Sunday, January 31, 2010

Folk Liar of the Ozarks: "Rolland Burdick" and other Tales of Places Real and Imaginary

Downtown Hardy, circa 1950

From looking further into Mr. LeRoy Tucker's writings posted on his blog Folk Liar of the Ozarks, I discovered that you can read a masterpiece of backwoods writing in his short story "Rolland Burdick," which was posted almost exactly one year ago and relates the tale of an unfortunate, misguided man, a resident of the Ozark hills not far from the obscure Fulton County community of Climax, Arkansas. The story is an appropriate one for this church-going Sunday morning, and it begins as follows:
Indifference was the sum of Rolland's posture in the matter of religion. An open and unabashed sinner, he obsessed on accumulating money. By chance, he was influenced by a man, a preacher by avocation, whose specialty it was to inspire irrational fear of God's final judgment. The preachers name was Az Bronson. He was a Campbellite of some note in Climax. In other localities, widely separated, encompassing the Ozark regions of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, he was variously known as a Methodist, a Baptist or a Campbellite. His scare'em to death discourses were not restricted to any particular sect or restrained by concern of unintended consequences. His competence was proven, unquestioned.

Today Rolland had driven to Hardy, sold a wagon load of cross ties and was returning to his home. Now, at twilight, he was again passing through Climax. His body was sore and his team needed a rest. "Ho boys -- whoa now," said Rolland, halting the team. Then, without the steel on gravel noise from the wagon's wheels he heard singing, blended voices singing LEANING ON JESUS, LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS. He passed his hand and forearm across the horse's rumps. He spoke to the team affectionately, "you boys needs to blow awhile." And he strolled away, down to the church yard, too tired and too dirty to actually enter the church. He seated himself near the entrance. There, braced by a century old white oak, he dozed. Before leaving Hardy, he rewarded himself with a half pint of good, government whiskey and consumed it along the way. He was by no means intoxicated, only tired, "plumb wore out" thought Rolland, as he commenced to doze . . .
If you want to read more (and you ought to so want), then follow the link and read to discover that surnames just might be destiny -- though I don't believe that this was precisely Mr. Tucker's point.

What was his point? Maybe this little bit directs us to his point, though it prefaces a different story, "Cadillac Pie," set in the small community of Saddle, Arkansas:
All fiction, except the place and some of the characters are based on real people. Even my wife Patsy is in this story, as a child. Saddle still exists, much changed but it's still there in Fulton County Arkansas. To me, Saddle is a lot of memories. I hope someone out there sees this and enjoys it.
From perusing Mr. Tucker's writings, I see that an explicit concern with memory plays a large role in his motivation for writing. I remember Saddle, too, but not as well as Mr. Tucker does. Further on memory, he tells us in "Note to My Readers," posted January 18, 2009:
Each of my stories will stand alone but they all relate to one community, one culture. Most of them are set in Fulton County Arkansas, circa The Great Depression or earlier; much earlier sometimes. That is when it becomes fiction and that makes me a liar. But the Possum Trot community was and is real. The Kittle store is a long time gone. Even the people are gone. There are new people but it is not the same. When I walk there I walk with ghosts. I want to tell about them. I posted a picture of myself when I was eighteen. Later if I gain some followers I will be honest and post a picture of the old grizzled man that I am now. I am somewhat disabled. I cannot walk far or stand for long. I read, exercise a little and write. I used to be a big "whuppin' boss" for General Motors. I have been retired for a very long time. Always wanted to be a writer. Tough deal. I was kicked out of the third grade for not shaving. I try to write. It is a compulsion to me. Tuck the Liar
His writing is about memories reconstructed in imagination out of a compulsion to write and reconstruct, for in "A Blending Imaginings," an entry of some reminiscences about his forefathers, posted on May 27th of last year, he mentions a bit about the real and imaginary community of Climax, Arkansas:
Jess Martin, my maternal great grandfather, lived at Climax, the real Climax that died in 1918 and stayed dead: the Climax that I attempt to imagine back to life.
Except for Climax, I know these places that Mr. Tucker is reconstructing, this world that he wishes still existed . . . or that its values yet did (though he says that he's grateful for what he doesn't know). His own values become clear in his story of how General Motors failed, "Walter and Me," posted January 28 of last year and told from the perspective of a man who'd worked for the company both on the assembly line and in management:
For years supervisors were painted as the bad boys of the industry. Local TV stations and newspapers represented those blue collars, union members, as industrious, hardworking, nose to the grindstone victims of overbearing, bull of the woods supervisors, who were merely puppets of the heartless policy makers in Detroit. Union propaganda spewed from such people as Michael Moore and the lesser Ben Hamper, who wrote Rivethead, parts of which were published in Mother Jones, The Michigan Voice and The Detroit Free Press. Read objectively, Rivethead tells the story. Today Rivethead is topical and revealing. When new, it was just a pack of lies. I bat from the right side of the plate. Hamper hits from the left. Moore is so far left he is somewhere up in the cheap seat in the left field grand stands. People are getting wise to him now but he has done a lot of damage while making himself a multimillionaire. But Hamper is a fairly entertaining writer and lots of folks love an underdog, even a whining little socialist failure like Hamper. Inadvertently he told the truth about GM but he lied about the UAW.
This is brilliant stuff, whether one agrees entirely, in part, or not at all, for it demonstrates the complexity of Mr. Tucker's understanding and the breadth of his reading as well as his willingness to take a position even while granting some points to those whom he opposes.

Most of all, it shows that he is a writer in a way that Michael Moore is not a filmmaker.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Islam: Europeans are talking . . .

(Image from Novartis Foundation)

I try to read broadly in the newspapers, both on- and off-line, so that I can keep up with developments around the world. I'm most interested in the North America, Europe, and Asia because I've lived on these continents longest (or maybe I'm just 'north-hemispherocentric'). Of these three, Europe has often been my focus as its recent, close encounters with Islam offer the most noteworthy items, for they portend even greater changes within Europe's not-so-distant future.

Europeans are also taking note -- and taking notes!

And talking, or beginning to, about whether Islam itself is the problem, rather than just the ideological extremism within Islam that we usually call "Islamism" and generally prefer to consider a phenomenon on Islam's margins.

Just this morning, I read the British columnist Ron Liddle's remarks in an article titled "We should not absolve Islam of the crimes committed in its name" (January 27, 2010), written for Britain's Tory paper, The Spectator:
[B]y and large you cannot escape the conclusion that the most repulsive invasions of human rights that we see in the world today take place in countries where the national ideology is devolved from Islam. And the more directly or purely it is so devolved, the more primitive and savage it is.

This should not be a shock to us, but we have got ourselves into a twist over Islam in the UK. We have absolved the ideology of all blame by enacting legislation which demands that the rest of us 'respect' it, and therefore resist ad hominem attacks upon it as if they were in some way racist. They are not, of course. And at the same time as doing this we have been forced, as a consequence, to distinguish between those whom we think of as being representative of 'Good Islam' and the increasing numbers of those whom we place in the box labelled 'Bad Islam'.

. . .

I asked a representative from the Muslim Council of Britain if he agreed with the sentence handed down in Bangladesh on that 16-year-old girl [who was to be punished with 101 lashes for the 'crime' of being raped]. He was pretty clear that it was a 'monstrous interpretation' of Islamic law regarding the strictures against sex outside of marriage. But it is hardly an uncommon monstrous interpretation, if it is a monstrous interpretation at all, rather than a perfectly rational interpretation. In any case, he accepted that it was an attempted interpretation of Islam -- in other words, that the inspiration for the lashing of that abused child was drawn from the ideology, even if it was an inspiration based on a misapprehension.
Mr. Liddle sounds rather suspicious that so-called 'monstrous' interpretations of Islam might actually be the most rational understanding of Islam, and that worries him -- as it should if he's right. Is he right?

Europeans are talking . . .

And one of them is the sociologist Necla Kelek, a German citizen of Turkish Circassian origins who speaks out in "Islam has a Problem" ("Der Islam hat ein Problem," Europe News, January 7, 2010) against what she refers to as conservative Islam:
Moscheen bauen die Konservativen, sie betreiben auch die Koranschulen, in denen sie nicht nur den Koran auswendig lernen. Das sind nicht mehr als zehn Prozent der Muslime, aber die sind gut organisiert und bekommen Geld und Anleitung aus dem Ausland. Diese Verbände vertreten den politischen Islam, sie sind meist konservativ, propagieren die Scharia, die islamische Lebensweise und wollen im Prinzip eine andere Gesellschaft. Nicht jeder Muslim ist ein Terrorist, aber die Täter, von denen wir sprechen, nennen sich Muslime. Und die meisten kommen aus dem Umfeld von Moscheen oder Islamvereinen. Das ist ein ernstes Problem der islamischen Gemeinschaft, das sich nicht mit "Wir haben damit nichts zu tun" abtun lässt, denn alle berufen sich auf die Scharia, den Weg der Rechtleitung.

. . .

Der Islam hat ein Problem. Er will Leitkultur sein und nicht nur das Leben der Muslime regeln, sondern auch bestimmen, wie sich die übrige Gesellschaft gegenüber den Muslimen zu verhalten hat. Der Islam trennt zudem nicht Religion und Politik, ist also nicht säkular. Gleichzeitig hat diese Weltanschauung aber keine einheitliche Lehre davon, was diesen Glauben überhaupt ausmacht. Er ist alles und gleichzeitig nichts. Ein Gespenst. Der Islam ist in diesem Sinne verantwortungslos, weil der Gläubige nur Allah gegenüber verpflichtet ist.
Here's my somewhat loose translation, along with some bracketed additions to clarify Kelek's meaning:
Conservative Muslims build mosques, and they also run Koranic schools in which they not only learn the Koran by heart [but are also indoctrinated in political Islam]. They are no more than ten percent of the Muslims, but they are well organized and receive money and guidance from abroad. These groups put forward political Islam -- they are mostly conservative, propagate sharia (the Muslim way of living), and in principle want a different society. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but the perpetrators [of terror that] we are talking about call themselves Muslims. And most come from the environment of the mosques and Muslim societies. This is a serious problem within the Muslim community that cannot be excused [by repeating]: "We have nothing to do with that." [This serious problem cannot be excused,] for all [Muslims] appeal to sharia, the path of correct guidance.

. . .

Islam has a problem. It intends to be the leading culture and not only regulate the lives of Muslims but also dictate to the rest of society how it should behave toward Muslims. Moreover, Islam does not separate religion and politics, and thus is not secular. At the same time, despite having this [integralist] worldview, Islam has no unified teaching as to what Muslim belief comprises. It is simultaneously everything and nothing. A spector [haunting Europe]. In this sense, Islam is irresponsible [with respect to society], for the believer has a duty to Allah alone [not to society].
From these two recent articles -- by two rather different writers from two rather different countries (though both Liddle and Kelek, fairly or not, are considered controversial) -- I sense that the discussion in Europe about Islam is shifting from a focus on radical Muslims as extremists on the outer fringe of Islam to a focus on radical Muslims as extremists at the very core of Islam.

Looks like those among us who are non-Muslims will need to become experts on Islam to make our judgements on a sound basis.

As should anyone who is talking . . .

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Friday, January 29, 2010

"Another Ozark Genius . . ."

(Image from Cosmotography)

Another one in addition to yesterday's LeRoy Tucker, I mean . . .

This other genius is Harlow Shapley, and my cyberfriend Annie Gottlieb shot me an email the other day to inform me that this great astronomer was also an Ozark character who loved storytelling -- a fact noted by the man himself in an interview that Annie had linked me to in the email:
Well, I came from the Ozark country and the Ozark country is full of tall tales, and we knew them. There was a time when I knew more tall stories than probably anybody I've ever met, but I'm sure there have been better ones. But that Ozark country, just east of where we lived, the rough country, was where the hillbillies came from, and in Arkansas. We also had a farm in Arkansas, so we had some contacts. And folklore was one of the things that we knew about.
Shades of Vance Randolph! But the interviewers don't ask him for folktale. They seem more interested in his astronomical work in the context of the story of his own life. Incidently, the entire interview was conducted in two sessions by Charles Weiner and Helen Wright on June 8 and August 25, 1966, respectively, at Shapley's home in Sharon, New Hampshire. It's stored on the website of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives as part of the American Institute of Physics (College Park, Maryland), which I mention just in case anyone might be interested in bibliographical details.

Anyway, like Mr. LeRoy Tucker, Shapley has a powerful memory and a wonderful grasp of detail, and he tells some riveting anecdotes about early 20th-century science in America before it was transformed into Big Science by the likes of Ernest Orlando Lawrence and the fight against fascism, but he lived into the time of Big Science, too.

He even had a 'career' before science, for he dropped out of school with a fifth-grade education, then learned at home for a while from his older sister, and after that worked as a journalist during his middle teenage years, leading a colorful life as a crime reporter in Chanute, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri -- both places on the western edge of the Ozark Mountains, where the Ozarks meet the Plains:
I naturally had "episodes" -- since Chanute was a rough oil mining town; I had the various experiences that a reporter would have, especially if he were agile and got around. I remember two or three little affairs. One was on election night. There were a lot of drunken oil men on the streets. I set about to protect the office, thinking they'd start things there. A policeman came along and we had what we called a duel [take place in front of us]; they shot each other and one of them died. I handled that (age sixteen). It was sort of dramatic for those times, before we had wars where lots of horrible things happened. Another time we were having a political scramble, and my newspaper took one view and another newspaper took another view, and so we got off a good deal of strong language. The worst politician pushed me out of his office and went on talking to others inside. I sat down outside his office and wrote down in shorthand all that was being said. (I had learned shorthand at Chanute.) We just printed verbatim his rough statements four letter words and all. Consequently he wanted to murder me and blow up everybody. It was rather spectacular. For we did the proper thing -- made and printed a picture of my shorthand. Anybody who knew my kind of shorthand could read it. Of course, there was no guarantee that we hadn't forged it all. It was a rather live bit of country journalism for those times. Our man won! We had other little episodes like that. In Joplin it was worse. Joplin was a lead-zinc town and there were many tough characters, usually hanging around the police headquarters. I saw some strange things, some funny things, but we are accustomed to such things now.
They don't make proto-scientists like that anymore! But I wouldn't expect anything less from an Ozark 'hillbilly.' The entire session of the interview is entertaining in this manner, and it's followed by a second session recorded several months later (as noted above). And when you consider that Shapley was 80 or 81 at the times of these lengthy, detailed interviews, his performance is all the more impressive!

Go, therefore, and learn of life and stars and ants . . .

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

LeRoy Tucker, Ozark 'Folkliarist'

I have stumbled across a genius named LeRoy Tucker.

My fellow hillbilly friend Denny Elrod, who blogs at Exploring Izard County asked me yesterday if I had heard of French Town, which he put at about 15 miles outside of my hometown, Salem, Arkansas. I was aware of the name and location -- due east of Salem, on a dirt road, and not far from the South Fork River -- but I had to admit to Denny that I knew nothing substantive about the place, and so far as I know, it's no longer an incorporated community . . . though I could be wrong since it shows up on Google Maps.

But his query got me to thinking about the name of the place and wondering if a French trading post had once been located there in that obscure, isolated part of the Ozarks back when the territory still belonged to the French, though that didn't seem likely.

I therefore did a Google search for references to the place and stumbled across a the mention of French Town in a blog titled "Folk Liar of the Ozarks." Initially, I thought of Vance Randolph, but when I looked more closely, I realized what an authentic treasure I'd discovered. This self-proclaimed 'folkliarist' -- who apparently resides in Jonesboro, Arkansas -- hails from around Highland (I gather), not too far from my own hometown. He's a youthful 79 years and writes with a gifted literary hand. Given his obvious intelligence and his origins, I figure that he's related to Dr. Tucker, who lives at Highland and attends the church that my brother John pastors in Salem.

This 'folkliarist' LeRoy Tucker provides two photos on his blog, which he started last year, but the photos, which can be seen above, are rather earlier than his current age, for the one on the left is from 1949 and the one on the right from 1969. I don't yet know his erstwhile profession, for I've not read enough of his blog, but I already know that he can surely write. Here's the opening of a recent entry titled "The Electric Chicken":
When I was a boy I knew nothing about electricity. Now at seventy nine I know next to nothing about it. But I do know that you must close the circuit and that is the sum total of my knowledge of that subject. I enjoyed learning that, otherwise I never would have learned it. I never was much interested in accumulating beneficial information. If it wasn't fun forget it.

I did know something about chickens. All farm kids learn about chickens. Also, all farm kids learn to wipe their feet before going in the house. Chickens cause that. It started by accident, really, the product of a boy's imagination, a boy who had little to do but experiment with this or that with no discernable plan and with no expectations concerning the outcome. Some worked, some didn't. It made no difference. I had plenty of time and energy.

It started in 1946 when I found an old hand-crank, wall type telephone in the trash pile behind an abandoned farm house. Those old phones were already obsolete. I remembered that if you turned the crank the thing would produce electricity, but this particular one had been out in the rain and all kinds of weather for a long time so I didn't expect it to work. But I held the naked end of the wires with one hand and turned the crank with the other. I was surprised. The thing gave me quite a nice jolt! I knew right then that there was some fun to be had. As a matter of fact, I was confident that the fun would involve chickens. Don't ask me how I knew -- I just did.
If you think that you can anticipate what's coming next, you might be correct, but you'll still be surprised and laugh out loud at what LeRoy Tucker discovered in his subsequent 'scientific' experiment.

I wish that I knew more about this old fellow and what he did with his life, gifted as he is. He must also be a source of many old Ozark stories, some of which he has posted to his blog . . . along with what appear to be fictional writings of real literary quality that capture the dialect of the hill folks.

Time to update my blogroll . . .

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tan Trough Creek, Izard County, Arkansas

Tan Trough Creek
(Photo by EIC Crew)

The hillbilly crew Denny, Jim, and Rick over at Exploring Izard County are forever finding the unexpected in their Ozark explorations of Izard County. I'm always interested in their meanderings around Izard because my maternal grandmother was born there and most of her Cherokee relatives were settled in the rough, hilly area around the White River, which is part of the White River Hills. I'm from Fulton County myself, just north of Izard, so I know the region and did some exploring of my own as a teenager.

Denny and Rick -- I don't know where Jim was (out of pocket, I reckon) -- took some time recently to explore a fascinating, mysterious place called Tan Trough Creek, which runs just north of Calico Rock, Arkansas. Here's what Denny wrote about the creek:
Tan Trough Creek begins as a stream seeping from acres and acres of glade rock north of Calico Rock. The little stream gathers size as it follows a deepening hollow to plunge nearly 100 feet to a canyon floor below through a semi-cylinder of stone! The creek then flows through the most amazing canyon we've encountered in Izard County . . . possibly even the Ozarks . . . this part of them at least. It's unique and quite wonderful!

For hundreds of yards, sheer bluffs of around 100 feet or more line each side of this creek. At one point, the tops of the bluffs on each side of the canyon are nearly within jumping distance of each other. As Rick and I searched for a way to get down to the creek bottom, we were forced to hike several hundred yards before finding a navigable way down. As we fought our way back up the creek through briars, saplings, and last year's ice-storm fall-out, we were rewarded with fantastic views of the bluffs above us as well as with discovering small waterfalls and caves in the faces of the bluffs.
Sounds like quite an adventure. I've got to see this place! But my upcoming Ozark trip this summer might not be the best of times -- too many ticks, probably, and too much heat and humidity.

Anyway, Denny has a bit more written about the canyon over at the EIC blog, along with three more photos and a ten-minute video that offers information about the creek and provides shots of the bluffs through some fairly heavy thicket.

From what I've read and seen, the place should probably be a state park. The description reminds me of Missouri's Grand Gulf State Park and leads me to wonder if Tan Trough Creek might not also be an ancient cave system similar to that one at Grand Gulf -- or like the collapsed cave with natural land bridge remaining at the nearby Calico Creek, which my family and I hiked around in with Denny and his family back in February 2008.

As mentioned above, I did some Izard exploring myself as a teenager. At 19, I spent my last summer living in the Ozarks when I worked on the surveying crew for my high school math teacher, Mr. Jim Scott. On days when we had no work, I'd hop on my ten-speed bicycle and pedal off on an adventure of discovery, several times on a 35-mile trip south into Izard County through some steep Ozark hills to Sylamore, enjoying the views but not the sweat and scorching sun.

I never discovered Tan Trough Creek, though, for I always continued southward, never turning off on the road toward Calico Rock whenever I headed down Sylamore way.

I missed out.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"it all came at once . . ."

Traditional Korean Drinks
(Image from Korea Herald)

I can't get quite as worked up and excited about some traditional Korean drink as Jean Oh does in a recent, breathless description:

The deep and sweet, intoxicating scent . . . . released an aromatic prelude to . . . . [t]hat moment . . . that . . . . an institute employee uncovered . . . . and pulled it out, dripping, full of fruity grain and liquid. The beauty of it all came at once. Why would anyone pass up an opportunity for . . . this? What wouldn't one do for a mouthful of that silken, malty nectar?
I may just have to give up Korean drinks altogether . . . particularly if that top center photo reveals the typical production technique!

But at least it's not makgeolli . . .

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Jonathan Dee: Little Green Footballs and the 'Missing Link'

Photo by Zach Johnsen
(Image from New York Times)

Jonathan Dee, writing in his recent article "Right-Wing Flame War!" (January 21, 2010) for The New York Times, has analyzed a cultural crackup that split rightwing blogs into warring camps two years ago. This rightwing kulturkampf was initiated by Charles Johnson when he accused a number of rightwing bloggers of fascistic tendencies because they were 'linked' with individuals whom Johnson considered fascists. There is some irony in this, for Johnson's own blog, Little Green Footballs, was often itself accused of post-9/11 fascism for what many considered its shrill nationalism, its contempt for Muslims, and its inflammatory language:
If the tone of Johnson's writing on the blog sometimes bordered, as his detractors claimed, on hate speech, that of his mostly anonymous commenters was reliably worse. A popular blog like L.G.F. functions as a kind of cloud-sourced id. It is not uncommon for a simple, 200-word post to accrue upward of a thousand written responses from readers. The question of how responsible he is, or should be, for these expressions of uncensored reader sentiment is one that Johnson, like many bloggers, has struggled with; but in the middle years of the last decade, whether for free-speech reasons or simply because he enjoyed being the popular focal point of such strong nationalist feeling, he did very little to rein it in. Muslims were described as "vermin." The posthumous nickname St. Pancake was coined for the young American pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, in reference to the Israeli bulldozer that killed her. Discussion of U.S. foreign-policy options included terms like "targeted genocide." As for Palestinians, "they don’t need statehood," offered one commenter; "they need sterilization." And on and on. A so-called stalker blog, called L.G.F. Watch, sprang up to document instances of what it considered hate speech on the part of Johnson and his followers. Vanity Fair's James Wolcott compared Johnson’s site to a "disorganized Nuremberg Rally."
I vividly recall those days at LGF because I used to read not just Johnson's blogposts but also many of the comments, and they were indeed inflammatory, but they got LGF a lot of attention and garnered the blog a huge number of links:
L.G.F. was, by 2007 or so, at the heart of a vast, amorphous grid of right-wing sites of every description, an interdependence that Johnson himself had become, in a way, too popular to control.
That sentence stumbles a bit. Dee means that Johnson could no longer control the linked interdependence because he had become so popular on the right. But despite the awkward sentence, Dee is on to something about Johnson's way of thinking:
That concept of the link, in all its permutations, is the key to what happened next, both to Johnson and because of him, and it says something enlightening not just about blogging but also about the nature and prospects of citizen journalism. Whatever you think of him, Johnson is a smart man, a gifted synthesizer of information gathered by other people. But just as for anyone in his position, there is an inevitable limit to what he can learn about places, people, political organizations, etc., without actually encountering them. Instead of causes and effects, motivations and consequences, observation and behavior, his means of intellectual synthesis is, instead, the link: the indiscriminate connection established via search engine.

. . .

He came of age, as a writer and as a public figure, in the culture of damnation by link, and he does not exempt himself from its logic.

. . .

[Johnson employs] a kind of six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon approach to political rectitude, in which the existence of even a search-engine-generated connection between two people anywhere in the world implied a mutual back-scratching, an ideological partnership.
Johnson therefore decided that certain groups were fascist and anyone linked to those groups, even by a mere internet link, was tainted by fascism. But that would entail that Johnson himself was linked to fascism, for he was linked by internet to those whom he considered fascist. Dee argues that Johnson therefore decided "to conduct a kind of public self-purge of the alliances he acquired on the road to fame" as a radical means of 'de-linking' himself from them. It was also a way of 'de-linking' himself from his own rightwing persona, for despite some points of ideological contact, Johnson had really always been more of a libertarian than a rightwing conservative. He thus attacked many of his erstwhile rightwing allies in strongly personal terms. "It was unfair and simplistic and petulant, but it also seems to have achieved its goal," notes Dee, for "[v]ery few people on the right want to be linked with Charles Johnson anymore."

Johnson is obviously intelligent, at least in a techie sort of way, but but he doesn't seem especially well-read in history or political theory, nor does he seem capable of nuanced distinctions in this age of internet linkage, His preferred style of blogging about those whom he dislikes (or prefers to dislike), by posting highly emotive personal attacks, is a method that most serious-minded people would consider a sign of intellectual immaturity.

But those personal attacks did get him very effectively 'de-linked' from individuals with whom he no longer wants to be linked, including his own very public rightwing persona. Johnson himself has recently observed that "the best way to deal with defamatory statements on the Internet is to make sure your defense shows up in a Google search too." By that same internet logic, the best way to make your 'de-linkage' show up on Google searches is to make the break as publicly acrimonious as possible.

Everyone will then link to your 'de-linking'.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Neil Gaiman: "Lookin' like a Gothy Bob Dylan"

Neil Gaiman
Lookin' Like a Gothy Dylan
Photo by Eric Ogden
(Image from The New Yorker)

Some scholar over at the Milton List alerted us (an ecletic group of misfits) to Dana Goodyear's New Yorker piece on Neil Gaiman, "Kid Goth: Neil Gaiman's fantasies."

Goodyear's is a mostly engaging portrait of Gaiman that incidently also alerted me to the news that Gaiman probably has more women fans than male readers. I'm not sure what that says about me, especially since he's particularly popular among female Goths, starting with his early career as a DC Comic-book writer:
"Young women dressed in black and black eyeliner would walk into the comic store and pick up 'Sandman' and just walk out."
So says Karen Berger, Gaiman's editor at DC Comics, back when he was writing the Sandman series. I've still not read The Sandman, so I suppose that I'm not yet one for eyeliner. About Gaiman's career as a comic-book writer, Goodyear quotes another writer:
"He's got incredible storytelling drive," the novelist Michael Chabon, who has written extensively about comics, says. "The stories just exfoliate off each other, and mythology and folklore are so confidently and freely appropriated, with such chutzpah."
Goodyear doesn't bother to identify Chabon because she assumes that all readers will recognize the name. I do, because my oldest brother gave me his well-read copy of Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but I couldn't dredge up his 'unpronounceable' (for me) name the other day when I was alone in Seoul's biggest bookstore. Chabon tells us how to pronounce it:
"Shea as in Shea Stadium, Bon as in Bon Jovi."
Thanks, man. How are those pronounced? But I'm talking about Gaiman, and so is Goodyear, who opens her portrait with this gambit:
In "The New Mother," a children's story published by Lucy Clifford in 1882, two previously well-behaved little girls turn so bad -- dousing the fire and breaking the clock and dancing on the butter -- that their mother is forced to go away, and a new mother, a demon with two glass eyes and a horrible wooden tail, comes to take her place. At the story's end, the girls flee to the forest to live; they miss their mother terribly and long in vain for the chance to redeem themselves. Sometimes, at night, they sneak back to their old cottage, where through the window they can see the glint of the new mother's glass eyes.

Gothic horror was thoroughly out of fashion in children’s literature when, in the early nineteen-nineties, the writer Neil Gaiman began to work on "Coraline," a book aimed at "middle readers" -- aged nine to twelve -- in which he reimagined Clifford's demon as "the other mother," an evil and cunning anti-creator who threatens to destroy his young protagonist. "The idea was, look, if the Victorians can do something that deeply unsettles kids, I should be able to do that, too," he told me recently.
I've read both stories but never made the connection, just as I didn't notice that The Graveyard Book is a retelling of Kipling's Jungle Book. I'm suddenly struck as I write this by how 'Calvinist' Clifford's story is -- it's about damnation, expulsion from the 'garden' with no means of redemption for the preterite. Gaiman's Coraline, on the other hand, is about self-redemption by outsmarting the demon. Children love the book:
Gaiman reported to the nursery, where there was a long crafts table covered with bins of pompoms, googly eyes, and crayons . . . . Gaiman stood at one end of the table.

"I wrote 'Coraline,'" he said.

"Yay," a few of the children said, mechanically.

Gaiman ventured that some of them might have seen the movie and been frightened.

A tiny five-year-old in a cape looked up. "I was scared by it," he said. "I was really scared."

"My cousin, who's one, she was screaming," another child said.
Well . . . maybe not all children love the story, unless a wildly screaming one-year-old means "I like this very much!" I ought to say, children who can read love the book. I can read, and I loved it.

But I've said enough. Go forth and read for yourself -- and discover why Milton fans like Neil Gaiman. Meanwhile, a special Gypsy Scholar award to the reader who can identify the quote in today's blogpost heading . . .

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

John Milton, Paradise Lost: Heavenly Motions

Light Blue Great Circle = Celestial Equator
Red Great Circle = Apparent Solar Path
Green Constellations = Zodiac Signs
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still trying to clarify what John Milton might have considered the structure of the prelapsarian world in Paradise Lost. The image that we see above is what Milton would have considered a postlapsarian heliocentric world, one in which the sun's apparent annual path (red great circle) passes through the zodiac signs (green contellations) at an obliquity of about 23.5 degress from the celestial equator (light blue great circle).

In the prelapsarian world of Paradise Lost, however, the sun's (apparent) path would have coincided with the celestial equator.

In such a prelapsarian world, there are either of two possibilities for the zodiac signs:
1. The zodiac is located on the celestial equator.

2. The zodiac is located on the 23.5 degree obliquity.
Alastair Fowler, on pages 35-36 of his annotated Paradise Lost (1998), assumes the first of these two possibilities. I think that Milton leaves open either possibility.

As for the term "ecliptic," so called because the sun and planets in movement can eclipse one another as they pass, Milton does use the term, but he may be using it proleptically because his references to the ecliptic are ambiguous and because there might not be any eclipses in his prelapsarian world. Or there may be eclipses, and Milton may be using the term not proleptically, but to designate a prelapsarian actuality. I see three possibilities:
A. The term "ecliptic" is not used proleptically, for prelapsarian eclipses do occur, and the prelapsarian ecliptic is coincident with the celestial equator.

B. The term "ecliptic" is used proleptically, for prelapsarian eclipses do not occur, and the prelapsarian ecliptic is coincident with the celestial equator.

C. The term "ecliptic" is used proleptically, for prelapsarian eclipses do not occur, and the prelapsarian ecliptic has about a 23.5 degree obliquity to the celestial equator.
Fowler seems to assume B, for he thinks that the sun remains constantly in the vernal equinox, which implies that the planets also do not move from their positions along the ecliptic. Fowler's understanding would thus be most accurately labeled "1B." Note, however, that "B" is a very odd use of the term "ecliptic," for not only do eclipses not occur along the celestial equator, they never will, whether in pre- or postlapsarian times. By comparison, "C" is a more reasonable use of the term "ecliptic," for eclipses will occur along the 23.5 degree obliquity in postlapsarian times.

Fowler may very well be correct in his position of 1B, of course, but Milton's language leaves open five other possibilities, i.e., 1A, 1C, 2A, 2B, or 2C.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

John Milton's Chaos: "Chance governs all . . ."

Satan in the Abyss
(Image from History of Art)

A discussion has broken out on the Milton List concerning just how 'chaotic' Milton's "chaos" was. Gustave Doré gives it more stability of form than I would have depicted, given Milton's own description in Book 2 of Paradise Lost:
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold [ 895 ]
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand.
For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four Champions fierce
Strive here for Maistrie, and to Battel bring
Thir embryon Atoms; they around the flag [ 900 ]
Of each his faction, in thir several Clanns,
Light-arm'd or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow,
Swarm populous, unnumber'd as the Sands
Of Barca or Cyrene's torrid soil,
Levied to side with warring Winds, and poise [ 905 ]
Thir lighter wings. To whom these most adhere,
Hee rules a moment; Chaos Umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroiles the fray
By which he Reigns: next him high Arbiter
Chance governs all . . . . this wilde Abyss, [ 910 ]
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain [ 915 ]
His dark materials to create more Worlds (PL 2.891-916)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, January 2009]
I lack time this morning to get into heavy analysis of this passage, which is a very complex mix of Graeco-Roman and Biblical concepts and imagery. But I do want to focus attention on the issue of stability in this chaos. I suspect that the instability goes all the way down.

Instability doesn't seem to stop at qualities and atoms, for qualities such as "hot, cold, moist, and dry" or "heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow" cannot exist without being the properties of matter, such as the four traditional elements of water, earth, air, and fire alluded to as "Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire" or the fundamental particles called "atoms."

In stating that there is "neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire, / But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt / Confus'dly," Milton would seem to mean that the four elements of water, earth, air, and fire do not exist except in their "causes" alone, the qualities of "hot, cold, moist, and dry," which cannot exist in isolation as properties alone. Similarly, he mentions the "embryon atoms," which suggests a lack of proper, finished form even though the ancient concept of the atoms was that they had no inner complexity, but were hard, indestructible units of matter with specific properties "heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow."

Moreover, Milton describes chaos as being "Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth, / And time and place are lost," which seems to make the abyss a deeply formless 'state' of affairs in which even atoms or elements could not fully exist.

And "Chance governs all . . ."

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

John Milton, Paradise Lost: An Already Oblique Ecliptic?

Sun Carriage
"the Sun / Was bid turn Reines from th' Equinoctial Rode"
(Image from Wikipedia)

By now, readers will likely recognize the above quote from Paradise Lost 10.671-672. Like the sun, I'm turning to the obliquity of the zodiac today to return to a question that I posed earlier and had thought settled. In a January 12th post, I raised the possibility that the ecliptic and equatorial planes did not coincide in Milton's prelapsarian cosmos, and in the very next post, on January 13th, I offered a supporting argument. But in two follow-up posts -- January 15th and January 16th -- I believed my assertion of the possibility to have been mistaken. I had read the following lines and taken the "Starrs" to be planets, for this terminology was possible in Milton's time:
[Satan flew] his oblique way
Amongst innumerable Starrs, that shon
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds (PL 3.564-566)
My thought was that if Satan was traveling an already oblique ecliptic, then the 'planets' shouldn't yet be on that ecliptic since the sun (with planets in tow) had not yet been forced to move in such a way as to cause the inclement seasons (as Milton explains in PL 10.651-680).

I now think, however, that I misread the term "Starrs," for it does not mean "planets" but really does refer to "stars," the so-called 'fixed' stars, which Milton allows might be "other Worlds" (by which, he means possibly other cosmic systems). Satan is thus not yet passing by planets; rather, he has recently passed through the primum mobile and the crystalline sphere (as depicted here) and is now passing through the sphere of fixed stars. If so, then this reading does not have Milton show Satan moving past planets in his "oblique way" and therefore allows that the zodiac might have always been on an oblique ecliptic after all since the planets are not being described along Satan's path.

Such a reading could then fit with Satan's oblique movement (3.564) from the sign of Libra to the sun in Aries (3.558, 588), as described in Book 3, lines 555 through 588, for when Satan leaves the sun, he is said to speed "Down from th' Ecliptic" (PL 3.740). One might well legitimately counter that if "the ecliptic and equatorial planes coincide," as Alastair Fowler maintains in his annotated Paradise Lost (Fowler, Paradise Lost, 1998, page 35), then Satan could accurately be described as speeding down from the ecliptic in leaving the sun. Granted, this hypothetical retort could very well be correct, but Milton leaves at least room for a variant interpretation, such that the sun and planets are located in the plane of the celestial equator, to which the plane of the zodiac is already oblique by approximately 23.5 degrees.

My point is not that Milton clearly asserts that the zodiac was already oblique, merely that a close reading allows for the possibility, and that's Milton's intention, for he doesn't wish to commit himself to a definite world system that might be shown false by scientific advance.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Uncle Cran's Return . . . and with Aunt Kathryn

Two Big Black Bears
that Stumped
Brad and Kathryn

After a long silence, Uncle Cran has returned with one of his trademark accounts of the old days . . . meaning the mid-1940s to mid-1950s. As usual, he sets out with a verbose introduction:
We were so lucky to experience growing up on a farm. At least some of our city dwelling relatives seemed to think so. Every summer during my pre-teen years we would have cousins spend weeks each summer with us. They loved to ride horses, swim in the creek, hunt for arrowheads, tend the cows and chickens, help harvest the hay, play games, and generally have a good time. We were always so excited to see them. Mom loved company, and didn't seem to mind all the cooking required to feed them. However, every experience wasn't always so pleasant.
Every experience? Always? Poor Uncle Cran, whose "every experience wasn't always so pleasant." The more I look at that remark, the less I understand it . . . so I'd best stop looking. Back to the lengthy introduction:
And for us young'uns, Kathryn, Bradley, Virginia and I, there were also some experiences that were downright terrifying. Our older brothers loved to scare us with tales of ghosts, goblins, snakes, and wild animals, just waiting for a chance to grab us and do bad, awful things. To us, they were all too real.
Ghosts and goblins, I can understand, but snakes and wild animals . . . Uncle Cran is right, those are "all too real"! What really wild tales those brothers must have told. But now comes a true story or two, for Uncle Cran relates a couple of anecdotes that he was received in "a recent letter from sister Kathryn" that begins by addressing him directly:
Hey Cran. I remember one time on the farm that Brad and I didn't go early enough to the spring to get our two buckets of water each. Our older brothers, who had decided they were our Daddy, (since he was no longer with us), made us go carry the drinking water to the house. It was about a quarter of a mile from the house, but we had fooled around until after sundown, it was dark, so it seemed like 5 miles.

We had a lantern with us, but it didn't give out much light, and made strange shadows appear. We could see the path, however. Just before we got to the spring we saw off to our right TWO BLACK BEARS! Well, we were scared half to death and were crying and shaking, but we were more afraid of what those mean big brothers would do to us if we didn't bring that water to the house. So, as quietly as our shaking legs would take us, we got past the bears safely, even though we were afraid that we would be attacked. We made it to the house with the water, so we didn't get in trouble with the brothers. We didn't tell them about the bears.

The next day we went after our water (before dark!), and found that the two black bears were a couple of stumps! That old lantern light made them appear as if they were moving. We were glad that we had not told about the bears, or those brothers would have teased us forever.
Thus ends the tall tale of the stump-ified bears! Aunt Kathryn then continues with a couple of remarks about Uncle Cran in the third person, which leads me to suspect that Uncle Cran has been reading someone else's mail:
Another time we had our buckets full of water, and were swinging them around without spilling. Cran was watching, and he got too close. My full bucket of water hit him right between the eyes. He had a big knot there.

Then about a week later we were playing, Cran was bat-catching. I swung at the ball, again Cran was too close, and my bat hit him in the same place. Poor kid got another knot between his eyes. I guess that I was the one that addled his brain the first time. Or did I knock some sense into him?
If Uncle Cran did indeed peruse some other person's letter, then we see in the above, third-person remarks an example of what Mark Goodacre calls "editorial fatigue." At any rate, in the redaction that we've received, the anecdote switches back to again address Uncle Cran directly:
Do you remember those two incidents, Cran? I know that I didn't put in the commas and other punctuation marks as I should, but is just the way I talk . . . Love, Kathryn.
Well, I won't get picky about Aunt Kathryn's punctuation since she's related some good anecdotes (and too much comma-introducing can be coma-inducing), so let's turn again to Uncle Cran and see if he's finished his wordy introduction:
As Kathryn related her tale, those events returned to my memory. In photos of my childhood, I notice that I sometimes appeared starry-eyed. I saw a lot of stars in those days. Big brother Bradley got in a few licks on his little brother also, but I will save them for another time. Kathryn and Bradley didn't do all that deliberately . . . (OR DID THEY???)! In her closing remarks, sis mentioned another fear, as she apologized for her punctuation.

It is the same fear that I have every time I write nephew Jeffery. That fear is the dread of seeing our letters graded by Professor H. Jeffery Hodges, PhD, and all our mistakes pointed out to his readers. We can just mentally picture him . . . chuckling with glee . . . and he pounces upon each mistake with the same ferocity as those two imaginary bears were thought about to do. But our stories need to be told, so we tell them anyway.
Chuckling with glee? Me? Never! Like the father in Jabberwocky, I chortle with joyful glee. In fact, back in high school, I used to run around with a gang of chortlers, and we formed a glee club just so we could officially chortle with glee.

But Uncle Cran's fears of my harsh 'attacks' are just as imaginary as those two 'ferocious' bears. Frankly, I'm stumped that he would suffer such anxiety, but I suppose that some folks can barely bear even gentle corrections even though I've always meant well (if I may bare my soul).

Anyway, I see that Uncle Cran had -- to my astonishment -- finished his long introductory remarks while we were busy with Aunt Kathryn's anecdotes and had already gotten well into his meandering conclusion.

Thank the Lord for small miracles . . .

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Milton's Cosmos . . . or Universe?

A Representation of Milton's Vertical Cosmos
Walter Clyde Curry
Milton's Ontology, Cosmogony, and Physics (page 156)
(University of Kentucky Press, 1957)
(Image from Purdue University)

I learn something new every day. Today, I learned of a distinction that some make between Milton's Cosmos (above) and Milton's Universe (below). Counterintuitively, the latter is smaller than the former!

A Diagram of Milton's Universe
Paradise Lost, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes?
(Image from USCB)

In searching the internet for other depictions, I found an interactive 'map' of Milton's Cosmos at MapLib, though the 'map' is very schematic. Its usefulness comes from the markers stuck to the 'map' that reference Paradise Lost by book and line. Note that this 'map' seems to place the sun at center of the universe. If you poke around on the 'map', you'll see what I mean.

Scholars have long argued this point, i.e., the precise center of Milton's universe, whether geocentric (as depicted in the diagram above) or heliocentric (as seemingly depicted at the MapLib site).

The debate is understandable since -- as John Leonard explains in his annotated Paradise Lost -- "Milton usually depicts the universe as earth-centered, but he often hints that it is sun-centered" (page xvi). On the same page, incidently, Leonard notes that "Milton's cosmos is infinite; his universe large, but finite" (page xvi).

I suppose that I ought to adopt the terminology that Leonard accepts, for he's studied this material and ought to know better than I. I'm currently writing a paper on the seasons in Paradise Lost and need to say some words about the universe's structure, though I need not be definitive on this point, for I'm merely trying to figure out the motions of the heavens.

More on this another time.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Complex Simplicity: The Art of the Political Poster

"Stop: Yes to Outlawing Minarets"
(Image from New York Times)

Some readers will recall a couple of recent posts on the Swiss referendum that successfully forbade the construction of additional minarets in Switzerland beyond the four already constructed. In those two posts, I stated that I didn't quite understand the logic (Why ban merely minarets if Islam is the putative danger?), but I also added that the controversy might lead to a discussion of the double standard held by Islamic lands that forbid churches or place various restrictions upon them.

An article in the New York Times by Michael Kimmelman, "When Fear Turns Graphic" (January 14, 2010), doesn't deal with these issues but does provide a fascinating account of just how complex is the process of creating a simple political poster designed to target an audience that is "low income, with little schooling," in the very words of the man who designed the poster in question.

That would be Swiss People's Party member Alexander Segert, whose explanation of the process by which the above poster was created is recounted by Kimmelman:
There were some early all-text trials, he recalled, which looked too wordy. One version showed missiles without the woman, another, the woman in a burqa, without eyes. "That was too impersonal," Mr. Segert said. He and his colleagues, adding eyes, then debated what should be behind them. "Should they look sexy, not sexy?" he said. "To me the look we decided on is less aggressive than helpless."

It can also be read the other way around. Mr. Segert added that, instead of the Swiss flag, the Matterhorn was tried, but the mix of minarets with the woman in a niqab and the mountain created confusion. Without the mountain, he said, the image, "could have been Istanbul or Dubai."

"There was nothing wrong," he continued, "nothing to disturb the view."

But a flag solved that. "Minarets and the Swiss flag sent the message we wanted because they don't fit together. A person looks and thinks, 'This must be changed.'"

A certain person, anyway. The final poster, though heavy-handed, performs a complex task. The image of minarets beside the woman in the niqab stirs up a negative feeling among target voters. "No, I don't want minarets because I will find myself living under Sharia law," the viewer decides. But the referendum to ban minarets required a yes vote. "It's always easier to do a campaign for a no vote," Mr. Segert noted, "because people instinctively want to maintain the status quo. It's what they already know. With a yes vote you need some positive symbol. But we had only this negative one, of minarets and Sharia.

"So we needed some bridge, some transition from no to yes."

The designers experimented with the word "Verbieten," meaning to forbid, but this turned out to look too complicated. The obvious solution, arrived at after a few false starts, was simply, "stop."

The word performs a double role, emphasizing the initial message (stop minarets) then causing a viewer, when arriving at the word, mentally to stop, be free to switch gears and register "yes," written just below "stop." That is, vote yes.

"So there are three steps to the image," Mr. Segert concluded. "Minarets lead to Sharia. No to minarets. Yes to the referendum."

"It looks simple," he said, staring at the finished image.

"But that's the art of it."
Segert is certainly right that the finished image is aesthetically brilliant in its use of simple, even minimalist art to effect a complex mental process in an audience that is "low income, with little schooling," even if the premise, that "Minarets lead to Sharia," is dubious.

What minarets do accomplish is an architectural dominance more noticeable in European than American cities, for the former have fewer highrise buildings, and minarets therefore endow European cities visually with a less European, more Islamic character. Consequently, Europe appears to be moving toward sharia even if minarets do not inevitably lead that way.

I would like to have learned more about Mr. Segert and the Swiss People's Party. Wikipedia gives some information about the latter, noting that it was originally a farmers' party but characterizing it currently as "a populist, national conservative political party in Switzerland . . . . with . . . emphasis on free markets and European identity," as well as offering details of the minaret controversy, but provides nothing on Mr. Segert. Kimmelman's article itself says very little about him:
A 46-year-old German (yes, an immigrant himself in Switzerland), he is the father of two adopted children from North Africa, although he declined to talk about his personal life.
I presume that Mr. Segert is not Muslim, but most North Africans are Muslim, and Islamic law has particular restrictions on adoption anyway, so I am curious about this detail of his life, which must have some influence upon his views about Islam. I suspect that Kimmelman doesn't know enough about Islam to pose such a question, for the query need not be overly personal.

Back in the latter 1980s, I had a very politicized Swiss girlfriend from the left-leaning city of Basel who could probably fill my ears with details about Mr. Segert, but our conversations ended with the the end of our relationship, so in lieu of my old ex-girlfriend Monika, perhaps some of my readers could fill me in about Mr. Segert.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

En-Uk's Art Blog

En-Uk Sequoya Hwang
(Image from En-Uk's Art Blog)

My ten-year-old son has started a blog that he's titled En-Uk's Art Blog. I helped him a bit with that title. He wanted to call it En-Uk's Blog, but since he plans to post an artwork of his every day, I suggested adding the word "Art."

He adds a brief comment appended below each day's image. Although he writes these himself, I proofread them before posting to ensure that his spelling and grammar are correct.

The image above reminds me of Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionism, but I don't know that En-Uk has ever seen an online reproduction of Pollock's works, although he's probably seen similar art, given Pollock's influence on popular culture.

En-Uk, however, doesn't seem to conceive of the image above in especially abstract terms, for he explicates this work of art somewhat concretely:
This drawing is about a world that is very hard to live in. This drawing shows that as you get older, life gets very difficult. So, you have to think about what job you should do, and study for the job.
Although he doesn't say so explicitly, En-Uk seems to mean that we get caught up in our web of responsibilities. I was surprised that he's already thinking in these terms at the tender age of ten. Perhaps he's heard Sun-Ae and me talking about work and earnings, which have never been entirely stable for us since I'm that proverbial "gypsy scholar" who's moved from place to place for mainly contract jobs and never finding tenure . . . well, almost never, but let's not go there today.

Anyway, En-Uk intends to put up a work of art every day, but I see that the first two images have posted on the same day even though he put the first one up on Wednesday and the second one up on Thursday. I think that this confusion comes from the fact that his blog is officially posting on the other side of the International Date Line even though we're living in Seoul. I'll have to look into this problem and fix it.

At any rate, go take a look at En-Uk's Art Blog if you're interested -- and I assume that most of his relatives will be -- and keep checking regularly for new postings of other images.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the artistic side of my daughter, Sa-Rah Ahyoga Hwang, her musical work is more difficult to post, though I might try to post her playing classical guitar sometime if she wants me to and I can figure out You Tube.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

John Milton's Paradise Lost: "With tract oblique"?

Satan Contemplates Serpent
(Image from All Art)

In the image above, Satan contemplates his malicious intentions and deplores having to incarnate his spiritual substance within the serpent (PL 9.163-167), but he does so, of course, or there would be no story, and goes forth to approach Eve:
. . . With tract oblique
At first, as one who sought access, but feard
To interrupt, side-long he works his way. (PL 9.510-512)
As we noted yesterday, Satan likes "his oblique way" (PL 3.564) of motion, and we see from today's passage above that his motions can be termed oblique even when he is far from the ecliptic. Concerning yesterday's passages, then, his motion from Libra to Aries in approaching the sun is "hard to tell" (PL 3.575). Upon reflection, I think that since Satan is described as moving past planets, he must be on the ecliptic, but perhaps the ecliptic is still located upon the celestial equator, as Alastair Fowler maintains. Satan's "oblique way" might then refer to his fallen manner of approaching any of his aims. Conversely, the planets might be on an oblique ecliptic but the sun simply upon the celestial equator. That the sun cannot be moving along an oblique ecliptic is certain from what we have previously seen in Book 10, where the sun's annual motion, or apparent annual motion, is made oblique to account for the excessive summer heat and the dire winter cold. But if the sun is not moving along the ecliptic, why call it an ecliptic?

Adam himself wonders about such questions, and poses them to the angel Raphael, who says:
To ask or search I blame thee not, for Heav'n
Is as the Book of God before thee set,
Wherein to read his wondrous Works, and learne
His Seasons, Hours, or Dayes, or Months, or Yeares: (PL 8.66-69)
Asking about the celestial motions is therefore not forbidden . . . and yet:
This to attain, whether Heav'n move or Earth, [ 70 ]
Imports not, if thou reck'n right, the rest
From Man or Angel the great Architect
Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge
His secrets to be scann'd by them who ought
Rather admire; (PL 8.70-75)
Asking is okay, but searching too deeply becomes problematic. Here, Milton seems to hearken back to the long tradition of Western debate over the legitimacy of curiosity that Hans Blumenberg has analyzed so well. Milton would appear to share Augustine's concern, for he has Raphael conclude his discourse over the celestial motions with the following advice:
. . . Heav'n is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowlie wise:
Think onely what concernes thee and thy being;
Dream not of other Worlds, what Creatures there [ 175 ]
Live, in what state, condition or degree,
Contented that thus farr hath been reveal'd
Not of Earth onely but of highest Heav'n. (PL 8.172-178)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, January 2009]
Like Augustine, Milton would seem to think that a busybody curiosity leads one astray from what has been revealed as proper to mankind and distracts one from concern with one's soul, if I might extrapolate from Raphael's words.

Considered from a different perspective, Milton is admitting ignorance of the prelapsarian celestial motions, and probably also the postlapsarian ones, so the reader should not be surprised to find that movement "up or downe / By center, or eccentric, hard to tell" (PL 3.574-575).

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Friday, January 15, 2010

John Milton's Paradise Lost: Satan Winding "his oblique way"

Ecliptic Plane
(Image from HyperPhysics)

Despite forays into realms more rectitudinal -- such as rule of law and ruse of cow -- I'm sticking close to the oblique ecliptic, somewhat as does that fallen angel Satan in his descent towards the sun as described in Book 3 of Paradise Lost, though he first surveys the scene from where he has positioned himself, at the primum mobile (outermost sphere of the cosmos) and in the constellation of Libra, diametrically opposite the constellation of Aries ("the fleecie Starr"), where the sun is located:
Round he surveys, and well might, where he stood [ 555 ]
So high above the circling Canopie
Of Nights extended shade; from Eastern Point
Of Libra to the fleecie Starr that bears
Andromeda farr off Atlantic Seas
Beyond th' Horizon; then from Pole to Pole [ 560 ]
He views in bredth, and without longer pause
Down right into the Worlds first Region throws
His flight precipitant, and windes with ease
Through the pure marble Air his oblique way
Amongst innumerable Starrs, that shon [ 565 ]
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds,
Or other Worlds they seemd, or happy Iles,
Like those Hesperian Gardens fam'd of old,
Fortunate Fields, and Groves and flourie Vales,
Thrice happy Iles, but who dwelt happy there [ 570 ]
He stayd not to enquire: above them all
The golden Sun in splendor likest Heaven
Allur'd his eye: Thither his course he bends
Through the calm Firmament; but up or downe
By center, or eccentric, hard to tell, [ 575 ]
Or Longitude, where the great Luminarie
Alooff the vulgar Constellations thick,
That from his Lordly eye keep distance due,
Dispenses Light from farr; they as they move
Thir Starry dance in numbers that compute [ 580 ]
Days, months, & years, towards his all-chearing Lamp
Turn swift thir various motions, or are turnd
By his Magnetic beam, that gently warms
The Univers, and to each inward part
With gentle penetration, though unseen, [ 585 ]
Shoots invisible vertue even to the deep: (PL 3.555-586)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, January 2009]
Recall that Satan is later speeding "Down from th' Ecliptic" (PL 3.740) when he leaves the sun after speaking with Uriel, as reported in a recent blog entry. In fact, we see from the above lines that Satan was descending from the outermost sphere, the primum mobile, by way of the eclipic, for he is described as starting from Libra and winding his way down past the planets ("Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds"), though whether "By center, or eccentric" orbits is "hard to tell." Or perhaps one should describe Satan's course by "Longitude," which Alastair Fowler explains is "distance measured by degrees of arc along the ecliptic" (Fowler, John Milton: Paradise Lost, Second Edition (New York: Longman, 1998), page 204, note 576).

Given that Satan is descending by way of the ecliptic, then Milton's description of Satan's flight, namely, that he "windes with ease / Through the pure marble Air his oblique way," is significant, for the term "oblique" could indicate that the ecliptic is already oblique to the celestial equator. But this would be rather problematic since that would put the sun and planets already on the obliquity . . . if I'm reading the above passage correctly.

I'll have to return to this tomorrow.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Curing Cabin Fever through 'Global Wqrming'?

Northern Arkansas
(Photo by EIC Team)

As you can see from the above photo taken by one of the EIC team, the Arkansas Ozarks are covered by snow and chilled by cold these early days of January. Old folks just north of Izard County, like my Uncle Cran in northern Fulton County, are staying indoors, when they're not outside doing chores like feeding and watering their cattle, and that weather-enforced incarceration is leading to a bit of cabin fever.

Apparently, old folks to the west over in the Kansas flatlands around Topeka are suffering similar weather and similar fever, as the case of my Cousin Bill attests, for he and Uncle Cran had an online 'conversation' the other day, beginning with a suggestion from Cousin Bill in response to a prior email from Uncle Cran concerning some sort of vocally challenged tongue-twister called 'Global Wqrming', apparently an ironic comment on the arctic cold that's recently hit the States.

Anyway, that prior email, with its orthographically challenged subject heading, cued Cousin Bill to suggest a way for Uncle Cran to keep warm:
Grab the pilfered McDonald's straws (from one of your big-night-out-on-the-town trips), grab the longest extension cord you've got, plug it in at the house (or if long enough at Polk & Reta's place -- "a penny saved is a penny earned"), attach the foregoing to your Sears drill equipped with a 6-inch-plus bit (only slightly larger in diameter than the straw), and meander down to or up to or whichever way to the pond, drill some holes in about a minute and install the Big Mac straws in the vertical holes. If those cows get thirsty enough they'll figure it out. No more time-consuming ice chopping with the axe! And you'll have more time to nestle in that warm chair, read, drink hot chocolate and casually pet those dogs.

Another plus -- after sucking water through straws over the next month and a half those cows will probably be able to whistle -- making for some pretty background music on pleasantly warm spring evenings when you're sparking on the front porch swing.

Just an "idée" from one of your favorite nephews (with some extra time on his hands tonight).

Tell your Better Half I said hello!

Nephew Bill

(Did I mention I had A BAD CASE of cabin fever?) And is Rita spelled Reta? Just curious. And your Subject Line -- What the heck is Global Wqrming?
In response to that snarky if weirdly humorous email from Cousin Bill, Uncle Cran replied:
We don't need to pilfer straws. We just wash the two we got years ago and recycle. Cows are set in their ways. They would just eat the straws, then die of thirst. They're funny that way. A guy told me that when you see a cow walking across the pasture, she is looking for a hole in the fence, or a place to die. As for whistling cows, please note that they can't pucker their lips. Instead, in frustration, they will attack you, break your hip, and leave you maimed for life.

As for sparking on the front porch, let me mention a recent trip to the Stage store. I was looking at the perfumes, and the saleslady recommended one titled, "Pleasures." I asked instead, "Do you have something called, "Distant Memories?"

Your powers of observation are fading. My better half is worse at this time, with a bad head-and-chest cold. Be careful how you speak to your bride! Cabin fever can escalate to serious consequences.

You are letting down on your self-appointed task as context, grammar, punctuation, and grammar police. You failed to correct my spelling of dogs, where I hit a "t" instead of "d". (Or perhaps you have given up trying to reform me).

Reta spells her name R E T A. Of course it is single spacing, with only the R capitalized. She, (as I also), got her name like the little boy got his whipping. He didn't have any say in the matter, it was just given to him.

Global warning was created in the fevered brain of former VP Al Gore. It worked for him, as he has become famous, and honored with a coveted prize. Of course, as we recently learned;, you don't really have to do anything to get one.

I appreciate your concern. And our responses demonstrate that cabin fever leaves us with too much time on our hands. We then waste these valuable moments with nonsensical email postings.

Your (favorite?) uncle, Cran
And I waste my time here in the 'Frozen Chosun' posting their nonsense. Well, things could be worse. I could be wasting even more time fisking this 'conversation' all to pieces! But it sort of fisks itself, especially Uncle Cran's response, with his by now long-familiar bid for our sympathy with the passive-aggressive reminder of his suffering at the hands of Cousin Bill due to the latter's repeated editorial attacks (note the twice-adduced and thus once-otiose term "grammar"), not to mention the pitiful reminder of his suffering at the hooves of oddly frustrated, infamous 'cows' due to those beasts' attack back in November 2008 (Uncle Cran apparently having forgotten that not a herd of cows, but merely a single steer attacked him).

All the same, greetings from a fellow sufferer of Cabin Fever, this infirm soul stuck in Seoul.

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