Monday, October 31, 2011

Rugged, Rugged Melville . . .

The Moby-Dick Collection
W. O. "Bill" Pettit

Avast! (Whatever that means.) Here be a wander-full, errant whale of a cover! (Note the missing hyphen in the book-title.) I came across this boys' book by clicking onto the online version of an International Herald Tribune article by Kathryn Harrison reviewing Nathaniel Philbrick's defense of Herman Melville's magnum opus, the novel Moby-Dick. That online copy of Harrison's article appears in the New York Times as "How to Read Moby-Dick" (October 21, 2011)

Go there to read about Philbrick's advocacy of Melville -- the great author needs no defense here on Gypsy Scholar! I first read Moby-Dick entire while living in Berkeley and putting off my doctoral-thesis application -- therefore in the mid-1980s -- indicating that I read that novel in Stephens Lounge under the watchful gaze of the Professor Stephens portrait hung high up on the wall.

I recall being amazed at how 'modern' the novel was, how entertaining it could be! True, there was a lot of whaling terminology to master, but Melville himself elaborated much of that. I don't recall the cover on my copy, but it certainly didn't have the appearance of the cover above, that 'homosocial' image of stalwart, sturdy, upper-class teenage boys dressed in their semi-formal attire, the tallest boy bearing a football and leading shorter boys as they float down a flight of ethereal, blue steps toward a game of something like rugby . . . except that the sport will have to be far more rugged, "fishing for whales," involving a Scottish Terrier, for some odd reason . . .

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

True Manly Poet Rhapsodizes the Excremental . . .

Bovine Volcano
From the "Show Me" State?

Cousin Bill needs to turn his hand to poetry, given some of the imagery in his recent Weekly Rambling, a regular email that he circulates among kith and kin fifty-two times a year to keep us up to date on his captivating second career as a driver of used cars from their former owners to whatever agency will accept those sh*tty, secondhand things. Anyway, as I was trying to say, Bill's a natural poet, and that's no bullsh*t, as you can read for yourself in a description of early morning roadside scenes from his latest ramble, possibly through the 'State of Misery' after leaving Arkansas for Kansas:
I'm probably one of the few who sees beauty in awakening livestock. In pasture after pasture, Angus and Hereford were awakening, beginning their morning grazing . . . all belching steam front and rear, with newly dropped cow patties "smoking" like little volcanoes among the grasses.

That little pastoral image in Cousin Bill's simile is as 'purty as a pitcher' -- as we used to say back in the Ozarks -- or prettier, given the sh*t that's been pitched out in the picture above! Offered a choice, I'd take the poetry over the reality depicted there any day that it looks like that!

Thanks, Cousin Bill, for supplying blogworthy matter that -- as a former president might have said -- has 'manured' my thoughts for today's brief blogpost . . .

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sam Anderson's Haruki Murakami

Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki
New York Times

If you want to read some good writing on a good writer, go to Sam Anderson's long piece for the New York Times Magazine on "The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami" (October 21, 2011). It's clever, humorous, and eminently readable. Also imminently readable if you just click here. I had my daughter Sa-Rah read it aloud to me for her English lesson the other day, and she commented that it was fun to read even if it was supposed to be educational. We both remarked on this passage by Anderson describing Murakami's decision to become a writer:
His career as a writer began in classic Murakami style: out of nowhere, in the most ordinary possible setting, a mystical truth suddenly descended upon him and changed his life forever. Murakami, age 29, was sitting in the outfield at his local baseball stadium, drinking a beer, when a batter -- an American transplant named Dave Hilton -- hit a double. It was a normal-­enough play, but as the ball flew through the air, an epiphany struck Murakami. He realized, suddenly, that he could write a novel. He had never felt a serious desire to do so before, but now it was overwhelming. And so he did: after the game, he went to a bookstore, bought a pen and some paper and over the next couple of months produced "Hear the Wind Sing," a slim, elliptical tale of a nameless 21-year-old narrator, his friend called the Rat and a four-fingered woman.

That passage flows so well. But it also describes something inexplicable and worth knowing about, an anecdote to relate at dinner parties among erudite friends or beery sessions with aimless youth. How does Murakami himself remember the moment? Read here:
I remember that Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows. He was a short, stocky sort of pitcher with a wicked curve. He easily retired the side in the top of the first inning, and in the bottom of the inning the leadoff batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left field line. The crack of bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at that exact moment that a thought struck me: "You know what? I could try writing a novel."

That's from Murakami's book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, but I read it in the New York Times interactive on "Murakami's Tokyo," which accompanies Anderson's article.

I need to read more by both Anderson and Murakami . . .

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Evangelicalism's Unintended Consequences?

Church Emboldening Women?
Graeme Robertson
Getty Images

The writer Helen Epstein offers an interesting finding in her opinion piece for the New York Times, "Talking Their Way Out of a Population Crisis" (October 22, 2011). In this article, she tells of a Columbia University demographer, James F. Phillips, and his colleagues in Ghana who were tying to empower women of the Kassena-Nankana people to use contraception for better family planning:
At first, they organized special "durbars" -- all-male political gatherings presided over by the village chief -- to help explain to men that family planning would make their women and children healthier and stronger. These efforts weren't very successful.

Then the team noticed two things: Their data clearly showed that large numbers of women were having fewer children, whether or not they lived near the experimental family planning programs. And large numbers of evangelical preachers were establishing churches in the Ghanaian hinterlands to which, every Sunday, Kassena-Nankana women dressed in Western-style finery headed in droves.

Dr. Phillips assigned a student to see what effect the churches were having on contraceptive behavior. To their amazement, they found that female Christian converts were three times as likely to use family planning as women who retained their traditional African faith, and had significantly smaller families.

The churches certainly didn't promote family planning. But, despite their defense of patriarchal family values, many churches were giving women a voice denied them by their own culture.

Ms. Epstein doesn't say why the researchers report that these evangelical churches "certainly didn't promote family planning," and I wonder if that's entirely true. But let's assume that it is. How then did evangelical Christianity give women a voice enabling them to start family planning?
Traditionally, Kassena-Nankana women are not involved in everyday decision making, even about household matters. But the born-again women were forming committees, making speeches and organizing outings, fund-raisers and other activities. Tradition in Kassena-Nankana also forbids women to communicate with ancestors and other spiritual beings; only men can do that. But the Christian women were speaking directly to Jesus about their problems. He was, many of them may have felt, the first man ever to listen. This may have given them a language for speaking to mortal men as well, even about such sensitive matters as contraception.

I wonder if the researchers asked the women about family planning to find out how the process of empowerment actually worked. With wording like "may have felt" and "may have given," the researchers appear less than certain. Or perhaps Ms. Epstein is guessing? She does say, though with equal uncertainty, that:
[R]elaxed, trusting and frank conversations between men and women may be the most effective contraceptive of all.

If so, then evangelical Christianity would perhaps be promoting that, but I'm also just guessing. Somebody should ask those women themselves . . .

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Miracle John

Not One of These

I received a message the other day that inexplicably ended up in that memory hole for extramental, excremental messages, the spam folder, apparently due to its subject heading: "Miracle John."

I've since fished it out of the spam john and will respond to it here on Gypsy Scholar. I assume it's a sales pitch for a really special toilet. The opening is informal, not addressing me by name, which sometimes works, particularly since my name at least that way can't be misspelled:

I don't know why this opening is stopped with a semicolon. The colon usually does a better job passing along the crap:
give me your time today.How was your day?,Mine is a little bit hot over here How about your family not forgetting friends and work all together?hope all are okay.

The writing is a bit constipated, stuck together. Quite a lot to unload, but doing so in 'spits and farts' -- as a dyslexic, unorthographic friend once wrote. Anyway, the writer finally gets out what needs to be said:
please bear with me.

I do. You have my full attention.
I Really like to have a good relation-hip with you,

That's what it's all about with toilets, a "good relation-hip," so we're cheek to cheek on this one.
and i have a special reason why i decided to contact you.

Yes, it's a delicate subject, and I appreciate your circumspection.
My name is Miss miracle John rang.

What a surprise! A sentient toilet! That sort of thing just sells itself! "Miss Miracle John Rang" -- lovely name for a toilet!
I am 24 years old girl.,

Ah . . . well, you've contacted the wrong gender. I'm a man, but you're a ladies' toilet.
waiting to read from you .

I do, in fact, read in the toilet -- who but the illiterate does not? -- but as noted, you've contacted the wrong customer.

Same to you. Sorry I couldn't part with any of my assets for you or be of any other assistance. But keep yourself open to other potential customers, and may none of them dump on you more than you can bear.

But relax for now, and take a load off fanny . . .


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Heading for Insadong, getting sidetracked . . .

On October 8 of this year, my wife Sun-Ae had a significant birthday that I dare not identify too precisely. Let's just say she's no longer 29. Wherever the exact truth lies -- yes, it sometimes does lie, especially temporal truths -- we celebrated by heading off that Saturday afternoon for Seoul's traditional neighborhood of Insadong . . . and vicinity.

We decided to take the subway and walked from our apartment to Mangu Station on the Jungang Line, rode to Oksu Station and switched to Line 3, then rode for eight stops to Gyeongbokgung Station, where we got off and encountered a gate with Chinese writing opaque to my mind if visible to my eyes, but I decided to pass through anyway:

After I'd crossed that threshold, Sun-Ae noticed an explanation given in Korean -- and more importantly, for me, also in English:

That reads as follows:
This gate was made of monolith in imitation of PULLOMUN in CH'ANGDOKKUNG. It has a legend that once one passes through the gate, he would not be old forever.

I don't think "monolith" is a type of stone -- perhaps an indefinite article is missing? -- but the message is certainly reassuring. I won't stay old forever. Apparently, I will die . . . someday. Maybe never even knowing what "PULLOMUN" and "CH'ANGDOKKUNG" mean, for the informative sign failed to inform. But they must mean something odd, for weird things happened on the other side of that gate after we'd left the underground for the city streets above:

A man emerged from a mural as his girlfriend looked about to be run down by a mysteriously floating automobile . . . and by its equally buoyant couple. Sun-Ae and I soon even more mysteriously found ourselves beyond the mural in the midst of those traditional Korean houses known as hanok . . .

. . . hanok . . .

. . . and more hanok . . .

. . . after which we wound our way down that hillside -- unexpectedly encountering fellow translator Brother Anthony in our descent -- and ended up at our reserved table in the easily misheard Min's Club, a restaurant named after a descendant of Queen Min and located in a house designed by Korean architect Gilryong Park (1898∼1943) and built in 1930 in a combination of Korean and Japanese style:

You see from my glowing red eyes that I really was in a different state of being after passing through that gate that threatened to kill me.

But all of you are wondering, "Where's the lovely Sun-Ae?" Where indeed? She had the camera and refused to part with it, perhaps unwilling to document this birthday of hers too closely . . .

But happy belated birthday, anyway, my dear . . .

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Eideticboth's Illustrated Korean Novella in Translation

Neighborhood of Motel East Sea
By Eideticboth
(Copyrighted: Use Only with Permission)

Some of you will recall that I drew attention to a short novella translated from Korean by one of my former students. The story was written by her older sister, and my ex-student asked if I would be willing to take on the job of editing it for English literary style. I was reluctant initially . . . but upon reading a few paragraphs, I realized that the story was of high quality, so I agreed.

The novella, which you can read about on my blog, is titled Hi, I'm a Boy! That's a line from the story, but out of context, it could lead prospective readers to infer that this is a children's story. That would be incorrect -- this is no story for children, but for adults.

That's an unfortunate impression, for the story deserves grown-up readers. The price might seem a bit steep for a novella of around fifty pages at $9.99, but the story is worth the price, in my opinion, especially given the images like the one above, hand-drawn by my ex-student and scanned for use in the book. I learned of these just last week, when my former student visited me during my office hours to talk about a new project. That led me to ask about the old project, and in talking about that, she mentioned the illustrations. I was surprised to hear of those, so she whipped out her smartphone and showed some of them.

I guess I didn't know about these before because she hadn't shown them to me or even mentioned them -- not that I recall -- and when I blogged on the book's availability, I couldn't yet look inside the book at Amazon for some reason, but I now can. So can you, and you can see the images -- at least, four of them anyway, counting the one on the somewhat misleading cover, for that particular image reinforces the impression made by the title that this could be a children's book. The neighborhood image above might have been better for the cover. At any rate, four images are visible at Amazon. The illustrations above and beyond those four are to be found on pages yet hidden from view unless one purchases the book.

You can also read the opening pages, either at my blog entry or at Amazon, to get a better idea of the story's literary worth and whether or not it appeals to you.

Oh, you can also click on the above image to get a close-up -- and if you look carefully, you'll find the protagonist Daniel and his enormous older friend Highboy looking out the window of the Motel East Sea . . .

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Monday, October 24, 2011

En-Uk's Art: Window into the Past

My twelve-year-old son En-Uk, as readers doubtless know, has his own blog, which he calls En-Uk's Art Blog and which he posts to daily, adding artwork after artwork after artwork, except when he's gone, as he was recently, missing a couple of days due to a soccer trip.

Before leaving, he posted an artwork titled Color on Thursday:

To my eyes, and the eyes of others, this looks like a postmodern stained-glass window, or so the comments space implies. Perhaps this interpretation influenced his next artwork, posted yesterday after a break of two days:

This one's actually titled Window, but are we looking out or in? Either way, the image reminded me that I had intended to look into the etymology of the word "window." As readers know, I spend time nearly every day teaching my children English. The other day, En-Uk and I read a story that mentioned a window, and I told En-Uk that I used to pronounce this word as "winder" -- that's with a short "i" as in "window," and it rhymes with "fender." That was part of my Ozark dialect, and there was a pattern to this 'mispronuniation', for I pronounced "pillow" as "pillar" (rhymes with "miller"). Explaining that dialectical variant etymologically would itself be an interesting linguistic search . . . but not today. Anyway, that brief anecdote made me wonder about the "-ow" in "window." The "wind-" part surely came from "wind," but what did the "-ow" come from? "Maybe from 'hole'," I speculated, thinking aloud with En-Uk. But I wasn't sure, and I promised En-Uk that I'd find out.

I remembered that promise this morning. The search for "window" was embarrassingly simple. I simply clicked over to The Free Dictionary's entry on "window":
The source of our word window is a vivid metaphor. Window comes to us from the Scandinavian invaders and settlers of England in the early Middle Ages. Although we have no record of the exact word they gave us, it was related to Old Norse vindauga, "window," a compound made up of vindr, "wind," and auga, "eye," reflecting the fact that at one time windows contained no glass. The metaphor "wind eye" is of a type beloved by Norse and Old English poets and is called a kenning; other examples include oar-steed for "ship" and whale-road for "sea." Recently we have restored to the 800-year-old word window a touch of its poetic heritage, using it figuratively in such phrases as launch window, weather window, and window of opportunity or vulnerability.
This apparently comes from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000). We now know that "window" comes from "wind-eye." I suppose this particular "kenning" comes from the impression we have of windows as the eyes of a building, combined with the fact that no glass was used in the old days, thus letting in wind as an eye lets in light.

Next etymological puzzle to decipher: that dialectical form "winder" (and "pillar").

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Revelatory Art from Terrance Lindall . . .

Humiliation of . . . Satan
Terrance Lindall

Terrance Lindall sent me (though not only me) another image from his illustrative paintings for John Milton's Paradise Lost . . . though it looks more like the Book of Revelation to my mind's eye, rendered by a modern-day Hieronymous Bosch! But here's what Terrance himself writes:
One of the most interesting times in painting is when the elements of a new picture comes together. This is what the beginning of an illuminated illustration looks like at the beginning. This is the tribulation and . . . humiliation, stultification, abasement of pride, or mortification of Satan. Our vanquished "hero" is curled up in a fetal position before the Son. The serpents representing Satan's rebellious alter ego are being stabbed and mortified. The Queen of all saints is there in the background too, with the Son celebrating the conquest.
From Terrance's email, we read of his art's endeavor and see that this is indeed more the Book of Revelation's last times than Paradise Lost's first times. Since "the Son" is "celebrating the conquest," this does not occur during the Miltonic War in Heaven (though one also finds such a war in Revelation), for that is not a war of conquest, but of expulsion. This conquest is the conquest of Hell. We thus find in the background the "Queen of all saints." This is Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding the infant Jesus -- perhaps based on an image in Revelation of the woman who gives birth in the desert -- and Terrance's expression "Queen of all saints" recalls the Catholic title for Mary as the "Queen of Heaven." Is Terrance "high Lutheran"?

Even if so, he's a bit unorthodox, for if we consider the image of Satan being subjected to "humiliation, stultification, abasement of pride, or mortification," and ask why, we might imagine that "mortification" means Satan's destruction by death, but the term can also mean the rather Catholic expression, "the mortification of the flesh," a type of purging that cleanses one of sin. If we consider the "abasement of [Satan's] pride" and the stabbing and mortifying of Satan's "rebellious alter ego," we can understand these expressions to refer to precisely what Satan is undergoing, namely, the purging of his rebellious pride. He is being prepared for redemption, being made fit again for heaven -- hence leading us to interpret Satan's "fetal position" as a symbolic image of one about to be reborn through the Son, perhaps in the Johannine sense of being "born again" or "born from above," both possible translations being applicable here. This is Terrance's vision of apokatastasis, a universal salvation that for him includes even Satan. My reading here isn't entirely subjective, for Terrance has told me that he thinks, ultimately, even Satan will be redeemed. Like Terrance, God is an artist reworking old creations and letting them shine in a new light.

Strange, to think where life takes one. I reflect on this image of Satan and Terrance's words and recall that I first saw his artwork back in the latter 1970s, maybe something like this story in Heavy Metal, whether in the Arkansas Ozarks or Waco, Texas, I no longer recall, but the time was shortly before I left the South for the Bay Area, thereby setting myself off on my unexpected trek through the world and life, which has brought me this far, thus far.

Only to meet Terrance again, not in hard copy this time, but electronically . . .

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

LinkedIn invitation from a former student . . .

Phoebe Le

A couple of days ago, I received a LinkedIn invitation from the woman pictured above:
Phoebe Le has indicated you are a Friend: "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."
I didn't recognize the name or the photo, and since I sometimes receive invitations from people I don't really know, I was about to ignore the request, but for some obscure reason, I decided instead to inquire how we know each other:
I don't recall the name "Phoebe Le." Remind me how we know each other.

Ms. Le replied in very specific terms:
You once taught a Tutorial Writing class for Underwood International College (UIC), Yonsei University (Spring 2008). At that time, I was most likely known by my Vietnamese name: Giang Khanh Le. I wrote a research paper on Italian Renaissance (after switching from the Vietnam War due to my extremely debatable chosen thesis statement). The same paper was nominated by you to UIC Best Essay Award for that school semester (which if I'm not mistaken, later won the title).

I took your class when I'd just begun to learn writing in English as not only you helped me a lot, you also inspired me tremendously with your passion for writing (I followed your blog for a while). I even attempted to look up for more classes of yours the following semesters but unfortunately, you'd decided to transfer to Ewha Womans University. We fell out of touch since.
"Ah!" I thought. "Ms. Giang Khanh Le." I knew her quite well, and as I recalled her better, the image above seemed to come into sharper focus. I then accepted the invitation and wrote back:
Now I remember you very well. I checked your LinkedIn site and noticed that your middle name seems to be "Houghton" -- yet, your marital status is "single." Are you taking two Western names for yourself? . . . It's good to hear from you. I hope that you're doing well. Your English seems very good these days. How is your Korean? Your Vietnamese? Your . . . French?

I also explained that landing a permanent full-time academic job is difficult for me in Korea because Koreans generally consider people in their fifties to be too old to be offered permanent positions. I've read about this Korean cultural phenomenon and also been privately informed that it's true in my case. I added that I had even once been denied a permanent position as a Korean university because the chair of the department felt intimidated by me since I had better publications in her field than she did -- and medieval literature isn't even my field! Or so I was privately informed. The information came as a surprise since I'd always expected that scholarly achievements would advance one's career. What an irony. Anyway, Ms. Le replied:
I am indeed not married. My middle name was given to me due to a special relationship I had with my Godparents, whose last name is Houghton (they're American).

I find it preposterous that [Korean universities don't] offer you a [permanent] full-time job due to your age. My Macroeconomics professor of a couple semesters back was easily 70 year old (but apparently had some kind of connection with the school's president). But most importantly, I don't think age [usually] has anything to do with teaching ability. In your case, I think your rich scholarly knowledge and experience were accumulated and sharpened over the years. (I still remember being bemusedly embarrassed when you corrected my knowledge about the Vietnam War -- something I was so certain I knew best. Your broad knowledge range impressed me greatly.)

And I must say I am not surprised to hear someone is intimidated by you. As a matter of fact, when I was your student, most of my fellow classmates were also very intimidated by you. Some even dropped out after the first few classes because they thought you were too strict. I was one of the few ones who actually stayed and felt good about our decision. I recall one of the reasons for that is because at that time, my English was so poor as I just wanted to improve it, even if it means crazy discipline. And second, I had always thought classroom is where you learn, not a place to hang out with fun, easygoing professors. Sadly, many student friends of mine thought otherwise. 

Anyhow, I've been working hard on my English the past couple years. I can speak much more fluently now, which has made my life a lot easier. My writing, however, has gone wildly terrible. Majoring in Economics, I dealt with numbers more often than with words. Exchanging emails with you makes me feel that deficiency even more clearly. My Korean is sadly still poor. I guess it's because I've been dedicated to learning English for the most part of my time in Korea (which is kind of ironic). I am slowly learning it though. Hopefully I will be able to speak it well in the near future. My Vietnamese is still native. My French has gotten significantly better, from absolutely zero to knowing how to say "Hello" and "Thank you." So has my Spanish. I am therefore very proud.

Ms. Le has a finely honed sense of self-irony that is rare in East Asia. Or at least rarely used. I suppose it's rarely used anywhere.

Anyway, I remember very well working with her on her Renaissance paper. Her writing was a bit rough back then (though she seems quite fluent now), and I spent a lot of time tutoring her during my office hours to improve her writing and offer substantive directions on her ideas. Eventually, she produced an "A+" paper that was so good I nominated it for the UIC Best Essay Award, which it indeed did win. I was gone by the time that award was given, but I learned of it somehow and hoped that it would serve as inspiration to students in future classes with teachers who demand a lot from their students.

One can always hope . . .

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Friday, October 21, 2011

"K-Pop's chances in America dim," argues local expert.

Sa-Rah Ahyoga Hwang
Reflecting on K-Pop and Korean Nationalism

I asked my fourteen-year-old daughter about the possibility of Korean pop music becoming successful in America. She likes K-Pop and loves Girls' Generation, so I thought that she might have a strong opinion. Here's what she wrote:
K-Pop's Chance of Succeeding in the U.S.
Recently, K-Pop has become a big issue in many places around the world. Artists of SM Entertainment performed in Paris early this year, and many Korean Idol Groups had their debut in Japan and have gained popularity, too. SM Town -- Artists of SM Entertainment -- is planning to perform in Sydney, New York, and more cities sooner or later. From these examples, K-Pop seems to be very successful around the world. The big question, though, is this: "Will they succeed in the U.S.?" Because K-Pop groups like Girls' Generation (also called SNSD), Big Bang, TVXQ, and Super Junior have become very popular in Asia, big Korean management companies like YG, JYP, and others seem to be thinking about going to the U.S., too. Personally, I think it would be difficult for K-Pop to succeed in the U.S. There are exceptions, though, and I will be explaining them in the latter part of my essay.

One reason for the difficulty of K-Pop's success in the U.S. is that the U.S. is BIG. The music market is huge, and there are many talented artists out there. So, it is harder to succeed than in Korea or other smaller Asian countries. Even if a Korean idol group debuted and got their song onto the Billboard chart, it would be hard to gain popularity and continue to be popular. For example, the Wonder Girls debuted in the U.S. and succeeded in getting a song to hit number 1 on the Billboard Chart with "Nobody," but almost nobody -- must be the song title's fault -- knows them in the U.S. They even lost most of their popularity in Korea, too. This shows that to succeed in America, you also need to continuously perform and sing in America. You can't continue to be popular if you go back and forth from one country to another. You have to stick to one country for a long time, but that would be hard for K-Pop groups because risking their money and popularity in Korea to go to the U.S. is not so wise.

Also, the way that artists debut in the U.S. is different from in Korea, too. In Korea, many idol groups are trained for years and then have their debut, but in the U.S., artists usually make their own music and slowly create their fan base underground, then have a contract with a record company, and that's how they have their debut. Ways of becoming famous are different, too. Most Korean idol groups go on TV shows and act funny and make themselves appealing. There are not many ways of becoming famous other than going on TV many times and creating a good image. By contrast, American artists do more concerts and go on TV shows, but they don't have to do ridiculous things, and they sing and perform more. In other words, K-Pop groups are more about image, and U.S. artists are more about talent, so it would be hard to become successful as the usual K-Pop style group.

Of course, it would be possible to gain a small mania fan base, but that's not worth spending so much money and time without getting much of a reward back.

However, there are exceptions. Groups like Big Bang and 2NE1 are different from most idol groups in Korea. Their music is mostly Hip-Hop and Dance, and their style is more American. This doesn't mean they have copied the American style, but that they have a combination of Korean and American music styles. Their performances are also very energetic and full of confidence. Their music and performances make you want to spring up and jump around! Of course, we don't know if they would be able to succeed in the U.S., but I think they have more of a chance than other normal cute and pretty K-Pop groups. There may be a market for cute and pretty K-Pop groups, too, but I don’t think they will be earning a profit compared to what they invested in going to America. It's not worth the risk.

Besides the exceptions that I have given above, mostly, I think there's not much of a chance for K-Pop groups to succeed in America. As I have read in a recent online news site, SM Entertainment's representative director, Lee Su-Man said that "A huge music market will soon form in Asia, and there will be no need to go to America to show K-Pop. Going to America is not worth the risk anyway. We have better ways to appeal to foreign music lovers." He surely has the right idea. Such a wise man you are, Mr. Lee!
I was somewhat surprised by Sa-Rah's opinion. She's such a strong K-Pop fan -- especially fanatical about Girls' Generation (whom I call "Girls' Degeneration") -- that I expected her to puff K-Pop for the American market. Instead, she offers an analysis for why it largely won't succeed in the States, and some of her remarks suggest a critical attitude about the K-Pop system.

Our kids always surprise us . . .

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

NoZe Brotherhood: Exterior Decorating of Baylor University

Some photos landed in my emailbox this morning from my old frat club at Baylor University, the Noble NoZe Brotherhood, Inc. For readers unfamiliar with the NoZe, just think of it as a satirical fraternity of secret members who adopt outrageous pseudonyms like "Brother AgNoZetic" or "Brother NebuchadNoZer" and wear Groucho Marx nose-glasses, along with wigs, false beards, and tuxedos, all to protect their identities since they're often at odds with the Baylor administration for some of the satirical articles that they publish in The Rope -- their satire of the campus paper, The Lariat -- and some of the stunts that they pull on Baylor's very religious grounds. For some reason, Baylor dislikes the NoZe's attempts to beautify the campus through exterior decorating.

For instance, consider the Burleson Quadrangle in this photo from Wikipedia:

Nice enough . . . but it can surely be beautified with a bit of NoZe aesthetics:

In case that's too obscure to see clearly, perhaps this detail will help:

The towering spire on Burleson Quadrangle is graced with a super-sized version of Groucho Marx nose-glasses and thereby unofficially . . . indicted . . . abducted . . . inducted into the NoZe Brotherhood.

But the administration of Baylor, for reasons obscure to me, doesn't want Burleson Quadrangle known as a NoZe member, and often threatens to "kick the NoZe off campus," at times even following through on the threat!

The NoZe thus too often suffers the consequences of its irrepressible mischievousness, hence the collective lament: "Nobody NoZe the trouble I've seen . . ."

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Direct from Terrance Lindall: Artist at Work

My friend Terrance Lindall is still hard at work on his Paradise Lost folios and has sent me the following two images with permission to post them.

The first is from the Wickenheiser Folio, named for the Milton scholar and rare book collector Robert J. Wickenheiser. Specifically, it's a full view of the 13 x 19 inch Pandaemonium page, and the hand-painted borders are 24 k gold leaf:

Below, you see the second image, which compares the Pandaemonium pages of the Wickenheiser Folio (left) and the Nii Foundation Folio (right):

Terrance notes:

"The Nii folio page is under protective archival cover and is therefore less intense."
But the Nii Foundation Folio page is still clear enough for comparison, so we can see the clear differences in the the hand painted, 24-karet-gold-leaf borders.

That's all that I have time for today, for I face early classes and a lot of grading.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Calvinist Reading of Romans 1:19-32?

Skull Galaxy
Weird Creation as Intelligent Design?

Some weeks ago, I questioned a Calvinist reading of Romans 1:19-20:
I don't see that this passage in Romans provides strong evidence for the Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) view. Look again at Romans chapter 1, verse 20, quoting this time from the Morphological Greek New Testament (though it looks to be identical this time to the Textus Receptus):
τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους.
I'll just borrow a translation from the New King James Version:
For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
As I noted above, the translation of "καθορᾶται" in verse 20 reads "are clearly seen." The Greek verb comes from καθοράω and means "to see thoroughly, perceive clearly, understand." The sense of this verb seems to run counter to the Reformed view of "total depravity" since it appears to insist that human beings can infer the invisible attributes of God from the visible creation, and this human capacity for natural theology is precisely what leaves human beings "without excuse."

Whether or not Paul is right about this human capacity, his argument seems to assume that humans have the ability even in their sinful state, and that doesn't appear to be consistent with Reformed views on "total depravity."
My interlocutor, Professor Adolfo García de la Sienra, responded:
You cannot interpret Romans 1:20 leaving aside the next verse, 1:21, where it is said that "their foolish hearts were darkened". The whole passage seems to describe the condition of the human race which, at the beginning, had the capability to find God in creation.
I've only now had some time to reply to the professor's remark. The verse that he cites occurs within a longer passage that speaks of God allowing human beings to descend into reprobation. It does not seem to refer to a one-time event, such as the Fall, but to a process of darkening described in verses 21 through 32. But even this darkening of the heart, i.e., the understanding, does not extinguish knowledge of God, notes Paul, nor even of God's judgment concerning their sin, for verse 32 points out:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
The word Greek term here for "knowing" (ἐπιγινώσκω, epiginōskō) means not only "to know" but even "to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly." The tense of the Greek is "second aorist active participle," which I suppose could be translated as "having known," as in Young's Literal Translation, but the other eleven translations offered by the Blue Letter Bible prefer "knowing" or "know." Even the YLT, however, presupposes that those whose hearts were darkened had known of God's judgment, and given that verses 21-32 describe a process that does not seem relegated to a one-time event, then I would read this process as one that every individual might undergo.

Moreover, even if individuals "did not like (cf. οὐ, ou + δοκιμάζω, dokimazō) to retain God in [their] knowledge" (verse 28), this translation seems to imply a choice in the matter, a point that the other eleven translations offered seem to agree upon.

The natural man can therefore gaze at the form of the galaxy in the image above and see the hand of God forming a cosmic man, for the skull and brain are already visible! Okay, just kidding about the specifics there. But I would like to note that Christianity has from its inception argued for a natural theology and has developed this form of theology rather highly. Modern theologians such as William Lane Craig engage in such theological reasoning as evidence for God's existence, pointing to the so-called "fine-tuning" of the universe's fundamental constants as suggesting an intelligence designing the world. Whatever one might think of the particular arguments, the presupposition seems to be that Christianity can defend God's existence on the basis of evidence interpreted by reason and that the non-Christians are capable of following such reasoning.

I suppose that some Calvinists would disagree . . .

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Monday, October 17, 2011

En-Uk's Self-Portrait

En-uk Sequoya Hwang

My twelve-year-old son and aspiring artist has posted the above image at his art blog as one of his latest works and has titled it "Hair" and written:
This drawing is called "Hair." I made this drawing because my hair is very short. Bye.
En-Uk's hair is short because he plays soccer and wanted it short to keep cool in hot games. I suppose the sun does beat down rather hard on the sidelines . . . but En-Uk seems to be having second thoughts about his crewcut and apparently imagines himself undergoing a hair-raising experience. I, however, imagined a different scenario:
En-Uk, you're toast!
To which En-Uk countered with a calm, simple:
In other art news, En-Uk shows himself to be into 'Found Art', a movement of which he is "The Champ" -- despite other claimants to the throne!

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Muslim Demographics in Europe: Exaggerated Increase?

Kevin Kim, a friend of mine who once lived and taught in Korea but now does the same in the States, has recently expressed interest about translating a French article in the Courrier International by Pankaj Mishra titled "Le mythe de l’Europe islamisée" (September 17, 2009). Unless Kevin just enjoys doing that sort of thing, there's little need to translate the article into English since Google Translate does it well enough to convey the contents. Here's a sample sentence from "The myth of Europe Islamized," first in French, then in English:
Le taux de natalité chez les immigrés musulmans est en baisse et se rapproche des moyennes nationales, selon une récente étude publiée par le Financial Times.

The birth rate among Muslim immigrants is declining and is close to national averages, according to a recent study published by the Financial Times.
That was surprising to read since most of what I've looked at argues that the Muslim population will rise rather steeply over the next decades, with some scholars arguing that Europe will be largely Islamic by the end of this century. Let's take a look at the article that Mishra refers to. It's apparently from two years earlier, Simon Kuper's Financial Times article, "Head count belies vision of 'Eurabia'" (August 19, 2007), and the money quote is this:
The US National Intelligence Council predicts there will be between 23m and 38m Muslims in the EU in 2025 -- 5-8 per cent of the population. But after 2025 the Muslim population should stop growing so quickly, given its falling birth-rate.
The current population of the EU is around 500 million, so the 23 to 38 million does seem rather small, but one reason for uncertainty lies in the fact that "Few European states ask citizens about religious beliefs," as the article notes. The Financial Times article quotes several scholars, but not Charles F. Westoff and Tomas Frejka, "Religiousness and Fertility Among European Muslims," in Population and Development Review (Volume 33, Number 4 (2007): 785-809), probably because Kuper wasn't aware of their article, for it tends to support the view that Muslim fertility rates are falling throughout Europe. I can't access the entire article directly, but a summary is offered by Mary Mederios Kent in a short article from 2008 titled "Do Muslims Have More Children Than Other Women in Western Europe?" (Population Reference Bureau, February 2008):
Extremely low birth rates in most of Europe have fueled concerns about population decline, yet one segment of the continent's population -- Muslims -- continues to grow. The increasing number and visibility of Muslims in Western Europe, juxtaposed with the low fertility among non-Muslims, has led some Europeans to worry that the region will eventually have a Muslim majority, fundamentally changing Western European society. A new study by demographers Charles Westoff and Tomas Frejka challenges this common perception and suggests that the fertility gap between Muslims and non-Muslims is shrinking.
I have no expertise in statistics, but I see that these studies are expressed rather cautiously, more so than the views of some of those who cite them as proof that Islamophobic alarmists have been exaggerating the expected Muslim increase in Europe. Doug Sanders sounds rather careful, though, citing Westoff and Frejka in his article for The Globe and Mail, "The 'Eurabia' myth deserves a debunking" (September 20, 2008):
A recent study, Religiousness and Fertility among European Muslims, by demographers Charles Westoff and Tomas Frejka, documents this. Populations need to have 2.1 children per family to keep from shrinking. Among Turks in Germany -- one of the longest-standing Muslim immigrant populations in Europe -- the rate has fallen to 1.9 children from 4.4 in 1970. Turks in Switzerland also have 1.9, while those in the Netherlands have 1.6, fewer than white British people do. Muslim women in France have 2.2 children, barely more than non-Muslim women there, and that number is falling.
But Sanders can also sound extreme:
Europe once faced a genuine fundamentalist threat, in the face of a declining population. From 1345 to 1750, the continent's population barely grew, and the church, a murderous, terrorist, woman-hating force, seized considerable power. It was not Christian culture, but rather the opposition to this Christian threat, that made Europe great: The Enlightenment not only destroyed the church as a power, but also created the fertility boom.
I'm not sure how Europe's "declining population" also "barely grew," but Sanders isn't being especially careful in this passage. He uses the 'information,' nevertheless, to project confidence in Europe's secular future:
If Europeans, under similar demographic distress, were able to fend off a threatening political movement within a faith that was then held by almost 100 per cent of the population, they shouldn't have much to fear from a vanishing movement inside a 4-per-cent minority.
So . . . who's right? I don't know. I simply have to confess ignorance on the issue of Islam's future in Europe.

Any experts out there to enlighten me?

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bruno Littlemore questions the double-blind experiment

Clever Hans

I'm still re-reading Ben Hale's novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, and I once again see that Ben knows about "Clever Hans," a horse that picked up on visual clues in responding to oral questions, for he has Norm Plumlee -- the behaviorist research director who's attempting to teach Bruno 'language' -- try to prevent any exchange of cues from experimenter to Bruno by hiding Lydia's face and hands:
Norm had recently added an extremely unsettling detail to this procedure. Lydia wore a flat black metal mask that completely obscured her face, with a rectangular window of opaque green glass for her eyes. I am told that this was a welding mask. She also wore a pair of oven mitts on her hands. Dressed in this insane costume -- like a baker in Hell -- she would ask me to perform the pointless tasks with the objects strewn about the floor of the playpen. I did not know what could be the reason for these new details that had been added to the ritual. Lydia looked slightly terrifying in this costume. Still, I knew it was her under there, and so I gamely complied with the requests coming from the tinny echoey voice buried beneath the black metal mask. (Ben Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, pages 140-141)
Though Lydia can still see Bruno, this is similar to what scientists call a double-blind experiment, the sort eventually used with Clever Hans to determine if that horse were really responding to language, and it is intended to assure the skeptical that Bruno was receiving no visual clues and noting no body language. Bruno is skeptical of that skepticism:
But why, I ask -- why Dr. Norman Plumlee, did you decide that external bodily elements of communication do not count as part of language? Is language not comprised of an entire flexible interface of both spoken and visual interaction? No human mother speaks to her infant only while wearing oven mitts and a welding mask! Spoken language is but a single component of communication. We speak as much with our hands and our eyes and faces as we do with our lungs and throats and tongues -- namely, principally, with our brains. Analog gestural communication isn't "cheating." Removing words from the interface of the body only removes them from their natural environment, like putting an animal in a cage. (Ben Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, page 141)
Good questions, Bruno. Such thoughts are never far below the surface of Bruno's tale. An apparent allusion to Clever Hans surfaces in a direct reference to the drama Woyzeck, which Bruno later directs and 'stars' in, for he mentions the role of the Showman, who "has a horse that he claims can tell the time and communicate it by stamping his hooves" -- though, interestingly enough, Bruno calls this Showman "a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman" (page 91). I would have expected Bruno rather to defend the horse's linguistic skills. He doesn't tell us directly what he really thinks about the horse's sense of language, and he never mentions Clever Hans directly, so far as I recall (but correct me if I'm wrong), even though he eventually befriends a fellow chimp called "Clever Hands" -- so-named because he has learned the rudiments of sign language (an added allusion to "Nim Chimpsky") -- which should have given Bruno entry into further explicit musings about the nature of language. Perhaps Bruno doesn't know the story of Clever Hans and for that reason has nothing to say about it, in which case, the allusions are all Ben Hale's, never Bruno's.

I would be interested in knowing Ben's particular views on the Clever Hans story, for it's usually told as a triumph of science's double-blind experiment in the uncovery of the truth that the horse was not really responding to language but merely to visual cues, the moral of the story being that science has to work this way. Ben -- or maybe just Bruno -- seems to imply that it shouldn't.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Noam Chomsky was right about Bruno's discoursability!

Noam Chomsky

I have to eat my words. That fabulous ape Bruno Littlemore is utterly -- or should I say unutterably -- incapable of language! Just look at Bruno's description of the interest that students on the University of Chicago campus showed in him:
When they saw Lydia and I strolling hand in hand across the campus, they would approach us and try to speak to me, and want to touch me. (Ben Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, page 79)
Gnome Chompy can have Bruno now, for all I care! In fact, Chompy can eat my words for me -- and Bruno's failed words, too! J'accuse -- that chimp doesn't know the difference between accusative and nominative!

Some impeccable linguist Bruno be!

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Culture of Discussion: Response to Discussant

My presentation at this week's Forum was discussed by Professor Lee Taek-Gwang (이택광) of Kyung Hee University, who raised two questions about my advocacy of a culture of discussion in East Asia to overcome the limits to free discourse set by Confucian hierarchy, namely, that hierarchy exists everywhere and that my ideal of discussion is utopian. I've posted my response below:
I thank Professor Lee Taek-Gwang for his remarks, which are well taken. He raises two main points:
1) Hierarchy: Isn't hierarchy characteristic of every society?

2) Utopian: Isn't my presupposition about discussion utopian?
Concerning Number 1: This is a problem. All societies have hierarchy, and it does tend to inhibit a culture of discussion. For this reason, we need to emphasize the right to discussion and support it both culturally and legally.

Concerning Number 2: I grant that my conception of a culture of discussion offers an ideal to strive for. Is that utopian? Possibly. But it is also a criterion by which to measure our approximation to that ideal situation. We should have evidence and reasons for our views.

I think that a more difficult question -- if I might query myself -- is that of action. We have to act in the world, often when we lack time for sufficient discussion. Knowing when to halt the discussion and act is not simple, easy, or obvious. I suppose that we just have to do the best we can with what little time we have.

But what I would like to emphasize are two points about Samuel Huntington. (1) He's famous for his borrowed expression -- taken from Bernard Lewis -- "clash of civilizations," but he himself stresses the need for intercivilizational understanding, finding common values upon which we can agree even if we have differences to discuss. (2) He alludes to what we share as a species beyond cultural differences, and I suggest that a core similarity is our mortality, our shared human frailty, as a motive for developing a culture of discussion in every society.
Those were my remarks in response to Professor Lee. He seemed satisfied, though he might have merely adopted a courteous demeanor, for we were all exceedingly nice to one another at this Forum.

Other scholars, however, later noted that they agreed with certain points that I had made, though perhaps nobody agreed wholeheartedly . . .

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2011 Global Forum Civilization and Peace: "Points Toward a Culture of Discussion"

2011 Global Forum Civilization and Peace

I've now had a night's sleep and can write a bit more, though not much since my classes start early today. I usually post introductions when I note a publication, paper, or presentation, but I'll instead post a conclusion this time:
Let us remind ourselves that this year's Global Forum on Civilization and Peace focuses on the "Resolution of Conflict in Korea, East Asia and Beyond," specifying "A Humanistic Approach," and our session is concerned with "Difference and Discrimination." I began, humanistically enough, with a conflict between a high-status university professor in the West who advocated critical discourse without reference to hierarchical status but who felt justified in physically attacking a 'lowly' graduate student who had insulted him. We then looked at hierarchy within Confucian Civilization in East Asia and noted some of the problems that result from Confucianism's suppression of open discussion, the implication being that Confucianism needs to find some means of accommodating critical discourse. We considered Huntington's thesis concerning the clash of civilizations, but reflected upon his appeal for intercivilizational understanding as well and noted the possibility of cultural commonalities and even commonalities grounded in our meta-civilizational human nature, especially our mortality. We saw how this common mortality can offer a basis for a culture of critical discourse in which reasons and evidence are privileged over hierarchical status even in strongly hierarchical societies. We drew attention to a necessity for the freedom to insult since even substantive points grounded in reason and evidence can be taken as insults, regardless of intention. All of these things point to the truth that a harmonious society cannot be imposed at the outset but can only be understood as an aim to be attained at the end of a discursive process, if such harmony is ever even to be attained at all. Finally, if this paper has raised issues controversial enough to stimulate critical discussion, then I will have succeeded in my goal.
This is from my presentation at a conference titled "2011 Global Forum Civilization and Peace." The paper was titled "Points Toward a Culture of Discussion."

I've not yet seen any newspaper reports directly on this year's conference, but the Korea Herald does have an article on a statement made by the keynote speaker, Jürgen Kocka, before the conference began, and that can be read online. I hope that his paper is eventually put online, for it's a very interesting analysis of German reunification that emphasizes how history can "surprise" us, and it brought back a lot of memories from my years in Germany, which covered that period, for I went to Germany in August 1989.

But more on this conference if the papers cover it, for I've got to prepare for teaching.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Back from a Conference . . .

The clock says 9:00 p.m. Tuesday evening, and I've just returned from a two-day forum sponsered by the Academy of Korean Studies and hosted at the Seoul Plaza Hotel. I'll report tomorrow but wanted to touch base at my blog just to let readers know that I haven't died.

I was invited to give a 40-minute talk, and I chose to speak on East Asia's need for a culture of discussion, a point that I've sometimes raise on my blog. But more on this tommorow. Right now, I've got to reply to a few emails . . .

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Turkey Can't Admit to Its Armenian Genocide: The Crucial Reason!

Ahmet Davutoğlu
Foreign Minister of Turkey

In an article in Sunday's Zaman, "Sarkozy insists: Turkey not part of EU" (October 7, 2011), the outspoken French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, is reported as stating a blunt opinion about Turkey's responsibility for the Armenian genocide:
During his visit to Armenia, Sarkozy . . . urged Turkey to recognize the 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide, threatening to pass a law in France that would make denying this a crime. "The Armenian genocide is a historical reality. Collective denial is even worse than individual denial," Sarkozy told reporters. "Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself to revisit its history like other great countries in the world have done."
Turkey was not especially pleased by Sarkozy's outspoken remarks, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu offered a stiff rejoinder
Turkey, in response, said France should confront its colonial past before giving lessons to others on how to face history. "Those who will not be able to face their own history for having carried out colonialism for centuries, for treating foreigners as second-class people, do not have the right to teach Turkey a history lesson or call for Turkey to face its history," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters on Friday.
Ah, I now see why Turkey cannot own up to the Armenian genocide. Having carried out colonialism for centuries in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans, Turkey has no right to teach itself a history lesson!

Who knew that history was so difficult to pursue, so demanding of purity among its practitioners, so discriminating in its moral scruples that we are all unworthy to teach true history?

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Oh . . . Just One More Thing . . .

Steve Jobs with iPad
"ars longa, vita brevis"

I thought I'd said my piece about Steve Jobs yesterday, but some other words of his that I'd previously read turned up in various tributes to the man and reminded me that there is just one more thing that I'd like to say about him. In several papers and also online, I saw a statement that he'd made in an interview with Fortune magazine back in 2000:
In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.
I've taken this quote from a BBC article, "In quotes: Apple's Steve Jobs" (October 6, 2011), because I couldn't find the original interview in Fortune, but if somebody else can locate that . . .

In re-reading these words, I realized that this is precisely how I feel about good writing. A beautifully written argumentative essay, for example, will look better on its surface, by which I mean the flow of its literary style, if it is well reasoned logically, well supported evidentially, and well organized thematically. Literary style isn't merely window dressing. It entails the selection of just the right word in exactly the right phrase or clause to say precisely what you mean to say. This requires attention to detail. A quick dash -- to suggest a light touch -- a comma, even if not grammatically mandated, or a period in the right place even if the sentence is a fragment.

And knowing when to stop.

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Late to the Wake . . .

Steve Jobs Proffers Apple

My friend Bill Vallicella has already posted this passage from the 2005 Stanford commencement address by Steve Jobs, but I recall being impressed when I first read it back in 2005, so I'm posting it anyway:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
That photo above can serve as an ironic memento mori, an iconic image of a young, healthy Jobs proffering an apple, the logo of his brand before the bite has been taken, before we realize that we are mortal, naked . . . except that from where we stand, we now know for certain the radical contingency of life. I'm late to the wake, but here I stand, knowing that I'll be on time for my own.

I would say, "Requiescat in Pace, Steve," but that somehow doesn't seem to fit a relentlessly restless man like Mr. Jobs, so I'll instead echo his own words and say, "Wherever you are, man, 'Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.'"

Oh, just one more thing: "So long, and thanks for all the Apples . . ."

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Friday, October 07, 2011

Ben Hale and Bruno Littlemore on Milton's Paradise Lost

Ape with Skull
 Hugo Rheinhold
"How cam'st thou speakable of mute . . . ?"

A few days ago, when I asked Ben Hale about the influence of John Milton's Paradise Lost on his novel, he replied:
[T]he Milton connection [initially] came from the PL quote that's at the beginning of the third section . . . "Sated at length, ere long I might perceive strange alteration in me . . ." Satan's beautiful, eerie description, to Eve, of what it feels like to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil . . . My interest in PL came from studying it a lot in college with this guy: ["Wrestling with the Angel: Paradise Lost and Feminist Criticism"] -- Bill Shullenberger is a brilliant guy, and knows more about Milton than anyone I've ever met.
I've heard of him, naturally, but I've not read that article. In Milton's works, I'm self-taught, self-raised. Speaking of which, Bruno the Loquacious Chimp offers his autodidactic thoughts on Milton's epic poem in dictating to Gwen Gupta, his amanuensis:
Have you ever read Paradise Lost, Gwen? I stumbled across a battered copy of it in the course of my wanderings across this blighted earth, by which I mean I once stole a copy of it from the University of Chicago library. And God, did I fall in love with the Devil. Could it be more fitting that Lucifer is a master orator? Demonic rhetoric, Satanic language!

I have heard, Gwen -- spoken, as can be expected, in tones of dreary admonition -- that self authorship is the bourgeois fantasy par excellence, as in Milton's Satan: "Who saw when this creation was? . . . We know no time when we were not as now, know none before us, self-begot, self-raised." But why condemn the rebel angel for the fantasy of self-invention? Who could help feeling seduced by Satan's poetry when compared to the dull, paternalistically castigatory abashments of God? As Blake points out, the reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it. Well, I too am a true poet, but unlike Milton and more like Satan, I know it! And also like Satan, I made myself with words. I wrote myself into the world. With my own hand I reached into the cunt of the cosmos and dragged myself kicking and screaming out -- HELLO, WORLD. HELLO,YOU BASTARDS. HERE I AM. IT'S ME, BRUNO, THE BOURGEOIS APE.

(And also like Satan, I'm a beautiful loser.)

It is impossible, however, to write a poem, or anything for that matter, about an unfallen Adam and Eve, because I cannot imagine them as having language. In Paradise there is nothing to say. Eden was sacrificed not for the pleasureof a fruit, but for the pleasure ofthe word. Now we have shame and pain and knowledge of death and whatnot, but at least we can talk about it. And talk and talk and talk! And maybe -- I think -- it was even worth the trade. Sometimes the things of this world are less beautiful than their shadows. What is poetry but the shadowplay of consciousness? (pages 37-38)
Bruno's views are fascinating, but as misbegotten as those of Satan, insofar as Milton is concerned. He needs to read Stanley Fish and discover that Milton intended for Satan to seduce us because we ourselves are fallen. Bruno is perhaps a bit more fallen -- Satanic even in his fallenness -- for he fails to see Satan for what that fallen angel has become, a vaunting shadow of his former self who purely from spite uses his rhetorical skills to remake others after his own fallen image, an insight that Milton expected his readers to share as they grow disillusioned with Satan through reading of his decline in Paradise Lost. Doubtless, Ben understands. We shouldn't conflate author with protagonist!

Moreover, Bruno misjudges Paradise, for it has words in Milton's account, a language superior to our own. Bruno imagines that he made himself with words, that he wrote himself into the world, and even the Skinnerian Behaviorist, Norman Plumlee concurs at the end: "You created yourself" (page 553). But it was actually the woman whom Bruno loved who 'created' him: "she sought me out, and found me, and began to bring me out of my animal darkness" ('page 17). Bruno admits: "I went with language. I went with Lydia" (page 43). Bruno thus re-imagines Milton's Paradise in his own prelinguistic image and even forgets that he didn't create the language that helped make him who he is, and that self-deception is perhaps a feature of his peculiar fallenness.

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