Friday, April 30, 2010

"France . . . would never be the Arkansas of a United Europe"

Arkansas Ozarks, April 28th, 2010
Tim Ernst, Photographer

Arkansas made the international news, belatedly, of course. . . . as in years belatedly!

Tom Buhrow, an evening news anchor for ARD, one of Germany's television networks, reports in "We've Waited Too Long for Europe" (IHT, April 27, 2010) that just prior to the expansion of the European Union, European politicians realized "that deciding by consensus would not work any longer, and a real federation was discussed . . . [b]ut Jacques Chirac, then president of France, said his country would never be the Arkansas of a United Europe" (emphasis mine). Upon being "told that France could be California, he said this too would never happen."

Well, as irony would have it, the California got the Austrians, France got the Maghrebines, Germany got the Ottomans, but Arkansas is still free of occupation, thank God!

But, more seriously, what did Chirac mean? That in a United States of Europe, France would be poor, isolated, uninfluential, and the butt of hillbilly jokes even if Chirac himself were the Euro-President?

I suppose that's all true of Arkansas if not of France, but isolation has its charms, as the above photo reveals . . .

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

'Spirit' of En-Uk's Art . . .

(En-Uk Sequoya Hwang)

Although this isn't one of En-Uk's more colorful images, it is one that a visitor to his blog asked permission to copy onto a tee-shirt:
Hi, my name is Easy.

I am now one of your fans. :)

I saw all your drawings and thought they were nice. I am gonna be following this blog.

Also, i wanted to use your Ghost drawing as a design on my tshirt before, but i thought i have to ask your permission.

(I saw the Ghost on your father's blog. :))

Thanks . . .
En-Uk readily gave permission:
Hi! Thank you for commenting! You can put it on your t-shirt. Bye.
Recent readers will recall that Hoju-Saram expressed interest in a couple of images:
Your son should open up a gallery. I'd pay good money for "Kim Jong-il Smell," and "Wow."
Maybe a showing would be worthwhile some day. En-Uk's colorful drawings seem well-liked, and Lollabrats even took them seriously, as readers will recall:
[T]he crazy outlines, spare details, interesting "framing," and the use of the fill-in color function with colors from the default pallete make these images unexpectedly compelling to me.
From his longer remarks and aesthetic analysis, I surmise that Lollabrats knows what he's talking about in his words of praise for the collection of works in En-Uk's 'gallery'.

I suppose that I should wait, however, and see how En-Uk's style develops. He does like art, but he's only been working on this art blog for a few months now, so I don't yet know if his daily output will be sustainable.

But he's not yet flagging . . .

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Baylor University's Elizabeth Vardaman . . .

Elizabeth Vardaman

Merely five days ago, I was mourning the decease of one of my Baylor University teachers, Professor Reid, and recalled in passing another history professor, Dr. Vardaman, a retired but still active individual and one of the most impressive teachers I ever met at Baylor, or anywhere. That man knew more history than any single individual I've met anywhere in the world, and I've been around the world. I believe he had a near photographic memory, but he also had analytical skills and was very impressive, yet approachable.

But this post is about his wife, Elizabeth Vardaman, whom I first recall from the late 1970s attending Seventh and James Baptist Church, where I got to know her in Professor Daniel McGee's early morning Bible study on Sundays . . . a bit like Sunday school. Whatever one might call it, that was where I met her, and I recall her describing some sad experiences that she had undergone. These experiences had proven difficult to forget until she decided to 'bury' them. I first thought that she meant this purely as a figure of speech, but she was calling a spade a spade. She had actually gotten a spade and dug holes in her back lawn, one for each sad experience, and -- here it does meld with metaphor -- 'buried' each problem, 'covering' each one with earth and tamping the dirt down. After that, all was well. Somehow, that story of hers impressed itself upon my memory . . . though I wouldn't swear to each and every detail.

At any rate, I recently recalled this again because I was reading the most recent issue of Baylor Magazine and stumbled across Ms. Vardaman's photo and a brief column on her by Erika Snoberger-Balm, "Cultivating Leaders" (Spring 2010), telling about her work at Baylor, where she serves as Associate Dean for Special Programs in the College of Arts and Sciences and has the demanding job of advising outstanding students on how best to apply for prestigious funding. She appears to be quite good at what she does:
You could say she cuts diamonds from the rough. Almost at a glance, Elizabeth Vardaman, BA '65, MA '80, can tell if a student's got what it takes. By Rhodes, Marshall, Truman scholars and more, she's been called "mentor" and "teacher," but also "friend."
I can certainly understand that view, for I recall her as a very pleasant, kindhearted person. She wasn't a mentor or teacher to me, not because I didn't have "what it takes," of course, but because she was working on her MA at the time. She was closer to a friend because I was a grader for Professor Vardaman . . . and also a friend of his, albeit a student.

I've actually kept in touch with her and Professor Vardaman over the years, though this recent article reminds me that I need to touch base with them. For those interested in knowing Ms. Vardaman better, go to the article, where you'll discover that she knows not only about Baylor but also "something about the world":
She has administered and taught in two overseas programs (in the British Isles and Maastricht, the Netherlands) founded by her husband, retired Baylor professor Dr. James Vardaman, BA '51; been an exchange professor in China; and accompanied her husband on many alumni trips to far-flung destinations in Asia, South America and Europe. But her greatest work, she says, happens right here at home.
I don't know if they've ever made a trip to Korea, but they've been in East Asia, among other places throughout the world . . .

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What sin a name!

Fearless Bikings

My family and I took an extended bike trip on Saturday, lasting about six hours in the finest weather for biking -- a cool, cloudless but somewhat hazy day that reduced the glare. We had such a fine time cycling up the riverside path that I decided to share the joy with the denizens over at the Marmot's Hole, a Korea blog peopled by expats and Koreans who sometimes bicker over differences small and large. Saturday evening when I visited, I found a somewhat foul mood there on an "Open Thread" -- and some themes under discussion that a few of you might want to avoid. That sometimes happens at the Marmot's Hole. Anything can come under discussion. Anyway, I joined the others in the burrow and posted a cheerful comment:
Meanwhile, I passed an innocent Saturday cycling with my family -- my wife Sun-Ae, my 13-year-old-daughter Sa-Rah, and my ten-year-old-son En-Uk -- along one of the Han River's tributaries.

We biked several miles upstream to our favorite hole-in-the-wall . . . actually a tent-on-the-upper-bank that used to be a tables-and-chairs-under-the-subway-bridge, but it's all the same.

Good food. Maek-chu. San-nak-gee. Dubu-kimchee. Jae-yook-bok-um. So-ra-moo-chim. Hong-hap. We ate so much that we elected to bike several miles further upstream to burn off all the calories. Our entire outing lasted from around 10:30 in the morning till about 4:30 in the afternoon.

I feel great . . . today. Tomorrow might be another story . . .
People seemed to like the comment, for it garnered several thumbs-up in the evaluation scheme used over at the Hole, but someone eventually found a bone of contention, and posting under the name "Craash" wrote:
I am sorry -- but I feel sorry for your young son being named "En-Uk."

I asked my students also -- and they said that is a very strangey boys name.
If there's one thing that blogging has taught me, it's to remain unfazed and unoffended, so I replied with a whimsical observation:
Craash (#66) wrote: "they said that [En-Uk] is a very strangey boys name."

They must be very 'strangey' people to say that.
After posting that lighthearted response, I thought that I should do more to gladden the hearts of others on the open thread, so I added:
And for those who would like to see my 'strangey' boy's 'strangey' blogs, go to either of the two blogs that 인욱 [En-Uk] writes.

I extend sympathy to Craash (#66) for having to teach private students either late on Saturday evening or early on Sunday morning. Life can be hard.

But life can also be a dream, and I wish for everyone family happiness at least as full as mine . . .
One of the Korean-American regulars at the Hole who goes by the handle "Pawikirogii" wrote:
i liked your son’s art, jeffery. thanks for sharing it w us.
Folks often use abbreviations online, but that's clear enough, and I was heartened by his response . . . yet Craash proved unmoved:
As I said, myself and my students feel sorry for your son being named [En-Uk].

Just as I feel sorry for my sisters son -- because she named him "Emmett".

How much better his drawings would be, if only he had a cool name like HyunShik or JuHwan or JaeYeun.
I channeled Jane Austen and replied in the manner of a character out of Pride and Prejudice:
Craash, your concern is vastly appreciated . . . but nevertheless superfluous. En-Uk is a very happy boy who has never suffered even the least ridicule for his 'strangey' name.
I then responded to Pawi for his kind words:
You're welcome, Pawi. I'll let En-Uk know.
In his turn, Pawi informed Craash:
craash, it's never ok to talk sh*t about other people's children. perhaps you should stay away from the boon's farm and ripple.
Pawi was joined in this opinion by by a fellow calling himself "Iceberg":
I've got to agree with Pawi on this one. This fixation on the kid's name is pretty bad form. It's the name his parents gave him, so obviously they like it. Who really gives a sh*t what your students think of it?
Right, especially students forced to attend an English lesson on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning! Would they offer a positive opinion of anything at such a time? Anyway, another fellow, going by "Hoju-Saram" (i.e., "Australian"), wrote in response to En-Uk's art:
Your son should open up a gallery. I'd pay good money for "Kim Jong-il Smell," and "Wow."
Let's take a look at those images. First, that limber, smelly feller, Kim Jong-il:

For some reason, I think of Limburger. Now for "Wow":

These are nice. I'd accept good money for them! I suspect, however, that many people interested in En-Uk's art will simply download what they like and print it out for free. C'est la vie.

Anyway, at this point, Iceberg briefly returned to put in that he likes En-Uk's characteristic manner of closing a blog entry with "Bye":
In addition to his art, I like his efficiently quirky way of signing off. Bye.
Hoju-Saram concurred:
I was going to mention that too. Bye.
Another regular, calling himself "Dogbertt," added:
인욱's a great name. He's a lucky boy, having you as his father.
He was followed in agreement by a Korean woman who goes by the name "Yuna":
Yes, 인욱 is a perfectly normal sounding & quite a nice Korean name. Both my boy cousins have "인"자 앞돌림. I don't understand the orignal comment by craash, unless he meant it sounds strange in English but then it doesn't sound strange in English either. Quite close to Enoch I think.
Of course, I needed to respond to all these kind people, and I started with Iceberg:
Iceberg (83), that is a quirky quirk of his. I'll tell him that you like it. I like it, too. Bye.
I then addressed Hoju-Saram:
Hoju-Saram (82), if you liked "Kim Junk-ill," you'll love his masterpiece of political art: Kim Jong-il.
Long-time visitors to Gypsy Scholar will recall this one:

It bears an astonishing resemblance to an official photo of the manster:

Well . . . I suppose the official Kim Jong-il is a bit less skeletal, but En-Uk knows that the 'Dear Leader' is starving his people and is thus best depicted as a death's head figure -- and that makes En-Uk's caricature genuine political art.

Anyway, I then thanked Dogbertt:
Thanks Dogbertt (88), but I'm really the lucky one.
And I am, so very fortunate indeed to have such a good wife and kids, all three better than I deserve. And then came my turn to thank the perceptive Yuna:
Thanks, Yuna (89). I also like the name "인욱." In fact, you are right about "Enoch." We tried to choose a name that would work in Korean as well as in English, and my father-in-law approved of the Chinese meaning, something like "Shining Person," I think.

En-Uk is more likely to get ribbed about his middle name, "Sequoya," since people might associate it more with the enormous Sequoia tree than with the man who developed a syllabary for the Cherokee to write their language with. But I wanted to recall my maternal grandmother's Cherokee heritage, whatever others might think.
At this point, my old friend "Sonagi" added her linguistic analysis:
인, meaning "person," = 人. A related character is 仁, meaning "benevolence or kindness." 욱 is probably 煜, meaning "shining."
My wife Sun-Ae confirmed Sonagi's analysis. Sometime after Sonagi's contribution came a great comment by Lollabrats, who took upon himself an extended analysis of En-Uk's artwork. Lollabrats began his comment by first quoting a remark -- one posted prior to the controversy over En-Uk's name -- by some individual who had found the earlier bickering on the open thread a less-than-satisfying experience:
"So I had a thought that I would chime in and comment about how this is one of the worst open threads in memory."
Lollabrats then began his own remarks:
It was [one of the worst] -- until En-Uk's art gallery redeemed it. I want to suggest to his father to consider buying his son a stylus and tablet interface device. But, the crazy outlines, spare details, interesting "framing," and the use of the fill-in color function with colors from the default pallete make these images unexpectedly compelling to me.

"Kim Jong-Il" is interesting to me because it is contrary to the way professionals caricature the dictator. For instance, En-Uk draws sharp-angled "shadows" into his cheeks. I am blindly guessing that he learned to do that from reading American comic books. Superheroes get their cheeks shaded because the artist wants to show that his hero works out. But other artists draw the shadows to create an emaciated appearance -- to make a face look more like a skull with skin. En-Uk achieves the latter in a pretty interesting way -- by setting the triangular shadows in a block-shaped head, using the rectangle function. The result is that the straight lines and sharp angles of the head and cheek shadows make him look more like a fat-less head, or a skull.

But anyone familiar with KJI-caricature knows that it is not unusual to give him a circular or oval head. More importantly, En-Uk eschews some of KJI's trademark features, including the pair of jowled cheeks of a sated pig, which droop from the sides of his head. If En-Uk had drawn the head with the oval function and kept the trangular shadows, then the effect of the skull might have been lost and the result might have been incongruous. Although there is nothing wrong with being portrayed as being emaciated -- as with Gandhi or the Buddha -- giving the figure the name, Kim Jong-Il, lends the image a cartoonishly sinister effect.

There are some other interesting features, I think. Which is to say that I like it, too. A nice gallery indeed!

I hope you didn't mind this feedback.
Mind? How could I possibly mind such a complimentary comment? I thanked him, of course:
Lollabrats (114), thanks for the extended analysis of En-Uk's art.

To respond to your musing on American comic books . . . I doubt that they've had much influence. He reads mostly East Asian comics. However, he did watch a lot of Cartoon Network for a while, then Disney Channel cartoons, so he might have gotten something from those.

I might ask him about this . . .
That is how things stood by the time that I composed this blog entry, but I wouldn't be surprised if a few more comments are appended to the Hole's "Open Thread."

But I'll leave those for interested readers to seek out and perhaps find . . .

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Andrei Makine: Pardonnez mon français, non?

Life is But a Dream?
(Image from

Michael Kimmelman, whom I've previously cited in Gypsy Scholar, has written a fascinating NYT article, "Pardon My French" (April 21, 2010), on the feared 'decline' of the elegant, elite French language -- feared by the French to be declining, though Mr. Kimmelman is more optimistic.

Foreign-born speakers, however, are taking over . . . for instance, a certain Andreï Makine, who initially encountered difficulties as a foreigner writing in French in France:
[T]o a contemporary writer like the Soviet-born Andreï Makine, who found political asylum here [in France] in 1987, French promises assimilation and a link to the great literary tradition of Zola and Proust. He recounted the story of how, 20-odd years ago, his first manuscripts, which he wrote in French, were rejected by French publishers because it was presumed that he couldn't write French well enough as a foreigner.

Then he invented the name of a translator, resubmitted the same works as if they were translations from Russian, and they won awards. He added that when his novel "Dreams of My Russian Summers" became a runaway best seller and received the Prix Goncourt, publishing houses in Germany and Serbia wanted to translate the book from its "original" Russian manuscript, so Mr. Makine spent two "sleepless weeks," he said, belatedly producing one. (page 2)
Kimmelman has his own point to make, but I find amusing that the Germans and Serbians both wanted the 'original' Russian rather than the original French and that Makine had to stay up for two weeks writing nonstop to produce the 'original' Russian from the original French.

But perhaps there is something more original about a Russian-language edition of Dreams of My Russian Summers? I am curious. Which is better, the French original, or the Russian translation? For that matter, how are the German and Serbian translations from the 'original' Russian? Are they superior to the French original? And what of the English translation from the French Le testament français?

As I implied once before, I am lost among the translators . . .

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Treachery of Images: "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day"?

Against 'Veiled' Threats
Molly Norris
(Image from

Life is about to get even more interesting for bloggers like me. Two days ago, I blogged on the controversy over South Park's image of 'Muhammad', and I turn to the internet today, only to find still more images of 'Muhammad'! Or perhaps more accurately, images of 'not-Muhammad'. Whatever they are, you see them above, so shield your eyes if you find them offensive. Better yet, wear blinders everywhere, for you never know what might be a subtle image of 'Muhammad' . . . or image of 'not-Muhammad'. They could be everywhere without your even knowing it yet!

Jamie Griswold, writing for, reports on artist Molly Norris in "Seattle cartoonist launches 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day'." In Griswold's words:
After Comedy Central cut a portion of a South Park episode following a death threat from a radical Muslim group, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris wanted to counter the fear. She has declared May 20th "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."
This 'Day' will go viral, I predict, and rapidly expand beyond Ms. Norris's vision, which draws on the brilliance of South Park producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone in not depicting Mohammad. No one can possibly mistake the images above for a human being, let alone the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The concept is a mirror image of René Magritte's famous Treachery of Images:

Ceci n'est pas une pipe, mais Muhammad!

This image is clearly not Muhammad, the French caption to the contrary notwithstanding. Nor is the pipe even the property of Muhammad . . . though there could well be a certain French citizen named "Muhammad" who possesses such a pipe.

But to return to my point. Magritte's 'pipe' is not a pipe, precisely as it claims, though it looks like a pipe. By the same difference, Norris's 'Muhammads' are not Muhammad, precisely as they appear not to be, though they claim to be. Rather, each one is an image of a 'not-Muhammad'.

But since this will go viral, then Norris's clever use of South Park's brilliant ruse in not depicting Muhammad will soon get lost among the thousands of cruder online cartoons depicting Muhammad in more literal ways.

For those 'cartoonists' among us who are interested in contributing, or for non-cartoonists like me who are merely observers, more details are available at Norris's CACAH (Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor) site.

For the homepage of Molly Norris, go here.

UPDATE: Second Thoughts . . .

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

John Milton's Sonnet Calling for God's Vengeance

Peter Waldo
Statue at the Luther Memorial
(Image from Wikipedia)

Peter Waldo (c. 1140 – c. 1218) was a 12th- to 13th-century Catholic who founded a spiritual movement that came to be called the Waldensians (French: Vaudois) and that was declared heretical for rejecting clerical authority. The movement became a sect and survived in Piedmont under protection of the Duke of Savoy and his descendants, though often persecuted. The sect gravitated toward Calvinism during the Protestant Reformation, and in 1655, the then Duke of Savoy demanded their return to Catholicism. Upon their refusal, he attacked them with a combined Catholic army of Irish, French, and Italians.

Times being what they were (much like today, actually, with our own religious fanaticisms), John Milton wrote a prayer to God imploring vengeance, but perhaps also seeking more mundane sources of revenge since he wrote the prayer as a sonnet for publication:
Sonnet 18
On the late Massacher in Piemont
Avenge O Lord thy slaughter'd Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship't Stocks and Stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
The Vales redoubl'd to the Hills, and they
To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
O're all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder'd-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room, April 17, 2008]
You can click on the underlined words to read Thomas Luxon's notes. I call attention to "Mother with Infant," for Luxon cites John Carey, and I have an edition of the work cited, John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems (London: Longman, 1971), which on page 410 tells us:
Cromwell's agent, Sir Samuel Morland, in his account of the massacre (History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont (1658) 333-384) records that the wife of Giovanni, son of Pol Parise, was hurled down a precipice with her baby in her arms -- the baby survived (363); that Jacopo Pecols's wife and son were thrown down the rocks at Taglioretto (368); and that a woman and her baby were hurled down a precipice in the mountains of Villaro (374).
At least three mother-and-child atrocities are thus recorded. Milton, however, uses the singular. I suppose that the plural would be less effective -- a single death being a tragedy, multiple deaths being a statistic -- but I also wonder if the expression "Mother with Infant" might be a subtle, ironic thrust at the Catholic soldiers who revered the Madonna and Child but killed the "Mother with Infant."

The longer expression "Mother with Infant down the Rocks" reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, but there's surely no association to that in Milton's mind.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Muhammad: Mental Images Also Forbidden?

Not Showing Muhammad?
(Non-Image from CNN)

Todd Leopold of CNN has an article, "Has 'South Park' gone too far this time?" (April 21, 2010), in which he first notes:
This is a show . . . that once painted God as a gap-toothed rhinoceros-monkey.
A rhinoceros-monkey? Maybe a rheseus monkey? Anyway, Mr. Leopold then follows this by asking:
But have they gone too far this time with a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit?
Let's think about this sequence. The creators of South Park first ridicule God. They then go on to ridicule a human being. And Mr. Leopold asks, "[H]ave they gone too far?"

Good question. How could a satirical show that's previously only commited the minor blasphemy of ridiculing God go so far as to commit the major blasphemy of ridiculing a human being?

Now possibly, Mr. Leopold is speaking in irony here, for in the video accompanying the article, CNN's John Roberts asks not if South Park has gone too far, but if the radical Islamist group calling itself "Revolution Muslim" has gone too far in an apparent death threat against South Park's creators:
Does that go too far, or is that a threat that's protected by free speech?
Now that sounds like a better question, depending upon what those 'revolutionaries' said to the creators of South Park:
"We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid," the posting on says, "and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them."
Hmm . . . that sounds sort of like a threat to me, given how Theo Van Gogh ended up for his part in making a movie on the oppression of women in Islamic culture. He was shot, stabbed, and nearly decapitated on an Amsterdam street by a radical Islamist. So, yeah, that sounds rather threatening, especially coming from a group that considers 9/11 justified, as you can hear around a minute and twenty seconds into the video.

All this for not showing Muhammad? In South Park, 'Muhammad' appeares completely disguised in a bear suit. How can we even be sure the figure inside the suit is Muhammad? There might even be nothing at all inside that suit.

I can thus only imagine that these Islamists are now forbidding a mental image of the man.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Baylor History Professor Robert Reid Passes On

Robert Reid
Ann Miller
(Image from Baylor Proud)

A few readers might recall one of my posts on Baylor history professor Robert Reid, along with a humorous anecdote about him that turned out to be mere rumor, but rumors of his death, unlike those of Mark Twain's, turn out not to be greatly exaggerated, for he passed away on April 8th at the age of 88. I learned of this only recently.

Professor Reid -- like English professor Ann Miller, with whom he is depicted above (and who passed on some years back) -- was a great teacher, very knowledgeable and very entertaining. I took his Western Civilization course rather late in my Baylor years, when I was a junior, and he asked me to be his grader for my senior year, but I had to turn him down because I'd already accepted an identical request from another history professor, Dr. James Vardaman. That job, by the way, entailed reading student papers and grading those, as well as adding comments and providing advice (just to make clear that I wasn't grading the teachers). Professor Reid told me that Vardaman had been his own reader many years before, the best he'd ever had.

Anyway, I was sorry to learn of his passing, though he wasn't quite so old as I had expected, for I had imagined him to be in his 90s.

This sort of news, sadly, is becoming more frequent as I grow older.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oceanize the "Fireflies": Music for Insomniacs . . .

Owl CD?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I kept hearing this song "Fireflies" for the past several months, mostly in the English Lounge run by the EPO, the department that I work for at Ewha Womans University, but I didn't know who was singing it until I happened upon this interview "Owls, Fireflies, and Jesus" in Christianity Today with Adam Young of the band Owl City and discovered that this "young man" of just 23 not only sings it, but also wrote it.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, open another browser so that you can listen to the video play as you read the lyrics below:
You would not believe your eyes
If ten million fireflies
Lit up the world as I fell asleep
Cause they'd fill the open air
And leave tear drops everywhere
You'd think me rude but I would just stand and

I'd like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns, slowly
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep
Cause everything is never as it seems

Cause I'd get a thousand hugs
From ten thousand lightning bugs
As they tried to teach me how to dance
A foxtrot above my head
A sock-hop beneath my bed
The disco ball is just hanging by a thread
(Thread, thread...)

I'd like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns, slowly
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep
Cause everything is never as it seems
(When I fall asleep)

Leave my door open just a crack
(Please take me away from here)
Cause I feel like such an insomniac
(Please take me away from here)
Why do I tire of counting sheep?
(Please take me away from here)
When I'm far too tired to fall asleep

To ten million fireflies
I'm weird cause I hate goodbyes
I got misty eyes as they said farewell
(Said farewell)
But I'll know where several are
If my dreams get real bizarre
Cause I saved a few and I keep them in a jar
(Jar, jar, jar...)

I'd like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns, slowly
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep
Cause everything is never as it seems
(When I fall asleep)

I'd like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns, slowly
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep
Cause everything is never as it seems
(When I fall asleep)

I'd like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns, slowly
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep
Because my dreams are bursting at the seams
If you like official websites, here's the one for Owl City . . . but you'll be greeted there by music, so be forewarned if, like me, you prefer silence when you click onto a new website (or even onto an old one).

This, by the way, is the only song by Owl City that I know, so most of you probably know far more than I, but as I confessed yesterday, I'm ignorant.

Oh, and I like "Fireflies" -- it's catchy . . .

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Words of Wisdom: Out of Imagination, Not Memory

Drayton McLane
(Image from Baylor Magazine)

I've been learning all my life, and I'm continually discovering how ignorant I am, so I suppose that I've always been learning the same lesson that Socrates learned well so long ago. What I learned today is that I've been living my life facing the wrong direction the whole time, for I just five minutes ago read the reminiscence of ueber-businessman and Baylor alumnus Drayton McLane on a lesson that he learned upon receiving his MBA:
"Operate out of your imagination, not your memory."
He learned that from Dr. Kenneth Wilson, dean of Michigan State University's business school, way back in 1958. He later learned a similar lesson in imagination from Sam Walton, just two years before Walton died, in 1992, and that lesson was about not getting so locked into a routine that you miss out on a great opportunity. You can read about that story in the Baylor Magazine article.

Operating out of memory is an occupational hazard for historians like me, and I've always thought that in memory lies wisdom. Maybe I've not been entirely correct about that point, but perhaps not entirely wrong either, for these farsighted business guys don't forget the past either. McLane recalls Dr. Wilson's words. And Sam Walton's. And I know that Mr. Walton remembered the past, too, for I once met his second-grade teacher in a nursing home in Missouri. That was around 1982, and she was in her nineties, and blind, but she was completely alert and told me of how Mr. Walton had remembered her and had given a banquet for her when she retired. In his prepared words to those invited to the banquet, he had spoken of the high expectations that she had of her students and of how much he had learned from her.

That encouraged me to work at becoming a good teacher as well, although I'm not so sure that I've yet succeeded at that.

But I'm still trying, and I guess that I just need to keep looking ahead for what I still can do instead of staring behind at what I haven't done.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Mazen al-Sarsawi: "[B]eat her on the spot with the rod . . ."

Mazen al-Sarsawi
(Image from Memri)

Newsweek's Rana Foroohar tells us in "Hear Them Roar" that "Female dissidents are rewriting the rules in countries where they can't even show their faces" (April 9, 2010), and that includes Egypt:
Women in the developing world are far more prepared to take up the struggle than previous generations did. In many developing economies, there are now as many girls as boys in primary and secondary school, with particular gains in countries such as Iran, India, Egypt, and China.
If so, these girls have their work cut out for them in the land of the pyramids, for Memri brings us the antediluvian views of the Egyptian cleric Mazen al-Sarsawi, who praises 'real' men like the seventh-century contemporary of the Caliph Abu Bakr, a man named Zubeir (or Zubayr). The man's complete name is Zubeir bin 'Awam and I assume that he is the same al-Zubeir Ibn al-Awam who assisted in the construction of the A'mr Mosque in Fustat, Egypt. At any rate, al-Sarsawi tells us approvingly about this Zubeir's manner of dealing with women:
He had two wives, and whenever he would get mad at them, he would tie them together by the hair and would give them a harsh beating, in order to straighten them out. The wife who shared Zubeir with Asmaa [the daughter of the Caliph Abu Bakr] was savvy, and during the beating, she would move right and left, so all the blows would rain down on Asmaa.

Asmaa would turn to her father, all upset. Abu Bakr would say to her: "Go back to your husband." She would say: "But he beat me black and blue, even though I didn't do a thing. He had no reason, I didn't say a word. It was the other wife. You know me -- I didn't do a thing, but I was the one who got all the beatings." But Abu Bakr would say to her: "Go back to Zubeir. He is a good man, and he may become your husband in Paradise."
Great husband, this Zubeir, who might generously provide an eternity of beatings in Paradise. Wonderful father, too -- it seems -- this early Caliph, Abu Bakr. And, of course, Mazen al-Sarsawi is a fine example of a sensitive, understanding man, citing such traditions. Not that he is against love:
True, there are homes where there is love, and Islam decrees this . . . .
That will solve everything, of course. Just decree the necessity of love . . . very tough love. If that doesn't work, according to al-Sarsawi, who claims to be citing early Muslim traditions:
[U]se the rod on her. If she doesn't behave beat her on the spot . . . restrain her . . . . If she bothers you -- if something annoys you, or if you suspect anything -- beat her on the spot with the rod. Break her head.
Obvious to any fair-minded observer is the fact that al-Sarsawi hates women and cites as justification early Muslim traditions of other men who hated women.

Ms. Foroohar may be right about the liberatory role of women "in countries where they can't even show their faces," but I'd suggest that those women still have a long way to go if the likes of Mazen al-Sarsawi can teach on such television stations as Al-Nas TV (January 7, 2010). Many Islamist clerics attempt to soften Sura 4:34 of the Qur'an, arguing that its advocacy of wife-beating means little more than a light tap with the finger or with a twig no bigger than a toothbrush, but with al-Sarsawi, the 'nice' mask slips entirely off.

I admit that my sarcasm about al-Sarsawi is rather heavy, unlike the light irony that I generally prefer, but the man is a cruel misogynist who not merely defends but actively advocates -- and even urges -- brutality against women.

I wonder how he'd like being tied by his beard to another Islamist and beaten black and blue by the likes of Zubeir.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eruption Disruption: Milton's Prophetic Voice in the LA Times?

"Which way I fly is hell"
Hence the 'helicopter'?
Eyjafjallajokul, Iceland
(Image from Toronto Sun)

The epic poet John Milton considered himself a prophet, and though he didn't actually foresee the current air-travel chaos in Europe, the words that he attributed to Satan in Paradise Lost came to mind as perfectly descriptive:
"Me miserable! . . . Which way I fly is hell."
That's Henry Chu quoting Milton for the Los Angeles Times in his report from London: "Volcanic ash continues to disrupt Europe flights" (April 16, 2010). More fully rendered:
To the thousands of glum and despairing passengers marooned across Europe on Friday by an unforeseen act of God, it may have seemed like a page from "Paradise Lost."

"Me miserable!" John Milton wrote 350 years ago. ". . . Which way I fly is hell."

Many had grappled with the tribulations of bad weather, veteran fliers for whom snow and rain held no mystery. But a volcano spewing fire and ash from the bowels of Earth? Hell didn't seem too far-fetched a metaphor.
Hell for travelers, but not for those people who live near airports:
Yet as the unlucky brooded over missed weddings and conferences, or how to reach the bedside of a sick relative, for others there was a sense of paradise regained, a return to a time before the infernal roar of jet engines and the smell of aviation fuel.

"It's gloriously peaceful. I could hear the birds singing . . . even through the double-glazed windows," exulted 63-year-old Loraine Martin.
The literate Mr. Chu thus managed to weave in a reference to yet another of Milton's epic works! I found myself wondering who this man is who can cite Milton so well and found the answer in a 'memo' offered by the LA Times: "Henry Chu new London Bureau chief" (June 5, 2008). According to Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller, Mr. Chu's was highly qualified for the position of London Bureau Chief at the time of his promotion:
In his decade on Foreign, Henry has served as Bureau Chief in Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and New Delhi. He has covered armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iraq, and political conflicts such as the fallout from the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia. Henry is a terrific news reporter, but also a wonderful feature writer who has brought us unforgettable Column Ones on Poetry in Pakistan, Sun Tzu’s Art of War from China, the Laborer Librarian from Brazil and -- my favorite -- Bullied by the Eunuchs from New Delhi. He has written about mental illness and the middle class in the Middle Kingdom; he’s brought us stories from Nepal and Bhutan.
Ms. Miller adds, "He is a graduate of Harvard University with a BA in History and Literature." That would explain the literary quality of Mr. Chu's report.

For readers interested in sources, here's the Milton passage from Paradise Lost alluded to by Mr. Chu:
Me miserable! which way shall I flie
Infinite wrauth, and infinite despaire?
Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell (PL 4.73-75)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room, April, 2010]
Like Mr. Chu's London passengers, Satan was also grounded . . . though on a mountain called Niphates in Asia Minor's Taurus range, and only briefly.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Kim Jong-il: First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce . . .

Crossing Baekdusan?
(Image from 3 Quarks Daily)

The image above, obviously derivative of Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps, is borrowed from Colin Marshall's interview with North Korea expert Brian Myers on "Immersion in Propaganda, Race-Based Nationalism and the Un-Figure-Outable Vortex of Juche Thought" at 3 Quarks Daily. I presume that Myers uses the image in his recent book, The Cleanest Race, as an example of North Korean propaganda . . . but is it juche distraction or fascist kitsch?

The image looks nearly like a still shot from the obtusely ridiculous video, "Kim Jong-il Shouts Out Loud," which I linked to in a post once before. Readers might not recall that classic of grandiose praise for the Dear Leader, so here are the lyrics to jog memories and encourage re-viewing:
When General Kim Jong Il was born
the clouds opened up
and he came down from heaven,
and then there was a huge avalanche.

When General Kim Jong Il shouts out loud
storms always happen.
"Let's go! Let's go!"
"Let's go! Let's go!"
Kim Jong Il shouts to the mountains.
Apparently written to assimilate Kim Jong-il to the god Hwanung -- who Korean myth tells us descended from heaven the day the skies opened to engender the Korean race -- the video and its lyrics merely succeed in making 'General' Kim look ridiculous.

To us. Maybe not to the North Koreans.

To understand this sort of thing in its context, read the fascinating interview with Myers about North Korean propaganda, of which there are two streams, juche for outsiders and extreme nationalism for North Koreans:
Juche Thought is a jumble of humanist cliches like "Man is the master of all things." This fake doctrine has absolutely no bearing on North Korean policymaking. While people are wasting their time trying to make sense of Juche Thought, the regime is propagating this race-based nationalism.
Myers also describes this in his book, an excerpt of which can be read in the New York Times. I haven't yet read the book myself, but I know his thesis from a dinner conversation with him, Andrei Lankov, and a couple of other individuals at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Seoul and from listening to him lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society of Korea, both of these occasions being about three years ago.

I'm no expert on North Korea, but I would differ slightly from Myers and suggest an inner connection between juche thought and race-based nationalism, namely, that North Koreans are the only race to have perfectly exemplified juche.

As for Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire, it probably needs an updating by now, for North Korea exemplifies both farce and tragedy.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Homeschooling my Children in Korea . . .

En-Uk and I
Photo by Chris Carpenter
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

A couple of weeks ago, reporter Chris Carpenter for the JoongAng Daily interviewed my family and me for an article on homeschooling: "Homeschooled kids get best of both worlds." As you see from the photo above, the article has now been published, yesterday in fact (April 15, 2010), both in hard copy and on the internet. Below the photo in the offline and online copies, you can read:
En-uk Hwang takes homeschool classes with his father, Jeffery Hodges, in the evenings after he finishes public school for the day. Hwang will begin homeschooling full time when he reaches the seventh grade.
I see that the JoongAng's policy on romanizing Korean names results in a 'misspelling' of "En-Uk" as "En-uk" -- and the same later with "Sa-Rah" as "Sa-rah." Ah, the price of fame . . .

By the way, don't be misled by the quote directly above the photo in the online article:
"I'm not working. I felt like there's no reason why I can't step in and fill in some of the gaps."
That's not my remark, but one by another homeschooling parent, Jenny Walters, who is apparently a former teacher herself and is instructing her three daughters at home. Just to be completely clear . . .

Anyway, as you can see in the article if you look, the photo above of En-Uk and me is the only one that accompanies what Mr. Carpenter wrote, so Sa-Rah felt a bit disappointed, I think, but -- on the other hand -- she got quoted:
Sa-rah Hwang, 13, attends what some would call the ideal middle school. Her parents are involved, she doesn't have negative peer pressure and she's close to home.

In fact, she's in it.

In September 2009, Hwang left Korean public school halfway through the seventh grade and became one of about 600 to 1,000 kids in South Korea who are homeschooled.

That wide range is the best guess of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a U.S.-based nonprofit. In fact, it's difficult to say how many families homeschool in Korea since, for Koreans, it falls into a legal gray area -- prohibited by law, but not punished by the authorities.

For non-Koreans living here, though, it's legal. Lee Gyeong-rim, who works in the global human resources division at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said Korea does not have laws dictating how foreign families educate their children. The only possible drawback for foreign children who homeschool may be difficulty entering Korean universities, Lee said.

For Hwang, whose father is American and mother is Korean, that won't be a problem. One of the reasons she homeschools is because she plans to go to an American college.

"If I wanted to go to an American university, I had to work harder on my English," she said.

She begins most school days between 8:30 and 9 a.m. and tackles one subject per day, finishing at about 2 p.m. Monday is English, Tuesday is math, Wednesday is science and so on. Hwang gets her assignments online, does homework and turns it in to teachers at Keystone School, a U.S. accredited online school whose graduates earn a U.S. high school diploma.

The contrast between Korean and American learning styles was another factor in the decision.

"I didn't want my children to be punished for giving the wrong answer," Hwang's father, Jeffery Hodges, said. "Because to get to the right answer or to be creative you have to make a lot of mistakes, and you learn from your mistakes."
That's why I've learned so much in my life . . . so a little less learning, please! But seriously, I do believe in letting children learn by making mistakes without being made to feel stupid -- and certainly without being punished physically for errors, as sometimes happens in Korean schools. Even in elementary school, this at times happened, and I felt that Sa-Rah had suffered enough. Sun-Ae thought so, too.

For anyone interested, go and read the entire article.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Astraphobic Enlightenment . . .

Lightning Strike
(Image from Wikipedia)

Cousin Bill tells me that my Aunt Pauline and Uncle Woodrow suffered a lightning strike to their house about a week ago. Some readers might recall them and their Ozark place from En-Uk's big fish story of last summer. Anyway, here are some of the details about the strike relayed from Aunt Pauline by Cousin Bill:
"We're running our legs off trying to get things back in order after the lightning strike on our house. It got the well, the furnace, all lights inside and out, computer, toaster, fire burned the ends of cabinets" -- said she couldn't think of all it got. They're cooking now at the "little house" [on their property.] The [big] house is smoke filled . . . [and they] "have been washing it and everything inside."
But they were very lucky, according to the experts:
"They told us we were within a few seconds of the house blowing up as fire was burning insulation off the gas line -- before Woody got the gas shut off. Knocked the transformer 75 feet off the yard pole, had glass broken, got the phone, light meter, and more."
That's enough to make one astraphobic! More from Bill:
They were asleep when it hit . . . . Pauline woke up . . . saw the fire in the kitchen area and started screaming . . . was finally able to awaken Woody and together they got the fire out. Said Woody has been going all week trying to get things fixed and another week to go. Adjuster hasn’t yet been out.
That reference to a mysterious 'Adjuster' leaves me hanging . . . sounds almost like some marvelous superhero, but I reckon it indicates someone from the insurance company. While we wait to be enlightened on that, let's listen to Aunt Pauline tell us about trying to awaken Uncle Woodrow to get him up and save their home:
I was screaming, "The house is on fire!"

Woodrow was saying, "Oh Pauline, I didn't hear a thing, lay down and go to sleep, you get so excited over everything."
And she got the last word in, too:
"We are thankful to be alive, guess my loud hollering done the trick."
It sounds like it did, and I'm glad that Aunt Pauline's words managed to convince a skeptical Uncle Woodrow and that the house will still be standing when I visit them this summer.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Pedophile Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI
(Image from Wikipedia)

Ross Douthat has a recent, topical column on the current Pope and his troubled Church in the New York Times, "The Better Pope" -- meaning better than Pope John Paul II. Douthat acknowledges that Benedict is not untouched by the scandal over pedophile priests, but he has some kind words to say about Benedict as reformer, a role that I was unfamiliar with:
[T]here's another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church's dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul's friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter's Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel's Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul's inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry's story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money "for his charitable use" [opera carita, "an elegant way of giving a bribe"]. The cardinal "was tough as nails in a very cordial way," a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn't an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church's haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel's conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.
We might find these these things admirable -- these actions by Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI -- even if too little, too late, given the dimensions of the pedophile scandal, but these are things that we should also know and consider in arriving at a judgment on the current Pope.

Some might argue that the crucial questions about Pope Benedict XVI are like those posed about President Nixon during the Watergate scandal: "What did he know, and when did he know it?"

But I think that there's a third question to be asked: "When did he have the power to act upon what he knew?"

He certainly knew something about the case of Reverend Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, for "[i]n 1998, eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case to prosecute . . . [Delgollado] in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's tribunal." But little happened for six years. According to Jason Berry's report, "Ratzinger told a Mexican bishop that the Maciel case was a 'delicate' matter and questioned whether it would be 'prudent' to prosecute at that time."

That sounds horrible to us looking back at the extent of the pedophile scandal that is shaking the Catholic Church, but consider this:
Maciel had the staunch support of three pivotal figures: [Cardinal Angelo] Sodano[, Vatican secretary of state from 1990 to 2006]; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of John Paul. During those years, Sodano pressured Ratzinger not to prosecute Maciel, as NCR previously reported.
A generous reading of Ratzinger's inaction is that he was biding his time until he had gathered the power to act effectively. I suspect that we will learn more on this issue in the next several months.

A less generous reading of inaction on this pedophile issue might prompt one to pose a fourth question: "Why didn't somebody of importance see the problem clearly, recognize the need to act, and step outside the ecclesiastical bureaucracy to cry 'J'accuse'?"

Short answer: That calls for more courage than most of us have.

Long answer?

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Life Among the Translators . . .

Jeanne Verdoux, Illustrator
'Knitting the New
from a
Hostile Snarl of a Yarn'
(Image from New York Times)

The image above by Jeanne Verdoux on Edith Grossman translating Don Quixote caught my eye, so I transcribed the lines in translation:
Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. An occasional stew, beef more often than lamb, hash most nights, eggs and abstinence on Saturdays, lentils on Friday. Sometimes squab as a treat on Sundays -- These consumed three-fourths of his income. The rest went for a light woolen tunic and velvet breeches and hose of the same material for feast days, while weekdays were honored with dun-colored coarse cloth. He had a . . .
And there breaks off the manuscript. Blame Verdoux? Or Richard Howard, "Duet for Two Pens" in The New York Times (April 8, 2010)? Blame not Grossman, who continued writing:
. . . housekeeper past forty, a niece not yet twenty, and a man-of-all-work who did everything from saddling the horse to pruning the trees . . . .
And it, of course, goes on and on and on and on and on . . . but eventually ends. I know because I read it and wrote a paper on it not long ago, though when I say "it," I don't' mean Grossman's translation at all, but a different one that had gathered dust on my shelf for some time, so I suppose that I shouldn't say "it" at all in this context. Nor can I claim to have read Cervantes himself, since I don't in fact read Spanish.

I am a fake and a fraud, or possibly the reverse . . . or inverse . . . or vice-verse.

I am not even a real translator myself even though my name gets appended (sometimes) to translations that my wife has done and that I merely 'edited'. My admirable wife, Sun-Ae Hwang, is the one who lives her life in translation, as does an occasional visitor to Gypsy Scholar, Charles Montgomery, who has two blogs: Scraps and Morning Calm, Night Terrors: Korean Modern Literature in Translation, the latter of which he shares with "an international man of mystery."

What, then, would Grossman make of me, reviewer, academic, reader, but no translator? Read these excerpts on " the drastic inadequacy of the treatment generally offered to translated literature" by reviewers, academics, and readers -- from her new book, Why Translation Matters -- and hazard a guess:
[R]eviewers: "So few of them have devised an intelligent way to review both the original and its translation within the space limitations imposed by the publication . . . . Their inability to do so is a product of intransigent dilettantism and tenacious amateurism, the menacing two-headed monster that runs rampant through the inhospitable landscape peopled by those who write reviews."

. . .

[A]cademics: Translators "seem to be a familiar part of the natural landscape, so customary and commonplace that we run the risk of becoming invisible. This may be why many university English departments often declare a monopoly on the teaching of what they choose to call world literature or humanities . . . . I cannot quarrel with the inclusion of translations on any reading list, yet in the process foreign-language departments and their teachers of literature, the ones with real expertise in the works studied, are effectively snubbed. I have never been able to find the logic or coherence in that. Is there someone on a curriculum committee somewhere who does not know or cannot tell the difference between works in English and works in translation? The best face I can put on it is that the ironic disconnect may be an academic trait."

. . .

[Readers]: "Of all the interpretive arts, it is fascinating and puzzling to realize that only translation has to fend off the insidious, damaging question of whether or not it is, can be or should be possible."
I owe these selected gems of incisive cuts from Grossman to the review by Richard Howard . . . also a translator.


Monday, April 12, 2010

"Imitation of Christ"

Thomas à Kempis
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a recent Christianity Today article, "The Jesus We'll Never Know" (April 9, 2010), Scot McKnight tells of how he begins his class on that 'historical Jesus' figure known as Jesus of Nazareth:
On the opening day of my class on Jesus of Nazareth, I give a standardized psychological test divided into two parts. The results are nothing short of astounding.

The first part is about Jesus. It asks students to imagine Jesus' personality, with questions such as, "Does he prefer to go his own way rather than act by the rules?" and "Is he a worrier?" The second part asks the same questions of the students, but instead of "Is he a worrier?" it asks, "Are you a worrier?" The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus. Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.

Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.

Since we are pushing this point, let's not forget historical Jesus scholars, whose academic goal is to study the records, set the evidence in historical context, render judgment about the value of the evidence, and compose a portrait of "what Jesus was really like." They, too, have ended up making Jesus in their own image.
I recall as an undergraduate at Baylor University that during a time of depression, I imagined Jesus as a depressed individual, though a happy friend insisted that Jesus was a very happy fellow. We both made Jesus in our own images, so I reckon McKnight is correct. His point is not entirely new, of course, as Albert Schweitzer noted this early in the twentieth century in his critique of the Jesus reconstructed by scholars in their search for the historical Jesus, for these scholars all reconstituted Jesus in their own image. The tendency undoubtedly goes back centuries, for instance to Thomas à Kempis in his famous, fifteenth-century De imitatione Christi, as we perhaps see here, in an English translation by Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton, The Imitation of Christ (Bruce Publishing Company, 1940), Book 4, Chapter 8:
As I offered Myself willingly to God the Father for your sins with hands outstretched and body naked on the cross, so that nothing remained in Me that had not become a complete sacrifice to appease the divine wrath, so ought you to be willing to offer yourself to Me day by day in the Mass as a pure and holy oblation, together with all your faculties and affections, with as much inward devotion as you can.

What more do I ask than that you give yourself entirely to Me? I care not for anything else you may give Me, for I seek not your gift but you. Just as it would not be enough for you to have everything if you did not have Me, so whatever you give cannot please Me if you do not give yourself.

Offer yourself to Me, therefore, and give yourself entirely for God -- your offering will be accepted. Behold, I offered Myself wholly to the Father for you, I even gave My whole Body and Blood for food that I might be all yours, and you Mine forever.

But if you rely upon self, and do not offer your free will to Mine, your offering will be incomplete and the union between us imperfect. Hence, if you desire to attain grace and freedom of heart, let the free offering of yourself into the hands of God precede your every action. This is why so few are inwardly free and enlightened -- they know not how to renounce themselves entirely.

My word stands: "Everyone of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth, cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:33)

If, therefore, you wish to be My disciple, offer yourself to Me with all your heart. (paragraphs 231-232)
Here, we see a Christ who renounced all of his 'self' on the cross and asks his followers to do the same, which would likely appeal to Christians of many varieties of Christianity, but in some of the specifics might appeal only to Catholics, for in references to the "mass" and to Christ's body and blood as "food," we see a very Catholic Christ exhorting Catholic Christians to (distantly) imitate him by offering themselves as "oblations" during the same mass. Thomas à Kempis would thus appear to have constructed Christ as a Catholic.

I offer nothing surprising or profound in this observation, obviously, neither anything original nor purely scholarly. I was simply struck by Scot McKnight's anecdote about students and by the thought that Thomas à Kempis must have done the same sort of thing.

I suppose that some scholar has looked into the point, but this is just a note to myself . . .

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

"What's so great about the iPad?"

(Image from Newsweek)

With intense interest, I read Daniel Lyons's article "Think Really Different" in this week's issue of Newsweek (March 26, 2010). Lyons captures almost precisely how I feel about the iPad without my having even seen one:
[M]y first thought, as I watched Jobs run through his demo, was that it seemed like no big deal. It's a bigger version of the iPod Touch, right? Then I got a chance to use an iPad, and it hit me: I want one. Like the best Apple products, the user interface is so natural it disappears. The iPad runs on the iPhone operating system, so it's even easier to use than a Mac. Like the iPhone, the iPad is a sleek, slim device. It has a nice 9.7-inch screen, weighs only one and a half pounds, and can play movies for 10 hours on a single battery charge. Right away I could see how I would use it. I'd keep it in the living room to check e-mail and browse the Web. I'd take it to the kitchen and read The New York Times while I eat breakfast. I'd bring it with me on a plane to watch movies and read books.
As I said, almost precisely. I have to imagine my reaction to holding the iPad in my hands, but I already know how I'd use it -- read the New York Times, check my email, browse the internet, post a blog entry -- and I'd do it while sitting on a subway train or after exercise while sitting on my sofa enjoying a beer. It's the first technological device that I've felt some excitement about since the 80s, back when I first got a computer . . . which was a Mac, by the way.

I was always a Mac-Man after that -- even while living in Germany -- until I came to stay in Korea, a place that has made using a Mac difficult, but the popularity of the iPhone has begun to change things, and when prices for the iPad drop, I will consider asking my wife to get me one.

Most of all, I won't have to fold and re-fold the great big pages of the New York Times while I'm riding the rails . . .

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