Monday, April 30, 2012

Cristina Alger on her Father's Office . . .

I've not read Cristina Alger's fiction, but I read a touching column that she published in this weekend's International Herald Tribune, but earlier online at the New York Times, where it appeared under the same title, "For One More Day at the Office" (April 26, 2012). Ms. Alger wrote of her early years as a very happy only child who enjoyed playing 'office' to be like her father, who worked as "a mutual fund manager," which I suppose was what she pretended to be in her office games at home. She also loved visiting his real office:
My dad's office, in those years on Maiden Lane in the Financial District, felt like Cheers: it was a place where I could relax after a long day, where everyone knew my name. The car ride downtown was part of the thrill: dad's driver, Angel, would sneak me contraband gum or Life Savers, and gossip with me about his latest crisis with his latest girlfriend. Going through building security never got old, either. I liked signing in and getting a sticker with my name on it. It made me feel like part of the team.

Upstairs I could go to the trading floor, where the traders would high-five me and teach me the occasional curse word. Dad's secretary, Louise, always seemed happy to see me. She would let me sit at her desk and color while I waited for Dad to get off a call. The walls of Dad's office were adorned with my artwork (his favorite, later a source of deep humiliation for me, was a pink stick figure holding a fish, which I had provocatively titled "Naked Girl With Fish"). Dad was always willing to give me tasks that made me feel important. I would help color in stock charts ("This makes it easier for me to read," he would say, nodding approvingly). Sometimes, I was allowed to answer his phone.

Ms. Alger's father apparently also liked his office, for she tells us that her "dad was then, and remains to this day, one of the few grown-ups I have come across who truly loved his job . . . [and] would come home filled with stories about Wall Street . . . [and an] enthusiasm for work [that] was infectious." Reading her words, I imagined him not yet retired since Ms. Alger is yet young, so I was not prepared for this:
Some days I wish I had Dad's supply closet to raid, or Dad's colleagues to joke around with. More often, I just wish I had Dad, so we could chat about how much we love our work. He died far too young, and far too suddenly, on Sept. 11, 2001, in the office that he loved.

I see from the biographical note at her website that she graduated from Harvard in 2002, so I suppose her senior year began with her father's death in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and I cannot imagine how devastating that must have been for her. But she tells us that a "small measure of comfort . . . is . . . [the] firm belief that he would not have lived his life any differently if he had known" that he would die doing the job he loved.

That must provide a degree of comfort, though I cannot dwell on the manner in which he might have died without an equal measure of despair, for there are ways people died that day that go beyond words, but perhaps that's the reason Ms. Alger yearns for one more day at the office, for if she could now have at least one more, that terrible day could not have happened . . .

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Changing Beer Tastes in Korea?

Beer Imports in Korea

Good beer is the next big thing in Korea. Get in quickly if you're an investor because change happens fast in the land of mourning calm long gone -- just look at the astonishingly abrupt change in the taste for coffee. As recently as 2005, I was still bemoaning the paucity of good coffee here in Korea. Now, it's available everywhere! Likewise, tastes in beer are changing, and Korean drinkers -- having traveled and experienced the worldwide brotherhood of beer -- are no longer willing to accept low standards here in their own country:
Budweiser . . . [is] classified as [a] domestic [product] . . . because . . . [it is] produced under license by Korea's Oriental Brewery. This has led to complaints that . . . [it doesn't] taste as good here as in . . . the United States.

Well . . . okay, but Korean tastes have to start changing somewhere, and believe me, they'll improve and change fast. Very fast. Anyway, the same article, "Miller time for foreign beers as tastes change" (yeah, I know, but God's millers also grind slow), which was published in the JoongAng Daily for April 28, 2012 and written by business reporter Kim Mi-ju, notes other, far better beers that Koreans are beginning to drink:
Now it is easy to find a pint of Guinness on tap in fashionable Seoul nightspots like Hongdae or Gangnam . . . . Meanwhile, franchise bars such as Wa Bar have even set up shop near City Hall to offer tired civil servants a choice of over 90 foreign beers from as far afield as Austria, South Africa and India . . . . [R]etailers and beer manufacturers here are zeroing in on the changing tastes of local consumers and their developing taste for richer hops and malts . . . . Homeplus said it will expand its selection of beers from 141 last year to 230 in 2012 as it places its faith in the domestic market's clamor . . . for diversity and quality . . . . Distributor Diageo Korea brought Irish red ale Smithwick's to Korea earlier this month to tap the growing desire for premium imported beers . . . [and] already distributes Guinness Irish stout . . . . Around 3,500 pubs and restaurants sell Asahi draft . . . . Heineken Korea said sales of its Dutch beer went up 1.7 percent last year . . . . Foreign beers are estimated to grow to 10 percent of Korea's total beer market in a few years . . . . Retailers have been expanding their foreign beer portfolios since 2010 in tandem with the mushrooming number of pubs that specialize in selling them . . . . [S]ales of domestic beers and soju dropped by 7 percent each in the first quarter of this year, [while] sales of foreign beers rose 21 percent . . . . On a similar note, Lotte Mart said it will increase its selection of imported beers by more than 15 percent to 150 after it saw on-year sales grow 16.8 percent in the first quarter.

Apologies to various individuals for mashing together their quotes from the article, but I wanted to summarize the central point succinctly, namely, that tastes in beer are changing fast and that the market for good beer is primed to grow. Investors should get in now if they want to make money, for there's money to be made, not only in imports, but also in the growth of the local craft beer sector.

But, of course, the best beer in Korea is still to be found at the Craftworks Taphouse . . .

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Neda Agha-Soltan: An Overdue Follow-Up


An Iranian friend sent me a link to an article by Karim Sadjadpour, "The Ayatollah Under the Bed(sheets)" (Foreign Policy, May/June 2012), and in reading that for what it says about the Iranian Islamist regime's obsession with sex, I finally found an explanation for Neda Agha-Soltan's death. Some viewers of one photo of Ms. Agha-Soltan suggested that the pendant she wore was a cross. I looked at the image and also wondered if it were, but one anonymous commenter identified it as a faravahar, a national symbol of Iran. I suspect that's correct. She was thus not targeted for supposedly being a Christian, as some argued, but she was in fact targeted, according to information attributed to her mother:
[P]erhaps the seminal -- and most heartbreaking -- moment of the Green Revolution was the murder of a 26-year-old female protester, Neda Agha-Soltan, whose bloody death was caught on cell-phone camera and rendered one of the most viral videos in history. In an HBO documentary about her life, Neda's mother recalls a message that some sympathetic female Basij members relayed to Neda days before she was killed by a sniper: "Dear, please don't come out looking so beautiful . . . . Do us a favor and don't come out because the Basiji men target beautiful girls. And they will shoot you."

Assuming that this report is true, it means that Ms. Agha-Soltan was not accidentally, but rather intentionally shot . . . for being beautiful. Shot through her heart by sexually frustrated men who hated her, most likely because she signified for them something that they couldn't have.

The article has a lot of other informative details about the Islamist obsession with sex in Shi'ite Iran, but I imagine one could generalize to various Islamist factions in the Muslim world.

Anyway, read the article!

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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Gypsy Gets Interviewed . . .

Tiffany Zappulla

Some weeks ago, Ms. Tiffany Zappulla contacted me about an article that she was writing on English teaching in Korea and asked for my perspective on the university sector, along with other questions. She has now published her article, "ESL in the Fast Lane: Lessons in Teaching English in South Korea" (Vagabond Journey, April 24, 2012), which distills the views of various instructors of English here in Korea. Here's where she presents me and my views:
Jeffery Hodges of the blog Gypsy Scholar, who earned his doctoral degree in history at UC Berkeley, tutored in Switzerland and taught in Germany, Australia, and several academies and universities in South Korea before settling at Ewha University's English Program Office in 2009, where he teaches writing and also does editing and translations on the side. Altogether, Hodges has been living and teaching in South Korea for 12 years (and plans to retire there), an impressive stint considering that many who come as fresh graduates don't last out their year-long contracts.

In general, Hodges feels that adult learners are more motivated to learn English, but that students' pre-college education poses limits to Western-style learning: "Students here are too passive and tend to plagiarize because they haven't been taught not to and because their education is mostly rote memorization and doesn't encourage creativity," Hodges said.

The austere hierarchy system -- a remnant of Korea's Confucian past -- can also stifle analytical and critical thinking. "In Korea, decisions are made above and handed down without allowing for much feedback, which is a bit frustrating," Hodges explained. "Know that contracts are not sacrosanct, that decisions are made from above, and discussion won't take place. Also, don't get angry at student plagiarism; just catch it, and explain that it will get students a low grade."

. . .

Hodges also touched upon one aspect of adaptation that holds a lot of weight in a neo-Confucian society: obedience and realizing the goals of the group as a whole. "My method: Do the job, don't complain, be helpful and cheerful," he explained. "I get along with my co-workers, who are mostly Western, so there's little cultural misunderstanding. I also have friendly relations with Korean co-workers and staff." First impressions are universal, and one-time events can come back to haunt you, especially in the workplace.

I wish that I'd known these things from the beginning of my teaching career in Korea. Much would have worked out better. But I can't really complain much -- nor should I, if I follow my own advice!

For the entire article, which includes the views of other instructors, go here.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Budweiser: King of Beer

I recall in my early beer-drinking days when I was still developing the acquired taste for good beer, I found myself in Europe and reading about a controversy over the right to the name "Budweiser." The Czechs were annoyed at the Americans for stealing the name for a piss-poor American beer.

Now, I knew that American beers weren't piss-poor. In my personal experience, they were piss-rich. Why the American Bud even resembled piss. And I could even quite enjoy an ice-cold Bud on a hot, humid day. It especially refreshed because of its abundant carbonation.

Naturally, I wondered how a mere Czech brew could compete with that! Here's a photo of the world-famous American Budweiser, a bottle that I personally bought for the purpose of posting on today's blog entry:

Budweiser: Kind of Beer!

Beautiful brown bottle of a classical beer-bottle style, don't you think? And a memorable red, white, and blue label -- just like the American flag!

And what about the Czech Bud? Similar. A red, white, and . . . gold label. On a green bottle, though. Here it is below, also personally purchased specifically for today's post:

Budweiser: King of Beer?

So . . . the two beers are sort of similar. I can kind of see why the American Budweiser folks wouldn't want to share the name with the original 'owners' of it. Fear of getting the two mixed up, that kind of thing. But the bottles ought not really be confused for one another, not if we look closely and carefully at the two for comparison:

Subtle Differences in Appearance . . .

But I guess the American Bud got its way, for the Czech Bud bears the name "Budweiser" only in small print at the bottom of the label and then only as "Budweiser Budvar."

Still, I don't know why the American Budweiser brewers wouldn't let the original Budweiser display its own name boldly. The two beers will never be mistaken in taste. The Czech one has a strong hoppy flavor and some other complexities of taste that really interfere with the enjoyment of the carbonation.

I consider the American Bud far superior in its extraordinary carbonation, and I assign it high marks for its truly bubbly carbon dioxide flavor, a flavor free of any complexities of taste other than carbonic acid.

If you do find any hint of complexity in an American Bud, that sort of thing can be easily obscured by chilling the beer down to slightly below 32 degrees fahrenheit. You won't taste a thing but the bubbles, and that's as it should be!

How do I know all this, you ask? I've compared, so I know from experience. You see, they were right when they said that beer makes you smart. It made me, a bud of Bud, wiser!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Shannon Hodges: The Interview

Shoshanna and Shannon

I recently blogged on my more successful -- and more handsome -- younger brother Shannon Hodges, who has just published a book that seems to be doing well: 101 Careers in Counseling. I probably should have read it before choosing my own career as a historian, except that it obviously didn't exist when I was a young man considering my future. Anyway, in contemplating his success, I was struck by the thought that an interview with him might be interesting, partly to find out what he thinks about his career. Shannon was amenable to the idea, so we worked through a long-distance interview these past few days. Here's a brief official bio to acquaint you with Shannon before we get into the interview itself:
Shannon Hodges (Ph.D., LMHC, NCC, ACS) is an Associate Professor of Counseling at Niagara University. He has over 20 years' experience counseling in community agencies, university counseling centers, and residential living communities. He is a former director of a university counseling center and clinical director of a county mental health clinic. In addition, he has 20 years teaching experience and has authored numerous professional publications, including books, book chapters, journal articles, and essays. Shannon has been awarded for his research and his teaching. He has also served on national committees, most notably The ACA Publications Committee and the ACA Ethics Review Task Force along with serving on the editorial review boards of several journals including the Journal of Counseling and Development, Journal of Counseling and Values, Journal of Mental Health Counseling, and the Journal of College Counseling. Shannon is a longtime member of the American Counseling Association (ACA), the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), and several ACA affiliate divisions.

I didn't know all that! I assume that readers of Gypsy Scholar didn't know either. Well . . . now that we all do know who my brother Shannon is and what he has to offer, let's see what he's got to say for himself:
Shan, you've recently published a book titled 101 Careers in Counseling. I was curious about the title, or rather, the number: "101." I imagined you originally writing 100 Careers in Counseling, before realizing that you could add one more, namely, a career in writing books on careers in counseling. But I suppose you had a different reason. Perhaps you could elaborate?

Actually Springer, the publishing company, had a 101 series going on (101 Careers in Mathematics, 101 Careers in Psychology, etc.) and they wanted one in counseling. So, 101 was the established. In the U.S., 101 tends to be a cultural cliche.

How is the book doing? Is there a lot of interest?

Well, the book went on the market just one month ago today. It seems to be doing pretty well. It is being advertised in all the right places (e.g., Springer,, Barnes and Noble, and many small book sellers). One of my colleagues at the University of Wollongong in Australia just notified me he'd bought one and will encourage his students to do so as well. It also helps that the practicum and internship text I wrote with Springer is one of their best sellers. I'll know more in six months but I'm pretty optimistic regarding sales as the book also has broad appeal (high school students, undergraduates, grad students, people in the counseling field, those considering a career change, etc.) I think a couple of organizations will do book reviews on it as well and that always helps sales.

Any plans for a follow-up? 101 More Careers in Counseling?

In a few years as different counseling careers come to the forefront of the public I imagine I'll update the book.

What other counseling books have you published?

The Counseling Practicum and Internship Manual: A Resource for Graduate Counseling Students (Springer also), A Job Search Manual for Counselors and Counselor Educators: How to Navigate and Promote Your Counseling Career (American Counsleing Association Publications), Peer Mentoring: Helping Relationships in the Everyday Experience (Cummings and Hathaway -- out of print). I am also in the process of writing The College and University Counseling Manual: Essential Services Across the Campus, also with Springer.

By the way, City of Shadows is, in a sense, a "counseling" book as the main character is a cousnelor at a small college. Just yesterday, I completed the first draft of my follow-up novel to City of Shadows, with the same character, but at a different location (he's at a different college). I have yet to title the second mystery novel. These are not professional books or textbooks, but they certainly involve the counseling profession.

Yes, I learned quite a bit about counseling from that novel. I want to return to your fiction shortly, but what about future nonfiction counseling books?

I also have a couple of other outlines for professional books. One will involve the philosophy of counseling.

What part of counseling do you find the most interesting?

Individual counseling has always been what I enjoyed most. I have a lot of group and couples counseling experience, but individual counseling, whether mental health or career is what I most enjoy. I'd say teaching future counselors is co-equal to counseling clients.

What drew you to counseling? I recall you first studied chemistry, then literature, before ending up with a doctorate in counseling. Could you explain that sequence?

I entered the counseling profession purely by serendipity. I had completed a bachelor's in English with a minor in Political Science at the University of Arkansas. I matriculated to graduate school at Oregon State University and was enrolled in a master's in Liberal Studies (studying literature, political science and education) with the intent of earning a doctorate in literature. But, I took a course titled, Counseling for Teachers, did very well and the professor suggested I consider the field. Given that I was becoming increasingly aware of the challenges in landing a full-time position in English, it seemed a prudent move. I also believe the fit was very natural for me. I must say however, I would have enjoyed teaching classes in literature. Perhaps my fiction writing is a substitution for the career I jettisoned.

Yes, let's now return to that topic. I want to emphasize for our readers that you're still very interested in literature and that the novel you've published, City of Shadows, is an interesting mystery novel. I've read it, of course, and can identify with it since its setting is a university. I found the dialogue, description, and characterization well done. The plot was intriguing . . . if a bit complex. Your main character is a counselor with a doctorate who's trying to find a university to fit into. Did you draw much on your own experience?

Somewhat, as higher education is enamoured with elities. In fact, elitism is the last "ism" higher ed is finally getting around to acknowledging. Growing up in very impoverished circumstances in a poor region of the country as you and I did, I became acutely as I moved through graduate school that professiorial and higher administrative ranks were chock full of the privileged classes (upper middle class and above) and had little representation from lower middle class and below (and frankly, little empathy. I often refer to this as "faculty lounge liberalism" where one says the "right" things but does little else). Basically, wealthier students attend better school, work less hours in college, have family connections, better medical care, etc. In fact, the strongest correlation to ACT and SAT scores is income. So, my main character, an orphan from the rural Ozarks, runs head-long into this. I also, have grappeled with elitism throughout my educational career. Bob Gifford, the main character, and I are also very different.

How is the novel doing? I understand a second edition is coming out soon.

Sales have been modest. But, I have always believed that my professional books and writings could serve as a boost to my fiction writing. I think that will begin to be the case soon. The 101 book and my monthly column (50,000+ readers of Counseling Today) and other articles will help. I can also remember when no publisher wanted me to write counseling books. That has changed. Over time I hope that my professional books and magazine writing, and professional journal articles will create a nexus for the fiction. In addition, I will be more active in promoting my fiction in the future. By the way, self-promotion is something our grandparents would have frowned upon!

Yes, there's a second edition. Also, as I mentioned in a previous question, I just completed the first draft of another novel yesterday. Editing will take some time, but it should be ready in less than a year. Frankly, I have too many writing projects. This February, I commenced my monthly column in our national counseling magazine, Counseling Today. Too many projects!

What do your counseling colleagues think of this second career? Or is it one of the 101 possible careers in counseling and thus acceptable to everyone?

I had planned to have "Counselor as Author" as one of the 101, but pulled it out as the number of authors in the counseling profession (counseling as separate from psychiatry and psychology) is about a handful. So, I will wait and put it in the second edition of the 101 book. My colleagues have been very supportive of my writing. The Niagara University library just picked up a copy of City of Shadows and several people on campus have read it. So far, the feedback has been positive. I must add that Niagara University is the type of institution that supports both my professional writings and my fiction. Large, research institutions would likely frown upon a professor writing fiction.

Do you plan to write many sequels? I want to know what happens to the main character.

The novel I just completed the first draft on is a sequel, of course. I always planned on a serial character who could grow with each book. In the follow up novel, he's taken a counseling job at Wells Springs College, a very remote location roughly 70 miles north of Big Bend National Park (Note: I have taken geographic liberties in the location of this sessing). Wells Springs is a tiny (approximately 800 population both in the "town" and the campus) college (fictitious) and a member of the work college consortium (which includes The College of the Ozarks, Blackburn College, Warren Wilson College, Sterling College, and Berea College), and it is an innovative campus. Unlike Bob's previous employes, elite Biltmore College, Wells Springs College is glad to have Bob. This is almost unique as Bob has had little success in employment sectors. In this book, he stumbles into the thick of things during a counseling session with a student.

What about other novels? Any plans?

Yes, there will be a lot of novels. I have a fiction novel I completed in the early 1990s but was unable to get a publisher. I'm going to get back to it in a couple of years and rework it. I'll be able to get it published in the future. I have also written some short stories and eventually I'll find them a home.

Let's get back to your main career. You seem to be enjoying a degree of professional success -- which I envy, of course -- so you must be somewhat satisfied with your life. But I suspect that you have goals still to be achieved. Could you talk about those?

I have always thought you were far too hard on yourself for what in actuality was a steep drop in the humanities job market. Basically, virtually no one gets a full time job in the humanities in disciplines like religious studies, philosophy track these days. I was fortunate to have gotten into a field that was primed for expansion. So, yes I have worked hard and have had success both as a teacher and scholar. But I have to be honest and state the growth of the profession has made it less difficult for me that yours has for you.

My future goals would include more professional books, fiction (novels and short stories), and confining my interest in the international counseling profession. Regarding books, I have spoken with my editor about a book on the philosophy of counseling. The next novel would be to rewrite one I wrote in in early 1990's.

Of course global travel is always a goal. This December Shoshanna (my wife) and I are traveling to several countries in southern Africa.

That brings us to a more personal level. I have noticed that you and your wife, Shoshanna, do like to travel. What's your favorite place to visit so far?

Seeking the Tree of Knowledge?

We definitely are travelers! Both of us were denied travel growing up. We have traversed the globe and will continue to do so (God willing!). Her favorite spots are in Central and South Amnerica and a lot of that has to do with her love of the Spanish language. My favorite place has been Western Australia. It's remote and possessed of very unusual beauty. Australia is the oldest continent and due to its isolation from other contiguous land masses, has wildlife found only there. One evening at dusk, we stopped just outside Margaret River, Western Australia and stood in a field of around 200 Kangaroos! In Shark Bay, we stood as a family of Emu strolled casually past. Then, lying down in the desert outside Alice Springs, I stared at the Southern Constallations for hours. While living in Fremantle, I used to spend Saturdays cycling for hours along the Indian Ocean. An amazing continent, really!

Snakes on the Brain?

Any possibility of visiting Korea again? We can show you two more of Seoul next time.

Yes, I will get back to Korea in the future. I'm not exactly not sure when, but I will return. Perhaps readers will buy my books and I'll get back sooner!

This next question is premature . . . but where would you like to retire? Someplace you've visited? Probably not our hometown in the Ozarks, given the hot, humid summers.

I hope to work full-time until age 70. (about 19 more years) We likely won't retire to one specific place, but will move around through Central and South America and Australia. I alo will spend time in the Ozarks each year.

Finally, as an open-ended question . . . is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers of Gypsy Scholar?

I would say "Thank you" for taking time to read this interview and encourage them to continue reading Gypsy Scholar. Also, thank you Jeff for providing me this opportunity. I have been reading Gypsy Scholar for several years.

You're welcome, Shan. Thanks for taking the time.

So . . . there it is, the interview with a man you might be hearing more about.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another Philip Larkin Outrage . . .

Philip Larkin
(Trying to cover his . . . ?)
Sculptor: Martin Jennings
Hull Paragon Station Concourse
December 2, 2010
Photo by Paul Harrop

I finished the weekend grading of midterms and now have time for some slow 'news' . . . such as Philip Larkin saying something derogatory about Vikram Seth:
"Another load of crap from this Vikram Seth character, known to you I believe. Quite pleasant stuff, but fails to grip. Comes of being an Oriental, I suspect."

This quote comes by way of Paul Muldoon's NYT review of Larkin's Complete Poems, edited by Archie Burnett to a hefty 729 pages, most of which are a "load of crap" that Larkin wisely chose to leave unpublished in his lifetime, or so says Muldoon in "These Be the Verses" (NYT, April 19, 2012), a headline implying that Burnett has handed on Larkin's "misery to man."

But why the dissing of Seth, apparently in a letter from Larkin to Robert Conquest? What did Larkin mean? To be mean? Rather mean of him.

I went through a Seth period, even reading his novel in verse, Golden Gate, on the referral of a friend. I didn't like it at first but found it growing on me as the story soon obscured the verse to such a degree that I felt I was reading a novel rather than a poem and even came to care about the characters.

My experience of Larkin was the opposite. I first read "This Be the Verse" and loved it, but then read more Larkin and grew disenchanted, so much so that I even took that first poem as model and penned a parody: "This Be the Worse."

I did my worst . . .

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Monday, April 23, 2012

The End of the Beginning . . .

City of Bohane
Kevin Barry

Churchill made these words famous early in World War Two, but they apply as well to the final lines of chapter one in Kevin Barry's recent novel, City of Bohane, a scene in which the mastermind Logan Hartnett, who runs much of Bohane, has just heard that his old archnemesis is heading into town. Logan shows his nonchalance in dialogue with his bartender, Tommie the Keep:
'What'd take the cares off yuh, Mr Hartnett?'

Logan considered a moment. He let his eyes ascend to the stoically turning ceiling fan as it chopped the blue smoke of the room.

'Send me out a dozen of your oysters,' he said, 'and an honest measure of the John Jameson.'

The Keep nodded his approval as he set to.

'There ain't no point livin' it small, Mr Hartnett.'

'No, Tommie. We might as well elevate ourselves from the beasts of the fields.'

The Genesis allusion is nice, resonant with beguiling beginnings and fatal falls. The "beasts of the field" perhaps recalls the serpent, subtlest of the beasts of the field.

Temptation is coming to Bohane . . . and doubtless death.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Thoughts on the First Meeting of the Williamsburg Circle

April 20, 2012

The organizers of the Williamsburg Center of International Arts and Letters, Terrance Lindall and Yuko Nii, asked the founding members for our ideas on the Center's purpose, and even though I hadn't been able to attend the first meeting in person, I felt myself involved enough to respond:
Dear WCIAL Members:

I'm sorry that I could not be present for the first meeting, but I participated from afar. I appreciated receiving Professor Wickenheiser's lecture notes on book collecting, and I especially liked his citation from John Ruskin:
"We ought not to get books too cheaply. No book I believe, is ever worth half as much to its reader as one that has been coveted for a year at a book stall; and bought out of saved half-pence, and perhaps a day or two's fasting."

I was already familiar with these words from reading Holbrook Jackson's Anatomy of Bibliomania, which I finished sometime early last year, having read the book in the 'record' time (for me) of at least two years, maybe three, in minutes snatched from my busy schedule, mostly on Seoul's subway during commutes to and from my office at Ewha Womans University. Well, such a book must be savored, anyway, a point perhaps broached in the book's section on bibliophagia, though that part mostly dealt with more literal savoring.

Not that I intend to imply that Professor Wickenheiser himself is a bibliophage, or even bibliomaniac; no, he is clearly a bibliophile, one open to sharing his collection. Perhaps he is even one of the last of his kind of collector, given our liminal position on the cusp of the internet's brave new world of online books. Everybody can collect those, but nobody needs to.

As for the practical points of our Williamsburg Circle's activities, I'm quite happy to leave that side of things to Terrance Lindall and Yuko Nii, who are deeply experienced in such affairs and are, anyway, the organizers of our Circle. I look forward to hearing more on ideas for encouraging the younger generation to engage with the classics. Obviously, we will need to take the internet into account since everything will be available online. I expect that we will need to discuss what might be entailed by encouragement of young people to "engage" with the classics. There has been a great debate in academia over this general issue, which I'm sure we're all familiar with.

But setting that aside for the moment, I would suggest that we reflect upon our personal reasons for reading the classics. My own are at least two: 1) the ideas and 2) the style. Not necessarily in that order. I recall myself as a young teenager in the Ozarks rummaging about in my grandmother's home for something to read and coming upon a stash of textbooks from my uncle's university years. I opened one on literature and began reading "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." I wasn't sure what the poem was talking about (the ideas), but I was captivated by its language (the style). I would therefore suggest that what first needs to be addressed is how to present the classics so that young people enjoy them.

Images can help, of course, and that's where art comes in, not merely to illustrate a text, but also to 'engage' with the text in an enjoyable way that raises issues of interpretation, and Terrance's Paradise Lost artwork exemplifies this well, as we can all see.

These are all the issues that I raise at the moment as we begin to reflect on our aims and approaches.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges

That's my official letter to other WCIAL members, but I've decided to post it here on my blog in case readers have their own ideas on bringing the classics to a younger generation.

Assuming that one thinks this important . . .

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Good-Bye, Levon Helm . . .

Levon Helm
Woodstock, NY, 2004
Photo by Jaime Martorano

Good-bye to Levon Helm, May 26, 1940 to April 19, 2012, fellow Arkansawyer who died yesterday (April 20th, Seoul time). An Arkansas friend sent me a link to this video of Helm being interviewed on PBS recently by Marco Werman, one of Helm's last interviews.

Sigh . . .

Man, I remember being a teenager in the early seventies and helping out my friend Robert Adler with the milking on his parents' Ozark dairy farm, but taking time off to listen to Helm and The Band play their music, like this song, "Up on Cripple Creek," a favorite of mine:
Up on Cripple Creek

When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go?
Straight down the Mississippi River, to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, little Bessie, girl that I once knew
She told me just to come on by, if there's anything she could do

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

Good luck had just stung me, to the race track I did go
She bet on one horse to win and I bet on another to show
The odds were in my favor, I had 'em five to one
When that nag to win came around the track, sure enough she had won

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

I took up all of my winnings, and I gave my little Bessie half
And she tore it up and threw it in my face, just for a laugh
Now there's one thing in the whole wide world, I sure would like to see
That's when that little love of mine, dips her doughnut in my tea

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

Now me and my mate were back at the shack, we had Spike Jones on the box
She said, "I can't take the way he sings, but I love to hear him talk"
Now that just gave my heart a throb, to the bottom of my feet
And I swore as I took another pull, my Bessie can't be beat

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

Now there's a flood out in California and up north it's freezing cold
And this living on the road is getting pretty old
So I guess I'll call up my big mama, tell her I'll be rolling in
But you know, deep down, I'm kind of tempted
To go and see my Bessie again.

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one

That opening line always did it for me, 'cause I figured I'd sometime get off my own mountain, meet my own 'Bessie', and make something of myself.

I managed the first two . . .

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Friday, April 20, 2012

More on John Milton's 'Vitiated' Serpent

Nastassja Kinski with Serpent
Vitiated in Nature?
Photo by Richard Avedon
Google Images

Several days ago, I posted a blog entry on "Milton's Vitiated Serpent" in Paradise Lost, and it received some positive remarks from a few scholars on the Milton List -- Professor Michael Gillum, Professor Richard Strier, and Professor James Rovira -- though one of them, Professor Rovira, also raised objections to my analysis of the term "judgment," so I responded to that on the listserve and have finally gotten around to posting my reply here:
Thanks to Michael Gillum, Richard Strier, and James Rovira for their kind words. I have since proofread and corrected several inglorious typos that they were too polite to mention.

James raises some good points, and I need to look more closely at the issue of judgment. There are two things to consider concerning the term's meaning:
1) two senses of judgment - sentencing vs. evaluation

2) two processes of judgment - active vs. passive

I need to sort these out, but I don't have time now. For the nonce, I can only point to a couple of things to be considered in reflecting on the judgment issue.

First, consider the judgment of Adam: "On Adam last thus judgment he pronounced" (10.197) This language looks unambiguous to me, i.e., God is sentencing Adam (and in a rather different manner from "And on the serpent thus his curse let fall" [10.174]).

Second, consider that 9.784-785 tells us that "Back to the thicket slunk / The guilty serpent" and that Old English slincan meant "to creep, crawl (of reptiles)" (OED, Compact Edition, p. 2866) -- and even today, "slink" retains the sense of not entirely upright, of a movement hunched over from the upright position -- and with respect to the "guilty serpent," the choice of "slunk" seems a nod in the direction of "Upon thy belly grovelling thou shalt go" (10.177), as though the serpent is already accursed as Satan's instrument at the moment of the successful temptation.

These are intended merely as food for thought. I do not have a fixed view on my suggestion concerning God's judgment with respect to the serpent.

My point -- just to iterate for clarity -- is that Milton may have been presenting the serpent as already slithering upon its belly immediately after the successful temptation of Eve. Tainted through its possession by Satan, a spirit of impurity, the serpent is already polluted, vitiated in nature. God's judgment would thus seem more of an evaluation than a sentencing. But a question yet remained, so I posted another comment on the Milton List:
Much of the "curse" on the serpent simply notes what is already the case about the serpent due to its "vitiated" nature. Arguably, it already goes about on the ground, if "slunk" (9.784) is intended to suggest this point. The only expression that depicts God actively judging the serpent is when he says "I will put enmity" between the serpent and mankind, but let us note that the enmity is also already present in mankind, for Adam has already called it a "false worm" (9.1068), and Eve has already noted the "Fraud in the serpent"' (9.1150) and exculpated herself for having been unaware, in her earlier innocence, of "enmity between" her and the serpent (9.1151).

None of this, of course, resolves the tension in Milton's thought between so-called 'ritual' impurity and ethical guilt; Milton's language merely renders that tension less noticeable.

I need to give this issue more thought, but that will have to wait until I have more time . . .

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser on Terrance Lindall's Milton Illustrations

Though I couldn't be present for the Williamsburg Circle's first meeting, Terrance Lindall kept me informed of the proceedings through emailed photos and reports. Readers may recall that the Circle's central goal is to encourage younger generations to engage with the classics, including of course John Milton!

Our chairman is Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser, the very man whom you see in the above photograph, book collector and Milton expert, among other things. I'll quote Terrance on the man as collector:
Last Saturday, we were distinctly honored to have one of the world's greatest book collectors, Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser, . . . give a talk on how he developed his Milton collection, certainly the most comprehensive Milton collections in the world . . . . The April 14th event was special to him, and it was at my request that he made the nine hour journey by car with his daughter Kari and with many of his favorite rare Milton treasures to give his talk and meet with those of you who could attend . . . . [H]e is a sincere and dedicated scholar and also a humanitarian who loves people and loves to meet and talk to them. On top of that, he is a great scholar and leader. As I said in my introduction for his lecture, he is not just a leader. Leaders are multitudinous. Rather, Bob is a transformational leader. There are very few transformational leaders . . . . All of you know of famous book and art collections by wealthy men like J. P. Morgan and others. Very few book collectors are also major scholars. Bob is one of the few, or to my mind the only one of such stature. We were therefore very very honored to have this great man come to join us on that special day.

I missed what must have been a wonderful talk on collecting books by and about Milton, but I received the notes, so I can perhaps at least report on Dr. Wickenheiser's opinion of Terrance's Milton illustrations, an opinion offered in the context of praise for such illustrators as William Blake and Gustav Doré:
And OH YES, then there is Terrance Lindall, of course, whom it has been my great fortune to know and also to have broadly represented in my Milton collection through a great many originals in a great many formats and style.

Terrance, I cannot tell you how grateful and how proud I am to have your spectacular illustrations, which make you the greatest illustrator of Paradise Lost in our time and rank you among the very finest and most visionary of all time!

High praise indeed! When I became aware of Terrance's Milton works, I was surprised, for I had first -- as a young man -- encountered his illustrations for the magazines Creepy and Heavy Metal, and those images were not of Adam and Eve!

At the time that I first blogged on his Milton work, those illustrations were already a quarter-century in the past, and Terrance was involved mostly in curatorial work for the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center and theorizing on art in various essays published in a number of venues, having withdrawn from making art himself -- or so he said -- but within a couple of years of my blog posts on him and his work, he began to revive his interest in illustrating Milton.

I don't claim to have played any role in that, but I'm grateful to have been present, even if 12,000 miles away, in this time of his interest's revival!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Homo homini lupus est . . .

Carter Howling at the Moon?
Williamsburg Circle
Photo from Terrance Lindall

Other than in T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock," I've not heard mermaids singing, but I never thought that they would sing to me, and I also hadn't expected to hear Carter Kaplan singing -- and I've still not heard -- but as you see from above, he does sing, or maybe howl, for if you click on his image, you'll see in his eyes that he's transforming into a wolf.

I ought to have expected some shape-shifting from this man since his novel Tally-Ho, Cornelius! makes use of the motif, though not werewolves! Weresquid, perhaps.

I should also have expected to encounter a werewolf, for only two days ago, I was editing an article about Angela Carter's short story "The Company of Wolves," a rewriting of the fairy tale known as "Little Red Riding Hood" that recovers the suppressed but latent story of sexual awakening in a girl who encounters a wolf, a meaning never quite lost on adults, as this song reminds us:
Li'l Red Riding Hood (1966)
Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs

Who's that I see walkin' in these woods
Why, it's Little Red Riding Hood
Hey there Little Red Riding Hood
You sure are looking good
You're everything a big bad wolf could want
Listen to me

Little Red Riding Hood
I don't think little big girls should
Go walking in these spooky old woods alone

What big eyes you have
The kind of eyes that drive wolves mad
So just to see that you don't get chased
I think I ought to walk with you for a ways

What full lips you have
They're sure to lure someone bad
So until you get to grandma's place
I think you ought to walk with me and be safe

I'm gonna keep my sheep suit on
Until I'm sure that you've been shown
That I can be trusted walking with you alone

Little Red Riding Hood
I'd like to hold you if I could
But you might think I'm a big bad wolf so I won't

What a big heart I have -- the better to love you with
Little Red Riding Hood
Even bad wolves can be good
I'll try to keep satisfied just to walk close by your side
Maybe you'll see things my way before we get to grandma's place

Little Red Riding Hood
You sure are looking good
You're everything that a big bad wolf could want
I mean baaaaaa

I first heard this song on the radio late at night in the basement of my grandma's place when I was a nine-year-old boy, and I sensed there was something thrilling about the lyrics that was just slightly beyond my ken . . .

Was Carter Kaplan singing this song last Saturday?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Professor Anna Simons on 'Inflicting Pain'

Excellence Through Knowledge

As most readers know, I belong to several elists and receive regular emails from numerous others -- not even counting the spam from Nigerians! One of my favorite sources of resources is the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which sends out occasional E-Notes, and only three days ago, I received one with a link to a paper, "Soft War = Smart War? Think Again" (April 2012) by Anna Simons, an anthropologist who teaches in the Defense Analysis Department of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. She writes clearly and knows how to catch her reader's attention from the outset with a provocative remark:
We Americans do not yet live in a post-American world. We have not yet become the Greeks to someone else's Rome. We retain unprecedented hard power. We have more lethal conventional force at our disposal than any country in history. One of the things that should thus increasingly puzzle taxpayers is why Washington would want to retool our military to minimize these capabilities, and instead build capabilities that won't advantage us at all.

Professor Simons notes that the assumption behind the concept of "Soft War" -- the battle for hearts and minds -- seems grounded in a basic assumption of a "marketing" worldview:
[I]f marketers without PhDs can successfully manipulate today's sophisticated global consumers, then surely smart diplomats and defense intellectuals (along with members of the military) can do the same when it comes to influencing foreign populations and countering our adversaries' narratives.

Professor Simons finds three problems with this assumption:
First, in a true cross-cultural contest, no one is interested in buying what the other side is selling.

[Second,] it is not just we who have grown increasingly sophisticated about others' sensibilities, but other people have grown increasingly sophisticated and sensible about us.

[Third, f]or those who believe it can secure them an edge, decisive armed force will always trump finesse, and will always tempt those who don't expect to be deterred by greater counter-force.

The first two problems presented by Professor Simons as challenges to "Soft War" might seem to contradict since the first insists that no one is buying the other side's 'culture,' while the second might imply that we are buying the other side's 'culture.' What the other side 'sells' to us, however, is a reflection of what we want to believe about them, namely, that they want the same things that we do, e.g., that the Islamists who benefit from the Arab Spring are sincere in their abrupt approval of democracy, albeit a slightly modified democracy, reshaped to fit their culture, which is not much different from ours, supposedly, and we should remember our commitment to multiculturalism anyway, even if their culture does differ from ours in a few salient ways hardly worth mentioning, details about rule of law and human rights that we can talk about later after they've gained office through democracy if possible or decisive armed force if necessary (i.e., problem number three).

But I've gotten deep into my own musing, riffing from the views of Professor Simons. The major point that she makes in the rest of her paper is that cultures differ radically in their fundamental assumptions and that different peoples want different things, that there are few universals among people but that among these is a significant one having to do with our respect for those who can endure pain, which means that pain itself is also a universal, the implication being that a military therefore still needs to be able to inflict pain if a nation wants to change the behavior of its enemies.

In short, the hearts and minds might never be won, but pain can change behavior.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Brother Shan's 101 Careers!

Shannon Hodges

Just to rub things in -- not only about being better looking, having published a novel, and having a good career -- my handsome brother Shan recently sent me a link to a video in which I could watch him being interviewed about his recent book, 101 Careers in Counseling, a reminder not only that I have no career but also that he has one-hundred-and-one of them!

Surely, he could spare one for me?

Too late, I reckon. The book's already published, and he can't change the title now to read 100 Careers in Counseling. But he should have checked with me first, before publishing, so that we could have worked these things out.

My wife wondered if she should translate the book into Korean, but I poured cold water on that idea. Shan's already successful enough and doesn't need to be famous in Korea when I'm not even famous here yet!

On the other hand, some of his fame might then rub off on me . . .

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Arab Spring Springs into Action -- Against Christians?

Rached Ghannouchi
AFP Photo

On Friday, a friend of mine sent me a link to Hussein Ibish's article "Leave room for the unbelievers" (Now Lebanon, April 11, 2012), in which Ibish laments the turn toward Islamism in the lands of the Arab Spring, especially for the security of unbelievers:
What is most disturbing is that it is almost impossible to imagine an Islamist-influenced system protecting the religious rights of skeptics, agnostics and atheists. Blasphemy, satire, independent scholarly investigation of early Islamic history, or merely a profession of fundamental skepticism about faith in general (and not simply Islam) are all likely to remain criminal offenses. Protection for apostasy and conversion are another key test of real religious freedom.

He's right about the extreme danger for such individuals, but he's perhaps too easy on the Islamists' treatment of the Dhimmis:
[S]ince Islam traditionally regards Judaism and Christianity as legitimate, though imprecise, monotheistic faiths, it is not hard to imagine an Islamist-influenced Arab political order protecting the religious and civic rights of these relatively small minorities, even if the most extreme Islamists won't want to do this.

Some weeks ago, I blogged on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's warning about Islamism's worldwide war on Christians, and just today, I received a new article on this very topic from the Spectator, a piece written by Douglas Davis and titled "Out of the east" (The Spectator, April 7, 2012), an ironic line with a double-entendre signifying both that Christianity came to the West from "out of the east" and that it is now being forced "out of the east"!
A few weeks ago, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Amdullah, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, responded to a question posed by a visiting Kuwaiti delegation. Would sharia permit churches to exist in their emirate? The sheikh's response was categorical. Kuwait is part of the Arabian Peninsula, he said, and 'therefore it is necessary to destroy all the churches of the region'.

The Sheikh based his ruling on a Hadith which recorded the Prophet's deathbed declaration that, 'There are not to be two religions in the Peninsula', a command that has been interpreted to mean that only Islam may be practised in the region.

Now, the Grand Mufti is not just another swivel-eyed fanatic. He is the most senior Islamic authority in Saudi Arabia, president of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. His views do not make him an isolated extremist.

Of course, this is Saudi Arabia, so what does one expect of the region's religious authorities? But the 'Arab Spring' lands offer little better:
Last year, some 200,000 Coptic Christians -- such Christians once made up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million population -- fled their homes after being subjected to killing, beatings and church-burnings in Alexandria, Luxor and Cairo. On New Year's Day last year, 21 Copts were slaughtered in their church in Alexandria; a further 27 died in clashes with police in Cairo.

This week, the Coptic Orthodox Church announced that it was withdrawing from talks on a new Egyptian constitution because Islamist domination of the process has made its participation 'pointless'.

Not a good omen, for Egypt is home to the largest Christian community in Arab lands. Scholars and bloggers may debate whether Islam was traditionally tolerant -- and I have come to have my doubts -- but current-day Islam looks to be so permeated by Islamism that the question is less one of relative tolerance that of relative intolerance, namely, which strain of Islam is the least intolerant?

Yes, things have come to that, and people may find that even the least intolerant versions of sharia are more than many expected, as Joel Brinkley implies . . .

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Milton's Vitiated Serpent?

Biblia Pauperum

Over on the Milton List, there has been an interesting discussion concerning the 'punishment' of the hapless serpent, mere guiltless instrument of Satan's malice in his temptation of Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge, a verdict rendered in PL 10.163-182, immediately following Eve's 'displacement' of guilt onto the poor reptile:
Which when the Lord God heard, without delay
To Judgement he proceeded on th' accus'd
Serpent though brute, unable to transferre [ 165 ]
The Guilt on him who made him instrument
Of mischief, and polluted from the end
Of his Creation; justly then accurst,
As vitiated in Nature: more to know
Concern'd not Man (since he no further knew) [ 170 ]
Nor alter'd his offence; yet God at last
To Satan first in sin his doom apply'd
Though in mysterious terms, judg'd as then best:
And on the Serpent thus his curse let fall.

Because thou hast done this, thou art accurst [ 175 ]
Above all Cattle, each Beast of the Field;
Upon thy Belly groveling thou shalt goe,
And dust shalt eat all the dayes of thy Life.
Between Thee and the Woman I will put
Enmitie, and between thine and her Seed; [ 180 ]
Her Seed shall bruise thy head, thou bruise his heel.

Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, April 2012.

The lines 175 to 181 are taken over by Milton from the Genesis account, which Milton accepted as inspired, so he had to make do with the scene, though it doesn't accord well with his theory of justice, where guilt is attributed solely to those who are moral agents, namely, those with free will -- those whose reason remains in control.

The central lines to examine are descriptive of the serpent as "polluted from the end / Of his Creation; justly then accurst, / As vitiated in Nature." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "pollute" in Milton's time can mean "to render ceremonially or morally impure," and the word "vitiate" in Milton's time could mean "to make impure" (OED, Compact Edition, Vol. 2, 1988, pp. 2230 and 3645). The word "end" of line 166 refers to the purpose, or telos, for which God created the serpent.

Milton is combining biblical concepts and Greek philosophical concepts -- the former concerning impurity, the latter concerning teleology -- and he's perhaps interpreting the former in terms of the latter, though the two cohere only uncertainly. The crux is this: impurity is an active, unholy force that penetrates and pollutes, whereas the telos ("the end") allows for a more passive, instrumental misuse, namely, the serpent's use as an instrument to pervert rather than effect God's purposes. The problem for Milton lies in explaining how the misuse of a creature without free will leaves its mark upon that creature. For such to be the case, impurity would have to be an active force remaining in the serpent even after Satan has withdrawn from that creature. Otherwise, the serpent would simply return to its prior purity and its previous role in God's purposes. Milton, indeed, seems uncomfortable with impurity as a force, else he wouldn't write that the serpent had been used as "instrument / Of mischief, and polluted from the end / Of his Creation," for in expressing the term "polluted" in the context of the words "instrument" and "end," he assimilates "polluted" to "perverted," mere misuse. But why should a one-time misuse leave the serpent tainted? In Milton's system of justice, creatures with free will can cetainly misuse God's creation, for absent that power for misuse, free will would be without effect, but justice would require punishment of the guilty alone, not of their hapless instruments. Milton thus draws upon the connotation of the term "polluted" for its sense of 'taint' -- even though this is repugnant to his system of justice -- because he needs to account for God's judgment upon the serpent.

Milton's discomfort with this 'solution' shows through in the rather passive manner in whch God 'judges' the serpent ("judg'd as then best: / And on the Serpent thus his curse let fall"), as though the judging is meant in the sense of evaluating, namely, seeing that the serpent is accursed ("thou art accurst") and stating that as a fact.

Judge for yourselves . . .

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Creative Collisions and Collaborations

Telstar 1
Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc.
 AT and T Archives and History Center
New York Times

Walter Isaacson, in his article "Inventing the Future" (New York Times, April 6, 2012), reviews Jon Gertner's recent book in the history of science and technology, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. From what the review tells us, Gertner's account of Bell Labs' knack for innovations would appear to offer support for some of Jonah Lehrer's ideas that we've recently looked into:
The lesson of Bell Labs is that most feats of sustained innovation cannot and do not occur in an iconic garage or the workshop of an ingenious inventor. They occur when people of diverse talents and mind-sets and expertise are brought together, preferably in close physical proximity where they can have frequent meetings and serendipitous encounters.

Recall that Steve Jobs intentionally redesigned the Pixar company's layout to ensure that employees would come into contact by chance and inadvertently exchange ideas that changed ideas? He had a precedent in Bell Labs:
Bell Labs concentrated on helping the military during World War II. But in the middle of the war, Bell Labs began moving to a new campus in Murray Hill, N.J., and [Bell Labs research director, Mervin] Kelly began to create interdisciplinary teams that threw theorists and engineers together into the same work spaces. "By intention, everyone would be in one another's way," Gertner writes. Among the teams was one doing solid-state research. It included [physics theoretician William] Shockley and [physics experimentalist Walter] Brattain. Kelly recruited John Bardeen, a very quiet theorist, to join the group, but there was no vacant office, so Bardeen decided to share space with Brattain, the experimentalist. This was a smart idea. Gertner describes how innovations came not just from new theories but from linking them to advances made by the lab's experimental chemists and metallurgists who were creating a revolution in materials. "Indeed, without new materials," Gertner writes, "Shockley would have spent his career trapped in a prison of elegant theory."

As Gertner points out, collaborative work was essential, and not only for generating new ideas:
"If an idea begat a discovery, and if a discovery begat an invention, then an innovation defined the lengthy and wholesale transformation of an idea into a technological product (or process) meant for widespread practical use. Almost by definition, a single person, or even a single group, could not alone create an innovation. The task was too variegated and involved."

The hardest trick, as Steve Jobs points out, is figuring out how to sustain an organization's creativity, and Isaacson notes that Gertner's book looks at this point:
Steve Jobs once said that the most difficult and important thing to create was not an innovative product but a great organization that could continually create innovative products. That required joining creative people with product designers and great engineers so that imagination and technology could be connected. For much of the 20th century, Bell Labs played that role. It showed the value of having theoreticians, researchers, developers and engineers all huddled together. "People had to be near one another," Gertner writes. "Phone calls alone wouldn't do." Mervin Kelly even created branches of Bell Labs at the phone company's factories so that the theoreticians and scientists could be closely involved with the manufacturing workers.

From my own job at Ewha, where we expat instructors exchange ideas on better teaching, I know by experience the importance of people working together to work better. This hasn't always been easy for me since I'm a bit of a loner, but it's usually been for the best.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Looking Good' into the Abyss?

Lionel Trilling
Looked too long?

Although the caricature above comes from Nathan Glick's article, "The Last Great Critic" (Atlantic Monthly, July 2000), I don't think Glick mentions the abyss of today's subject heading, but Lionel Trilling was very familiar with Nietzsche's words on the abyss:
. . . wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein

This is usually translated as "when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you," but I would suggest a slight rewording: "if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back deeply into you." If you dwell long in contemplation on that aphorism, you might come to sense the angst that it's meant to provoke. Unless you're like one of those 'unhungry' students in a class mentioned by Trilling and cited by Mark Edmundson in "Education's Hungry Hearts" (The New York Times Sunday Review, March 31, 2012):
Too many current students conform to the description that Lionel Trilling offered in a famous passage from an essay called "On the Teaching of Modern Literature." Trilling had been teaching his students Kafka and Blake, Nietzsche and Freud. "I asked them to look into the Abyss," Trilling writes, "and, both dutifully and gladly, they have looked into the Abyss, and the Abyss has greeted them with the grave courtesy of all objects of serious study, saying: 'Interesting, am I not? And exciting, if you consider how deep I am and what dread beasts lie at my bottom. Have it well in mind that a knowledge of me contributes to your being whole, or well-rounded men.'"

I love that irony. Nietzsche's aphorism of the abyss is intended perhaps as a secular equivalent for the biblical fear of coming face-to-face with the living God, the abyss as a terrible presence of absence only dimly remembered in Sartre's "encounter with nothingness" and not even vaguely intimated by the well-rounded men who gazed at the words about it in Trilling's class, those 'looking good' into the abyss.

Perhaps I am one of them . . .

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Williamsburg Circle Meeting - April 14th, 2012

Readers will perhaps recall that I was recently invited by the artist Terrance Lindall to join -- as one of the founding members -- the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters, which can be read about at this link. I'm probably the member farthest from New York -- being that I'm halfway around the world -- so I simply cannot attend the first meeting of the Circle, to be held this coming Saturday, but I'll gaze at the logo below during the meeting and thereby attend in spirit:

The building in which this meeting will take place is the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center, which you can glimpse below and to the right, though a clearer photo is available here. The building was originally the Kings County Savings Bank, a New York landmark built between 1860 and 1867!

Here below are scenes I'll be missing out on by being unable to attend the meeting, such as the Williamsburg Circle Club Room, with its Old Masters paintings . . .

. . . as well as its antiques, visible in part above but more fully below:

There are also images of what Terrance has honored with the name The Peter William Dizozza Reading Room (after one of the Williamsburg Circle members), the first image from this angle, showing some of Terrance's own art:

The second image is of a bookcase or two, for this is a reading room:

The third image, from another angle entirely, reveals a comfortable spot for relaxing over a book:

The Williamsburg Art and Historical Center truly is a lovely place. I regret that I can't make it this Saturday . . . and who knows if I even ever shall?

But I'll raise a pint of Shoggoth's Old Peculiar this weekend in honor of my colleagues present there . . .

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