Monday, January 31, 2011

John Milton's Eve: "She Stoops to Conquer"

Golden Eagle
"The Bird of Jove"
(Image from Thundafunda)

The title of Oliver Goldsmith's 18th-century drama could well fit Milton's Eve, albeit ironically, for she unknowingly 'stoops' in her attempt to 'conquer' heaven through a deceptively hopeful feeding on forbidden fruit. I've been looking into the effect of that Fall upon language, as readers have certainly noticed. The theme of unfallen and fallen language in Milton's thought is contested, however (as I've noted), but I think that there's something to it.

Milton's prelapsarian Adam appears to have a special linguistic gift for naming, as we see in the scene where he is made lord over the earth and given permission by God to name the animals:
. . . all the Earth
To thee and to thy Race I give; as Lords
Possess it, and all things that therein live, [ 340 ]
Or live in Sea, or Aire, Beast, Fish, and Fowle.
In signe whereof each Bird and Beast behold
After thir kindes; I bring them to receave
From thee thir Names, and pay thee fealtie
With low subjection; understand the same [ 345 ]
Of Fish within thir watry residence,
Not hither summon'd, since they cannot change
Thir Element to draw the thinner Aire.
As thus he spake, each Bird and Beast behold
Approaching two and two, These cowring low [ 350 ]
With blandishment, each Bird stoop'd on his wing.
I nam'd them, as they pass'd, and understood
Thir Nature, with such knowledg God endu'd
My sudden apprehension: (PL 8.338-354)
Walter H. Beale describes this linguistically gifted Adam "as the prelapsarian Adam, in command of a not yet fallen language" (Learning from Language: Symmetry, Asymmetry, and Literary Humanism, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009, page 27). One might readily infer this unfallen character of prelapsarian language from Milton's lines, given the close connection between understanding each animal's nature and naming each one as it passes, based on an intuitive knowledge guaranteed by God.

The animals, in turn, recognize Adam's lordship over creation, for they cower as though before royalty -- the birds even "stoop" on their wing. Alastair Fowler notes an intriguing point here, namely, that the word "stoop'd" has two possible meanings:
caused to bow down; brought to the ground (OED II 7); but with a secondary allusion to the intrans. sense, common of birds of prey: 'descend swiftly upon, swoop down on' (OED I 6) -- foreshadowing postlapsarian carnivorousness. See XI 182-90nn. (Alastair Fowler, ed., John Milton: Paradise Lost, London: Longman, 1971)
In the prelapsarian passage above from Paradise Lost, Milton intends the meaning of "caused to bow down." The postlapsarian passage noted by Fowler (XI 182-90nn), however, has the meaning "swoop down on," and as we also see, this postlapsarian passage is one of those treated in yesterday's blog entry, the one in which Eve's wish to remain in the Garden of Eden is cruelly thwarted:
So spake, so wish'd much-humbl'd Eve, but Fate
Subscrib'd not; Nature first gave Signs, imprest
On Bird, Beast, Aire, Aire suddenly eclips'd
After short blush of Morn; nigh in her sight
The Bird of Jove, stoopt from his aerie tour, [ 185 ]
Two Birds of gayest plume before him drove:
Down from a Hill the Beast that reigns in Woods,
First hunter then, pursu'd a gentle brace,
Goodliest of all the Forrest, Hart and Hinde;
Direct to th' Eastern Gate was bent thir flight. (PL 11.181-190 ]
What I want to call attention to first is that "stoop" has acquired an ambiguity in postlapsarian conditions that it did not yet have in the prelapsarian world. The new meaning reflects the fallen world's deadliness. Hence the "signe" (8.342) of Adam's lordship in the first meaning of "stoop" has become one of the "Signs" (11.182) of Adam's subjection to Death in the second meaning of "stoop," as the repetition of "Aire, Beast, . . . and Fowle" (8.341) inherent in "Bird, Beast, Aire" (11.183) reinforces.

This acquired polysemy of language offers not just material for an ironic pun; the slippage of signification in a fallen world turns deadly serious as evidenced in the word "stoop" acquiring a secondary, evil meaning, and this is perhaps what is meant by the so-called 'fall' of language.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Milton and the 'Fall' of Language?

Biohazard Sign
"This biohazard sign
is a completely conventional symbol
with no inherent relationship
to what it represents."
(Image from Wikipedia)

The effect of original sin upon language was a major theme of the West's Early Modern period as the great increase in knowledge sharpened the issue of what one could securely know, and there has been some scholarly debate over whether or not Milton held to some version of a 'fall' of language. I think that he did, but he doesn't seem to have held to a radical version since, as we saw in yesterday's post, he promotes education as a means of repairing the impairment effected by original sin.

The scholar Herman Rapaport, in Milton and the Postmodern (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), seems to have argued that Milton believed that postlapsarian language was fallen, and he applied postmodern theory -- drawing particularly Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Derrida -- to describe what Milton believed. I've not read Rapaport firsthand, however, so I offer a passage from Richard Bradford's 2001 work, The Complete Critical Guide to John Milton, in which Rapaport's views are recapitulated:
The closest that anyone has come to a comprehensive deconstructive survey of Milton is Rapaport (1983). To properly describe, let alone explain, the panorama and complexity of Rapaport's survey would require another chapter: what can be said is that the book regularly involves encounters between Rapaport's perceptions of Derrida and Milton. One of the more accessible occurs at pages 38-41, considering the last two books of Paradise Lost. Here, 'Milton clearly shows how the sin that Adam and Eve commit initiates the Fall of language, causes signifiers and signifieds to break their natural bonds' (Rapaport 1983: 38). 'Signifier' and 'signified' are Saussurean terms; the former referring to the actual, material sign, the word uttered or on paper, the latter to the prelinguistic object or concept that the sign is held to represent. Saussure argued that their relationship is arbitrary and customary, that there is no natural relationship between the two, but that our ingrained familiarity with language causes us to presume that there might be: when we use or think of the signifiers 'mother' or 'father', for instance, they seem innately bound into our particular perception of their signifieds.

Rapaport suggests that in Books XI and XII Milton pre-empts Derrida, albeit within a limiting theological framework. He argues that the Fall causes Adam and Eve to first encounter the arbitrary relation between signifiers and signifieds.
Nature first gave Signs, imprest
On bird, Beast, Aire, Aire suddenly eclips'd
After short blush of morn
(XI, 182-4)
That is to say, things are no longer signifieds but signifiers; things are not archetypes but only copies of archetypes . . . things have faded, and all that remains is their residual semiotic significance.
(Rapaport 1983:39)
Much is implied here. Before the Fall, so Rapaport argues, things, objects and ideas were in some way organically related, almost blended, with their linguistic representations. One of the consequences of the Fall was that language became only arbitrarily related to prelinguistic reality -- which is consistent with the orthodox Christian view that the Fall caused humanity to be denied any proper knowledge of ultimate truth, God. (Richard Bradford, The Complete Critical Guide to John Milton, Routledge, 2001 pages 187-188)
Although I've not found a complete edition of Rapaport online, Google Books offers some help, allowing us to fill out the block quote from page 39 of Rapaport's book:
That is to say, things are no longer signifieds but signifiers; things are not archetypes but only copies of archetypes. It is as if nature suddenly turns into a book and man into a reader or interpreter of the signs written in that book. Things have faded, and all that remains is their residual semiotic significance. (Rapaport, in Milton and the Postmodern, page 39)
Perhaps we should also look at the passage quoted by Rapaport from Milton's Paradise Lost, Book 11, which follows Eve's wish to remain content, though fallen, in the garden:
So spake, so wish'd much-humbl'd Eve, but Fate
Subscrib'd not; Nature first gave Signs, imprest
On Bird, Beast, Aire, Aire suddenly eclips'd
After short blush of Morn; nigh in her sight
The Bird of Jove, stoopt from his aerie tour, [ 185 ]
Two Birds of gayest plume before him drove:
Down from a Hill the Beast that reigns in Woods,
First hunter then, pursu'd a gentle brace,
Goodliest of all the Forrest, Hart and Hinde;
Direct to th' Eastern Gate was bent thir flight. [ 190 ]
Adam observ'd, and with his Eye the chase
Pursuing, not unmov'd . . . . (PL 11.181-192)
Rapaport might be pressing his postmodern analysis here, though I'd have to read his book itself to decide, but there may be something to what he argues. Milton depicts Adam reading the signs of fallen nature and inferring a significant shift in nature's meaning. Moreover, the fact that the signs observed by Adam signify the effects of the first couple's sins might be significant, given the origin of personified Sin's name:
Then shining Heav'nly fair, a Goddess arm'd
Out of thy head I sprung; amazement seis'd
All th' Host of Heav'n back they recoild affraid
At first, and call'd me Sin, and for a Sign [ 760 ]
Portentous held me (PL 2.757-761)
The "Host of Heav'n" are here the fallen angels prior to their expulsion from heaven, and as they observe the 'birth' of Sin, first conceived in the mind of Satan and now bursting forth from his head, they link "Sin" to "sign" in naming the unexpected creature.

In the passage from Paradise Lost 11, then, Milton might again be punning on the relation between "signs" and "sins," such that the signs "imprest On Bird, Beast, Aire" are in fact the sins of Adam and Eve "imprest On Bird, Beast, Aire." As such, given the confusion of sign and sin, perhaps one can argue that Milton believed postlapsarian language to be fallen, with the consequence that the relation between signifier and signified is now arbitrary, ambiguous.

I leave the significance of this for readers to consider . . .

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eve's Confusion of Tongues in Paradise Lost

Substitution-Permutation Network
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still investigating Eve's 'confusion of tongues' in Paradise Lost, initially broached in yesterday's post, for I think there might be something of minor interest that I can say about Milton's depiction of Eve's Fall.

In a poem of 1645, "At a Solemn Musick," Milton sings of heavenly choirs above harmonized by earthly choirs below, prior to the Fall:
That we on Earth with undiscording voice
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh din [ 20 ]
Broke the fair musick that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd
In perfect Diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good. ("ASM" 17-24)
Would the sin-occasioned "harsh din" limit itself to the notes alone . . . or overpower the 'lyrics' as well? At first blush, we might hazard that words elude the Fall's corruption, for Milton writes in The Art of Logic:
But languages, both the first one which Adam spoke in Eden, and those varied ones also possibly derived from the first, which the builders of the tower of Babel suddenly received, are without doubt divinely given. ("The Art of Logic," in Richard Arnold, Logic of the Fall: Right Reason and [Im]pure Reason in Milton's Paradise Lost, Peter Lang, 2006, page 21)
An optimistic reading of Milton's words here, however, is undercut by the words of Sin personified spoken to an equally personified Death in Book 10 of Paradise Lost:
To whom th' incestuous Mother thus repli'd.
Thou therefore on these Herbs, and Fruits, and Flours
Feed first, on each Beast next, and Fish, and Fowle,
No homely morsels, and whatever thing [ 605 ]
The Sithe of Time mowes down, devour unspar'd,
Till I in Man residing through the Race,
His thoughts, his looks, words, actions all infect,
And season him thy last and sweetest prey. (PL 10.602-609)
Note Sin's explicit promise to infect "words," implying that the 'lyrics' mentioned above also suffer corruption. Thus Milton's further words in The Art of Logic:
But as to those words that are derived or composite, either their origins are to be sought in other languages ancient and now obsolete, or by their own antiquity and the usually corrupt pronunciation of the lower classes are so changed, and by the habit of writing them falsely are so obliterated as it were that a true notation of words very seldom may be had. ("The Art of Logic," in Richard Arnold, Logic of the Fall: Right Reason and [Im]pure Reason in Milton's Paradise Lost, Peter Lang, 2006, page 21)
Milton reveals his hierarchy of class distinctions, but from the perspective of God, fallen human beings are all from the "lower classes," and what goes for composite words goes as well for composite grammar:
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
And knew not eating Death: (PL 9.791-2)
Yesterday, with respect to these lines, I stated:
As previously noted, the use of the participle "eating" mimics the use in Greek of the nominative participle after verbs of knowing. The irony here is that Eve does not know that she is eating death . . . or that death is eating her.

We see in process a fall of language here as Eve eats the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, a confusion of tongues prefiguring the biblical story about the Tower of Babel, a confusion suggested by Milton in mixing Greek with English.
This 'confusion' of tongues receives emphasis in Book 12, where the Archangel Michael prophesies to a fallen Adam of fallen humanity's attempt to construct the Tower of Babel and the ensuing, large-scale linguistic "confusion" (PL 12.62) inflicted upon humanity:
But God who oft descends to visit men
Unseen, and through thir habitations walks
To mark thir doings, them beholding soon, [ 50 ]
Comes down to see thir Citie, ere the Tower
Obstruct Heav'n Towrs, and in derision sets
Upon thir Tongues a various Spirit to rase
Quite out thir Native Language, and instead
To sow a jangling noise of words unknown (PL 12.48-55)
Verse 44 of Book 12 makes explicit that these fallen human beings are intent upon building the Tower of Babel to reach up to heaven, which recalls Eve's desire to attain divinity through her own illegitimate efforts. Upon hearing of mankind's wicked ways, Adam criticizes his descendents but is reminded by the Archangel Michael that original sin is to blame:
Since thy original lapse, true Libertie
Is lost, which alwayes with right Reason dwells
Twinn'd, and from her hath no dividual being: [ 85 ]
Reason in man obscur'd, or not obeyd (PL 12.83-86)
Milton may well believe that "[t]he end . . . of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents" and "that language is . . . the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known," as he writes in his treatise Of Education, yet his very words denote that something is to be repaired, and an effort must be strenuously made for education to be "recovered from the scholastic grossness of barbarous ages." An ultimate recovery might have been Milton's educational attempt in his epic Paradise Lost, for he must recover Edenic language to present to his readers the discourse of the prelapsarian couple, but the poem is centrally about loss, not recovery, and Milton would have to acknowledge that for the vast majority of mankind (i.e., perhaps everyone but Milton himself), learning has not repaired that ruin of our first parents, and that ruin would include the confusion of language.

Milton laments in Of Education that so much of what passes for the learning of classical languages produces little more than educated fools whose linguistic efforts are a "wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom, with their untutored Anglicisms," actual instances of a confusion of tongues that results from fusing languages divided at Babel. The confusion of tongues at Babel is a large-scale confusion, one in which human language in its totality is confused. The plethora of languages occasions more confusion, as one language influences another, 'barbarizing' it in the process. Perhaps this is what Milton is showing in Eve's Fall:
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
And knew not eating Death: (PL 9.791-2)
As already noted in the discussion of the Greek nominative participle following verbs of knowing, Greek grammar influences the English used here to describe Eve's Fall, and this is a 'barbarism' possible only after Babel's confusion of tongues, but it is retrojected upon Eve's act of eating, such that Eve's Fall prefigures Babel through a proleptic confusion of languages, specifically, Greek and English. In both Book 12's confusion of tongues and Book 9's confusion of grammars, therefore, Milton presents the effects of the Fall upon language -- the mixing properly called "con-fusion."

I'm afraid that I've been far from clear myself on this matter, but that's due to the ruin of our first parents and therefore not entirely my own fault . . .

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Milton's Polyglottal Irony of Eating Death . . .

The Confusion of Tongues (1865)
(Image from Wikipedia)

The lines of Milton's Paradise Lost that speak of Eve's Fall offer an ironic contrast between the semantic content and the grammatical analysis:
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
And knew not eating Death: (PL 9.791-2)
As previously noted, the use of the participle "eating" mimics the use in Greek of the nominative participle after verbs of knowing. The irony here is that Eve does not know that she is eating death . . . or that death is eating her.

We see in process a fall of language here as Eve eats the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, a confusion of tongues prefiguring the biblical story about the Tower of Babel, a confusion suggested by Milton in mixing Greek with English.

The lines thus threaten to break down into two separate languages, and the knowing reader must consciously analyze in both Greek and English to hold Milton's synthesis together. Eve's disobedient act is already causing trouble for her descendents, for knowledge comes dear, as we must work to know both Greek and English if we want to understand Milton's words.

Eve for the time being remains unknowing despite the verb of knowing required by Greek grammar to explain in English her complex action in eating deadly knowledge, an ironic ignorance emphasized by Milton polyglot lines.

Today's babbling 'Babel' of voices is brought to you by Gypsy Scholar . . .

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Fallen Angels: "Implacable resentment was their crime"

Satan as Dorian Gray
(Image from Gypsy Scholar)

Some readers might recall the quoted line in today's heading as coming from 1756 tragedy Douglas, by John Home, for I cited it once before. The playwright Home wasn't describing Satan and his fallen compatriates, but 'twill serve, for it describes especially Satan's motive for rebellion, both his initial revolt and his continued opposition as depicted in John Milton's Paradise Lost.

I had this insight (undoubtedly unoriginal) in response to a recent remark by a friend who works at The Hague in a field that borders on the world of diplomacy:
"Recovering from a very hard week. Discovering that coworkers can be sabotaging ambitious jerks, even when there is nothing to gain. Universal, I guess."
I responded, albeit a bit belatedly:
I had intended to sympathize, but time got away from me. Sorry to hear of the "ambitious jerks" sabotaging you for no gain. That's the mystery of our fallen natures, Milton would say. Sabotage without gain is the quintessence of Satan's resistance throughout Paradise Lost. The Adversary continues his revolt against Heaven when he has nothing to show for it but his dissatisfied resentment and greater depths of fallenness.

Everyone should read Milton . . .
The depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost is our own Dorian Gray, for as he falls, his appearance falls, as depicted above in a famous image by Terrance Lindall, and that fallen and ever-falling cropped image, as Milton would agree, mirrors the appearance of our own cropped and fallen soul.

But we can at least take cold comfort in the fact that there's something angelic about us . . .

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Robert Reilly on Lafif Lakhdar: Call for Islamic Rationalism

Robert R. Reilly

In looking for more information about the Tunisian Muslim reformer Lafif Lakhdar, whom I quoted in a post two days ago, I came across some of his remarks on rationality and Islam cited in an interesting interview that Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch conducted with Robert R. Reilly, author of a recently published book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, which dates that intellectual closing to Islam's early rejection of Mu'talizite rationalism and emphasis upon Allah's nature as pure, omnipotent will, limited by nothing, not even by rationality.

Mr. Spencer had asked about the possibilities for reviving the "period of Mu'talizite domination in Islam," which by virtue of its rationalism was"a kind of golden age of philosophical reason, intellectual innovation, and openness" in the Muslim world. Specifically, Mr. Spencer asked if there were any "Islamic thinkers today who are trying to do this," i.e., to revive Muslim rationalism. In response, Mr. Reilly cited Mr. Lakhdar as an example of one such Muslim thinker:
Reformist Tunisian-born thinker Latif (sic. Lafif) Lakhdar calls for a revival of "Mu'atazila and philosophical thought that subjected the holy writings on which the religion is based to interpretation by the human mind." He said "it is absurd to believe the text and deny reality."
Mr. Reilly is quoting from two different articles. The first is from Aluma Dankowitz's summary of Mr. Lakhdar's views in "Tunisian Reformist Thinker: Secularism is Vital for the Future of the Arab and Muslim World" (Memri, May 19, 2005, No. 222):
In addressing the question whether secularism means disconnection from Islam, Lafif Lakhdar explains that it is disconnection from the negative autocracy and theocracy in the Muslim world, but is also a revival of the connection with other elements in Islam -- such as mu'atazila [rationalist] and philosophical thought that subjected the holy writings on which the religion is based to interpretation by the human mind.
The second is from the article by Mr. Lakhdar that I cited a couple of posts ago, "Moving From Salafi to Rationalist Education" (Meria, Volume 9, No. 1, Article 3, March 2005):
Open religious rationalism -- subjecting the religious text to rational investigation and research -- ought to become the core of the aspired religious education in the Arab-Islamic region, since it is absurd to believe the text and deny reality.
Both of these Lakhdar citations appear to be related, given their chronological proximity (Spring 2005) and their mutual emphasis upon rationality applied to religious texts. Mr. Reilly -- in speaking of the 'de-hellenization' (expulsion of reason) that took place in Islam with the rejection of Mu'talizite rationalism -- goes on in the interview to make a point that I have also made:
If reason is illegitimate, how are differences to be adjudicated? Force will decide. The stronger will decide. Why does Islam use violence to affirm its theology? Because it is the theology of power, of the doctrine that "right is rule of the stronger," raised to the level of God. The primacy of the will always seeks success through force.

Benedict XVI told his audience in Regensburg that not only is violence in spreading faith unreasonable and therefore against God, but that a conception of God without reason, or above reason, leads to that very violence. This is the problem in Islam. That which is unreasonable is against God only if God is reason. This is not so in majority Sunni Islamic theology. He is pure will and power, unconstrained even by his own word. Therefore, there are no solid barriers between the statement that God is pure will and power, and the startling declaration of Abdullah Azzam, which Osama quoted in the November 2001 video, released after 9/11, that "Terrorism is an obligation in Allah's religion." This can only be true -- that violence in spreading faith is an obligation -- if, as Benedict XVI said, God is without reason. This is why the problem we are facing is primarily a theological one.
In September 2006, I made much the same point as Mr. Reilly:
The Pope's larger theme lay in his subtle argument that Islam might have a problem with violence because it has a problem in its theology. If God's nature is defined centrally by his radically free will, then believers cannot appeal to reason in their aim to convert nonbelievers but must demand submission to an arbitrary God who cannot be rationally understood. If the force of reason cannot be used in converting nonbelievers, then the force of violence will be.
If Mr. Reilly and I are correct, then this problem at the heart of Islam will be very difficult to rectify, for an appeal to reason can be met by a resort to force, so how does one go about restoring rationality to the irrational?

Let us not give up hope, however, for even Christian theology had to overcome a radically voluntarist conception of God . . . and generally succeeded.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Memory of Park Wan-suh

(October 20, 1931 – January 22, 2011)
(Image from The Hankyoreh)

I was saddened to learn this past Saturday morning that Park Wan-suh had suddenly passed away. My daughter was doing her homework on the computer and happened to see the breaking news in Korean, so she immediately told my wife and me since we were all three working in the living room.

I thought that others should be informed, particularly English-speakers with an interest in Korea, so I posted a note around 11:00 a.m. to an open thread over at the Marmot's Hole, a popular blog here in Korea. But that thread was a week old, so when a new open thread was set up a couple of hours later, I posted again, that more might learn the sad news:
Park Wan-suh has just died this morning (January 22, 2011). Condolences to her family, friends, and readers.
Others, both foreigners and Koreans, responded to the news with sadness, so I added:
I'm touched to see that others love the stories of Park Wan-suh. I first read her some two or three years ago working freelance for the Daesan Foundation. Stephen Epstein and Yu Young-nan had translated Who Ate Up All the Shinga, and I was called upon to judge the English version's literary quality. I found it excellent but caught enough typos to warrant a meeting over dinner with the translators and Park Wan-suh herself. I'll always treasure that evening.
I actually wrote about the experience on this blog. In fact, I've blogged several times about Park Wan-suh and her writings, and if any readers are interested in those posts, here they are (along with today's post and any future posts I happen to write).

The Hankyoreh has a thoughtful and informative obituary. There will be more.

박 완서님, 편히 잠드소서. Requiescat In Pace, Park Wan-suh.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Lafif Lakhdar: Against the Salafi 'Worship' of Ancestors

Lafif Lakhdar
(Image from the Arab Washingtonian )

In light of recent posts on the problematic issue of theocracy -- and with an eye to the current political events in Tunisia -- there's an interesting article by the Tunisian expatriate reformer Lafif Lakhdar, "Moving From Salafi to Rationalist Education," in The Middle East Review of International Affairs (Volume 9, No. 1, Article 3, March 2005). Lakhdar very cleverly designates Salafi Islam as predicated upon the worship of ancestors, the Salaf (predecessors) having been the first three generations of Muslims, especially Muhammad's companions, those whom current-day Salafi Muslims are enjoined to pattern their lives after:
This worship of ancestors has been strongly present in the collective Islamic sub-conscience, and it prevented the acceptance and comprehension of the sciences, and especially the humanities, as well as the values of modernity. Moreover, the text [-- a salafi religious textbook used in Saudi Arabia --] instructs pupils to reject the right of disagreement. Muslims other than salafis are treated as heresiarchs or deviators; thus enemies. A student therefore becomes ripe for the execution of all sorts of symbolic and bloody violence; he can burn others with fire as Omar allegedly did, and behead those who disagree with him as Khalid beheaded the faqih al-Gaad Ibn Derham (a ruler of Damascus under the Umayads, known for adopting ideas of Mu'tazela, which was a movement proposing the interpretation of faith through rational thought). This shows how education could lead to an incitement for terror.
Lakhdar is clever here because he knows that for Salafis, the greatest sin is shirk, i.e., associating with God that which is not God, namely, the sin of idolatry. By making the Salaf, the ancestors, into perfect role models that one may not deviate from, one is, in effect, being idolatrous. Lakhdar doesn't state this explicitly, unless I missed it, but it's implied in the expression "worship of ancestors." The alternative to an idolatrous Salafi Islam -- and Islamism generally -- is a rational approach to Islam:
[A]n educational project aimed at preparing new generations properly must produce citizens equipped for the contemporary age, who think independently of their forefathers and who are good at using logical reasoning instead of leaning on the authority of the text. They should accept, without any complication or feeling of guilt, the rational and human institutions, sciences and values of their age, even those which contradict with their ancestors' heritage and tradition.
To accomplish this, Lakhdar suggests a number of reforms: separation of religion and state, comparative study of religions, critical thinking, historical readings of religious texts, acceptance of human rights, and so on. But how does one get there? Lakhdar suggests:
A new reading of Islam has to be adopted in school curricula and religious discourse. It should recognise, as its starting point, that the spiritual message of Prophet Muhammad was confined to preaching: "But if they turn their backs, verily unto thee belongeth preaching only" (Surat 3). That the Prophet's message was restricted to preaching is shown in 13 verses, all of which were in the Koranic chapters revealed at Medina. The concept was expressed in different ways in many verses such as: "Wherefore warn the people; for thou art a warner only" (Surat 88). Thus the spiritual message of the Prophet of Islam was limited to reminding. As for domination or governance, it is the mission of earthly rulers. Verses of spiritual Islam, based upon preaching and reminding, converge with the Biblical verse which was the foundation of separating the temporal and the spiritual in Christianity: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's." But after migrating to Medina, Muhammad became a prophet, an army leader, and a chief of a core of a confederation he called Umma (nation), a Hebrew word meaning tribe. Consequently, Muhammad's political and military practices as well as the Koranic verses which codify them are not trans-historical but temporal and limited to the era which produced them. Verses on jihad, war, physical punishment and earthly dealings were temporal and are no longer consistent with Muslims' and non-Muslims' needs and interests or with present-day requirements and values.
This sounds fine . . . so long as the "needs and interests or . . . present-day requirements and values" call for a peaceful Islam, but what if Islam in the world today is comparable to Muhammad in Medina? What is to prevent an Islamist from arguing that Islam today has emigrated to the modern world and therefore must -- like Muhammad in emigrating from Mecca to Medina -- strive to achieve temporal power and remake modernity in the image of Islam?

Salafis will undoubtedly argue that this is the case, i.e., that Islam's aim is not only spiritual but also temporal, and how does one prove them wrong?

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rousas John Rushdoony: Christian Reconstructionism

Rousas John Rushdoony
(Image from Theopedia)

Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), whom I mentioned yesterday, advocated something close to theocracy, which he called Christian Reconstructionism, and drew upon Old Testament laws for his vision of a properly ordered society. In such a society, not only would murder be punishable by stoning to death, but also, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, an application of biblical law would mandate the stoning to death of adulterers. Even more extreme, perhaps, is the death penalty for idolaters, which Rushdoony justifies as follows:
The penalty in every case is death without mercy. To the modern mind, this seems drastic. Why death for idolatry? If idolatry is unimportant to a man, then a penalty for it is outrageous. But modern man thinks nothing of death penalties for crimes against the state, or against the "people," or against "the revolution," because these things are important to him. The death penalty is not required here for private belief: it is for attempts to subvert others and to subvert the social order by enticing others to idolatry. Because for Biblical law the foundation is the one true God, the central offense is therefore treason to that God by idolatry. Every law-order has its concept of treason. No law-order can permit an attack on its foundations without committing suicide. Those states which claim to abolish the death penalty still retain it on the whole for crimes against the state. The foundations of a law-order must be protected. (The Institutes of Biblical Law, Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973, page 38).
Given several sermons that I've sat through defining idolatry rather broadly as anything that one places before God, I wonder who would be left standing to throw the last stone. Maybe Zwingli, if the tossers go by alphabetical order. More seriously, I find Rushdoony's reasoning here similar to that of the traditional Muslim argument defending the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. To convert out of Islam is "treason," and as everyone knows, the only reasonable punishment for treason is death.

Wikipedia offers a list of capital crimes recorded in the Old Testament (including blasphemy [Leviticus 24:10-16] and disobeying one's parents [Deuteronomy 21:18-21]), though I don't know that Christian Reconstructionists would advocate execution for all of these. Wikipedia also offers a number of quotes from Rushdoony's writings, including a few expressing his distaste for democracy. Some of these are also from The Institutes of Biblical Law, apparently, though I couldn't locate the precise passages in searching Google Books. However, I did find this quote attributed to Rushdoony in Randall Herbert Balmer's Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002):
Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic . . . . It is committed to a spiritual aristocracy. (page 499)
I suppose that a scholarly approach to understanding the man and his thought would entail a study of Rushdoony's complete writings and a fundamental critique based on philosophical principles, but I don't have time for that -- as I suspect readers will understand -- and I've seen enough already to grasp why the man's views are problematic.

But for those who wish to explore further, more on Rushdoony's views can probably be found on the Chalcedon website, which is dedicated to his ideas.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Christian Theocratic Views?

Roberta Green Ahmanson
(Image from The Media Project)

Yesterday, I openly wondered about where Professor Kenneth Elzinga would draw the line between religion and state. I still have no idea about that, but I have long argued that a fundamental precept of Western Civilization is the distinction between two realms, the sacred and the secular, a distinction perhaps ultimately grounded in Mark 12:17:
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. (King James Version)

ἀπόδοτε τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ (Textus Receptus)
Since Mark and its synoptic parallels (Matthew 22:21, Luke 20:25) attribute this distinction to Jesus, it has the founder's blessing and thus offers legitimacy to the secular sphere. Of course, my point depends upon these words being void of irony, but even if meant in earnest, the hermeneut still faces the question as to where the line is best drawn between the secular realm of Caesar and the sacred realm of God.

Some Christians, in fact, appear to think that the secular sphere ought to be very restricted. Immediately after posting yesterday's blog entry, which touched on the state-religion distinction, I received a Christianity Today article written by Christine A. Scheller, "Connoisseur for Christ: Roberta Green Ahmanson" (January 19, 2011), which offers a complex portrait of a very wealthy couple, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, who fund a large number of conservative Christian causes. I say "complex" because they also fund the arts, and not a narrowly circumscribed version either. Read the article to learn about that.

What interests me today is the charge that the couple support theocratic views of Christianity. Let me offer a couple of quotes that -- as with yesterday's quotes -- I again lift from their context:
[I]n a scathing 2004 Salon profile of Howard, "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right," Max Blumenthal took pains to show that the Ahmansons' ultimate goals are theocratic, a charge that has been widely disseminated. Roberta at once denies and defends the claim: "I never was, and I don't know if Howard ever was either. I'm afraid to say this, but also, what would be so bad about it?"
That last point is the sort of reply that worries me: "what would be so bad about" theocracy? What would be bad about some politicians claiming to speak for God and rule in his name? That would be bad enough, but the devil is in the details:
Ahmanson is equally unflinching in her defense of [the Christian Reconstructionist, Rousas John] Rushdoony, controversial in part for his belief that the Levitical laws should be applied in modern society. Roberta claims he wasn't "the ogre" he was made out to be and explains his theodicy as a response to his family's flight from the Armenian genocide in Turkey. "His whole life project was to try to figure out what could protect you. In the end, he came down to the only thing that is solid is God's law. Well, you say the word law in the 20th or 21st century, and people break out in a rash."
I wonder if "theodicy" is a misprint for "theocracy," since the latter is precisely what the application of the Levitical laws to society would mean. Anyway, people don't break out in a rash over the word "law" -- the "rule of law" is what most people want. What people are 'allergic' to, however, is a law that mandates stoning for adultery, among other divinely proscribed offenses. Ms. Ahmanson's response doesn't take the issue seriously enough.

Now, I don't know precisely what Ms. Ahmanson's views actually are, and I'm not out to attack her, nor do I know much about Rousas John Rushdoony. Rather, I'm simply trying to orient myself concerning a Christian version of what I consider the Islamist danger.

I suppose that the next step is to look into Christian Reconstructionism.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Kenneth Elzinga on the Role of a Christian University

Baylor University
Illustration by Roger Beerworth
(Image from Baylor Magazine)

As a Baylor University alumnus, I receive for free the University's quarterly magazine. I've previously posted on the Baylor Magazine, and some readers might recall that I was interviewed a couple of years ago on my memories of its Honors Program, an article especially worth reading, of course, and proof that Baylor takes an interest in even the least of its alumni. I'm now hoping for an interview on my memories of the NoZe Brotherhood . . . but that might be expecting too much.

Seriously, though, the magazine has interesting articles, and the most recent issue reprised a thought-provoking speech by University of Virginia professor Kenneth Elzinga on the role of a Christian university. Titled "Different to Make a Difference" (Baylor Magazine, Winter 2010-2011), Professor Elzinga makes a rather provocative remark on a category of Christians in secular schools that he calls "evangelicals":
The professors, researchers and scholars in higher education I have labeled the "evangelicals" believe that the quest for truth begins and ends with Jesus. Their work involves teaching and research in their disciplines, but their calling entails extending the reign of Jesus into all realms. The evangelicals might resonate with the words of the Dutch reformer Abraham Kuyper: "There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, 'This is mine. This belongs to me.'"
Let me first acknowledge that in its context in the article, this quote is not quite as extreme as it sounds here, abstracted from Professor Elzinga's other statements, but perhaps taking it out of context is useful for thinking about what it might mean. I'll merely note that he recognizes that such evangelicals don't wear their Christianity on their sleeves, so long as they're at secular universities, where "they operate under a constraint," unlike at a Christian school, and he gives an example of the difference:
[W]hen I teach the economic theory of income distribution at the University of Virginia, which I will start next week in the classroom, it is not fair game for me to ask, "What might the biblical principle of gleaning, leaving some extra grain in the fields for the poor, teach about income distribution in an industrialized society?"

You can have that kind of conversation in Christian higher education. It should not be considered out of bounds to think of biblical perspectives of this sort, even if Christians in higher education who are at secular schools cannot go there. This is called integration, integrating the Christian faith with one's discipline.
I often post here on my blog about the danger posed by Islamism due to its integralism, namely, its refusal to accept a distinction between religion and state, between the sacred and the secular, so in all honesty, I have to wonder where the line would be drawn by Professor Elzinga's "evangelicals" -- "those [Christians] . . . who subscribe warmly to the biblical and theological tenets of the Christian church, those cardinal beliefs and affirmations which have been reiterated in the confessions and creedal affirmations of Christian churches," a rather more inclusive use of the term "evangelical" than one ordinarily encounters.

Professor Elzinga notes the "constitutional doctrine of a separation between church and state," but he doesn't say much about it. I would like to hear him offer a speech that includes that issue, for his remarks leave me wondering about his views.

Baylor University itself is very interested in the issue, I might add, for its Institute of Church-State Studies edits a highly respected journal titled the Journal of Church & State, which is now in its 53rd year of publication and is published by Oxford University Press.

I might also add that Baptists have traditionally been strongly in favor of a strict separation between religion and the state . . . however difficult the line may be to draw.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Craftworks Taphouse & Bistro: Spirit of Craft Beer at Work in Our Seoul

Craftworks Logo
(Images from Flickr and/or Craftworks Taphouse & Bistro)

Five in the afternoon on January 7th, a Friday in Seoul, and Dan Vroon of Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro is smiling.

Dan Vroon
Well . . . he's usually smiling.
(Image from Flickr)

My friend and sometime blogger who goes by the online moniker of 'Sperwer' has joined me for an evening of beer and food at the Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro, and we've just told Dan that I maintain a blog and intend to write about the pub's craft beer.

Unfortunately, we've already sampled several stiff pints of draft brew from a nearby eatery and are in therefore less than prime condition for tasting what Craftworks has to offer. Blame Dan. Sperwer and I had shown up at 3:00 p.m., only to find Craftworks not yet open in these early days (it's a new establishment). The affable Dan Vroon had greeted us with warmth and an apology for not yet opening the doors, plus generous directions to his competitor just a few meters down the street, where I indulged in two San Miguels and a Kilkenny, and shared a pizza with Sperwer, who himself drank a Kilkenny or two.

Two hours later, we returned, rather worse for the wear, and settled down at a table where we ordered what proved to be delicious, medium-rare hamburgers dragged through a fresh vegetable garden, spread with thick gorgonzola sauce, and laid between freshly baked buns with a side order of fries, not crisp but tasty, seasoned with tumeric and sea salt. That food further distracted me from my primary objective, sampling the five craft beers on tap.

I was also drawn away from my dissolute aims by the conversation with my erudite friend, Sperwer, who talked with me about world literature, Korean history, and related topics. He's especially interested these days in the ideas of Michael Oakeshott, though I don't believe that this philosopher had anything profound to say about beer, unlike Benjamin Franklin, who's reputed to have said that "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Except that Ben was actually talking about the rain that falls on vineyards and infuses the grapes to make wine possible. That was old Ben's variant on one of the proofs for God's existence, indeed for His beneficence, and Ben's oenological argument has its merits.

But I had intended to talk about beer, not wine! One too many beers will always get a man off topic, which is probably proof that God wants us to think out of the box. Well, I thought outside of several boxes, with the consequence that I didn't give the craft beer quite the attention that it deserved. I therefore needed to visit Craftworks again.

Fortunately, my lovely wife Sun-Ae acquiesced, and agreed to accompany me on a Friday one week later, so we found ourselves at noon on the 14th of January in the Craftworks, greeted by a still-smiling Dan Vroon, who remembered me.

I proceeded to order a chorizo sandwich with fries -- my wife ordered a BLTC with salad -- and I began my beer sampling once again. What follows is a conflation of the tastings from two successive Fridays. Alert readers will notice that four of the beers are named after mountains on the Korean Peninsula, so for your geographical edification, I've linked to information on these mountains, as you will see.

I began with the Namsan Pure Pilsner. A pilsner is a pale lager beer -- the term "lager" refering to the fact that it's bottom-fermented -- and from my seven or eight years in German-speaking parts of Europe, I'd tried a good many pilsner beers, but this one was a surprise. German pilsners are poured slowly but directly into the glass, so they form a thick foamy head, but this pilsner was poured more quickly and in the North American method, the glass tilted to decrease the head. Also, the beer was cloudy and dissimilar to the clear, crisp pilsner beers that I'd had in Germany. Dan explained that Craftworks' pilsners were young because freshly brewed, meaning that the sediment had not yet settled (thereby also explaining a cloudy craft pilsner that I'd had on base at nearby Yongsan about a year earlier). I found the taste slightly bitter, also with a light citric aftertaste -- though my wife noted a sweet aftertaste! We asked Dan about that, and while his taste agreed with mine, he acknowledged that taste is profoundly subjective and depends upon what else one is drinking or eating. Overall, I enjoyed this cloudy Namsan Pure Pilsner . . . though I have to admit to retaining a soft spot for the crisp, clear German style.

In other words, "Gustibus non disputandum est." Taste is not to be disputed.

My second beer was a hefeweizen -- the German wheat beer -- specifically a Baekdusan Hefeweizen. The hefeweizen is typically top-fermented and unfiltered, and I drank a number of them during my first year living in Germany. Before I tried the Baekdusan Hefeweizen, I admitted to Dan, "The hefeweizen isn't my favorite beer. I find them overly sour."

Dan raised his index finger in an obscurely hermetic style, smiled, and headed for the bar. He returned with a hefeweizen that wasn't at all sour. Indeed, it tasted lightly of cloves! And other complex flavors. No cloves were used in the brewing process, so that's just one of those flavors that emerge in a complex beer. Finally, a hefeweizen for me to love.

Kranz Kölsch
Not at Craftworks, but your eyes want to see something . . .
(Image from Wikipedia)

I next tried the pub's seasonal brew, a Kölsch, what Dan described as a cold-lagered beer. I later learned why he phrased his description so carefully. This beer is typically warm-fermented (13 to 21°C, or 55 to 70°F), then cold-conditioned, i.e., lagered, or so says Wikipedia. The Kölsch derives from the famous beer brewed around Köln, better known as Cologne (though the beer doesn't taste at all like men's perfume), but I don't recall drinking one during my years in Europe. This Craftworks Kölsch was bitter with a floral aftertaste, and it was also strong, with an almost whiskey flavor. That whiskey taste reminded me of a Tiger Beer that I purchased in Singapore about five years ago . . . except that the Tiger Beer was dreadful, whereas this Kölsch was quite good.

After the Kölsch, I sampled a Halla Mountain Golden Ale. An ale is a warm-fermented brew made using malted barley and is fermented using a top-fermenting process with a yeast that works quickly, which usually makes it slightly sweet, but the hops in it balances this with bitterness -- again, I'm indebted to Wikipedia, this time for the explanation about the ale's sweetness. This Craftworks Ale was slightly dark, and reminiscent of an Anchor Steam brew on tap that I used to imbibe in San Francisco back in the mid-1980s, likely one of the ales, though this Craftworks Ale was somewhat milder than the Steam. Or so I recall, but that Steam was over twenty years ago. More specifically . . . this Halla Mountain Golden Ale was not especially hoppy, but slightly sweet with a dry finish. Also slightly bitter, I thought, but my wife thought that it had a lemon-fruit taste . . . citrusy. I asked Dan, who reminded me that brewed flavors are complex, so our taste buds can interact with the brew in various ways.

Once again, "Gustibus non disputandum est."

Finally, I tried the Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale. I had my wife taste a sample, and we both agreed that it reminds us of a Guiness Stout . . . though not nearly so creamy and heavy. It's actually a brown ale, I suppose. Anyway, this Dark Ale had a smooth texture, only slightly bitter. It's a good beer to finish with, after the other four.

I asked Dan about the brewer, Park Chul, whom I mentioned in a previous blog entry, though we've never met, for that blog post was a report on my intention to visit the Craftworks Taphouse after reading about it in Jean Oh's Korea Herald article, "Kapa's microbrews take palate for ride." Ms. Oh notes that Mr. Park uses only fresh spring water for brewing because he believes that "96 percent of beer is water . . . . Good water makes good beer." I'm guessing that this is why the beers are named after mountains, often a source of fresh water.

But more goes into the beer at Craftworks than just water. There's also knowledge and experience. According to Dan, Mr. Park was trained in Germany and began brewing for himself and small gatherings. He started up Kapa Brewery, located in Gapyeong County, in Gyeonggi Province, and his friends encouraged him to expand into selling his brews in a pub. Dan Vroon was apparently one of these friends, and managed to convince him by saying, "You let me set up a pub to sell your beers, and I'll sell them. I have no doubt they'll sell."

Dan is right, and at only 4 to 5 thousand won per pint, they'll definitely sell. You can help out by dropping in for a drink . . . and a meal.

DIRECTIONS: Take the Seoul Subway's Line 6 to Noksapyeong Subway Station, a stop after Itaewon (or before, depending on your direction), and leave the station by Exit 2. You can take the escalator at that exit. As you leave the exit, just continue in a straight line down the sidewalk until you arrive at the underpass (not far before reaching a gate onto the base). Use the underpass to cross the street, and take the exit to your left. Once above ground, you'll find a side street that you have to cross. Use the crosswalk, but wait for the green pedestrian signal, and look both ways for safety's sake (as I've discovered). Continue straight ahead along the main street. You'll pass a restaurant called NOXA on the corner of the side street and the main street. Craftworks will be a bit further down, but not far, and to your right, somewhat hidden from the main street. Watch for the sign.

HOURS: The pub is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays except Monday (when it's closed), and to 3 a.m. weekends.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tiger Mom Bored Game: "The family that plays together . . ."

Amy Chua
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over the past couple of days since I used a post about "Amy Chua on 'Educating' Children . . ." to offer my response to Ms. Chua's method of raising her kids, my family and I have been playing the 'Tiger Mom' game to liven things up whenever we feel that somebody needs a bit of motivating. For instance:
My 11-year-old son, En-Uk, feeling already filled up on rice at lunch yesterday even though he hadn't eaten more than a spoonful or two, announced: "I'm full."

I motivated him to try some more: "Eat all your rice, you piece of trash!"

My wife, sensing that I had gone too far, yelled, "Don't call him trash, you worthless garbage!"

Against that uncalled-for slur, my 14-year-old daughter, Sa-Rah, defended me: "Don't call Daddy worthless, you disgraceful mother!"

I couldn't permit one of my children to insult my wife, so I screamed, "You stupid girl! How dare you insult Mama! Apologize to your disgraceful mother!"

En-Uk, not missing his own opportunity to motivate, roared, "You're all stupid, worthless, disgraceful shreds of trashy garbage!"

"En-Uk!" I admonished. "What you say is partly correct! But listen, you piece of trash, don't talk that way to me and your disgraceful mother! And that goes for you, too, Sa-Rah, you stupid girl! You both must respect us now and take care of us someday in our old age, just as we are taking care of you!"
They both promised to do so, with all the kindness of their filial little calculating hearts . . .

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Europa, Europa?

(Image from Wikipedia)

I've not posted a blog entry on the EU for some time, so maybe the times has come to post again, for I've only this past weekend read two long, informative articles on the European Union's economic and political difficulties.

I first read Paul Krugman's "Can Europe Be Saved?" in The New York Times Magazine (January 12, 2011). I almost never read Krugman's columns, but the subject of this article intrigued me. I know next to nothing about economics beyond the basics, but my interest in European unification requires that I try to learn something. I won't even attempt to summarize Krugman, but I will offer a couple of quotes, the first one explaining the basic problem with that European currency called the "Euro" used in the Eurozone:
America, we know, has a currency union that works, and we know why it works: because it coincides with a nation -- a nation with a big central government, a common language and a shared culture. Europe has none of these things, which from the beginning made the prospects of a single currency dubious.
To see why this is true, read the article, which will clarify that a strong central government protects the economies of the individual states, a common language makes labor more flexibly mobile, and a shared culture insures that different regions can trust each other to act in similar ways. The multicultural entity that is the EU, as Krugman notes, lacks all three of these. No strong central government cushions local economies. Workers cannot easily move from poor local economies to better ones if a different language is spoken. Different regions don't share an identical culture that would ensure trust and predictability. Will we therefore see any countries exit the Eurozone to go their own way? Not likely, says Krugman:
As Barry Eichengreen of Berkeley pointed out in an influential 2007 analysis, any euro-zone country that even hinted at leaving the currency would trigger a devastating run on its banks, as depositors rushed to move their funds to safer locales. And Eichengreen concluded that this "procedural" obstacle to exit made the euro irreversible.
A draft of Eichengreen's article can be read here. I've not yet had an opportunity to read it, but Eichengreen offers a summary here, and it sounds rather persuasive in elaborating on the punishing consequences of trying to leave the Eurozone. The summary also, perhaps inadvertently, succeeds in making the Eurozone sound like a trap that no other EU state would wish to join . . . though that didn't stop Estonia.

The other article that I read over the weekend, "Europe's Odd Couple" by Steven Erlanger, also in The New York Times Magazine (January 13, 2011), describes and analyzes the political relationship between France's le petit Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany's still unfallen Angela Merkel, who apparently can't stand each other but are forced by circumstances to work together to make their 'Union' work together. I suppose that this says something about the maturity of European politicians. But the Union isn't easy, and here's a very big reason why:
The fundamental problem is that Germans are worried that their manifold sacrifices for national prosperity will be dumped down the drain of Europe's poorest and most profligate. Despite Germany's economic success -- almost a second economic miracle, after the expensive absorption of East Germany -- Merkel therefore has serious political challenges. "The Germans have discovered that they are the only serious global economy in Europe, capable of competing with the United States and China," says John Kornblum, a former American ambassador to Germany. "But they're afraid their world is coming apart around them, and what they thought would support them, the European Union, is dragging them down. They realized that the stability pact isn't working, that the Greeks were lying and maybe others, too, that their banks and French banks were deep in the muck, and they understood this is going to cost a lot of money. So they are behaving in a very demanding way, which smells to some like nationalism. But it really is fear."

So while Merkel says she is deeply committed to the European Union and the euro, she must, as a politician, manage the angst.
Politics, however, can only do so much managing. The question is: which way is economics going to pull, apart or together? If Eichengreen is right, the economics of the Eurozone will keep that crucial part of the EU together since to leave is even worse than to belong. But what happens if all the bad things about leaving happen even if a country doesn't leave? Like a run on its banks? We might just find out.

But don't listen to me, I don't know anything. Read the articles for yourself.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Poetry Break: "Disinter Rest"

Bare Twisted Tree Limbs
(Image by tpierdolla)

Perhaps the time hasn't really come for another poetry break, but I need one anyway, so here's a poem that I wrote one late autumn Saturday in Germany before I met Sun-Ae, making the year no later than 1991, which means that this short piece is twenty years old:
Disinter Rest
Like an anaesthetic striptease
In some inhospitable room,
Abruptly, autumn dropped its leaves,
Extended limbs toward winter's gloom,
Performed a few perfunctories,
And left this stage an emptied tomb.
I recall being dissatisfied with this at the time that I wrote it, partly because the rhyme scheme doesn't work perfectly, but I like it a little better now, mostly because the word plays are fun.

Or maybe I'm just feeling nostalgic.

At the time, I suppose that I was feeling blue about the passing of autmn and the coming of winter, or striving to feel that way, for I don't precisely recall, but I do remember the cafe in Tübingen where I was drinking a cognac as I wrote this poem, for the place was near the tunnel in town that offered a short cut through the hill upon which the castle was situated.

Just beyond the other end of that tunnel lay the charming Neckar Valley . . .

UPDATE: Lollabrats noted a problem with the word "extended," namely, that it sounds too much like a participle, so I've reworked the poem using the present tense:
Disinter Rest
Like an anaesthetic striptease
In some inhospitable room,
Abruptly, autumn drops its leaves,
Extends its limbs toward winter's gloom,
Performs a few perfunctories,
And leaves this stage an emptied tomb.
Readers can judge which tense works best, past or present.

UPDATE 2: I've decided to personify autumn more:
Disinter Rest
Like an anaesthetic striptease
In some inhospitable room,
Abruptly, autumn drops her leaves,
Extends her limbs toward winter's gloom,
Performs a few perfunctories,
And leaves this stage an emptied tomb.
Again, see what you prefer . . .

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Amy Chua on 'Educating' Children . . .

Chinese Mother?

I'm behind the curve in posting on this article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," by Amy Chua, but I did read it when it first appeared in the The Wall Street Journal on January 8, 2011. Ms. Chua explains how Chinese parents produce such prodigies among their children. Here's the good side:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something -- whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet -- he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.
Sounds good so far, but in practice (practice, practice!), this means:
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)
That sounds less good to me . . . though I guess that it can work. Sometimes. But what happens when it doesn't work? As I noted over at the Marmot's Hole:
Is Ms. Chua serious . . . or ironic? I caught some irony and even self-parody in her article, but she seemed, deep down, to be utterly serious.

I showed the article to my wife, who as a Korean mother pushes our kids to study, and she was appalled by Ms. Chua -- though sharing my question as to how seriously to take the article.

On one point, I would agree with what some have said, namely, creativity is also not easy and requires great effort and a lot of knowledge. But I doubt that Ms. Chua's method nourishes creativity.

Balance is necessary. Require children to study, and expect good grades from them, but let them play, too, and definitely allow them to have their own interests. Their interests can be incorporated into education.

For instance, my son, En-Uk, is currently a fanatic about soccer and is always asking where some country or city is located. I showed him how to use Wikipedia, and he’s now looking up countries, cities, and teams on his own, so he learns spelling, reading, and geography, among other things.

I could say much the same about my daughter, Sa-Rah, who’s passionate enough about music to enjoy reading together with me a New York Times article on the rage for melisma in pop music and its recent decline. She was fascinated.

I have always tutored my kids in English and had them reading from a young age, and I expect their best, but I don't expect them to be the best. That approach leads to children who will always consider themselves failures if they aren't the best . . . which will be almost all of the time.
Some of those failures end up committing suicide. This certainly happens here in Korea, where mothers raise their children by Ms. Chua's principles. Korea has a very high rate of teenage suicide, and a number of graduating seniors kill themselves every year for not having done well enough on the college entrance exam. An earnest application of Ms. Chua's principles will have the same results, and the full article is so extreme that I have to wonder if it's self-parody. But she seems to be describing with approval, and by implication prescribing, the following sort of reaction by a Chinese mother to a less than optimal grade:
If a Chinese child gets a B -- which would never happen -- there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.
If a child doesn't measure up, Ms. Chua thinks that the parent is justified in calling the kid "garbage," "stupid," "worthless," and "a disgrace" as a means of motivation -- or so I infer, but go read the entire article. For criticism of Ms Chua's views by other Chinese, as well as by non-Chinese, see the website Quora. Or for something completely different, see my other take on the article, from over at Kevin Kim's blog, where I weigh in on whether or not Ms. Chua is serious or ironic:
Chua's article was too difficult to figure out, so I gave up and stopped reading.

Like I like to say, "If something's too hard, you can always just give up."

That helps make life easier.

I hope that every reader will take my philosophy of life to heart.
In short, learn my philosophy by heart, i.e., memorize it!

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