Monday, August 31, 2009

How Graceful is Melville's Whale?

Rockwell Kent, "The Chase"

I've tentatively begun re-reading Herman Melville's masterpiece, Moby-Dick, and one word kept puzzling me, preventing me from making progress: חן.

This word, "chen," looked like the Hebrew word for "grace," but Melville defined it as "whale." I couldn't dredge up a whale for that, so I finally pulled my Gesenius Hebrew dictionary from its shelf and checked. Only "grace."

So . . . what's this about a whale, I wondered.

I went to Google Books and found a snippet of explanation:
[The] most accurate Hebrew word for whale was תנין, used in Genesis i,21 and Job vii,12, which is transcribed in the Roman alphabet as tannin. What Melville apparently wrote was תן (tan), the hypothetical singular, which did not occur in the Old Testament. (Melville, Moby-Dick, University of Michgan, 1952, with introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick, page 579)
Mystery solved . . . or is it? This snippet implies that Melville got it right but an editor got it wrong. But perhaps Melville inadvertently misperceived "sea monster" (תן = tan) as "grace" (חן = chen), mistaking the letter "tav" (ת) for the letter "heth" (ח). Or did Melville perhaps intentionally conflate "grace" (חן = chen) with "sea monster" (תן = tan) in some deeper irony? Such is the opinion of Michael West:
Moby-Dick begins with a bogus Hebrew etymology, causing editors no little confusion, but it is perhaps no accident that the Hebrew characters Melville supplied form the word not for whale but for grace. (West, Transcendental Wordplay : America's Romantic Punsters and the Search for the Language of Nature, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2000, page 333)
West cites pages 1-6 of Neal Schleifer's article "Melville as Lexicographer: Linguistics and Symbolism in Moby-Dick" in Melville Society Extracts (Volume 98, September 1994), which can be read in full online. Schliefer's analysis is speculative but intriguing, for he notes on page 2 that the letter "heth" (ח) of the word "grace" (חן = chen) introduces an "h," and he suggests that a quote from Hackluyt supplied by Melville shortly prior to the erroneous "grace" offers a clue that the 'error' is intentional:
While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them by what name a whale fish is to be called in our tongue, leaving out, through ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh up the signification of the word, you deliver that which is not true.
Is Schliefer correct? Possibly, given the Hackluyt quote, but Schliefer's following, overly ingenious reading of Melville's 'erroneous' Greek as a miswritten "Christos" is about as hard to swallow as the story of Jonah.

So who is right, and where lies the truth? Such questions never end . . .

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sandow Birk: Artful Observations on a Qur'an

"The Chargers"
Sura 100
Painted by Sandow Birk
(Image from NYT)

The prominent American artist Sandow Birk may have had a naive idea in creating an "American Qur'an" . . . but we shall soon see. The above image comes from Birk's hand-painted series to accompany each of the suras in the Qur'an. Not that Birk is really illustrating the Qur'an, for the text is not in Arabic but in English, as he explains:
"Really, technically, this wouldn't even be considered a Koran by Islamic scholars because it's not written in Arabic."
The man has a point, one backed up by the Islamic art and book-arts expert Marianna Shreve Simpson:
"The Koran only exists in the language in which the prophet Muhammad received the revelations, and he received and preached them in Arabic."
But that opinion might carry little weight among Muslims. In Culver City, the King Fahad Mosque's director of public relations, Usman Madha, gave his opinion that Muslims might see Birk's artistry as "insulting to the Islamic faith," for he offers a warning:
"There is no such thing as an American Koran, or European Koran, or Asian Koran . . . . If someone calls a work their own version of the Koran, they are misrepresenting the Koran as revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel . . . . [and] could cause people to react in a hostile way . . . . If you look at Islamic history, we have never associated any revelations with imagery because it then becomes idol worship . . . . With all due respect to people's belief in First Amendment rights, the artist may be opening up a Pandora's box . . . . And that's the last thing we want in this day and age."
As for Birk, he doesn't appeal to the US Constitution's First Amendment but to his own interpretive understanding of the Qur'an:
"The Koran is supposed to be a message from God . . . . If God is speaking to human beings, I should be able to pick up this book and think about it. I should be able to contemplate what it means to me."
That sounds like a very Protestant expression -- the priesthood of all believers going back to Luther -- but it isn't the Muslim point of view. In Islam, the Ulema -- or community of religious scholars -- determines the limits of expression through application of Islamic law, sharia, based on the Qur'an, the sirah (life of Muhammad), and the hadith (traditions about Muhammad). There's no freedom of religious interpretation as one finds in the West, where such a thing is also increasingly endangered these days.

Birk himself has already encountered this sort of restriction. While developing a film based on his illustrations for Dante's Inferno, violent protests over the Danish cartoons ridiculing Muhammad were raging, and he was forced by the film's producers to excise the scene depicting Muhammad in hell. At the time, he strongly disagreed with the decision: "I thought it was wrong to act out of fear." He seems, however, to have acceded at the time . . . but perhaps he now wishes to test the limits of artistic expression? His 'respectful' Qur'anic illustration might prove useful toward this aim, whatever his intentions.

With that in mind, I find Birk's use of a contemporary stock-car race to illustrate Sura 100 an oddly compelling image to accompany his rendering of John Medows Rodwell's poetic 1861 English translation:
By the chargers, snorting, striking sparks of fire, attacking in the morning, leaving dust behind them, and cleaving midway through any host, mankind is indeed ungrateful to his Lord and he himself knows it, for he is sure [sic. surely] violent in love of worldly goods. Doesn't he know that when what is in the graves shall emerge and what is in hearts is found out that your Lord will know everything?
Note that Birk is only loosely following Rodwell's version, if you happen to check, and might in fact be using several English translations as guides, thereby putting his own personal version at several removes from the original . . . though I assume that the grammatical error is unintended.

Not that distance from the Arabic original will make a difference. What will make a difference, however, is how the Islamists decide to react. If they treat Birk's 'respectful' perspective as they did the Danish cartoonists' disrespectful perspective, then they will orchestrate violent riots around the world . . . but they might handle this differently since a violent response to one artist's well-intentioned perspective on the Qur'an might not do much for Islam's positive image, and even radical Islamists might be aware of that.

We'll see.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nagla Al Imam: Ex-Muslim convert to Christianity . . . but what of her other views?

Nagla Al Imam
(Image from Al-Arabiya TV)

According to the ex-Muslim convert to Christianity Nonie Darwish, in an article "If You Convert You Die" (August 03, 2009) written for Front Page Magazine, the Egyptian feminist Nagla Al Imam has converted from Islam to Christianity:

[The] prominent Egyptian lawyer and women's rights activist, Nagla Al Imam, recently announced her conversion to Christianity in Cairo, Egypt. The announcement brought shock waves in and beyond Egypt. This is perhaps the first case ever of its kind, where a Muslim woman, who is also a Sharia expert, has openly challenged Islamic apostasy laws from within the Muslim world.

Ms. Al Imam's incredible courage was on display in an internet chat room, where she announced that she is not afraid, will stand up for the human rights of apostates and refuses to leave her homeland, Egypt. This was immediately followed by attacks and calls ('fatwas') for death of the 36 year-old graduate of Al Azhar Islamic University.
This is certainly surprising news, especially in light of Ms. Al-Imam's expertise in Sharia -- implying that she understands the deadly consequences -- but in certain respects somewhat less astonishing than the report about this same Al-Imam from last November 18 (2008), when Front Page Magazine posted the MEMRI translation of an interview on Al-Arabiya TV (October 31, 2008):
"Egyptian Lawyer Calls Out For Raping Jewish Girls."
Despite the article's title, Ms. Al-Imam was apparently ambiguous on what, precisely, she was calling for, whether harassment or rape. Asked to clarify the point, she seemed to rule out rape, for when the interviewer inquired, "Does this also include rape?" she replied:

"No. Sexual harassment."
Ms. Al-Imam also explained her reasoning:

"This is a form of resistance. In my opinion, they are fair game for all Arabs, and there is nothing wrong with [it]."
Pressed still further, she explained her justification in calling for this form of 'resistance':

"First of all, they violate our rights, and they 'rape' the land. Few things are as grave as the rape of land. In my view, this is a new form of resistance."
When the interviewer inquired, "As a lawyer, don't you think this might expose Arab youth to punishment for violating laws against sexual harassment?" Ms. Al-Imam replied:

"Most Arab countries . . . [w]ith the exception of three or four Arab countries, which I don't think allow Israeli women to enter anyway, most Arab countries do not have sexual harassment laws. Therefore, if [Arab women] are fair game for Arab men, there is nothing wrong with Israeli women being fair game as well."
Hmmm . . . was she speaking ironically here? She is, after all, a women's rights activist, so she surely does not believe that Arab women "are fair game for Arab men." Did she intend her remarks as criticism of Arab men's treatment of Arab women? If not meant in irony, Ms. Al-Imam's argument is odd, even bizarre. Even if ironic, the argument is overly convoluted.

Whatever she might have intended then, while still Muslim, I'd like to know her views now that she has converted to Christianity. I can't quite imagine that whatever Christian church she has attached herself to would officially affirm her statement on the right of Arab men to sexually harass Israeli women who are visiting Arab countries as tourists.

I respect her courage as an open apostate in a Muslim country (even if that seems rather foolhardy), and I support her free speech to say what she thinks (despite my visceral reaction to her words), but I'd definitely like to know if she genuinely approves of Arab men's right to sexually harassment Israeli women. I'd then better know what to think about her.

Unless her outrageous 'rape' statement and her very public 'conversion' are extreme publicity stunts . . . but to what end?

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice

Doc Sportello?
Illustration by Erik T. Johnson
(Image from NYT)

Thomas Pynchon has come out with another book rooted in the countercultural sixties, his Inherent Vice. Back in February 1973, that would still have been avant garde literature, but it now feels more like ancient history. Perhaps even more ancient than the sixties since its antihero, the private eye Doc Sportello, harkens back to the to the pre-sixties gumshoe antiheros created by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler . . . but less into whiskey and more into pot.

I haven't read the novel, just Walter Kirn's New York Times review "Drugs to Do, Cases to Solve" (August 20, 2009), but I might read it since Kirn makes it sound funny, as in this passage on StarKist's Charlie the Tuna commercial:
"It's all supposed to be so innocent, upwardly mobile snob, designer shades, beret, so desperate to show he's got good taste, except he's also dyslexic so he gets 'good taste' mixed up with 'taste good,' but it's worse than that! Far, far worse! Charlie really has this, like, obsessive death wish! Yes! he, he wants to be caught, processed, put in a can, not just any can, you dig, it has to be StarKist! suicidal brand loyalty."
I suppose that one needs to have experienced the popular StarKist commercial to get the humor and to have lived the sixties to undertand the point, Charlie as expression of an inverted paranoia -- 'They're not out to get me!'

Meanwhile, the paranoiacs of Pynchon's countercultural universe suffer the opposite problem "paranoia [as] a version of normal pattern­making amped way up by . . . [the] intake of hallucinogens." They foresee that, unlike Charlie, they're the ones "to be caught, processed, put in a can." Such countercultural paranoia was, in hindsight, utterly lucid thinking. Drugs were illegal. The cops and the government and the culture were all out to get them. Even those paranoiacs had real enemies.

On Doc Sportello's StarKist riff and its like, Kirn observes:
These manic outbursts aren't arbitrary, of course, but cluster around the novel's core concern with the waning of the Summer of Love, when all was balmy and celestial, into the chilly Autumn of Authority, which Pynchon implies has yet to end.
Realistically speaking, of course, that countercultural world couldn't have survived and was itself more an expression of Pynchon's infamous 'entropy' than the 'square' world of authority, which does at least know how to organize and defend itself.

Call it the 'square' world's inherent virtue.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

"River of Love"

T-Bone Burnett
"River of Love"
(Image from Wikipedia)

A couple of days ago, I linked to a video of Sam Phillips singing T-Bone Burnett's "River of Love," a song that I first heard around 1987. I vividly recall the moment because I was back from Switzerland and had dropped by to see my friend Rachel Satory (now Saavedra) and her boyfriend, who were living in Berkeley at the time (and live still in the Bay Area as a married couple). I was just getting ready to take up the study of Greek and Coptic in the ill-considered aim of becoming a scholar in religious studies, so I could talk to them of nothing but Gnostic texts that I had at the time read only in translation.

They listened politely, perhaps even with some mild interest, then put on a CD of T-Bone Burnett singing his 1986 "River of Love," which instantly captured my full attention, but I didn't listen to it again for 22 years, though I never forgot the song and even recalled some of the lyrics from time to time. The words and tune came back to me two days ago as I was blogging about my family canoeing down Norfork River. I had canoed that river with my estranged father and his new wife when I was about 16, so that would have been around 1973, and the image of life flowing like a river formed in my mind as I looked at the recent photos of my wife, kids, and kinfolk floating down that same stream.

Anyway, here's a video of T-Bone Burnett singing "River of Love," and if you open two browsers, you can follow along to the lyrics below:
There's a river of love that runs through all times.
But there's a river of tears that flows through our eyes.
It starts when a heart is broken in two
By the thief of belief in anything that's true.
But there's a river of love that runs through all times.

There's a river of love that runs through all times.
But there's a river of grief that flows through our lives.
We fight through the night for freedom as it fades
Into a jail where we fail every time we make a break.
But there's a river of love that runs through all times.

I had to run before I knew how to crawl.
The first step was hard, but I've had trouble with them all.
But now the night grows darker and the day grows dim
'Cause I know I never will see you again.
And I almost made you happy.

There's a river of love that runs through all times.
But there's a river of fire that burns with no light.
The flame is the pain of dreams gone up in smoke
From the lies we deny and we breathe them 'til we choke.
But there's a river of love that runs through all times.
That was from his 1986 album, T-Bone Burnett, but the most heart-wrenching interpretation of "River of Love" was the one by T-Bone's then-wife, Sam Phillips, which I linked to in my post two days ago, because she seemed to be singing from heartfelt experience and even looks as though she's about to break into tears a couple of times. That was in 1988, as she was making the transition from a Christian recording artist under her name Leslie Ann Phillips to a more secular singer going by the name "Sam" Phillips, so I wonder if there was some degree of intense inner turmoil connected to that whole scene. Watch her performance youself, and see what you think about this. Listen not just to her voice but also to the background bar noise of glasses clinking and people talking and note how all that noise fades away in the emotion of the moment as customers begin to focus on Phillips, her voice, and her face.

For those interested, here are the websites of T-Bone and of Phillips -- and for more on the latter, here's Phillips doing a "Tiny Desk Concert" for NPR.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ozark Vacation: Final Hillbilly Get-Together

From my wife comes now the last in the series of Ozark images, this batch from a family gathering in my brother John's house that included all my brothers and their wives. I have to admit that they hardly look hillbilly anymore, what with their successful careers and the context of John's new home . . . but I don't doubt that if we could listen in, we'd discover that their lives have been tough and their voices still hillbilly. But before we get to photos of any brothers, let us just quickly note that a younger female generation is rising, and their voices shall be heard lecturing the older generation, as you see in the case below, where Baby Brianna is obviously instructing her parents -- a laughing Crystal and Crystal's abashed husband J. T. -- on why she needs that cookie:

My daughter, Sa-Rah, looks astonished to hear such an articulate infant discuss the finer points of how the cookie crumbled onto the tablecloth spread upon Sandy's shoulder:

Meanwhile, another infant, Baby Laura, is lecturing to a smiling Shoshanna's as the proud parents -- my brother Matthew and his wife Rebecca -- listen along:

Baby Laura soon needs some rest from such exertions -- and finds it on Aunt Ann's lap, though even in quietude, the baby has Sa-Rah's undivided attention:

Time to go to sleep, you little babies . . . as we turn to other images. We see here in the foreground En-Uk and Cousin Grace intent upon something off screen, while Brother Tim and Brother Shannon sit on a couch in the background and discuss metaphysical issues raised by an educational program showing on television:

Or the less hirsuite Tim and Shannon could be observing that Brother Pat and Brother John have too much hair for good old boys around the mid-century mark:

I certainly agree on that . . . but I wasn't present, so I shouldn't intrude myself. Instead, I'll see what the overly hirsuite Pat is up to with my son, En-Uk. They seem to be involved in a game of 'Mercy':

From Uncle Pat's expression, I'd say that En-Uk is getting the better of him. I think that Pat had better head down to nearby Southfork River to pray for some of that promised mercy. Or perhaps he'd best just find some food for En-Uk, who seems to be getting hungry:

Fortunately, food is in preparation . . . for we see Aunt Donna drenching a salad with its dressing:

And obscured behind that counter, the womenfolk -- with my mother centered and dressed in purple -- are preparing more food than you can shake a stick at:

But not for long . . . as Tim and Shannon, having abandoned their metaphysical discussion, now direct their attention to physical needs:

Such needs being eventually satisfied, a postprandial discussion again ensues as the shades of night descend:

And that's where we leave the kinfolk, with Sandy, Donna, Tim, and Ann in our final image of this past summer's Ozark trip as my missing wife and kids prepare to fly away back to Korea.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ozark Vacation: Canoeing the Norfork River

My lovely wife, Sun-Ae, who is now again sitting across from me at her desk, has forwarded more belated Ozark photos from a couple of 'adventures', and today's batch -- borrowed from my brother Uncle Pat -- comes from the Norfork River, upstream of that beautiful Ozark lake that faithful readers have already seen a couple of times recently.

We first glimpse Sun-Ae canoeing as En-Uk pretends to follow suit by paddling the air:

In the background . . . uh, backwater . . . are Aunt Shoshanna and her husband, my brother, Uncle Shannon. All of my brothers are now getting called "Uncle" as I adopt the perspective of my kids. Anyway, Aunt Shoshanna and Uncle Shannon took Sa-Rah with them in their canoe, and you see her sitting with enthusiasm between them in the photo below:

Minus a paddle, she has little to do other than observe the scenery as it slips greenly by. Below is an image of Sa-Rah looking older and wiser as she contemplates how life is like a river of love:

I can imagine from this photo what she'll look like 10 years from now. But before that time, she will have undergone many amazing and even inexplicable experiences . . . such as that common, rural-myth experience of the mysterious, disappearing canoe:

"What's up . . . down? Sideways? Vanished? Where the wind-blown hail is that dadgum canoe gone to?!" mutters Uncle Shannon in his most genuine simulation of hillbillified accentification.

Reverend John, having worked his "Miracle of the Disappearing Canoe," attempts another 'ubernatural' wonder: "Fleeing on Water." But like the anxious Saint Peter, his faith has weakened, leaving his fallible feet to slip beneath the surface tension even as he flees . . . and leading us to wonder if an irate Sa-Rah will manage to apprehend this impressive but erring uncle.

Uncle Pat, meanwhile, flashes his Chesire Smile at the charismatic hillbilly antics as Shannon and Shoshanna's canoe mysteriously reappears in the deepening afternoon of lengthening shadows. But my brother the 'Chesire Pat' is himself about to disappear, leaving us more to wonder . . .

. . . O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Clarice Lispector: "I only loved something I didn't know."

(Image from New York Times)

In a reminder of why I read the International Herald Tribune -- which now identifies itself as "The Global Edition of The New York Times" -- I happened upon the review "Out of the shadows for a Brazilian writer," by Fernanda Eberstadt, about Benjamin Moser's biography of the Brazilian Jewish writer Clarice Lispector: Why This World.

That title has no question mark, so it sounds as if it would provide an answer, a theodicy of some kind to explain the world's excessive evil. That turned out not to be so far off the mark:
Nineteen forty-three -- the year after Stefan Zweig, another Jewish writer who hoped Brazil could offer redemption from Europe's genocidal impulses, committed suicide in a mountain resort not far from Rio -- saw the publication of the 23-year-old Lispector’s first novel. It was called "Near to the Wild Heart" [i.e., Perto do coração selvagem], and it was an overnight sensation. The story is simple -- a man torn between a homebody mistress and a wild-animal wife -- and chillingly amoral, but Lispector uses it to address with brutal lucidity what will prove the central question of her work: What is the nature of God's presence in the world?
Moser, however, portrays Lispector as "a writer almost cabalistically bent on piercing the veil between 'word' and 'being,' and not much convinced of the validity of such human categories as good and evil." Or is this Eberstadt's view? Either way, I wonder if it's not a bit too ambivalent, given Eberstadt's reading of the biography:
[Clarice's mother,] Mania, long mute and paralyzed, died when Clarice was 9; [her father,] Pinkhas, now Pedro, struggled in vain to make a living as a peddler and died at age 55, leaving his children with the "unbearable" memory of a gifted mathematician and immensely moral man who was at every step thwarted by human evil and indifference.
If Moser's biography depicts an "immensely moral man . . . thwarted by human evil" because he was Jewish, the "categories of good and evil" would seem to be less ambiguous than implied. And then there's the evil perpetrated upon Lispector's mother:
During the civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, [the region of] Podolia [in western Ukraine] was beset by a truly genocidal succession of pogroms. In 1918, Lispector's grandfather was murdered, her family home destroyed, and shortly after, her mother, Mania, already the mother of two small children, was gang-raped by Russian soldiers -- an assault that infected the young woman with syphilis.
The infection took eleven years to do away with Mania, bringing her to a "mute and paralyzed" state before it finally killed her. There certainly seems, in the dreadful things that happened to Lispector's parents, to be such an abundance of evil -- in both the moral and the natural senses -- for me to wonder if the line between good and evil can be so ambiguous for Lispector the writer even if Near to the Wild Heart, for example, is "chillingly amoral." I realize that one must distinguish between the writer Lispector and Lispector the writer, but even the latter cannot be simply identified with the narrator, and still less so with the protagonist, of a novel. But I suppose that I ought to read the book -- or better, Lispector's books -- before I judge either Lispector or Moser's biography by Eberstadt's cover.

For otherwise, despite Gadamer, I'm merely pre-judging such alienated creatures as Lispector and those who comment upon her life and her work . . .

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Adam Garfinkle on the 'Jewcentric' Personality

(Image from Wiley)

I receive regular articles emailed from the FPRI (Foreign Policy Research Institute) and yesterday received one in the "Footnotes" series (The Newsletter of FPRI's Wachman Center) with the odd title "Zionism and 'Jewcentricity' in American History" (Vol. 14, No. 12, August 2009). Written by Adam Garfinkle (editor of The American Interest) and based on a fascinating presentation, "The U.S., Zionism, and Israel," at a conference "U.S. Foreign Policy and the Modern Middle East" held in Philadelphia on June 25-27, 2009, the article and presentation are both advance reports from his upcoming book Jewcentricity: Why the Jews Are Praised, Blamed, and Used to Explain Just About Everything (Wiley, September 2009).

As I noted, the article has the odd title "Zionism and 'Jewcentricity' in American History" -- a rather disconcerting title, actually -- but here's Garfinkle's definition of the disconcerting term:
Jewcentricity is the tendency to exaggerate the role of Jews and Judaism in consequential human affairs.
As he notes, this can be expressed in antisemitic or philosemitic ways. Indeed, I've long considered these to be two sides of the same coin, and I've noticed that very little is sometimes needed for an individual to flip almost at random from one side to the other.

Mark Twain was a good example of this sort of 'Jewcentric' individual, for he wrote an essay published in Harper's Magazine, "Concerning the Jews" (September 1899), that expressed both attitudes. After writing the arguably antisemitic words that the "Jew is a money getter, and in getting his money he is a very serious obstruction to less capable neighbors who are on the same quest," Twain went on to write these rather more positive, arguably philosemitic words:
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rule, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away . . . . [T]he Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit together in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now who he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal except the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.
This could, of course, easily flip back over into an antisemitic attitude, for the two attitudes share the view that the Jews play an overwhelming role in world affairs. Interestingly, even Jews can show both tendencies. Recall Garfinkle's definition:
Jewcentricity is the tendency to exaggerate the role of Jews and Judaism in consequential human affairs.
In the article, he then immediately observes:
Non-Jews do it, and Jews do it, too. Sometimes the exaggerations are philo-Semitic . . . sometimes anti-Semitic.
With that in mind consider our modern-day "Spengler" -- who has recently revealed himself to be David P. Goldman, associate editor of First Things -- for "Spenger" wrote an article published on September 17, 2007 in Asia Times, "It's easy for the Jews to talk about life," in which he expresses positive views that recall Twain's positive remarks about the Jewish talent for survival and success against the odds:
It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations . . . . What makes the Jews different is their unique belief that the Covenant gives them eternal life, a belief grounded, to be sure, by thousands of years of history, and survival against all odds against the depredations of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Alexandrine and Roman empires, not to mention more recent unpleasantness. It is not changing the baby's diapers or changing grandma's bedpan to which the Jews refer when they speak of delight in life, but rather the idealized, perpetual life of a kinship community.
Goldman is of course Jewish, but his 'Jewcentric' views have at times been expressed in less positive ways, for in 1978, he was associated with Lyndon LaRouche and co-wrote an article with Uwe Henke von Parpart for LaRouche's paper New Solidarity (November 18, 1978) titled "Israel Got H-Bomb From Wall Street Zionists -- USLP Readies Dossier" (pdf). The acronym "USLP" stands for "United States Labor Party," which was at that time the name of LaRouche's organization, and Goldman's views in this article are less than positive:
Operating under the cover of partnerships in Wall Street Brokerage Firms, executive positions in industrial companies, and hole-in-the-wall "scientific" firms scattered throughout the New York Metropolitan area, members of the Nuclear Club of Wall Street are the core of the atom spy network of Israel's foreign secret intelligence, the Mossad. These men are the most dangerous traitors in circulation now in the United States. Through their efforts, Israel has the means to provoke a third World War and destroy the United States.
The LaRouche organization is known for this sort of conspiracy-mongering. Goldman has long since left that organization, and his views on the role of Jews and Israel have grown far more positive -- as his "Spengler" articles attest -- but he remains a fascinating example of what Garfinkle might refer to as "the Jewcentric personality."

Not that Garfinkle ever mentions Goldman, for the name doesn't appear in Garfinkle's book Jewcentricity: Why the Jews Are Praised, Blamed, and Used to Explain Just About Everything, but the man fits the type.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ozark Vacation: Silver Dollar City

My wife and children returned a day and a half ago, tired and jet-lagged but healthy and here. Sun-Ae brought along some belated photographs for me to blog on. Today's photo batch comes to you via Seoul, South Korea from Branson, Missouri's tourist trap, the world-famous Silver Dollar City. You see some of my hillbilly kinfolk below:

From left to right are my niece Crystal (John's daughter) holding her baby Brianna, my older brother Pat behind them, Pat's wife Ann, my son En-Uk, my wife Sun-Ae, and my daughter Sa-Rah. I don't know who's snapping this shot of the hillbilly kin as they prepare to lose their way along the mean streets of Silver Dollar City's urban jungle.

We see in the above action shot that they are quickly losing their wayward way as the bright lights of the city catch their ingenuous country eyes, for they have already turned their gazes away from me and toward the tempting Big Apple of the Ozarks!

Sadly, we see above that some of them have been drug off to get high as a kite! Little do they realize that they're not waving . . . they're drowning.

Now coming down from their high, as we see above, they encounter muggers even more desperate for an upper, and their waving becomes hopeless hands raised in anxious fear!

Here above, we see just how hard coming down can be, especially if you've also just been mugged, have lost your family, have no more money for food, and can only sit on the steps of some restaurant and helplessly beg.

But as begging is against the law, the loitering pair are taken to the iron-clad building that serves as Silver Dollar City's jailhouse. Being that theirs was a first offense, they are merely fined and released, to their immense and obvious joy, as we see above.

Freed after their 'fine' time, the intrepid pair return to the restaurant steps, where they study their map on how to get back out of the urban crime maze. Quite how they succeeded, we shall never know, but succeed they did, for they somehow located their displaced kin, led them all to safety beyond the city limits, and have since returned with their mother to South Korea.

From where they all three now hollar out, "Thanks to all our hillbilly kith and kin for a bodacious time in the Ozarks!"

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Ganesh Sitaraman: "The land of 10,000 wars"

Ganesh Sitaraman
Harvard Law School
(Image from Harvard Law School)

In Monday's edition of The International Herald Tribune appeared a short but interesting article by Ganesh Sitaraman on the complexity of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, but the article can also be read under the same title, "The land of 10,000 wars," on Harvard Law School's website.

Sitaraman, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, has recently returned from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was working as a research fellow at the Counterinsurgency Training Center, presumably under its director, John Agoglia, and probably as part of General Stanley McChrystal's effort to formulate a strategy for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Sitaraman opens his article with a reference to McChrystal:
As General Stanley McChrystal's 60-day strategic assessment is wrapping up, he poised to recommend a new approach for Afghanistan, one grounded in counterinsurgency's strategy of protecting the population.
I'm no expert on counterinsurgency, but my understanding is that this strategy of "protecting the population" has been developed since World War Two, and especially since the Vietnam War in response to the US failure there. The strategy is somewhat counterintuitive at times because it entails putting troops at risk to protect a population that may in fact have some sympathies with the insurgents. But the rationale -- insofar as I understand it -- is that even a population with sympathy for insurgents will be ambivaent about the insurgency, so a counterinsurgency strategy that protects the population can perhaps "win the hearts and minds" of the population by offering more than the insurgents offer.

This worked rather well in Iraq against Islamists who alienated Iraqis by brutally applying strict Islamic law. To the extent that the Taliban Islamists threaten the same brutality, this counterinsurgency strategy might work. Afghanistan, however, is a more complex place than Iraq:
The defining feature of Afghanistan is its diversity. Consider, for example, the eastern province of Nangarhar, on the Pakistani border. Nangarhar is about 90 percent Pashtun, but it has a significant minority of Nuristanis, Tajiks, and Pashai, each of whom speak different languages. In addition to ethnicity, Afghans identify by qawm, a kinship or residence group akin to a tribe. There are almost 30 different qawm within the Nangarhar Pashtuns alone.

The sources of conflict in Nangarhar are as complex and overlapping as the identities of the people. The local insurgency has splintered into at least three major factions, each of which was once aligned with one of the others. Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda send fighters into the area, and vast criminal networks provide support to the local Taliban faction. In the midst of these interconnected insurgent relationships, tribal feuds and blood feuds between families put the Hatfields and McCoys' to shame. One story I heard featured a man who waited 40 years before taking vengeance on his neighbor. Insurgency was his cover for retribution.
This might make application of the counterinsurgency strategy of protecting the population rather complicated and therefore difficult. Some of this effort is military, but a lot of it is police work, which requires state-building efforts, and that entails that the state be perceived as legitimate. Unfortunately, Afghanistan's government is seen as grossly corrupt, detracting from its legitimacy.

And even if this state-building is successful in the short run, will it prove a long-term success? Iraq is seen as a success story, but it was easier because a semi-functioning state had been in place there for some time, and even with Iraq, questions remain as to whether the quasi-democratic system constructed with American assistance will survive. Afghanistan raises even bigger questions. I suppose that we'll just have to see what happens.

By the way, does anybody know where Sitaraman gets his expression "the land of 10,000 wars"? Is Afghanistan known as a land of 10,000 wars?

In William Whiston's 1737 translation of Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus tells in Book 8 of a dream that King Solomon had in which God informed him that if the people of Israel turned away from the Torah, they would be destroyed "with ten-thousand wars and misfortunes" (page 337), and in The Flame of Attention, published in 1983, Krishnamurti states in Chapter 3 that human beings have suffered "ten-thousand wars" (page 39), but neither of these two instances of the expression has any specific link to Afghanistan.

If anybody knows where Sitaraman got the expression -- or if he coined it -- please let us know.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lee Chung Min on "Misreading North Korea"

Lee Chung Min
Dean of GSIS
Yonsei University
(Image from Yonsei GSIS)

On Tuesday, I read one of the most interesting analyses of North Korea that I've come across in a long time. Lee Chung Min's Korea Herald article, "Misreading North Korea," explains in clarifying detail that "Kim Jong-il is unable to give up nuclear weapons because" he -- as second generation of the Kim Family Dynasty (i.e., KFD) -- is "beholden to the Korean People's Army" (i.e., KPA). Lee maintains:
One of the most important lessons in coping with the three North Korean crises [of the past two decades] . . . is the fact that six decades of a unique totalitarian system has resulted in structural constraints that even Kim cannot readily control.
Kim Jong-il may be "in full control of his organization, his government . . . [and] still be the one who is in charge," as National Security Adviser James Jones stated August 9th on Fox News, based on Bill Clinton's report, but as Lee notes, "more relevant is to understand what exactly Kim is in control of":
The KPA under Kim Jong-il has become a state within a state that exercises more direct political influence than any other military in the world. Although it is true that Kim "controls" the KPA and that the army remains "loyal" to him, he has created a Hydra-KPA: a military that has, for all intents and purposes, become so strong that it no longer really needs the leader that created it, but at the very same time, a military that has become so intertwined with its founding family and decades of political intrigue that the KPA has become "operationally anemic," and at its core, absolutely and thoroughly corrupted.

As senior echelons of the KPA begin to line up behind [Kim Jong-il's third son and heir-apparent,] Kim Jong-un, it has become, in reality, "three armies" under one roof: (1) the top echelons of the KPA and loyal units that serve with one sole function -- protecting and preserving the KFD at virtually all costs; (2) a two-tiered armed forces whereby a "powerful, modern" military comprises the top 20 percent marked by nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and an array of special forces but a "hollowing out, third-rate" military that comprises the remaining 80 percent with soldiers that are barely fed, have extremely limited operational training, and soldiers who are, in reality, conscripted laborers rather than professional combatants; and (3) perhaps most importantly, a military which has become totally, thoroughly and irreversibly corrupted through state-run companies attached to virtually ever[y] major organ of the armed forces not only to raise foreign currency for the "Dear Leader" and his family, but increasingly, to bolster their own private coffers.

Whatever ideological commitment the KPA may demonstrate in public and however many soldiers may shout their lungs [out] to become "human bombs" in defense of the "Dear Leader," the reality is that the KPA poses a clear and present danger not just because it has access to nuclear devices and other WMD assets, but because it is on a path to self-destruction.
The Korean People's Army thus has as two of its three primary purpose the protection and enrichment of the Kim Family Dynasty, but there was a price to pay:
The Faustian bargain that Kim signed with the KPA as soon as he gained official power was to retain and strengthen their loyalty in exchange for giving the KPA the most prominent role as the vanguard of the DPRK.
And there is a consequence from this for the outside world:
[T]he most important and enduring reason why . . . [Kim Jong-il] isn't willing or even able to give up his nuclear weapons is due to the central role of the KPA in maintaining the Kim regime.
In short, Kim Jong-il cannot risk alienating the military's support if he wants the Kim Family Dynasty to survive. But can the "third son and anointed heir, 26-year old Kim Jong-un," retain the military's loyalty and exercise the "power and authority to effectively control the KPA" even if it is mostly a hollowed-out, third-rate military? Or rather, because it is a hollowed-out, third-rate military led by its corrupt, self-serving higher echelons down a path to self-destruction?

That is the question.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Martin Kramer on Yale's 'Iconoclasm'

Muhammad Cartoons
Censored by Yale
(Image from Wikipedia)

Presumably, most readers recall the controversy that erupted when the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark printed the so-called Muhammad cartoons. Radical Islamist whipped up a frenzy in the Muslim world with violent protests over depictions of their prophet that supposedly portrayed him as violent when everybody knows that Muhammad was simply a peaceful religious founder and Islam obviously a religion of peace.

Now, the scholar Jytte Klausen has written an analysis of this controversy titled The Cartoons That Shook the World, and Yale University Press is publishing it . . . but without the earthshaking cartoons! Klausen wanted the cartoons included, but Yale said (and I paraquote), 'No way! The Muslim world is far too volatile!' This despite Klausen's findings, as summarized by Yale University Press:
She concludes that the Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not -- as was commonly assumed -- a spontaneous emotional reaction arising out of the clash of Western and Islamic civilizations. Rather it was orchestrated, first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt, and later by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria.
Not so volatile, after all? I guess that Yale didn't believe Klausen's analysis. Actually, I find myself only in partial agreement, based on this summary. I think that the newspapers made quite clear at the time that the Muslim reaction was orchestrated by radical Islamist, and I'd also add that Klausen's opinion to the contrary, I consider this also to have in fact been in fact a civilizational clash, for the Islamists would not have been able to instigate violent protest all over the Muslim world against the West if a tense division weren't already present.

Be that as it may, over at Sandbox, Martin Kramer has an interesting perspective on this issue of Yale's 'iconoclasm':
I don't know if publishing these images in an academic book at this time would run a "serious risk of instigating violence." Everything I do know tells me that it wouldn't. Extremists are always looking for something to exploit, but it has to be a new, unprecedented (perceived) offense against Islam. Dante's Inferno, Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons -- these are all old perceived offenses, too familiar to fire up a sense of indignation. No doubt there will be another round at some point -- and no doubt, its ostensible "cause" will surprise us all. (That's because it won't really be the cause, but a pretext -- like the Danish cartoons.)
I think that he's right about this point. Including the Muhammad images in this book by Klausen would have raised little or no controversy for precisely the reasons Kramer notes. "But," as Kramer also notes, "that's neither here nor there":
The reason we have "restricted visas, travel bans and demeaning airport luggage searches" (and other disdained measures) is so that in America, a university press can publish the Danish cartoons in a book about the Danish cartoons, and do so without fear. If we didn't have that line of defense, we would constantly have to censor ourselves and ban whole classes of free expression, lest we be tormented by fanatic extremists.
In other words, America is supposed to stand for free speech -- and protected free speech, at that! Yale has blinked when there was likely no glaring threat to blink at and assuredly many reasons not to blink if there even were such a threat.

Land of the free and home of the brave? Only if we keep it that way.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

David Lynn Jones: "Livin' in the Promised Land"

Gradually Regaining His Focus
"Livin' in the Promised Land"
(Image from You Tube)

Some readers will recall that I announced an upcoming performance by David Lynn Jones in West Plains, Missouri scheduled for last June 13th, 2009 at a memorial concert organized by Jamie Denton in honor of the recently deceased but renowned blues harmonica player Mark Sallings. Well, as I noted, the performance took place, and somebody video-taped part of it and posted a clip of David Lynn Jones to You Tube.

David Lynn sang three songs, finishing up with a request that he sing "Livin' in the Promised Land," which he did even though he said that he doesn't usually do this on guitar -- to my surprise! -- and he began somewhat roughly, searching for the right note with his voice but finding it and growing in strength as he sang:
Livin' in the Promise Land

Give us your tired and weak
And we will make them strong
Bring us your foreign songs
And we will sing along
Leave us your broken dreams
We'll give them time to mend
There's still a lot of love
Livin' in the Promised Land

Livin' in the Promised Land
Our dreams are made of steel
The prayer of every man
Is to know how freedom realy feels
There is a winding road
Across the shifting sand
Still room for everyone
Livin' in the Promised Land

So we came from the distant isles
Nameless woman, faithless child
Like a bad dream
Till there was no room at all
No place to run, and no place to fall
Give us your daily bread
We have no shoes to wear
No place to call our home
Only this cross to bear
We are the multitudes
Lord, lend us a helping hand
Is there no love anymore
Livin' in the Promised Land

Livin' in the Promised Land
Our dreams are made of steel
The prayer of every man
Is to know how freedom really feels
There is a winding road
Across the shifting sand
Still room for everyone
Livin' in the Promised Land
Livin' in the Promised Land
The man ended powerfully. I then discovered some other recently posted video clips of David Lynn Jones on You Tube, such as "Bonnie Jean" and "Tonight in America."

And as long as we're on a country kick, let's listen to the Osborne Brothers good old "Rocky Top," which I loved as a kid. And even -- to many folks' great astonishment -- that excellent instrumental, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," played by (among others) Earl Scruggs and Steve Martin.

Yes, Steve Martin, who has perfected the clawhammer technique of banjo playing. Listen to him on the medly "Loch Lomond . . . Sally Anne."

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Ozark Vacation: On Piney Creek with Denny Elrod and Family

An email arrived yesterday from my lovely wife describing their afternoon picnic with Denny Elrod -- of Exploring Izard County (EIC) fame -- and his family:
In the afternoon, I drove to Brockwell and met there Denny's family. Then we drove further to Calico Rock area, and some part of the road was gravel road. We went to a creek called Piney Creek, which belongs to somebody, a doctor of Denny's town. Denny got the key, and we had the privilege to go into the area. It was a beautiful place and an ideal place for kids.
I admit, to my regret, that I've never been to Piney Creek though I've seen it in photos and videos from Denny's EIC website and blog, and the images in today's post come from both Sun-Ae and Denny, for they both took photos. Here's an especially striking image of this rugged, peaceful spot with its isolated swimming hole:

Now, that's merely a 'creek' . . . so you can imagine the bluffs on the more impressive White River -- or you can take a look at a couple of the images that can be found on my Ozark Photoblog from February 2008 (though you'd have to scroll a bit to find them). Here are some more Piney Creek 'bluff' scenes:

Above, with the lower part of the bluff in the background, we see En-Uk as a nearly-skinny-dipping spaceman. Sa-Rah and Denny's daughter, Cecily, have more modesty than En-Uk . . . thank God:

But 'bluffs' offer merely ephemeral interest for En-Uk, whose friend Logan captures a turtle for him . . . according to Sun-Ae:
They swam and had fun with their friends, and En-Uk finally met a turtle. Denny's youngest boy Logan caught it and gave it to En-Uk, who then tortured it, covering it with sand mud so that it cannot escape while he was playing in water. He had at least the mercy to leave the turtle's face uncovered so that it can breathe. Eventually, we let it go. I didn't go into the water and sat in a chair and had good chat with Joy, Denny's wife.
Denny asks if I trained En-Uk:
And . . . did you teach your son to torture turtles? He does it nicely . . . no lasting harm, mind you . . . but the CIA would be interested, I believe, in his techniques!
Perhaps . . . though I don't see any evidence of waterboarding:

Hmmm . . . as I study this image carefully, I begin to think that the so-called 'turtle' looks remarkably like a tortoise. In my opinion, it has been misidentified and wrongly caught up in a dragnet that mistook it for a turtle due to faulty profiling procedures. Should we be astonished in such a case that the 'turtle' might attempt an escape, as it is obviously doing in the above photograph! No doubt, this 'turtle' will complain to the press about having been stopped at the border, and the US will face angry protests around the world in response. But enough about turtles. Let's look instead at a lot of kids, starting with En-Uk and Jonah digging in the sand:

Here's the yet undisturbed portion of this sandbar

A small child (Sun-Ae says not of their party) is testing the waters . . . with a bridge in the background:

Meanwhile, other kids -- Sa-Rah and Cecily, among them -- are swimming in Piney Creek's 'Blue Hole':

Cecily and Sa-Rah appear to be enjoying the water . . . though Sa-Rah seems to think the stream a bit cold:

Here, we see them again . . . playing in a shallow area near some minor 'rapids':

En-Uk, meanwhile, attempts to net some fish:

But without success. Wait, what's this? En-Uk encountered an unusually large aquatic critter?

En-Uk insists that the 'minnow' was this big! And Sa-Rah points the direction in which that gigantic minnow swam off:

As the kids huddle together for safety, Sun-Ae and Denny's wife, Joy, discuss the reputed 'monstrous minnow' . . . doubting the report:

But perhaps the kids should get out of the water just in case such montrous denizens of the deep might actually lurk in Piney Creek's mysterious waters, threatening to engulf and devour. Besides, other adventures beckon . . . like adventures in eating, for as Sun-Ae tells us:
[Denny and his family] brought some hot dogs and chips, drinks, and sweets, so after swimming, Denny made fire, and we fried sausages over the fire poked through a tree branch, which was a new experience.
The fire poked through a tree branch? Or the sausages? Even sausages that have been poked through a tree branch sounds like a weird way to fry them. Such a sausage would not be especially 'edifying' afterwards . . . though I suppose that one would learn a lesson about proper cooking in the arduous effort. Let's turn to Denny's more colloquial, American English:
I'm honored to have cut the sticks for your family's first weenie-roast! Sun-Ae was quite impressed with the cooking utensils.
Oh, I get it now -- the 'tree branch' has been poked through the 'sausage'. That sort of cooking experience is so much a part of my own childhood experience that I would never have thought of introducing my wife and kids to the experience . . . so I am grateful that the idea did occur to Denny, as these images reveal:

More hot-dogging, with En-Uk and Sun-Ae:

But . . . where has Sa-Rah gotten off to? Oh, here she is again (though Sun-Ae is now missing):

Denny has made an excellent, Boy Scout style fire! But eventually, only smoke remains:

The kids are busy sending smoke signals, I presume. And we again see Sun-Ae. But Denny has been nowhere to be seen in any of these photos! Hold on . . . here's a You Tube video, with everybody visible at one time or another:
The Hodges' Piney Creek Adventure
In this EIC video posted by Denny, you'll see him and everbody else! So click without delay! Meanwhile, Sun-Ae bids the Elrods goodbye:
We drove back to Brockwell and said good-bye there. I drove into the night, and it was a great drive for me . . . for driving . . . is . . . good fun. Anyway, we had a nice day, and I was very exhausted from driving.
Um . . . okay. You enjoyed the exhaustion of driving? Well, when you've driven a bit more, Sun-Ae, you'll discover that exhaustion can sometimes be tiring. Anyway, thank you Denny and family for treating my wife and kids to such a wonderful experience in that beautiful, isolated spot on Piney Creek.

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