times, says Europe's "writers, academics and politicians act as if it is only some quirk or accident or epiphenomenon (and never immigration itself) that has left their country with intractable problems."

All European countries, he writes, pursue the same strategy: "elevating Muslim pressure groups to pseudo-governmental status and declaring that doing so will produce an Islam that reflects the values of Europe than vice versa."

But because Europe was unsure of what those values are, and accepted a "neutrality of cultures," Mr. Caldwell finds "declaring immigration a success and an enrichment became the only acceptable opinion to hold."

As a result, he concludes, "Europe finds itself in a contest with Islam for the allegiance of its newcomers. For now, Islam is the stronger party in that contest."
Strong words, too, and rather bitter for the Europeans to hear, but neither can they ignore Caldwell's words. Here's what's editorial review of the books says:
Christopher Caldwell has been reporting on the politics and culture of Islam in Europe for more than a decade. His deeply researched and insightful new book reveals a paradox. Since World War II, mass immigration has been made possible by Europe's enforcement of secularism, tolerance, and equality. But when immigrants arrive, they are not required to adopt those values. And they are disinclined to, since they already have values of their own. Muslims dominate or nearly dominate important European cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Strasbourg and Marseille, the Paris suburbs and East London. Islam has challenged the European way of life at every turn, becoming, in effect, an "adversary culture."

The result? In Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, Caldwell reveals the anger of natives and newcomers alike. He describes guest worker programs that far outlasted their economic justifications, and asylum policies that have served illegal immigrants better than refugees. He exposes the strange ways in which welfare states interact with Third World customs, the anti-Americanism that brings European natives and Muslim newcomers together, and the arguments over women and sex that drive them apart. He considers the appeal of sharia, "resistance," and jihad to a second generation that is more alienated from Europe than the first, and addresses a crisis of faith among native Europeans that leaves them with a weak hand as they confront the claims of newcomers.
As some readers know, I taught a course at Yonsei last fall -- "Multiculturalism and the European Union" -- that focused partly on this very issue. The Europeans face a dilemma. If they want an EU to work, then they must accept multiculturalism, for the EU is a union of different cultures. However, if they accept multiculturalism, then the growing Muslim enclaves within Europe can legitimately demand the right to practice their own Islamic culture in the urban areas where they increasingly dominate.

One solution to this problem is to go between the horns of the dilemma.

Reject a radical multiculturalism predicated upon radical cultural relativism and insist upon a moderate multiculturalism defending human rights and requiring immigrants to accept European values and assimilate into the countries where they settle.

This solution will not come without a struggle. Vinocur tells us to consider the Dutch Labor Party, which put forward a position paper in December 2008 suggesting that the Dutch reject the unsuccessful system of Dutch "tolerance':
Considering the long Dutch experience with multicultural laissez-faire involving Muslim immigration, it said some extraordinary things. Notably, that government and politicians had too often ignored the feelings of "loss and estrangement" in Dutch society in the face of newcomers who disregarded its language, laws and customs.

Lilianne Ploumen, the party chairwoman, insisted that attempts to stifle Dutch criticism of religions (read Islam) and cultures had to stop; double nationalities had to disappear; punishment for troublemakers had to be of such severity that it could no longer serve as a badge of honor for them.

"The street is mine, too," she said.
As Vinocur notes, this "new line seemed like a path-finding change of course inside Europe’s left." But he adds: "Almost." And explains:
Up for approval at a party congress in March, the double-nationality ban disappeared. The text didn't say, as Ms. Ploumen had, "Let go of where you come from." It no longer contained a call to newcomers to abandon "self-designated victimization." Nor did it refer to "bringing our (Dutch) values into confrontation with people who think otherwise."

And the notion of "unconditional" engagement by immigrants in Dutch life was gone.
The Dutch Labor Party, the Euro-Left generally, and indeed all of Europe has yet to put forward a proper, civilized but firm demand that Muslim immigrants assimilate and adopt European values.

If this is not done soon in a civilized manner using the language of common European values, then we could very well see within European nations a resurgent ethnic nationalism that will turn in violence not only against Muslim immigrants but also against the very EU itself.

In that case, as European history has often proven, there will be blood.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

David Lynn Jones to play in West Plains on June 13, 2009?

David Lynn Jones
- First from Right -
2006 Americana Music Conference and Awards
Wayne, Chip Taylor, Steve Popovich, Steve Popovich, Jr., and David Lynn Jones
- From Left to Right -
(Image by
Michael Buffalo Smith)

I'm re-using this photograph of David Lynn Jones from 2006 . . . although I have found two more recent images on a MySpace site hosted by a lady named "Jamie" who lives in Spring Lake, Arkansas. I learned of this site from another lady, "Di," who also has a MySpace site and lives in Clarksburg, Tennessee.

Both Jamie and Di are David Lynn Jones fans, and I reckon that I am, too, even though I possess only one CD, a bootleg copy of a gospel tape that Jones made back around 1999 in his Bexar studio but never produced. I came into possession of this CD because my nephew was dating Jones's daughter a couple of years later and . . . well, the story gets complicated. The shortest story is that I grew up in Jones's part of the Ozarks and have some personal connections through family and friends.

For the benefit of those who run across this blog entry but don't know who Jones is or why I'm talking about him (or who don't know who I am either), just do a search on this blog for "David Lynn Jones," and you'll find out about him (and about me). You can also listen to Jones singing "Here In My Heart" at his own MySpace account, or go to You Tube and enjoy "High Riding Heros," "When Times Were Good and You Were Mine," and "Bonnie Jean (Little Sister)."

Now for the more recent news. A man named "Jamie Denton," who lives in West Plains, Missouri and also has a My Space site, has left a couple of comments on one of my blog entries on David Lynn Jones and tells us the following:
Hi, my name's Jamie and I'm putting on a benefit concert for the late Mark Sallings, who was a member of David Lynn's band, and David Lynn Jones is scheduled to appear on June 13th (a Saturday night) at the avenue theatre in West Plains MO. Tickets go on sale June the 1st at 10 a.m. at West Plains Music Store, and range from 10.00 to 25.00. We would love to have all of Lynn's fans out to see him.

The concert for Mark Sallings mentioned in the above comment will be June 13th 2009, at the Avenue Theatre in West Plains, MO. I just wanted to confirm this is a 2009 date!
Although West Plains, Missouri is only about 30 miles from my hometown of Salem, Arkansas, it's halfway around the world from Seoul, South Korea, where I currently live, so I won't be able to make the concert, but if anyone reading my blog lives close enough to attend and gets to hear Jones play, let us know the details.

I don't know Mr. Denton personally, but I've checked with bass musician Jerry Bone to find out more. Jerry tells me that he's aware of the planned concert but cannot be there himself because his son is graduating from college in Chicago at the same time.

For those who want to know details, Mr. Denton has posted more information at his MySpace site on "The Ozarks Homecoming Concert in Memory of Mark Sallings of the Famous Unknowns."

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Scam for the Truly Naive

Ship House
Nigerian Defense Headquarters
Abuja, Nigeria
"Scanning the seas for scammers!"
(Image from Wikipedia)

As with the rest of you, my day doesn't really begin until I'm imbibing my morning coffee and deleting my overnight scam-spam. The latter is usually an automatic, even montonous procedure:
Mark spam that got past filter. Move to spam folder. Check spam folder for nonspam. Move to inbox. Delete remaining spam.
But this morning, I saw in the spam folder an obvious but nevertheless clever scam. Sent to me from 'scam victim', its subject heading shouted:
I laughed and decided to open it, whereupon I found more 'shouting':
Motto: No Body is Above the Law
I have to admit, that's a scary-sounding crimes commission, what with a motto implicitly promising to go after dead criminals! "No body is above the law." Sheds a whole new light on "Wanted: Dead or Alive." I hope this commission isn't after me!

Anyway, there's immediately some more shouting:
FROM THE DESK OF: Chief Mrs. Farida Mzamber Waziri (AIG rtd.)
The EFCC's promise to be at my service is reassuring, as is the following 'information', again shouted out:


The EFCC wants to give me money to the tune of "one-quarter million dollars." Wow. I'm impressed. Like the United Nations was impressed by Doctor Evil's demand for "one million dollars." Ha. Ha. Ha. Listen, EFCC, I want one-hundred billion dollars. Also, I'm not satisfied with the number of exes assigned to me. Why do I have only 5 exes when the EFCC gets 7?

But onward to the letter, which -- having gotten my attention -- stops shouting:
I write to bring to your notice as a delegate from the Nigerian Government Reimbursement Committe under the strict supervision of the United Nations to pay 230 Nigerian 419 scam victims the sum of $250,000 USD (Two Hundred and Fifty Thounsand Dollars) each. You are however listed as one of the beneficiaries for these payments. You are expected to get back to us for your immediate reimbursement.
Wait as second. What sort of numerical figure is a "thounsand"? Is that a typo . . . or some sort of dialect? Or perhaps some oblique term from an obscure branch of mathematics? It sounds suspiciously like a fraction to me. Kind of like "one-thousandth" in American English. Is the EFCC offering me twenty-five cents? Talk about small change! Still:
As a result of this laudable recommedations, you are hereby informed that during the last U.N. meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria, it was alarmed so much by the rest of the world on the loss of funds by various foreigners to the scam artists operating in syndicates all over the world today. In other to redeem the good image of our country, the President has ordered the immediate payment of $250,000 USD each via Bank Draft to the affected victims in accordance with the U.N. recommendations. Due to the corrupt .
I'm also a bit concerned by the expression "in other to redeem." I'm not familiar with that phrase. Is it an idiom? And the message breaks off rather abruptly with "Due to the corrupt" . . . as though some valuable information were about to be imparted. There's even an empty space before the period. But the letter blithely continues in a following paragraph:
Please, you are hereby advised to fill in the below spaces according to how you have been scammed to avoid mix-up

Your Full Names ......................
Your Full Address ....................
Direct Contact Phone Number .......
passport photograph.............................
The EFCC wants my "Full Names"? What does that mean? My full name along with some other full names of mine? Well, my full name is "Horace Jeffery Hodges," but I've been referred to as "Horace Jeffrey Hodges," "Horrace Jeffrey Hodges," and even "Horace Geoffrey Hodges." And sometimes the "s" gets dropped from my surname, leave it the singular "Hodge." Maybe the commission wants all of these. Hmmm . . . the money might begin to add up, after all.

But how do I "fill in" the space for my passport photograph? I'm supposed to describe it? Okay, it looks like me . . . sort of. Actually, it looks more like what I should look like at my advanced age and state of reprobation. Like that painting in Oscar Wilde's scandalous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. As David Byrne once said, "Passport photos are what people really look like."

But the letter doesn't stop with a request for that rather personal information. It goes on to tell of the EFCC's efforts to hunt down Nigerian scammers:
Many Banks, Universal firms, Companies and individuals have been in bankrupcy today due to the activities of these hoodlums. However, a thorough investigation have revealed that these people have dropped over 500,000 victims across the world, after collecting their money falsely, many as a result of this have committed suicide, while others are now living in abject poverty. As regards these ongoing developmental strive, we have over 200 suspects at hand, 135 in kirikri prisons. While many are awaiting trial, we are still in search of others, who think they are wise, and hope that you will assist by giving any vital information that could lead to the apprehension of these hoodlums.
The scammers "have dropped over 500,000 victims across the world, after collecting their money"? Dropped them? How? From helicopters? Yet, some apparently survived . . . only to commit suicide or live on in abject poverty. These scammers truly are hoodlums. Good to hear that the Nigerian EFCC has 135 of them in . . . "kirikri prisons"? Kirikri, Togo? Why in a neighboring country? But there's more:
You will receive your payment Via bank draft so as to avoid delay. We shall be waiting to hear from you been certain that your response will be that you are satisfied and willing to claim your $250,000 USD (Two Hundred and Fifty Thounsand Dollars) reimbursement funds.
Hmmm . . . there's that "thounsand" again, so it can't be a typo. I guess that it really is some obscure mathematical expression. Anyway, if I want my 'thounsands', I have to respond immediately:
You are to respond immdiately and send a confirmation to the below

Contact Person:

Email: efcccrm58 at
No name given, but there is that email. I wouldn't advise anybody to use it, however. Indeed, I would advise expressly against doing so . . . even though the EFCC is expecting a prompt response:
Finally, we are expecting to hear from you today unfailingly so as to enable us serve you better .

Thank you very much for your anticipated co-operation and understanding.

Frankly Yours,


Chief Mrs. Farida Mzamber Waziri (AIG rtd.)
Executive Chairman Economic and Financial
Crimes Commission (EFCC)
Yada, yada, yada . . . . Well, that provided some unexpected, morning amusement, and I'm now fully awake. These scammers must have realized that people have become aware of the outrageous scams originating in Nigeria, but I have to admire their chutzpah in presenting themselves as officials legally authorized to reimburse people who have already been scammed.

But could anyone possiby be so naive as to fall for a meta-scam of this sort?

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Maureen Dowd: I believe her!

Maureen Dowd
(Image from Wikipedia)

Why is everyone down on Dowd for her 'plagiarism'? She simply repeated something she'd heard from a friend. Do we have to cite our friends every time we 'borrow' words from some conversation that we both shared?

I borrow words all the time. Why, hardly a word that I've used so far is original to me! I'd have to invent a word if I wanted to be truly original, and if I did that, nobody'd know what I was talking about. Take "dowdlerize," for example. Would anybody understand that? Not unless I also explained this invented word:
dowdlerize: tr.v. To modify, as by shortening or simplifying or by skewing the content in a certain manner.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I overheard this definition and decided to borrow what I remembered. It's kind of similar to the definition of another word at the Free Online Dictionary, as I learned later . . . sometime after I'd overheard it.

Anyway, what did Dowd 'borrow'? Let me see . . . she said:
"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."
That's it? Why, I overhear stuff like that all the time. A constant refrain of stuff echoing in my head. My head is so full of stuff that I hardly know when I'm just retaining stuff I've heard and when I'm actually thinking for myself!

Besides, Dowd didn't 'quote' those words exactly. She made them more or less her own. You can see that by checking the putative 'source' in Josh Marshall's blog:
"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."
See. Hardly identical by any strict reading! Dowd used "when the Bush crowd was looking," not Marshall's words: "when we were looking." Dowd's words are a lot more creative than Marshall's and are clearly not copied.

As for the other words that are somewhat similar? Well, that can happen to the best of us. Like me. I once accidentally used some words similar to something I'd overheard. Here's what I wrote:
"Act only according to that maxim whereby you and the Bush crowd can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
I'd overheard some friend say that, I guess. Anyway, it was rattling around in my head, and I thought I'd come up with it, but turns out it was kind of like something Immanuel Kant once said:
"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
As you can see, there's a 'similarity' in our choice of words . . . though I think that mine are slightly more creative. Besides, Kant said this in more than one way, so who can blame me if one of the ways that he said it sounds something like what I wrote? I categorically deny that I copied. Why, I wouldn't do that. I'd never do that! What if everybody copied from everybody? Like it was a general rule or something? That wouldn't be right.

I think we all know we should never plagiarize. This is a rule of thumb that I like to call a categorical imperative -- meaning that we wouldn't want everybody doing it.

Each of us implicitly knows this rule. I know it. You know it. Maureen Dowd knows it. And because she knows it -- and knows just how important this rule is -- she'd never violate it by copying someone else's words without attribution.

And lately, she has decided to quell the controversy over the similarity between her words and Josh Marshall's by deleting her own words, quoting Marshall's words exactly, and giving him credit.

That ought to satisfy everybody.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Geoff Boucher on cartoonist Jerry Robinson's "serendipitous meeting"

(Image from LA Times Blogs)

The Korea Herald had the above photo of cartoonist Jerry Robinson in its weekend issue, along with an article so interesting that I had to find the original in the Los Angeles Times, but I found the even more original in the LA Times Blogs, where Geoff Boucher has posted his full article "'Joker' creator Jerry Robinson reflects on Gotham and the golden age" (and see a video on Boucher's interview with Robinson).

One thing that caught my attention was Boucher's reference to a book that I read last year:
Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Joe Shuster, Mac Raboy, Lou Fine and Robinson are some of . . . young Jewish artists who became the basis for the ink-stained dreamers in Michael Chabon's wistful, Pulitzer-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."
Readers may recall that I referred to that novel on this blog some time back, though I never wrote a full review.

But something that struck me even more powerfully in Boucher's article was the significance of chance occurrences in our lives. Robinson was 17 in 1939, had just graduated from high school, and was working so hard at earning money for college by pedaling around as a bicycle ice-cream salesman that his mother -- alarmed that her son weighed under 90 pounds -- insisted that he take a break at a resort in the Catskill Mountains. He took her advice and went to the resort, where he relaxed by playing tennis. The weather must have been cool, for he was wearing a white painter's jacket decorated with his own cartoons while warming up on the court:
"That was a fad then, kids would get these linen jackets with all the pockets and personalize them with all this razzmatazz," he recalled. "I was wearing mine as a warm-up jacket and someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked, 'Hey, who drew that stuff?' It was Bob Kane, who had just finished the first issue of Batman [which was "Detective Comics" No. 27]. I didn't even know what that was. He showed me the issue that was on sale there at the local village. I wasn't very impressed."

Robinson, however, was impressed with Kane's offer of a drawing-table job in New York. The teenager had been accepted at three universities and had planned on Syracuse, but after the serendipitous meeting, he phoned Columbia in the city and said he was on the way.
He certainly was, for he became so involved with the Batman series that he is often credited with creating the Joker . . . though this 'origins-story' remains disputed in its details.

At any rate, I was impressed and showed the Korea Herald's copy of Boucher's article to my daughter, who tells me that one of her three career choices is to become a cartoonist. I told her, "You've got the talent. Now, you've just got to get some luck."

Looking back over my own career, I can't identify any lucky moment, but I had an even more serendipitous meeting that utterly transformed my life . . . so I can't complain.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wisdom for the Ages

Thorstein Veblen
(Image from Wikipedia)

Perhaps every reader is familiar with this old but wise proverb handed down from simpler times:
"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."
These words are not merely wise, but actually offer excellent advice, unlike some bits of folk wisdom from the past, e.g., "a penny saved is a penny earned"? Some wise fool knew naught of inflation! Rather "a penny saved is a penny lost" -- to coin a phrase. Invest! Invest!

But speaking of improved folk wisdom, let me pass along one that my old Ozark friend Deva Hupaylo has forwarded, an even wiser varient on the old saw about fishing:
"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Teach a man to create an artificial shortage of fish and he will eat steak."
These words of keen advice have been offered to us all by the wise old man of late-night television -- no, not David Letterman, but Jay Leno! -- and "oh, but they're weird and they're wonderful" advisory words indeed and have even inspired me with a way to make money, for as I retorted to Deva:
"In times of fish shortage, I would conspicuously consume fish and offer expensive fishing tips."
Deva, going beyond even Thorstein Veblen, observed:
"A born consultant!"
Me, a consultant? Really and truly? Well, undoubtedly a congenital defect -- as Deva has diagnosed -- but one of which I was entirely unaware before it was called to my attention. Nevertheless, I was raised to "turn lemons into lemonade," so I immediately made her an offer -- and just to "kill two birds with one stone" sent along a copy of the offer to another old Ozark friend, Pete Hale:
Exactly, and for a small fee (relative to what you'll gain), I can advise the two of you on better fishing! Hurry while you are both still solvent! A big mess of fish is guaranteed!
And to avoid charges of 'insider trading' -- or the consultant's equivalent -- I'm now making the identical, generous offer to all my readers for the same comparatively small fee.

Just ask now -- while you're still solvent!

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Leonard Cohen: "Tower of Song"

Leonard Cohen, 2008
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've been listening a lot to Leonard Cohen lately as I rework my previous reworking of my wife's translation of stories by the contemporary Korean writer Jang Jung-il. I could probably draw out some lines of connection between Cohen and Jang if I tried . . . but I won't try because I feel like Hank Williams these days, so I'll just leave you with Cohen's reference to Williams in "Tower of Song," while I get back to work:
Well my friends are gone, and my hair is grey,
I ache in the places where I used to play,
And I'm crazy for love, but I'm not coming on.
I'm just paying my rent every day
In the tower of song.

I said to Hank Williams: How lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long,
Oh, a hundred floors above me
In the tower of song.

I was born like this, I had no choice,
I was born with the gift of a golden voice,
And twenty-seven angels from the great beyond,
Well, they tied me to this table right here
In the tower of song.

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll;
I'm very sorry, baby, doesn't look like me at all;
I'm standing by the window where the light is strong.
Ah, they don't let a woman kill you,
Not in the tower of song.

Well, you can say that I've grown bitter, but of this you may be sure,
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor,
And there's a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong.
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the tower of song.

I see you standing on the other side,
Don't know how the river got so wide,
I loved you baby, way back when,
And all bridges are burning that we might have crossed.
Feel so close to everything that we lost,
We'll never, we'll never have to lose it again

So I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back,
They're moving us tomorrow to the tower down the track,
But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone.
I'll be speaking to you sweetly,
From my window in the tower of song.

Well my friends are gone, and my hair is grey,
I ache in the places where I used to play,
And I'm crazy for love, but I'm not coming on.
I'm just paying my rent every day
In the tower of song.
In case you missed it, I've linked to Cohen's performance of this song with U2 on You Tube. Go there and listen . . . and click on some other Cohen performances.

As for me . . . I'm getting back to coughing my way through a lonely editing of Jang Jung-il.

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