Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Steve Jobs: End of an "Insanely Great" Era?

Exit Stage Right?
Paul Sakuma, Associated Press
(Image from NYT)

My first computer was a Mac, but I got it rather late, and second-hand. Even though I had done some word processing on a friend's computer in 1985, I didn't yet know how to open a new document when I took that Mac with me to Germany in 1989, and I had to write to a friend back in Berkeley for long-distance assistance because Germans were unfamiliar with Apple products at that time and could offer no advice.

Despite my own grave ignorance, I knew very well who Steve Jobs was, and why he was important. I knew because I had arrived in the Bay Area in January 1980 to start a graduate degree later that year in history of science at Berkeley, and most of my cohort were enamored of computers and soon could talk only of Steve Jobs. I therefore knew that he was a genius long before I understood why he was a genius.

I only began to understand when I bought my first Powerbook, around 1993. In fact, I purchased two -- one for me, and one for Sun-Ae, my girlfriend at the time and now my wife (of course). On that laptop, I wrote my doctoral thesis. That same computer accompanied me to Australia and Jerusalem, then on to Boston for a conference in 1999, when I purchased a new version of the Powerbook, sleek and seductive. I took that one to Korea, only to find that Korea was not a good country to own an Apple computer.

I eventually switched to Korean computers for convenience and have even missed the iPod, iPhone, iPad revolution despite their 'conquest' of Korea . . . but I still think of myself as a MacMan, or rather an Apple-Man.

So, I discover myself saddened by the departure of Jobs and find myself wondering if this is the end of an "insanely great" era, and I'm not alone in reflecting on Jobs the cultural-technical-business phenomenon and what his absence might mean. In "What Makes Steve Jobs Great," Joe Nocera, writing for the New York Times (August 26, 2011), tells us:
The businessman I met 25 years ago violated every rule of management. He was not a consensus-builder but a dictator who listened mainly to his own intuition. He was a maniacal micromanager. He had an astonishing aesthetic sense, which businesspeople almost always lack. He could be absolutely brutal in meetings: I watched him eviscerate staff members for their "bozo ideas."

The Steve Jobs I watched that week was arrogant, sarcastic, thoughtful, learned, paranoid and "insanely" (to use one of his favorite words) charismatic.

The Steve Jobs the rest of the world has gotten to know in the nearly 15 years since he returned to Apple is no different. He never mellowed, never let up on Apple employees, never stopped relying on his singular instincts in making decisions about how Apple products should look and how they should work.
As Nocera remarks in closing, Jobs is stepping down "at the too-young age of 56," presumably because of cancer.

From Nocera's article, one would be justified in imagining Jobs as disliked, but nothing could be further from the truth, as Claire Cain Miller tells us in "Where Some Earn Enmity, Jobs Won Affection" (New York Times, August 25, 2011):
Steven P. Jobs -- domineering, short-tempered and anything but warm and fuzzy -- has done something few business people in history have ever accomplished: engender genuine affection . . . .

That Mr. Jobs is seriously ill gave the tributes [of affection] a poignancy and sense of foreboding. But the aloof man in a black turtleneck -- who spent the last month on a yacht with his family, according to people with knowledge of his whereabouts -- also managed to foster familial emotions among those who work in technology and business and ordinary people who use Apple products . . . .

On Twitter, many of the posts expressed love for Mr. Jobs, an emotion that rarely surfaces in business chatter.
Even his critics love him:
One sometimes critic of Mr. Jobs, Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of Redfin, an online real estate agency, wrote on the company's blog: "I still remember exactly where I was, standing in a Dolores Street apartment with a cereal bowl in my hand, when he came on TV to say a competitor had no poetry. It made me think poetry had a place in business and that in turn made me think I had a place in business, too."
Well, maybe that's not quite love, but I also remember that statement by Jobs, and it endeared him to me as well . . . though I didn't go into business. Jobs wasn't insanely great on his own, he wasn't alone. Never forget that he started Apple with a friend of genius, Steve Wozniac, and pulled in a great businessman, John Sculley. Every great man has creative, hardworking people behind him, and the journalist Rachel Metz reminds us that "Behind Apple's products is longtime designer Ive" (, August 26, 2011), drawing attention to the role of Jonathan Ive:
Ive, known to his friends as "Jony," has led Apple's design team since the mid-'90s. Working closely with Jobs, Ive has built a strong legacy at Apple, ushering in products that are sleek and stylish, with rounded corners, few buttons, brushed aluminum surfaces and plenty of slick glass.

Apple's pride in this work is evident even in the packaging: Open up any iPhone box, for example, and see Apple proudly proclaim, "Designed by Apple in California." Six of Ive's works, including the original iPod, are even part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

People who have worked with Ive describe him as humble and sweet, quiet and shy, but also confident, hard-working and brilliant. Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design for MoMA, said she knows "hardly anybody that is so universally loved and admired" as Ive.

"Products have to be designed better now for people to buy them because of Jony Ive and Steve Jobs and Apple," Antonelli said. "All of a sudden people have gotten used to elegance and beauty, and there's no going back."
I've read that Ive himself looks back to the German design expert who worked for Braun, Dieter Rams, but others will have to confirm this point. I learned a bit about Rams when my wife recently translated an article reviewing his career at Braun, and a point was made in that article -- to which I unfortunately have no link -- about Ive's debt to Rams in designing the iPod, possibly modeled on the Braun radio designed by Rams. This isn't meant to detract from the originality or either Ive or Jobs, for there are always predecessors.

Anyway, my point is that Jobs didn't make Apple great on his own. His success built on the work of predecessors and associates. Jobs is a technical genius, an innovative businessman, and even a great artist, but others at Apple share these talents -- as a group, at least, if perhaps not individually to the same degree as Jobs. So, with Ive and other brilliant individuals still at Apple even as Jobs steps down, perhaps the era of insanely great products there won't draw to a close for a while . . .

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Emanations again . . .

(Image from Amazon)

As I recently noted, the anthology Emanations has been published, but only yesterday did I receive my copy, sent by the editor, Carter Kaplan, and a quick perusal revealed that he has generously acknowledged the help of others in this publishing endeavor:
The editor wishes to express gratitude to Elkie Riches for reading contributions and assisting with the correspondence and negotiations characteristic of such an undertaking. As well, the copy editing expertise of Horace Jeffery Hodges was invaluable, and it is fit to underscore his effort in transforming what was a disheveled manuscript into this book. Finally, appreciation is tendered to the Board of Editorial Advisors, whose experience, material support and combined vision have been vital to the formation of our community. May the project we call International Authors represent the proof and the vindication of their commitment to the "cause" of literary expression.
I'm pleased to receive the thanks, for I do quite a lot of editing work but too often receive no credit. I appreciate it when I do get some recognition.

That's all I have time to blog about this morning, but if you want more on the book, just go to Amazon by clicking on Emanations and search inside the book . . .


Monday, August 29, 2011

James V. Schall on Islam's 'Fragility'

James V. Schall

The Jesuit political philosopher James V. Schall has a recent short, reflective essay "On the Fragility of Islam" published at The Catholic Thing (August 23, 2011). In our time of aggressive Islamism, such a title is surprising, but perhaps it shouldn't be. Aggressiveness is often a cover for uncertainty, for lack of confidence. But why does Schall consider Islam "fragile"? Not out of ignorance, certainly. Schall first notes Islam's military success, its rapid spread through warfare from Arabia to "North Africa, the Mediterranean islands, much of Spain, the Balkans, the Near East, the vast land area from southern Russia to India and Afghanistan and even parts of China." Islam dominates in these places, as Schall notes with especial reference to formerly Christian territory, and appears powerful:
The Muslim conversion of former Christian lands seems to be permanent. What few Christians are left in these lands are second-class citizens. They are under severe pressure to convert or emigrate. Many forces within Islam desire a complete enclosure of Islam that would exclude any foreign power or religion. The Muslim world is divided into the area of peace and the area of war; the latter is what Islam does not yet control.
Given Islam's power, why does Schall consider Islam weak?
So with this background, why talk of the "fragility" of Islam? This instability arises from the status of the text of the Koran as an historical document. The Koran is said to have been dictated directly in Arabic by Allah. It has, as it were, no prehistory, even though it did not come into existence until a century or so after Mohammed.

Scholars, mostly German, have been working quietly for many decades to produce a critical edition of the Koran that takes into consideration the "pre-history" of the Koran. Due to the Muslim belief that any effort to question the Koran's text is blasphemy, the enterprise is fraught with personal risk to the researchers. The idea that the text cannot be investigated, of course, only feeds suspicion that even Muslims worry about its integrity . . . .

The fragility of Islam, as I see it, lies in a sudden realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Koran. Is it what it claims to be? Islam is weak militarily. It is strong in social cohesion, often using severe moral and physical sanctions. But the grounding and unity of its basic document are highly suspect. Once this becomes clear, Islam may be as fragile as communism.
Schall's argument reminds me somewhat of the secularization thesis, the long-held view that the secular forces of Modernity would undermine religious belief through critical thought, among other things. Outside of Europe, that hasn't quite happened yet, and Europe itself seems to be gravitating back toward religion, either through the growth of Islam there or in reaction to that growth among Europeans now becoming more aware of the Christian element of Western identity.

Moreover, if one compares Islam's textual situation with Christianity's, one sees that Christian fundamentalism, with its emphatic declaration of Biblical inerrancy, is partly a reaction to Modernity, especially to the threat of the scholarly world's modern approach to Biblical criticism, characterized by a hermeneutic of suspicion bent on demonstrating the incoherence of the text through focus upon inconcinnities that imply textual development reflecting theological struggles among early Christian communities rather than a divinely inspired textual revelation of theological truth at the outset, e.g., high Christology is seen as a late development of theological reflection rather than an early consequence of divine revelation. Christianity, in both its Catholic and its Protestant forms, has not fallen into theological ruin at such Biblical criticism.

But Schall might have a point. The Qur'an holds a uniquely central place in Islam, roughly analogous to the position of Christ in Christianity, and it is Allah's only verbal communication with mankind that has remained uncorrupted by those who have received it and is therefore as inerrant today as it was when the angel Gabriel dictated it directly to Muhammad. If critical hermeneutics applied to the Qur'an demonstrates that the text developed over time, i.e., that it drew upon previous scriptures and was rewritten in the decades following Muhammad's death, then Islam could suffer a critical shock, particularly if the very early Qur'anic texts found in the attic of an old mosque in Yemen should turn out to have significant textual variants.

But I don't think that a deconstruction of the Qur'anic text will happen without a fight, and not a purely academic one, at that.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas?

Tipping Point?

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has posted an announcement of recent research results concerning the process of social transformation. Titled "Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas," the announcement offers the counterintuitive conclusion that when a belief is held by 10 percent of a population, a tipping point has already been reached. The "visualization" above is explained:
In this visualization, we see the tipping point where minority opinion (shown in red) quickly becomes majority opinion. Over time, the minority opinion grows. Once the minority opinion reaches 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green).
But there's a condition essential to this ideological transformation:
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.
The ten percent must hold their belief fanatically. The rest of society adopts the new belief but holds it in a rather different manner:
An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.
In short, the other 90 percent of society simply shifts from one belief to another without having a strong commitment to either. But why do people shift this way?
"In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models," said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models "talked" to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener's belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.
With an acronym like SCNARC (Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center), this group might be hard to take seriously, and I do have my serious doubts about these 'findings'. The study was done purely as a computer model, but reality is a lot more complex, so I doubt that even a fanatical 10 percent minority would be the tipping point. Moreover, if "people do not like to have an unpopular opinion," why would they 'convert' to a belief held by merely 10 percent of the population? Nevertheless, the research results are intriguing and worth considering, particularly for analyzing the spread of religious beliefs, where fanaticism does play a significant role. For instance, its application to the rapid spread of Islamist ideas in recent years might be illuminating in some respects. But I've not read the original paper, so I'm not qualified to apply its findings.

Just for the official record, the authors of the scientific paper were Boleslaw Szymanski (SCNARC Director), Sameet Sreenivasan (SCNARC Research Associate), and Gyorgy Korniss (Associate Professor of Physics), along with Chjan Lim (Professor of Mathematics), Jierui Xie (graduate student), and Weituo Zhang (graduate student).

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saint Scott: Patron Saint of All Cowboys

St. Scott with Floating Disk Halo

My old high school math teacher, Jim Scott, whom you see in this recent photo taken by his daughter Jeanie, is now close to 80, I suppose, though he doesn't look it to me. He was a very good teacher, especially for a tiny, isolated place like Salem, Arkansas, and he knew a lot of math, having completed all of his doctoral work in mathematics up to his thesis, which he never quite got around to finishing because of other demands on his time, such as family and work.

He happens to be one of the most talented individuals I've ever met. He first taught music at Salem Elementary School when I was a kid, though I think that this job of his ended just before I started school, but when I was in high school, I not only learned math from him, I also took part in his informal art class, our aesthetic project being a mural that he designed and did the perspective for, a street scene of an imaginary Medieval village. In addition to teaching, he had his own business, a surveying company, which I worked for one summer as a nineteen-year-old. I got to see a lot of backwoods Ozark spots, often very isolated, that summer. Jim was also a bareback rodeo rider, the sort who try to stay seated upon a bucking horse, and he was even an authentic cowboy for a while. Unlike most cowboys, however, his expertise extended to horseless carriages as well, and he could do his own mechanical repairs. He also knows a lot of science, down to the technical details, and he designed and built his own house. He continues to farm and ranch, and still has horses, along with his cattle and other farm and ranch odds and ends.

I know very little about most of these things in which he has expertise, but I enjoy getting a chance to talk with him whenever I'm back in my hometown, for he's a good conversational partner, a close listener with a fine sense of humor. I didn't have the chance to see him this past summer since my family and I didn't visit the Ozarks this time, so I was glad to get Jeanie's report, an update of sorts:
Dad and I were moving cattle . . . he just saddled up Old Paint right there in the pasture. We commenced to direct those kine using a bit of the John Wayne and a tad of modern technology as I was driving the Gator!

If you had been there, we could have also cut out a line and dropped a few pins . . . of course, I would have lost my number two status and once again been relegated to rear chaingirl!
Yeah, I would have regained my old position as head chainman, cutting a straight line through the Ozark wilderness so that Jim would be able to use his surveyor's transit unobscured. To 'drop' a pin actually means to hammer a straight metal piece into the ground for measuring off lengths of land with the 'chain', a long, flexible metal band (not really a "chain") with precise numerical markings -- feet and inches back in the States (maybe 100 feet long, if I recall). One also needs a hammer, a simple scope with a spirit level, wooden stakes, surveyors nails with their cupped heads, strips of bright orange surveyors ribbon, and a surveyors tool belt to carry everything (except the chain, which was lugged around by hand). Have I forgotten anything, Jeanie? Using those things is hard work, and heavy to carry around. I prefer teaching research writing rather than engaging in that hot, physical labor back in those humid Arkansas summers. Anyway, I replied to Jeanie's update with a bit of humor, which I based upon Jim's image in the photograph:
I see that Mr. Scott must henceforth be known as "St. Scott," given that 'halo', perhaps the patron saint of bareback rodeo riders even if he did 'saddle up' Old Paint, but that merely befits his newly sanctified status -- one designated as justified to ride high in the saddle -- so maybe he's even "St. Scott, Patron Saint of All Cowboys."

Despite the quotation marks, the capitalization, and even the italics, this is unfortunately an unofficial beatification since I have no authority with the Catholic Curia and your dad isn't Catholic anyway . . . but this image could find its way into Gypsy Scholar if no one objects to that sort of beatification.
Jeanie reassured me that her father would have no objections:
Dad NEVERS objects to any response that clarifies his talents for the adoring public! Truthfully, he deserves his status as a hard-riding Renaissance gent. That particular day was filled skittish horses, philosophy of the ancients, a touch of Hamlet, and an intense discussion of Google Earth.
That cetainly sounds like Mr. Scott, and a conversation I wish I could have listened in on.

Maybe next year . . .

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Friday, August 26, 2011

European Enclaves Off-Limits to Non-Muslims?

Soeren Kern

The Hudson New York Briefing Council, part of the Hudson Institute -- a free-market think tank located in Washington, D.C. -- has a rather alaming article by one of its columnists, Soeren Kern:
European 'No-Go' Zones for Non-Muslims Proliferating: "Occupation Without Tanks or Soldiers"
In this article, Kern argues that:
Islamic extremists are stepping up the creation of "no-go" areas in European cities that are off-limits to non-Muslims.

Many of the "no-go" zones function as microstates governed by Islamic Sharia law. Host-country authorities effectively have lost control in these areas and in many instances are unable to provide even basic public aid such as police, fire fighting and ambulance services.

The "no-go" areas are the by-product of decades of multicultural policies that have encouraged Muslim immigrants to create parallel societies and remain segregated rather than become integrated into their European host nations.
The evidence that Kern goes on to supply is something of a grab bag. He collects evidence of Muslim enclaves and statements by Islamists demanding shariah in some of these enclaves, but he doesn't show that Islamists are creating the no-go areas, nor that these Islamists are even successfully instituting shariah within them.

Don't misunderstand me on this point. I realize that Islamists in Europe do want precisely what Kern fears is already generally happening widely. I also recognize that the no-go zones do exist and need to be addressed by the state authorities in those European countries where such enclaves exist, so as to return them to national control and a European-style rule of law.

The fact of no-go zones and the presence of Islamists are both alarming, and Europeans should be alarmed, but more evidence and closer analysis are needed before conclusions can be drawn as to where these enclaves are headed. Have these been written up already?

The case is similar to that of the riots that took place in 2005 and 2007 within Muslim enclaves located outside of major cities in France. Were these riots incited by Islamists? The evidence points against such a conclusion. A general sense of Muslim identity may have been shared by the rioters, but Islamism does not seem to have been a motive, though the riots themselves are troubling, given the wanton destruction wrought, and such enclaves so alienated from society could become breeding grounds for Islamists.

At any rate, for those readers interested in knowing more about Kern's writings see the Hudson New York Writings by Soeren Kern, search the Strategic Studies Group website for his writings, or go to his own website, Strategic Insights into America, Europe, and the Transatlantic Relationship.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ex Nihilo?

Expansion of Spacetime and All its Contents
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over at the Marmot's Hole, some folks were arguing about the rationality, or lack thereof, for belief in God. I usually stay out of those discussions there because there's too much ad hominem for my tastes, but the issue of "something from nothing" came up, i.e., whether the universe could suddenly begin to exist purely ex nihilo or whether a God were needed to perform the creative act to produce the universe ex nihilo, so I offered a speculation:
The question of the metaphysical foundation of the universe is an interesting one, at least for me. The appeal to an infinite series of universes seems to imply that our particular universe would never have been reached, for one cannot count to infinity. There would thus seem to have had to be a beginning of a finite sequence of universes.

But I end up in a Kantian sort of antinomy.

Either the first universe to come into existence was dependent for its existence upon something metaphysical that is extratemporal, or the first universe to come into existence was dependent upon nothing at all and popped into existence truly ex nihilo.

The former might appear more rational, for that extratemporal metaphysical entity would be the noncontingent ground of all contingent things, and we might consider 'irrational' the view that something could simply pop into existence ex nihilo, but what barrier would 'irrationality' be to utter nothingness?

The choice leaves me intellectually stumped.
I didn't really get a response on that Marmot's Hole thread (not even a query about my allusion to the Kalam argument), and I halfway never expected one, so I've reposted here, partly out of a need to post something this morning. And yes, I realize that I've raised this sort of question here at Gypsy Scholar before and have received replies of the sort that argue that for something to just pop into existence is contrary to reason, but the question still nags at me.

I guess my problem with this argument is that I can't quite see what hindrance irrationality poses to utter nothingness.


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meanwhile in Arkansas . . .

For various reasons, my family and I didn't make an Ozark trip back to Arkansas this summer, but I won't let that stop me from offering a couple of Arkansas photographs from the rugged Buffalo River region of the Ozark Mountains, courtesy of professional wilderness photographer Tim Ernst, who lives in a cabin with his wife in the roughest wilds of the Ozarks.

This first image was made during a storm between four and five in the morning on August 11, 2011:

Here's what Mr. Ernst tells us of the shooting:
The lights were on in heaven all night long, with flashes coming from all directions. I got up at four and spent the next hour out on the back deck watching, soaking in as much glory as I could. So many times it would all start with a single flash low on the horizon, and it seems to ignite the rest of the sky as the lightning would spread upwards and out in both directions, fanning out wider and taller until the entire visible sky was filled with tiny streaks of light. And the sky behind it lit up purple! Each one was unique, and just when I thought I had seen the most amazing one ever, the next one would top it!
I wish he'd gotten one of those quicksilver web designs on film, but what he's provided is already sufficiently sublime.

In case you're wondering what the landscape looks like by day, here's the same overview, more or less, at 7:18 in the morning eleven days later, on August 22, 2011:

You're looking across part of the Buffalo River watershed, a deep valley cut by America's first National River, a stretch of wild nature in a wilderness area, as you can see.

Mr. Ernst explores all over the area for points of interest to photograph, as described in the following adventure on August 3, 2011 with a fellow adventurer named "Jason":
The Ozark Jungle was very kind to us on the hike in, and in fact the woods were beautiful. Then we hit the dry Whitaker Creek creekbed and had a grand time exploring the geology that was normally underwater and now exposed for easy view. Most folks hate being outdoors here in the summer, but this is the only time I know of to see and experience all the great hidden treasures of the creekbed! I really enjoyed it. But then, all good things must come to an end and we needed to CLIMB nearly straight up the hillside to reach the tall waterfall, but I was getting pretty good at doing that while down on all fours so I was OK. There was even a narrow deer trail we found that led up to the base of the bluffline.

I sent Jason to the top of the bluff from there while I scrambled to the bottom of the waterfall. Along the way I stepped in a hole and messed up my fragile knee, then lost control and slide down an incline out of control for about 20 feet and landed at the very bottom -- good thing Jason was not witness to this comedy! And then WOW!, what an incredible location!!! 'Tis very humbling to be witness to such beauty on a grand scale, with the bluff towering high above, guarded on top by a giant old cedar tree leaning far out over the edge, and everything surrounded by tall umbrella magnolia trees. Sure it would be even nicer with lots of water, but really, I find most of these dry waterfalls to be very scenic spots and I always shake my head when someone talks about being disappointed by a lack of water flow in the summertime -- OPEN YOUR EYES!!!

Jason appeared at the top of the bluff and lowered the measuring tape. At 76 feet tall this waterfall is the second tallest waterfall in all of the Buffalo River headwaters, with only Hedges Pouroff being taller (it is a lot taller at 113 feet). Next we measured Wild Burro Falls and Jason got to explore upstream a bit in the hanging valley above this falls -- there are more waterfalls up there but they are really tough to get to. Wild Burro Falls is much shorter, but it is quite unique and a very scenic spot that is much easier to reach than Beagle Point Falls.
As Mr. Ernst says, just open your eyes to the beauty . . . but I'd still like to see the waterfalls in motion.

Anyway, be sure to visit Mr. Ernst's website and look around through his many hundreds of nature photographs, and don't forget that the man has to make a living, so be willing to fork over a few dollars for a print or a calander . . .

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terrance Lindall: "The Gold Illuminated Paradise Lost Scroll" and "The Elephant Folio for Paradise Lost"

The Gold Illuminated Paradise Lost Scroll
Terrance Lindall

A month and a half ago, my cyber-friend Terrance Lindall, the great contemporary artist of fantasy and surrealism, emailed to ask, "Can I send you some artists proof prints?" He was referring to prints from his "Elephant Folio," and I of course said yes. The prints arrived yesterday, and Terrance also included a copy of the "Gold Scroll Brochure" that you see above, a signed copy in fact. That was a nice extra to go with prints from his "Elephant Folio," a large-sized, 13-by-19-inch book. From this "Elephant Folio," he sent a copy of the following "Muse Page," which I've borrowed from Terrance's website and which is also a proof print:

Muse Page
Terrance Lindall
(Image from Elephant Folio)

I'm inferring that the image is a depiction of Yuko Nii, fellow renowned artist and long-time friend of Terrance, for she has supported his artistic endeavors and thereby deserves the title of "Muse."

I've referred to this image above as a "proof print" because it states "nor the deep tact of Hell," which would be a fine comment on Satan as the soul of courtesy, but Milton actually wrote "nor the deep tract of Hell," and that's what my own proof print has, which means that Terrance caught the typo (and that's what proof prints are intended for). Terrance also sent me some other proof prints, "Harmless Innocence" and "The Fall," but I haven't located images for these at his website, so I can't show them here on Gypsy Scholar, but I would urge readers to go to the site for the "Elephant Folio" and look at what is shown there. The three prints sent to me by Terrance are each personally signed, as are also a number of other folio pages, which is a very generous gesture on his part, for I've done little more -- as a member of the Paradise Lost Committee -- than call attention to Terrance's wonderful art on John Milton's epic masterpiece.

In her "Introduction" to "The Gold Illuminated Paradise Lost Scroll," which you can read above, Yuko Nii quotes John Updike:
"The written word skims in through the eye and by means of the utterly delicate retina hurls shadows like insect legs inward for translation. An immense space opens up in silence and privacy, a space where literally, anything is possible."
I don't know from where this Updike quote comes, but I've found a variant online:
"It skims in through the eye, and by means of the utterly delicate retina hurls shadows like insect legs inward for translation. Then an immense space opens up in silence and an endlessly fecund sub-universe, the writer descends, and asks the read[er] to descend with him, not merely to gain instructions but also to experience delight, the delight of mind freed from matter and exultant in the strength it has stolen from Matter."
This variant appears on several websites online, but none identifies the textual source in Updike's oeuvre, but if it's correct, then Yuko Nii's quote might better be punctuated as follows:
"The written word . . . skims in through the eye and by means of the utterly delicate retina hurls shadows like insect legs inward for translation . . . . [A]n immense space opens up in silence and . . . privacy, a space where literally, anything is possible."
But perhaps Yuko Nii's version is more correct, for the variant stumbles over the phrase "silence and an endlessly fecund sub-universe," so maybe the full original was this:
"[As for t]he written word . . . [i]t skims in through the eye and by means of the utterly delicate retina hurls shadows like insect legs inward for translation. Then an immense space opens up in silence and privacy, a space where literally, anything is possible[,] an endlessly fecund sub-universe, [into which] the writer descends, and asks the read[er] to descend with him, not merely to gain instructions but also to experience delight, the delight of mind freed from matter and exultant in the strength it has stolen from Matter."
That would work, but I'm merely guessing, and the precise quote doesn't make a significant difference since any of these three also applies to Terrance's art, for he has taken Milton's written words and translated them into public images suggestive of an immense space opening up to the worlds of creation and beyond -- down into Chaos and "the deep tract of Hell" and up into the metaphysical realm of Spirit. That's partly why I once told Terrance:
"Your Milton series will live forever . . . well, at least as long as Paradise Lost does. That's pretty long."
And certainly long enough for Terrance's aesthetic vision to move others to once again read Milton . . .

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Early Saturday Morning Hike along Mangusan, Yongmasan, and Achasan

Our children rode the rails to Daegu this weekend, leaving on a four-day retreat with relatives there, so my wife and I had a minor vacation and took advantage by rising early Saturday for a six a.m. breakfast before heading off around seven for an indistinctly three-mountain hike on a foggy, overcast morning on a high path past several medieval fortresses, or what's left of them, that once held the line between the Kingdom of Goguryeo and the Kingdom of Baekje . . . and I have to apologize for the photos below, for my wife does not appear, though due not to my narcissim but to her reticence.

Fortunately, I don't appear in every photograph in our hike along Mangusan (281 meters), Yongmasan (348 meters), and Achasan (287 meters), also called Mt. Mangu, Mt. Yongma, and Mt. Acha ("san" meaning "mountain"):

Those steps appear to be going down, but that's an optical illusion, for we had just come up and were recovering on a landing depicted by the next photo:

You see my unphotogenic self in this photo above as I cast a searching glance into the distance, imagining myself a watchman on a fortress outlook for the Kingdom of Goguryeo, intent on protecting the frontier against the rival Kingdom of Baekje, or perhaps contemplating an invasion to conquer that rival. But the next photograph illustrates the futility of my gaze:

As we see, there's a very foggy valley, the heavy haze -- or is it smog? -- obscuring our view, but we'll soon be descending a bit into that as we hike on along the mountain path between the 'peaks' of Yongmasan and Achasan:

Steps . . . and more steps:

Again, I appear -- this time perhaps on Achasan, though I'm not sure -- gazing once more into the foggy distance with a wise, discerning eye, as intimated by my stretched turtle neck, turtles being profoundly wise creatures:

I reckon I look pretty healthy for an old turtle. I just don't look very 'pretty'. At least, I don't look ugly, either. I'm in the middle: "pretty ugly."

Yet another photo of me, this time on the descent from Achasan, searching for sight of the annoying cicadas that infested the trees above. I've been told these critters come out every seventeen years or so, but they seem to me to crawl out of the ground and ascend the trees every freakin' year! Or maybe time just really does fly:

We now reach the end of our trek, at the very spot where most folks begin, the entrance, with its decoy stork:

And its decoy deer:

Afterwards, we wended our way down the hillside toward the nearest subway station, Achasan (Line 5), stopping for a lunch of blood soup for me and a variant on pork-bone soup for my wife.

A few beers were also imbibed . . .

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Poetry Break: "The Song of the Wanderin' Angus"

Angus Cow and Calf
(Image from Wikipedia)

Time for another poetry break, but with apologies to William Butler Yeats for my parody of his lovely poem "The Song of Wandering Aengus" (The Wind Among the Reeds, 1899), but I just can't get over its title. First, the original poem by Yeats:
"The Song of Wandering Aengus"

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
That's the lovely original, and knowing that "Aengus" in Irish mythology was likely a god of love, youth, and poetic inspiration helps in understanding the poem, for when I first read this poem at Baylor, I was fresh from the Ozarks and misunderstood "Aengus" as "Angus," a breed of cattle with which I was quite familiar but which left me baffled by the poem. The breed of cattle is still my first thought upon seeing the title, and I always think of a steer that's gotten out of pasture and wandered off lost and thus needs to be sought for. Hence the following parody:
The Song of the Wanderin' Angus

I went out to ol' Hazel's wood,
Because I feared I had a head
Of cattle that had gone and wand-
ered off toward death to dread.
And while the steer was on that fling,
I searched till stars were blinkin' out,
And tripped unwary in a stream,
But caught myself and clambered out.

And so I laid there on the floor
Of Hazel's wood in burnin' shame,
And asked if rustled from my door
Had been that steer I knew by name:
Had it become a simmerin' sirl-
oin steak with ample sauce right there
Where branded was my name and ran
Its juice o'er plate with bright'nin' glare?

Though mighty old with wanderin'
Through hollers, hills, and flinty lands,
I'll not give up on it as gone,
That Angus wandered from my hands.
I'll wend my way through dappled grass,
And chuck from time to time till done
Small stones like slivers at the moon,
And stones yet bolder at the sun.
No harm intended, ye fans of W. B. Yeats. I also like his poetry, so just enjoy the puns . . . if ye can. Enjoyment might prove difficult, however. Just yesterday, I was telling my wife that one shouldn't write parodies of good poems because the parody will always be inferior. Instead, write parodies of famous, popular, oft-quoted but mediocre poems so that the parody will be better than the original.

I broke my rule, and I know I'll go to hell for this, but I just couldn't pass up a good pun . . .

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Richard Landes on Islam's Honor-Shame Culture

Richard Landes
(Image from The Telegraph)

Richard Landes has written an insightful piece for The Telegraph on Islam's lack of a culture of critical discourse, titled "Liberal intellectuals are frightened of confronting Islam's honour-shame culture" (August 19, 2011).

I found the article interesting not only for its perceptive analysis of Islam's problems in coping with Modernity but also for its overlap with a number of points that I intend to make about the need for a culture of discussion in East Asia when I give my talk at the 2011 Forum [on] Civilization and Peace early in October. Some of my ideas in an earlier stage of development can be read in "'Korean Identity?' in Philosophy and Reality" (December 18, 2009) and "'Toward a Culture of Discussion,' The Philosophy & Poetry Journal (Summer 2010)" (May 15, 2010). But I go substantially beyond these two in my upcoming Forum 2011 presentation.

I don't deal with Islam, however, so I'm intrigued by much of what Landes has to say. He brings into his analysis a distinction that I've often noted in blog entries, though I won't be using it in my presentation, i.e., the contrast between a shame culture and a guilt culture. Landes focuses on the characteristics of a shame culture contrasted to the culture of Modernity (which he doesn't describe as a guilt culture):
In an honour culture, it is legitimate, expected, even required to shed blood for the sake of honour, to save face, to redeem the dishonoured face. Public criticism is an assault on the very "face" of the person criticised. Thus, people in such cultures are careful to be "polite"; and a genuinely free press is impossible, no matter what the laws proclaim.

Modernity, however, is based on a free public discussion, on civility rather than politeness, but the benefits of this public self-criticism -- sharp learning curves, advances in science and technology, economic development, democracy -- make that pain worthwhile.
From this distinction, Landes formulates a memorable rule:
Politeness is not saying certain things lest there be violence; civility is being able to say those certain things and there won't be violence.
Landes applies this 'rule' to an analysis of Islam in our modern world:
This [use of violence to defend honor] is particularly true for Islamic religious culture. In Dar al Islam, a Muslim's contradiction/criticism of Islam was punishable by death, a fortiori did this hold true for infidels. Modernity has been a Nakba (psychological catastrophe) for Islam, and Islam in all its variegated currents has yet to successfully negotiate these demands of modernity.

On the contrary, the loudest voices in contemporary Islam reject vehemently the kind of self-criticism modernity requires. Criticism constitutes an unbearable assault on the manhood of Muslims.
Why is this the case? Landes explains:
Secularism demands more maturity, it requires that religions be civil, that they not use force (the state) to impose their beliefs on others. Religious communities have to give up their need to be visibly superior as a sign of being right/true. This involves high levels of both self-confidence and tolerance for public contradiction.

For Islam this is a particularly difficult challenge. For Islam's formative period, it dominated. Dhimma laws spelled out the principles: infidels were "protected" from violence and death at the hands of Muslims as long as they accepted a visibly humiliating, inferiority. And among the key demands made on dhimmis, was that they not challenge, criticise, or in any way "insult" Islam or Muslims.
Landes goes to the core of Islam's problem with Modernity, in my opinion, and does much to explain the rise of Islamism in our time. The article is well worth the time taken to read it, and a longer version -- "Islam, Modernity, and Honor-Shame Dynamics: Reflections in the Wake of Breivik" -- appears on his blog, The Augean Stables, for those with deeper interest in the issues raised.

As I noted at the outset, there's overlap between this article and my upcoming presentation, specifically, on the need for a culture of discourse, and I like the distinction Landes makes between courtesy and civility, though I won't be raising this in my paper. I also don't make the point about a shame culture, though I'm very familiar with the concept, as I've noted. Most of all, I don't talk about intellectuals being afraid of criticizing Confucianism, one of the main themes of my paper, because they're not afraid to do so. There are no 'Confucianists' with sharpened knives lurking as a warning not to 'insult' Confucianism, unlike the case with Islam, which has its violent Islamists.

Perhaps Confucianism is a more "civil" ideological system . . .

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Bike Ride With Daughter

Just before lunch yesterday, Sa-Rah suggested that we go for a bike ride in the early afternoon, and I agreed because that would give me a break from checking translation work and a valid excuse to drink a little beer at the pathside 'pub' under a subway bridge that crosses the Jungnang River several kilometers upstream in Uijeongbu:

For some obscure reason, my daughter looked shocked at something on the table between us:

I can't imagine what might have occasioned the shock . . .

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

En-Uk's Returned, Art Blog's Functional

En-Uk Sequoya Hwang

En-Uk has returned from two weeks of soccer camp. He's actually been back since Monday evening, or rather since Monday night, for he got in around 11:30 p.m. He quickly returned to his Art Blog and began posting again on Tuesday, an artful soccer post, followed on Wednesday by the Coffee art seen above. Concerning this, he wrote:
This drawing is called "Coffee." I made this drawing for no reason. Bye.
Vintage En-Uk. I retorted:
Hey, that's a coffee bean!
When I think "coffee," I picture a hot, steaming mug of strong, black coffee ready for me to drink . . . not a coffee bean! No counter-retort from En-Uk yet.

But having En-Uk back in the apartment is good, even if my wife and I did enjoy two weeks of relative quiet and peace, for our daughter, Sa-Rah, is quieter alone. The calm has passed now, as the storm of noise has returned, full blast. Last night, En-Uk and Sa-Rah were loudly singing Mika's "Grace Kelly," a joyful song that the entire family can dance to . . .

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Obscure Relative Post?

In one of her last messages to all of us relatives, Aunt Kathryn urged us to "have a party!" at her memorial service. I couldn't attend, so I didn't get to participate in any sort of joyful wake, but in the spirit of her wish, I'm posting a sequence of photos with running comments by Uncle Cran -- framed by my concise, incisive, illuminating remarks, as always. Here's the first photograph:

Uncle Cran introduces us to the folks in the picture, albeit not in any helpful order, and the question mark suggests uncertainty about the names of these people. But he was especially puzzled by the presence of that bearded chap, whom he did not recognize at all:
I will send photos from sister Kathryn's memorial service at the cemetery last Saturday. This is Gay & I, then Kevin, Leah & grandsons Zachary & Haden? But who is the mysterious stranger with us? A Jewish Rabbi? Perhaps a Mullah?
Uncle Cran is about to find out, little by little. Here's the next piece of the puzzle:

Uncle Cran remarks, perhaps with trepidation:
Linda Gay has persuaded this mysterious person into our home, and with grandson Haden as a witness, she is ready to work her magic.
Magic? Aunt Linda Gay works magic? What is she, a witch? Well, let's see what happens in the next photograph:

Uncle Cran comments on the spell woven by his wife:
As Linda Gay waves her magic wand, the face looks kind of familiar. However, since he is now wearing a frown, I start to worry. Perhaps I should check his back back.
A magic wand, eh? Well, that's a switch! But a switch can double as a wand. My grandma had a switch that would work wonders with us grandchildren when we were little! Incidentally, I'm not sure what a "back back" is . . . perhaps the "front"? As for that 'wand', frankly speaking, it calls to mind Arthur C. Clarke's statement that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." While we cogitate that, let's also consider the next photograph:

Uncle Cran grows relieved, despite reason for some misgivings:
As more hair is removed, notice the resemblance to Attila the Hun. But the smile has returned, so I am no longer apprehensive.
I was thinking more Genghis Kahn, but in either case, is the smile of such a man trustworthy? Didn't the great Kahn state:
"Man's greatest joy is to slay his enemy, plunder his riches, ride his steeds, see the tears of his loved ones and embrace his women."
Not that there's anything wrong with that, and Attila the Hun probably said something similar. But let's move on to see the next photograph:

Uncle Cran finally figures out the mystery. The chap is neither Genghis Kahn nor Attila the Hun, and I'm not disappointed about that, for what business would either of those two have in the Ozarks? The chap is also not quite so obscure as Uncle Cran had implied:
Linda Gay has worked her magic! Now we know! It's grandson Matthew, Mark's oldest son. IT'S A MIRACLE! He is staying with us this week, then to Kevin's for a week, before returning home.
That's reassuring . . . but note that Uncle Cran has conflated "magic" with "miracle"! That sort of category error would make Jesus into a magician! Uncle Cran therefore still has something to worry about, such as a miraculous (not magical!) bolt from the blue.

Good luck, Uncle Cran. Perhaps Aunt Linda Gay can weave a protective spell?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Aunt Kathryn's Memorial Service

I've been stuck in Seoul for most of this summer, aside from a brief couple of days in Chuncheon, which is only about an hour and a half from Seoul if one catches a Chuncheon train at the nearby Mangu Subway Station, so I couldn't attend my Aunt Kathryn's memorial service this past Saturday (August 13, 2011), but I've received several photographs from some of my relatives who did attend.

In the photo above, taken by my Uncle Cran, you see from left to right Larry Young, David Young, and Steve Young, the three sons of my Aunt Kathryn and first cousins of mine. I've spoken of them before, but seeing them as adults together is an odd sensation. I recall them far better as cousins a bit older than I was at five years of age when I stayed with them in Kansas City, my best time in that urban place. In those days, the eldest was tallest and the youngest smallest, but those two are now switched, though David is still in the middle.

Anyway, you can see on the table before them a photograph of their mother, my Aunt Kathryn, when she was young and lovely. Perhaps if you click on the image, the size will increase enough for better viewing. A number of eulogies were given, I suspect, but I have only my own, adapted from this blog, and read aloud in my absence by one of those present:
After Aunt Kathryn had passed away, I told my wife and children, and when my daughter asked if I were sad, I suddenly couldn't speak. But if I'd been able, I'd have said how much Aunt Kathryn meant to me.

I especially remember her when she was young and pretty, with green eyes that she claimed made her a 'witch' (though she smiled to show that she was joking). She took care of me in Kansas City when I was five, telling me tall tales of wrestling bears back down on the farm in Arkansas. That was about the only time that I was happy in the city during those days when I had to stay in that place. I remember happy times playing with her three boys -- Larry, David, and Steve -- and listening to them in naive belief as they convinced me that if I'd just eat enough clam chowder, I could be as strong as Popeye!

I tried it and believed myself stronger, but somehow still couldn't defeat them in arm wrestling.

After six months with Kathryn, her husband, and boys, I returned to Arkansas, where I remained until I finished school and again left the Ozarks for the big wide world. I didn't get to see Aunt Kathryn much after those six months in the city, but the time with her and her family remained a precious memory.

She did manage to come to my wedding and meet Sun-Ae. She would have liked to see our children, but the timing never worked out, and she passed away without getting to meet them in person, so there are no more opportunities on this earth.

But I hope we all meet as family in Beulah Land.

Until then, good-bye, Aunt Kathryn . . .
I wish that I could have been there, but unexpected expenses prevented a trip home to the Ozarks this summer, else I would have attended that memorial last Saturday in the tiny community of Elizabeth, Arkansas.

I would also have treasured the brief reunion with Larry, David, and Steve.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Goethe's Faust: Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum.

Mephistopheles in Faust's Study - Eugène Delacroix

A few days ago, I quoted lines 2038-39 in the first part of Goethe's Faust:
Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie,
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
I offered this translation:
Grey, dear friend, is all theory,
And green the golden tree of life.
I then explained:
The original promise in the Garden of Eden was that eating from the Tree of Knowledge would make one god-like, and perhaps it did, but that proved unsatisfactory for the scholar Faust, as the first scene of him in his study makes clear, for he decries the futility, the sterility, of all the scholarly knowledge that he has accumulated.

Mephistopheles therefore offers 'fruit' from the Tree of Life, presumably, the experience of living life to its fullest. He happens not to be speaking to Faust at the moment that he makes this offer in these particular words (for he's chatting with a student at the time), but that's also what he offers Faust in return for Faust's soul.
To add a few points to that . . . Mephistopheles was disguised as Faust in this scene in order to meet with one of Faust's students and offer 'academic' advice, which is what he has done above. I decided to find the passage in Faust, which is how I came to know the precise line numbers above, and I read on to discover that scarcely nine lines later, Mephistopheles writes the following, possibly contradictory advice for the student in line 2048:
"Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum."
The line is from Genesis 3:5 in the Latin Vulgate. The King James Version has:
"Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
Mephistopheles then advises, in lines 2049-50:
Folg nur dem alten Spruch und meiner Muhme, der Schlange,
Dir wird gewiß einmal bei deiner Gottähnlichkeit bange!
This translates somewhat as follows:
Only follow the old proverb and my cousin, the snake:
You'll surely become anxious sometime through your God-likeness!
If this knowledge is theoretical knowledge, then Mephistopheles has contradicted his earlier advice about partaking of the "golden tree of life" rather than partaking of "grey . . . theory." Of course, he could simply be speaking this way to confuse the student whom he's misleading. Or he might mean that knowledge from the tree of knowledge is really experiential knowledge, knowledge gained by living life to its 'fullest' -- and thus be speaking consistently. I have previously noted this in John Milton's Paradise Lost:
A distinction has been drawn between an abstract, conceptual knowledge of evil and a concrete, experiential knowledge of evil.
But I don't know if Mephistopheles knows enough of Milton's Paradise Lost to play with this concept in this way.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Poetry Break: "Final Exam"

Final Test

Time for another Poetry Break. I wrote this one between 5:30 and 6:30 this morning:
Final Exam
If time be better teacher than the rest,
I need an explanation to explain
Precisely why that final taxing test
Should have to cause such overtaxing pain.

That final is a killer, so I'm told --
No student ever makes it out alive.
I'd rather take the test when I get old,
But don't know when my test-date will arrive.

Yet if I only knew the testing place,
I'd try to stay so very far away
So as to never ever show my face
For testing on that very fateful day.

And once that final test date were surpassed,
I'd live because that final test were passed.
Well, one can hope . . .

I suppose I should add that I was inspired by some words from Hector Berlioz:
Time is the best teacher. Unfortunately it kills all its pupils.
The quote is one of the twenty-three quotes offered by my old Baylor professor of history, James Vardaman, in the presentation of his that I posted a couple of weeks back.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Malise Ruthven on the Rightwing Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik

Anders Behring Breivik
Leaving Oslo Municipal Court, Norway
July 25, 2011
Rex Features/AP Photo

Malise Ruthven has a useful, insightful article, "The New European Far-Right," in a blog for the New York Review of Books (August 9, 2011), and I largely agree with his analysis of the rightwing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik:
Judging from his manifesto, Breivik is an obsessive man, with an idée fixe about the evils of Islam and multiculturalism. He believes that European leaders, especially those belonging to social democratic parties, are cultural traitors who are inflicting irreversible damage on their countries. Hence his attack on Utoya island, where the flower of Norway's social democratic youth -- reservoir of its future leaders -- were gathered. He wants to see all Muslims expelled or repatriated unless they allow themselves to be converted into believing or "cultural Christians." These aims may seem impracticable -- but given the history of population expulsions and exchanges that he cites at some length in his document, they are neither utopian or millenarian.
The right is being awfully quick to disown the fellow -- and understandably so -- but Ruthven acknowledges the parallels, even to the mainstream right:
His anxieties may be vastly exaggerated, but his ideas are presented systematically, and are generally consistent with the critiques of Islam and multiculturalism appearing in the mainstream press, as well as right-wing blogs. It would be premature, even dangerous, to suppose that the source of his action can only be understood by reference to synaptic glitches in an individual psychopath's brain.
Many on the anti-Islam right have been adamant that their writings could not have influenced Breivik because he has been planning an attack since the latter 1990s, several years before most of them were even concerned about Islam. But can we believe Breivik's claim? Do we have any writings from him that date to the latter 1990s? And even if we do, we can't assume that he learned nothing later from the anti-Islam right in Europe and the US. His advocacy and practice of violence, however, do distinguish Breivik from most of the anti-Islam right. His emphasis upon Western Civilization, on the other hand, is something that he shares with the anti-Islam right, and it distinguishes him from the nationalist, racist, and fundamentalist right. His call for war, though, reminds one more of Al-Qaeda and other Islamists. Ruthven notes many of these points:
As Thomas Hegghammer, the Norwegian expert on Islamism, has argued, Breivik is in some respects an occidental mirror of Osama bin Laden -- a dangerous monster, perhaps, but not necessarily an irrational one. Breivik's manifesto, Hegghammer explains, departs from established categories of right-wing extremism such as ultra-nationalism, white supremacism, or Christian fundamentalism, to reveal "a new doctrine of civilizational war that represents the closest thing yet to a Christian version of al-Qaeda." The concept of "civilizational conflict" or "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, first articulated by Bernard Lewis, is shared by many on the right and some in Europe's liberal mainstream.

Both Breivik and the leaders of al-Qaeda see themselves as engaged in a conflict that extends back to the Crusades, with both of them using references to medieval chivalry. Both have resorted to catastrophic violence on behalf of transnational entities: the Ummah or "community" of all Muslims in the case of al-Qaeda, and "Europe" in the case of Breivik. Both frame their struggle as wars of survival, with the emphasis placed on defending a religiously-based culture rather than a distinctive nationality or ethnicity. Both hate their respective governments for "collaborating" with the outside enemy. Both use the language of martyrdom. Where Islamists refer to suicide bombings as "martyrdom operations" Breivik refers to an individual "martyr cell" in anticipation of his attack on defenseless youngsters. Both, as Hegghammer notes, lament the erosion of patriarchy and the emancipation of women.

Just as al-Qaeda represents an extreme, activist variant of political views held by a much wider constituency of Muslim radicals, most of whom would never consider crossing the boundary between thinking and action, so Breivik (judging from his manifesto) holds a broad range of positions common to what might be called the "counter-jihadist" or "paranoid right." This is represented -- among others -- by Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Pamela Geller in the US, the controversial Dutch legislator Geert Wilders, and Bat Ye'or and Melanie Phillips in Britain. All these writers -- most of whom have denounced the Utoya massacre in the most unequivocal terms -- subscribe to variants of the thesis that Europe is sleepwalking into cultural disaster or (in the case of Phillips) enabling Islamist terrorists to gain a foothold.
I disagree with Ruthven's designation of most of these "counter-jihadists" as the "paranoid right," though I find Geller so emotionally over the top that I can't bring myself to read her writings, and I find Ye'or interesting but bordering on a conspiracy-theory interpretation in her Eurabia history. As for Spencer, he is full of information, but consistently sarcastic -- not my style, though I do read him. I also regularly read a site unmentioned by Ruthven, Gates of Vienna. The couple who maintain this blog are more to the right than I am, but they're refreshingly honest, even in acknowledging the parallels between Breivik's views and their own, minus the violence:
In fact, that's one of the disturbing things about Anders Breivik -- when simply voicing his opinions, he sounded a lot like normal, non-violent people who oppose the Islamization of the West. And this is not all that surprising, given that he plagiarized quite a number of us for his manifesto, but it's still disconcerting to read about it.
I could acknowledge some of the same things. Breivik shares a lot of ideas in common with things that I've written about on this blog, excepting the advocacy of violence against Muslims and the nondistinction between Islam and Islamism. My opposition to radical Islamists is partly grounded in my views on the evil of terrorism, especially its killing of innocent people. I also maintain a distinction between Islam and Islamism, the latter being the political use of Islam, though I acknowledge that the line distinguishing the two is not easy to draw.

But to return to Breivik . . . in my view, he is both sane and rational, and therefore to be judged in moral terms as evil, just as Osama Bin Ladin was evil, for the shooting of dozens of young people on the island of Utoya and the use of passenger planes to kill nearly 3000 innocent civilians in the World Trade Center were both evil acts.

I think that most of us should be able to agree upon this.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Craftworks Beer with Yang Seung-Tae

One of my long-time Korean friends is Yang Seung-Tae, professor of political science at Ewha Womans University and currently also serving as a dean there. We met 19 years ago in Tübingen, Germany while I was doing doctoral research as an exchange student at Eberhard Karls University. I had already been there three years in 1992 when Seung-Tae arrived for a sabbatical year on a research fellowship and was staying in the same university housing complex as I was. We met by chance in the laundry room when I noticed an Asian man trying to figure out how to use the complex German washing machine. I went over and explained the German directions. I soon realized that he was Korean, because I had been together with Sun-Ae for a couple of months already and had begun to recognize Korean characteristics, not that I could have articulated what those were at that point. I soon introduced him to Sun-Ae, and we became friends.

Seung-Tae and I had a lot of good discussions over the course of a year, sometimes about Confucianism, a central philosophical interest of his, and sometimes about theology, one of my interests. When he left for Korea a year later, he told me to look him up in Korea sometime, and I did in 1995, after Sun-Ae and I were married and living in Daegu. We made a trip to Seoul, where we visited him and his family. We were then gone from Korea for over three years as I pursued my scholarly interests in Australia and Israel, only returning in late 1999, just in time for the millenium parties, and I began my real life in Korea as a gypsy scholar, teaching at various universities over the years.

During many of my long years in Korea -- about a decade, actually -- I had no contact with Seung-Tae. My wife and I had misplaced his home address in our many moves, so I attempted to make contact by email but couldn't get through because so many Korean email providers automatically treat foreign email as spam. My emails were returned to me without Seung-Tae ever knowing about them. Because I was very busy with academic things and raising two small children, I let the years slip by, but when I finally ended up at the same university as Seung-Tae, I resolved to re-establish contact and renew our friendship.

We've since shared a lot of drinks and hours of discussions. As you see above, he enjoys a good beer. I knew that from our time in Germany, so I introduced him to the Craftworks. We met there again on Wednesday, when this photo was taken -- thanks to the helpful waitress (a great, friendly staff there!). Seung-Tae is drinking the best ale brewed in Korea, a Jirisan Moon Bear IPA, and I'm drinking a Halla Mountain Golden Ale, another fine ale brewed here in Korea. If you click on the photograph, you might be able to make out these ale names on the glasses.

Several beers later, Seung-Tae and I had spent a lot of time discussing Confucianism, in which he is an expert, because I am going to be dealing with the question of Confucianism's influence on East Asia, specifically, its putative responsibility for the lack of a culture of discussion in Korea, Japan, and China. That's what I'll be talking about in my presentation for the 2011 Global Forum [on] Civilization and Peace this fall. Seung-Tae made a useful distinction between Confucianism as a philosophy and Confucianism as an ideology. The latter, he suggests, distorted Confucianism in the interest of social order, and such a use of Confucianism discourages a culture of discussion. That noted, Seung-Tae acknowledged that the Confucian concept of true discussion presupposes intellectual equals. This doesn't necessarily imply that unequals can't discuss issues, but it does mean that the relation in the discussion will be unequal, as though between teacher and student.

The question of Confucianism's responsibility for the lack of a culture of discussion therefore remains unanswered for me, since the model teacher-student relationship in East Asia is traditionally a very hierarchical one in which the teacher speaks and the student listens. Knowledge is conceived as a tradition handed down, not as something to be discovered. It's both, of course, and the Confucian model of instruction has a point -- there is a tradition, a body of knowledge in every subject, that must be imparted. Sometimes, one just needs to sit and listen. In my view of the pedagogical process, however, a student should not listen passively, but actively, conceiving of questions to pose when the listening time is past.

But I didn't have the chance to ask about this point, for Seung-Tae had to be somewhere after 8:00 p.m., so that discussion will have to wait for another Craftworks' 'Starkbierzeit', which in my order of things can come in any season . . .

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